Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween

"Double, double toil and trouble; fire burn and cauldron bubble." — William Shakespeare, Macbeth

HALLOWEEN is my favorite holiday. Paul and I love dressing up for it and conducting business as usual in un-usual attire. 


One year I dressed up as a nun. On the way into work I needed to run a couple of errands. My first stop was dropping off some things for a friend who was in the hospital with a new baby. Her husband came to the door. My arms were full, so I walked past him into the house to reach the nearest table before I dropped everything, chatting the whole way about being on my way to visit Melanie and the baby at the hospital.

In my hurry I'd forgotten that I'd only met Dan briefly before, making it entirely possible that he wouldn't recognize me even in regular clothes, much less dressed up so convincingly as a nun. Oh yes, I was in full regalia in the black and white habit complete with crucifix, rosary beads, and Bible, and my conversation about hospital visitations lent even more authenticity.

Dan was utterly dumbstruck. His mouth kept opening and closing, but nothing came out. 

At my next stop two boys were running up and down the aisles of the store like little maniacs. I gave them a stern look, and the running came to an instantaneous halt. I'd forgotten what I had on. 

When I needed customer assistance at the desk, I was not just served with alacrity but accorded honorific, undivided attention as never before experienced at Staples

I ought to rent that nun costume again. I got a lot of mileage out of it unintentionally; just think what I could do on purpose.

I've also been Cher, a baseball player and Sarah Palin. A couple of years ago, Paul and I were Mr. and Mrs. Smith bearing evidence of our mutually-inflicted deaths — one shot to death and the other stabbed.


I've done the pajamas, slippers and bathrobe thing, but because of Helen's Pajama Party, nobody would bat an eye seeing me in that. It would be just another day at the office. 


Last year we were at Kit's in DC, and I was once again in pajamas, but this time not as costume. I was worn out from traveling to and attending Jon Stewart's and Stephen Colbert's Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear. So it was a hot shower and jammies for me, topped by a crown chosen from Kit's collection of turbans, crowns and other exotic headgear.


Happy Halloween!!



Zombie, retro cheerleader.
That's my actual high school letter.


At Kit's house in pajamas and crown.


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Sunday, October 30, 2011

Dunch

"I fell right out of the womb and landed smack dab in my mama's high heels." — Leslie Jordan, My Trip Down the Pink Carpet

WE WERE GRATEFUL to do nothing yesterday except recover from so much recent busyness. We had an abundant brunch while listening to Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me — except at three in the afternoon maybe it's called dunch or lupper or linner. Scrambled eggs for Paul (but not me since I'm not an egg-eater) toast, turkey bacon, pasta with roasted red pepper marinara, almond crackers with cream cheese, celery, apples, grapes, fake Oreos and Earl Grey tea — an entirely gluten-free meal.

You could just call it a full Irish breakfast because that's what one is like in Ireland — basically tons of food. BTW I refer to them as fake Oreos because they're gluten-free, but I swear they're better than the real ones.

Later on we spent a couple of hours trying to put together a little last-minute vacay to celebrate our up-coming 18th wedding anniversary November 13. Because of Paul's teaching schedule at Drake, we needed to sandwich it in and make it a fast one.

We considered the usual suspects: Chicago and Kansas City, but we've been both places often enough that we're not of a mind to go back just for the sake of going. Paul found some cheap direct-flight air fares to Orlando and St. Petersburg, and we got excited about booking that and using it as a jumping off point for somewhere else since we've already been to Orlando and surrounds.

After poking around on the internet for awhile, I found this awesome park in the panhandle of Florida called Wakulla Springs State Park. It features a grand lodge built in the 1930s. Each room has a marble bathroom, antique or period furniture, and there are glass-bottom boat tours, hiking trails, miles of forest, kayak rentals with so much wildlife to be seen — in short, just our cup of tea!!

It was already booked-up for our dates, but a second check revealed one room magically available. We were in and SO excited! But then things fell apart.

The low-cost fare was only available on days that would have given us just three days at the park. A fourth day would have cost an extra $600 for the flight and room. We ended up thinking that one day wasn't worth that amount and that going for three days wouldn't be enough time to really get to relax enough to really enjoy our surroundings. We canceled. :-(  We want to go there sometime, soon we hope, and spend a full week.

We assuaged our disappointment by watching a one-man comedy special by Leslie Jordan called My Trip Down the Pink Carpet. It's great; he's great! We both recommend it highly — available online through NetFlix.


The talented Leslie Jordan.


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Saturday, October 29, 2011

Happy accidents

"I've just been really lucky to not be too much of a stereotype." — Marisa Tomei

IT'S A PERFECT title for this little/big movie because that's what it turned out to be. Last night after watching game seven of the Series, as part of our momentarily-caught-up-with-deadlines-fake-Oreos-hot-chocolate-kitten-snuggling party, we came upon this happy accident — called Happy Accidentsand watched it. 


Have yourself a happy little accident. Let your heart be light.


It's an Indy movie from 2000, and it's so good! As in really, really good — suspenseful, romantic, charming, captivating, and unlike most movies, you truly don't know how it's going to turn out until the last second. It stars Marisa Tomei and Vincent D'Onofrio and was written and directed by Brad Anderson, who's also the director and co-writer of Transsiberian, a completely thrilling, scary 2009 movie. I think we'll watch everything Brad's ever made.


Paul and I both think Marisa is seriously underrated and under-appreciated. There's never a second when she's not utterly convincing in any role.
The ever true, Marisa Tomei.

In that sense, she's in the same category as J. K. Simmons; there's just never a false moment with either one of them. I'm going to have to shine on here about J. K. We love him. I would watch him in anything; I'd listen to him read the phone book. No matter how mediocre the script or the rest of the cast might be in any given thing, he's always 100% believable. You may know him from the TV show Closer on TNT. He was also in the movie Juno and was so dead-on that it made me want to howl at the moon.


Love, love, love J.K. Simmons.
Okay, enough with the shininess. So this movie, Happy Accidents, is a total gem. Rent or download it on NetFlix or wherever. You'll love it. If you don't (but you will) send me a note, and I'll buy you a Heath Bar.

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Friday, October 28, 2011

Cards win

"In baseball, you can't kill the clock. You've got to give the other man his chance. That's why this is the greatest game." — Earl Weaver, former manager of the Baltimore Orioles

WHAT A Cinderella story this year has been for the St. Louis Cardinals who finished in glorious fashion by earning their 11th World Series Championship in the year 2011. Party on, St. Louis. Wish we were there!


Cards win!
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Baseball's been bery, bery good to me

"Baseball is 90% mental, the other half is physical." — Yogi Berra

WE'RE WATCHING GAME seven of the Worlds Series and having hot chocolate and fake Oreos with a cat apiece curled up on both of our laps. I'm not sure it gets any cozier or more all-American than this. 


During the regular season, Paulhopeless dreamer that he is, roots for the Cubs, whereas I favor the White Sox — a classic white-collar vs. blue divide if there ever was one — with me, need I point out, choosing the correct side. 


Although we don't follow baseball much until the Series, that doesn't stop us from being really opinionated when we do. Despite the fact that Paul is a former Texas resident, we're unanimous in rooting against the STRangers (that's what Paul always calls them). Hey — George W. Bush is a former part owner, and it takes a long, long time for that stink to wear off.


So — with apologies to my Texas readers: GO CARDS. It would be such a blast to be there right now. 


Boo hiss.
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Hello Prague

"I go to Prague every year if I can, value my relationships there like gold, and feel myself in a sense Czech, with all their hopes and needs. They are a people I not only love, but admire." — Edith Mary Pargeter, OBE, BEM, British author also known by her nom de plume Ellis Peters

HELLO TO MY Hey Look reader in Prague, capitol of the Czech Republic. I've always wanted to visit this renowned central European historical, political and cultural hub. According to Wikipedia, Prague is the sixth most internationally-visited city in Europe behind London, Paris, Rome, Madrid and Berlin. I've been to London, Paris and Madrid and technically Rome, except that all I saw was the inside of the train station so that hardly counts, but before seeing Rome or Berlin, I would choose Prague.


Wow! How beautiful is this!


The famous Prague Castle. I want to go!!!!


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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Williams syndrome

"Our children have the ability to unlock the mysteries of the world." — Kimber Waldner, mother of twin boys with Williams syndrome 

WILLIAMS SYDROME might seem like the exact opposite of autism, but some researchers believe that understanding this genetic disorder holds clues to understanding autism. Don't feel like the lone ranger if you've never heard of Williams syndrome. I hadn't either. It's way interesting.


Here's an article from Today Health/MSNBC from October 25 written by JoNel Aleccia.


If they had their way, Tristan and Tyler Waldner would be friends with everybody. The 7-year-old twins from San Diego, Calif., have Williams Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that makes them unusually social, so outgoing and gregarious that, to them, there's no such thing as a stranger.


At the library, on the playground, and even with surprise guests at dinner, the blond boys are charming and chatty, brimming with questions — “Where do you live? Did you drive here or fly here? Do you have kids?” — but with none of the shyness or social reserve you’d expect from typical second-graders.

“They love to meet new people,” explained the boys’ father, Fabian Waldner, 35, who has to watch them carefully in public. “We’ll be in a grocery store and they’ll just say ‘Hi’ to anybody who walks by.”


Researchers have puzzled over that extreme friendliness for decades, pondering the causes and complicated traits that go with the syndrome that affects 1 in every 10,000 people, says Ursula Bellugi, a researcher at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, Calif., who has studied the disorder for a quarter-century. 


They've come to believe that Williams syndrome, which is characterized by unique genetic markers and distinct behaviors, may actually hold the secrets to understanding other better-known disorders — including autism.


“We’re on the brink of a whole new world,” says Bellugi, 80, a professor and director of Salk’s Laboratory for Cognitive Neuroscience.


Now, thanks to a $5.5 million grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, Bellugi and team of prominent scientists are poised to use Williams syndrome to decode the ties between human genes and the way 


The aim is understand better how genes affect traits as vastly different as the super-social behavior of the Waldner boys and the withdrawn, alienated behavior of many people with autism.


“Even though Williams’ behavior is the opposite of autism, it may be influenced by gene activities that push it in a different way through a common process,” explained Ralph J. Greenspan, associate director for the Kavli Institute for Brain and Mind at the University of California at San Diego, who has joined the project.


Top scientists in fields as diverse as stem cell biology, brain neuroimaging, brain architecture and social cognition agreed to combine forces to investigate the ties between Williams syndrome genes and behavior. Using separate but related experiments, they'll examine cells from Williams patients, detailed images of their brains and analysis of their behavior to see how they all fit together.


The experts include Professor Fred H. “Rusty” Gage of the Salk Laboratory of Genetics, who revolutionized his field with the discovery that humans are capable of growing new neurons throughout life. Gage has used induced stem cells to model rare diseases, including, now, Williams syndrome.


In some cases, he's taken cells from children with Williams syndrome, but instead of using the somewhat painful procedure to obtain skin cells, he's taken cells from lost baby teeth, using a so-called Tooth Fairy extraction kit.


Gage said he’s intrigued at the idea of dissecting something as complex as human behavior down to the level of cells in a petri dish. Already, since the grant was awarded in May, Gage and his colleagues have shown that the early proliferation of brain cells is lower in people with Williams syndrome than in those with normal function.


With time and persistence, it might one day be possible to develop drugs or other therapies that could be used to treat the conditions, Gage said.


Williams syndrome is the perfect test case for studying the link between genes and behavior, Bellugi said. The disorder is very specific, occurring only when a certain cluster of genes is missing from one of two copies of chromosome 7.


“We’re only talking about something like 25 to 28 genes out of 30,000 genes in the brain,” Bellugi said. “And it’s always the same set of genes.”


That genetic deletion creates a well-defined but diverse set of characteristics. People with Williams syndrome have distinctive facial features, often described as “elfin,” including small, upturned noses, wide mouths and lips, a longer span between nose and upper lip and tiny, widely spaced teeth. They often suffer from heart, skeletal and dental problems.





Those with Williams syndrome have a distinctive pattern of intellectual peaks and valleys, including low IQs, developmental delays and learning disabilities, all coupled with rich, imaginative capacity for language — and those exuberantly social personalities.


“The behavior is quite consistent,” Bellugi says. “In terms of their social interest, their social drive, attraction to strangers, looking at faces, looking more intently at faces. We have this kind of social phenotype that we’ve been studying.”


Ironically, that intense interest in others can be socially awkward, actually making it more difficult to make friends. In children, such as the Waldner twins, Tristan and Tyler, schoolmates start to notice differences as early as second grade, said the boys' mom, Kimber Waldner.


As adults, despite their outgoing demeanor and desire to interact with the world, most people with Williams syndrome lead supervised lives, remaining at home with family or in group care. Jodi Reid, 35, of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, is an exception. She was able to attend college through a special program and now holds a receptionist job and lives alone, albeit with frequent help from her parents, Jim and Diane Reid, who have become her lifelong advocates.


"I am an independent woman who happens to have a developmental disability," said Jodi Reid, who was keynote speaker of a recent regional Williams syndrome conference at Salk that attracted about 60 families impacted by the disorder.


Like many teens and young adults with Williams syndrome, Jodi Reid says she knows she's different than some people — and appreciates the differences. While attending the recent conference, she even received a high-level scan from USCD's brain imaging center, where scientists mapped the way her brain responds.




More than 20,000 people with Williams syndrome live in the United States, says Terry Monkaba, executive director of the Williams Syndrome Association based in Troy, Mich. Monkaba’s 25-year-old son, Ben, has the disorder, which has led to a lifetime of heart problems, including several surgeries, but also great joy, his mother said.

“When people ask Ben about Williams syndrome, he says ‘It’s this gift I have,’” Monkaba says.


That’s a sentiment echoed by Kimber Waldren. Her boys were difficult babies who cried a lot and wouldn’t eat. Doctors at first attributed the problems to the boys' premature birth at 35 weeks gestation, and assured the Waldners that they would outgrow them. But when the twins were 2 1/2, a geneticist took one look at them and made a diagnosis.


"She said 'This is what it is,'" Kimber Waldner recalls. "We saw pictures of people with it and you just go, 'Oh, wow.'"


As toddlers and young children, they’re at once highly anxious and highly empathetic, which makes them simultaneously exhausting — and endearing.


“They are so filled with joy. Very loving, very affectionate, very special kids,” says the 31-year-old mother, who also has a daughter, Shaylee, 2, and another son, Jayden, 10 months. “I know there are other kids with disorders where they are autistic, and they don’t get that affection.”


Teasing out the link between genes and behavior, whether it’s Williams syndrome or autism, won’t be easy. For one thing, the connection won’t be as simple as a single gene, note Greenspan and Gage. It might be more like a network, where certain gene combinations work together to influence other functions in the brain and elsewhere.


But once the networks are mapped, and a little more is known, there’s great potential for Williams syndrome to unlock the secrets of diseases such as heart disease and high blood pressure, as well as the mysteries of our social selves.


“It’s not just solving the problems for our kids, it’s solving the problems for millions of people,” she said. “Our children have the ability to unlock the mysteries of the world.”


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Everything is so shiny

"Age is something that doesn't matter, unless you are a cheese." — Billie Burke 

I HAVE ALL sorts of newsy bits to share, but with me nothing ever seems to be a short story cuz' I'm just so darn shiny . . . so I'm using pictures instead.


We've had six projects in development at Brainstorm for the past two to ten months that have all landed in the last two weeks, so Paul and I have pretty much been working 'round the clock.


Except for a little walk that Paul persuaded me to take with him, a brief stop at Mama Logli's and later on, an ice cream/Topper Returns brain cool-down, I wrote for 24 hours straight Sunday to finish a report for a client.


Here are the life lessons I have to share:


1) Ice cream tastes good. Paul bought some called Moose Trail or something like that, and I had quite a few bites. I hardly ever eat ice cream, and I thought, "Holy cats. No wonder people like this stuff."


2) You can always count on a movie like Topper Returns to make you laugh. Billie Burke is priceless.


3) Anyone who says cats aren't loyal is full of it.



The fabulously shiny Billie Burke in Topper Returns.


Billie was The Good Witch Glenda in the Wizard of Oz.


Our three furry kids (clockwise from top: Boy Boy, Shye and Shiva) kept me company
during the great 24-hour writing siege. I was under those covers at the time, when Shye managed to turn on the computer's voice-activation feature all by herself — which proved quite startling to us all.


Part of our installation at the Iowa Events Center in Des Moines.


More of the installation at IEC.


In the last two weeks, we made at least four trips to Muscatine to install graphics in 
the new Iowa National Guard/Army Reserve training facility.

Those are 16-foot ladders that Paul and Joe are on.

One of ten panels in the entryway. 
The entryway of the new building on ribbon-cutting day.


Congressman Dave Loebsack made the official cut.

We're really honored to work for the Guard and Reserves.
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Saturday, October 22, 2011

Autistic facial characteristics identified

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

IF YOU'VE READ Hey Look more than a few times, you're aware of my interest in the autism spectrum. Here's an article about new research that may allow doctors to identify the condition much sooner based on facial characteristic as well get a deeper understanding of its genetic underpinnings. This article appeared on the MSNBC website and was written by Kimberly Hayes Taylor.


Three-D images like this may help identify autism.


We may be a step closer in understanding what causes autism, say University of Missouri researchers after finding differences between the facial characteristics of children who have autism and those who don’t.


Kristina Aldridge, lead author and assistant professor of anatomy at the University of Missouri, began looking at facial characteristics of autistic children after another researcher, Judith Miles, professor emerita in the School of Medicine and the Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders, mentioned, “There is just something about their faces. They are beautiful, but there is just something about them.”


“Children with other disorders such as Down syndrome and fetal alcohol syndrome have very distinct facial features. Autism is much less striking,” she says. “You can’t pick them out in a crowd of kids, but you can pick them out mathematically.”


When researchers took three-dimensional images of the children, they discovered autistic children have a broader upper face with wider eyes, a shorter middle region of the face including the cheeks and nose and a broader or wider mouth and philtrum -- the area below the nose and above the top lip.


Aldridge analyzed 64 boys with autism and 41 typically developing boys ages 8 to 12 using the 3-D images of each boys’ head. She also mapped out 17 points on the face, such as the corner of the eye and the divot in the upper lip. When the overall geometry of the face was calculated and the two groups were compared, she noticed statistical differences in autistic children’s faces. 


Researchers also noticed even more differences in a smaller group of autistic children. “They showed differences in clinical and behavioral traits as well,” she says. “That would tell us about multiple causes of autism.”


Aldridge says the images provide a clue to what happens in the embryo during the middle of the first trimester of pregnancy when the face begins to develop. It may help researchers understand if something environmentally or genetically is happening in the uterus during pregnancy that causes autism.


“This is clear support that the cause of autism is likely happening before birth,” Aldridge says. “This allows us to start looking at those hypotheses more directly."


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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The men's side

"Gymnastics is such a complex sport. It’s one of the best character building sports in the world." — Jonathan Horton

FOR SOME REASON the USA men usually don't seem to do quite as well as the women in gymnastics, but there are still plenty of reasons to cheer. This year the men took the team bronze behind China who finished first and Japan in second at the 2011 Gymnastics World Championship. Of course Olympic veteran and inspirational leader, Jonathan Horton (Houston, TX), was a big part of Team USA reaching the podium.


Jonathan puts in a successful floor exercise routine.


Danell Leyva (Homestead, FL) also took home an individual gold medal on parallel bars. It was the first gold medal by an American man at the World Championships since 2003.


Danell Leyva brought home a gold medal for his p-bar routine.


Danell deserves to celebrate have broken an eight-year
US drought in gold medals at Worlds. 


All totaled the Americans won seven medals, four of them gold. Only China won more, with 12, and the US matched the Chinese gold for gold. The women claimed their third team gold, and Jordan Wieber became the sixth American woman to win the all-around.



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Sunday, October 16, 2011

More medals

"I was two years old when my mom put me in mommy and me classes. I always had a lot of energy so it was the perfect fit." — Alexandra Raisman

THE AMERICAN WOMEN collected more medals on the last day of the World Gymnastics Championship in Tokyo. Jordyn Wieber earned a bronze on balance beam and Alexandra Raisman won bronze for her floor exercise routine. Jordyn had already won the gold medal in all-around, McKayla Maroney a gold on vault and Team USA were literally golden as the 2011 champions of the world. 


Marta Karolyi believes Alexandra should have scored higher on floor exercise. Here's part of an interesting online ESPN news story written October 16 on location in Tokyo.

U.S. National Team Coordinator Martha Karolyi said she felt that the international judges didn't quite appreciate Raisman's tumbling ability compared to some of the other gymnasts who performed floor. Raisman does two of the hardest passes currently being done in the world -- a 1.5 twist through to an Arabian double front to an immediate front flip, as well as an Arabian double pike – getting some of the biggest hang time of anyone in the world as she does it.

"I think that routine was the most impressive routine and I feel that this code of points doesn't appreciate the height of the tumbling, the power," Karolyi said. "When somebody tumbles up here" -- she gestured above her head -- "and somebody tumbles there"-- gesturing lower-- "I'm sorry but there's a difference. And the code of points doesn't differentiate that. But we're happy with Aly finally getting a medal, and we're very proud of her."


Alexandra performing her bronze medal routine on floor.


Sui Lu from China took first on beam, Yao Jinnan also from 
China was second and Jordyn Wieber was third. 


I'm sorry, but do these Chinese gymnasts look of age, especially Sui Lu? Compare them to Jordyn who's not exactly old at 16. It's so much easier to perform tumbling moves when you're lighter, smaller and your center of gravity is lower. I admit it; I'm skeptical. The Chinese have falsified birth records before. 

Jordyn performing on beam.
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