Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Oink, oink baby.

Disclaimer: the following is purely my OPINION. Opinion, people. Just like everything else you read these days, come to think of it. Between my husband and I, we may have many years of biology experience (even including some immunology), but neither of us has any first hand experience with flu research

So, heard any swine flu news lately? I know, I know, it's so obscure and hard to find. I'm hearing a lot of grumbling about hype and of course the theories that it's man-made and has been released by "big pharm"--those who will profit from sales of anti-virals and vaccines.

Okay......hype? maybe. The main thing I hear is there are 36,000 deaths from seasonal flu every year and comparatively, there have been extremely few deaths from this strain of flu. True. For now. There's a big catch-22 here for public health officials though. If they do nothing and they're wrong, there will be hell to pay. The public will blame officials when there is a shortage of resources. If they do their job and do it well (limiting the spread of the virus), there will forever be deriders claiming it was all hype and public panic was induced for no good reason. Well, I'd err on the side of caution too and let the "hype" claims fall where they may. Until everyone is lined up for a hot off the presses vaccine, I'll refrain from yelling "hype".

Here's my personal view: The current recommendation is to wash hands, cough and sneeze into your sleeve, keep your hands off your face, and stay home if you're sick. All good advice anytime, regardless of what's going around. If someone in my family were to pop up with a fever and respiratory symptoms, I would head to the doctor sooner than I normally would (since there have been a fair number of deaths here, and it makes sense to me that most of those who died were probably not treated with anti-virals early on). I have no intention of hanging out at indoor playgrounds or other places where large number of kids gather any time soon (but then, we tend to avoid them anyway since most kids don't have great hygiene and gleefully share germs). I don't see any harm at all in following these measures. I must admit I did run through in my head how much food/medicine we have on hand should it become more serious and we chose to stay home, but we store extra food anyway, so I didn't feel the need to go "stock up". Should a vaccine be pushed in the near future, I would be hard pressed to take it unless the situation changes dramatically...mostly because I'm distrustful of new vaccines anyway, I like long-term data if I have a choice.

There are an awful lot of swine flu stories out there. I'm not reading any "we're all gonna die!" stuff though. Personally, I appreciate knowing where cases are popping up. Just like the CDC puts up weekly reports of where seasonal flu outbreaks are (which I periodically check as well), I think it's helpful to know when something like this becomes prevalent in my area, so I can make better informed choices about what sort of situations I put myself and my kids into.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Pears, Peaches and Onions, oh my!




Saturday, April 25, 2009

Sick Babies

I've been too overwhelmed to post this week. The beginning of the week was just busy--I was teaching Monday night and we had our book club meeting Tuesday night.

Then Wednesday came. Sedona woke up with a 101.8 fever and no other symptoms. Odd. Sierra was very very prone to ear infections as a baby, but Sedona's not. Sierra is also very prone to high fevers, Sedona is not. Since high, sudden fevers tend to be a symptom of viruses, we decided to give her ibuprofen and wait it out. A full day of baby cuddling later, we put her to bed and figured she was on her way to mending.

Then we went in to check on her before we went to bed. I'm not exaggerating--it hurt to touch her. That's how hot she was. The thermometer read 104.9. Here's where parenting gets oh so fun. My first baby, I would have rushed to the ER. Actually, that IS what I did with my first baby. Which is why I know that no pediatric people work in our local ERs, but high fevers still make the staff feel the need for an automatic IV, blood culture, urine culture (obtained through catheter) and if it doesn't come down fast enough, spinal tap. All very necessary tests at times, but, in short, horrific to go through when the staff are only used to working on adults. So, we chose to stay home. We stripped her down, wiped her with luke warm wash cloths, took her outside, turned down the A/C, turned on the fans, and pushed cold fluids on her (she already had ibuprofen in her system). It was past 3 am before we could sleep easy that she was okay.

Thursday morning was a continuation of the night with the added fun of her temperature jumping 2-3 degrees in an hour or less. We gave her more ibuprofen and called her doctor. When we got to the office, she was well into her ibuprofen dose and her temperature had continued rising and hit 104.6, so he gave her acetaminophen also in the office. She screamed through the insult of having her personal space invaded and it was determined she did not have ear infections or pneumonia. The hypothesis was a virus and to give her ibuprofen and acetaminophen (technically "outdated" advice, but makes more sense to me than leaving her at 105 for days) since one or the other wasn't helping. The doc told us to come back the next day if she still had fever. The rest of the day was an enthralling mix of snuggling with mom, crying and not sleeping. Thursday night was a repeat of Wednesday night. Using both drugs brought the fever lower, faster, but it still jumped several degrees in a matter of minutes before she was due for more meds, so we spent hours trying to keep her cool again.

With the same thing going on Friday morning, we went back to the doctor, where we knew we were in for (and dreading) a urinary catheter. Much to our surprise, this procedure wasn't traumatic at all when performed by an experienced pediatric nurse. I knew our doctor's nurse was good, but I figured a catheter on a baby would be terrible no matter what and it really wasn't. All of us thought everything looked fine, but babies are big on surprises and her clear, pale urine popped up with high levels of nitrites and white blood cells as soon as they put it on the dipstick. So, we had our answer---urinary tract infection. She got a shot of antibiotics and a prescription of antibiotics. The evening was another high fever extravaganza, but it finally broke in the middle of night and she hasn't needed any ibuprofen or acetaminophen today! The urine got sent off for culture and antibiotic susceptibility testing to be sure we're using the right thing to knock out the infection, but that takes 48 hours to run.

Thanks to our (really better than a lot of alternatives available in our area) health insurance we pay $650/month for, we "only" had to pay $50 in office co-pays and $42 for 10 tsp of antibiotic.

And now....we sleep.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The World According to Sedona

It's amazing what differences there are with the second baby. Sedona is 21 months old now and it's not at all uncommon for her to throw a typical toddler tantrum. I see the seedlings of what will soon sprout into those infamous "terrible twos". And at least once a day, I just chuckle and think, "yay 2s! 2s are AWESOME!" And no, I'm not being sarcastic. Making it through the terrifying threes and the ferocious fours gives you an amazing amount of appreciation and patience for some piddly, easy twos ;-)

In honor of Sedona and all her toddler glory, a few tidbits on "The World According to Sedona"
  • Food must be dipped. Doesn't matter if it's ketchup, mustard, ranch or syrup, anything that can be picked up with fingers requires dipping
  • There are no limits on what foods go best with what dips---bananas in ketchup? yum!
  • When the dog is taller than you are, the best snacking strategy is to back yourself into a corner, hold your food close to your body and shout "GO!" at the dog
  • When frustrated, the best course of action is to fall down and scream "BEE BEE! BEE BEE!!" until someone unbuttons your onsie and allows you access to the all-calming belly button
  • A grown up must read all babies at least 5 books of their choice, 3 times each, every day (this is simply a minimum)
  • It is, at times, strategically appropriate to hit big sister with a shovel, scream through the resultant time out, then give her a hug as apology. Big sisters apparently don't harbor grudges
  • I've got this potty training thing DOWN! I sit on the potty, by choice, everyday. I still choose to save all the pee and poop for diapers though.
  • Speaking of diapers, my momma won't get me a wipe warmer because she doesn't want me to be too comfortable with this diaper thing. Cold wipes are evil
  • Strawberries that have even a speck of red on them call me to pick them. I can't help it, they whisper my name. After one bite, I remember they're not good until they're red all-over, so I throw them down on the ground to save anyone else the disappointment
  • I can climb the ladder up to the play house now. You should see how fast my momma and daddy can run when I get to the top step and stop to shriek in glee
  • I can also go down the slide by myself, but when I forget to wait for help, I slide right off the end and crash land on the ground
  • I climb onto the kitchen table at least twice a day. If I'm consistent, Momma will eventually learn I belong there and leave me alone
  • I like to color. My favorite mediums are marker on table/chairs/library books and crayon on wall. Nothing "pops" quite like red crayola on yellow wall
  • I like to stack. Momma keeps trying to tell me something about balance and putting smaller things on bigger things, but I think she's off her rocker, so I'm just trying it all
  • The bakery section of the grocery store puts out the most freebies weekday mornings. When it's just me and mom, I often breakfast on brownies, croissants, donuts and scones all in one shopping trip
  • It's hard to tell the sound of one truck from another, so the safest bet is to run to the front door yelling, "DADEEEEEE!" whenever any truck drives by
  • The rudest way to wake up is getting kicked out of bed (literally) by big sister. where's my shovel?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Hard Life Lesson

Some life lessons are HARD to learn and even HARDER to teach. Yesterday, the girls and I ran into the grocery store for one item. I decided to use the self checkout and as I was scanning my item, Sierra pointed to the change tray and said, "Hey look Momma! Money!". Sure enough, the person before us(who was already long gone) had left $20 in the change tray. Oh how badly I wanted to keep that money. My 4 year old was watching though. Do I take the money and take her out for lunch, or do I turn in it? Man, I wanted that money. Really really wanted it. After I paid, I picked it up and frantically debated all 10 steps to the cashier station. I have to be honest, had my kids not been there, I think I may have taken it. In the end though, I handed it to the cashier and let her know someone had left their change. I barely got an "oh, okay", not even a thank you, certainly not any sort of monetary reward for being so nice and not taking it. For all I know, the cashier kept it for herself. All the way out of the store I was mentally kicking myself thinking maybe I should have just taken it after all. I mean, all through elementary school you learn, "finders keepers", right? When we got to the car, Sierra was buckling her car seat and said, "Momma, you sure are nice for leaving that money. It wasn't ours, so it wouldn't be right to keep it". SIGH! So it turns out I did the right thing after all. Man, it was hard though!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Yogurt!

Josh finally convinced me we should make our own yogurt. He frequents the Backyard Chickens message board and had been reading a particular thread all about homemade dairy products. We used the recipe listed in the first post there as our guideline. Here's the run down of what we did:

Materials:
1 small cup good yogurt (we used Stonyfield Farms vanilla because plain wasn't available. It's a 6oz cup)
1/2 gallon milk
6 one quart jars
water
medium cooler that will hold all the jars

Directions:
1. Fill cooler with the hottest water from the tap
2. Start a large pot of boiling water and put two quart jars and lids in it to sterilize
3. In a separate pot, slowly heat milk to 185 degrees (a digital thermometer with an alarm works great for this and so many other things)
4. Turn off the heat and allow milk to cool to 110 degrees
5. Stir in entire cup of yogurt and mix well until completely dissolved
6. Pour milk into your 2 sterilized jars and cap
7. Pour hot water out of cooler and place jars of milk in cooler.
8. Pour the boiling water you used for sterilizing into the other quart jars and also place these in the cooler.
9. Close the cooler and let sit for 10-12 hours (until milk is set), then refrigerate.

Our yogurt came out great. We stir in homemade apple butter, peach jam, granola, and/or strawberries from the garden. It was a little bit runnier than the store bought stuff, but next time we will try the trick of adding additional powdered milk (2/3 cup per half gallon of milk).

An explanation of why you're doing these steps: Heating the milk to 185 and sterilizing the jars kills off competing bacteria. Adding the yogurt gives you the bacteria that are used to make yogurt. Warming the cooler initially, and then placing the jars of hot water in there with the milk creates an incubator that allows the yogurt cultures to thrive and turn your milk into more yogurt.

Price run down: We see gallons of (non-organic) milk for $2.50 pretty regularly and the yogurt is about $0.80, so that means the cost ends up being about $1.03/qt for plain yogurt. We usually pay $1.79/qt (again, non-organic). For organic, your own yogurt would cost you about $1.70/qt and store-bought tends to be a little over $3 for slightly less than a quart. So this does save money. If you have a free source of milk, you'd only be paying $0.40/qt. Health-wise, it's always nice to know exactly what's going into your food and you can avoid the sugar and high fructose corn syrup if you want. Sierra LOVES go-gurt, but did you know that stuff has more sugar per ounce than coke? She's just as happy with the homemade yogurt mixed with homemade apple butter (which we put sugar in, but we have a lot more control over how much she gets this way).

Friday, April 10, 2009

50 Books in a Year

It's that time again! I still haven't made it to 50 books, but I'll try again this year! You can click the links for the 2008 and 2007 book lists.

Past Reading
2006:
30 books
8,222 pages

2007:
37 books
14,326 pages

2008:
41.5 books
15,072 pages

1)Peony in Love by Lisa See. I'm kinda torn on this one. I didn't like the first part, it was super cheesy predictable. As the main character matures though, it got more interesting. This is one I'd say is worth reading, but not worth buying. It was most interesting from a "historical fiction" standpoint. The author is clearly very well versed in customs of ancient China, so that made for interesting reading. (304 pages)

2)How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. I give this one two thumbs up. I first got this a couple years ago and browsed through it, but not too much was applicable to life and discipline with a toddler. Now that Sierra is older, I decided to pull it out again and we've been using the techniques with her. In the last week, I've seen a definite improvement in her behavior. I swear, sometimes I handle a situation like they suggest and it's like magic mojo that stops the drama and fits in their tracks. One nice thing is that they demonstrate each technique with cartoons, so it's easy to thumb through the book and just get the basic idea or review. The other nice thing is there are practice pages and lots of stories from parents in the book. Definitely recommend for those parents or teachers dealing with kids age 4 or 5 and up. (286 pages)

3)Grief Girl: My True Story by Erin Vincent. This is an autobiography of a woman who's parents both died from an accident when she was 14. She and her 3 year old brother were left to be raised by her 18 sister and her boyfriend. Having watched a very dear friend go through the loss of a parent at the same age, I appreciated the raw honesty in the book. Obviously painful to read at times, but a good read. (320 pages)

4)The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling. From the world of Harry Potter, sort of a "Tales of Mother Goose" for young wizards and witches. Complete with notes from "Albus Dumbledore". Quick, fun read. If nothing else, has the benefit of helping people get outside themselves and see something from a different point of view, even if that point of view is fictional. Not sure on the page count, I borrowed it from the library and already returned it, so I'm probably off, I just guessed. (75 pages)

5)The Reader by Bernhard Schlink. Eh. This one wasn't good, but wasn't quite bad. The first half read like a boring, trashy romance novel that the author was trying to disguise as good literature. The second half had some interesting thinking points that could have been explored, but they weren't. The premise is a boy has a relationship with a much older woman, after he's grown, he comes across her again while she is on trial for war crimes committed when she was a Nazi guard at a concentration camp. The book would have done well to focus more on the difference between a black and white world and that where there is gray area and perhaps "degrees of wrongness". It was a quick read, so I don't feel like I wasted my time, but I'm glad I didn't pay for the book and don't have any interest in seeing the movie. (224 pages)

6)Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See. After reading Peony in Love for book club, I decided to pick this one up because a few of the ladies had said they really liked it. I think this one was better than Peony in Love. It's the same basic idea---an historically accurate setting (in China, of course) with a wonderful story woven around it. I think this book has more of a "moral to the story" that can be applied to modern day life though, so it's an interesting read and one that makes you think, as well. Unlike the other ladies in book club, I think the foot binding scenes in Peony in Love were more graphic and heart wrenching. There is more time devoted to foot binding in this book, but I guess it didn't get to me as much because they were starting from the beginning. There's nothing in this book that I hadn't already read about when I did a talk about foot binding in my high school humanities class. I think the foot binding in Peony in Love got to me because the mother was resistant as well as the daughter and all the talk of the mother must be strong and do what's "right" smacked of what I see women being told about their babies (regarding not "spoiling" them as infants). (253 pages)

7)Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores The Hidden Side to Everything by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner. Listened to this one on CD, so no pages accounted for. This was an excellent book and the audio recording was worth listening to as well. SO many audio books drive me nuts and I can't stand to listen---I'm noticing a trend, the ones I like are read by the author. I'm sure that contributes to the intended emphasis being placed on certain words and phrases and makes for a more entertaining listen. This was a great one to keep in the car and listen to while running errands. They explore a couple of questions from an economic point of view: Does your real estate agent really want to sell your house for the maximum price; why do crack dealers live with their moms; what is the connection between Roe v Wade and violent crime; what do sumo wrestlers and teachers have in common.... This was actually a great companion to the "Gone With the Wind" chapter of our current book club read, Lies My Teacher Told Me. There were a few snippets here and there where I feel like the author missed a pretty obvious alternative (ironic, since there is a lot of talk about the difference between correlation and causation), but by and large, an excellent book. If nothing else, I think it would give someone less practiced at reviewing data and research a good primer on how to critically review information. I've realized in the last 5 or 10 years that that skill is SORELY lacking in our society. (0 pages)

8)Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong By James Loewen. I'm putting this one in the must-read category. There weren't any earth shattering revelations in here, but I suspect that is because I had a really good AP History teacher in high school. She was a phenomenal teacher who really knew her stuff, plus she required us to read from and write about primary sources to better prepare us for the AP test. I would agree that the general high school history textbook is completely one sided and white washed and meant more to instill patriotism than teach history. Apparently it works, because some reviews for the book list as their main "beef" that America basically tries to do good. Ummm...yeah, good for whoever's running it at the time. America has done some wonderful things and I'd have a hard time saying America has done anything uniquely wrong (we aren't the only people to wipe out and oppress a native population, or assist in rigging other country's governments), but our leaders absolutely have not always taken the path that was for the greater good, or even intended to. Unfortunately, I know more than one person that is too close minded to even read, much less consider the information in the book, though the vast majority of it is very well researched and documented. Let's value our country for what it's done right and at the same time recognize and improve upon what it's done wrong. Aside from that, I think one of the most important points the author makes is that it is ridiculous to have kids memorizing factoids about American history rather than threading it together and laying out the cause and effect. Understanding the interconnectedness of so much of our politics and policy would help students become informed citizens, better able to understand and form opinions about current events. Coincidentally, this book goes along really well with Freakonomics---particularly, the discussions about social class, which I feel like a lot of people just don't get. (362 pages)

9)Politics, American Style: Political Parties in American History by Isobel Morin. Blah, blah and blah. After reading Lies My Teacher Told Me, I wanted some information on political parties. I was already aware the Republican and Democratic parties had basically switched places sometime around the Civil Rights movement, but I wasn't sure of exactly when the happened, or when the Libertarian party came about, so I scanned the library shelf for a quick political parties primer and this seemed to fit the bill. It is very fast to read and gives you the basic run down. I don't trust the accuracy of some of the information, nor do I believe you can write a trustworthy history book that is over 100 pages long and has only 5 references. Reads like a grade-school textbook. Alright for the basics, but definitely don't buy, and not even sure you'd want to check out from the library---just stand there and look up what you want. (129 pages)

10)Marley and Me by John Grogan. It irks me when things are popular just because they're popular (really...what has Paris Hilton EVER done?!?), so I didn't want to like this book. I couldn't help it though, I did. I really, really liked it. That may have been because the dude stole my life story. Hubby agrees, we might be owed royalties here. From the out of control lab with the indefinite puppy-hood and voracious appetite for everything (be it food, mechanical pencils, batteries or what have you) to the miscarriage and pre-term labor (I think I had flashbacks when he described being told it was probably nothing, then the monitors showing it was something, then the brethine injections and the strict bedrest and the trips home because she couldn't get up to get lunch and the labor starting immediately after bedrest was lifted. All they left out was a second hospital stay and the loveliness that is mag sulfate). The bedrest depression and the post-partum depression stemming from it. The small piece of land and the garden and the chickens. The faithful companion creeping inexorably toward old age with creaking and groaning hips and an undying love of chicken poop as a tasty snack. I was warned I would cry and I did not (perhaps because I've already lived it all before?), but I did come close. It pains me to admit it.....it's not another trendy thing, it is well deserving of it's popularity. Not sure I could stand to watch the movie--too many of my own life experiences here. (295 pages)

11)The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart. Fabulous book!! This is a kid's book (along the lines of Harry Potter), so it was quick to read, but it was really enjoyable and kept up good suspense without being too terribly dark/scary. Great fun for adults, and good for pre-teen, early teen kids. The basic premise is that an ad appears in the paper offering an opportunity for gifted children. Following a series of bizzare tests, 4 kids are chosen and sent on a mission. (486 pages)

12)The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey by Trenton Lee Stewart. I'm really enjoying this series. The third book comes out in October. In this one the children are off to save to their beloved Mr. Benedict in an around the world scavenger hunt. Hope there are several more books to come, they're fun to read! (440 pages)

12.5)The Man Who Sold the World: Ronald Reagan and the Betrayal of Main Street America by William Kleinknecht. Blah. I've had mixed feelings about Ronald Reagan for many years now. The more I learn, the more I dislike him. I disagree with his economics and doubt more and more he had the knowledge and/or intelligence to run the country. Having come in close contact with Alzheimer's, I find it hard to believe that hadn't begun to set in before he left office and I believe wholeheartedly that even Alzheimer's patients that are still considered to be of "sound mind" have some serious issues with judgment. All that said, I'm not at all a fan of biased "history" books. You could be completely truthful, but unless you show me a concerted effort at being unbiased and have absolutely impeccable and thorough reference notes, I'm not going to believe you. And this book was SOOOO biased that I just couldn't keep reading. I'd like to find a general overview of Reagan's presidency (that isn't biased, by either side) and especially the economic policies and consequences of those, but this book isn't it. (100 pages)

13)Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know--And Doesn't by Stephen Prothero. Well, based on the title, I thought this book would tell me you know--what every American needs to know and doesn't. That's not what the book is about. The book opens up with some impressive numbers about religious ignorance in America (which I already had a strong "gut instinct" about--I wonder how many strongly religious people have critically studied, REALLY studied, their sacred text(s)). Then it goes on to explain how important religion has been in our history. The overall point being that in our fear about lawsuits over separation of church and state, we have erased religion from schools completely. The author argues instead that we SHOULD be teaching religion in school--not as a truth everyone must follow, but as a basic education that will helps us understand those people in America and around the world that we live and interact with. My problem here is that I already knew that. I already believed that. I already planned to give my children a thorough education in comparative religions. I thought the book would actually tell me ABOUT the religions, and it doesn't do that. There is a list in the back, organized just like a dictionary. Sorry, I'm not a person to read a dictionary for fun. There is some very interesting information in the first 50 pages or so and it's well-written, it's just badly titled. (100 pages)

14)The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien. A very realistic fiction account of soldiers in the Vietnam War. I'd say this belongs in the "must read" column. My overriding thought while reading was the irony (and out and out unfairness) of drafting people against their will to fight in a war purported to be for the freedom of democracy. I found myself thinking about how many wars there would be if no governments had mandated military service. There are some causes that plenty of people agreed on the value of and voluntarily participated in...and others that seem propagated by governments that got caught up in "war games" on paper and lost sight of the personal sacrifices involved. (246 pages)

15)More Than it Hurts You by Darin Strauss. Fiction about a woman with Munchausen by proxy who is drawing blood from her baby to induce a hospital emergency and entice her husband to help out more at home. It was a really interesting story that touches on quite a few ideas---race relations, anti-semitism, family relationships, male vs. female roles and expectations. All in all a good book. The ending was dramatic, but I would've traded dramatic for truly wrapping up the story. (416 pages)

16)The Ride of Our Lives: Roadside Lessons of an American Family by Mike Leonard. This was another one I listened to in the car. The premise is that an extended family (grandparents, son and grandkids) take an RV road trip across the country. In reality, there are a lot of long flashback scenes discussing different events in the family's life. Overall, great writing, lots of really funny parts and quite a few life-lesson insights as well. The audio version was worth listening too, but I kept getting frustrated because the reader would forget to switch voices for different characters in the middle of dialogue. (0 pages)

17)The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares. After a few serious books, we decided on light, easy reading for this month's book club and this is one of two books we're reading. The story covers the summer of 4 friends who are 15 and spending their first summer apart. They have a pair of "magical" blue jeans that fit all of them that they mail across the globe to each other throughout the summer. A definite coming of age tale for girls...suitable reading for about 14 year olds and up. They do face everything from boys and sex to sickness and dying, so I'd hesitate to give it to a pre-teen girl, but it's got some worthy life lessons for the early-teen set. At the beginning I thought I wouldn't like it, but it finally picked up and I'd like to read the rest of them and keep them around for the girls when they're older. (294 pages)

18)How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer. FABULOUS Book. It can be incredibly difficult to explain some aspects of science in layman's terms, but Mr. Lehrer does a fantastic job of making a very complicated concept fun and easy to read. The book goes through how our brain makes decisions---everything from picking out strawberry jam to getting out of a wild fire alive. While he doesn't shy away from the hard science, he continually entertains with stories ranging from NFL quarterbacks to commercial pilots and professional poker players to soldiers. He briefly discusses how we do (and how we should) pick our food, our cars, and our political candidates. Great reading, highly recommend it! (256 pages)

19)Holes by Louis Sachar. The other half of this month's book club read. The library didn't have any copies in stock, so I ended up with the audio version, which was a tad weird because the reader was an actor on the only soap opera I ever watched. Anyway, a fun kid read. Sierra actually enjoyed listening to it in the car, though I don't think she understood it all. Basically about a boy who gets send to a camp after being found guilty of stealing shoes. At the camp, they are required to dig holes in this large, empty, lake bed. Can't tell too much else without giving away much of the story. Great elementary read though. (0 pages)

20)The Second Summer of the Sisterhood by Ann Brashares. Yes, after sisterhood of the traveling pants, I had to go back and get the second book. I'll be getting the third as well. These are fun, easy reads. I would say, as far as my kids are concerned, I think I would find these appropriate reading for kids the same age the characters are. Some of the relationships with boys get more graphic in this book and make things sound a little more romantic and exciting than they really are at 16/17. In the second summer, Bee takes off to find her grandmother, Tibby goes off to a summer film school and everyone else mostly stays put. There is lots of drama and a good helping of life lessons. Looking like this series is the perfect feel-good fluff to throw in your bag to read on summer vacation. (400 pages)

21)Girls in Pants: The Third Summer of the Sisterhood by Ann Brashares. Series continues to be interesting. A certain guy from the first book reappears in this book and one family welcomes a new baby. I still say these are appropriate for girls the age of the characters, or maybe slightly younger. The material definitely gets more adult at the characters grow up. (416 pages)

22)Forever in Blue: The Fourth Summer of the Sisterhood by Ann Brashares. Yup. Still good. The girls have now all spent a year in college and are attempting to reunite over the summer. Lots of adjusting to new life, exploring the "real" world kinda stuff in this book, as well as true friends vs. people not worth your time. We get into serious adult issues (well, one issue in particular) in this book that may be too much for a younger teen to handle, but could be really good for the 15 or 16 and up set. If you're going on summer vacation, pick up the whole series and throw it in your bag...great reading! (416 pages)

22.5)The Grand Inquisitor's Manual: A History of Terror in the Name of God by Jonathan Kirsch. The topic was interesting and the raw material was interesting, but I just couldn't get into the book. I'm not sure the writing was so bad, I just get instantly bored trying to keep names/places from the middle ages straight. Also, even though history is right there in the title, I thought the book would cover the inquisition itself. Instead, there was MUCH time devoted to discussion of what led up to it and the politics without much material about what was done and on who's orders. It was kinda like discussing world politics leading up to and surrounding 9/11, but leaving out all the messy terrorist attack business----I felt like there was too much context, not enough cold hard facts. Then the beginning of the book makes several mentions of how Inquisition techniques have continued to be used throughout history, up through modern day. That argument is a valid one that someone should make, but that's not a HISTORY of the Inquisition, that's a history of religious intolerance and it spans the lifetime of mankind. I ended up flipping through the book and just reading sections that looked interesting. (304 pages)

23.5)The Purity Myth: How America's Obsession with Virginity is Hurting Young Women by Jessica Valenti. This was a really good book detailing the definition of virginity, sex ed, the virginity movement and feminist thinking. I should start out by saying that I actually disagree that "waiting until marriage" is a good thing and I hope my girls don't (I know, shocking). On the other hand, "sleeping around" or having sex too young isn't good either. I felt like the book advocated sex without a meaningful relationship a little bit, which I didn't agree with. However, it did accurately chronicle the hazards of abstinence education and how our society puts the burden of purity squarely on women's shoulders. I think there is fantastic information in this book and I can think of quite a few people who I wish would read it. Unfortunately, some of the rhetoric is too heavy handed and I think those who don't already agree with the idea behind the book wouldn't give it a fair shot. It's a shame, great topic. (300 pages)

24.5)The Prize Winner of Defiance Ohio: How my Mother Raised 10 Kids on 25 Words or Less by Terry Ryan. What's a mother of 10 to do when her husband spends his paycheck on booze instead of food for the kids? Enter a contest! This was a great memoir that not only showed you some of the culture behind the contests of the 50's and 60's, but also gives an uplifting example of the possibilities that arise when you determine to take care of you and yours and keep working towards the next solution. (352 pages)

25.5)Angels and Demons by Dan Brown. I know these books are controversial, but I love 'em. I like all the history and symbology stuff that's thrown in. My only "complaint" was that it's so good that the last 200 pages are so all cliff hanger so I stayed up way too late finishing the book! (608 pages)

26.5)Mayflower Madam: The Secret Life of Sydney Biddle Barrows by Sydney Biddle Barrows. The original Heidi Fleiss story, I suppose. Not much to tell...affluent young woman just starting her career and realizes she has a knack for management and could run an escort service better than the way they're being run. Interesting read though! (291 pages)

27)Society Without God: What the Least Religious Nations Can Tell Us About Contentment by Phil Zuckerman. I picked this up on the new releases shelf at the library because it seemed like a good ol' rattle the establishment type of read. The author does a good job of not being too dogmatic--he goes to great pains several times to explain that he is NOT saying religious societies are bad, he's just pointing out that the non-religious ones aren't wallowing in despair. He shoots effective holes in quite a few "humans can't be good if they aren't religious" theories and arguments. I especially found some of the data interesting because he is discussing the lifestyle in Sweden and Denmark. Plenty of "alternative" childbirth professionals (lactation consultants, midwives, doulas) speak of Sweden almost as a sort of childbirthing mecca, so I found the information surrounding that interesting. Unfortunately, the test just wasn't very readable. He gives a LOT of statistics at the beginning, which I like, but will probably lose a lot of readers. When he does get into the main part of the book, there is a lot of quoting from his interviews with various people rather than just telling the story. In the end, that's what I got tired of and why I quit half way through the book. (100 pages)

28)What I Thought I Knew: A Memoir by Alice Eve Cohen. Fabulous read. The basic premise is that a 44 year old woman believes herself to be infertile, has adopted a daughter, divorced, and started over in life. She and her doctors believe she has cancer, only to find out she's 6 months pregnant. The book is extremely readable and she deals openly and honestly with the thoughts, feelings and decisions she faces when confronted with this news and more shocks over the ensuing months. Definitely worth picking up. While the subject matter is difficult at times, there is a happy ending (208 pages).

29)The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Fiction book set in Nazi Germany. The narrator of the story is Death, and one unfortunate girl has crossed his path several times as different people are taken out of her life. Despite his best efforts to avoid her, death is drawn to her and her story. I think this is the first WWII era story I've read that is from a non-Jewish point of view. It's kind of interesting--depressing and uplifting at the same time. There is definitely plenty of food for thought and symbolism in here. The library has this in the youth fiction section and it would make a good high school literature class pick, but is also great for adults. Too bad so much fiction these days is all fluff and no thought---maybe we'd be better off if this type of writing was more popular. Very well done. (560 pages)

30)Digital Fortress by Dan Brown. Typical Dan Brown (Da Vinci Code) book---outlandish plot lines and character twists that somehow manage to be entertaining and keep you guessing until the end. Total fluff, but fun weekend/holiday reading. This was my third Dan Brown book to read and I'm thinking if you like one, you'll like them all, if you don't like one, you won't like any of them. (384 pages)

31)Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen. This was a book club pick. It's been so long since I've seen the movie that I can't remember how closely it follows the book. The book itself is a very very quick, but good read. The author is very candid about her time in a mental institution and it's a decent insight into mental health treatment of that time (though judging from the excerpts of her records printed in the book, much of what was "wrong" with her wasn't anything wrong at all, just not the societal norm). (192 pages)

32)The Late Lamented Molly Marx by Sally Koslow. Picked this up on the recommendation of a friend. Great read. The narrator of the book has recently died and the story chronicles her first days, weeks and months in "the duration" as she watches her family and friends and tries to piece together what happened to her. There are some good life lessons at the end about letting go of that which you can't control. (320 pages)

33)Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict by Laurie Viera Rigler. I am NOT a Jane Austen fan. Pride and Prejudice? Sense and Sensibility? They're so boring to me I can't even sit through the movies, much less the books. I picked this up because I'd heard a friend talking about it and was pleasantly surprised. It's very well written and fun to read even if you don't like Jane Austen. The premise is that a young lady from that whole "pride and prejudice" era awakes to find she is inhabiting the body of a modern day woman. Obviously there is a big learning curve involved as she learns how to function in daily life, handle relationships, find a job and pay bills. Very entertaining read. This was the sequel to another book, Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, which tells the other side of the story (the modern day woman going back to take on this lady's life). I went ahead and picked that one up at the library, but haven't read it yet. (304 pages)

34)Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict by Laurie Viera Rigler. This book was the predecessor to Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict. As mentioned above, it's the other side of the story. I'm sure I was biased, but it seemed like the books made more sense to me going in this order. I think I may have been more lost if I'd read Confessions first. Confessions gives you a more solid ending explaining what happens to the girl and I liked ending on that note overall rather than sticking that knowledge in the middle if I'd read Confessions first. Like the other book, entertaining read even though I don't like Jane Austen books. I'm sure I'm missing some stuff since I'm not well versed in Austen, but it was funny to imagine a city girl waking up and suddenly having to follow all of these old rules. (304 pages)

35)Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie. I had high hopes for this books and was so disappointed. The author is Chinese and after being "re-educated" in the 70's, he moved to France. Between the book being written in French by a Chinese author, then translated to English, I'm hoping something just got lost in translation, but I'm not so sure. The premise of the story is two boys are sent to the Chinese countryside to be re-educated and while there find out another boy is hiding a suitcase of books. Much of the story is about their quest to get their hands on these books. Then it derails and there's a lot about this mountain girl (the seamstress) and teaching her. The story was jumpy and there was no continuous plot. I didn't like it and only finished it because it was for book club. One of the ladies at book club pointed out the irony that the boys were sent out to be re-educated and it was actually the seamstress who got educated, which is nice and all, but still doesn't make the book good. (197 pages)

36)The Scandalous Summer of Sissy LeBlanc by Loraine Despres. The was a classic chick lit book, which I seem to be reading a lot of this year, no wonder I've gotten through so many books! Basic story: It's the muggy, Louisiana summer of 1956 and a housewife with 3 kids is sitting on her porch thinking about killing herself. Up walks her high school sweetheart, whom she hasn't seen in 14 years. What will she do? Now, normally, I go through a book anticipating most of the twists and turns, so when one takes me by surprise, I like the book. There are some plot twists in here that had me going, "NO WAY!" Fun to read. According to Amazon, the author has lots of experience writing for soap operas, including the "Who Shot JR?" episode of Dallas, which explains why this book has so many outrageous plot twists. Definitely worth reading. (342 pages)

37)The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown. The follow up to Angels and Demons and The DaVinci Code. If you like Dan Brown's books, you'll like this one too. This was actually my favorite, which was a nice surprise. Sometimes I feel like I get bored if I read too many books by the same author. The old "formula" is definitely at work again in this book, but there are so many twists and turns, it keeps you interested. I also feel like there were more interesting philosophical/religious questions to think about in this book with all the noetic sciences talk. My only complaint is that the one piece of information that was set up as if it was supposed to be some big shocking amazing secret was SOO heavily fore shadowed that I can't imagine anyone doesn't get it from the very first mention, would've rather that been more hidden until the end. (528 pages)

38)The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner's Dilemma by Trenton Lee Stewart. Love love love these books! They would be fabulous for tweens. In the latest installment, Mr. Curtain is up to his old tricks and the mysterious benedict society gets drawn into the action once again. Lots of the same ol' Reynie, Sticky, Kate and Constance, but it keeps you reading all the way through the end. Now that Constance is older, she's developing more skills that really expand what the group is capable of. Wonder if (when, surely?) these will be made into movies. (400 pages)

39)See You in a Hundred Years by Logan Ward. Josh and I both enjoyed this one. It's an account of a young family from New York that decides to leave the city and live 1900 life for a year. The premise was really similar to Better Off by Eric Brende. I liked Better Off more for one main reason: it was more practical. Living life in 1900 for a year is interesting and has some lessons to teach, but mainly, it's a gimmick. I felt like Better Off had a more worthwhile goal--to be self sufficient within a community of like minded people. It's all well and good to live without electricity and indoor plumbing, but I just don't get the point of making do with 1900 tools when better stuff is available and still leaves you self-sufficient. There's good reason to learn the skills that were commonplace a hundred years ago, but you don't have to throw the baby out with the bath water....take what advances there are that still allow you to do for yourself. That said, the challenge they set forth to conquer was living in 1900 for a year and they did an admirable job of it and the book is well written. Definitely worth reading. (272 pages)

40)Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen. Loved it! This was a book club pick. The story is set in present day with an old man flashing back to his time spent on a railroad circus during the depression. So much drama, comedy and tragedy! Really fun to read and I liked the added touch of having actual archival circus pictures at the beginning of each chapter. The end also has a great twist that isn't too terribly realistic, but somehow works wonderfully for fiction! (335 pages)

41)The Ground Truth: The Untold Story of America Under Attack on 9/11 by John Farmer. This book took me forever to get through. I had it out from the library for 6 weeks (which is unheard of for me) and still found myself sitting in the library to finish up the last 10 pages before I turned it in on the day it was due back. It's not that it was unreadable though, it's just A LOT of information and as the author points out near the end, there are A LOT of "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot" moments as you're reading. I've read several books now about how 9/11 happened and how it was handled. The government monumentally failed the American citizens in allowing the attacks to happen and not stopping them in the process. It was a new kind of warfare, it's somewhat understandable. Unless the American people take the time to make educated voting decisions (which SO does NOT happen right now), we won't be able to prevent a similar occurrence in the future though. Sure, you may stave off the next commercial airliner attack, much like we've thus far staved off another Pearl Harbor, but the defense of a country has to be fluid, anticipatory and smart. From what I've read, I'm convinced of two things--the first is despite claims to the contrary, it was never necessary for Americans to give up any of their civil liberties to protect the country. The government had all the information in front of them to anticipate these attacks, they just lacked the organization and team work to bring that information together in one place. Increasing the flow of information only makes that goal (which is the only one that really matters) MORE difficult. Second, the government may or may not have had a chance to stop some of the attacks. The problem there was everyone trying to act like they had it all together at the time, which this book shows through transcripts of recordings on 9/11 is blatantly not true. I think the level of confusion is understandable. The unconscionable thing is that what was broken wasn't fixed, as the author shows with the handling of Hurricane Katrina--an event that was predicted and gave everyone involved a nice, long lead time to address. The bipartisan nonsense and finger pointing in our country (NOT only our government, the whole dang country---I can count the number of true independents I know on one hand) is only going to make things worse. Creating a new party is not an answer. Voting along party lines is not an answer. This whole set up where one party can force (or hold up) things through congress is not the answer. The system that virtually prevents anyone not affiliated with a party from running for public office is not the answer. Government will not change itself. American citizens are going to have to wise up, educate themselves (believe it or not, that involves not only staying informed, but actively seeking out opposing opinions) and vote in better candidates. The politicians do and say what gets them voted. If standing on a party platform gets the job done, that's all they'll ever do. These hot button topics that determine so many elections are largely inconsequential to what we really need from our government and they've been used to totally skew the set up of our government by giving people who should never be in those leadership positions the power to organize our government and keeping out those people who are better able to see what we should really be focusing on. {puts away soapbox} (400 pages)

42)Escape by Carolyn Jessop with Laura Palmer. Whew, that last review was a bit long, huh? Well, on to this book. Escape is the story of a woman who managed to flee the FLDS with her 8 children. Very interesting read, the book is well written and keeps you interested from the beginning. The only thing I didn't like is that the actual escape was covered almost entirely in the beginning, then it went back and told the rest of the story, skipped over the escape, and told the "post-FLDS" story. It was a little awkward and felt like a big chunk was missing because I had read it 300 pages ago. (413 pages)

43)Dear John by Nicholas Sparks. This was a book club pick and I should start by saying this is not my kind of book and I'm not a Nicholas Sparks fan. But I always read the book club books, so I read this one. Blah, blah, blah. The writing is good and clearly Mr. Sparks has found a formula that works with his audience, but it's just not my thing. Beyond that I could take issue with many many points of the storyline, but not without giving things away to people who want to read the book. If you like Nicholas Sparks, I'm sure you'll like this one too, if you don't, it's not worth your time to read. (288 pages)

44)Blind Side: Evolution of a Game by Michael Lewis. My mom gave this to me after she finished it and I loved it. I am not a football fan and I have a big issue with professional sports in general (I can't stop thinking of all the better ways to use all that money), but the book was very readable and the story kept you interested. There was plenty of football talk, but it was all understandable, even to someone who knows next to nothing about football. It was a bit of a market analysis of how certain players on the team became worth more, monetarily, than others. Woven throughout this background is the story of Michael Oher, a boy with no education, no experience and no steady home who is taken in by a rich family who pushes him to catch up on his academics and his sports and helps him get to a position where he can get a college scholarship and a spot in the NFL. I'm very interested to see the movie now that I've read the book. Wish books like this showed up on our book club list more often. (339 pages)

45)The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History by John M. Barry. This book took me FOR.EV.ER to read! There was a lot of really useful information in it, but unfortunately, that information was bogged down in a completely different story concerning the history of modern medicine. The two stories are related, but I don't think the general medicine part had to be so heavily emphasized to tell the influenza part. Being a naturally science-minded person, who has always had great interest in epidemiology and has experience working in the lab trying to solve a problem, I think this book probably interested me more than it would a "lay" person, which is a shame, because like I said, it has some really useful information in it about influenza and pandemics in general and how they are handled. I'd say this is useful as a reference book, but I wouldn't be eager to read through the entire thing again. (560 pages)

46)Same Kind of Different as Me by Ron Hall and Denver Moore with Lynn Vincent. This book just wasn't quite as earth shattering as I expected it to be. I had heard tons of really great things about it, but it just wasn't my cup of tea. I did really appreciate the telling of Denver's backstory...(this is non-fiction, by the way) he is raised into modern day "slavery", working plantations in a sort of share-cropping system that is impossible to ever profit from. Having spent a little time in central Louisiana recently, I don't have a hard time believing such a system recently existed, or possibly still does. In fact, that sort of system meshes well with and explains a lot about some attitudes I've seen in that part of the country. I think that part of the book and when Denver first leaves (and ends up finding himself living as homeless man in Dallas for many years) are the most valuable because you can't ever really understand people and why they act the way they do unless you know where they've come from. The parts of the book describing the Halls and their mission to serve the homeless population was all together too preachy and "I'm better than these people and will lift them up to my level" for me. I realize that wasn't the intent. In fact, the intended message was almost the opposite of that, but that sour taste of paternalism was left in my mouth all the same and it kinda ruined the rest of the story for me. I'd be very interested in reading a book written solely from Denver's point of view. (237 pages)

47)Take Your Oxygen First: Protecting Your Health and Happiness While Caring for a Loved One with Memory Lossby Leeza Gibbons, James Huysman and Rosemary Laird. This was a really good book with really good tips for caregivers of memory loss patients. Unfortunately, I have the impression that those who need the information the most would be the ones who would scoff at it and toss it aside. Focuses on practical, daily things caregivers should think about to maintain their mental and physical health. There are a few tips about caring for memory loss patients, but the vast majority of the book focuses on things the caregivers should take the time to do for themselves. (325 pages)

48)The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. The premise of this novel is there is a man who is "chrono impaired", meaning, he time travels. He can move backwards and forwards. He first meets his wife when they are both in their 20's, but when he is older, he also travels back in time to when his wife was younger, so she has known him almost her whole life. I saw the movie last summer and it was hard to wrap my head around because there is so much jumping around. It was entertaining as long as you didn't think to much about everything. The book was much easier to follow because you are given dates and ages for each setting, so you can more easily keep the time traveling straight. The book also goes to more effort to reconcile the circular logic involved...things in the past can't be changed, but they're like that because the man has traveled back in time, which just leaves me wondering what they were like the "first" time around, when he was truly younger and not in that place. This is just kinda left open for you to figure out with the movie, but the book goes into further explanations and examples that almost make it start to make sense. But, in the end, it's time travel, so you just have to give in and accept that it's fiction at some point. (546 pages)

49)The Mother-Daughter Book Club by Heather Vogel Frederick. I picked this up at the last library sale because Sierra is always begging to go to book club with me. It's an adolescent book...somewhere along the lines of Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and Baby-Sitter's Club. Super easy reading (I read it in one day), but the moral of the story was good and it was clean enough that I'd feel comfortable giving it to Sierra to read. The premise is 4 mothers decide to start a book club with their daughters, but the girls are not all friends, and in fact, one in particular is part of the "mean girls" clique at school. They read through Little Women and everyone lives happily ever after in the end. The girls in the book are in 6th grade and it'd be appropriate reading for any elementary/middle school aged girl who was capable of the reading level. This is a series, but I'm not sure how many books are in the series. (236 pages)

50)Deception Point by Dan Brown. A typical Dan Brown book...you get 200 pages in and it's suddenly a page turner that you can't possibly put down, only there are about 500 pages left, so you end up staying up WAY too late to finish. This is one of his earlier books and is slightly more predictable...the foreshadowing is a little heavy handed and while I wasn't SURE of the ending, my hunch did turn out to be right. This one is based on NASA finding a meteorite in the Arctic, which causes all sorts of upheaval in US politics, and a few people who are trying to find out if the meteorite's a fake and how it got there and who's responsible. Lots of action, lots of twists and turns. (736 pages)

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Time out!

The weather is crazy. Sierra told us we just need to put the weather in time out. Last night we were under a freeze warning, so we hauled out just about every sheet we own to cover the garden. A little bit of overkill, perhaps, but there's entirely too much out there to risk it this late in the season. Looking at the history overnight, one of the local weather stations got down to 32.0, but that was the low point. Not sure if we're just in a low lying area or what, but there was a little bit of frost damage on some of our fig and pear leaves. Everything else is fine. Tomorrow it's supposed to be 80 again.

Been hard to update lately. I have begrudingly admitted Sedona is too old for 2 naps a day, so we've dropped the morning one. That means there is a lot less work and a lot a more playing happening in the morning, overall, not a bad deal!

No one has come up with a poison ivy rash, thank goodness. The garden is completely planted for spring. There is still plenty of work to be done, but everything is in the ground.

Over the weekend, we went to an egg hunt that is sponsored by the local police department, the George Bush Library and several companies around town. It's always a lot of fun and completely free. They have a big egg hunt for the kids, give out drinks and snacks, the kids get goodie bags with a lot of good stuff in them, and there's a raffle hosted by the city police for bikes and baskets each year.

We ran into some friends there. Their daughter goes to the same school as Sierra and they're good buddies:

Typically, the Easter Bunny rides in on a fire truck and they blow the fire truck horn to start the egg hunt. Not sure what happened, but there was a false start this year where kids on one corner of one field started running in, and everyone was holding their kids back, but there were enough kids already out there that finally the workers just said to go. Still a great time, Sierra finally understands the concept now and had her basket heaped full of eggs at the end:

Sedona is still on the "0-3" field with the other young 'uns and was quite content with 4 or 5 eggs

And Sierra won a raffle prize this year!!! She got a frisbee, bucket of sidewalk chalk, disney princess pen and address book, pack of different colored gel pens, bubbles, a stuffed bear and an extra egg with candy in it.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

A PI PSA

It's that time again!!! There are dewberry blooms out everywhere, green berries are starting to form and.....hey, wait, that "dewberry" plant over there doesn't have thorns...

We went on a little hike today and while I was busy manning the GPS and mentally making a note to come pick dewberries in a few weeks, Josh pointed out there was also quite a bit of poison ivy leafing out. The best part was when Sierra (in what I swear was slow motion) tripped on a dewberry vine and skidded face first into some poison ivy. Lovely. Seems like as good a time as any to make a little poison ivy public service announcement....

What it does:
*Poison Ivy, Poison Oak and Poison Sumac all have an oil called urushiol in them. When this oil comes in contact with your skin, you may have an allergic reaction to it (85% of the population does).
*Kids under 7 are unlikely to react to poison ivy. People who are "immune" may develop sensitivity.
*The smoke can cause a reaction too, so burning poison ivy is a very bad idea (if you think the rash is bad, try having it in your lungs)
*If you wash all the oil off, the rash and the fluid in the blisters is not contagious. Even with the oil off, you may continue to break out in new spots (generally the ones less exposed or with less sensitive skin) for about a week. You may also be re-exposing yourself through your clothes, sheets, couch, dog, etc....the key is to get rid of the oil
*The rash typically breaks out 8-72 hours after exposure. It can take 7-10 days the first time you are exposed.
*The poison ivy/oak/sumacs are in the same family as cashews, mangoes and pistachios (that's why you never see cashews sold in their shells---there's urushiol in the shell). If you know you are allergic to cashews, mangoes or pistachios, you'd do well to steer VERY clear of the poison ivy/oak/sumac family since you may have a more severe reaction than other folks.

How to recognize it:
*The typical "leaves of 3, leave it be" is a good general rule. Plenty of non-toxic plants also have three leaves, but better safe than sorry, right? If you know poison ivy is in an area, stay clear--the roots can cause the rash too.
*I've read that if you crush a leaf between two white pieces of paper, then let them dry, the urushiol will turn brown. Of course, this probably exposes you and while you're doing your experiment you're wasting valuable time you could be using to clean up.
*If you spend a decent amount of time outdoors, it's very worthwhile to study pictures of the plants and learn what they look like

What to do:
*If you know you're sensitive and you are going to be outdoors, invest in some ivy block or a similar product. It's not perfect and needs to be reapplied often, but it works pretty well.
*If you knowingly come in contact with poison ivy, you need to wash off as soon as possible. This can be tricky---water just spreads the oil and soap will break down your natural skin oils, which allows the urushiol better access. What's worked best for me is alcohol, followed by LOTS of lukewarm water (hot will open your pores and give the urushiol better access). Soap doesn't really do much of anything. The key is LOTS of whatever you're using and pour it on--no wiping allowed since that will just spread the oil. If you're close to home, a long, cool shower is in order, no baths.
*In the time between contact and washing, don't touch anything. Specifically, the skin on your hands is often resistant to absorbing and reacting to the urushiol, but if you scratch your eye or touch your face, you'll certainly break out there. I have absolutely no proof this is true, but I read on a medical website that the most common break out areas are the forearms, the lower legs and male genitalia. YEOUCH hands off, guys!!
*Wash your clothes and sheets well (several times never hurt)

If you do get the rash:
*I hear showers as hot as you can stand them helps the itch for several hours
*Be extra super sure you have washed EVERYTHING that could be contaminated with the oil
*I know lots of sites say home remedies work fine and blah, blah, blah, but my doctor was able to give me some sort of cream (I'm sure it was a corticosteroid, but I don't remember and it was several years ago) the last time I broke out that was wonderful (as in, I'll dance and sing the praises of this treatment)....no more itch and the rash was quick to clear. Well worth the doctor visit.

And if you really want to fear poison ivy, there's a very interested page here with a gallery of photos of some rashes. Warning, it gets gruesome.

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