Thursday, February 23, 2012

Sixteen years later, we're still debating "Ironic"

An online writing group where I hang out was discussing the meaning behind Alanis Morissette's 1996 song "Ironic" earlier today. A poll posted by Word Snooper Lexie Kahn got our attention when she asked "what irks you more: people who use 'ironic' when they simply mean coincidental or when dictionaries provide both the traditional and misused form of the word."   

This naturally prompted us writerly types to debate whether the song actually does show irony or if it simply offers examples of bad luck. The group was divided on the topic, with just about equal writers on board that the song does, in fact, show irony while others said "no way" (I should mention, though, that it’s a small group).

Take, for example, the man who was afraid to fly but ultimately met his demise in a plane crash. That sucks, but there's not much irony there. Had he been driving across the country in order to avoid taking a plane to his destination, only to have a plane crash into him in his car…now, that would've been ironic. A black fly in your chardonnay? That sucks, too, but it's not very ironic. Of course, a song about things that suck isn't very catchy and probably wasn't what Alanis Morissette was going for.

I've always been a big fan of Alanis and I consume her songs as fast as she can put them out, so I want to give her the benefit of the doubt. I like to think that she was being ironic by naming a song "Ironic" when it had no actual irony. Isn’t that ironic? Don't you think?

This totally ironic photo above is from Jeremy Wrenn.

Wash your hands, damn it!

(this article originally appeared in the February 6 issue of the Harrisburg Patriot News)
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that only two out of three people wash their hands after using the restroom.

This leaves approximately a third of the public with dirty hands. Non-hand washers spread their own germs, as well as other bacteria they pick up from bathroom surfaces, and deposit them onto doorknobs, railings, countertops, and any other surface they touch.

At least one non-hand washer was in our area recently. I know this because my 2-year-old son Ryan came down with rotavirus. The rotavirus infection causes severe diarrhea accompanied by vomiting and fever. Because of the extreme dehydration that accompanies rotavirus, more than 50,000 U.S. children are hospitalized each year.

The frustrating part is that this virus can only be spread through fecal contamination. So someone who came in contact with the infected germs, either from themselves or from an infected surface, carried the germs into a public place where Ryan picked it up.

Ryan’s father and I are meticulous, almost compulsive, about hand washing. We wash our hands after every shopping trip, every gas fill-up, every time we shake hands with someone. We wash Ryan’s hands just as frequently and sanitize the surfaces he comes in contact with at restaurants or on shopping carts. We take these precautions because Ryan was born with a severe heart defect. He has already survived two open-heart surgeries and will have at least one more.

Because of the stress already on Ryan’s body, a typical bug hits him harder than a healthy child. A common cold can last three weeks. During his recent bout with rotavirus, Ryan needed an IV and spent several hours in the emergency department. The loss of fluids and lack of appetite made him lose two pounds in just four days—almost ten percent of his body weight. All of this could have been avoided if someone had washed their hands.

The incubation period for rotavirus is 48 hours. Ryan’s limited exposure to other children allows us to make an educated guess about where he picked up the germs. Although I used antiseptic wipes on the table at a family restaurant two days before he got sick, Ryan played with the salt and pepper shakers, which were not cleaned. We also visited a zoo where Ryan touched glass displays. Either of these seemingly innocent events likely put him in contact with the rotavirus germs. Most likely, someone used a restroom, picked up feces from themselves or a surface, didn’t wash their hands, and contaminated another surface.

The CDC and the Procter and Gamble Corporation recently released a study showing that proper hand washing can reduce diarrhea-related illnesses by more than 50 percent in children under 15. This same study also proved that hand-washing drastically reduces pneumonia in children under 5.

But with such an easy solution, why are infectious diseases still spreading so quickly? Perhaps it is because some people are not spending enough time washing their hands. The CDC offers the following tips on proper hand-washing:
  • Rinse hands thoroughly and apply soap. Make sure to get the soap in all areas, especially under the nails and in the knuckles.
  • Rub hands together for at least 10-15 seconds. Children can hum a song, such as Happy Birthday, to mark the time.
  • Rinse well and dry. If you’re in a public restroom, use a paper towel to both turn off the faucet and open the door to exit. This will prevent you from picking up the germs on those surfaces.
If we all work together, we can easily prevent illnesses from spreading through our community and we can help kids like Ryan stay out of the emergency department.

State Pattys Day--keep the name change the meaning

My latest column, State Patty's Day--keep the name, change the meaning, is at Here's a preview.

State Patty's Day began innocently enough as a small group of friends celebrating St. Patrick's Day together before leaving town on spring break. They never planned, nor could they have imagined, that it would become the drinking festival that it is today.

Last year alone, the now infamous weekend was the scene of 234 arrests and 14 DUIs, according to data released by police. Just more than 100 partygoers who couldn’t hold their liquor ended up at Mount Nittany Medical Center. There was property damage, public urination and assaults. Though the majority of those arrested were from other universities, the negative publicity still fell on the Penn State community.

But this year is different. This has been a year like none other in Penn State's history. A small group of students and residents have already generated a decade’s worth of negative publicity.

Last weekend at THON, the Penn State community came a long way in restoring the pride and tradition of its name. The students were able to raise more than $10 million for the Four Diamonds Fund to help in the fight against pediatric cancer. The dancers and other participants were selfless, noble, and, well, amazing.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

THON photos--Saturday afternoon

A Wookie from the 501st meets a fan.

Still going strong around 1:00pm.

A THON display in the concourse.

Obi Wan and Darth Vader stand united against pediatric cancer.

Some of the activity tables down on the floor.

Friday, February 17, 2012

THON photos--Friday night

This is THON weekend in State College, the largest student-run philanthropy in the world, that culminates it's year-long fundraising efforts with a 46-hour no sitting, no sleeping dance marathon.

All money raised though THON, more than $78 million, goes to support The Four Diamonds Fund at Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital. The Four Diamonds Fund provides assistance to families of children with cancer and funds research to find a cure.

Don't know what THON is? Check out this page.

The 2012 THON logo high above the Bryce Jordan Center.

The men's basketball team and coach Pat Chambers lead a "We are..."

One of the first line dances of the weekend, around 7:00pm.

Check back tomorrow...better and more photos coming soon.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Other things: Co-sleeping and togetherness

I also write lots of non-Penn State material and am starting to share it here along with my PSU thoughts.

(This essay originally appeared on NPR's This I Believe via WPSU FM.)

It's a hot night and my six-year-old’s room doesn't have a fan. Since my husband has a cold and is in the guestroom, Ryan is bunking with me. Truth be told, Ryan ends up in our bed for at least a few hours most nights.

Sometimes he starts in his own room and crosses into ours after a bathroom visit. Sometimes he finds an excuse to start out with us. Scary shadows, upset tummy, a vague pain in his leg that's only cured by snuggling. Or, when he really wants to pull on our heartstrings, it's because he loves us and wants to be close. He knows all the tricks and so do we.

The funny thing is, almost all of our friends admit they also let their children into their bed on a regular basis. But this is always confessed in hushed tones with a certain amount of embarrassment. The parenting magazines and even our own pediatricians tell us not to do it. We're bombarded by experts advising us to let our children cry themselves to sleep if needed. They'll be better off in the long run.

But making children sleep alone is a uniquely Western experience. In many countries, parents invite their children to share the bed until they’re comfortable enough to sleep on their own. Those countries, and those children, turn out just fine. A British child-rearing expert recommends parents and children sleep together until the child is at least five. Her recommendation is backed by a study that shows an increase in stress hormones found in children sleep alone.

But regardless of the research or current trends, it really all comes down to what's right for our family. I could put Ryan back in his bed when he wakes up, but it would be a struggle that could last for hours and no one will get any sleep. Am I giving in? Sure, but there will come a time in the next few years when his bedroom door stays shut, probably with a sign that reads private or no parents allowed. Right now he still sees us as his heroes, as the ones who can solve most of his problems with a hug and a good book.

So I don't mind when he squeezes his 44-inch frame into our small bed and sleeps sideways, his head on my back and his legs on his dad. No one gets a perfect night's sleep, but it doesn't matter. What does matter is that he feels safe and loved.

I believe that you can't show a child too much love and that you need to do it while they let you.

Monday, February 13, 2012

A fair trial with Centre County jurors? Of course

The Attorney General's office seems to have a misguided and incorrect understanding of the residents of Centre County. In the motion requesting that an out-of-county jury be brought in for the Sandusky trial, the AG states:

"The citizens of Centre County feel a laudable and proper sense of ownership of, and participation in, the fortunes of Penn State. To ask members of that community to breakdown that alloy and insulate themselves from the institution which informs so many aspects of their lives is asking too much. It is unfair and impracticable."

I'm not sure how the AG came to this idea, but the implication is that since this is Penn State-related, a Centre County jury would find it difficult to keep their Penn State loyalties separate from their feelings towards Sandusky. I guess this could go either way--a jury might be prejudiced toward a guilty plea because of what this has already done to the University or they might feel loyalty toward Sandusky because of his football years.

I think either of these scenarios is unlikely. There is very little, if any, positive feelings toward Sandusky around town. Most people I talk to believe that he is guilty on at least some of the charges and blame him for the negative media attention to our town and for the firing of Joe Paterno.

On the other hand, I think residents of Centre County would like Jerry Sandusky to be innocent. Not just found "not guilty" but to actually be innocent. There has been so much negative publicity devoted to painting the community as a football-obsessed group of child abuse-enablers, we'd like nothing more than to find out it was all fabricated, much like the Duke lacrosse scandal.

Sadly, though, I don't expect that to be the case.

The judge's ruling on whether or not to grant the change of venire should be coming in the next few days, if not hours. I hope the judge decides to have a local jury...the alleged crimes were committed here, it's only fair that a local jury should hear the case.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Paterno statue memorial photos--part 2

I found out after I posted my first group of photos that the Beaver Stadium staff, with permission from the Paterno family, removed all the items from the statue and took them inside the stadium to dry off. I'm lucky I got these when I did, as I had been wanting to stop by for several days.

I guess this is what happens to Peachy Paterno ice cream after getting rained on and sitting outside for a few days.