Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Journal Publication

My fourth article, On Linkages: A Multi-Institutional Collaboration to develop asthma education for school settings in South Texas, was published in the January/February 2011 issue of Public Health Reports.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Sprinkler System: Part 2

Read Part 1 here.

Determined to find the backflow box, we dug up most of the yard, from the water line at the street all the way to the house.

Notice the oak tree in the picture above? This oak tree was undoubtedly much smaller 25 years ago, and some shortsighted individual decided to install the backflow box right next to the tree. Over the course of time, the tree had grown over the box and crushed it with its roots, so it was a small miracle that we found it. The old box was in such bad condition that we abandoned it and installed a new box, a safe distance from the tree, and rerouted the main water line.

We turned the water on and crossed our fingers. A few sprinkler heads popped up but there was hardly any water pressure. It turned out that all the water was leaking from a busted pipe...which was under our deck. So, of course, we had to remove half of the boards from our deck.

Fast forward a few days. The broken pipe is replaced and we're ready to test the system again. We knew the sprinkler system had four zones because they were labeled in the control box, but water was only running to the first zone. We were left scratching our heads as to how to find the valve boxes, 4 in all, that controlled the water flow to each of the zones. First we thought a metal detector might do the trick, but after some online research, we decided to rent a wire and valve locator. You can find these at irrigation supply or tool rental stores. 

In about an hour, Zach had found all four of the valve boxes! They were buried under a few inches of dirt and all needed replaced...

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Heart Throb

I just added this quirky little Valentine to my Etsy shop.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Spring Planting

We've got our garden all spruced up and ready for the spring! We cleared out all the winter casualties, tilled the soil, and added compost.

We also added two trellises and a couple tomato cages. The trellises are made from lattice that we removed from our patio. You can see it here in this picture taken before we moved in:
We felt like it closed in the patio too much, so down it came. (As you can tell this was during our sprinkler project)

Zach cut the lattice down to size with the table saw and I attached it to the back of the garden bed with screws.

I also made garden markers for all the new veggies we'll be planting over the next few months, including lettuce, spinach, broccoli, bell peppers, peas, and tomatoes.  Here's what we've got planned for our garden:

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Sprinkler System: Part 1

Remember way back in September when we shared this lovely photo?

What was supposed to be a weekend project to put in a stone walkway turned into a 4 month (and counting) long campaign to fix our old, abused, and nonworking sprinkler system.

Our house was built in 1984, and judging by the rotary dial in the sprinkler control box, we assume the sprinkler system was installed that year or shortly after. We learned from the former owners that the sprinkler system was broken when they moved in, and our next door neighbor, who has lived there for over 25 years, says he has never known our house to have a working sprinkler system. Needless to say, we had given up on it like all the previous homeowners. Until the day we began working on the stone walkway.

We started by clearing out a pathway along the side of the house, digging out a few inches of dirt and putting in a border.

Then we rented a truck from Home Depot, drove to a local stone supply yard, and filled up with several tons of gravel and flagstone. Once back at home, we shoveled the gravel from the bed of the truck into the driveway. With half our driveway filled with gravel, and half our yard excavated, Zach looks at me and says something like, "You know, if we ever want to try and fix the sprinkler system, now is the time, before we lay all the stone..."

I should mention that about a year before, we had an irrigation company come out and give us a quote as to how much it would cost to fix the sprinkler system. He walked around our yard for about 45 minutes then delivered the news that he could not find the backflow box (where the main water line ties into the sprinkler system). Essentially, he couldn't turn the water on.

Cut back to me standing there, covered in sweat and dirt, as Zach proposes we fix the sprinkler system. I knew he was right. That it was now or never. For a second I pictured a lush green lawn, without the effort of dragging a sprinkler around the yard. But then I snapped back to reality, and the giant pile of gravel at my feet. I tried to talk Zach out of it, but his logic prevailed, and we spent the rest of the weekend digging...

Monday, January 17, 2011

Hoop Dreams

Last week I shared about the pedestal table I found at my local resale shop. While there I also scored an entire bag of wooden embroidery hoops (6 round and 1 oval) for just a few dollars! I've got them hanging in my craft room; they look almost sculptural hanging there, like a work of art. Maybe I should install a series of these in a museum...

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Journal Publication

I've got another publication to share with you!  The article, Disparities in health care utilization among Latino children suffering from asthma in California, came out yesterday in the Journal of Pediatric Health, Medicine and Therapeutics.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Junk Science Isn't a Victimless Crime

Taking a break from my regular trivial postings to share this bit of news with you...

Junk Science Isn't a Victimless Crime

January 11, 2011
Vaccines don't cause autism—and there was never any proof that they do. Too bad kids had to die while we figured that out.


In 1998, a British surgeon named Andrew Wakefield published a paper claiming that the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine might cause autism. To support his case, Dr. Wakefield reported the stories of eight children who had developed symptoms of autism within one month of receiving MMR. He proposed that measles vaccine virus travels to the intestine, causes intestinal damage, and allows for brain-damaging proteins to enter children's blood streams.

The problem with Dr. Wakefield's study—published in the Lancet, a leading medical journal—was that it didn't study the question. To prove his hypothesis, he should have examined the incidence of autism in hundreds of thousands of children who had or hadn't received MMR. This kind of study has now been performed 14 times on several continents by many investigators. The studies have shown that MMR doesn't cause autism.

As several different investigations—summed up in a British Medical Journal (BMJ) editorial this month—have shown, not a single aspect of Dr. Wakefield's notion of how MMR causes autism has proven correct. He wasn't just wrong, he was spectacularly wrong. Moreover, some of the children in his report had developed symptoms of autism before they had received the vaccine—and others never actually had autism.
In addition, as journalist Brian Deer found, Dr. Wakefield received tens of thousands of pounds from a personal-injury lawyer in the midst of suing pharmaceutical companies over MMR. (After Mr. Deer's discovery, Dr. Wakefield admitted to receiving the money.) Last year, when the Lancet found out about the money, it retracted his paper. But it was far too late.

Dr. Wakefield's paper created a firestorm. Thousands of parents in the United Kingdom and Ireland chose not to vaccinate their children. Hundreds of children were hospitalized and four killed by measles. In 2008, for the first time in 14 years, measles was declared endemic in England and Wales.
Dr. Wakefield's claim sparked a general distrust of vaccines. In recent years—as more parents chose not to vaccinate their children—epidemics of measles, mumps, bacterial meningitis and whooping cough swept across the United States. The whooping cough epidemic currently raging in California is larger than any since 1955.

Although it's easy to blame Andrew Wakefield, he's not the only one with dirty hands. The editor of the Lancet, Richard Horton, sent Dr. Wakefield's paper to six reviewers, four of whom rejected it. That should have been enough to preclude publication. But Mr. Horton thought the paper was provocative and published it anyway.

Many others in the media showed similar poor judgment, proclaiming Dr. Wakefield's paper an important study even though it was merely a report of eight children that, at best, raised an untested hypothesis.

Meanwhile, public-health officials and scientists were slow to explain in clear, emphatic terms that Dr. Wakefield's hypothesis didn't make a bit of sense.
Even today, important voices aren't drawing the right conclusions. The BMJ, for example, wrote in its editorial that "clear evidence of falsification of data should now close the door on this damaging vaccine scare." But it's not Dr. Wakefield's lapses that matter—it's that his hypothesis was so wrong.

Even if Dr. Wakefield hadn't been fraudulent, his hypothesis would have been no less incorrect or damaging. Indeed, by continuing to focus on Dr. Wakefield's indiscretions rather than on the serious studies that have proved him wrong, we only elevate his status among antivaccine groups as a countercultural hero.

The American astronomer and astrophysicist Carl Sagan once wrote that, "Extraordinary claims should be backed by extraordinary evidence." Dr. Wakefield made an extraordinary claim backed by scant evidence. Undoubtedly, bad science will continue to be submitted for publication. Next time, one can only hope that journal editors and the media will be far more circumspect.

Dr. Offit, the chief of infectious diseases at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, is the author of "Deadly Choices: How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All" (Basic Books, 2011).

Saturday, January 8, 2011

On a Pedestal

We have an area in our living room with a bay window. It sits empty most of the year with the exception of a Christmas tree in December. I've had an image in my mind of a nice little sitting area, with two upholstered armchairs, and a round glass-topped pedestal table tucked between them. Perfect for playing Scrabble on.

Picture something like this (sans prairie grass)
Image source

or this set from Young House Love, minus the modern chairs
or a scaled down version of this

Image source

As with  most of my design or craft ideas, I had a pretty specific image in mind. Let's just say I'm stubborn about my artistic visions. I searched online, on Craigslist, and at Goodwill, but never had any luck. Then, a few months ago, I found the exact table I was looking for in a catalog! Isn't it pretty?

Unfortunately, it was $200, not including the cost of shipping. And buying a glass top would add even more to the cost. So I just stored it in my mental catalog of decor ideas and kept looking.

Fast forward to last week when I went into my local resale shop looking for a cake dome. I got out of the car and there it was in front of the store. I went straight to the counter and told them very politely "I would like to buy that round pedestal table, please," all the while looking over my shoulder to make sure no other shoppers were eyeing MY table. And did I mention that it came with a glass top? For $25, I was pretty darn excited about my find! I will probably paint it white but haven't quite decided yet.

Now to find two armchairs...

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Chickpea & Tofu Curry with Quinoa

Image source
I usually follow recipes for most of my cooking, but came up with this one on my own. According to Zach, it's one of the best dishes I've made without a recipe...I'll take that as a compliment. This dish is quick and easy to prepare, and uses basic staples such as canned tomatoes and chickpeas. It's also vegetarian, gluten free, and high in protein.

Sesame oil
1 can (15 oz) chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes
1 pkg (16 oz) tofu, cubed
Tikka masala paste
Salt, pepper, and curry, to taste
1 cup quinoa, rinsed

Bring two cups lightly salted water to a boil. Add the quinoa. Reduce heat and cook covered for 20 minutes.
In a medium pot, heat a small amount of sesame oil over medium heat. Add the tofu and 2 spoonfuls of tikka masala paste and cook for a few minutes. Add the chickpeas and diced tomatoes. Season with salt, pepper, and curry. Cook until heated through.

Serve the curry mixture on top of the quinoa.

Serves 4.
About the Ingredients

Quinoa is a grain-like crop, closely related to species such as beets and spinach. Quinoa has high protein content and contains a balanced set of essential amino acids. It's a good source of dietary fiber and phosphorus and is high in magnesium and iron. Quinoa is gluten-free and easy to digest.

Tofu is a very good source of protein, specifically soy protein. It's also high in iron, while low in calories, sodium and fat.
Chickpeas are a good source of  folate and protein and are high in dietary fiber. Chickpeas are low in fat and high in minerals such as phosphorus, calcium, magnesium, iron, and zinc.

I've also shared this recipe on

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Beverage Tags

Etsy has a wonderful feature called Alchemy. Buyers can post requests for custom handmade items, and then sellers bid on the opportunity to make the item. As much as I'd like to branch out into every corner of the craft world, I just don't have the money or the space for all the tools and supplies I'd need. So when I wanted to create ceramic beverage tags, I turned to Etsy Alchemy. It's like having your own personal genie. I dream up an item, make a wish on Alchemy, and within hours there's a whole slew of sellers ready to do my bidding with bids.

I wanted labeled tags to go along with my beverage servers, that way guests would know what they were drinking. Of course they could try the age old method of actually tasting the drink, or I could inform them of their options. But tags are prettier...and I love labeling things.

Along with a detailed description, I included this illustration with my Alchemy request:

I chose to work with Wise Impressions, who offered a very fair price. Here's the end result:

Monday, January 3, 2011

Beverage Servers

Punch bowl vs. beverage server?
I'm definitely on the beverage server side of this debate.

Argument # 1: You can put beverages other than punch in a server. Sure a punch bowl can hold any liquid, but do you really want to be that hostess who filled her punch bowl with water? A server filled with water, on the other hand, looks classy.

Argument #2: Servers have spigots. We've all been there; the clumsy guest who spilled punch all over the tablecloth while trying to use that enormous ladle to pour a drink into their tiny plastic cup.

Argument #3: Servers have lids. Very useful for keeping out things like sneezes and whatever else might make its way into your punch bowl.

These, among other reasons, are why I set out to find a set of beverage servers. I knew I wanted something with a stand or pedestal, but the majority of these were pretty expensive. Then I had an idea:

I have to give credit to my four sources of inspiration: Pottery Barn, Young House Love for their pet feeding station idea, Target, and Zach, who always ensures the structural integrity of my ideas.

I purchased two inexpensive servers at Target and Zach helped me build stands for them. We used crown molding blocks for the legs and assembled the rest from scrap wood we had on hand. Zach used a router to give the top a nice edge, and then I gave both stands a couple coats of white semi-gloss paint.

I found the little white dishes at Goodwill, and they help to catch any drips.

Did you spy the beverage tags in the picture above? More on those tomorrow...