Archive for June, 2012

Raspberry Memories

Raspberry Memories

Once, when I was 17, my father decided to grow red raspberries along with the strawberries, apples, herbs and vegetables in his garden. “Why.” I asked,”do you want to grow those thorny, seedy things?” He lowered his head and sighed, then spoke quietly. “I was five when my mother died, and the last thing we did together was pick raspberries.” I saw a moistness in his eyes, and not knowing what to say, I simply hugged him. The day after we buried my mother, , I took my 14 year old son berry picking.  “Why” he started. I took his hand and whispered, “I’m starting a new tradition.”

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Blackberry Pickin’

Blackberry Pickin’

Scrambling through overgrown pastures and picking blackberries is a summer tradition in my family.  We have battled the briars, the heat, the chiggers, the bees  and even other people crazy enough to compete with birds and bears for a small, seedy fruit for decades.
Picking blackberries brings back fond memories of togetherness as well as  the luscious scent of berries boiling on my grandma’s woodstove. A child’s anticipation of making jars of jam for winter or cobblers for hot summer nights remains with me even now, as well as some of the less enjoyable parts of hunting the small deep purple fruits.

For those of you who “aren’t from around here”, chiggers are small parasitic mites, closely related to spiders and ticks, that haunt the overgrown  pasturelands and disturbed areas where blackberries and raspberries thrive.  If you are ever bitten by a family of hungry chiggers, you will not soon forget the intense itching bumps caused by the bites of this nearly invisible little foe. The briars on the biannual plant are furious, they hold no mercy for those wishing to reach into a thicket of thorns to grab a fruit the size on a small grape, over and over, until your bucket is full. You will not go home without scratches, and flecks of blood earned from your relentless pursuit of the lowly blackberry!

During the depression, when my father was a boy, it was a matter of survival-well, a matter of lunch at least. He was raised as the youngest son of a tenant farmer whose mother died when he was five. He and his older brother were constantly out looking for jobs to do in order to visit the country store nearby and purchase a can of Vienna sausages, a pack of “sodie” (soda” crackers) and a “dope” (a carbonated beverage, usually a Coke).

In summer, many “rich” people from the south made their way to the foothills in the area bordering Western North Carolina and Upper South Carolina. My father and his brother would go into the pastures owned by these wealthy summer residents and pick their blackberries, then they would go to the door and ask the lady of the house to buy the berries for 20 cents a gallon.  It was an easy sell, there was “no way” the ladies were going to pick the berries themselves and their maids could cook them up into jam or pies.

When I was growing up in the sixties, I had to accompany my parents to my grandparents pasture next door  every July in order to pick these little gems.  I hated it.  One year, besides the numerous scratches and purple-stained hands, I collected 103 chigger bits. Yes, I said, 103! I swore to them I would never go again and they couldn’t make me, and for years, I kept my vow.

By the time I had children of my own, the lure of sharing a childhood memory with my kids overwhelmed my memory of the misery of chigger bites. Besides, I had bug spray and had learned to scrub down every inch of my body, especially around “elastic” bands where they liked to congregate. I started to take them blackberry picking, sticking mostly to roadsides where briars and chiggers were not so hard to avoid.

We continued to share the ritual of gathering, washing and cooking the blackberries.  We stood over hot stoves bubbling with deep purple berries we had strained with a colander, and mixed with sugar and Sure-Jell into warm, waiting glass jars.  We would quickly pour the hot blackberry mix into the jars and seal them with melted paraffin to preserve the jelly. The pouring of the paraffin was my favorite part. As a child mom would let me make “Ice-candles” with the left over paraffin. (more about Ice-candles in a later blog)

Time has taken its toll, it has been many years since I first took my children blackberry hunting.  I had few of my older relatives left to enjoy it with.  I had lost a child and my health.  When I approached my youngest son, and his friend, I didn’t have a lot of hope of talking  teenagers used to Ipods and video games into a trek to briar and chigger land in order to collect a tiny fruit and turn it into boiling liquid when it was nearly 90 degrees outside.

Surprisingly, my son agreed to go with me one Sunday morning, “IF, he stipulated, “we drove the car up the back road and stopped to pick berries, got back in and drove until we came upon the next patch”.  I relented and accepted his conditions.  We had a blast. We came home with about a half gallon of berries, numerous scratches, and avoided the chiggers with a vigorous scrubbing.

A few days later, I asked my father, now in his mid 80’s, alone and anxious to reminisce, if would like to go blackberry pickin’ with my son, his friend and me,  His smile said it all. Cane in hand, we set out ON FOOT up the road that used to be a path in what used to be my grandparents’ pasture. We wandered through the bushes at the corner of my aunts yard, a field that used to lead to her pasture and scurried down a bank to the paved road that used to be a path.

For nearly two hours, we picked blackberries, stashing them in plastic bags, and transferring them to cool-whip containers. My dad and I shared our stories of blackberry hunting as the teens laughed and bragged about how many berries they had, showed each other their “war wounds” from the prickly vines, and raced ahead to find the next patch of berries. My dad and I, backs aching, followed behind them as we made our way back to my childhood home.

Once again, I saw that my teens, seemingly addicted to technology, actually longed for the freedoms and challenges enjoyed by generations of kids who had to find their own fun, or earn their own spending money. They will treasure the evening picking blackberries with my father much as I adore memories of my grandma standing over that woodstove, wiping sweat from her brow. When my son and I got home, we decided it would be fun to share our adventures with others, that we deemed, “not quite so fortunate”- and even include a recipe for people who aren’t from the south and have never had a chigger bite.

Here is our recipe:

Blackberry Cobbler

Wash  the blackberries, and put them in a large sized pot with a little bit of water. Bring them to a boil and let them boil on medium heat for 5-10 minutes.  They will boil over if they get too hot, so make sure and turn the stove temperature down when they start to boil.  While they are boiling, add enough sugar to sweeten the berries. (OK, we don’t measure it, but I would say for a ½ gallon of berries, a cup of sugar will be a starting point) Add about 1/3 cup of corn starch to a cup of COLD water, then, while stirring the berry mix, add the cornstarch mixture slowly and continue to stir as it changes back to a clear purple and thickens. Leave the pan on the stove with the heat off.

Next, using my grandma’s recipe for the only biscuits fit to eat, mix these ingredients for  the cobbler dough mix:

2 cups- White Lily Flour (preferably Self Rising)
2/3 to ¾ cups buttermilk
¼ cup Crisco

If you don’t have self-rising flour, use plain flour and add  1 tbsp of baking powder and 1 tsp of salt-you can use plain milk if buttermilk is not available.

(OK, if you are lazy, don’t like messes or can’t make biscuits, you can roll our canned biscuits, but don’t expect the mouth watering taste of the real thing.)

Mix together in a bowl-only until mixed, then dump the dough out on a piece of waxed paper covered in flour. Knead the dough for only a short time, then roll it out into a ½” layer and set it aside.

Using a large casserole dish, pour in part of the berry mix, then gently cover the berry mix with a piece of the rolled out dough cut to fit the dish.  Top the biscuit dough with butter and sugar, then repeat with another layer of berry mix, dough cut to fit and butter and sugar.  Bake at about 450 degrees until the biscuit topping starts to brown-about 10-12 minutes to start.  It the dough isn’t brown yet, bake a few more minutes.  Let cool a bit, then serve warm.  You can top it with whipped cream, if you like, although that isn’t the way it was eaten during the depression.   Enjoy this old-fashioned treat and be ready for compliments.

(You can substitute the blackberries for strawberries, or cooked peaches or apples)
.
Lastly, remember, life is short, memories are forever. One day maybe your grandkids will go berry pickin’ with you!

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The Royal Walnut Caterpillar and Moth-Queen of the Moonlight

The Royal Walnut Caterpillar and Moth-Queen of the Moonlight

 I have studied insects and spiders for many years, yet the first time I came upon this caterpillar had to be one of my most memorable insect encounters. Without a doubt, the fully grown caterpillar of the Royal Walnut Moth is a creature you will never forget. When I was a young adult, my father and I were walking down his road when he reached down and picked up a writhing creature. “Look, he smiled, “ a Hickory Horned Devil!”  I had seen pictures of this caterpillar and seen the adult moth, but had never seen the huge caterpillar in the wild.  It was about 5 inches long, with an aqua body, huge black and reddish brown horns around its head, and smaller prickly horns along its body segments. My father assured me that it didn’t sting, that the “horns” were largely a protection against predators, and warned me that I would be surprised at how heavy it was.  He was right on all counts.

When I picked up the caterpillar, it curled into a ball, but soon began to crawl up my arm.  I did feel a slight prickle on my arm, but easily put it  in a cup I was carrying in order to observe it later at home. The next day, I offered it to the local Nature Center , who gladly accepted the unusual guest.

It was many years before my next encounter. My teenaged daughter found an adult female beneath a street light on a busy street. It was unable to fly, so she put it in a container and brought it to me.  We feared she was dead, but left her in the container inside our house.  The next afternoon when we checked on her, she had surprised us with over 30 yellow eggs about the size on a lower case “o” on a twelve point typeset.

The moth, itself is large and quite beautiful.  The female can have a wingspan of 4-6 inches.  She has an orange body, about an inch and a half (or more) in length. Her wings have yellow markings on a grey background. The wings are lined with orange veins.  Many of the adult females have pinkish tint to areas of their wings. They look like no other moth and because of their size and color are easy to identify,  She is fuzzy and when disturbed, will flap her wings wildly, in order to escape.  Because she is so heavy, she doesn’t fly a long distance and will calm down if confined to a box or container.

We did some research on the moth and found out their adult lifespan is very short.  They   do not feed at all. They are born one evening, mate the next, with the female laying her eggs on the leaves of the host plant the next evening. Exhausted,  both male and female soon die. Resources such as the  Golden Guide and the National Audubon Society Guide list their preferred natal plants as hickory, sweet gum, walnut, ash, sumac and persimmon. Because the female lays her eggs on the leaves of large trees, we don’t often see the caterpillars until they come down to form into cocoons, made of leaves and silk. There they lie, under the cover of leaves until they hatch the next spring. Likewise, with a three day life as an adult, chances of seeing them are small.

As amateur naturalists, my children and I decided to raise the caterpillars and see if we could watch them through their life cycle. We gathered walnut and persimmon leaves and scattered them in a cardboard box covered with screen. In about six days, the eggs began to hatch.  The tiny caterpillars appeared black at first, but after several molts, the looked more like bird droppings, with black and white markings. This was obviously to deter predation.  As they continue to grow, they become more colorful and start to develop the classic “horns” which give them their nick name.  I enjoyed picking them up, observing their weight and features as they grew. The “horns” are, indeed, ominous looking, but they have no sting and do not bite.

 The caterpillars became so large that the box was crowded with the huge hungry creatures.  We decided to release some onto their natal plants in order to have more room and in hopes that a natural environment would be more likely to produce adults the next season. After a few weeks of voracious feeding and amazing growth, the caterpillars stopped eating, appeared to shrunk in size and soon began their transformation into cocoons.

Unfortunately, many of our caterpillars died before they turned into cocoons.  The few that did pupate, we kept in an aquarium in the basement over the winter, trying to add a bit of moisture and light.  Unfortunately, none of the ones we kept survived to hatch the next spring.

It has been over ten years since our first attempt to raise the “Hickory Horned Devil” caterpillars.  Today, my teen son, who was three years old the last time we raised them, found an adult female at a gas station and brought her home.  Whether she has laid her eggs or mated is yet to be seen. She is quite active, living as her predecessor  did, in a cardboard box with a screen covering it.  We enjoy any opportunity to watch the life cycle of any insect we find. Perhaps we will get another chance to observe the life cycle of this  huge, beautiful but rarely seen moth..

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Parent Heart Watch-How to Help Save the Life of a Young Athlete

Image

My son, age 15

Knowledge and prompt response are the keys to saving anyone with sudden heart arrest.

Parent Heart Watch is a wonderful organization dedicated to preventing the death of young athletes (and youth in general) from Sudden Cardiac Arrest.  I became aware of them after the death of my teenaged son, who died while playing baseball in 2006.  As I searched for a reason why a healthy, active child could die without warning, I found this group and have since supported them.  I ask all of you to do the same. Their website is :
http://www.parentheartwatch.org.  Their phone number is 1-800-717-5828.

I recently became part of a fund raiser “Register to Relax” where supporters simply donate to the organization and encourage others to do so.  It is an on-going fund raiser. Since I get their regular e-mail bulletins, I heard about another campaign to raise awareness of this life or death issue.

I contacted Parent Heart Watch after they informed me of a campaign to give out magnets with information on how to detect symptoms of possible heart failure and steps that could be taken to prevent it.  They sent me 100 magnets, which I hope to give out at schools, churches, and in my neighborhood, along with a letter about what happened to my son. I hope to help them raise money to further their cause and keep other families from going through what our family has endured.

Yesterday, my middle-school student came home and told me that volunteers from a local hospital supported  by Parent Heart Watch had come to his school and given a short (but important) course in CPR/chest compression techniques that anyone could use while waiting on help to arrive.  They told the children how to watch for signs of possible heart issues in their friends. I am proud to support this organization and know that is working across the country to stop these horrific losses.

I can’t help but think that my son would be alive today if I, (or someone there)
had known the information that Parent Heart Watch seeks to teach. Even the information on the tablet-sized magnet could save a life. Parent Heart Watch encourages early detection of possible heart issues and early defibrillation of apparent heart related emergencies.

This is our story. Our son had hit  a great double and  made a steal to 3rd base in the previous inning, but the next player had made the last out of the 6th inning. Our son
had gone to his position in  right field  as the other pitcher and catcher practiced for the last inning. I later heard he had told a team mate after the 6th inning that he didn’t feel good. But, my son’s motto was “What don’t kill ya will make ya stronger,”  He went out for the last inning anyway. That statement has haunted me,

Someone. saw my son grab his head and said, “Is he hurt?”  I looked up and saw him running to me. I began running to meet him.   A few feet from me, he threw up his hands, as if to catch himself, and fell, apparently loosing consciousness. I later found out that his best friend, who was playing second base, had asked him what was wrong, and my son turned to him quickly and said, “I don’t feel good, I’m gonna have to go in”. That was the last thing he said.

It seems that no one on the field knew what to do, even a “nurse” who ran up to us  didn’t immediately recognize that this was a heart issue.  The ambulance, dispatched from a station within sight of the ball field, took a long back road, trying to get the ambulance closer to the field. To my knowledge, the 911 operator didn’t stay on the phone with the parent who made the call. I have seen a lot of kids collapse on ball fields/courts, but have never seen one die, as my son did.  The coaches and parents were most likely in the same category as I was.

I will add that once the ambulance arrived on the scene they worked diligently to save my son. I saw them trying to defibrillate him front the passenger seat of the ambulance.  The emergency room doctors worked on him over an hour.  A chaplain stayed  with us and brought reports from the doctors. The problem was, that time is everything in the case of sudden heart arrest, and it was too late for my son when help arrived.  I had taken CPR many years before, but had no idea that my son  was in arrest.  When he was obviously unresponsive, I am not sure why the “nurse” didn’t think of the possibility of heart issue.
I must continue stressing the importance of early  response in the case of any heart issue. On Parent Heart Watch’s magnet, it lists things you can do to properly respond to cardiac emergencies.  They stress that we must know how to respond to “SCA” (Sudden Cardiac Arrest), which means that a person has collapsed and is unresponsive. Below is a list of symptoms and responses.

(1) The person may have seizure-like activity or gasping and gurgling. (My son developed a “snore-like gurgling as he struggled to breath). This should be recognized a  cardiac emergency.

(2) Always call 911 immediately.

(2) Begin CPR manually immediately. (I have learned that even cardiac compressions to the tune and rhythm of the Bee Gee’s song “Stayin’ Alive” will work in many cases.)

(4) Having a portable defibrillator on site is vital-use it immediately if the symptoms of a cardiac emergency are noted.

My son was 15 years old when he was talked into playing baseball on a league based on groups of friends from different communities in our area.  He had played baseball and basketball for years, but had tired of organized and school related ball and hadn’t played in about a year. Though he had been given “sports physicals” in previous years, he had not planned on playing for school and he asked to wait to have a physical. I agreed.  He was very healthy, rarely getting sick enough to stay out of school.  He used to joke with me about wanting to stay home, Smiling at me and saying, “Can I be absent?”

At the time of my sons death, even national organizations such as the Little League and the YMCA did not require physicals.  They simply had a parent sign a paper that said they knew of no health issue that would keep their child from participating. Even the schools, who did require a “sports physical” did not require an Echocardiogram, which is the only certain way to note heart issues. I do not know if these rules have changed.

After his death, the autopsy revealed my son  had a bicuspid valve, which is relatively common and rarely causes problems until middle age, and may never warrant anything but precautions if one is not athletic. His official cause of death was “viral myocarditis”, which, as the medical examiner explained to mean meant that “an unidentified cold virus got into his heart” and caused the infection which lead to heart failure.

The medical examiner said the bicuspid valve probably didn’t directly cause his death.  People sometimes get virus  and recover within a short time, thinking that perhaps, they had the “flu,“ My cousin had the same condition, but was saved when he had symptoms of bronchitis and an alert emergency room physician noticed his symptoms and was able to get his heart back in rhythm with a defibrillator.  My cousin  also had a bicuspid valve, and though he was in his 50’s at the time, it had never been detected.

The point here is that my son most likely would not have been playing ball if we had known about the bicuspid valve. If he had been allowed to play, we should have been aware of the “Warning Signs and Symptoms of a Heart Condition” as outlined by Parent Heart Watch.

These symptoms are :
(1) Fainting, or seizure during or after physical activity, emotional excitement, distress or startle.
(2) Unusual shortness of breath ,fatigue or tiredness (our son did seem tired, but most teens do not get enough sleep and that, alone, would not alarm us if it wasn’t a lengthy, noticeable tiredness, possibly with the teen saying that they “feel tired all of the time.”)

(3) Chest pain or discomfort or racing heart.

(4) Dizziness during or after physical activity.

Only a year before, a  local 23 year old school teacher that we knew had died in his sleep of “viral myocarditis” after having symptoms of pain in his back and chest the day before. He though he may be getting sick, but had no idea or symptom that caused immediate alarm. To emphasize how common hear issues are in athletic young people, the nephew of my sister-in-law died a day after collapsing on the first during football practice.  He was a 22 year old college senior.

Sudden Cardiac Arrest in youth is not the “one in a million” event that people like to believe it is. It is estimated that around two or three teenagers in every mid-sized high  school have some sort of heart issue which at least should be detected and the parents be made aware of.  Even if heart issues were a “one-in-a-million” crisis, if that one is your one, that is the only one that matters.
Therein becomes the importance of Parent Heart Watch’s other goal-Early Detection of heart issues.

Sometimes, as with our son, there were no early symptoms.  Thus, the importance of early detection of possible problems. The most important test for early detection of possible heart issues is for every teen athlete (possibly every teen period) to get an Echocardiogram, which would show heart abnormalities, such as bicuspid valves, “holes” or weaknesses in the heart muscle, mitral valve prolapse (heart murmur) or other issues.

Please, take the time to learn these symptoms and procedures, whether you are a young student or a retiree.  They  may help save a life. Please support Parent Heart Watch in its efforts to educate the public on this critical issues. Loosing a child has devastated my life, and damaged so many more.  Every day, I think of who my son might have become and of how much he is loved and missed.  You can stop another child from dying.  You can keep another family from going through this hell.  Maybe, in your case, “What don’t kill
ya really will make you strong.  Contact Parent Heart Watch today and get involved!
http://www.parentheartwatch.com

Comments (8) »

Parent Heart Watch-Help Save the Life of a Young Athlete

www.parentheartwatch.com

Image

My son, age 15

Knowledge and prompt response are the keys to saving anyone with sudden heart arrest.

Parent Heart Watch is a wonderful organization dedicated to preventing the death of young athletes (and youth in general) from Sudden Cardiac Arrest.  I became aware of them after the death of my teenaged son, who died while playing baseball in 2006.  As I searched for a reason why a healthy, active child could die without warning, I found this group and have since supported them.  I ask all of you to do the same. Their website is :
http://www.parentheartwatch.org.  Their phone number is 1-800-717-5828.

I recently became part of a fund raiser “Register to Relax” where supporters simply donate to the organization and encourage others to do so.  It is an on-going fund raiser. Since I get their regular e-mail bulletins, I heard about another campaign to raise awareness of this life or death issue.

I contacted Parent Heart Watch after they informed me of a campaign to give out magnets with information on how to detect symptoms of possible heart failure and steps that could be taken to prevent it.  They sent me 100 magnets, which I hope to give out at schools, churches, and in my neighborhood, along with a letter about what happened to my son. I hope to help them raise money to further their cause and keep other families from going through what our family has endured.

Yesterday, my middle-school student came home and told me that volunteers from a local hospital supported  by Parent Heart Watch had come to his school and given a short (but important) course in CPR/chest compression techniques that anyone could use while waiting on help to arrive.  They told the children how to watch for signs of possible heart issues in their friends. I am proud to support this organization and know that is working across the country to stop these horrific losses.

I can’t help but think that my son would be alive today if I, (or someone there)
had known the information that Parent Heart Watch seeks to teach. Even the information on the tablet-sized magnet could save a life. Parent Heart Watch encourages early detection of possible heart issues and early defibrillation of apparent heart related emergencies.

This is our story. Our son had hit  a great double and  made a steal to 3rd base in the previous inning, but the next player had made the last out of the 6th inning. Our son
had gone to his position in  right field  as the other pitcher and catcher practiced for the last inning. I later heard he had told a team mate after the 6th inning that he didn’t feel good. But, my son’s motto was “What don’t kill ya will make ya stronger,”  He went out for the last inning anyway. That statement has haunted me,

Someone. saw my son grab his head and said, “Is he hurt?”  I looked up and saw him running to me. I began running to meet him.   A few feet from me, he threw up his hands, as if to catch himself, and fell, apparently loosing consciousness. I later found out that his best friend, who was playing second base, had asked him what was wrong, and my son turned to him quickly and said, “I don’t feel good, I’m gonna have to go in”. That was the last thing he said.

It seems that no one on the field knew what to do, even a “nurse” who ran up to us  didn’t immediately recognize that this was a heart issue.  The ambulance, dispatched from a station within sight of the ball field, took a long back road, trying to get the ambulance closer to the field. To my knowledge, the 911 operator didn’t stay on the phone with the parent who made the call. I have seen a lot of kids collapse on ball fields/courts, but have never seen one die, as my son did.  The coaches and parents were most likely in the same category as I was.

I will add that once the ambulance arrived on the scene they worked diligently to save my son. I saw them trying to defibrillate him front the passenger seat of the ambulance.  The emergency room doctors worked on him over an hour.  A chaplain stayed  with us and brought reports from the doctors. The problem was, that time is everything in the case of sudden heart arrest, and it was too late for my son when help arrived.  I had taken CPR many years before, but had no idea that my son  was in arrest.  When he was obviously unresponsive, I am not sure why the “nurse” didn’t think of the possibility of heart issue.
I must continue stressing the importance of early  response in the case of any heart issue. On Parent Heart Watch’s magnet, it lists things you can do to properly respond to cardiac emergencies.  They stress that we must know how to respond to “SCA” (Sudden Cardiac Arrest), which means that a person has collapsed and is unresponsive. Below is a list of symptoms and responses.

(1) The person may have seizure-like activity or gasping and gurgling. (My son developed a “snore-like gurgling as he struggled to breath). This should be recognized a  cardiac emergency.

(2) Always call 911 immediately.

(2) Begin CPR manually immediately. (I have learned that even cardiac compressions to the tune and rhythm of the Bee Gee’s song “Stayin’ Alive” will work in many cases.)

(4) Having a portable defibrillator on site is vital-use it immediately if the symptoms of a cardiac emergency are noted.

My son was 15 years old when he was talked into playing baseball on a league based on groups of friends from different communities in our area.  He had played baseball and basketball for years, but had tired of organized and school related ball and hadn’t played in about a year. Though he had been given “sports physicals” in previous years, he had not planned on playing for school and he asked to wait to have a physical. I agreed.  He was very healthy, rarely getting sick enough to stay out of school.  He used to joke with me about wanting to stay home, Smiling at me and saying, “Can I be absent?”

At the time of my sons death, even national organizations such as the Little League and the YMCA did not require physicals.  They simply had a parent sign a paper that said they knew of no health issue that would keep their child from participating. Even the schools, who did require a “sports physical” did not require an Echocardiogram, which is the only certain way to note heart issues. I do not know if these rules have changed.

After his death, the autopsy revealed my son  had a bicuspid valve, which is relatively common and rarely causes problems until middle age, and may never warrant anything but precautions if one is not athletic. His official cause of death was “viral myocarditis”, which, as the medical examiner explained to mean meant that “an unidentified cold virus got into his heart” and caused the infection which lead to heart failure.

The medical examiner said the bicuspid valve probably didn’t directly cause his death.  People sometimes get virus  and recover within a short time, thinking that perhaps, they had the “flu,“ My cousin had the same condition, but was saved when he had symptoms of bronchitis and an alert emergency room physician noticed his symptoms and was able to get his heart back in rhythm with a defibrillator.  My cousin  also had a bicuspid valve, and though he was in his 50’s at the time, it had never been detected.

The point here is that my son most likely would not have been playing ball if we had known about the bicuspid valve. If he had been allowed to play, we should have been aware of the “Warning Signs and Symptoms of a Heart Condition” as outlined by Parent Heart Watch.

These symptoms are :
(1) Fainting, or seizure during or after physical activity, emotional excitement, distress or startle.
(2) Unusual shortness of breath ,fatigue or tiredness (our son did seem tired, but most teens do not get enough sleep and that, alone, would not alarm us if it wasn’t a lengthy, noticeable tiredness, possibly with the teen saying that they “feel tired all of the time.”)

(3) Chest pain or discomfort or racing heart.

(4) Dizziness during or after physical activity.

Only a year before, a  local 23 year old school teacher that we knew had died in his sleep of “viral myocarditis” after having symptoms of pain in his back and chest the day before. He though he may be getting sick, but had no idea or symptom that caused immediate alarm. To emphasize how common hear issues are in athletic young people, the nephew of my sister-in-law died a day after collapsing on the first during football practice.  He was a 22 year old college senior.

Sudden Cardiac Arrest in youth is not the “one in a million” event that people like to believe it is. It is estimated that around two or three teenagers in every mid-sized high  school have some sort of heart issue which at least should be detected and the parents be made aware of.  Even if heart issues were a “one-in-a-million” crisis, if that one is your one, that is the only one that matters.
Therein becomes the importance of Parent Heart Watch’s other goal-Early Detection of heart issues.

Sometimes, as with our son, there were no early symptoms.  Thus, the importance of early detection of possible problems. The most important test for early detection of possible heart issues is for every teen athlete (possibly every teen period) to get an Echocardiogram, which would show heart abnormalities, such as bicuspid valves, “holes” or weaknesses in the heart muscle, mitral valve prolapse (heart murmur) or other issues.

Please, take the time to learn these symptoms and procedures, whether you are a young student or a retiree.  They  may help save a life. Please support Parent Heart Watch in its efforts to educate the public on this critical issues. Loosing a child has devastated my life, and damaged so many more.  Every day, I think of who my son might have become and of how much he is loved and missed.  You can stop another child from dying.  You can keep another family from going through this hell.  Maybe, in your case, “What don’t kill
ya really will make you strong.  Contact Parent Heart Watch today and get involved!
http://www.parentheartwatch.com

Comments (16) »

The Black and Yellow Argiope Spider

The Black and Yellow Argiope Spider

Black and Yellow Argiope
Also Known as “Garden Spider”

One day in early August several years ago, I found myself lamenting over how few praying mantises I had been able to observe that season. Then I noticed a beautiful Black and Yellow Argiope spider (Argiope Aurantia) sitting on her web, attached to a bush at the edge of my garden. I went to tell my kids and when we returned, we found another Argiope on her web nearby. Within the next few days, two more of these large colorful spiders appeared in our yard.

I am always looking for opportunities to study new creatures and these four “ladies” were just what the doctor ordered! In Western North Carolina, where I live, the Black and Yellow Argiope is a rather common sight. Since they are often found at the edge of the forest or fields, many people never see them. They are often referred to as “Garden Spiders” or “Writing Spiders”. Some years ago, when I had a larger garden, I often found one or two of these spiders residing near the edge of my garden by late summer. It was then that I started to study them. Once, I saw one that was identical to the Argiope I was familiar with, only it was solid black. I have never seen another one like it.

Many a legend has been formed in these mountains about these spiders, whose large webs contain a bright white zig-zag “writing” down the middle of the web. This, of course is how they obtained their common name of “writing spider”.

My fathers’ favorite legend about these spiders comes from the days when World War II was looming on the horizon. It was said, that at a local church, members began to speak of a “Writing Spider” who had made a web near the grave yard. Several people swore that the spider had written “WAR” in her web. My father and some of his friends went to see the web, but felt the church members were stretching the truth a bit. Still. it was an interesting story and attracted quite a bit of interest.

Scientists believe that the real reason for the “writing” in the center of the web is to warn off birds so they will not tear up the web as well as to attract insects to the dense white color of the design. The want the web to collect a meal for them before it is destroyed. The bright white zig-zag may also attract prey for the spider.

The adult female Black and White Argiope is around 3/4″ to 1″ in body length with her legs stretching out in an “x” like pattern to make her much larger. The males are seen left often and are much smaller. Their bodies are long and thin while the females are wide and heavy. At the end of summer males build small webs near a female in order to approach her and mate with her. As with all male spiders, they must be careful. Female spiders do not set out to kill and eat the male, as is often rumored, but if she is hungry and he is careless, he may end up as a meal. I have seen several anxious males with webs near a huge female.

The female Argiope sits in the middle of her web, near her “writing” as she awaits prey, often butterflies and bees. Her abdomen is marked with yellow and white designs on a black background. Her cephalothorax is light gray. The legs are brown near their connections with the cephalothorax and brown and black on the lower legs.

The spiders that I have observed have had a web that averaged 15″ to 18″ in width. They usually attach them to a strong ,tall weed, bush, or corn stalk. When an insect is caught in her web, she may wait until the prey becomes weakened from struggling before she goes in to inject venom into it and wrap it in her silky web. I have observed the spiders catching, wrapping and “eating” (actually sucking out the juices) from many different insects, among them were bees of all kinds, flies, butterflies and moths and cicadas.

For six weeks that year, my family enjoyed watching these beautiful spiders. Once, early in the season, I had seen another spider sneak up and bite a young argiope. I had heard spiders ate each other, but this episode was my first experience actually seeing it. It saddened me that I would not get to follow this spider through her life cycle.

We numbered the spiders and made a chart, keeping track of their daily activities. Spider Number 4 had her web among the irises. Spiders Number 2 and 3 were only about three or four feet apart and nearly directly behind each other. Spider Number 1 was near the mailbox and attached to a wild flower called a knapweed.

In late September, spiders 1, 2 and 3 disappeared. This is the way it goes. One day after mating, they make a large, brown tear drop-shaped egg case, attach it to the weed or bush their web is attached to, and simply wander off to die.
Often, I would noticed that this event of death and renewal had happened during a hard rain. Spider number 4 was in a more protected location and remained there several more weeks. My daughter had an Argiope remain under her houses’ eve until after the first frost one year!

One day, my father and I were walking in the garden and noticed that number 4 had a large cicada trapped in her web. She had retreated to the leaves of the plant her web was attached to, avoiding the huge insect as it struggled in her silky trap. The next morning, I saw her feeding on it. To hold this giant insect, her web must have been very strong, much like the black widow, known for the strength of her web.

As an amateur photographer, I enjoyed the chance to take many photos of these spiders during the summer and early fall. This was in the days before digital cameras were popular and I took the pictures with a complicated, yet very accurate camera that used film. I was fortunate to see Spider #4 intricately repair her beautiful orb web one sunny day. How such a “simple” creature could construct such a work of art will always amaze me.

Although I did not get to see the spiders make their egg sacks, I did find and collect two of them. I sewed them up in a safe place in a low bush, hoping to see the young spiders the next spring. Though I was not fortunate enough to see them hatch, I did observe a few Argiope spiders around the yard the next year. I have learned to look for different kinds of insects, such as preying mantises, spiders and butterflies to observe during their short lives. Each experience has taught me lessons about nature that I simply could not find in a book!

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Minecraft – an “App” that Incorporates Creativity, Challenges and Fun for All!

With immense help and advise from my teenaged son, we have written this review of his “new” favorite electronic game app:

One of the best electronic games I have come across lately is Minecraft. Minecraft is a amazing game. It promotes the use of thinking for efficiency and design. An example of this concept is that you can build a mansion and have many options of what materials to use. You can make the house out of cobblestone, out of wood, or even out of marble.     

    Minecraft has two modes creative and survival. The creative mode already has everything that is in the game so that you can build infinite structures. Survival mode requires you to find your own materials to build whatever you want to build. Survival mode also has a health bar unlike the creative mode. If you want to make a pickaxe you need to chop down a tree to get wood. Wood can be turned into wood planks and wood planks can be turned into sticks. Next, you have to get some cobblestone or iron (this isn’t required this is only an example). Another example would be, if your building a house, and you want glass in your house, first you need to build a furnace out of stone and coal. Then you need to put some sand in the furnace and in a minute or two you get glass.
    
    This game is a hard game to learn but once you learn what to do, it is a lot of fun   as well as challenging. It takes a minute to learn, but a lifetime to master. Minecraft promotes education with the component that you need to create something that will last. You develop and create your style of project. Because Minecraft promotes architecture and creativity, it may appeal to people who are not interested in the popular war or sport type games.  
    
    Minecraft has a rating of 4.6 out of 5 stars . You can get Minecraft on three types of devices; a computer, an  IOS or OS product or the Android market. To download Minecraft on the computer is free, however, creating a account is $26.98. For the IOS and Android market or both, the price is $8. This cost is worth the amount of fun you have on Minecraft.  

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