Sometimes, life has a way of reminding you that there’s nothing more important than being with the ones you love. I want to offer my sympathy to everyone who’s had a loved one pass away suddenly. And I want to thank friends and family who comforted my husband Harry and I. When your world is turned upside down in a minute, it is hard get beyond the emptiness to find a way even to grieve.

It’s been a long, hard week. I was too emotionally drained to work, even today, although I sat at my computer and pretended that I was able, while my mind drifted to the events of the past week. If I’m in a state of emotional overload that has left me exhausted, I can only imagine the grief that my husband is feeling.

Harry’s mother, Beulah M. “Snooks” Calhoun, passed away Monday morning, March 19, 2007, from a cerebral vascular accident, a stroke.

I met Harry’s father for the first time as we walked across the hospital parking lot late Saturday afternoon and then met Beulah Calhoun where she lay in a hospital bed, an oxygen tube in her nose. She opened her eyes and looked at my husband, made noises, but nothing that resembled words. She didn’t recognize her son. It is the worst thing I’ve ever witnessed, or ever hope to.

Days followed: funeral arrangements, the viewing, financial matters and family dinners. Each day ran into the next and ended with Harry and I falling into bed exhausted and numb. When we came home on Saturday, although we had been gone for not even a week, it felt like an eternity.

I noticed on the drive home from the airport that in our absence winter had departed. After the cold and rain in Connellsville, Pa, the sights and sounds of spring in North Carolina were a welcome sight. Tulips had broken ground, pushing through the hardy daffodils. Pink and red azaleas now dotted the hedges, seemingly overnight. The oaks hung heavy with seedpods and cottony dogwood flowers rained pink and white petals, joining maple seed airplanes on the recently cut grass. The sight of gold finches fighting for seed at the bird feeder made me cry. We were home.

Beulah’s loved ones describe her as being most happy out of doors, so I think it fitting to end this entry with “March,” written by Hal Borland. Although I never knew her in life, the narrative seems to fit the mother of my husband. So, in memory of Beulah Calhoun, whose funeral was held on the first day of spring, and for her son:

March is a tomboy with tousled hair, a mischievous smile, mud on her shoes and a laugh in her voice. She knows when the first shadbush will blow, where the first violet will bloom, and she isn’t afraid of a salamander. She has whims and winning ways. She’s exasperating, lovable, a terror-on-wheels, too young to be reasoned with, too old to be spanked.

March is rain drenching as June and cold as January. It is mud and slush and the first green grass down along the brook. March gave its name, and not without reason, to the mad hare. March is the vernal equinox when, by the calculations of the stargazers, Spring arrives. Sometimes the equinox is cold and impersonal as a mathematical table, and sometimes it is warm and lively and spangled with crocuses. The equinox is fixed and immutable, but Spring is a movable feast that is spread only when sun and wind and all the elements of weather contrive to smile at the same time.

March is pussy willows. March is hepatica in bloom, and often it is arbutus. Sometimes it is anemones and bloodroot blossoms and even brave daffodils. March is a sleet storm pelting out of the north the day after you find the first violet bud. March is boys playing marbles and girls playing jacks and hopscotch. March once was sulphur and molasses; it still is dandelion greens and rock cress.

March is the gardener impatient to garden; it is the winter-weary sun seeker impatient for a case of Spring fever. March is February with a smile and April with a sniffle. March is a problem child with a twinkle in its eye.

Hal Borland: Sundial of the Seasons, 1964

Writer’s Block

I haven’t posted recently and can’t decide what to post now. I have too many ideas. I’d like to discuss the spring equinox and daylight savings time or the new TV show, “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader,” which infuriates me from the perspective of a test developer. I heard about paying prisoners for organs on the radio after an article came out in the Wall Street Journal about organ transplants. I am also interested in children and grieving — watch Bridge to Terabithia, an excellent book and recent movie. So, like a tornado my brain is swirling with ideas, but look for them in upcoming blogs because I can’t pick a topic from the wind storm this morning. Writer’s block: too many ideas, not enough time. And I haven’t even begun to discuss my fiction writing ideas. I am still finishing The Magic Quilt, my historical fantasy novel for middle age readers. I’m polishing two short stories. I’ve begun work on an essay, my first true account of my life five years ago. So which do I work on in the hour that I have before I go to work? I can’t decide, so I’m writing this blog on having too many ideas.

I enjoyed Jane Yolen’s Random thoughts on writing and on children’s books , sent to me by a member of my writing group. “I generally do not think out plots or characters ahead of time … I am a reader before I am a writer. I want my own writing to surprise me, the way someone else’s book does. If I think out everything ahead of time, I am–in Truman Capote’s words–‘Not a writer but a typewriter.'”

When it comes to submitting my work for publication, I face a similar overwhelming dilemma. Where do I submit? The market is so vast now with print and Online magazines.

Sweeping Back the Slushpile: a First Reader’s Primer is a humorous piece written from the point-of-view of an overworked editor who must slog through the slushpile. Weeding through 800 to 1,000 manuscripts in order to publish four would seem a mammoth task at any rate, but the slush pile reader is given one-half an hour to finish the job. The advice given to this editor is “Don’t read the manuscript.” I recommend this humorous article for anyone who wants to escape the slushpile.

It is obvious why those nasty form rejection slips sometimes accompany work that we labored over so lovingly. As inspiration to myself, I reread an article I wrote a couple of years ago, To Market, to Market: Steps toward Publication. My advice to myself, then and now, consists of three simple suggestions. First, learn about the publication process so that you are informed. Second, do everything within your power to improve your writing so that it is A plus quality before submitting it anywhere. Third, know your market.

I’ll add a fourth here. Choose a project and focus on it. Easier said than done.

The evolution of magic blue

Viagra has evolved from a drug for treating hypertension to a treatment for heart attacks. In 1998, the US Food and Drug Administration approved a new drug for treating male erectile dysfunction, Viagra®, scientifically known as sildenafil citrate. But Viagra began its life as a potential treatment for hypertension, and then angina. When a 10-day high dose study turned up an unusual side effect, Viagra suddenly became a household word. The blue pill provided millions of frustrated men with an alternative to available treatments – injections, implants, and pumps. Unlike other therapies, Viagra has no effect in producing erections in the absence of sexual stimulation.

On March 2, Virginia Commonwealth University researchers reported another positive effect of the little blue pill. Viagra, and Levitra®, generically known as vardenafil, may be better than nitroglycerin in protecting the heart from damage before and after a severe heart attack.

Rakesh C. Kukreja, Ph.D., professor of medicine and Eric Lipman Chair of Cardiology at VCU, and colleagues compared nitroglycerin with two erectile dysfunction drugs – Viagra and Levitra — to determine the effectiveness of each for heart protection following a heart attack. Nitroglycerin is a drug used to treat angina, or chest pain. It is a vasodilator and opens blood vessels in order to improve the flow of blood to a patient’s heart.

The research team reported that in an animal model, sildenafil and vardenafil reduce damage in the heart muscle when given after a severe heart attack. In contrast, nitroglycerin failed to reduce the damage in the heart when administered under similar conditions. Read entire story.

It is important to note that the research team’s report was on an animal model, not humans, although the report does seem promising. On the other hand, Viagra is approved to treat erectile dysfunction, so should it be used by men with heart disease? Men who already have heart disease can risk further heart damage when they have sex. In 2004 the government ordered Pfizer Inc. to pull television ads that promised better sex for men taking Viagra because the TV ads failed to inform viewers of known risks associated with the drug.

Viagra has two actions that may be of consequence in patients with heart disease. First, it can lower the blood pressure. Second, it interacts with nitrates.

Viagra is a vasodilator, and consequently it lowers the systolic blood pressure (the “top” number in blood pressure measurements). In the majority of patients with heart disease, including most of those being treated with antihypertensive drugs, this is not a problem. Patients taking drugs that contain nitrates have been warned not to take Viagra because of sudden, unsafe drops in blood pressure.

The American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association concur that Viagra is safe for men with stable coronary artery disease who are not taking nitrates, but should never be used in patients who are taking nitrates. There are other groups of heart patients for whom Viagra may be potentially dangerous. These include patients with heart failure accompanied by borderline low blood pressure, some patients with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, and possibly, patients on complicated drug regimens for hypertension.

So is Viagra a safe treatment to prevent and reduce damage to the heart muscle? And what new uses for magic blue may we expect in the future?

Information for this blog entry was modified from:

See a teacher shave their head bald to find cures for childhood cancer

St. Baldricks for Childhood Cancer Research

“How much would you donate to see a teacher shave their head bald to find cures for childhood cancer?” Ligon GT Magnet Middle School, where I taught last year, has four teachers involved with the St. Baldrick’s Foundation this year: Doug Fogg, Lester Francis, David Gaudet, and N. Edmond Jones. They have formed a team known as TACKLE (Teachers Against Cancer Killing Little Educatees) and are in the midst of a “penny war” to see who will get their head shaved in school this coming Friday. I’m sure students are excited about seeing one of their teacher’s heads shaved bald.

If you’d like to help this worthy cause or just see a Raleigh teacher get their head shaved, you can donate to the team online at: The team and school has totals listed on the website. If you go to the website, click on “Find a Participant,” select “Team,” and then type “TACKLE” in the search field it will come up with Ligon’s team website where you can donate right online.

The head shaving event will be at Napper Tandy’s Irish Pub this Saturday from 2pm to 8pm. Click on the Napper Tandy’s Web site: to view the top teams or to make a donation.

N. Edmon Jones has organized the event at Ligon after getting involved with St. Baldrick last year as a challenge from a classmate of his at NCSU. The St. Baldrick’s Foundation supports childhood cancer research by making grants to hospitals and research groups who work together towards a cure for childhood cancer. The St. Baldrick’s Foundation also supports research fellowships, attracting some of the best and brightest medical doctors to pursue a career in pediatric oncology.

For more information you can contact N. Edmon Jones at Ligon GT Magnet Middle School.