Friday, March 13, 2020

The need to de-stress

I have noticed that people throughout my life sphere are more stressed than usual these past two weeks.

I modified my blogs to write about happier subjects---the love of dogs ( ,

I find I need to corral my thoughts sometime during the day to put the corona virus news in perspective.
Marilyn and Franny, Obama's inauguration, 2008

Many articles have been written about the psychology of hoarding toilet paper, bottled water, and sanitary wipes. This particular virus does not have symptoms that would make you suspect you’d use more toilet paper (thank goodness!). Having spent many years in the DC area, several times per year we dutifully schlepped to the grocery stores to stock on TP, milk, bread, and beer before hurricanes, power outages, and snowstorms. In California, people are often generally blasé with respect to earthquake preparedness. In the event of the Big One, we really do need drinking water and water to wash and flush.

For the isotope community, folks have been exchanging protocols for putting labs on standby. We normally do this during the winter holidays, and maybe during summer vacations, but not for spring break or mid-year. Fortunately for many of us, our instruments run automatically and can be managed from home via software programs like Team Viewer. As a housewife, I’ve managed this way since the late 1990s, getting data collected while cooking, cleaning, and taking care of family.

I was unaware of the stable isotope contributions to virus research. The bird folks have paved the way with pairing stable isotope measurements with spreading of bird, mosquito, and human viruses. (See citations below.) Water isotopes in groundwater were used to link viruses from sewage contamination. I’d like to carry out a study on isotopes in viral proteins—do they steal essential amino acids directly from their hosts? Do they hijack amino acid synthesis pathways? Maybe this is known, but I haven’t read up on it.

The stress, though, of dealing with uncertainty has overwhelmed the academic community. Classes are now on line; exams must be given on line as well. Those who haven’t kept up with this technology are struggling to keep up. “Fortunately” for me, owing to my neurological disease, I’ve been working remotely the majority of the past few months. I’ve gotten used to “seeing” people through the computer screen.When we return to "normalcy" we may need to root out lab Gremlins (see their photo below.)
Of course the health and welfare of people colors everything. Working parents are having to think about kids being home from school or daycare… seemingly forever. And of course, those with hourly jobs in the service industry are looking at no paycheck. At my stage of life, I’m thinking about my retirement stock portfolio that was hefty and is now shrunken.

People are angry, confused, and worried.

I’ve been on-and-off consumed with reading the news. I am appalled that we don’t have a robust system for testing for COVID-19 in the US. As a scientist, I am saddened that the very bright people in the US who deal with pandemics aren’t called in by our government, listened to, and their advice followed.
Stella the Dog, 2019

While we academics worried about classes, exams, and conferences, I thought about all those brides who’d looked forward to hosting a wedding—planning it for a year or more. How disappointing they may have to put their plans on hold. Fortunately for me, Chris and I held our wedding renewal ceremony back in November! Surely, that would have fizzled in this “climate.”

I’m personally not worried for my health—even if this virus comes my way. After the shock of learning I have ALS, there’s not much health wise that can sideline me. I’ve got an advanced ventilation machine at home, a new wheelchair accessible van, and a comfy home office. If you need help delivering a lecture on stable isotopes via Zoom, let me know—I can talk on Australian paleoclimate, mangroves, astrobiology, amino acids, plants, nitrogen isotopes.

Maybe it would be fun to think about the three foods we’d want on a desert island (or a quarantined house). Mine are 1) Eggs; 2) Potatoes; 3) Avocados. I’m not certain about the avocados. For drinks, water and wine. Music is now unlimited with streaming; movies and books as well.
Back in the day, I would have wanted my surf board, 2002

We’re still open for live visitors in Mariposa! We’ll have the TP ready for you.

Isotope Contributions on Viruses:

Gunnarsson, Gunnar et al. “Disease dynamics and bird migration--linking mallards Anas platyrhynchos and subtype diversity of the influenza A virus in time and space.” PloS one vol. 7,4 (2012): e35679. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0035679 

Bethany J. Hoye, Ron A. M. Fouchier and Marcel Klaassen, Host behaviour and physiology underpin individual variation in avian influenza virus infection in migratory Bewick's swans; 06 July 2011

Randall J. Hunt, Mark A. Borchardt, Kevin D. Richards, and Susan K. Spencer, Assessment of Sewer Source Contamination of Drinking Water Wells Using Tracers and Human Enteric Viruses, Environmental Science & Technology 2010 44 (20), 7956-7963, DOI: 10.1021/es100698m.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

My friend Franny!--a real character

Marilyn and Franny, 40 year high school reunion, 2010

“Do you like pizza and fries?” she asked.

Who doesn’t like pizza and French fries—really-- if you can let your standards about healthy food slip once in a while. I was in New Jersey, a year and a half ago, taking care of business for my sister Barb, visiting my mother, and navigating a difficult hotel situation with respect to my disability. I needed a break. I called my friend Franny.

Fran came up with a plan immediately.

“How about Ocean City for the day?” she asked. The thought of seeing one of my old haunts, the Jersey Shore was enticing. I said yes immediately. Chris and I met Franny outside our hotel. She pulled up in her new SUV that was filled with rubber duckys, scraps of paper, and water bottles. We piled in and took off for the coast.
Mar and Fran, Ocean City, 2018

I had spent a summer back in 1971 living with three other Penn State girls in a basement apartment in Ocean City, NJ. I worked as a chambermaid at a hotel, wore a uniform to work, and spent extra hours swimming or partying. I hadn’t really been back since. We drove down the old street, Asbury Ave., but the old house had been replaced with an upscale home with three stories. But the boardwalk was the same.

We unloaded the wheelchair and set off to find the perfect boardwalk food and sniff the ocean breezes. Narrowing in on Manco and Manco’s pizza, we ordered three slices then took a seat across the boards on benches. Signs dotted the area with stern warnings: DO NOT FEED THE SEAGULLS.  Periodically, a voice came on the loudspeaker and gave us further warning. Chris and I settled on the benches and gazed over the greenish-gray Atlantic Ocean, while Fran said, “Just sit. I’ll bring ‘em over.”

Minutes later we heard the screams and calls of dozens of seagulls and the anguished shout from Franny! The gulls had eyed that pizza she was carrying and stole one of the pieces away. Everyone laughed. Fran turned right around and the folks at the pizza shop handed her a free piece. They were familiar with this scene. Later that afternoon, we hit the arcade and she and Chris rode the roller coaster. It was just what I needed to unwind.

All this serves as an example of the level of help that Franny has provided since I’ve come down with ALS.

Going back to when we were three years old, Franny Stein (now Kasen) and I grew up together from toddlers to children to teens to young adults and now as senior citizens. Although we lost touch on and off during the years, we kept track of each other’s important events. With time, I realize what a dear friend looks like.
Mar and Fran, my wedding 1986

Francine Fleck Stein Kasen is an attorney (now retired) and formed with her husband David the prestigious law firm Kasen, Kasen, Kasen, and Kasen with her family! They specialize in bankruptcy law and help people out of awful situations.

She also has a thriving business as a standup comedian! Her jokes are laced with profanity and ribald stories—all original. She works at community events, nightclubs, and when she’s visiting me! I’ve written recently about her love of dogs.

Let me describe Franny in more graphic terms. She’s short and always has been. Her mother was short, her father tall. She’s used that characteristic to her advantage. People often underestimate short people. Don’t ever underestimate Franny!

She now has curly hair—but as kids, I had the curly hair, which I despised, and Franny the straight hair. We’ve reversed. With time, we’ve all put on a few extra pounds. Who hasn’t? Fran often says, “I’ve gotta lose a few pounds before I go to…”
Franny and Matt Hoch, UC Riverside, 2017

Then, there is her demeanor. She has a wicked little smile, a turn of her head when she’s preparing a quip, and a swagger to her step. She’s sharp, funny, bawdy, and loud. If Franny is “in the house” you know it.

When we were planning our wedding renewal ceremony, I really wanted my mother to come out from Jersey. I wasn’t having much luck with family. One morning, Fran called and we chatted for a while. We’re both rabid Democrats and like to hash over recent political turmoil. I screwed up my courage and asked, “Can you do me a favor?”

“What? Bring your mom out to California? Sure, I can do that.” she answered promptly. I believe I had tears in my eyes. I called her a couple of days before the trip. “Don’t worry or blame yourself if anything happens,” I said, thinking that at 92 years old, anything could happen. I didn’t want her to feel responsible. She got it and laughed later about it.

The adventure of Franny and Florence go to California was well documented. My mother who suffers from dementia is a happy-go-lucky person, but can be demanding and forgetful, sometimes annoying. Their trip went off seamlessly. Fran had plenty of practice with her own parents, who passed away a year and a half ago. She misses interacting with seniors. God love her.
Mar, Fran, and Chris, Wedding renewal 2019

There are many Franny stories like the time she delivered important papers to the courthouse in Camden County. I won’t tell you everything that happened but suffice it to say the security guard received a nice package from her. When Franny came out for my Endowed Chair “Naming Ceremony” Franny entertained folks at dinner, drawing a uterus on the white tablecloth at the celebratory restaurant. (You figure that one out.} She joined my friends Myrna and Valery and me for Thai food—three women friends, all various flavors of Jewish. They felt immediate kinship.

Last but not least, Franny embodies in many respects what a good friend is. She’s thoughtful, provides advice and help without being intrusive. She’s smart, thinks about problems, and talks them over with you. She has both a serious and funny outlook on life—serious with politics, funny with people.
Fran leading my friends in song, Riverside 2017

I heartily suggest that if you have a “Franny” in your history, to find that person and get on their radar screen again. She’s done wonders for me.

Rounding Third Base and Heading Home

Cards from Franny and Flowers the Rumbles   My daughter Dana is marrying George Goryan on June 25 at our home in Mariposa...