Sunday, January 21, 2018

The Coast’s “Nutcracker Ballet” Promises a Feast for the Senses

There is some holiday entertainment that we can always count on to delight children of all ages. From driving around to see light displays to staying home and taking in Christmas classics such as “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” or “Miracle on 34th Street,” enjoying holiday traditions together is part of the mystique of the season.

Read more: The Coast’s “Nutcracker Ballet” Promises a Feast for the Senses

The Birds and Bees: What Time is the Right Time?

Even in 2013, the topic of the birds and bees can still stir up a buzz with parents, so we’ve gathered some suggestions to help parents through this important maze related to health and emotional development. As many a parent has said before, “Sit down, honey, I have something I want to talk with you about.” Here we go.

If you take advantage of the multitudinous opportunities that present themselves to you and your children on a daily basis, you will be able to make meaningful, yet subtle off-the-cuff comments that are age-appropriate from the time your child is verbal. Keep in mind, experts suggest that children know and sense everything in utero, so what you think, say and do is a constant teacher from the womb onwards, even when you are unaware of it. If playing Mozart pre-birth affects your children, so does every other vibrating part of your being and the world that surrounds them as they grow up.

You might want to keep that in mind before you randomly slap in a video. If you observe carefully, you will find sex often laced throughout children’s media. These situations provide food for thought, and an appropriate comment here and there from a caring parent can gradually help your child learn discernment.

Therapist Lesley Cunningham, born and raised in Mobile, Alabama, now works as a Program Manager for Mental Health Partners in Colorado. Cunningham suggests the topic of sex not be covered in one big conversation.

“It’s not a single conversation, but a series of age appropriate, child-initiated conversations,” said Cunningham. “Children will ask certain questions all along the developmental path; many parents get nervous and answer too much or distract the child because they are uncomfortable.”

“Simply answer the question that was asked as best you can, and then ask if they want any other information about the subject, or if they have any more questions,” suggested Cunningham. “Let it go if there are no more questions.”

“By the time it’s important for them to know more, they will have had a history of these conversations that were easy and just enough so they will be receptive to more information, again, usually because it is initiated by them,” explained Cunningham. “Sometimes a book, age-appropriate, can be given, read together - or not - which will spark more questions.”

So, there we have it. We learn about sex and self gradually. There doesn’t have to be a “big talk” anymore, nor should there be; if you wait for that, a child’s perceptions may have long-since been formulated.

The good news is parents can serve as clever, observant guides through the sometimes murky waters of the complex culture in which we live, and help their children develop solid states of mental, emotional and physical health and a strong sense of confident well-being.


Elizabeth A. Phelps is a certified teacher, national award-winning youth program designer, speaker, and writer. Elizabeth was born and raised on the Gulf Coast.

Jackson County CASA: the Voice of a Child

Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night and rushed madly into your child’s bedroom to make sure they were breathing? I have done this. More than once.

Unfortunately, operating instructions related to health and well-being don’t come attached to the child, so I read a lot of parenting books. In Ann Lamott’s “Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First Year,” a phrase stuck with me: “I don't remember who said this, but there really are places in the heart you don't even know exist until you love a child.”

This helped me understand that these newly uncovered places in my heart were overriding the rational part of my brain, and irrational fears and reactions are not conducive to raising a child. I stopped the midnight checks...but I still worried about my son’s health and safety. Isn’t that what all parents do?

Actor and comedian Ray Romano once said, “Having children is like living in a frat house - nobody sleeps, everything's broken, and there's a lot of throwing up.” Having a sense of humor is vital in parenting, as well as acknowledging that mistakes will be made by both parents and children. We learn. We grow. And hopefully we know.

There is a dark side of raising children, however. The name of it is child abuse and/or neglect, and it comes in many forms: verbal, emotional, psychological, sexual or physical. Thankfully, there are heroes among us, purposed with helping children who face such circumstances. I have seen them in action. I have been blessed to work for them for a short time, and had the opportunity to see what true compassion and selflessness looked like. These people are the heart of the nonprofit volunteer organization, CASA.

CASA stands for “Court Appointed Special Advocates.” These people are basically the voices for abused and neglected children while in a court of law.

Frances L. Allsup, Executive Director of Jackson County CASA, Inc. - which is part of the National Casa network - calls her advocates “amazing.”

”Our advocates work with DHS [Department of Human Services] and the legal system to ensure the child receives the necessary services...physical, mental health and anything else necessary for their well-being,” said Allsup. “The foster care system is overburdened, so a child assigned a CASA advocate is more likely to find a permanent home, and much less likely to languish in the system. CASA advocates make an incredible difference in these children’s lives, and in so many cases, their advocate’s presence is the only constant during their journey through the legal system.”

There are so many stories that can’t be told, and they are heart-breaking and tragic. But there are also happy endings...and new beginnings. That is how CASA makes the difference, one child at a time.

Casa is always in need of volunteers who wish to speak for a child. For more information, visit the Jackson County CASA website at


Contributor Julie Chaffins lives in Ocean Springs.

Being Gulf Coast “Santa’s Helper” is a Christmas Wish Come True

It is the end of November as I dig way into the back of my closet. Amongst the tattered sweaters and clothes that have not been in style for decades, through the smell of mothballs and cedar sachets, I come to a plastic garment bag. Taking the bag out into the light, I casually unzip it down its full length and spread the plastic apart. I am apprehensive, hoping everything inside will be in as good order as I left it 11 months ago when I put the garment away.

Once opened, it is as if there is a radiant light emanating from inside the bag. A scarlet glow reflects off white fur trim; it is from a plush velour fabric that is a deep, rich red color. It is my Santa suit.

In the bottom of the garment bag is another plastic bag containing all the accoutrements. There is a wide black leather belt with a shiny brass buckle, a pair of white gloves, and a pointed red Santa hat with white fur fringe and a pompom at the point. I inspect every piece of equipment and material; everything has to be perfect, because so many people are depending on me as one of Santa’s important helpers.

I am excited and exhilarated by the thought of making so many children happy by listening to their Christmas wishes. I love making parents happy as they see their child on my knee; they snap away on everything from an old Kodak Instamatic to a modern digital camera.

I have been an entertainer and musician, an actor and a television producer for most of my life and I have never found any job as fulfilling as being one of Santa’s helpers. The kids’ eyes become as big as saucers as they look up at me in amazement and excitement, hoping I will deliver their wish lists to the “real” Santa Claus.

Sometimes when I ask a child what they would like Santa to bring them for Christmas, some reply with only one or two items, while others have a long list of so many presents that they would never all fit on the sleigh. Younger children are into toys such as dolls or puzzles, while the older kids are more into electronics, cell phones and video games. I can always spot the “spoiled” kids by the number and types of presents they ask for. I can also spot the needy children, because generally they will never ask for anything for themselves; they usually ask for items for a younger brother or sister, and the requests are more on the practical side, such as wishes for clothing or a warm coat. Sometimes they may even ask for a job for daddy, or an operation for grandma. These children just break my heart so much I want to cry. I wish I could hug them and reassure them that everything will work out and all their wishes will come true.

The first Christmas parade I remember seeing was when I was about five years old and my family stood curbside to watch the fabulous floats and marching bands go by. At the end of the parade, Santa Claus was riding in high fashion, perched atop a fire truck. As a five-year-old boy, I thought: “Wow! What could be better than being Santa Claus and getting to ride on a real fire truck?”

Now I can imagine. I feel like I am the luckiest person on the planet, because now I have the privilege of playing Santa’s helper every December, and even get to ride at the end of the Christmas parade on a real fire truck with real firemen. Wow!

I would like to thank all those wonderful people who helped make MY Christmas wish come true by giving me the opportunity to help Santa bring joy into the hearts of so many children. Thanks to The City of Biloxi, The Learning Center in Ocean Springs, St. Alphonsus School Music Department in Ocean Springs, The City of Ocean Springs, Diamondhead Homeowners Association, and so many others who worked behind the scenes to make my appearance successful. I wish you all happy holidays and a happy and productive New Year.

Chaz Mikell is a musician, writer, and actor living in Gautier, MS.

The “Dangerous” Combo of Fever with Rash: What You Need to Know

A mother always worries when her child becomes ill, be it a strange rash or a worrisome fever. When these two symptoms occur together, a trip to the doctor seems like the best choice. Fortunately, the list of common childhood illnesses with these two symptoms contains mostly viral illness, many of which are preventable with vaccines.

Prior to the introduction of Chicken Pox vaccine in 1995 in this country, four million children suffered through its itching blisters every year. This virus now infects non-vaccinated children and adults, initially with fever, headache and sore throat. The telltale “pocks” show up on the second or third day, with symptoms lasting about ten days. Most children recover without incident, though adults have a much rougher course. Antibiotics won’t help; treatment consists of medication for fever and itching.

The triad of Measles, Mumps, and Rubella also have been nearly wiped out from this country by childhood vaccinations. Measles symptoms include fever, cough, runny nose, and red eyes, followed in a day or two by a diffuse red spotty rash. Fortunately rarely seen today, the extensiveness of the rash makes the disease easily recognizable. German Measles, also known as Rubella, presents similarly to regular measles, with symptoms and rash so much milder that the whole episode might be overlooked. Rash rarely shows up in Mumps, which is instead identified by swelling in the cheeks. None of these three illnesses will benefit from antibiotic treatments and usually resolve by themselves, though they can have significant complications, particularly in a pregnant woman.

Another viral illness, “Slapped Cheek Disease” starts with a low-grade fever, headache, and cold-like symptoms. A few days after these get better, the child develops the telltale bright red cheeks. Sometimes the rash will form a lacy pattern on the trunk and upper arms, and can last as long as several weeks. Again, this infection does not need antibiotics; unless the patient has specific risk factors, such as pregnancy, sickle-cell disease, or depressed immune systems, he or she almost never has complications.

Scarlet Fever comes from a bacterial infection and benefits from antibiotic treatment. Symptoms usually include the classic “strep throat,” with swollen tonsils and fever. The rash has been described as feeling like “sandpaper,” a rough red diffuse body rash found mostly on the trunk. Sometimes the strep gets into the skin, creating a raised “orange peel” look, often with high fever and chills. Again, being a bacterial infection, a trip to the doctor for antibiotics would be a good idea.

A rare but dangerous rash with fever combo is Toxic Shock Syndrome. A result of bacterial breakdown products of staph or strep, the fever can be dangerously high and the bright red diffuse rash frightening, with symptoms progressing rapidly. The rash has been described as looking like bad sunburn.

Tick fevers generally present a week or two after exposure, so keep them in mind if your child has been out hiking or camping. Generally presenting with muscle and joint pains, headaches, low-grade fever, and a spotted rash, the most dangerous of these is Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Here, prompt antibiotics can be lifesaving!

One final, extremely rare disease to mention is Meningococcal Meningitis, a bacterial infection showing up with headache and a rash of small spots of blood under the skin. The intensity of the headache of this illness and strange looking rash usually alert the parent for the need to bring the child to the emergency room promptly.

Red rash and fever signal a dangerous combination in a child. Proper immunizations will prevent some of the viral causes. Keep acetaminophen and ibuprofen available for fever and don’t hesitate to bring your child to the doctor if bacterial causes might be involved.


Philip L. Levin, M.D. is a Coast-based physician and writer. He is president of the Gulf Coast Writers Association and is the author of numerous award-winning stories and poems, many nonfiction articles, and eight published books, including two children’s books.

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