H1N1 pandemic: Don’t panic – prepare!

The World Health Organization declared H1N1 – also called swine flu – a pandemic today. This means that there is large-scale transmission of the virus among humans in at least two of the designated WHO regions.

We’ve seen the H1N1 issue evolve over the last few months into a serious situation, but it isn’t one to panic over. Although there have been many cases in Chicago and Illinois, it seems like the worst of the cases grew out of underlying medical conditions. If you want to find more information on H1N1, check out the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site.

I did some research on H1N1 to find out more about how to protect yourself and your family and how to prevent infection. Here are a few tips to help prevent infection by maintaining proper hygiene and self care:

  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water or an alcohol-based sanitizer.
  • Cough or sneeze into a tissue and place used tissues directly into the trash.
  • If you do not have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your elbow or upper sleeve.
  • After coughing or sneezing, clean your hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Keep your hands away from your eyes, nose and mouth to prevent germs from entering your body.
  • Stay at home if you are ill.
  • Talk with your family and friends and make a plan for taking care of one another should any of you become ill.

It’s important to know what you’re going to do in the event of a critical pandemic situation. The time to prepare is now, not during a situation that has reached emergency status. In addition to your disaster preparedness kit, we recommend keeping a two-week supply of materials for pandemic flu care-giving. These supplies will help you take care of yourself or your family if a case is confirmed and you or family members must remain inside while recovering. You can find this list here.

For more information on H1N1, see the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site. For more information on how to prepare for and prevent H1N1 infection, see the Greater Chicago Red Cross Web site.

Gentry Lassiter is a Marketing & Communications intern with the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago.

Have a Drink for Your Health

With the weekend quickly approaching, many people may be thinking they need a drink after a long week at work. Instead of heading to your local pub to unwind, why not head out to your neighborhood Jamba Juice and drink for a cause?

This weekend, all 35 Chicagoland Jamba Juice locations will be donating 20 percent of all their sales to the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago. These proceeds will help support the necessary funds needed to provide disaster relief and other services that the Chicago Red Cross provides to the local community every day.

For those of you thinking, Jamba Juice doesn’t have anything that you would like, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Jamba Juice has something for everyone. Personally, I like the Jamba Classic menu, especially the Strawberry Surf Rider. Along with smoothies, and fruit-juice drinks, Jamba has a low-calorie menu, nutrition drinks and baked goods. Believe me, there is something out there for everyone. Take a look at the Jamba Juice Menu, to discover all of the drinks yourself.

You can drink Jamba Juice Friday through Sunday and know that you are making a difference in your community through the benefits provided to the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago. So come on in, unwind, and enjoy your weekend by experiencing Jamba Juice, and having a drink for a cause.

Jamba Juice can be found across the Chicagoland area, so there is sure to be one near you. Check out the Jamba Juice Locations to find one close to you!

~Megan Wallace~
-Photo courtesy of Terri Swallow


Given the conception of our newest Facebook page for the Mission Red event, I’d like to dedicate today’s blog entry to the social media phenomenon.

On my first HAPPY FRIDAY blog, I alluded to the prevalence of social media, and the fact that everybody’s involved. In fact, Facebook currently has more than 200 million active users worldwide, followed by MySpace at 106 million users, with Twitter quickly gaining ground as the fastest growing social media site with 55 million users.

And you’d be surprised who’s plugged in. The fastest growing U.S. demographic segment on Facebook is women age 55 and over. On a side note, Oprah is now Tweeting. In her opening tweet, she inadvertently insulted Twitterers everywhere by writing in all-caps and calling us “TWITTERS.” But she’s forgiven – she’s Oprah! And her gaffe is a sign that she’s actually writing the tweets herself, which may have changed since her initial slip-up. But I digress.

This phenomenon has really taken off, and it’s not exactly a new thing. What is new is that it’s not just us youngsters dominating this space anymore. Mommy bloggers talk about everything from diaper rash creams to tips about how to schedule a weekend quickie with the hubby. Clearly this social media thing has turned into a utilitarian tool for everyone. What used to be a venue for IT geeks and gamers trading tips and tricks about their esoteric world has turned into a true marketplace of ideas, where you can subscribe to whomever you’d like (and their theories or outlook, or whatever) and follow their every move as they posit and prose about what they think stuff means, and interpret the world from their point of view.

Meanwhile, those of you not interested in following some lame, self-absorbed raconteur can use this same social media platform to (re)connect with old friends whom you actually want to chat with, and catch up. Given the regional mobility of the US population, most of us are not living in the same place where we grew. And for those of you who are, most of your old friends probably aren’t. In that case, you can see what they’re up to and how fat, or skinny, or hot, or successful (or not) they’ve become. You can Google people and find their “social footprint” online, and even find out what other people think about them.

It’s a mixed bag, this social media thing. I personally love it, but some may find it too intrusive. A classmate did a presentation on how college football and NFL recruiters make fake Facebook pages to friend possible recruits to get the real story about them before committing. And a funny thing about this guy, someone made a fake Facebook page about him! And he’s not even a college football or NFL candidate.

And then you have people who ruin it for the rest of us, by posting stuff like the Domino’s Pizza video, or Ashton Kutcher and his ridiculous attempt at beating the biggest presence on Twitter, CNN, by advertizing to try to get more followers, which he did. This kind or blasphemy flies in the face of what it means to have a social network. If a powerful media personality or a news source uses their resources to penetrate into the social media sphere, it ceases to be genuine and it will lose its best quality – being user-generated.

The point is this social media thing is a moving target. We’re making the rules as we go, and it’s a fun ride. The best thing is that there’s something for everyone. We all have our space online, and we’re making the most of it.

One last thing – before you log off from your computer, come follow us on Facebook. It’s a bare bones page right now, but we’re working on it. We welcome any suggestions, and please, no fake profiles. There’s no dirt here pal!

A Fishy Tale

I debated with myself whether or not I ought to share this tragically ironic vignette. With the encouragement of Oana and Martha, who heartily insisted that this would make a nice parable for the blog, I acquiesced.

A few weeks ago, Martha had asked me to research and write a press release on whether or not there were a higher number of choking incidents during the Lenten season due to a supposed increase in fish consumption. A veteran fish eater and a fairly sensible adult, I could not imagine choking on my food. Baffled by the request, I fished around all over the World Wide Web to find statistics on hazardous foods. Indeed, fishbones where frequently mentioned along with the top ten most common edible choking culprits in children: hot dogs, candy, popcorn, peanuts/nuts, carrots, grapes, meat, apples, cookies, and peanut butter. Often times, kids have not learned how to chew their food properly. 

Consequently, I found that this was yet another important reason why knowing CPR and basic first aid is just so important. My research showed adults are just susceptible to choking hazards as children. And should a choking incident persist, there is little time to react when the victim loses consciousness. Scary, I thought, but what were the odds of this happening to me? Little did I know that a few days AFTER Lent was over, I would be in the emergency room “choking” on irony. 

Last week, I was hungry and in quite a rush when I sampled a curious Filipino fish dish that was laying out on the table. The first few bites were fine enough, but something went terribly wrong soon thereafter. To say the least, the fishbone was not going down very smoothly. I thought that if I continued to swallow, it would eventually pass, right? WRONG. It the irritation in my throat became more persistent and acute. My mother tried giving me a banana. The banana did not work for me either, Maria! Perhaps a scoop of rice? That did not work either. Water? No. I was able to breathe and talk, but only with increasing discomfort. 

Panicky over the lessons learned in writing that press release, I feared that the rest might come true! What if it led to choking? Then, there would only be little time to respond with CPR. Was my family prepared? My sister did not know CPR, but thankfully, my mother is a nurse. We went to her hospital’s ER to get this fishy problem squared away. Luckily, it did not escalate to where I was truly choking, but it was still uncomfortable. While swearing off fish for the time being may not be the most rational idea, I am very excited to be taking a first aid/CPR/AED course with my sister next week.

Mishaps happen, but being prepared is no accident. Take a class and be aware of the common foods and household objects that may be potentially hazardous to your family.

Christina Ponsaran, Marketing and Communications Intern


In today’s entry – hit FOX TV series “Lie To Me” features the American Red Cross!

Last week’s FOX primetime hit show, “Lie to Me” featured Red Cross volunteers during a disaster sequence. The episode ‘Life Is Priceless’ included a building collapse as the investigative team discovers a massive cover-up. In true heroic fashion, the brave men and women of the American Red Cross were called to respond to this staged disaster, much like the many thousands of real disasters they attend to every year across the world.

Based on real-life scientific discoveries, actor Tim Roth plays Dr. Cal Lightman, the world’s leading deception expert who studies facial expressions and body language to tell if someone is lying. The show airs Wednesdays on FOX at 7:00 p.m. CT. Check the Web site for local listings. The main character, Dr. Cal Lightman aided by his colleague Dr. Gillian Foster (Kelli Williams), detects deception by observing body language and microexpressions through the Facial Action Coding System, using this talent to assist clients (such as law enforcement).

The character is based on Paul Ekman, notable psychologist and expert on body language and facial expressions. Dr. Ekman and his colleague, Dr. Maureen O’Sullivan, identified “naturals” in what is known as The Wizards Project, which identified 50 people with the ability to spot deception after testing 15,000 people from all walks of life. In real life, they call these “naturals” Truth Wizards, or wizards of deception detection.

To prove the show is based on real science, Lie cuts from examples of the characters lying to real-life examples of famous people lying — though odds are some of those people would argue with both the usage and description. It’s a far more precise technique than The Mentalist’s loosely defined and applied observational skills, and, for a while, it’s entertaining. But a mere two episodes in, the trick already feels overly restrictive and overdone (some of the expressions are so obvious a 6-year-old could read them), and that’s not a great sign of staying power.

Fundamentally, Roth’s Dr. Cal Lightman is the latest in a long line of master detectives with highly developed powers of observation — he’s Sherlock Holmes with a PhD (and three assistants instead of one) and a close cousin to the characters currently featured on “The Mentalist” (phony psychic turns cold-reading talents to crime-busting), “Psych” (super-perceptive police consultant pretends to have psychic powers to make himself seem more credible, oddly) and “The Closer” (Southern belle LAPD detective knows when you’ve been bad or good).

While product placements like Coca-Cola on American Idol or Apple on The Apprentice are very expensive and often disparaged by audiences as networks and movie studios leverage their captive audience to marketers, the American Red Cross receives this valuable exposure at no cost. Quite the contrary – shows and organizations the world over line up to partner with the Red Cross, to align themselves with one of the most well-respected symbols of humanitarian aid on the globe.

Lie to Me” is another sign that then Red Cross continues to symbolize emergency response and disaster relief. Together with our new partners and supporters, we hope to be able to continue to make a difference, and we count on everyone in our communities to help us make this possible.

Please consider donating today, – or support your local Red Cross Chapter in whatever way you can.

Thank You and HAPPY FRIDAY!


You probably already guessed the topic of today’s entry. Although the American Red Cross is a non-denominational organization, it makes sense to at least review the roots of Good Friday and briefly examine some modern iterations of this Catholic holiday. We would also like to pay homage to those who perished in the earthquake in L’Aquila, Italy, and share how the Red Cross collaborated with local officials to help the victims of this catastrophe.

Ironically, Good Friday commemorates the day Jesus Christ was crucified. According to the King James Bible (John 19:17-22), with identical versions in other scriptures, Jesus was brought before Roman Governor Pontius Pilate for trial. The trial – The Sanhedrin Trial of Jesus – was an event reported by all the Canonical Gospels of the Bible.

The accounts declare that after Jesus and his followers celebrated Passover as their Last Supper, Jesus was betrayed by his apostle Judas Iscariot, and arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus was then put on trial by Jewish authorities to determine whether his guilt, in their eyes, justified handing him over to the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate with their request that the Roman Empire put Jesus to death on popular demand from the people.

As early as the first century, the Church set aside every Friday as a special day of prayer and fasting. It was not until the fourth century, however, that the Church began observing the Friday before Easter as the day associated with the crucifixion of Christ. First called Holy or Great Friday by the Greek Church, the name “Good Friday” was adopted by the Roman Church around the sixth or seventh century.

There are two possible origins for the name “Good Friday”. The first may have come from the Gallican Church in Gaul (modern-day France and Germany). The name “Gute Freitag” is Germanic in origin and literally means “good” or “holy” Friday. The second possibility is a variation on the name “God’s Friday,” where the word “good” was used to replace the word “God,” which was often viewed as too holy for commoners to speak.

According to Wikipedia: In many countries with a strong Christian tradition such as Bermuda, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Peru, the Philippines, Mexico, Venezuela, the countries of the Caribbean, Germany, Malta, Australia, New Zealand,[38][39][40] and the United Kingdom, the day is observed as a public or federal holiday.

In the United States, Good Friday is not a government holiday. Private businesses and certain other institutions may close or not for Good Friday, according to their preferences. The stock market is closed on Good Friday. However, the vast majority of businesses are open on Good Friday.

Unfortunately, Good Friday for Italians this year was dedicated to the burial of 205 countrymen who died from the catastrophic earthquake that rocked L’Aquila, an ancient town located 75 miles northeast of Rome.

The Times of London reports that Vatican officials prepared to hold mass funerals for victims of Monday’s earthquake. The Pope has given special permission for the funeral to be held on Good Friday, where normally the only masses held are in commemoration of the Crucifixion. He will tonight hold the traditional torchlit Via Crucis (Stations of the Cross) procession at the Colosseum in Rome.

Italian Red Cross rescue teams were on the scene of the disaster within an hour after the earthquake struck, searching for people trapped in the rubble and providing emergency care for the injured. The Italian Civil Protection Services have also responded and are taking the lead in coordinating response activities.

Working in close coordination with Italian Civil Protection Services, the Italian Red Cross has activated its national operations center, as well as four regional offices, to respond effectively to the growing needs of survivors.

With up to 10,000 buildings in the city believed to be badly damaged or destroyed, the Italian Red Cross anticipates growing needs for shelter, warm clothes and food for the survivors.

The American Red Cross will continue to monitor the situation and communicate with the Italian Red Cross and International Federation, and stands ready to provide assistance if requested.

For the latest information on Red Cross relief efforts, visit http://www.redcross.org/ and regardless of your religious beliefs, dedicate a moment of silence for those who perished in this week’s earthquake, and support the Red Cross so we can continue to serve the world in times of need.


In today’s entry, I’d like to discuss the growing real estate segment for first time buyers. First-time buyers are benefitting from incredible deals, favorable lending conditions and move-in ready dream homes available for moderate prices, and I’d like to share some great tips to get you started on the road to home-ownership.

This is especially relevant to my fellow 20- and 30-somethings around the country who were lucky enough to avoid (or financially unable to enter) the real estate rush of the past few years, and are now in the position to buy. Your patience has paid off because now’s the perfect time to buy.

Since I’m currently in this position myself, I figured I could pass along some stuff I’ve recently learned about this topic and encourage those of you who are considering buying to conduct some research of your own, and seriously consider the opportunities that are out there. I’ll provide some useful tips and links, and as always welcome suggestions for additional material from readers.

The current glut of housing stock has led real estate agents, banks and brokers to reduce listing prices of overvalued homes, putting formerly unattainable properties within reach of first-time buyers. Previously hard to find situations like foreclosures and short sales abound in today’s real estate market.

Here are five quick tips to get you started down the road of home-ownership

  1. Where do I start? Check your credit score!
    ■ Today’s minimum score for first-time buyers is still 620! A great score is 740+.
    ■ Need to improve your score? – never pay for credit repair…ask your mortgage broker for free assistance!
  2. What type of loans are available in this economy?
    ■ There are still Government loans with as little as a 3.5% down payment with great fixed rates!
    ■ Sellers can still pay for your closing costs!
  3. How much can I afford based on my income?
    ■ A good rule of thumb is having your total mortgage payment at no more than 31% of your gross income.
    ■ With historically low rates – you can qualify for more house for less money!
    ■ Family members can still help with down payments too!
  4. Why should I buy now?
    ■ Rates are temporarily at historic lows!
    ■ The Government is offering an $8000 credit to first-time homebuyers! (Be sure to ask your mortgage broker for more details on this)
    ■ Great home prices! Sellers are more than willing to reduce their prices to sell!
    ■ There are plenty of Short-Sales and Foreclosures available that are well below market value!
  5. With so many mortgage companies available, who do I choose? …who do I trust? …what do I compare?
    ■ Always check with a few mortgage brokers to compare – regardless!
    ■ Always ask for a Good Faith Estimate – this will show the rate and estimated closing costs. Use this to compare offers.
    ■ Always meet your mortgage broker face-to-face!
    ■ Check with someone who just purchased a home – see if they would recommend the mortgage broker they used!

If you do find the home of your dreams for the right price, don’t forget to keep it, and your family, safe by preparing your emergency kit. Have at least three days of supplies in an easy-to-carry evacuation kit, with additional supplies on hand.

Your list of supplies should include:

■ Water
■ Food
■ First Aid Supplies
■ Protective Clothing and Bedding
■ Tools
■ Special Items

Remember to check your kit and replace the stock every six months.Store your disaster supplies in sturdy yet easy-to-carry containers, in a place that is easily accessible. Keep a smaller version of the kit in your vehicle. If you become stranded or are not able to return home, having some items with you will help.

Make sure your emergency disaster supply kit is stocked and ready. Create your own, or buy a starter Supplies Kit from the Red Cross online store or by calling 1-800-33-SAFETY.

That’s it for today’s edition. For those of you in the market for a home, I wish you luck. For those of you considering this step, I suggest you do some research, but take this seriously. Either way, be prepared and get a kit – it could save your life.

Beware of Fish Bones

So you can’t get more Mexican Catholic than María de los Ángeles Corral. Yes, that’s my name. And I was dutifully sent to a Catholic school, St. Wenceslaus, right here in Chicago. And during Lent, we absolutely followed the rules on “no meat Fridays.” As a child I wasn’t fond of fish and ate it with difficulty, and once, I actually nearly choked on a bone. My mother made me eat half a banana to push it down. Needless to say, I definitely felt the intersession of a divine force that day.

As with many Mexican mothers, life’s emergencies are resolved with tactics that balance myth and true science. A banana is not the way to help a choking child, nor anyone for that matter. BTW, my mother has since taken a CPR class and at least in the choke rescue department, she is relying on science for the next emergency.

For all those out there who will be eating fish tomorrow, beware of the bones. And if you think you are not ready for the moment when someone will surprise you with the international sign of choking (hands at throat), get yourself to a class (there are still openings in our extended CPR Training Days event) or at least watch this video.

I know you all grew up with some crazy or very sensible ways to get out of choking emergencies. Tell me about it! I want to hear them.


Here at the Red Cross of Greater Chicago, we strongly urge you to pause for a moment before making a comment about this weekend’s peculiar weather.

We know, we know – it’s not supposed to snow two weeks before Easter!

The reason we ask you to take pause is because Red Cross volunteers from around the country are currently responding to North Dakota. If you having been paying attention, residents of North Dakota have been terrorized with severe weather in the past week from flooding to blizzards – and it’s not quite over yet!

A few weeks ago, we took time to chat a bit about National Deployments with the Red Cross. As of 7:30 p.m. Friday night, the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago has deployed ten people from the Chicagoland area to respond!

We’d like to take a moment to applaud Disaster Services very own Duane Whittingham who is currently in North Dakota on an Emergency Communications Response Vehicle, or ECRV!

The ECRV deploys to disasters and provides assists with communications with its various antennas and satellite systems. It takes about forty hours of classroom and hands on training to become an ECRV Operator and there are less than twenty ECRV’s in the United States.

We know Duane is making the Red Cross of Greater Chicago proud – be safe out there!!

~Sam and Lily


After a much-deserved Spring Break, the HAPPY FRIDAY blogger is back and armed with a slew of spring break recommendations and favorite destinations from my years of thorough, firsthand research on this topic.

As a former resident of Miami, native of Spain and former employee of the Mexico Tourism Board, I have plenty of fodder on this topic.

Miami Beach is an international hotspot any time of year, but adding spring break to the mix makes South Beach white-hot for party-loving coeds, cutting loose between semesters from colleges across the country. If you go, stop by Wet Willie’s on Ocean Drive. This is a staple and sure to cool even the hottest party-goers with their signature frozen daiquiris and breath-taking ocean views. Next stop, walk three blocks over to Washington Ave, and visit Mansion Nightclub, the hottest club on the strip right now, and a favorite destination of yours truly. Splurge a little and get into VIP – you won’t regret it! Before heading back to the hotel, take a short cab ride to Club Space in downtown Miami. This New York style club features three rooms on two levels and a rooftop patio where partygoers from around the world have been watching the sun rise over the Miami skyline for many years.

Next on my list is Cancun, where the city’s best nightclubs are conveniently located in the hotel zone with the gorgeous turquoise waters and sugar white sand beaches of the Caribbean as a backdrop. My number one spring break hotspot on the Cancun strip is The City, without question Mexico’s best nightclub. This spectacular venue features nine bars on three levels with a 1,000,000 watt sound system and 650 square feet of video screens. Be ready for anything at this dance and entertainment mecca and let your inhibitions go. Spring break in Cancun is not complete without a stop at Senor Frog’s, a longtime staple of the Cancun nightclub scene. Located in the heart of Cancun’s nightclub district, this international disco has been attracting spring break college crowds for almost 20 years. This hotspot comes complete with a water slide leading to a fresh water lagoon to help cool you down after hours of friction on the packed dance floor. On the last stop of our party tour, join 3,000 of your closest friends at one of Cancun’s hottest superclubs, Coco Bongo. The sights and sounds of this multi-level mega- structure include live bands, flying acrobats and a tantalizing light show accompanied by a powerful sound system.

My final and most decadent spring break getaway destination is actually an entire island dedicated exclusively for the serious partygoer not on a budget. Ibiza is world famous for being a club and party scene, featuring an eclectic mix of house and techno nightclubs with a flair for the exotic. My top spot is Pacha, attracting the world’s most discerning partygoers for over 40 years. My dad’s been there, but that’s another story! This place gets jumping after 3am, when the electrifying music moves the jam-packed ocean of people dancing to the intoxicating beats. Featuring guest DJs from around the world and sexy dancers strutting atop the club’s seven bars, this place is truly one-of-a-kind. The final destination of my Ibiza tour is Space Ibiza. This techno-dance wonderland features six rooms with a gigantic main room, all featuring state-of-the-art sound and light shows, and an ultra-extravagant VIP lounge just off the main dance floor at the heart of the club. These two clubs should do the trick, but if you have any energy left, there are plenty of small bars and pubs around the island that cater to any craving you may concoct.

And since we always promote safety at the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago, we encourage that you drink in moderation, always travel with a partner, and leave your travel itinerary with someone back home. These places are very safe, but travel overseas always requires extra precautions.

For the latest travel tips and international travel alerts, visit the US Department of State website.

Until next time, bottom’s up and HAPPY FRIDAY!

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