Seven Quick Takes: End of School Edition

One: Woohoo!  We are done with our school year!  We’re off to a Guatemalan restaurant to celebrate.

Two: I’m looking forward to a summer full of tea parties (this was the best one ever).
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Three: I used my Christmas money for a new sewing machine. The minute I pulled it out, 29 elves came out of the woodwork to sew with me. Within 30 seconds, the room looked like this. Tell me this happens at your house.

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Four: This Sunday was Pentecost, which is Owen’s baptism anniversary.  Dinner was lovely, and then I had this to contend with elves who ate dinner.  Wait… maybe they were Orcs.
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Five: On Memorial Day we went to make a mess at my parents’ house. It was lovely. Owen became an Egyptian real estate tycoon. (For some weird reason, all the properties on the Egyptian board have British names. That’s Colonialism for you.)

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Six: We finished our standardized testing last week by celebrating with two homeschool families who have moved away… Such fun! I’m not sure who had more fun- kids or adults! (these are the kids.)
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Seven: we got together with our Karen friends to play soccer and have ice cream sandwiches in the park. They have very little English and we have no Karen, but we didn’t need anything but laughter to play soccer.

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I’m not sure what I’m going to have to pull out of my hat to make the summer any more fun than last week.

For more quick takes, check out This Ain’t the Lyceum!

A Giveaway of Let Us Keep the Feast

Heads up, friends! Happy Pentecost to you!

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Jessica of Homemaking Through the Church Year is giving away a few copies of Let Us Keep the Feast: Pentecost and Ordinary Time.

If you’re looking for ways to embrace what the Church year has to offer your spiritual walk, look no further. Ordinary Time is the longest Church season, so it has offers the most opportunity for growth.

Head on over to Jessica’s for a chance to win.

Where I go on and on and on about running on and on and on…

Last Sunday my PRP (perfect running partner) and I ran the Colfax Urban 10 Miler.  All my previous race experience has been either at huge races (i.e. the Bolder Boulder) or tiny ones, and I have to say that this race was just the right size for me.  The race dropped us in at mile 16 of the marathon, so we had our own (very low-key) start but finished at the full finish line, which was a blast.

I was more nervous than I expected and was grateful for the notes I had made after my 9-mile training run. Notes like: “don’t wear the gray shirt!” and “body glide and sunblock”.  The night before the race I laid everything out, pinned my bibs on, and drank a lot of water. We tried to see Pitch Perfect 2, but it was sold out at two theaters and we ended up at The Market.  The guy in front of me bought the last piece of the Spring Fling cake, and I thought it was going to be strike three for me… but of course they had another cake in the cooler and all was well.  Other than the cake, I didn’t eat any differently than I normally do. I parked our car by the finish line Saturday night and went to bed at the regular time.

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Breakfast: a sausage and fried egg sandwich on a bagel.  Lots of water. Tea.  After I ate it I realized that my notes did not include the sausage. (Did this portend mid-race diarrhea?)  From my porch, I watched the runners on the early part of the course, which calmed my nerves.  My friend’s family picked me up and dropped us at the start, where I was frozen with more decision fatigue: what to do with my long-sleeved shirt? The sun had come out for the first time in days, and while I was still cold, I know I’d be too hot running.
before:
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The first part of the course wound through the Rocky Mountain School of Design. The sculptures by the road were a good distraction from my early race jitters. I find it so hard to hold down my pace when I’m nervous. Plus, we ended up starting earlier than they had told us, which was great weather-wise but put us with runners with a faster pace than ours. But the second to fourth miles of the course were downhill (240 ft over 3 miles) so the faster pace wasn’t the end of the world. At the end of the downhill, we came into Mile High Stadium and ran along the path next to the field. Super fun. At that point, I couldn’t see my PRP, but we had agreed just to go for it if we felt good, so I did.  We ran past Elitches, where empty rides ran full-tilt beside us.

I promise I moved to the side before I whipped out my camera.
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Can you see the rides?
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The aid stations were every two miles, which I practiced during training. At mile six, I consumed half a pack of Honey Stingers (the gel ones). During my first Bolder Boulder (10K), I made so many mistakes: too much water too early, a new skirt, early pit stop and then I couldn’t get my skirt on right again… But this time, all my practice paid off, and I was able just to run. No pit stops, no near-drowning myself with early water, no wardrobe malfunctions.

Miles 8-10 were hard. I followed a man wearing my old hat (he was my hat twin). One of the roads was bad, and I had to focus on where I put my feet to keep from twisting my ankle. The only part of my training that didn’t work was my mental prep for the last mile (plus) of the course. When I did my nine mile run, I knew exactly where I was in relation to home. To stopping. During the race, I wasn’t sure exactly where the finish was within the park, and my GPS hit ten more than half a mile before the finish line. Several runners around me asked the crowd, “Where the #$%^ is the finish?” The 26-mile marker seemed a long, long way from the line.

My gait is more of a shuffle, but I totally faked it here so I could have a photo with both feet off the ground.
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I finished in 1:56:55. (My goal was 2 hours.) I didn’t win any prizes or set any records except for mental ones. When I ran again Thursday, the legs felt good, but my feet were still unhappy.

We raised $400 of food aid for Project Worthmore. Thank you so much!

So now what? Thirteen miles is only 33 minutes more, so I’m planning to do a half marathon in July (but only if I can eat Spring Fling cake the night before).

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5 Strategies for Creating Readers

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Studies abound on the benefits of reading.  Losing yourself in a novel improves brain connectivity and function Fiction improves our emotional intelligence and teaches us empathy. Reading is one of the mental activities that can help prevent dementia.

But beyond the research, how do we help our children become readers?

Obviously, there’s no magic pill, but here are my tips for promoting reading in our homes.

1.  Let them see YOU reading.

If your kids see you surfing the web in your free time, they’ll think that’s the thing to do.  Instead, let them see you pulling out a book. Make sure there are books for you (not just for the kids) in the library basket.  I always forget to order books for myself, but if I keep a list in my phone of books my friends recommend, it’s more likely to happen.

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2. Spend time at the library.

Libraries are like candy stores full of books.  Sure, there are DVDs there (and why are they always put at the front these days?) but we make those rare treats and spend most of our time browsing the book shelves.  It’s easier to sell reading time as a family activity when we have something new to offer.  And who can beat free?

Growing up, the librarians at our local branch library knew all my family members by name and with time, they knew our tastes as well.  They even pulled books they thought we might like and set them aside for our weekly Tuesday night library visit.

3. Turn off the TV.

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4. Read to your kids.

This one seems obvious, but when there’s a sink full of dishes and a list of phone calls to make, it’s easy to minimize the importance of it.  Little ones LOVE to sit on your lap and read. Even before they can understand a story, they love the sound of your voice.  Reach Out and Read has a great list of suggestions for choosing age appropriate books for young children.

Big kids still love to be read to, even when they can read independently.  Sharing books together builds a shared family lexicon and set of jokes.

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5. Use audio books.

Even if your children aren’t doing the reading themselves, they are building muscles of attention and imagination as they listen.  Those skills will help them accomplish all sort of other tasks not limited to reading.  Here are some of our family’s favorite audio books

6. Look for books with Large Print.

Some children find too many words on the page overwhelming.  Large print books (or adjusting the font on your e-reader) can solve this problem.
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7. Invest in a reading lamp.

When we went on vacation as a family growing up, my parents would pack their own light bulbs, because everywhere we stayed had 40w bulbs, which are too dim to read by.  Planting a light next to the comfy spot on the couch will make that a perfect spot for reading.  Another option: a flexible clip light (which makes a great stocking stuffer). Product Details

What did I miss?  Add your suggestions in the comments.

We All Make Choices

This is a cholesterol molecule.  At some point in my medical school biochemistry class, we were assigned to memorize the four-stage process by which cholesterol is synthesized in the cells.

I had already memorized the Krebs cycle, mitochondrial ATP synthesis, the 206 bones in the adult body (and the 270 bones in the newborn that fuse down to the 206 in the adult), and the fascinating [ahem] pathway that sodium travels in the kidney.  I had two days before the exam, and it wasn’t going to happen.  I decided not to memorize the cholesterol production pathway and prepared to take my hit on the exam. I still got an A on the test.

But guess what my first pediatric rotation was?  Pediatric Endocrinology.  And guess what all our hormones are made out of? You got it: cholesterol.  We students rotated with a different professor each day, and every single one of them quizzed us on the cholesterol pathway.  The pathway showed up on my board exam.  Twice.  However, I have never used the four steps of cholesterol synthesis in my eighteen years of clinical practice, and I stand by my decision not to memorize it.

Educating my children, I find the what-to-learn decisions fraught with peril.  This or that?  Every Yes is a No to something else. We can’t possibly learn it all.  There is just no way.  And I believe in the adage that we learn what we use. My littles all have to learn their addition facts and how to read.  We all have to be able to write a good paragraph.  But as time goes on, our interests develop and change.  I can see what the boys are excited about by what they reserve at the library, and the girls show me with what they build, crochet and draw. I am trying to make space in their assignments to dig deeper into those ideas and interests.

Most of what they chose to learn isn’t going to show up on any standardized test, but it’s going to shape their future.  So I say Yes to Norse mythology and Java and knitting and bears. (And I say No to cholesterol synthesis.)

What are you saying Yes to these days?

Daybook: mid-May

Out my window: gray.  It has been so wet here this month.  The snow picture was Mother’s Day, and the snow was so heavy, there are huge tree limbs down all over the neighborhood.  But I do love the green it leaves behind.

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In the kitchen: I put lots of good salads on the food calendar and even bought the ingredients, but by five o’clock I’m so tired I’ve been skipping the salads.  My goal this week is to make the dinner salad at lunchtime.

In the school room: standardized testing this week… and lots of read-alouds and park time. Hopefully a hike, if the rain hold off tomorrow.  Here are my thoughts on testing, if you’re interested.
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In the garden: my roses all have tons of buds on them. The hail and heavy snow destroyed my lettuce. But I have 3 iris blooming that will have to satisfy me for now.
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In my shoes: yesterday my PRP and I ran the Colfax Urban 10-miler.  It was such a blast.  I think my favorite part was running through Mile High Stadium.
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Scratch that.  My favorite part was stopping at the end.

On my reading table: Still working on Alan Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country.  It’s such an amazing book.  But it’s hard, so there have been lots of companion books read along the way.

On my mind: we met our refugee family this week.  Even my one-hour glimpse into their lives was eye-opening.  I’m looking forward to knowing them better.

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Grateful: for Sam.  For my kids’ hearts.  They truly are very kind people.  That our school year is almost finished. That Sam’s back is better.  For legs and joints to run 10 miles on. For the Church. For my niece’s high school graduation.

Praying for: our friends serving overseas. Tonya. Judy, Mandy, Lois. Dawn. Jen. Pam. Lisa. Mark. Heather. Kristin.

Quick Lit: May 2015

The Port Chicago 50 by Steve Sheinkin

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I picked this up because we loved Sheinkin’s Bomb, and I wasn’t disappointed.   Sheinkin poured through recorded oral histories and court documents to compile the story of 50 convicted mutineers who were some of our country’s first civil rights pioneers.  Yet another piece of US history I didn’t learn in school, but Sheinkin’s book is fully accessible from middle grade readers up, and a is quick read.  Highly recommended.

Countdown by Deborah Wiles

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Countdown is the story of Franny Clapman, an eleven year-old in Maryland in October, 1962.  She likes reading, headbands, and mysteries.  She does not like bomb drills, not knowing what her older sister is up to, or how her best friend is treating her.  I liked Franny’s voice, and I kept turning pages on this one long after I should have been asleep.  It’s full of photographs and ad clips from 1962, which appeal to my daughter who is also reading the book. I loved Countdown’s vivid portrayal of the Cuban Missile Crisis as a part of Franny’s life, but I’m pretty sure my daughter won’t notice she’s reading history. She’ll just want to know what happens to Franny next. Highly recommended.

Ebola: The Natural and Human History of a Deadly Virus by David Quammen

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This slim book is excerpted from Quammen’s work Spillover and updated to include some of the preliminary information about the current outbreak of Ebola virus in west Africa.  I’ve been fascinated (and horrified) by Ebola since hearing about it in medical school, and Quammen’s history of it here is clear, concise and riveting.  Recommended.

Grandad, there’s a head on the Beach by Colin Cotterill

Grandad, There's a Head on the Beach: A Jimm Juree Mystery (Jimm Juree Mysteries Book 2)

I really like Cotterill’s Dr. Siri mysteries, so I gave the Jimm Juree series a try.  Jimm is a Thai journalist with a wacky family, and because of them, Grandad, There’s a Head on the Beach reads very much like a cozy at a second-rate Thai motel. The mystery turned out to hinge on an issue very close to my heart, and between gags, Cotterrill tells some truth. Recommended.

 The Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel and Bret Witter

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The book is a carefully crafted account of the effort to save the cultural record of Europe as the Allies liberated Europe from Hitler.  The first part of the book describes some of the key players in the fight and how they were uniquely skilled for the work.  The second two-thirds of the book paints the recovery of the artwork and the effort to save the cathedrals that both sides were ready to destroy.  Hitler’s Nero policy, which was a grown-up version of a two year-old’s “if I can’t have it, neither can they”, shocked me.

We see similar destruction going on right now under ISIS in Iraq, and in Syria.  Millenia-old buildings, art and documents are being intentionally destroyed by ISIS as they take control.  The war in Syria has demolished entire cities.  The question posed by The Monuments Men- is saving a work of art worth the price of a life?- is worth asking, and this book poses it well. Recommended.

(P.S. The movie is worth watching as well.  Here is a link to the plugged in review of it.  And Google has a virtual exhibit on the recovery of art in WWII, link here.)

 Connie Willis’s Blackout and All Clear

Product Details Product Details(For longer reviews of these books, click on their titles above.)

I am a fan of re-reading.  I don’t re-read every book, but those I love I revisit.  Without fail, I always see new things I didn’t see before.  In fact, one of the times I heard Ms. Willis in person, she recommended reading Agatha Christie books twice through back-to-back: the first time to see what she does, and the second to see how she does it.  These two books (one story, published in two volumes) are masterpieces of puzzle-making.  The three main characters are historians at Oxford University in 2060, where they use time travel for their historical research.  Except while each of the historians in is WWII, the time-travel net breaks down and they’re trapped.  Highly recommended.  But learn from my mistake.  Make sure you have access to All Clear before you finish Blackout.  Just sayin’. Highly recommended.

King Lear by William Shakespeare

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Halfway through my reading, I realized that I had never read (or seen) this play before.  The names were familiar, but that was about it.  The whole time, I couldn’t decide if Lear had dementia or was just so used to the sycophancy that surrounded him as king that his expectations had become ridiculous.  I suppose that was one of Shakespeare’s points.

Every time I read Shakespeare, I realize how bare the script is.  It’s just dialogue, [Enter] and [Exeunt]. There aren’t liner notes full of the psychology of the characters.  Because of that, each character is open to interpretation, which is so true to life.  I can only infer meaning from the actions of those around me. Thank goodness I’m not an egotistical king with a kingdom to dispose of.

For more Quick Lit, check out Mrs. Darcy.