Daybook: late February

Out my window: melting snow.  We had about a foot, and now it’s slowly dripping into rivulets on the sidewalk.  A swath of the street is clear, but I’m not sure it’s going to make for an easy run.  I suspect it will be forty minutes of dodging ice slicks, and the last twenty minutes will be run with wet socks and shoes.

In the kitchen: Pumpkin ribbon bread, courtesy of Moriah, is in the oven.  It’s our “party because we finished a math book.” I did that once, and now it has to be a tradition.

Around the house: I have swapped the two desktop computers.  We have a faulty wall connection in the kitchen, and Sam is on service this week at the hospital, so the computer with his line to the hospital has to function, or he would have to sleep there.  So last night I moved the computer four times, trying to find where it would work.  (It doesn’t have a wireless card, and the USB wireless port I had bought disappeared in our second move.)  All that to say that I spent the morning hooking up computers and vacuuming the millions of bunnies from behind them.  Fun was had by all, let me tell you.

As a side note, we have heat.  That’s right, our 1 year-old furnace went out on Saturday (high of 18 F), to the tune of a $500 repair (because the part was under warranty.) Our builder is covering it, but it meant a chunk of my weekend was spent fretting over the heat, trying to fix it myself, and waiting for the repairman. The good news:  this repairman didn’t try to explain to me how the heart works.
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In the school room: We’re crawling, dragging ourselves on our bellies, through The Road from Home, by David Kherdian. Don’t let me give you the wrong impression.  This is a solid, living book about a girl during the Armenian genocide.  It’s the subject matter itself that is hard, not the writing.  The characters are well-drawn and the story is paced well, but it’s a tragedy, and we have met too many refugees not to imagine their stories as we read.  We will finish the book and be richer for it, but it’s sad.  (I would recommend it as a high school independent read, or a middle school read-aloud.)

On my bedside table: lots of Patricia Cornwell books.  I’m really enjoying her Scarpetta series right now, though I have to be careful not to get too close to the end right before bed, or I end up staying up way too late, reading.  I also just read another fun Kelly Hunter romance.  I am working slowing through How to Read a Book.

Which came first? The snow chicken:
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or the egg?

On my mind: I feel like I’ve been playing Whack-a-mole lately, between many tiny deadlines, Sam’s travel, February birthdays, an increased load at work, and trying to teach high school chemistry and resume-writing and phonics all at the same time.  I’m tired.  My Lent has been less a time of thought and meditation than a practice of put-one-foot-in-front-of-the-other, repeat.

Grateful: that my friend has gotten the go-ahead for her kidney transplant. For my mom’s 75th birthday, and the lunch we had to celebrate. That I have heat, and food, and clean water. Our snow-day church and brunch on Sunday. For my friend Lori’s visit yesterday with her kids.  For the fun we had last week babysitting our little friend, Andy.  For my patient’s successful open-heart surgery, and that my ears weren’t blocked when she came in to see me.

Praying for: Dawn, Amy & Rob, our friends serving overseas, Tonya, Jen, Justine, Heather, Mandy, Judy, Clare. Refugees who don’t have clean water, food or heat.  Our 30 hour famine this weekend.

Book Review: Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan

Product Details Goodness, this is a beautiful book.

Pam Munoz Ryan has captured both an individual character and a historical period that had been hard for my kids to imagine.

Esperanza is 12 when her story begins.  She is the pampered daughter of a Mexican landowner in the 1930’s, just after the Mexican Civil War.  Her father’s death at the hands of bandits sends her and her mother into hiding, and they make their way to the San Fernando Valley.  More significant than the miles is the transformation in Esperanza’s spirit.

The book paints the hard issues of the Great Depression and the fight for worker’s rights in a way that is clear yet complex.  There are no easy answers here, but lots of great characters.

We listened to this on audio, read by Trini Alvarado (Meg of Little Women).  Product Details

It’s a beautiful recording of a terrific story.  We were all sorry it ended.

Read-Alouds with High Schoolers: Now What?

When my kids were all little, we did everything together. It was a good day if I could go to the bathroom alone. We traveled as a pack. We had family movie night. We played family games. We did all of our school reading together, for hours.

Now I have a high school freshman, two middle schoolers, and a first grader. There are movies appropriate for my oldest for which my youngest is in no way ready. My youngest still needs Winnie the Pooh and Ferdinand the Bull and play dough.

It has been a difficult transition for me. I watch friends and acquaintances struggle to transition into this phase of home schooling, and they all struggle with it. I don’t want to give up now, just because it’s hard. I want my freshman to be able to read a hard book on genocide without exposing my seven year-old to the details. I want to be able to enjoy Beatrix Potter with my youngest without the oldest one(s) rolling their eyes and saying, “’Two Bad Mice’ again?” (To be fair, reading Beatrix Potter brings my older children out of the woodwork. Everyone loves Samuel Whiskers around here.)

I don’t have a fool-proof method, but here are the baby steps we are taking to make it work at our house.

I teach my children to be able to work alone. It takes work on my part to teach them to be a little more independent, but I believe there’s a payoff. Right now, working alone might mean 10 minutes of math for my first grader, or an hour for my sixth grader. They know where I am in the house, but they know I expect them to try it on their own first. While they work alone, I have time to make a phone call or go over another child’s writing assignment with him one-on-one. All four of them are able to read for stretches of time alone, the youngest perhaps using her CD player for an audio book. But everyone is able to do some of their work on their own.
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the result of a recent independent cooking project…

As my kids get bigger, I ask them to do more work on their own. I begin by assigning them novels, to read a chapter or two at a time, and I require brief narrations to make sure the books are at the right level. Little by little, I increase the levels of the books, moving from novels to biographies. I throw in non-fiction for information. All along, the kids do oral or written narrations (though not daily) so I can see where they are and what interests them the most. When Jonah (14) sees his brother (12) reading a book he read a few years back, he gets excited, and I overhear them talking about it. It’s like a booster shot, only with a book.

Because we study history through literature, the books we read for history are critical to our curriculum.  I spend a lot of time pouring over book lists for age-appropriate books on history.  I often look for a book my high schooler can read alone, one my middle schoolers can read independently, and then a picture book I read to everyone. Often the picture book is just the right appetizer for the longer books my other kids read.  Sometimes there just isn’t a picture book on a subject (The Illustrated Guide to the Armenian Genocide, anyone?) and my youngest will listen in as I read the chapter book aloud.

I still read aloud to my high schooler. My ninth-grader loves a read-aloud as much as the next person. Reading a book together as a family is different from reading it alone. For one thing, when we hear a story together, we laugh at the same jokes at the same time. A good story rattles around in our heads and we talk about it together at dinner or in the car. Letting my ninth-grader off the hook for all of that would really make him miss out. So every school day, he is present for our Bible reading and our current read-aloud novel and a brief discussion/narration time. When we do picture study or composer study or a nature walk, he is expected to come along and experience the same material at his own level. Then he is excused to work on physics or pre-calculus or Latin on his own.

Every time I think I’ve figured this parenting thing out, my children grow out of the phase we’re in and hit me with something entirely new. I want to make the most of the time we have, and that means continuing to build a family lexicon of shared stories. It doesn’t make up all of our reading diet. Everyone has their own favorites, but what we read together is the main course.

Quick Lit: February

Product DetailsThe Seville Communion (Arturo Perez-Reverte) is a heady whodunit, set in a Seville so vivid I could taste it.  I stayed up late reading this one, but it left me flat the end.  His male characters, from the former fake lawyer who dropped ash on his white suits to the many priests who peopled the mystery, were well-drawn and complex, but I found the women lacking in depth.  They all had backstories quirks, but they didn’t come together for me.  And I’m over the underlying theme of intellect makes faith impossible.  I will look for another by this author, though. He writes so well.

Product DetailsMatthew Inman is also known as The Oatmeal.  He writes about the inner battles he fights with his self-esteem and self-control and self-destruction as they are embodied in a giant, potato-shaped blob that tries to defeat him in all areas of life.  And instead of fighting and losing and despairing and lying on the couch and eating another bag of Cheetos, he choses to outrun his demons.  This is a delightful, crass, highly-illustrated romp through my psyche.  Loved it.

Product DetailsI’m late to the Seabiscuit party, I know, but I’m a huge fan of Laura Hillenbrand after reading UnbrokenSeabiscuit is also extraordinary.  Somehow Hillenbrand manages to capture all those little details from real life that make long ago times and places come alive.  It also had short sections that made this easy to continue with despite the many interruptions of my day.  I’m determined not to miss her next book.

Product DetailsShauna Niequist’s Bread and Wine, a love letter to life around the table is exactly that.  Each section read like a letter, and her love of people and food and friendship came through.  Her essay about becoming able to rejoice with those who rejoice and to weep with those who weep had me weeping on the couch.  Loved it.

Product DetailsI enjoyed the relationships in this novel of complicated family dynamics.  I’m not sure I bought Lizzy’s identity as a high-powered chef in NYC, but what do I know.  I’ve never been one.  I’ll look for another from Katherine Reay.

Product DetailsMarcus Samuelsson’s Off Duty: The Recipes I Cook at Home was a blast of a read– it made me not only want to eat, but want to cook.  Between his and Niequist’s encouragement to make recipes my own, I’m full of newfound passion for cooking.

Product DetailsI devoured Patricia Cornwall’s Red Mist like candy… late at night and in the bath.  The forensics were fascinating, and the novel pulled me along like an undertow.  I really like reading books with strong protagonists, in which the women aren’t all victims and pawns, and the Kay Scarpetta books suit me well.

Product DetailsI’m not a huge fan of paranormal stories (I like my Sci-Fi with a heavy dose of Sci), but I’m glad I read The Telepath Chronicles.  It’s an anthology of paranormal stories, including one by a writer I really enjoy, E.E. Giorgi (of Gene Cards, see review from November).  It’s hard to describe the story without giving spoilers, but I’ll say that she weaves together beautifully the threads of grief, despair, wonder and hope.  As a whole, the stories were thought provoking and good reads.

And P.S. Mary Birk’s Mermaids of Bodega Bay (which I reviewed a few months ago) is a free Kindle unlimited download right now!

{phfr}: February

{Pretty}:  Sam brought me flowers before he left for Hawaii. That’s fair, right– he gets a week in Hawaii and I get tulips?

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They are my favorite flower.

{Happy}: While he was gone, we had friends come to stay for the week.  One of our adventures took us to the science museum, where the kids spent hours playing with this ball machine.

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{Funny}: In the gem exhibit, my friend’s 4 year-old kept pointing to the crystals and saying, “Elsa’s magic!”  She hasn’t even seen the movie.

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{Real}: Even better, my friend brought crafting stuff and my girls got to make hours and hours of crafts that I neither had to plan, nor clean up. Can’t beat that!

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For more {p,h,f,r}, go check out Like Mother, Like Daughter!

Faith and Health Care Equity

I don’t often post in this space about my work as a physician, but I will today.  I recently attended a forum sponsored by the Denver Institute of Faith and Work.  I was part of a panel of respondents invited to consider “Where Is God in Health Care Today?”  The sessions were good, and the discussion fantastic.

Dr. William Wright spoke about how the three strongest determinants of health in this country are our zip codes, income and socioeconomic status, because those things determine whether we have access to good schools, safe streets, and healthy food and air.  When I practiced medicine in Chicago, I often saw people whose grocery store– the only one within walking distance– didn’t carry fresh fruits and vegetables.  Can you imagine not having access to apples and carrots?  Even now, many of my patients look at me like I’m crazy when I say to exercise more, because they work two or three jobs during all the daylight hours and live in a place where it isn’t safe to walk outside after dark.

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These issues of health equity aren’t going to be solved by doctors working with individual patients.  They are issues for society to fix, and the Church can and should have a role in the remedy.

Dr. Matthew Wynia responded this way:

[C.S.] Lewis goes on to specify what the Devil wants the preferred fashion to be: “We [Devils] direct the fashionable outcry of each generation against those vices of which it is least in danger… He says, “The game is to have them running about with fire extinguishers whenever there is a flood, and all crowding to that side of the boat which is already nearly gunwale under…”

Here, he is issuing a warning against following fashionable religious beliefs of the day, which might in fact be exacerbating real evil in the world. So, he says, the Devil’s aim is that “Cruel ages are put on their guard against Sentimentality…and whenever all men are really hastening to be slaves or tyrants we make Liberalism the prime bogey.”

Or, to apply this today, in a world of tremendous and increasing inequity, some fashionable religious voices apparently believe God is most concerned not with inequity but with preserving liberties, both individual and corporate – which belief leads inexorably to ever-increasing inequality.

And so we find ourselves, running about with fire extinguishers in a flood, all “crowding to that side of the boat which is already nearly gunwale under…” just as the Devil wants us to do.

These three observations – about politics, humility, and religious fashions – raise difficult questions about the relationship between faith, religion and policy issues. God’s work is seen every day in health care; but His influence is much more difficult to discern in health policy.

And yet, as Bill noted, a large body of evidence shows that health inequities are most affected by policy issues – good schools, safe streets, access to healthy food and air – not by individuals delivering and receiving care. If religious communities want to make a difference in the world, health equity would be a good place to start.

In 2012, 43 million Americans couldn’t afford some part of their health care.  After partial implementation of the ACA (Obamacare) in 2014, that number is down by 10 million.  I am grateful for the ACA because I am seeing patients who haven’t had access to health insurance for years.

I am really good at practicing “cheap” medicine.  You want to avoid and unnecessary scan or find a generic medicine? I’m your doctor.  But it is so hard to talk to my patients when they need a CT scan or surgery and there is no way they are going to be able to get it.  I am grateful for the Medicaid expansion, because more of my patients are able to take care of themselves, after years of working two jobs and skipping their own care to buy food and shoes for their children.

Yet when we talk about the ACA, especially among Christians, there is such resistance.  “You can’t tell me what to do!”  In an age and nation where we have more personal liberty than anywhere in the world, we still walk around terrified of being compelled to contribute to the common good.  As C.S. Lewis said, we are crying about our liberties when the ship is about to go under.
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