Science Fair: for Homeschoolers, too

I realize I should have posted this in November, but… it is science fair season, and I’d like to be an encouragement to you as you walk next to your child through the process of a science fair.

Science Fair.  Two words that can strike fear into even the most intrepid of home educators.

It doesn’t have to.  This week I’ll be doing a series on how to guide your children through a science fair.

But today I want to talk about why we should do science fairs as homeschoolers.

What is the point of a science fair?  Contrary to popular opinion, it’s not to make a poster… although my children are very excited about that part.  The purpose of a Science Fair is to teach the scientific method.  And because that sounds so grandiose, so complicated, I put it off.  And put it off.  Until my children are grown and have no idea what it means to design an experiment.  (Just like Teaching Writing sounds so hard that I put it off.  But really, it’s a series of steps we follow one by one by one, until our children can write a good 500 word essay from scratch in 2 hours.)

Having a science fair gives me a deadline and a guided series of steps to help me walk them through the scientific method, and gives them an opportunity to share what they learn.  To own it.

So I’d encourage you to participate in the science fair your homeschool coop or organization hosts– or to host one if you don’t have access to one already planned.  It doesn’t have to be judged in order to be a great learning experience.

Tomorrow we talk about how to help your child design a project.


Daybook, Early January 2011

Thankful for: neighbors.  Sam and O were gone a-visiting over the weekend, and my neighbors stepped up!  I proposed a swap to my Running Neighbors, who went for a long run (they’re getting ready for a spring half-marathon, can you imagine?!) while I watched their children.  They kept mine while I had two hours of alone time.  Then, when we awoke to 6 inches of new snow on Sunday, another neighbor (whom I had only met briefly last month when we caroled his house) helped me shovel out the driveway, and yet another did half my sidewalk.  Blessings all around!

Missing:one seven (almost eight!) year-old boy.  I’m not sure he’s missing me quite as much…

Creating: a cutting of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  Without changing any of Shakespeare’s language– or adding any of my own–I’ve cut lots of humor and lots of details, but the plot is all there, minus much of its unseemliness for little ones.  It’s down to about 34 pages (that have lots of space between lines).  I would love to use it with our homeschooling group for some k study.  Have any of you tried this before?  Do you have wisdom for me?

Cooking: I poached a chicken this weekend and have used the broth and meat for a really simple chicken noodle soup.  My mouth is watering already.

Combating: my winter cooking-creativity slump.  Normally at this time of year, our diet falls down into a mash of random last-minute meals which I’m NOT inspired to cook (nor anyone else to eat).  I’ve made a 6 week menu with very few repeats, and a corresponding grocery list, which I hope will keep us eating healthy.

Praying: for Franklin Graham’s efforts this weekend to create a weekend of worship at  Port au Prince’s largest football (soccer) stadium.  When I left in December, over 600 Haitian congregations were scheduled to participate.  I’m also praying for those still fighting the cholera epidemic there.  Will you join me?

Anticipating: several weeks of visiting from my friend (and her 3 children) whose husband has a lot of upcoming work-travel.  I’m honored that she would suggest to “combine our households” for that time.  I am very grateful for community– not the kind that requires us to wear our nice clothes and do our hair, but the kind that lets us wear pajamas and eat leftovers together.  Not mention knit while watching BBC costume dramas.  Emma, anyone?


SweetP turned three!  That seems impossible to me– wasn’t she just the soft, little bundle of cuddles that I birthed in the cold of night? 

I am so grateful for her joy, her enthusiasm, and her opinions, even when they are in direct opposition to mine.  Which hardly ever happens.

Three is pretty special.  Three likes to read the same book over and over.  Three has friends (like Nina and Morrisey).  Three chews gum and changes clothes twenty times a day.  Three sets the table and says, “Ta Da!” while waiting for applause.  Three wants to sing “Thank You, God,” for grace every night and shouts if we try to sing something else.  Three can’t say consonant blends, so “spicey” is “picey,” and “Twinkle twinkle little star” is “tinkle, tinkle little tar.”

Oh, I like three just fine.

Haiti, Part Three

Here is how God sent me to Haiti.  Here is a word (or 300) about what I saw.

A word about cholera.  Vibrio cholera is a bacteria that lives in water.


It passes from one person’s stool into a water supply, where it multiplies and infects everyone who drinks that water.  The bacteria causes a toxin-mediated (meaning it’s a chemical produced by the bacteria, not the bacteria itself) diarrhea that can dehydrate and kill a person in a few hours.  The quantity of diarrhea we saw was unbelievable.  (15 liters a day in an adult is average.)  Patients were sick, exhausted, and robbed of their dignity.  So I don’t have any photos of what cholera actually does to you.  I’m sure you understand.   

There have been about 131,000 reported cases of cholera in Haiti since the end of October, and approximately 2700 deaths.  There is another mass gravesite on the same hill, this time for cholera victims.  Our pediatric team cared for approximately 150 children who would have died without the therapy we gave them.

We worked hard– with IV fluids, antibiotics, and prayer– to save people.  During my time there, we had only two deaths.  There were numerous children I expected to die, and none of them did.  I can’t really tell you their stories.  But this is my story:

I had no idea what to expect.  I’d read about cholera but never treated it.  I’d never a case of malaria before, nor thought I’d learn to diagnose it without any laboratory tests.  I had no idea how I’d hold up under the pressure, or in such sad conditions.

But I was fully convinced God wanted me there– not just to use my skills for His children there, but also to change me through them.  And this entire experience has made me pray specific prayers again.  I had such a certain sense of my need.  Here at home, what I need and what I want are so tangled. 

In Haiti, we needed a NICU nurse– someone who could put IVs in tiny children regardless of how dehydrated they were.  Our need was so clear even the first night, and we prayed.  When we got back to the compound, we found a NICU nurse who had just flown in.  God used her hands to do nearly impossible things.  I am so grateful.

There was no hot water for tea, my preferred source of caffeine, and we ran out of Pepsi, my emergency back up.  I tried a caffeine tablet and was nearly deaf for the rest of the night.  (I’m not sure if that was a reaction to the caffeine tablet, or my chloroquine.)  I prayed for the Pepsi truck to come– and it did, the next day.  I had asked my home community to pray specifically for my language skills to return, which they did.  Not only was I speaking French again, but enough Creole to get around the ward without a translator in most cases.  My needs were very clear to me.  I offered them up, and they were met.  Abundantly.  My wants… didn’t seem so important any more.

I have a renewed sense of my calling to be a doctor.  I don’t know why God has so much on my plate.  I don’t see any release from my call to be the primary educator of my children at this time, nor am I seeking a release.  But I had been asking God– badgering Him, really– to release me from the call He placed on my life 18 years ago when I began my medical journey.  I had even begun to doubt whether I’d heard right all those years ago.

It turns out, I did hear right.  He has a reason for me to be in medicine.  He has blessed me abundantly in allowing me to educate my children.  Each of those two challenges is huge in its own right, and for whatever reason, He’s given me both.  So I am praying now that He gives me exactly what I need to fulfill them.

For the first time in a long time, I have faith that He will.

Sewing with the Children

I’ve wanted to teach my kids to sew for a long time.  A really long time.  We’ve had our forays into sewing-land, but they usually come with tears and frustration.

Stitch by Stitch: Learning to Sew, One Project at a Time [Book]

This summer I bought the book Stitch by Stitch by Deborah Moebes and had a vision to work through it with the children… and it has sat in the sewing room without being opened.  Until last week.

For December, I’ve scheduled school to be very light.  We have doctor’s appointments and a play we’re seeing.  I wanted to leave time for gift-making.  Sewing seemed to fit right into this plan.  So last week I pulled out the sewing machine.

Ooo la la!  Everyone was very excited.  And for the first time, no one cried while we were sewing!


We worked on the first two projects in the book (a stitch sampler just to acquaint us with the machine; and a drawing in stitches) and everyone learned a lot.  A few burns were had on the iron, but it didn’t stop anyone from wanting to continue.  SweetP happily cuts and pins fabric and takes her turn on the sewing machine (with me controlling the pedal).  We had a few broken needles, and not everything turned out the way we wanted, but it was so successful everyone keeps asking when we can sew again.

I think the secret is that I’m not working on a project of my own– it’s all them.  Eventually, perhaps, we’ll all be able to sew simultaneously, but for now I’m really happy with how it’s working.

Is your family getting its craft on?


Haiti, Part Two

See how I got to Haiti here.

I can’t be specific about which organization I went with because I agreed not to speak on its behalf in any media outlet.  Suffice it to say that it is well-run, well-intentioned, and effective.  God does good work through them, and I was glad to be a part of it even for a short time.  I will continue to support them with donations and prayer.

I arrived on Saturday morning after flying all night from Denver to Miami, and Miami to Haiti.  Getting from the plane to the staff compound took hours, between finding luggage, clearing customs, finding our driver amongst all the nationals trying to earn a few dollars (or twenty, as one suggested) by rolling my luggage fifty feet.  The traffic was crazy– unusually so, our driver said– and it took two hours to get from the airport to the compound thirty miles north.


I used that two hours to take a gazillion bad photos of Part-au-Prince through the windows of the van.

Once out of Port-au-Prince, we drove along the northern peninsula, where the water was just beautiful.


On the other side of the road, on the hillside, were hundreds of tents set up by people living there to be near the mass grave where their families were buried after the January, 2010, earthquake.

I have to insert a caveat here that, due to security concerns, I never left the confines of the NGO compound, secured vehicle, or highly guarded clinic.   The clinic is in what is described as one of the worst slums in the western hemisphere, and yet I was well cared-for and well-protected.   The patients and families for whom I cared were univerally respectful and polite.  The NGO practiced extensive and thorough infection control precautions, which were effective.  None of  my group contracted cholera or experienced any threats to our safety while we were there.  But– because I was happy to comply with the safety precautions they recommended– I didn’t get out much.

I worked 13 or 14 hours overnight shifts with a team of dedicated international professionals and a varied group of Haitian staff.  (Just like at home: some were excellent, and some just wanted a job.)  Here’s the night crew.

More to come.

Haiti, Part One

I’m not sure how much you all want to hear about my trip to Haiti.  Much of it is really horrific medical details that I’m sure you don’t want running around in your heads, and much of it is deep work that I haven’t processed very well yet.  But I’d like to share a bit about why I went to Haiti, how I got there, and what I saw.

I’ve been praying for Haiti specifically for a few years.  Five years ago I read Tracy Kidder’s Mountains Beyond Mountains about Paul Farmer and Partners in Health’s work there, and since there, Haiti has been on my heart.  (I highly recommend this book if you haven’t read it.)  A few years ago, Amanda Soule organized a drive for baby hats to send to a Haitian partnership to provide perinatal care, and our family participated in that.  Each disaster that has struck there reverberated in my heart, even though saying it that way sounds melodramatic.

In November, as the cholera epidemic picked up speed, I felt such a burden for Haiti.  Here was a crisis that my specific skills– speaking French, being a doctor– could actually address… and yet I had no idea how to get there.   Sam came home on Dec 2 after hearing a talk on global health at the university and said, “They need French speaking doctors in Haiti.  Do you want to go?”

YES!  But I had no idea how to get there.

December 3, I went to a Christmas concert with my friend Pam.  She and I worked together at a community health center in Chicago, and now we’re both here in the Denver area.  I asked her if there was any chance she wanted to go to Haiti, and she said, “Are you serious?  I have the week before Christmas off, and I was thinking I should go that week.”

At intermission, we started sending emails to everyone we know with connections in Haiti.

Saturday, I went to the boys’ swim meet.   I mentioned my compulsion to go to Haiti to my friend Erin (her daughter swims with my boys), and she said, “Really?  My mom left today for Port-au-Prince to do cholera relief work.”  All of a sudden I had a phone number.

Sam found me an online application, which Pam and I filled out, and we started to pray specifically: God, please send us to Haiti from Dec 18-24 with _________.  It’s been a long time since I’ve been compelled to pray this specifically about anything.  Two days later, I they accepted my application, and on Dec 10, I had plane tickets.

Everything fell into place like it was meant to be.  I had chills every time I thought about it.  I was able to get my typhoid vaccinations and start my malaria prophylaxis on time before I left.  My clinic was able to accomodate my sudden absence.  People stepped up to care for my kids, even though the week before Christmas is a with travel and complicated lives.

And then the day before we left, we had a plumbing disaster (water coming down through our living room ceiling).  It’s always water for Sam & me.  A leaking shower was the final confirmation– an attack of the enemy, if you will– that confirmed that God was working in this trip.  I left Sam for a week right before Christmas with a hole in the ceiling and one non-functional shower.