Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Bible Anxiety

The following is a post that I was honored to write for Shanna Noel's blog at

I was raised in a traditional, conservative, Southern Baptist household by two parents who love the Lord and who both love books. I was raised to love the written word, to love the books that hold them, to respect and honor the men and women who had given themselves to the practice of putting pen to page. The Bible is the Word of God, and is therefore the ultimate book deserving our love, honor, and respect.

In our home, respecting a book means taking care of that book: not breaking the spine, not folding the corners down to mark our page, and ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVELY NO WRITING IN THE BOOK. The goal of reading a book is to ensure the book looks as pristine after you finish reading it as it did on the shelf of the bookstore. There should be zero sign that the book has been touched, opened, or manipulated. If we were required to underline or mark up a text for school, my parents would buy two copies of the book: one for me to 'ruin' and one for us to preserve on the shelves of our home. Any and all underlining must be done with a straight edge (what my Dad has always called rulers) in a blue or black ballpoint pen that is used throughout the entire book so that the book's appearance remains consistent. Notes should not be taken in the margins. They should be written in a separate notebook with a reference to the page, line, and quote being discussed. Doodling is strictly forbidden.

Some of you may find this a bit obsessive-compulsive and a bit odd, but it is what I grew up knowing. Not crunching and marking up books is how we showed our respect to the books. This was especially true of God's Word. Our family has one Bible that is the designated Family Bible where births, deaths, and baptisms are gently recorded. One year for Christmas, my parents gave my brother and me Bibles with their favorite verses carefully underlined for us to know where God had spoken to them, and this remains one of my most priceless possessions.

You may be wondering what this has to do with art journaling and using our Bibles for art and meditation. If you have seen my Instagram feed, you'll know that my first artsy page in my Bible caused me physical pain. I was nauseated, jittery, and anxious. I had goosebumps, and the hair on the back of my neck tingled. I had thought that by using one of my older Bibles, I would be ok with the art and not worry that I was defacing and messing up the Word of God. I was wrong. My goal was to not spend any money for this new-to-me art form. I would only use what I already had, and that included my Bible. I love scrapbooking. I enjoy art journaling, and the concept of combining these creative outlets with my daily Quiet Time called to me (I mean, seriously...making an inky mess and calling it worship and prayer? You had me at 'Hello").

My art journaling has developed over the last few years as a way for me to cry out to God. I play with color and scriptures and song texts when my MS-brain fog prevents me from forming coherent thoughts and making complex decisions. My art journal is a place where I call out to God and meditate on His Word without fear of messing something up. In a separate space (my art journal), I am not afraid to try new things. I do not worry about what will bleed through and ruin the page behind it. I focus on the words, the colors, the textures, and it is all good.

I admit that after my first anxiety-ridden page in my favorite large print Bible, I set that Bible aside and ordered an OFFICIAL journaling Bible from amazon. I did this not because I wanted to spend the money, but because I knew that this Bible art journaling 'thing' has me excited to study and read God's Word again. I knew that if I invested in a dedicated Bible that I gave myself permission to write in, then I could enjoy the freedom of prayer and worship in my Bible without the anxiety, and that my precious Life Application Bible could return to its honored place on my shelf. I knew that I would have a place where I can make mistakes, where I can make a mess, where I can ruin a page just by covering the back with gesso. I knew that I could be free to use whatever supplies I have, be it pen and pencil today, or watercolor and stamps tomorrow, without the fear of ruining God's Word. I admit that there are some entries I like more than others. I admit that I have made mistakes. I admit that I have ruined a page or two. But that is ok. God is happy with my work. He is happy that I am spending time with Him. He is happy that I am creating and meditating on His Word. For every verse and passage that I read and study and personalize, I am growing closer to Him and abiding in His love. And that is a good thing.

If you take nothing else away from reading this post today, I hope you know this: God loves YOU. He wants to spend time with you. He wants you to know Him. If giving yourself permission to draw in, write in, or paint in a Bible is what it takes to encourage you to spend time reading His Word and to draw closer to Him, then please do it. We are all different. We all create art differently. We all have different handwriting. We all have different supplies and talents. We all have different budgets. None of that matters. All that matters is that you are reading and praying and worshiping God. This is your relationship with Him, your learning, your creating, your time. And in the end, the only One whose approval you need is His.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Why Do We Homeschool?

We have now been homeschooling for 8 years. In some ways, our reasons for homeschooling have changed. In other ways, they have remained exactly the same as when we started.

1. My husband and I are self-professed academic snobs. We met at and graduated from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. Before that, I attended a wonderful, independent private school for high school that is consistently ranked as the best in our state and one of the best in the South. We both attended graduate school: medical school for me, business school for him. I have done post-residency fellowships, while he has excelled in the world of computer geekery. We want our children to have the gift of a superior, academically-challenging education.

2. We do NOT want to remove God from the classroom. We believe that Jesus is the only Son of God, the Savior of the world. We believe that God created the world out of nothing. We do not believe the world is a happy accident or a coincidence. We want our children to know God, to have a relationship with Him, and be free to learn about and study Him in a safe environment. We do believe in science. We believe that science is a way to understand this world that God made. We believe in literature. When studying poetry and prose, we want our children to be welcome to compare passages from A Midsummer Night's Dream to verses in Corinthians. We want all of our studies to reflect God and His creation.

3. Our Girls thrive on individual attention. Our local schools typically have 30-35 children in each class.

4. We want SCHOOL on OUR LIFE schedule, not LIFE on a SCHOOL schedule. We want to travel when we want, where we want, and for as long as we want. We want the freedom to explore museums and battlefields and mountains and streams, to amble across the country for months at a time without having to worry about how many days of school our children are missing, or to spend spontaneous long weekends at Disney World just because we crave a Mickey fix. We like to travel.

5. We want our children to have the freedom to be children. They are currently 8 and 12 years old. One of my governing mantras in life is 'The Joys of Childhood.' I want kids to play, to explore, to experiment, to build, to invent, to pretend, to make just be kids. There is no need for our children to grow up too soon, to have boyfriends at age 9, to dress like 20-somethings preparing for a night out at a club, to worry about being too fat or too thin or not good enough.

6. We want to encourage them to be themselves, to thrive, to discover what interests them. Our eldest is a dancer. She loves art and creative writing. She sings her way through life. Our youngest is our engineer. She spends hours building cities out of Legos and printer paper. She thrives on math. She begged to study chemistry and physics this year instead of plants or animals (remember, she is only 8!). She is methodical and solves problems like her Daddy. A one-size-fits-all curriculum does not allow them both to thrive. When buying curriculum for the oldest, I had to choose literature-based, project-based learning with minimal textbook use. She has always preferred to write stories than to color in the lines or fill in the blanks. I had planned to reuse all of her curriculum with her sister. Boy was I wrong. The Little Person was a reluctant reader and remains an extremely reluctant writer. She prefers textbooks with absolute answers and freezes when asked to write from her imagination. She has to be forced to write more than one-word answers. She adores rocks. She collects them everywhere we go and spends hours studying them and reading geology books for fun. Her favorite parts of our summer road trip? Any day she got to spend outdoors searching for unique rocks and rock formations and then comparing them to what she had collected the day before. Could a public school teaching a Common Core curriculum encourage these two to pursue learning what they want and how they want? Sadly, no.

7. Last, but certainly not least, we love to travel. Our goal is to travel to all 50 states and all 7 continents with our children before they leave home. So far, they have both visited North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, and Antarctica, as well as most of our beloved United States. We are slowly but surely exposing them to life outside of our Southern, suburban bubble. They recognize how blessed and how fortunate we are to live where we live. They are developing a heart for missions and a desire to tell others about Jesus. The are learning to give what they have to those who are less-fortunate, be it money, time, skills, or just a hug and a word of love. They are learning the heart of the Great Commission:

Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you. And lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Matthew 28:19-20

Photo: My Kid and her friends making aluminum foil hats while enjoying Weird Al Yankovic's conspiracy-theory-based song, Aluminum Foil.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Homeschooling and Standardized Testing

We have recently begun our 8th year homeschooling. I look back, and I wonder how it has flown by so fast. If you had asked us when the Kid was in 1st grade (or 2nd grade or 3rd grade) if we would still be doing this, our answer would have been a resounding NO. We fully intended to send the Kid (and her sister) eventually to real school. Our plan had been to send her in middle school so she could be adequately prepared for high school, but reassessing every year to determine if would continue for another year.

We are a family of testers. We may not agree with all the tests in this world or the questions and biases they present, but we recognize that they are necessary evils. They exist in our world, and they are a part of our country's educational system. They are a way for colleges and schools and governments to objectify the thousands of students learning every day. They provide data that compare our children to others, enabling elite colleges to have an easy YES/NO for their applicants. Do these tests tell anyone how unique our daughters are? No. Do they say anything about their talents and God-given gifts? No. Do they measure even a fraction of the light and compassion in their spirits? Absolutely not. But they exist, and schools require them. The End. 

Our Kid is not the world's greatest test taker. She has anxiety. Anytime she is required to do anything on a time limit or 'by a clock,' she freaks. She melts down. She is unable to function. Her stress levels have improved over the years, but only because we have worked with her extensively. We do multiple practice tests with her and talk about how the time limits are designed to work. We have taught her stress-management - everything from yoga to fun reading to 20 jumping jacks as mental and physical breaks to help her refocus.

Our cover school requires its students to take the Stanford Achievement Test every other year starting in 3rd grade. The students are proctored live in an online classroom. The test is taken online, in our homes, and is untimed - completely opposite from how the local public school students take the same test. Stress is minimized as much as it can be. The goal is for our children to succeed and to do the very best that they can.

In addition to how the schools use the standardized test scores, we use them as a personal grade book. My husband and I use the test as a gauge that we have taught our children what they need to know. Math is math. 2+2 is 4. There is no why. It just is. Knowing that most 3rd graders know this fact and that our child has proven via test that she knows this, as well, reinforces to my husband and I that our children are meeting (and hopefully exceeding) the knowledge base of the local schools. Bottom line? We are academic snobs and want our children to have the absolute best education possible. Acing standardized tests tells us that we have taught them how to take a test as well as the underlying required facts. Is this the way we should think? I don't know, but we do. If our children do not excel on the tests, we use this as a reflection of our teaching. If they don't know something (especially in science or social studies), then odds are we have not taught that material. We then use this information to guide our curriculum choices and learning for the next year.

Is this ideal? I don't know. It works for us, and it has for 8 years. Hopefully, it'll continue to work, and our Girls will be able to attend the colleges of their choice, knowing that they have been properly prepared for the testing to face them in the future.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

How We Started Homeschooling - Part 3

Recap: We homeschooled 5k, fully expecting to send our daughter to 1st grade at a local private school, and then we moved to another state and decided to homeschool the fall semester and send her to school in January.

We moved to our current home that summer. I started work at my new hospital. My husband church shopped and found us a new church home. We found a dance studio for my artsy girl to pursue her dream of being a ballerina. We found an art camp for her to make art for a week and (hopefully) make some friends. We drove the 4 hours back and forth to my parents' house a lot. We enjoyed being near the beach. We soaked up our new environment and learned everything we could about this new place we called home. Our goal? To NOT relocate again for a looooong time. This had been our 4th major move in 3 years, and we were tired. We had not lived in one place for more than 5 years our entire marriage (4 years medical school, 3 years residency + 2 years as staff and part of fellowship, 1.5 years for more fellowship in an apartment then a house, 1.5 years in Florida, and now back to my home state).

We researched the local schools. We read about them online. We drove past them at various times per day. We visited them. We asked about them with anyone we could find. We even filled out an application or two, but when the time came, we just couldn't send our Kid to school. We realized that we liked having her around. We liked being together as a family. With my crazy work schedule, if she had attended school during normal school hours, I would not have seen very much of her. I wanted to know my Kid, and I wanted her to know me. When we asked her what she wanted, she asked if we could continue homeschooling. It was unanimous. We all wanted to continue this homeschool life we had been enjoying.

Over the next few weeks and months, we worked out a system. The LoveBug (our little one) was walking by now and was a major distraction during school time, so we put her in preschool from 9-1 at our church down the street. She is a homebody Mama's Girl, so forcing her to separate from me and be with others was good for both of us. I was free to focus on her sister. She was able to learn that Mommy would still be there when she came home for all the snuggles she wanted. My husband works from home as an uber computer geek. When I needed to work or sleep, the Kid would either do some computer-based learning or continue her lessons that I had assigned her to do. She read a lot. She painted a lot. She danced a lot. She did what she loved most, and she learned while doing it. And THAT is what made us decide to continue homeschooling.

Photo: An assignment for the Kid's current online art class at

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

How We Started Homeschooling - Part 2

RECAP: We homeschooled our oldest daughter for 5k so that she could attend 1st grade at the local private school with her friends that are only 3 weeks older than her.

And then life changed. I have always believed that God has a plan for all of us. We just need to figure out what He wants us to do, then do it. During this year of the Kid attending 1/2-day preschool and homeschooling 5k, I was randomly flipping though a pediatrics medical journal and saw an ad for a teaching position in a university-based Pediatric ER IN MY HOME STATE. Now I already had a good job in a nice town making decent money. Our youngest daughter had just been born. We had only lived there for about a year, but I missed home, and I missed teaching. I missed having medical students and residents around and the learning environment that comes from various levels living and working together at all hours of the day and night. So what did I do? On a whim, I picked up the phone and called the 'If Interested, Please Call' phone number in the ad, and I may have forgotten to tell my husband that I had done it.

2 days later, I received a phone call from the University's Peds ER Medical Director. We chatted for over an hour and bonded immediately. It was obvious to me from that one phone call that this guy had the same medical and teaching philosophy that I had. He invited me for an on-site interview, which I eagerly agreed to and scheduled for when I would be in the area a few weeks later. I just knew in my heart that this is what God wanted me to do. I just had to tell the husband and convince him.

He was not pleased (since we were just starting to feel fully settled in our Florida home), but he humored me and agreed to allow me to go on the interview. I loved it. He was skeptical about relocating again so soon, but even he recognized that this hospital was more Me, more What-I-Love-About-Medicine. I was offered a job on the spot, before I even left the interview. After hours of prayer, he agreed to let me uproot our family once again.

So how does this relate to homeschooling? Well, now instead of finishing her 5k so that she could start 1st grade at the local school, I had to research new, unknown schools and decide how to best educate her in the new city. According to real estate agents, our new public schools would be 'among the best in the state,' which was fine and dandy until I dug deeper and found out that while yes, they are good for the state, they are still 'C' schools on a national scale - NOT acceptable in our educational snob household. My next step? Researching and calling and investigating private schools. Over the next few weeks, I called and left messages with several of the local private schools. None of them ever called back. EVER. God's input? I think so.

As our move rapidly approached, we prayed and decided to continue homeschooling the first semester of 1st grade. We were moving over the summer, and that would give us a few months to settle in and get a feel for the local schools. We would actually visit the private schools, schedule meetings, fill out applications, and send her to 'real' school in January. That was our plan. We liked our plan. We all (even the Kid) thought this plan would work. Obviously, God had other plans...

Thursday, August 28, 2014

How We Started Homeschooling - Part 1

I can't remember if I have told y'all about our reasons for homeschooling or how we do it, so that is what I thought I would start rambling about today.

We lived in Central Florida when my oldest daughter was in preschool. She is our Christmas baby. Most of her friends were born in October and November. Our local schools would not let her start kindergarten with her friends, because her birthday fell just after their December 1 cut-off. She was as smart as her friends. She was as physically developed as them. She could already read. She was ready for kindergarten, and she really wanted to go to school with her friends. None of us wanted her to have to wait another year for her to start school just because she was born 3 weeks too late. I had to do something.

First, I called the private schools. My thought: If the public schools won't let her start due to a birthday, surely the private schools would want my money enough to let her start with her friends. I was wrong. To quote the school administrator, "We have enough families wanting to send their children to our school. We do not make exceptions for any reason, especially not for birthdays." Several of my in-laws had homeschooled for several years, so I asked the private schools that if I homeschooled my daughter for kindergarten, would she be able to start 1st grade the following year. Their response? A resounding YES. And so I began my research into homeschooling.

Over the next several weeks, I read everything I could find on homeschooling. I searched online. I read blogs. I went to teacher supply stores. I called my sisters-in-law. Absolutely everything available. I read and read and read some more...and then I reviewed and reread my notes.

Finally, I ordered curriculum. My family has always been a family of readers. We have books everywhere. My father raised me with the mantra, "There's no such thing as too many books." Our stacks of books have stacks of books piled on top of them. Flat surfaces in our home beg for books to be placed on them. I was nervous about what curriculum to order. Since I was new to this, I wanted a complete curriculum that laid out exactly what I needed to teach my child every day. My husband and I are also self-professed academic snobs. We both graduated from Vanderbilt University and have always wanted our children to have the best education available. If we were going to pursue homeschooling, we would have to find an academically rigorous curriculum that would challenge our daughter. After hours and hours of research, I finally chose Alpha Omega Publications LifePacs for math and language arts and Moving Beyond the Page for science, social studies, and art. Each of these curriculae told me exactly what I needed to adequately teach a complete year of kindergarten to my child. Alpha Omega LifePacs are traditional textbooks - my kind of schoolwork - absolute answers, fill-in-the-blanks, etc. Moving Beyond the Page is developed for the gifted student. The curriculum is unit-study based and dives deeply into the material, requiring your child to creatively figure out solutions to various concepts and to generate a unique project for each topic. My child loved it, every minute. I discovered very rapidly that she is a nontraditional student. Workbooks make her miserable. Art projects and creative writing excite her. School-wise, she is my opposite. I LIKE textbooks and workbooks. She hates them. I forced her to complete the kindergarten LifePacs, but that was the last year that we used traditional textbooks for her schooling.

We started the 5K curriculum after Christmas. I was working full-time in a Pediatric ER at the time, and our Kid went to preschool in the mornings. When she came home from preschool, we would 'Do School' until time for me to go to work (usually either at 2PM or 9:30PM). We easily finished the year of kindergarten curriculum within a few months, and our daughter was on track to start 1st grade at the local private school the following fall. Little did we know that God had another wrench to throw into our lives and that we would be relocating before she could actually start her real school. And that, My Friends, is a story for another day...

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Gluten Free Travel

Let me start by saying that road tripping on a gluten-free diet is challenging. Difficult. Hard. Not easy. Not fun. But it can be done.

Step 1: Plan ahead. Pack lots of your favorite gluten-free snacks in your backpack. Download the 'Gluten Free Me' app. Be prepared to cook a lot. When we travel, my family likes to explore new foods and new restaurants. We have a standing rule to not eat anywhere that we can eat at home. No chains. No fast food (except those rare times when Bill doesn't want to stop for a meal and wants to keep driving and get miles covered). We look for local hangouts, diners, local cuisine, and Mom&Pop places that are filled at lunchtime with a non-tourist crowd. We like to immerse ourselves in the local culture, both overseas and within the US.

Step 2: Know your standby go-to places where you know you can eat. Defying our no-chain rule, there are certain chains that are gluten-free friendly. Chipotle, Noodles and Company, and Mellow Mushroom are consistently edible. I wish I could say we never ate at these chains while traveling, but I would be lying. At least we ate them instead of giving up and eating my beloved wheat.

Step 3: Explore local grocery stores. My mom and I never tire of wandering, photographing, and picking out samples of local brands. We randomly found the most amazing little grocery store outside Glacier National Park. It was small. It was locally-owned. It was the most disorganized grocery store I've ever seen (Ummmmm, Hello? Do you really need 3 different freezer sections, 4 meat sections, and 2 dairy areas, none of them within sight of each other?) BUT it had the biggest selection of gluten-free foods I have seen anywhere, including halibut fish and chips, cinnamon rolls, and fresh breads and rolls. It was fabulous. I completely filled the refrigerator and freezer in the camper. I even met the owner while I was perusing the aisles, and was able to discuss the pros and cons of the various brands he carried. Amazing experience.

Step 4: Take the time to cook. Part of why we planned an RV trip and not a hotel-based vacation was so that we would have our kitchen with us. On days when we didn't need to cover a lot of territory and drive long distances, we had the time to cook. We grilled out. We made pancakes. We baked muffins and brownies. We ate cereal out of cups. We enjoyed just being together, sharing meals together as a family, 3 meals a day, with no TV or cell phone or schedules to distract us. It was glorious.

And lastly,
Step 5: Be flexible. Know that no matter how hard you search, you may still be stuck eating your protein bar and almonds for lunch while your family eats a sandwich. It's going to happen. Accept it now, and focus on the fact that you are exploring a new place that may become your new favorite place. Enjoy the ride, and thank God for creating such an amazing world for you to explore with the people you love most.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

A Summer of Travel of Feeling Almost Normal

As y'all may already know, we spent 2+ months exploring the cooler regions of America this summer. We left May 16 and returned July 16. A week later, we drove back to Nashville for a family event, and we have been in and out of town since. If you are remotely interested in our itinerary, we drove from the Gulf Coast straight to Vancouver, boarded a cruise ship for 9 days to Alaska, returned to Washington, and drove and camped our way back across America for the next several weeks. Stops included Glacier National Park, Yellowstone National Park, Cody, Wyoming, Deadwood and Rapid City, South Dakota, Minneapolis (complete with a 'slight' detour to Omaha for the College World Series Finals), Wisconsin Dells, Chicago, Dayton, Ohio, Nashville, Tennessee, and then back home. We had many fun and a few not-so-fun adventures along the way, including a broken axle on our way out West, requiring an overnight stay in the parking lot of an abandoned gas station a la Children of the Corn. Photos with a day-by-day commentary are on Instagram (cdpeck).

Due to the FunFunFun of my pseudotumor, I had my third spinal tap the day we left Alabama. I spent the first 48-72 hours of our road trip horizontal in the front seat of the truck, squishing my oldest's legs. The spinal headache wasn't too terrible, so I was able to at least be in my family's presence without making everyone miserable. Medically, I felt better with every latitude line crossed. The further North we drove, the less I felt like I was walking through sludge, and the more energy I had. Daily naps became optional and were only required 1-2 times per week instead of my usual daily requirement. I was able to hike. I was able to ride horses. I was able to ride my bike. I WAS ABLE TO DO CARTWHEELS WITH MY GIRLS. I had not successfully done a cartwheel in 10 years. Too much spinning and dizziness. This was the first medical miracle of our trip. Our God is so very good.

I rarely, if ever, needed my cane. We always had it available, but it remained very lonely under the back seat of Monstro. I loved being outdoors. Aside from the cruise, we camped everywhere we went. Granted, we were camping in our very nice RV, but we were still out in nature with the windows open enjoying the breezes and the crickets at night. It was glorious. Never too hot. Never too cold. I felt like Goldilocks. Everything was juuuuust right.

Overall, I felt better than I have in the last 2-3 years combined. I almost felt normal. I had forgotten what normal was. I was able to be a Mama. I was able to enjoy our trip. I was able to feel human. I really didn't want to come home.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Scrapbooking On the Road - A Guest Post for Julie Fei-Fan Balzer

The following is a post that I was honored to write for the amazingly talented Julie Fei-Fan Balzer at I just realized that I never hit 'Publish' to share it here with you...

I am a scrapbooker. I am a traveller. I am a photographer. I have an inborn need to explore this beautiful world we live in. I have multiple sclerosis. I have a poor short term memory and an even poorer ability to convert those short term memories to permanent memories. Therefore, I scrapbook. I take pictures. I write. I make art. The closer to the actual event that I can record my experiences, the more raw and authentic my art will be. Because no matter what I do, no matter where I go, no matter what I create, I want my work to represent me – bad, doctor-scribble handwriting, and all.

One of my favorite ways to document my adventures is a result of an Ali Edwards-inspired 'light-bulb moment.' I scrapbook on the road. I take pictures and collect memorabilia and add them together with items I have prepared at home and brought with me on my trip. I want these bits and pieces to be flat – to not take up too much space in my luggage (airline 50 pound weight limits + scrapbook supplies can be challenging if you actually need to bring clothes and shoes with you) or in my book. I know from experience that I will be collecting A LOT of stuff on my trips – admission tickets, pamphlets, flyers, subway tokens, gold flecks (ever panned for gold while learning about the California Gold Rush?), business cards, etc., and this 'stuff' can rapidly add bulk to my travel albums.

My family is planning a 2 month road trip to Alaska this summer. This scrapbook-on-the-road has the potential to be several volumes long. I plan to use Basic Grey's Capture Albums, along with my Instax camera and printer for my daily documentation. My prep work has included collecting letter stickers, page protectors, film, and blank Project Life cards along with several rolls of adhesive and inks and stamps and label stickers to embellish my found treasures along the way. I have used Julie's stencils from The Crafter's Workshop as the foundation of my album décor. Using the stencils with acrylic paint, distress ink, and gel medium has given my album a unique look that is All Me. The techniques are quick. They are easy. They look really darned cool, and by making them ahead of time, I can eliminate the need for paints and other messy, liquid supplies from my packing list.

1. The Album Cover:
I used some washi tape that I don't love (we all have a few of those rolls, right?) to hold my stencil in place on the cover of the album. I then used an old hotel room key to spread gel medium into all the empty spaces of the map stencil to create a resist of the United States map. After letting it dry overnight (I wanted to be extra safe and not mess it up), I used my Ranger distress ink to bring out the pattern and add some blue color. This effect could also be achieved with embossing ink and powder or even Mod Podge – anything that can create a resist on your background.

  1. The States Cards:
Using the same 6x6 USA map stencil and some blank grid Project Life cards, I placed the state I wanted to emphasize in the 'middle' and used my Distress Ink to highlight that state and a few of its surrounding neighbors at the bottom of the card. I then used a contrasting ink to stamp the state name over the stencilled image. I plan to use these state cards as title cards or journalling cards for each new state that we cross into.

NOTE: This is also how I created cityscape 3x4 and 4x6 cards, to be used for any major cities we may visit.
  1. Days of the Week Cards:
Using the same blank grid cards, I spray misted various colors of ink over the banner days stencil to create several weeks' worth of cards. I have not yet decided if I will use these as-is or if I will cut them apart and adhere the corresponding day to a place. Time on the road will determine how I use these cards.

  1. The Painted Patterns Cards:
I experimented with Distress Paint and these fun, funky patterned stencils. I dabbed the paint over the stencil onto the cards, and left a good old-fashioned mess, BUT being the ink and paint snob that I am, I immediately took the stencils, flipped them over with the paint-side down onto new blank cards, brayered over the stencils to transfer the paint and pattern, and made title cards that I absolutely adore. I honestly think these may be my favorite cards of the bunch. I'm planning to use them as title cards for the different portions of our trip (ex. Alaska cruise vs RV life vs road-tripping with and without my parents, because, yes, they are going to be with us for a month of this 2-month long adventure).

I hope that I have inspired you to pull out your stencils and inks and paints and art supplies and just play. I hope that you realize that you can use 'themed' (ex the map and the days of the week stencils) and 'unthemed' (ex the fun, funky patterns) products to make a project your very own. I hope that you discover the love of travel, be it far or near, and that you learn to appreciate and document this life you have been given. And most of all, I hope you know how truly honored and grateful I am to have been given this opportunity to share my passions with you today.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Faith Healers and Hospitals

I read a post on Facebook recently that stated that you never find Faith Healers in a hospital. Something about this felt 'off' to me, and I've been pondering the statement ever since. Last night, while sleeping in the camper while my husband drove us through western Wyoming, I realized why I couldn't agree with the thought: I believe Faith Healers work in hospitals every day. God has long been a God of miracles, and I believe He still works those miracles on a daily basis.

Even in the New Testament, people had to go to Jesus or the Disciples to be healed. The Bible never says that Jesus gave a blanket "Everyone in this city will be healed." The sick and the lame and the blind had to come to Him or be found by Him. Mark 2:4 says, "Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on" (NIV). Luke 18:35-43 tells of a blind man who called out to Jesus by the road to Jericho and was healed. Over and over, we read about people seeking His help and receiving healing and salvation. 

I do believe that God still works these healing miracles through faith alone. I, myself, am a recipient of such grace. Several years ago, while I was still in med school, I went on a medical mission trip to Central Mexico with missionaries who daily live their belief in the Lord's provision. Me? I am a skeptic. I have always been cynical and sarcastic, and med school made me even more so. I believe in the power of prayer, but I also believed (at that time) that God didn't bother with Bible-times miracles any more. I was wrong. One day, as we were exiting our 15-passenger van at the day's clinic site, I turned and walked straight into a barbed wire fence. My face and left eye were sliced and cut up. Blood was dripping down my face. I immediately started thinking, "Oh, no. I am in rural Mexico, and I just cut my face on a rusted wire. This is going to get infected, and I am going to get tetanus" (Yes, that is how my brain works. I've told you before that I am not normal). The missionaries however, IMMEDIATELY, before I had a chance to get my sleeve to my face to put pressure on the wound to stop the bleeding, laid their hands on my face and head and started praying for healing. My skeptic brain was shouting to myself that this-is-crazy-let-go-of-me-and-let-me-start-disinfecting-so-i-don't-lose-my-eye. But as they prayed, I felt my wounds healing. I felt the skin coming back together. I felt the bleeding drying up. I felt my vision clear. I felt the pain go away. After they had finished praying, all that was left on my face was a few drops of dried blood. No scratch. No cut. No scar. No eye injury. No other evidence that I had just wrestled with rusted barbed wire. God had healed me through the faith of the missionaries alone. Since then, I have heard countless stories and seen many miraculous healings performed by God in the Third World (My personal heart is for South America. I had always wanted to be a missionary to Africa or India, but God has called me time and again to serve in South America, and has changed my heart to where I want to live there. I dream of living and working in the Andes with the local people groups. Maybe someday He'll let me live this dream). Anyhow...

I have also seen similar miracles in the United States. For 15 years, I lived in a hospital pediatric ward and ER. I took care of babies and teenagers and young adults. I saw ATV accidents and infections and fireworks explosions. I saw God work every single day of my working life. I saw Him use chemotherapy to save the life of preschoolers with leukemia. I saw babies born with HIV grow up and thrive and have normal lives. I saw kids who had fallen off roofs get up to run and play another day. God works through the doctors and nurses and medicines that He has given us in our world. It is a privilege to be a part of this world. Intubating a 4 week old baby with RSV can save its life. Vaccines prevent the spread of some of the world's most debilitating diseases. When was the last time you saw a child with polio? Or rabies? Or tetanus? When we were children, childhood leukemia was a death sentence. Today, over 95% of children with ALL survive and do well. All because of God. God gave us medicines for a reason. He has provided us with Tylenol and Motrin and Benadryl for our use and benefit. He wants us to use them. He wants us to have the faith to be healed. He wants us to follow Him. He wants to use the doctors and nurses and your faith to make you well. He wants you to "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest" - Matthew 11:28 (NIV).


Friday, May 16, 2014

Operation Snowbird

If you have ever seen my instagram feed, then you know that I love to travel with my family. Exploring God's creation is one of my joys in life. My husband is a much more fun person when he is on vacation. My children learn more when seeing and experiencing cultures and sights that are unfamiliar to our Southern way of life. My dog thinks she is the co-pilot for all of our road-based adventures. We all thrive on seeing the world together.

Over the last few years, my MS has made travel more difficult. We have had to get more creative with our journeys and take more time resting at our destinations - which completely goes against the see-everything-do-everything-we-can-always-sleep-later mentality we had adopted pre-diagnosis. We hang out in our hotel room. We order room service. We swim in the hotel pool. We play board games. We don't get to the Magic Kingdom an hour before it officially opens just in case it opens early and then close the park down at 2AM anymore. We sleep. We get there when we get there. We enjoy our favorite rides and skip those with lines or those that we don't care about. We take care of our bodies more.

How does this translate into exploring the remote corners of the globe? We cruise a lot. Cruising is affordable. Cruising is restful. Cruising has as much or as little activity as we want. Even on a port day in Argentina, we know our time is limited. We can still hustle about and see and do everything we can, but there is a finite stop time. We have to be back on the ship at a pre-determined time, or we will be left behind. Once back onboard, we can crash. The Girls may go to Kids' Club and hang out with their new-found friends (who are often also homeschoolers, given the itineraries and times of year that we cruise) and compare what educational field trip excursion each of their parent's had forced on them that day. Bill may go wandering the ship to find a new corner to hide in and read a book on his ipad. I may take a nap. We all meet again for dinner and maybe a show (the local performers that add to the cultural immersion tend to be our favorites - ex. The Pampas Devils, a group of tango dancers and gaucho performers from Argentina, or step dancers in Ireland, or belly dancers in Egypt). We can go to bed early. And we can do it all again tomorrow in another city or town, without having to worry about how late will we be up driving to get to get there and will we find a hotel once we do.

The other major travel adjustment we have made is that 3 years ago, my husband bought a 5th-wheel travel trailer. Some men buy Porsche's and 22 year old blondes for their mid-life crises. My husband bought a Big-A$$ Truck (aka The Monstrosity) and an RV (aka Monstro). We have taken the RV cross-country twice and to see cousins and aunts and uncles a multitude of times. This summer, we are planning a third cross-country trek, this time to experiment with my MS. Last summer I was almost non-functional. The heat and humidity here in the South kept me couch-bound or pool-bound most of the summer. This summer we are headed north - north to the mountains, north to a cooler climate, a higher altitude, and a lower humidity. The goal? To see if I can function better. This was supposed to be a controlled experiment - same medicines, same exercises, same Me, with only our location being the new variable - but given the medical events of the last few months, our controls have gone out the window. Regardless of those new parameters, we are going. We'll be living in the RV, stopping at National Parks and State Parks for days-weeks at a time. We'll see some family and hopefully some friends. We'll hike. We'll bike. We'll learn about our nation's geography and history. We'll be "Learning through Living" (my high school's motto). And rest assured, I'll be sharing pictures along the way - definitely on Instagram (username: cdpeck) and hopefully here on the blog as well.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

A Gluten-Free Update

I have now been living this gluten-free existence for 2 months. I still hate it. I still hurt. I still have headaches. I still have numbness and paresthesias (fancy word for nerve pains and tingling). I still have a pathetic immune system. BUT, on the bright side, I DO have a smaller body. I have lost 23 pounds. My pseudotumor is slowly improving. My energy level has improved a wee little bit, and I have found a few acceptable fake-flour substitutes.

So far, my family's favorite fake breads have included:
1. King Arthur Flour GF Muffin Mix - to make chocolate chip muffins
2. Pamela's Baking and Pancake Mixes - the best pancake mix we have found so far
3. Cup4Cup - a bagged all-purpose flour that literally lets you use your old recipes and substitute their fake flour mix for your old all-purpose flours. Thus far, this has been the most consistently successful flour mix. We have used it to make a fabulous chicken and sausage gumbo (a proper roux requires flour and oil), Disney Fort Wilderness and Wilderness Lodge cornbread, and other random family recipes. Nothing has failed yet with this mixture.
4. Duncan Hines GF Devil's Food Cake Mix - my 40th birthday was a few weeks ago, and a friend kindly made me an adapted version of her very yummy chocolate cake using this mix. The cake was shorter than usual, but it tasted just as good as it always has.

So there you have it - an official 2 month update. Nothing else has caught fire. I still dream about yeast rolls. My children still fuss about not having our old favorite frozen foods in the freezer, and I spend hours more in the kitchen than I ever have. But I am walking. I am not blind. And I think this new life just might work out.

Now to keep working on finding the perfect hamburger bun...

Friday, April 11, 2014

Social Security, Part 2

The next step in obtaining my entitled Social Security benefits required a visit to a Social Security-approved Psychiatrist to ensure that I was mentally able to make decisions regarding my own medical care. If you remember from yesterday how much I do not want to be on our government's retirement welfare system, and if you know how little I tolerate stupidity, you will understand why I was not the best-behaved patient at this appointment.

The psychiatrist is a lady maybe 5-7 years older than me. She was wearing a suit and had perfectly coiffed hair and nails. I forget what I was wearing, but I did dress professionally. From the moment I walked in the room, her demeanor was condescending and 'I'm-smarter-than-you.' She was polite, but not friendly, and she immediately began her official questioning.

Background: As part of both my pediatric and my ER training, I had a lot of psychiatric exposure. I am fascinated by the true crazies in the world. The wilder the hallucinations, the more fun I have. Overdoses and suicidal patients are my ER norm. Angsty teenagers acting out after a fight with their boyfriends or moms were everyday occurrences. I sought them out. I enjoy them. I took care of them. I know the game. I know the routine. I know the questions to ask and the 'right' answers to those questions. I did not become a psychiatrist, because I am too ADD with a need for instant gratification. Overdoses? Give me the narcan and charcoal, and let's go pump a stomach. Chronic depression and eating disorders? Let me get you medically stable then pass you off for the next few weeks-months of therapy. Not that I don't know how to do that therapy...I just don't enjoy it. I like instant fixes with rapid results.

Now back to my appointment with the Social Security-appointed psychiatrist. We started out discussing my basic information: name, demographics, why-am-I-here-today, that kind of stuff. And then she moved into familiar territory. I swear, the woman could have been one of my residents. She quoted the textbook almost verbatim.

Psych: Why are you here today?
Me: Because the disability company and Social Security made me.
Psych: You don't want to be here?
Me: Not really (I'm still trying to be polite at this point, but my inherent snark is fighting for an excuse to come out).
Psych: What do you do for a living?
Me: I'm a Pediatric ER doc. I work at _____, but I can't go back to work right now since I was diagnosed with MS.
Psych: Oh! You're a doctor, too?
Me: Yep. And I see a lot of psych patients in the ER.
Psych: Really? That's interesting...Did you graduate from high school?
Me: (I'm unable to hold the snark back any more) Seriously??? I just told you I'm a doctor like you. I actually have more training than you, because I actually did a fellowship, and you only did your residency, and you're asking if I graduated from high school?!!!
Psych: Yes. I am. Did you graduate from high school?
Me. Humpf. And I graduated Magna Cum Laude from Vanderbilt, too, before going to med school at BMS.
Psych: So you do have a high school diploma?
Me: (totally over this 'interview' by now) YES
Psych: Are you depressed? Do you want to hurt yourself? Have you thought about killing yourself?
Me: Nope.
***Insert Mini Mental Status Exam Here***
Me: (during Mini Mental) You do know that I know all these questions and that I can quote the questions and answers to you faster than you can ask them officially, right?
Psych: Why is that?
Me: Because I asked them every single day in my job in the ER. Pediatric ER doc, remember?
Psych: Oh yes. That is right. Continuing on. (And here she continues the Mini Mental, despite my telling her the questions and answers in advance. My patience for her was nonexistent at this point.)

When I got in the car with my husband to go home, he rolled his eyes at my lack of cooperation in the psychiatrist's office. He knows me and my lack of tolerance for stupidity, but he did remind me that she was responsible for determining if I was mentally competent enough to qualify for Social Security. When I reminded him of how much I did NOT want the benefits, he knew well enough to just let the subject drop. I think he was afraid I would take my snark out on him.

Sadly, a week or two later, I was fully approved for Social Security, and I've been receiving monthly checks since. I still hope and pray that I can return to work someday, but for now, this is our normal. God is good, and He continues to provide for my family each and every day...even if I don't like the method.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Social Security: Part 1

Part of the whole long term disability applications requires conversations and meetings with Social Security. It's the insurance companies' rules. They don't want to pay out a lot of money, and a 35 year old physician on disability sets off every one of their alarms. If you are approved for their policies, then they require you to apply for Social Security. Now remember, at this point, I still intended to go back to work. I had zero intention of being on disability forever. God called me to Pediatrics, and that is where I want to be.

I avoided, stalled, and procrastinated dealing with Social Security as long as I could. I do not want to be on it. One day, Social Security called me. At home. And insisted I have a real conversation with them. I couldn't hide any more. Following is a replication of that conversation, as I remember it:

SS Lady: You do realize you are entitled to these benefits?
Me: I don't want them. I am 35 years old, and I plan to return to work someday. Older, sicker people need that money.
SS Lady: But you are entitled to that money.
Me: But I don't want it.
SS Lady: But you worked and saved that money. You are entitled to it.
Me: But I don't want it. I want to work. I do not want to live off of the government.
SS Lady: But it says here that you have 2 children. What about them? They are entitled to benefits, too.
Me: I am married. My husband has a good job with excellent benefits. I intend to go back to work when I am better. I don't need Social Security, and my children definitely do not need it.
SS Lady: But that might not always be the case. No one ever expects divorce, but your husband may one day decide to leave you, and then you won't have his benefits, and then you'll need this money that you are entitled to.
Me: Excuse me, but that is not going to happen, and even if something does happen to him in the future and if I do ever need this money, THEN I'll apply for it. Until then, I don't need it, and I don't want it.
SS Lady: But you and your children are entitled to these benefits.
Me: So you are telling me that despite the fact that there are people who actually need this government money to live that are being turned down for benefits, and despite the fact that I want them to get this money instead of me, I have no choice but to take it.
SS Lady: Yes. Because you are entitled to it, and they are not.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Disability 101

When I left my ER at 7AM December 26, 2009, I fully expected to return to work that night. When I was admitted to a neighboring hospital an hour later, I thought I would be returning to work after discharge. When I was discharged unable to walk without a walker, I knew I would have to file for FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act) and take a few weeks off to recover. I still fully intended to return to my job in the Pediatric ER, seeing patients and supervising medical students and residents. 6 weeks later I was still unable to walk past the stop sign at the end of our street, and it was then that I knew that my working life would have to change...but I STILL INTENDED TO GO BACK TO WORK.

I met with the hospital CEO to discuss how and when I could return. Per the American Disabilities Act (ADA), work places are required to make adjustments and allowances to help you do your job. My neurologist at BMS had already signed off on my state disability papers, because sadly, multiple sclerosis is a no-brainer. Our state sees the MS diagnosis and automatically approves applications. My hospital had been saying they were going paperless and to all-electronic charting for 3 years. It had never happened in the ER, even though the rest of the hospital had converted within the preceding 6 months. I asked that the ER make the change so that I could rest my hands and type instead of writing (At this time, even my signature was 'off.' My fine motor control was diminished, and typing/using the computer was a legitimate alternative to the writing we did so much of in the hospital (remember that CYA medicine discussion?)). The CEO refused. I asked to work part-time for a few months while I did rehab to regain my strength and endurance. She refused. I asked to work staggered shifts or to be the evening double coverage (which we were already paying outside docs extra to moonlight and cover the busier times). Again, she refused. She refused each and every ADA modification I requested. Her quote, "If you cannot meet the obligations spelled out in your contract, then your contract is null and void, and you will no longer be an employee of this hospital." Bottom line...major ADA violation.

Now I could have contacted an attorney and sued her and the hospital for ADA discrimination, but honestly, I just didn't have the emotional ability to fight that battle. I also knew that any money that I won, and any money that the hospital spent fighting me, would come at the detriment of the children that I have dedicated my life to caring for. Money at the hospital was tight, and I wanted our local kids to have more ICU beds and operating rooms and oxygen monitors than I wanted to fight a legal battle for my 'rights.'

So what did I do? First of all, I prayed. I had been praying throughout this whole ordeal, both alone and with my husband and family. I prayed a lot. I prayed for God's peace that passes all understanding. I prayed for our family's finances. I prayed for health. I cried out in frustration, knowing the Holy Spirit could interpret my cries. And God provided an answer that we thought, at the time, would be a temporary solution, but now, 4.5 years later, we are still living under. I applied for long term disability from the hospital. I cashed in a long term 'own occ' disability policy we had bought years before ('Own occ' basically says that if you are unable to continue in your chosen occupation, for me, specifically, Pediatric Emergency Medicine, then you'll be paid x percentage of your salary for life. Most insurance firms don't offer this anymore, and most people have never heard of it. Of those that have, most never bother to sign up, figuring they'll be a surgeon or anesthesiologist or family practitioner for life, because that's our calling, and that's what we spent so many years training to be.).

After several more months of paperwork and appointments, I was finally approved for both policies. My family was able to start digging out of the mountain of debt we had acquired trying to get through the previous months without my salary and with mega-hospital bills starting to come in. We are still working on that debt, but I know God will continue to provide. And God does have a sense of humor. I was and I believe I still am the ONLY physician to ever leave our hospital system on disability. I was 35 when I was diagnosed and went on disability, and by the time my hospital disability checks stop, the hospital will have paid me several times more than they would have if the CEO had just allowed me to continue working part time. My monthly checks from them are actually still higher than what my part time salary would have been. And that makes me smile. God wins every time.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

I've Lost My Mojo

I am a scrapbooker. I am a photographer. I document life. These are my hobbies. They make me very happy. But sometimes I have to walk away from it all. I have weeks and months where I can't stay away from my desk, and I can't stop creating. And then I have weeks and months like I have had recently. I have lots of new toys to play with. I'm always taking pictures of something or other (just find me on Instagram if you need proof of that). I am surrounded by inspiration online and in magazines and catalogs...but I just don't have the desire to create. This has happened before, and I know it will happen again. It frustrates me, because I WANT to want to create, but I don't. I avoid going upstairs to my desk. I pile my new toys on the stairs. I find other ways to occupy my time (I mean, hello! Have you ever seen me blog this much EVER???) I immerse myself in life.

I may not be actively creating, but I am still always learning. The last 6 weeks or so have been life upheaval rough. Immune system shutting down. Pseudotumor cerebri. Changing MS medications again. Having to give up my very-favorite food cold-turkey. Major life changes. I tell myself it's ok not to be crafting and 'making pretty stuff' (as Heidi Swapp calls it). I am reading. I am researching. I am studying. I am pulling out my med school textbooks for the first time in years. I am learning how to transition my life and my family's life to this new reality. I am trying to relearn how to cook (Think about many of your go-to recipes require flour? I had to relearn how to make a roux and gumbo this weekend! I can't even go to a deli and get a sandwich or soup any more, because they both contain wheat. This has not been easy or fun.).

So that's where I am. Not crafting. Not recording memories. Not playing with paper and glue. Not giving up. I am going to fight this disease. My doctors said I have to give up wheat and gluten. I may hate it, and I may complain about it to anyone who will listen, but I'm going to do it, because if it works, then just maybe I'll have a functional immune system again. I may have lost my crafty mojo, but it will come back...just as soon as I find a good substitute for hamburger buns so I can enjoy a good red meat fix again.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Not So Mysterious Ways

There's a common saying in this world that 'God works in mysterious ways.' I believe this is true, but I also believe there is a counter statement to this, as well: 'Satan works in not-so-mysterious ways.'

I've told y'all before that I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2009. Since then, my life and the lives of my family members have been unpredictable and sometimes frustrating. We cannot predict when I will have a Bad Day. We have, with time, recognized that if I am very active or if I 'push' for 2-3 days, then I will have to crash and rest for, at least, 2-3 days afterward. We try to schedule events accordingly, but part of the annoyance of MS is how you never know day-to-day how you will feel. I might do everything 'right,' and then still wake up the next day dizzy and unable to lift my head off the couch, much less walk around the house and do chores. My husband is amazing. He is patient. He is kind. He is the 'nice one' in our family. I am not. I am impatient. I get angry (mostly at myself and my body's inability to do everything I want it to do), and I get depressed.

How do I cope with the depression? For one thing, I have been on Happy Pills for years...even before the MS. My husband likes me on my Happy Pills. He likes not finding me in a closet surrounded by pictures sobbing because I used to laugh till my stomach hurt. I'm not a huge fan of the Happy Pills, but they do keep most of the badness away. I don't laugh as much as I used to, but I don't cry uncontrollably as much either. What I do do is sleep. A lot. And I read. A lot. And I scrapbook and play in my art journal. A lot. The severity of the dizziness and depression/frustration/anger often determines how much of any of these activities I participate in. I like being active. I like keeping my brain active. I like multi-tasking and doing 1000 things at once. I mean, seriously, I was an ER doctor. ADD multi-tasking was my life.

Which brings me back to my earlier statement: 'God works in mysterious ways, but Satan works in not-so-mysterious ways.' Why am I talking about this now? Because yesterday was a Sunday, and Sundays and Wednesdays have become my most-frequent Bad Days. If I could predict when a Bad Day is coming, I would have to bet on it being a Sunday or Wednesday. Why these days? Because they are important to me. I am a Christian. I believe Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, who died on a cross 2000 years ago and was raised from the dead to save the world from our sins. Sundays are Sabbath days. We spend our Sunday mornings (and sometimes afternoons and evenings) at church, worshiping and praising God and fellowshipping with our church family. Wednesdays are also church days. We are Southern Baptists. Baptists still have Wednesday night church. Wednesdays are less formal than Sundays, and more time is spent digging into the Word and teaching it to our children. Wednesdays are when my husband leads the 1st-6th grade boys in Bible Study. Wednesdays are when our 7th grade daughter gets to praise and worship with the teenagers in our church and when our 2nd grade daughter gets to learn about missionaries and spreading the Gospel here and around the world. Wednesdays are when I get to be a Pediatrician again. Wednesday nights have become an unofficial clinic night for me. Rarely does a week go by that I am not called to see a child or 2 in the nursery for a rash or a fever. Wednesdays are my time to serve.

So why do I have many of my Bad Days on Sundays and Wednesdays? Because Satan wants to keep me (and my family) away from church. He wants to disrupt our friendships and commitments. He wants to attack our family directly. He wants to separate us from God. Satan knows that we belong to Jesus, but he does not want us to witness or serve or in any way further God's work. He wants to destroy our family. He wants to stop the spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And so he is obvious in his attacks. He knows of my physical ailments. Why not stimulate the symptoms and accomplish 2 things at once? I feel awful, and I cannot attend church and worship and serve. But I've learned. This pattern has intensified over the last 4 years. I've learned that if I can raise my head off the couch and get dressed and make it into the church building, then I will not regret it. God fights for me. Who am I to stand in His way?

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
- Ephesians 6:12 (NIV)

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Tis the Season

As life goes on, we all have certain seasons we can count on. Yes, the whole world recognizes winter, spring, summer, and fall, but as homeschoolers, we have a few extra seasons. There's Back-to-School sales at our favorite stores (I mean, seriously, who doesn't get excited over 10cent boxes of crayons and notebooks? They make me happy.) There's the season when we are finishing our workbooks for the year. Such a feeling of accomplishment to see a completed math or spelling book. And then there's my very favorite season of all: Curriculum Buying Season.

For some reason unbeknownst to me, book companies have their curriculum sales in April. We are not talking a token 5% off your purchase sales...we are talking 20-30% off your entire order. Yes, it requires forethought. Yes, it requires planning ahead for next year and not waiting until July or August when I'll actually need those books. Yes, it requires budgeting ahead of time (or in my case, yelling towards my husband's office, 'I'm ordering curriculum now!' He's used to me and my spending quirks and blissfully-for-me, he keeps the budget ready for these moments). It works for us. I'm all about sales and saving money when I'm spending money, and if I can save $20-30 off my needed books, then I can spend that $20-30 on a film-making elective my oldest Kid is interested in taking. Right? Right.

Anyhow, today is my curriculum ordering day. Thanks to catalogs and the wonderful invention of the internet, I can do all my shopping from my couch. Much of my ordering is what I call 'refills:' a workbook or other consumable for my youngest to use with the main texts that her big sister used 4 years ago. I have tried very hard over the years to buy curriculum that would benefit them both. We are in this for the long haul. We have been homeschooling for 8 years, and I don't see that changing any time soon.

Interested in what we use? I order the bulk of our curriculum from and They are both Christian companies that cover a broad spectrum of subjects.

Our current curriculum:
Math - Horizons (current 2nd grade LoveBug), Teaching Textbooks (current 7th grade Kid)
English - Bob Jones (LoveBug), Excellence in Literature Honors Level (Kid)
Spelling and Vocabulary - Horizons (LoveBug), Wordly Wise (Kid)
Science - Apologia - this year the LoveBug has done Astronomy and the Kid has done General Science
History and Reading - Sonlight (both)
Bible - no set curriculum, but they are encouraged to read their Bible daily and follow the Holy Spirit's guidance
Spanish - Rosetta Stone (both)

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Finding Our Chosen Family

Do you have a Chosen Family? Do you know what a Chosen Family is? It's a term coined by my dear friend M to refer to our group of friends. According to M, your Real Family is the family you were born into. Your Chosen Family are the people God gives you to make up for your Real Family's faults. She says your Chosen Family includes the people you can truly count on. In this sense, I disagree. My Dad always taught me that the only people you can always count on are your Real Family members, and not your friends. He said friends would always let you down. I disagree with him, too. I believe that God has blessed us with a wonderful Real Family AND an amazing Chosen Family. I can count on them both, and I never knew that until I got sick.

2009 was not a good year for me. 2009 was when I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. When I walked out of my ER at the end of my shift at 7AM on December 26, I had no idea I would never practice medicine as an ER Pediatrician again. I fully expected to return to work 12 hours later to work another night shift. But God had other plans. I was admitted that day to a local hospital where I remained for a week. At discharge, I could barely walk with a walker around my house, much less drive or exercise. I don't remember much of the next 3 months. My mind has blissfully forgotten those months of lying on the couch unable to function...except for one significant day.

I will never forget it. I was lying on the couch doing my usual brand of multitasking - Internet, TV, and reading on my kindle - when some girls from our Sunday School class showed up at the door, girls I had only casually spoken to, but had never considered truly being friends with. M was with them. Their exact words, "Get dressed. We're going for toes (translation: pedicures), and you're coming with us." I tried to beg off, citing the constant dizziness that kept me from moving my head, much less my body. Their response, "Get dressed, or we're dragging you for toes in your jammies. You're going. You have no choice." I caved. It was easier then arguing.

I am so grateful that God sent those ladies to me that day. M and I talk and text multiple times a day, and it is a rare week that we are not trading off kids for some reason or another. She has become one of the best, most dependable friends I have ever had, and I thank God for her regularly. She and I are friends. Our husbands are friends. Our kids are friends. They're actually together so much, strangers think they're siblings from the way they act around each other. Our families are friends. They are our Chosen Family. And I am so very thankful.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Day to Day Change

Unfortunately for my family , this gluten-free lifestyle change affects them, too. We are a busy family. We homeschool. My husband works from home. We are always together - for better and for worse. To make sure our children do not become 'THOSE Homeschoolers' (you know the ones I mean - the cliché, grind your own grain, sew your own clothes, remove yourselves from society homeschoolers), we let them participate in several extracurricular activities. First and most importantly, we are active in our local church. Second, we are all active Girl Scouts (yes, even my husband). And third, we are active in sports, which I count as the Girls' PE. They average 1-2 hours of dance or softball 4-5 days per week.

This schedule does not allow for many home-cooked dinners around the table. We eat out a lot. Our main Family Meal is usually lunch, and dinner can be anything from a cup of cereal in the car to Moe's burritos or Chick-fil-a en route from ballet to Wednesday night services. It just depends on the day. All of this to say, not only has this gluten-free thing changed WHAT I can eat, it has also changed where and when we all eat.

So what are we doing? How are we handling this acute change? As best we can. I've given away most of my favorite baking mixes and go-to quick meals. I've stocked the pantry with just about every rice flour and potato flour and almond meal I can find, and I am slowly relearning how to cook. We are eating a lot more cereal for dinner, and my Girls are getting much better at fending for themselves. If I have a meeting or something else going on, my husband takes them to our favorite restaurants where I'm afraid I couldn't resist the yeasty goodness of the fresh baked bread. We are eating at home more. We are eating much later at night (you can still only do so much when everyone is gone from 4-7:30 every night). We are waiting for dance and ball to be over so that we can figure out a new schedule that works for all of us.

In the meantime, we are praying daily that this works and that my immune system decides to function and fight disease again. Because really? As much as I like bread, I like being not-sick and spending time with my family even more. Our God is a good God, and I truly believe He can do this for me. All I have to do is wait and hope. And if He decides to make me stay this way, I'll gripe and moan and complain for awhile, but then I'll suck it up and just deal.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Man Shall Not Live By Bread Alone...and Neither Shall I

After I saw the Heme/Onc (short for Hematology/Oncology) guy, I walked out the door not expecting to hear from him until my follow-up appointment in 6 months. It was lunchtime, and we were hungry, so my husband and I decided to grab a quick, yummy brunch of deliciousness at our local Waffle House. Their pecan waffles qualify for my select life list of very favorite foods. If I had known this would be my last time to ever have them, I probably would have ordered a dozen and eaten until I couldn't stand up any more.

Remember how I talked about Zebras and Interesting Patients the other day? Remember how I said you don't want to be one, but that I am one? Well...after I left my Heme/Onc appointment, my doctor spent some time researching what could be causing my immune system to shut down. He was unable to find a link between this and my MS, but he did find ONE STUDY being performed at BMS looking at a possible link between my particular immune problem and wheat allergies. Has this research been completed? No. Has this research been published in a reputable, peer-reviewed journal? No. IT'S STILL ONGOING, and there is no way to get me into the actual trial. So what does my hematologist decide? He wants me to try a wheat-free (aka gluten-free) diet. It will be our own, personal experiment. I literally felt Life As I Know It come crashing down around me.

I received this life-altering phone call around 4:30 on a Monday afternoon. I was not pleased. But God has a serious sense of humor. A very dear friend of mine has Celiac Disease, the only absolute medical indication for a gluten-free diet. Gluten-free can completely cure Celiac and eliminate its long term side effects. She has been gluten-free for several years and has been wanting me to experiment with the diet almost since the day she started it. Obviously, since bread is my very favorite food (I have literally lived on bread alone for months at a time while travelling overseas), I do not want to give it up. I like bread. Bread makes me happy. Anyhow, back to God's sense of humor...this friend was sitting next to me at my kitchen table when I got the call from my doctor. I instantly went into mourning. She became almost giddy with excitement.

After my initial shock and despair wore off, I went into my typical OCD, Type A mode. In the last 3 weeks and 4 days since I got this unpleasant news, I have read more books and cookbooks and websites and blogs on gluten-free cooking than I can count. I have dreamed about bread and pizza and fried chicken and yeast rolls and icing cake. I have fixated on finding acceptable substitutes for my favorite foods. So far, I have found a good pancake recipe, a decent oven-fried chicken recipe, and several awful bread recipes...complete with some flammable loaves. I'm a work in progress, and I know God has a plan for this. Right now, the risk of blindness and herniation and a nonexistent immune system are good motivators.

I'm a Zebra...Or...Lightening Struck More Than Twice

On top of everything else going on in the last week, my immune system is shutting down. I had my routine labs drawn at the end of January. One of the tests showed that my IgG4 is almost nonexistent. A repeat of the lab confirmed the results (In medicine, if we get a totally unexpected, weird lab result, we automatically repeat that lab. You never know when the wonky number is the result of a lab error. Better to be safe and recheck than to start chemo or other treatments when it was just a mistake in the lab. And just so you know, this is Good Medicine, not CYA Medicine.)

My PCP/neurologist at BMS set me up to see the local chief of Hematology/Oncology. He reviewed my history then gave me a look I've become way too familiar with over the years. He was confused. Perplexed. Intrigued. Now let me tell you...all the magazine articles and TV segments will tell you that you want a doctor that cares about you and that is interested in you. THAT IS NOT TRUE!!! They are wrong. Yes, having a caring, compassionate physician is a good thing. But you DO NOT want to be an Interesting Patient!!! Interesting Patients do not fit the mold. They are anomalies. They don't fit neatly into the puzzles we are mentally piecing together while we talk to you. They are the square pegs in the round holes. They get us excited to do research and look things up. They are not easy to diagnose and treat.

Interesting Patients are also called Zebras. There's a saying we are taught early in med school. It's actually one of my computer geek-husband's favorite factoids and quotes. No idea why. He just likes it. "When you hear hoofbeats, look for horses, not zebras" - the implication being that horses are common (like colds, ear infections, the flu), and zebras are not (like Ebola virus, West Nile, and rare, unnamed platelet aggregation disorders). When you find a Zebra, it is safe to assume that they will have only that one diagnosis. Zebras are rare. Multiple Zebras are extremely rare (ex. It would be extremely unusual and interesting to find a patient who had Ebola virus, West Nile, AND the rare platelet problem at the same time). Guess who is that Interesting Patient with Multiple Zebras? ME!!! It's so bad, my neurologist at BMS wore her zebra scarf this week at my appointment in my honor. It did make me laugh, because really? Only medical people would get the joke.

Anyhow, my immune system is shutting down. I have MS. And now I have pseudotumor cerebri. All unusual diagnoses that are not fun to live with or treat. Only the pseudotumor was easy to diagnose. The MS took 9 months from symptom onset to diagnosis, and I am considered a 'quick' diagnosis. We are still working on the immune system thing. I'll let you know more about that later. Until then, I have to get to the ballpark to see my Kid play center field. If you have any questions about this post or any others, I'll do my best to answer them from the Doctor or the Patient side, whichever is more appropriate.

Friday, March 28, 2014

CYA Medicine

As a follow up to my last post, I think I need to explain to y'all what CYA medicine is. Have you heard of it? Do you know what it means? At its core, CYA medicine means 'Cover Your A$$.' Don't do anything that will get yourself sued. Document everything. Make the patient look like the Bad Guy. Don't neglect good care. Be conscientious. Practice good medicine. Don't get caught missing anything.

Often this is as simple as ordering extra tests. Extra blood work. Extra labs. Extra xrays. Anything to make the patient happy. A good Patient Satisfaction Score has nothing to do with the quality of care they received. It has everything to do with their perception. And most patients believe that more tests equals better care. But we know better. We are just covering our butts. We want you happy so you don't sue us. And there lies the baseline problem with America's medical problem. We spend too much money just to keep the lawyers away. Just because you have a snotty nose and a cough, you do not necessarily need a blood test, a flu test, and a chest xray. The End.

Anyhow, how does this relate to my previous post, and why I am I addressing this now? Because that is what the local neurologists did. They were practicing CYA medicine. By not letting me back into the hallowed sanctum of a clinic room to be seen, they were not liable. If they had let me into a room, and if they had laid eyes on me, even accidentally, they would be responsible for whatever happened to me next (according to our wonderful litigious society). By having a nurse serving as a go-between, they officially never saw my face and therefore, have nothing to fear from a lawsuit. Instead, by insisting that I leave after having a chart made, they can write 4 magic letters on my chart: LWBS (Left Without Being Seen). This means, in the eyes of the court, that I came to the clinic, had a chart made, and for whatever reason I DECIDED ON MY OWN to leave.

Note the difference in reality. The reality: I was told to leave, and the doctors refused to see me in their clinic. The chart reality (or the CYA reality): I 'Left Without Being Seen.' A very subtle difference, but one that puts the fault on me if I had emergently gone blind or herniated. I guarantee you that the truth of that encounter was not documented anywhere but here. 'If you didn't write it down, it didn't happen.' Those are the exact words we are taught in med school and residency. Document everything...but only if you want it to show up in court. If it's not documented, it didn't happen. Scary, huh?

Thursday, March 27, 2014

I Much Prefer Being the Doctor Than the Patient

So where was I? Oh yes. I had an appointment with Neuro ophthalmology for Friday morning. Obviously I went to that appointment, and I took my husband with me to be my ears and memory (Remember that part about forgetting things? One of the ways I cope is to make sure other people are with me for important moments so they can be my memory).

My Neuro ophthalmologist is a blunt man. He doesn't pad things just to spare my feelings or to make me feel better. His nurses ran their special tests and used their magic cameras to image my optic disks.  After reviewing the images, my doctor confirmed the papilledema (optic nerve swelling) and said it was worse than we had thought from just looking. He agreed that since I had normal MRI's in January, that I do, indeed, have pseudotumor cerebri. He then proceeded to tell me this isn't an emergency, and that I just needed to see neurology for an LP (lumbar puncture, aka spinal tap, aka tap) within the next week or so.

Now here is where I started to disagree. I am a pediatrician. And not only am I a pediatrician, but I am an ER pediatrician. I did a pediatric residency and an emergency medicine fellowship. In both pediatrics and emergency medicine, papilledema and pseudotumor are considered emergencies. Ear infections? Colds? Rashes? Not emergencies. Risk of blindness or herniation? Definitely emergencies. Emergencies, by definition, do not mean 'wait a week or so.' Emergencies mean 'act NOW.'

So what did I do? I told my doctor that if he didn't know a neurologist who would tap me that day, then I would be leaving his office to go to the ER to get an LP that way. Did I want a spinal tap? No. Who wants a needle stuck into their spine? Did I need a spinal tap? Yes. LP's both diagnose and treat pseudotumor. The sooner they are done, the sooner CSF (cerebral spinal fluid) can be removed to relieve the intracranial pressure.

What did he do? He acknowledged my concerns and stubbornness and said he would make some phone calls. He returned a few minutes later with instructions to go directly to our local neurology clinic.

Now let me preface the rest of this story by telling you that neurology in my town stinks. I live in a city in America. I am in the developed world. Land of the Free and Home of the Brave. We have good medical care here. Except for neurology in my town. It's awful. When I was first diagnosed with MS, a neurologist here told me I had had a stroke. Now I know myself, and I had reviewed my own CTs and MRIs. I had NOT had a stroke. I had no risk factors, and I had zero signs or symptoms. What's the difference between a sign and a symptom you ask? A symptom is a subjective feeling that you tell your doctor that cannot be quantified (ex. runny nose, cough, sore throat). A sign is an objective finding that your doctor is able to see and observe (ex. a red throat with post-nasal drip, your heart rate, or your blood pressure). There was no way I had had a stroke. This is just my personal experience with our local neurology departments, but consistently, patients and doctors here agree: If you really need a GOOD neurologist, you need to go to the BMS (Best Medical School - aka the mega university hospital as referenced in the medical school classic novel House of God and immortalized forever on the TV show Scrubs) that is 4 hours away.

Continuing on...My husband drove me directly to the clinic. I had been told to 'come now' for a clinic visit and lab work, and then my LP would be done at 2:00. I arrived in the clinic and checked in. I filled out the paperwork. I turned in my driver's license and insurance information. I had a chart made. And I waited in the waiting room to be called back to see the neurologist. After about 15 minutes a nurse came out and asked if she could speak to me. Thinking she was wanting to do some triage and get some preliminary information, I agreed. She then (very nicely) proceeded to tell me that the neurologist and his partners all refused to see me as a patient. Someone, many years ago, had mistakenly written in my chart that I have von Willebrand's Disease - a platelet disease that keeps your body from properly forming clots. This would be a reason to not do an LP in a clinic setting. It would require being in the controlled setting of the hospital where blood products are available in case of uncontrollable bleeding - a relatively simple thing to do, just something that requires a little preplanning and preparation - which would be fine if I had the disease at all. I DO NOT HAVE VON WILLEBRAND'S DISEASE! I explained that this was an error in my history, and she said she would tell the doctors. Less than 5 minutes later she returned. She again told me that the doctors (yes, there were multiple neurologists involved by now refusing to see me) were not going to see me that day or any other day for an LP. To give her credit, I could tell she was not enjoying being the proverbial messenger and that she was doing her best to be nice. To quote the rest of the conversation:

Me: May I please speak directly with the neurologists and explain this error. I do not have von Willebrand's Disease.
Nurse: I'm sorry. I cannot take you back there. They are busy.
Me: Where are they? Are they here?
Nurse: They are busy seeing patients in clinic.
Me: Ummm. I am a patient, and I am standing in their clinic.
Nurse: I'm so sorry.
Me: Do they know that I'm a doctor and that I actually know what I'm talking about?
Nurse: Yes. They are fully aware that you are a Pediatric ER doctor. They still say they will not see you.
Me: So correct me if I'm wrong here. I'm a physician, standing in their clinic to be seen as a patient, and they refuse to even look me in the face to tell me they won't see me.
Nurse: That is correct.
Me: Then you can let them know that I will never refer another patient to this clinic and that I will let everyone I know what has happened today.
Nurse: I understand.

And there we have it. My fun fun Friday morning. I walked out of that clinic angrier and more scared and frustrated than I have been in years. I called my own personal neurologist at the BMS in tears and told her what was going on. She, appropriately, expressed her appalled feelings that this had happened and said she would take care of it. She called me back 15 minutes later to tell me to go to my local small, community hospital. Radiology there would do my spinal tap that afternoon. I did as instructed, and surprise surprise, I didn't have any bleeding problems and the LP was performed without complications, both confirming and treating my diagnosis of pseudotumor cerebri. Thank You, Jesus, for my neurologist and for that hospital.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

If It's Not One Thing It's Another

I have MS. That is an established fact. I get dizzy. I see double. I fall down. I stumble over words. I forget things. It all comes and goes, but such is my normal. I have Good Days, and I have Bad Days. This is my reality. I've sort of gotten used to it. I don't like it, but it's my life.  At least it was until Thursday.

I went in for my routine eye exam for new glasses. My optometrist, who happens to be a close friend and who happens to be the person who first diagnosed my MS, got 'that look' on her face. You know the look your doctor gets right before the Poker Face kicks in? I know it well. I've mastered it. I'm a pediatrician. I've hidden 'that look.' I saw it immediately. I knew there was something wrong. I was right. There was.

I have bilateral papilledema, otherwise known as swelling of the optic nerve. This is NOT a good thing. As a doctor, the first thing I think when I see papilledema in a patient is 'tumor.' Now before you panic, I don't have a brain tumor...or at least I didn't on my last scans 3 months ago. Anyhow, number 2 on the differential is pseudotumor cerebri or some other cause of elevated intracranial pressure. Risks include blindness and cerebral herniation (when the brain stem comes out through the hole at the base of the skull). In medical school they teach us mnemonics to help us remember diseases and factoids. The mnemonic for pseudotumor cerebri is 'Fat, Fertile, Forty, Female.' Guess what? I'm all four. I'm fat. I'll be 40 in three weeks. I'm not menopausal, and I'm female, putting pseudotumor very high on the list of possibilities.

At this point, my optometrist friend called our town's neighborhood-friendly Neuro ophthalmologist to arrange an appointment for Friday morning. In the meantime, I got to go home and try not to stress over the possibility of going blind. Believe me when I tell you I did everything I could to stay busy and distracted until bedtime, at which time my already-constant prayers kicked into high gear. I truly believe our God is a God of miracles, and right now, I would really appreciate my own personal miracle.