Monthly Archives: February 2014

People You Gotta Meet Before You Grow Up, by Joe Rhatigan

ImageThis colorful volume teaches kids—in fun, bite-sized lessons—how to look the CEO in the eye , shake her hand, and carry on a meaningful conversation. The subtitle is: Get to Know the Movers and Shakers, Heroes and Hotshots in Your Home Town. It could be: Get Away from the Video Games and Meet Some Real People, for Heaven’s Sake.

The short introduction gives basic information about the best way to conduct an interview, from the social rules above to methods of creating videos and effective ways to ask questions. After mastering these techniques, kids and teens can move on to choose from the many professions and walks of life listed in the table of contents. These are not just the usual suspects! Here is just a small sampling:

  • Farmer
  • Judge
  • Entrepreneur
  • Chef
  • Immigrant
  • Someone from a Different Religion
  • Activist
  • Politician
  • Librarian!
  • Actor
  • Historical Reenactor
  • Journalist
  • Architect
  • Volunteer
  • Cartoonist
  • Animal Rescuer
  • Firefighter
  • Musician

For each of these types of people, there are three or four pages giving the reader a bit of an explanation of the vocation, a short strategy for the interview, sample appropriate questions for this person, a few famous people in this category, websites (there have to be screens!) for more information, and a summary or extra fun facts.

The target audience for this friendly guide is upper elementary to early high school. If kids were to conduct even a few of these interviews, they would be sure to gain poise and confidence in their interactions with adults. Think of the advantage they would have in college and career interviews in the future! Furthermore, their eyes would be opened to the many interesting and vibrant people all around them in their communities. Who knows? Your son may discover that what he really wants to be is a cartoonist, after all!

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The Latest in the Fight for the Children

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Charlotte Figi

Tonight at 5:30, WRAL did an excellent report on Dravet Syndrome and the struggle to get Charlotte’s Web legalized in North Carolina. (Please read in this blog for further details, beginning on January 17th.) This report was much more thorough than the NBC 17 report, in that the reporter interviewed our neighbors here in Clayton and then traveled to Colorado to interview the Raleigh family who decided to live apart in order to get treatment for their daughter. The mother and daughter live in Colorado, but the dad has to stay here for his job. You may watch the video here. The results are amazing.

After a while, it is difficult to see why anyone would hesitate to legalize this oil that would help so many suffering children. We have been writing to our legislators and have come to understand that the time to act politically is now. Once the North Carolina legislature comes back into session in May, they will just be voting on the legislation that is being drafted and debated in committee right now. If you live in North Carolina, it is easy to find your representatives here. Just type your address into the maps for representatives or senators, and then click to open the page. Your person’s address, email, and other information will come right up. They will respond to you, since many people are writing to them on this issue at the moment, and the media is really helping. The legislators just need to know that there is widespread support for this medication among the voters.

If you live in other states, be assured that there are children there that need your help. There are over a thousand families on the waiting list for Charlotte’s Web, so you know that some of them live near you. They will all have to move to Colorado when their number comes up, so if you love them and want them to stay, you can do something about it right now. Just type and click!

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A Corner of White, by Jaclyn Moriarty

ImageMadeleine used to be rich. She jetted around the world, hobnobbed with her super-cool friends, and wore the trendiest clothes. She also ran away from home seventeen and a half times. Eventually, her father abandoned them, and she and her mother landed in Cambridge, England, where her mother works as a seamstress while practicing game show questions so that she can win their fortune back. Madeleine and her friends are homeschooled by a different seemingly deranged adult each day of the week, and she puts up with Jack and Belle as part of her game of “slumming it” until her dad comes to rescue her. Madeleine is not really a very nice person.

Elliot lives in the town of Bonfire, in the Farms region of the Kingdom of Cello. Elliot is smart, good-looking, a great ballplayer, and well-liked by everyone. His life would be darn near perfect if his father hadn’t been killed by a Purple. At least, that’s the rumor. His Uncle Jon, his dad, and the physics teacher had left town in Jon’s pickup truck, and later Jon’s body had been found with wounds consistent with a Purple attack. Elliot can’t believe that his father is dead. He lives in hope that the Purple carried him off to its cavern to hold him in prison, which is typical Purple behavior. Just as he is about to leave town to journey to the Magical North to find a Locator Spell, the Butterfly Child arrives in a little glass jar, and he is stuck with her.

One day, Madeleine sees a tiny sliver of white shining from a crack in an old parking meter, and when she pulls it out, it’s a letter from a boy who says he lives in another world. She thinks he is a fantasy geek, but she writes back anyway, and so begins a correspondence between two young people who are both searching for their fathers. In Cello, however, contact with The World is a capital crime.

A friend of mine told me that she thought I would enjoy this unpredictable novel because she and I are both waiting for Jasper Fforde to pen a sequel to his amazing Shades of Grey. I had read Moriarty’s epistolary novel, The Year of Secret Assignments, a few years ago and enjoyed it very much. However, it was a work of contemporary, realistic fiction, and despite its cute and colorful cover, I had assumed that A Corner of White was similar. Rather, in this work, Moriarty has even made the characters in the Cambridge chapters eccentric, and many of the secondary characters in both worlds are fleshed-out and complex. Although the beginning is startling, some of the action does slow in the middle as we get to know everyone better. Toward the end, though, the many twisted plot threads rapidly begin to straighten themselves out beautifully, only to tangle themselves right back up in surprising ways! I found myself thinking, “Oh, no! It’s almost done!” as I counted the few pages left in the book, and then I remembered that there is a sequel coming out in March called The Cracks in the Kingdom. I must definitely put that one on hold.

For teens or adults who like Jasper Fforde, Douglas Adams, or other absurd speculative fiction.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Oh, No! It’s a Plant!

ImageLast night, we were eager to watch WNCN’s segment on our neighbor, Zora Carlin, her family, and other families similarly affected by seizure disorders. The anchorwoman warned that the video might be hard to watch, and she was correct. I had never seen a child having seizures before, and when the segment was over, my son found me sobbing in the living room. You can see the video here. I’m sure you will be similarly touched.

It is so important to have more and more people informed about Charlotte’s Web, the cannabis oil that has an 85% success rate in helping children with seizures, according to the Realm of Caring, a non-profit organization in Colorado that is helping patients with everything from cancer to HIV/AIDS. According to WNCN, there are thousands of children on the waiting list for Charlotte’s Web; they just can’t grow it fast enough. As a North Carolinian, I say, why should we hear that giant sucking sound in the west? Why can’t our neighbors stay here and still have healthy children?

One reason is the misguided attempts by anti-drug forces to conflate medical uses of plants with junkies lying in gutters. WNCN included Skype interviews with Bertha Madras, a professor of psychobiology at Harvard University Medical School. Dr. Madras was appointed as Deputy Director of Demand Reduction for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy by George W. Bush in 2005. In other words, her job is to stop people from taking drugs, a very laudable goal, to be sure. However, Dr. Madras has carried that goal to some controversial lengths, according to some*, such as working against allowing heroin addicts to carry the overdose antidote, naloxone, because she opined that addicts who knew that they wouldn’t die might be more careless and take more heroin. That is extremely logical and possibly true, but if it saves their lives, wouldn’t it be worth it? Not to a government agency or university professor, perhaps, but oh, say, to their mothers?

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Charlotte Figi

In a similar manner, Dr. Madras is concerned that Charlotte’s Web has not been approved by the FDA. As she said, it “is not a medicine,” it “is a plant.” This is such a confounding statement, freighted with assumptions. Let’s unpack it for a moment. From the way that it was said, one must assume that Dr. Madras considers medicine to be a good thing (which it generally is), and plants to be, if not bad, at least dangerous. In the WNCN segment last night, one can see all of the prescription bottles filled with pills that a tiny, little five-year-old girl has to ingest every day. They all, according to her father, have side effects. Her mother mentioned that Zora had been prescribed 20 mg. of Valium every, single day. How many adults could function that way? Obviously, the families of children with Dravet Syndrome have tried twenty-first century medicine and have exhausted their options. As I described in my earlier post, “Zora Needs Your Help,” (January 17, 2014) many of our most common medications are derived from plants. I grow vegetables in my garden in the summer. I have trees all over my yard. When someone says, “It’s a plant,” I don’t hear horror movie music in the background.

Granted, we are all grateful that the FDA saves us from being at the mercy of dangerous substances, keeping our food supply clean and carefully testing our medications, but they are a gigantic government organization, and as such, they can’t help but move like the Vogons in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. In the same way that I research the origin of the foods that I eat and trust Whole Foods more than Wal-Mart for meat, I look up my medications and talk about them with my doctor. Sometimes the gatekeeper is just keeping the gate closed on general principles, not for good reasons. We won’t even get into lobbyists, research grants, pharmaceutical companies, and other such entanglements.

ImageBack in 1994, my friend’s mother, Mary, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, as was Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. As one of the wealthiest women in the world, Ms. Onassis received the best conventional treatment possible, and yet she died on May 23rd, the same day as Mary’s first illegal nontoxic chemotherapy treatment. Mary’s husband was a professor, and so he was one of the first people I knew who had the internet at home. He researched thoroughly, mortgaged their house, and flew his wife to Texas, where a doctor was willing to try unconventional treatments for cancer. They worked. After the doctor was arrested and shut down, Mary flew to Bermuda to continue treatment. She also maintained a careful macrobiotic diet (plants!) and supplements. Today, she is in her eighties, still lunching with the ladies and living a happy life. Her treatment is still not approved by the FDA. Do you think she or her family cares?

The point is that children with Dravet Syndrome do not have time for the FDA to spend decades on testing, nor do they have time to elect new legislators who will care about children without worrying about how support for medical marijuana might affect future elections. We all need to work with our current legislators. You may be surprised, as I have been, at how compassionate they are. They just need information. Call them. Write to them. These are the United States; if a child can get medicine in one state, she should be able to get it in all states. Please hurry! I don’t want my neighbors to move to Colorado.

_____________

Information on Bertha Madras is taken from the following sources:

*Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bertha_Madras. Accessed on February 15, 2014.

“Medical Marijuana Reflects an Indifference to Public Health,” [a paper] by Bertha K. Madras, Ph.D.  http://www.drugfreebusiness.org/Media/documents/Reference%20Documents/Madras_Cannabis_Feb_2011.pdf Accessed on February 15, 2014.

*The Fix, an addiction and recovery website. http://www.thefix.com/content/otc-naloxone-fda-meeting8410. Accessed February 15, 2014.

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I Thought Wintry Mix Was a Snack Food

ImageEven for a snow lover like me, this has been enough winter. Temperatures cold enough to send my paycheck directly to Duke Power, several skids on slippery roads, and now, instead of toasted pecans and dried cranberries falling from the sky, we get ice. It’s February in North Carolina! Where are the daffodils?

Thanks to Facebook, I know that I am not alone. I read of my co-workers who ended up abandoning their vehicles by the side of the road in yesterday’s storm, being picked up by intrepid husbands or bunking down with friends within walking distance. For myself, I was pacing and praying a good bit until Michael drove in the driveway, his black car heaped with snow. After that, I was happy to watch the snow falling—until it turned into something else. We had to open the door and listen to the hissing sound to figure out that it was sleet. So far, though, we still have power!

Hard to believe that just last Saturday, I was pulling weeds in my garden boxes and dreaming of spring.

And Puppies Don’t Turn Into Kittens, Either

Lately, we have had the misfortune to be able to observe America’s mourning practices up close several times. So many of these rituals have developed over the years as a way to show respect and love to people—even strangers—who are going through the worst of human experiences. In the South, at least in small towns and rural areas, people still pull their cars over to the side and wait for a funeral procession to go by. This practice, along with the provision of endless casseroles, is a simple and beautiful way of acknowledging that we are all part of one community, and that we will all be in the chief mourner’s spot at some time.

ImageOn the other hand, pop culture can turn the gravest matters into misplaced kitsch with the best of intentions. The one thing that really makes me twitch—even more than teddy bears at a crash site—is the idea that people who die turn into angels in heaven. What a stroke of metaphysical macroevolution! In the Bible, people who are believers are called saints, and when they get to heaven, they are still called saints. Despite all the Raphael paintings of fat babies with wings, angels in the Bible are pretty terrifying. That’s why they’re always saying, “Fear not!”

Beyond the baby cherubs, though, I blame Hollywood for this misunderstanding. Oh, come on, let’s blame Hollywood for all misunderstandings! Think of the movies that have been made about angels earning their wings, starting with the beloved It’s a Wonderful Life. Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings? Does that extend to all of my cell phone notification rings? Perhaps cell phone dings earn the angel virtual wings. Pretty soon, this place is going to be full of fluffy feathers, though, so we must stop this nonsense. Forsake pop theology immediately, or I will smash all of your Precious Moments figurines.

So Why Did I Have a Flu Shot?

ImageIn our house, we had the flu.

Two of us had a flu shot, too.

What is the flu shot meant to do?

 

My poor husband was really sick with a bad cold for two weeks. After a bit, he complained of being achy, and I swore that he was feverish. Being the manly man that he is, he exclaimed, “Pshaw!” (or something equally dismissive) and declared that he was fine. When he went to his doctor for a regular check-up, his doctor said, “This is not a cold! This is the flu!” And being the wifely wife that I am, I said, “I told you so.”

After more than a week, though, Michael started sniffling, and a few days after that, I fell to the virus, too. The thing is that, unlike David, we had both had a flu shot! So we got Zippity Flu. Instead of having a fever for days, you have a fever for twelve hours. Aches are held down to a few hours, and instead of hacking up a lung, the cough is just incredibly annoying. I was only sick for a week, while David wasn’t completely back to himself for three weeks.

What is the deal here? Is the wrong strain of flu in the vaccine, or is the virus much stronger than usual this year? I am very grateful to have had a light case, since, as a reader and Downton Abbey fan, I know that people used to die of influenza regularly. Without the vaccine, our chances of survival are really no different today, since hardly anyone goes to the doctor to be treated with Tamiflu, the effectiveness of which is still considered iffy. So, I will queue up for the shot again next year, like the good government worker that I am, but I think I’ll encourage David to visit his doctor early in the season, too. I’m sure it will still be free. Maybe.

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Dear Mr. Knightley, by Katherine Reay

ImageSamantha Moore had a tragic childhood, but she has found a way to cope. While being passed from one foster home to another, she discovered that she always did well in school, especially in English literature. When real life was too harsh, she disappeared into other lives: Elizabeth Bennet’s, Jane Eyre’s, or Elinor Dashwood’s. For times when she had to act fierce, she personified the Count of Monte Cristo’s Edmond Dantes. Samantha finds it difficult to make friends, partly because she tends to talk in lengthy quotations from the classics rather than using words of her own.

As the novel opens, Father John, the head of the group home where Sam has lived since her teens, has good news for her. Sam has been casting about for direction in her life, and Father John has found an anonymous donor who will give her a grant to graduate school at Northwestern University. The catch is that it is in journalism, not English lit. The only requirement is that she write to the donor regularly to keep him abreast of her progress, and so the novel is composed almost completely of Samantha’s letters to her benefactor, who asks her to call him Mr. Knightley, after the hero of Austen’s Emma.

Sam struggles with grad school, especially with one terrifying professor who gives her the first poor grades she’s ever had. He says that he cannot hear her own voice in her writing, and that she is holding back. Sometimes Sam thinks about quitting, and if she doesn’t please this one instructor, he may take that decision out of her hands. Adding to her stress, Father John has asked her to mentor one of the new teens at Grace House, a surly boy who runs almost as fast as she does. Her one bright spot is that she gets to meet one of her author heroes, Alex Powell, who is much younger than she expected. All of these details of her life are faithfully relayed to Mr. Knightley, and since he never writes back, her letters become more of a journal, and as time goes on she reveals more and more of her emotions and her inner transformation.

I read this sweet novel while I had the flu, and it was just what the doctor ordered: a romance with a bit of substance and a bit of fun. As a reader, you’ll see the end coming a mile away, but you’d be terribly disappointed in a romance with a tragic ending, wouldn’t you? Samantha goes through some true character development in this book, changes that are necessary for her to succeed in life, and the reader will be coaxing her on the whole way. This novel is perfect for everyone—well, maybe every woman—and since it’s by Thomas Nelson publishers, it’s perfectly fine to lend to your teenage daughter, as well. Enjoy!

Disclaimer: I read an advance reader copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Running Scared: Fear, Worry, and the God of Rest, by Edward T. Welch

ImageWhen this book arrived at our church bookstore last fall, it sold out in two Sundays. There is a simple reason for this: We’re all a bunch of worriers! As Dr. Welch tells us, the most frequent commandment in the Bible is not “Do not kill,” or “Do not lie,” it’s “Do not be afraid.” Are you surprised? Think about every time an angel appears to someone in scripture. It’s the first thing they say, because, let’s face it, we’d all be dumbstruck in that situation. When Joshua was about to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land, God told him, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you may go.” (Joshua 1:9) My favorite is on the other end of the Bible, in Luke 12:32, where Jesus tells his disciples, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” I’m not sure why it’s so comforting to be a part of a small group of sheep, but there it is.

In the first part of this book, Welch gives statistics and examples of the universality of worry. Every age has its own fears. Children’s fears are mostly physical, worrying about the monster under the bed or the neighbor’s big dog. Teens add social fears onto those, with fears about not fitting in or not finding a true relationship. Adults don’t lose those fears, but they add on even more fears about money, security for their loved ones, and death. There are entire industries that are making big profits in trading on your fears, from fashion to internet security to Hollywood! These are not wrong in themselves, but if our fears become obsessive, we can become crippled in our ability to live life to the fullest.

Dr. Welch advises that we take a good long look at our fears—name them, even write them down. They are very revealing. The things you worry about are your treasures. These are the material goods or relationships or life circumstances that you truly value. Have you ever known someone who considered worrying a virtue? They feel that the one who frets the most is the most loving. Caring for things or people is not wrong, but fretting about them reveals a lack of trust in God’s care. While you should make plans and work hard to fulfill your obligations, we’d rather be God than trust him. You cannot change the past, and you may not have the future. Worry, however, can certainly ruin the present.

The middle section of the book tackles what Dr. Welch sees as the three greatest fears:

  • Fears About Money and Possessions
  • Fear of Other People’s Opinions
  • Fear of Death and Judgment

From the varying lengths of these chapters, I suspect that most people worry about money and financial security more than anything else. This section is the reason I bought the book! Of course, I can do combination platters, as well, and worry about what people think of my lack of money. Even better, I can combine all three and worry about what people would think if I did not have medical procedures done because I can’t afford it. This anxiety hits me in the dentist’s chair quite often. We can all be creative in our worries, can’t we?

Here Welch applies what he calls the Manna Principle, recalling the time that the Israelites were traveling through the desert and had nothing to eat. They were ready to turn around and go back into slavery in Egypt. Now, here are the Israelites, who had just walked through the Red Sea and witnessed God’s deliverance from 400 years of slavery, whining and complaining about pretty much everything. It’s so easy to think, “What a bunch of brats!” If you’ve lived for more than a few years, however, you start to notice how much we all act like the Israelites at times. How long does it take us to complain about our circumstances when hard times come, even though we were quite sure of God’s loving mercy not long ago? God heard the Israelites, just as he hears us, and he sent manna, something no one had ever seen before.  If you’re familiar with the story, you’ll remember that the people were told to only gather enough for today, except on the day before the Sabbath, when they should gather enough for two days. Naturally, they tried to hoard it anyway, and the extra manna rotted—except on the Sabbath. They failed that test! The Manna Principle tells us that God is near to us and does hear us, that he often acts only in the eleventh hour, that he gives us what we need for each day, and that his deliverance often contains a test. He is not trying to wave a magic wand and give us every little thing our hearts desire; he is building a relationship. He is teaching us to trust. He will give us grace for today, and when tomorrow comes, he will give us grace for that day, too, but not until then.

In the New Testament, Jesus expands this principle in the Sermon on the Mount, when he says, “Therefore, I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?… Therefore, do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Mt. 6:25, 34) In this beautiful passage, Jesus points us to greater promises, but we are stymied by our focus on our fears. In the story of the woman at the well, Dr. Welch shows that Jesus performed the ultimate anti-bait and switch. The woman thought she was asking for physical food and drink, but since she was talking to the king, she received spiritual food and drink, as well as an invitation to the eternal kingdom. She asked for something good, and got something much better.

Many people are also filled with fear about what other people think of them. Remember the teenaged fear of peer pressure? It never goes away completely. People want to be liked, to have their emotional needs met, to get a promotion, or even to be famous. Since we all live here together, it is natural to want to have harmonious feelings all around, but when we are willing to do just about anything—even if it’s against our beliefs—so that others will think well of us, we are unbalanced in our relationships. In order to counteract a debilitating fear of man, Welch recommends developing a healthy fear of God. Meditate on the holiness of God and realize that the only reason you have hope is because he has set his affection on you. He didn’t have to, and we certainly don’t deserve it, but we can rejoice in it. When we get a clear picture of God’s perfection and holiness, fear of God is a sensible response that will make our fear of man seem foolish.

Fear of death is probably the most difficult of all. Dr. Welch writes that God does not guarantee that nothing bad will ever happen to us, but he does tell us that he will be with us and that everything is under his control. We can and should pray that our loved ones will be well, but someday they will die—and so will we. There are many reasons for this that take up entire books of theology, but the fact is that we live after the fall and we will all die. We may not understand suffering and death, but God gives us ample reason to believe that he loves us and that we should not mourn as those without hope. (1 Thess. 4:13) If we believe the gospel, we know that this life is not all that there is, and we can trust him. Other people, even Christians, fear the judgment that follows death, and reading and studying the gospel will help us to find comfort in our adoption as heirs. Welch discusses the fact that some of the fear of judgment may come from unconfessed sin, either in the past or present, and recommends that you speak with a Christian pastor or trusted friend if you cannot find peace in prayer.

The last part of the book is called “Peace Be with You,” and here he brings the entire message together with a few chapters on why and how to pray, followed by a beautiful meditation on the meaning of the word shalom. Welch discusses how God revealed himself to individuals throughout scripture, showing that he is near to us and knows our fears already. Although God may sometimes work in spectacular miracles, his usual way is to build a strong foundation and nurture gradual, deep-rooted growth. As we seek his face, we will discover shalom, which means “peace,” but implies so much more: harmony, well-being, and contentment, to name a few. Isn’t that what we all want? We can’t bring it about ourselves, despite all of our worrying and fretting. God understands your troubles, and he desires to give you peace.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27)

___________

Disclaimer: I own a copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my church, employer, or anyone else.

Scripture quotations are taken from the English Standard Version (ESV), Crossway Bibles, 2004. (Or 1500-ish B.C. to 100-ish A.D.)

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