Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Companion Planting

Photo courtesy of Stephanie Stein.
The green onions are about twice as
tall as the photo shows and very thick.
A while ago, I wrote a post about our patio garden. In that post, I shared one of my biggest learnings: a successful small container garden is like an ecosystem. Many edible plants do best when they have flowers and other plants supporting them, acting as repellants for undesirable bugs and as attractions for good critters.

While pest control is certainly one important aspect of the ecosystem, I have since learned that plants can be compatible for a host of reasons. A friend tipped me off that she planted her green onion and chili pepper plants together in the same pot, because she had read they support one another. The peppers had a good yield, and the onions got huge!

I started reading more about it and learned that this is called “companion planting.” Companion plants may help each other by producing higher yields, better flavor, disease resistance, and/or pest control.

Conversely, some plants may actually stunt growth when planted together. For example, while garlic and onions may work great with pepper plants, they are known to stunt the growth of beans and peas. Tomatoes and potatoes are also not a good match, as they can be negatively affected by the same blight and may spread this to each other. Corn, mature dill, and kohirabi are also poor companions for tomatoes.

Seasoned gardeners have compiled extensive lists of plants that make great companions and sorry enemies. To read more about the relationships between specific plants that interest you (and to find companion planting charts), see here and here.

As we start our next garden, I hope to put this companion planting knowledge to work, as well as learn new skills and information, in order to grow a successful, healthy, and delicious crop!



Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Encountering Jesus

My mother-in-law gave me a book called, "A Balm for Gilead: Meditations on Spirituality and the Healing Arts," by Daniel P. Sulmasy. As I have read this work, a handful of ideas and prayers have struck me as quite profound and have stayed with me.

One I wanted to share in particular is a new take on the passage Matthew 25:31-40. Here are the words of Jesus:
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
I have always read this passage to mean that when we serve those who are on the outside, remember those who are forgotten, uplift those who are downtrodden, empower those who are oppressed, then we are caring for those who are close to Jesus' own heart. In this sense, when we love the "least of these," we are showing that our hearts are aligned with Jesus' heart, as well as serving those who are experiencing many of the trials Jesus himself experienced (poverty, rejection, etc.) And Jesus will remember these acts as evidence that the Holy Spirit was doing God's work of love and healing through us. 

In his book, however, Sulmasy takes this a step further by suggesting to those of us in the health care field that an encounter with a person suffering from illness or pain is an encounter with Jesus himself. There is some aspect of a sick patient that reflects the person of Jesus directly. It is not just metaphorical that we are helping someone like Jesus, but rather, we are encountering the Christ incarnate in some way. Sulmasy reminds us that Jesus said, "I was sick and you visited me." In Sulmasy's own words,
"To be a  healer is to find God in those in need of healing. For the Christian, healing is a direct encounter with the divine. And that encounter, if genuine, necessarily causes personal transformation. In the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37), the priest and the Levite ignore God when they ignore the wounded man, and so their lives remain unchanged - they keep walking down the same path. The man the Good Samaritan finds bleeding on the side of the road is really the Lord. And in picking him up and binding his wounds, the Samaritan's life is changed.... 
"...So, although religious health care professionals may often want to understand themselves as 'channels' for God's healing power, Christianity teaches that they would perhaps be better served if they understood themselves first and foremost as persons privileged to serve God by serving the sick (p. 24)."
For me, what seemed at first to be a subtle shift in perspective, upon further prayer and meditation, turned out to be earth shaking. When I look into the eyes of a person in the midst of physical or spiritual pain, can I see Jesus Christ himself? And if so, how will I encounter him, and what will he show me? How will I respond? While I still believe that God may use health care professionals as a conduit for his work and love in the world, I am also moved to think that upon my next encounter with human illness, if I look for it, I may see the glimmer of Christ incarnate.

How that will change the way I look at a person!




To learn more about how Jesus has shaped my drive to serve through public health, check out my post, "Jesus as a Community Organizer?"

Friday, April 8, 2016

The Unhealthy Comparison Game


About a month ago, a friend posted the below meme on her social media page.


I chuckled a little to myself, recognizing that like many young moms, she has undoubtedly received more than her fair share of unsolicited opinions about her life choices. And she is looking on the bright side of things!

But then I stopped smiling. I have friends who have had children young, but also many who have had children later in life (or who are still waiting) for a whole host of reasons. I wondered what they would think. What the post was really saying was, "Stop judging my life choice. To prove my point, I will judge your life choice (or something that might not have even been your choice) even more. So there! Take that!"

It dawned on me that this was human nature on display. Why is it so much easier to look on the bright side when we can look down on someone else?

This is not just a phenomenon of parenting.

When I was in fifth grade, I remember walking out of the locker room for gym class on the first day that was warm enough to wear shorts. I heard laughter and felt certain it was directed at my chicken legs.  (I still had no calves in site when I ran cross country and lifted daily in high school, so I was doomed biologically.) I remember feeling hurt, but I brushed it off and cheered myself up by thinking, "Oh yeah, well at least I am smarter than all of you."

And so at the ripe old age of ten, I began a long career of making myself feel better by looking down on others, usually without even realizing it.

I think it can be healthy when we learn to appreciate our strengths or the positives of our circumstance when confronted with weaknesses and challenges. This is not to say we should be blind to our situation, but rather, we can rest assured that no one is good at everything or experiences every advantage, but everyone is good at something and has something to contribute; I have gifts that I bring to the table.

But it is all too easy to corrupt an awareness of our strengths or good fortune into a self righteous comparison with others. This is especially true when we are feeling insecure in some way.

At least I look more attractive, run faster, write better, work harder, earn more money, sing louder, eat healthier, keep my house cleaner, act more responsibly, have a more prestigious title, drive a faster car, volunteer more of my time, go on better vacations, pray more, keep better friends, get more attention from the opposite sex, parent better, have seen more of the world, paint more beautifully, invest wiser, went to a better college, cook tastier, you-name-your-favorite-point-of-pride than that other person or group.

But I am convinced that this way of thinking does not have nearly the positive effects we think it will.  It is ultimately born out of jealousy and the need to feel important. The problem is, no matter how many merits we accumulate, there is always going to be someone else who is smarter, faster, and better than we are. We can never be satisfied in this striving. In the end, we have made someone else feel lower, and we still do not come out on top.
God's word says, "But if you are bitterly jealous and there is selfish ambition in your heart, don't cover up the truth with boasting and lying. For jealousy and selfishness are not God's kind of wisdom. Such things are earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind." (James 3:14-16) 
It also says, "For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you." (Romans 12:3) 
And finally, "But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me." (2 Corinthians 12:9) 

It is hard to love others when we are looking down on them, and it is difficult to really care about someone else's needs when we are focusing so intently on our own advancement and image. Not to mention, it really doesn't help us a whole lot, either.

Strong relationships and communities are built on honesty about our faults and hardships, celebrating each other's strengths and good fortune, and spurring each other on to grow. If we trust what God says in these passages, then we can let go of jealousy to embrace both our strengths and our weaknesses, because they both present opportunities for God to put his own greatness on display. And we can embrace the mantra that we are better as a group because of the amazing gifts every person brings to the table.

It is my hope that as I mature as a person, I will grow more secure in who I am in God's eyes, so that I can also grow more thankful for who others are, as well. It is my hope that I will stop making myself feel better by bringing others down.

I encourage you to consider what areas of your life might be points of unhealthy pride or comparison? How is self righteousness sucking life out of yourself and your community? How can you choose health by exercising thankfulness for what you have while also celebrating what others bring to the table?



p.s. I also recently read this great article about the comparison game among women and in parenting. It takes on a surprising and refreshing twist mid-article. And I think the attitudes and lessons it mentions apply to folks in every life situation. Check it out!  "No Leprechauns, No Valentine's Boxes, No Elves, and Why That is Okay"


Monday, March 14, 2016

My Day Care Pet Peeve

When I was looking for a day care for my young son, I read reviews on Yelp and looked at the photos for each place. I was shocked by how many professional licensed facilities had pictures of blankets and toys in baby cribs!

As a new parent, one of my biggest fears is Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), a term used to describe the sudden unexplained death of a child under age one. The experience of SIDS is tragic and heartbreaking for any family that goes through it.

Although much is still unknown about SIDS, many important risk factors are known, and by following the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) guidelines, parents and caregivers can significantly decrease the risk that this tragedy happens in their own home.

Among the recommendations, for children under the age of one, the AAP says that babies should sleep on their backs with no soft objects or loose bedding in the crib. This means no blankets or stuffed animals.


This advice makes sense to me, given the way I have seen my own baby interact with blankets when we are together (putting them in his mouth or grabbing and pulling them over his head). Babies who are still learning motor skills are able to get themselves into situations that they cannot get out of, and objects in a bed can shift at night. These scenarios can lead to suffocation if a child gets stuck with their nose and mouth against a soft object.

Yet based on the photos I saw and the in-person visits I made to facilities, there are many child care professionals still ignoring this critical advice!

Even at the day care we ultimately selected, which has kind and caring staff and a nurturing environment, we were asked to provide a blanket for our son, who was just shy of four months old when he started attending. Instead, I wrote on all his forms that he wears a sleep sack (see examples here, here, and here) to stay warm during naps and should never be given a blanket or any other object in his crib. His caregivers respect our wishes, and we know our son is safer for it.

Although we took care to make sure our son was sleeping based on the AAP guidelines, I cannot help but continue to be bothered by the countless other children who are not benefitting from a safe sleep environment - both at home and when left with people who are supposed to be child care experts.

I sincerely hope that caregivers - especially employees of licensed day cares - receive more comprehensive training on the topic of safe sleep. Parents are trusting these facilities and professionals with their little ones.

Precious lives may be at stake.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Thankful for the Common Cold

Perhaps a little too predictably, after his first week at day care, my baby has a cold. Which means I have a cold. We just got over another cold a couple weeks ago. Apparently, this is my new life.

Yesterday, I found myself sitting in a closet - I mean lactation room - at work, sniffling through my stuffy nose while pumping breast milk, feeling self-pity that God would have the nerve to let my baby get this cold. Hearing my baby wake himself up with coughing in the middle of the night, watching him struggle to breathe well through his dripping nose, and seeing his grumpy tired face on the days we are home together is really hard. No mom wants to watch her baby suffer, and with the common cold, there has been a serious limit to what I can do to make him more comfortable. To make matters worse, my brain seems to have rewired itself to make fretting over my son its own full-time job, something I scoffed at in others until the day he was born.

But then as that pump kept whirring, I had another thought.

I am privileged to be able to expend so much energy worrying about the common cold.

I was reminded of all the things I am not worrying about - of all the things I have to be thankful for. I am thankful that my child has plenty to eat. I am not worrying about malnutrition's effects on my baby's immune system, because I have money to buy food, a well stocked grocery store of safe foods within walking distance of my apartment, and even a private room to pump breast milk for my baby while I am at work.


I am thankful that just this morning I was able to drive five minutes from my home to a doctor's office to get vaccines for my son, so that I am not worrying about him being paralyzed by polio, suffering liver damage from Hepatitis B, or experiencing apnea or pneumonia as complications of whooping cough.

I am thankful to have clean water available from multiple taps in my home every day, so that I am not worrying about life-threatening diarrhea. I am thankful that I had a safe birth experience for my son and that my baby came home from the hospital with me a few short days later with a working heart, strong lungs, a cancer-free body, and an ever-growing curiosity about the world around him. I am thankful that my child has four living grandparents who love him to pieces. I am thankful that I have the financial situation and employer flexibility to work only three days per week, giving me two whole weekdays to play one-on-one with my son. I am thankful that the region where I live does not have malaria-carrying mosquitoes. I am thankful for access to life-saving antibiotics and medicines should my child ever need them. I am thankful to live without fear of daily bombings around my home. I am thankful that my son has a pack-and-play for sleeping, a car seat for safer travel, and an abundance of diapers, along with a huge network of generous friends and family.

The more I sat in that little room and thought about it, the longer the list grew. There are millions of parents throughout the world - and even in my own backyard - in the grip of deep suffering and fear for their children. I realized that in the big scheme of things, I really am one lucky mommy.

So while my ideal week would involve a little more sleep and a lot fewer boogers, today I feel thankful for all of the things I am not worrying about. And I am thankful for the freedom and privilege to worry about this little nuisance called the common cold.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Witness Misidentification: Exonerated by DNA Evidence After 11 Years for a Rape He Didn't Commit

I recently had the pleasure of talking to a lifelong friend who now works for The Innocence Project. The organization seeks to exonerate wrongfully convicted individuals through DNA testing. They also work to change criminal justice policies that contribute to such wrongful convictions. Since their founding, they have already exonerated 334 individuals; their clients have served an average of 14 years before being released. Many of the crimes they investigate are sexual assaults.
Source: http://www.innocenceproject.org/causes-wrongful-conviction
I have countless public health colleagues who are passionate about ending sexual violence. They are advocating for a culture of consent, fighting to change sexist notions and skewed views of masculinity, campaigning against the shame and stigma that many experience when they come forward about an assault, and working to help victims heal from the trauma of sexual violence. They are rightly angry that anyone has to experience this form of violence and that those who do may be deprived of the respect, care, and justice they deserve. This is an extremely important public health topic.

But what happens when a real crime has been committed, yet the wrong perpetrator is identified?

Approximately 82% of rapes are committed by an individual known to the victim. In these cases, witness misidentification is typically not an issue. But in the other 18% of cases, the assault may be the only instance when the victim sees their attacker, and they must rely on their memory of the traumatic event if and when there is an opportunity to identify the perpetrator.

My friend shared with me the story of Ronald Cotton and Jennifer Thompson. Thompson mistakenly identified Cotton in a 1984 lineup, feeling certain that his was the face of her rapist, a face she had painstakingly studied during the commission of the crime in the hopes of catching the man if she lived through the experience. In 1995, however, new DNA technology showed that Cotton was innocent and identified the real perpetrator, Bobby Poole. At that time, Poole was already in prison at the same facility as Cotton for other crimes he had committed. Thompson was shocked; she had been so sure.

Cotton                                            Poole

After Ronald Cotton's release, Cotton and Thompson became friends and have worked together to educate the public about wrongful conviction and to advocate for criminal justice reform. They even wrote a book together called, "Picking Cotton: Our Memoir of Injustice and Redemption."

My friend's passion for the issue and recanting of this true story piqued my interest, and I later watched the 60 Minutes episode about their experience. It is truly powerful.

This is not a story about false accusation due to a made-up story. Jennifer Thompson was raped. And it is not that Thompson was intentionally misidentifying her attacker. Rather, in a way, her memory was tricked when she initially saw a photo lineup that included Cotton and not Poole and noticed some key similar features, such as the angle of Cotton's eyebrows. (Cotton says that other inmates even sometimes confused he and Poole and called one by the other's name.) When Thompson picked Cotton out again in an in-person lineup a short time later, his face was cemented in her memory. Even at Cotton's re-trial in 1987 (before the DNA evidence surfaced), when Poole was in the court room due to a fellow convict's testimony that Poole had admitted to the rape, Thompson did not recognize Poole's face; she was still convinced Cotton was the perpetrator, and he was convicted a second time.

One of the most interesting and telling quotes in the 60 Minutes segment comes from the detective in the case. "Law enforcement wasn't schooled on memory. We weren't schooled in protecting memory, treating it like a crime scene, where you're very careful and methodical about what you do and how you use it. We weren't taught that in those days." (6:40 into the Part 2 video below)

I highly recommend watching the below 60 minutes episode. Not only does it tell the story of Cotton and Thompson, but it also goes into some very interesting scientific experiments on memory that will change the way you view eyewitness testimony.

60 Minutes "Eyewitness Testimony" Part 1


60 Minutes "Eyewitness Testimony" Part 2


While public health seeks to prevent sexual violence in the first place and fights for changes in the public discourse to create a culture of believing and empowering victims, my hope is that we not forget to promote true justice for both the Jennifer Thompsons and the Ronald Cottons of the world.



Thursday, December 10, 2015

Get a Breast Pump with no Copay!

Doctors, early childhood specialists, and public health professionals have shown that there are many benefits to breastfeeding for moms and babies who are able to do so. And a breast pump can help a mom continue providing milk for a baby even when she cannot feed him or her directly. For example, many working moms use breast pumps during the work day to express milk for day care the following day.

Since the passage of the Affordable Care Act - also known as Obamacare - many insurance plans now cover breast pumps at $0 copay. The law requires it! Since I have not seen this new benefit widely publicized, I thought I should share with others. (It is important to note that some plans may be grandfathered, meaning they do not have to comply with all of the new rules yet, and some public plans may not be required to offer this benefit at all. But there is a good chance that your insurance does cover it, so why not check?) If you are pregnant and wanting to use a breast pump, even occasionally, I definitely recommend at least looking into it - all it takes to verify is a quick phone call or email!

And the great part is many stores that sell breast pumps will do the work for you to find out what your insurance covers.

For example, Target has a breast pump program. You can either call the phone number listed on their program website or email them at TargetBreastPumpProgram@mckesson.com with the following information:

- full name
- date of birth
- expected due date or delivery date
- address
- phone number
- insurance name
- insurance member ID (including any letters)
- insurance group ID
- insurance phone number
- first and last name of your OBGYN or midwife
- doctor's phone number

They will then contact your insurance company on your behalf and email you back with information about which breast pumps are covered in full by your plan. They will also let you know how much it would cost to purchase an upgrade, for example, to get a bag that can hold all of the parts. Then you email back about which breast pump you want, they handle the insurance transaction behind the scenes, and you simply go pick it up at the location they tell you (a Target store near you).


I was amazed at how simple it was to acquire my breast pump. Now it is hard to imagine life without it! I was able to leave enough breast milk in the freezer for my husband to feed our eight-week-old son when I left them alone together for a long weekend. And I was able to enjoy participating in a friend's wedding across the country knowing that our baby would be well fed back at home!