On the Twelfth Day of Christmas….

Did you ever wonder why Christmas is on December 25th? … or why we decorate pine trees if Jesus was born in the Middle East? To make the long story short (while begging forgiveness from my theology professors for the oversimplification), it has to do with the Roman Empire adopting Christianity as the state religion in the 4th century. When the Romans moved to conquer what is now England and Germany, the people they were conquering were more than a little reluctant to give up their celebration of the solstice and their understanding of the wonder of trees…. so the two religions “merged”, allowing these symbols to become part of the Christian tradition.

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And what about the 12 days of Christmas? Christmas (the religious holiday, not the shopping season) starts on December 25th and ends twelve days later on January 6th (Epiphany)… hence 12 days.

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As I thought about the holiday season, and the 12 days of Christmas, I came up with a different idea to celebrate this season… What if we all started a new tradition of donating a small amount to worthy groups for twelve days?  

I’ve listed twelve of my favorite charities below, but feel free to come up with your own. Even if you donate a few dollars to each one, you are celebrating the season of Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza and the Solstice in a powerful way.

  1. Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontiers). This amazing group takes medical care into parts of the world where no one else will go. Their entire charter is worth reading, but they live by “observing neutrality and impartiality in the name of universal medical ethics and the right to humanitarian assistance.”
  2. Your local food bank. Whatever preconceived notion you might have about hunger in America is almost surely wrong. So many families, Seniors and disabled folx rely on food banks. Make this year a time to learn more about hunger in America and donate to feed your neighbors.
  3. A local animal shelter. Kindness to animals is the mark of a compassionate heart.
  4. Neighborhood initiatives. Regardless of your own religious background, or lack thereof, mosques, churches, temples, and synagogues seek to help those in need. Find the places of worship in your neighborhood,  look online to see what good works they are doing, and donate to help them. Better yet, take your donation in person to meet your neighbor and thank them for their work.
  5. Donate to help fight discrimination and oppression. There are so many important groups working for justice, a particularly important mission during this time of conflict and division. Consider donating to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Human Rights Campaign, RAICES, Human Rights Watch, the ACLU or other groups focusing on justice for all.
  6. Action Against Hunger.  This group spends 94% of the money they raise in 47 countries to “take decisive action against the causes and effects of hunger.”
  7. The National Alliance to End Homelessness. You can also donate to local shelters for the homeless, or programs like Healthcare for the Homeless in your town or city.
  8. Prevent Child Abuse America. As someone who works with abused children, I would also encourage you to donate to the chaplain program at your local children’s hospital. The chaplains see the specific needs of these children – but more often than not don’t have resources to provide meal vouchers, toys or clothes to help a family during these moments of tragedy and pain.
  9. Consider donating to a group that is working to stop climate change, or other groups that advocate for and protect our natural resources such as the American Bird Conservancy or the Nature Conservancy.
  10. Make sure an isolated senior has a visitor and food by donating to Meals on Wheels.
  11. Time. If you don’t have money to donate, make a commitment to volunteer with a local group to help others. “You make a living by what you get. You make a life by what you give.” ~Winston Churchill
  12. I am personally involved with FAM Houston (consider this my COI declaration!), a group that inspires me through their mission of “working for justice by building empowered community among refugees, immigrants, and local Houstonians.” Through building friendships and creating community they show that any light, no matter how small, is a miracle of love. If you are in need of a worthy group for your twelfth day of Christmas donation, please consider them!

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Last minute holiday gifts for busy people in your life

There’s still time!

If you have a medical student, resident, physician or anyone who is super busy in your family, here are few last minute gift ideas for you….

A Letter

I’m starting with this one because even though it’s obvious, we forget the power of stories in our lives to heal and support each other. Consider writing a long letter with stories about how they inspire you, when they decided on their career, funny events, etc.  Stress joy, humor… and gratitude.

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Spotify and/or Pandora without commercials

Many of us study with music, and most of us work (at least sometimes) with music in the background. These two platforms are currently the most used in the hospital. Being able to listen to the music of your choice without commercials is a great gift!

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InstantPot

Of all the cooking appliances and gifts, this one is the best for people who want to eat well but don’t have a lot of time. Even if you have to wrap the “IOU” (i.e. a picture of the InstantPot), it will be a very appreciated gift!

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A clean home

No one likes to clean their home, but all of us need this!  Even if it’s a deep clean every 3 months for a year, this is a great gift for anyone. Although there are professional services you can find, consider contacting local places of worship or non-profit organizations who may know responsible individuals who need the work.

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A subscription to Headspace

This one might seem a little strange, but you’ll have to trust me. For anyone who is “too busy” this is an easy way to really stop – even for 10 minutes a day – and “refuel”. BTW, get yourself a subscription (or at least try the first 10 lessons which are free). You’re welcome 🙂

Link to Andy Puddicombe’s TED talk (the founder of Headspace)

Other ideas for gift certificates

  • A healthy grocery store
  • A smoothie or juice shop
  • Their favorite restaurant(s)
  • Car wash
  • Starbucks (or even better, a local coffee shop near them)
  • Prepared healthy meals from one of the many companies that do this now
  • Membership to the YMCA or a gym near them
  • A new bicycle? (we never get too old to love this!)
  • “Date night” certificates for movies, plays or music and a meal
  • A favorite museum

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Happy New Year’s Resolutions!

Like most of you, my New Years resolutions in past years have been something like “Exercise every day” or “Eat fruits and vegetables with every meal.” And, I bet that you had the same experience I did… a few weeks of “success” and then they seemed to fade away. The problem with these kinds of goals are how they are structured. They end up being “either-or” goals … you are either able to do them or, more often, you miss a day (or two… or three) and feel like a failure.

I recently read a blog post by Ryder Carroll, the originator of the Bullet Journal which profoundly changed the way I think about goal setting and New Year’s Resolutions

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It’s a simple, but very powerful concept. Set your goal as a destination… as a “lighthouse” in the distance, and then head in that direction every day. As Ryder Carroll explains, “When goals are lighthouses, success is defined by simply showing up, by daily progress no matter how big or small…”

So instead of the usual New Year’s Resolutions, pick a few “lighthouse goals”. Write them down and keep track of how you are doing (every journey needs a map). This can be as simple as one piece of paper for each goal, but I am such a fan of the Bullet Journal, I hope you consider using it.

When you get up every morning think about how to move towards your goal(s). If you veer off course, that’s part of the journey…. look up, find your lighthouse, and correct your course.  Every once in a while (maybe monthly?), look at the progress you’ve made and celebrate it! If, on the other hand, the goals you originally chose don’t make sense for you any more, pick some new goals, draw a new map and start over.

Potential New Year “Lighthouse” goals

  • Learn more about compassion and practice it
  • Be a better friend
  • Write genuine thank you notes to people who have helped me
  • Become more fit
  • Eat real food for as many meals a week as I can
  • Find out more about who I really am through meditation
  • Keep a “stop doing” list
  • Be better at my work through deliberate practice (practicing and learning the things I don’t like and aren’t good at until I’m better)
  • Stay organized so I don’t waste time (and end up focusing on trivial things instead of what’s really important)
  • Read things that bring me joy
  • Learn about and use a Bullet Journal
  • Find a community to support me
  • Learn the names of as many people at work as I can
  • Take the stairs as often as I can
  • Make my living spaces enjoyable spaces
  • Keep a journal to remember milestones and work out struggles
  • Get good sleep as often as possible
  • Learn Spanish (or any new language)
  • Be on time
  • Remember people’s birthdays and send a card
  • Start the day with intention
  • Appropriately limit email and social media time

Holiday Gifts for Medical Students, Residents, Physicians and Other Busy People


Every year I try to post gift suggestions for the family and friends of people in medicine (and all other busy professions).  Here are this year’s suggestions!

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Listen.  A great friend of mine told me once that human beings heal by telling stories. There are lots of stories in medicine that go untold, but I promise you there are stories. Listen mindfully, without judgment and without trying to “fix” anything. Start with “Tell me a story about something that amazed you”… and then take it from there. 

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Write a letter.  Write a “letter of recommendation”. Yes, I’m serious! Not a letter to “get” or be elected to anything, but a letter that shows you know who they really are and how amazing it is that they have dedicated themselves to something so important. Make it a love letter, a letter of support, a letter with family history to encourage them… but a real letter. Write it on a computer and then print it, or use some beautiful stationary and a pen, but create a physical letter that will sit on their desk. Put the letter in a special box (something you might add to from time to time with other short letters?). 

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Instant Pot. There are kitchen conveniences, there are fads, and then there is the Instant Pot. This has taken on almost cult like status among users for a reason. It’s a 6 in one device (pressure cooker, slow cooker, rice cooker, saute, steamer and warmer) that makes it easy to cook healthy food. For students and residents, the 6 quart basic Instant Pot does everything you need it to do, but feel free to choose one with more bells and whistles if you want. 

A cleaning service. No one likes to clean toilets. And, if you are working 80 hours a week, housework takes away precious personal time to socialize, exercise or restore your batteries in other ways. If you are in a position to do so, see if you can make this a win-win by working with a church, refugee placement group or another social justice group to find someone specific who really needs this kind of work. Whether it’s a one time “deep clean”, a monthly clean, or weekly cleaning and laundry, any help will be a deeply appreciated gift. Another approach is to do a little “sneaky” homework – your loved one may have a friend who has already found someone wonderful who might need more work.

 

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The Gift of Organization.  I have become a huge fan of the Bullet Journal. It is incredibly easy, very versatile and, I believe, a perfect system for medical students, residents and docs. (especially when paired with a list on your smart phone when you are separate from your Bullet Journal). Choose a good Moleskin journal and the new book by Ryder Carroll, who developed this technique, and wrap them together as a perfect gift. If you want to really make their day, include a package of good (but not too expensive) pens

A gym membership (and other related gifts).  It’s really hard to find time to exercise if you are busy, but it’s critical for mental and physical health. There are a lot of options here, but they need to be specific to the likes and dislikes of your loved one. If they are a runner, maybe a gift certificate for new shoes? Do they like spin classes? If so, check out where the good classes are near them. Same for yoga, dance, ice skating, tennis, swimming, etc. A membership at a YMCA ( if there is one near them) will give them access to weights, classes and often a pool. Would they commute to school/work if they had a good bicycle? Can you get them a new watch or fitness monitor that will help count steps and flights of stairs? Would an “on the go” exercise kithelp them? 

A Meditation App.  I tell my students that if they can only pick one thing on the self-care list to choose, that this would be it. There are plenty of data that show the stress-reducing benefits of meditation. What is amazing is that if you have a meditation practice the other self-care is easier, too. This is a great tool to help meet the goal to be better and happier physicians. 

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Your time.Can you cook some meals once a month and put them in their freezer?  Do laundry? Bake cookies and mail them? Get their car washed every once in a while? Make an elaborate certificate with something you could do for them and wrap it as a present?

 Need other ideas?  Here are links to some previous lists: 201720162014,

Hope

After passing through this year’s holiday season at the end of what has seemed a particularly difficult year, I have a great sense of hope for the new year.

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In addition to our usual understanding of the word “hope”, it turns out that hope is also “a sloping plain between mountain ridges.”  I love this definition…. so maybe hope is also the moments when our journey is a little easier between the times we are climbing?

I wish joyful hope for you in the coming year, mountains to climb for the right reasons, and sloping plains to ease your journey when you are tired. Happy New Year!

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Gratitude, Thanksgiving and Being On Call

Thanksgiving week is here. Our families will gather together to eat our traditional meal, swap stories, argue about whether cornbread or white bread dressing is better and nap on the couch while watching football. I’m in charge of the corn bread (my great grandmother’s recipe) and the corn bread dressing (my grandmother’s recipe).  It’s a great time to recharge and to be thankful for family, food on our table, and the many gifts in our lives.

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I’m not on call this Thanksgiving, but I have been in the past.  I have a fond memory of Thanksgiving when I was the Chief Resident in our county hospital Emergency Room.  I bought the traditional dinner, including a large turkey, for my team… and then realized we didn’t have enough microwaves to heat it up properly.  I won’t go into the details of how we handled the problem…. but it turned out that the rarely used autoclave in the ER was big enough for a turkey.  We were grateful for ingenuity and a hot dinner!

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I will be thinking of the physicians, in practice and in training, who will sacrifice time with their families this year to take care of others.  To the physicians, nurses, hospital staff, police officers, fire fighters, soldiers, clerks and anyone else who spend this holiday helping others – thank you.  We are grateful.

 

“Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.”  William Arthur Ward

Merry Everything!

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To all who learn and teach, and to all who are working during this holiday season in hospitals for the benefit of the ill and injured – blessings of the season.

Brandt Family Cranberry Bread (Traditional Christmas morning breakfast bread)

Mix dry ingredients together in a bowl:

  • 2 cups  flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda

Combine in a Pyrex measuring cup:

  • 2 Tblsp melted butter
  • Juice and grated rind of one large orange

Fill with boiling water to make 3/4 cup then add to dry ingredients. Then add the following to the batter

  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup nuts (chopped walnuts)
  • 1 cup raw cranberries (cut in half)

Bake in loaf pan (325° for metal pan, 300° for glass pan) for 1 hour

  • Test with toothpick

 

 

If you are particularly motivated to bake and give some away to neighbors and friends multiplying by 9 is the key to easy measurement:

Mix dry ingredients together in a bowl:

1 5 lb bag  flour

1 4 lb bag sugar

1 1/2 tblsp salt

4 1/2 tblsp baking powder

1 1/2 tblsp baking soda

Combine in a Pyrex measuring cup:

1 1/8 cup melted butter  (2.25 sticks)

Juice and grated rind of nine large oranges

Fill with boiling water to make 6 3/4 cup then add to dry ingredients

Add 9 eggs

9 cup nuts (chopped walnuts) = 3 lbs

9 cup raw cranberries (cut in half) = 3 12 oz bags

Bake in loaf pans (325° for metal pan, 300° for glass pan) for 1 hour

Test with toothpick

Thanksgiving Cornbread

Every year at Thanksgiving, I make my great grandmother Sallie’s cornbread recipe.  She and my great grandfather were “dirt farmers” in Oklahoma during the depression.  This bread, plus some beans, was their dinner many nights. Their life on the farm was not easy, but it was a life that provided the simple necessities.

Every year at Thanksgiving as I mix the ingredients for this cornbread, and then make the stuffing for the turkey, I have the delight of remembering my great-grandmother.  It always leads to a sense of gratitude for her, all my ancestors and my family.

I don’t want you to just sit down at the table.
I don’t want you to just eat and be content.
I want you to walk out into the fields
Where the water is shining and the rice has risen.
I want you to stand there far from this white tablecloth.
I want you to fill your hands with mud, like a blessing.

-Mary Oliver

 

  • Mix together with a big spoon
    • 1 cup corn meal
    • 1/2 cup flour
    • 1 tsp soda
    • 1/2 tsp baking powder
    • 1/4 tsp salt
  • Make a large “hole” in the middle of the dry mixture with the spoon
    • Beat one egg with a fork, add 1 tablespoon of oil (or melted butter) into well in the middle of the dry mixture and mix with a fork
    • Add 1 cup of buttermilk
  • Let rise while heating the oven to 450 degrees (about 10 minutes)
  • Gently whip down with a fork
  •  Grease a one layer cake pan, cast iron skillet or 8” square pan with oil
  • Bake 20-25 minutes (until a toothpick or knife comes out clean)

So that’s my great grandmother’s recipe (and yes, the photo at the top of this post is of her and my great grandfather). But, this recipe doesn’t make enough for Thanksgiving – so I’ve figured out the math for you to make enough for your family,  If you don’t have two cast iron skillets, no worries. Use muffin tins, cake loafs, whatever you have. I have modified her original recipe by using butter instead of oil, but feel free to use either.

  • Heat the oven to 450 degrees
  • Melt 7 tablespoons of butter in the microwave (a stick is 8 tablespoons, so I add that little extra)
  • Combine the dry ingredients
    • One bag of cornmeal (2lb)
    • 3 1/2 cups of flour
    • 7 tsp of baking soda
    • 3 1/2 tsp of baking powder
    • 2 1/2 tsp of salt
  • Make a large “hole” in the middle of the dry mixture with the spoon
    • Add seven eggs (beaten with a fork) and the melted butter into well in the middle of the dry mixture and mix
    • Add “7” cups of buttermilk – the batter should pour but not be too thin
  • Put a tablespoon of oil (or two) into two cast iron skillets and put them in the oven for 4-5 minutes (let the cornbread batter rest during this time)
  • Pour any excess oil from the pans then pour the batter into the hot cast iron skillets.
  • Bake ~25 minutes.

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