Snow Day Sampler: WWJD?, Sock Singletons, & Trail of the Doodler

Outside, it’s -12 degrees Fahrenheit. Inside, I’ve been working all day in multiple layers of wool and fleece, with two snuggling dogs warming my legs on the couch. So, why not spare a few minutes to write down some of the random blog posts that have been lining up in my head and just waiting for me to let me fingers go free on the keyboard…


One of the things that I love about Twitter is the chance to encounter interesting humans who might not otherwise enter your sphere. Even better is when those interesting humans seem like people with whom you could be friends. Twitter can be like the world’s biggest cocktail party. Dr. Jen Gunter is one such person I have enjoyed meeting on Twitter.

I like Dr. Jen Gunter’s plucky truth-telling about medicine, sex, and her own griefs; her embrace of her big, curly hair and Wonder Woman self; and her understanding of the importance of red wine and dark chocolate. She belongs in our medical myth-buster club.

I had a moment of debating how to dress for Indy’s most fun and global New Year’s Eve party (thanks Cultural Cannibals!), but my indecision was quickly squelched by asking myself, “WWJGD?” (ie, “What Would @DrJenGunter Do?”) Decision made: Big, curly hair, red dress, killer heeled black booties. Oh, and dancing with my best friend and best boy! I’m going to assume she would approve on all accounts.

Almost as fabulous Dr. V

Almost as fabulous Dr. V

Sock Singletons

Because I travel all of the time and because I am fairly good at ignoring messiness when other tasks seem more important, various areas of my house remain in chaotic states for long periods of time. When I was in fifth grade, I proudly displayed a sticker on my (very messy) desk that read “creative minds are rarely tidy.” I still operate by that principle.

creative minds are rarely tidy

However, I am not immune to this chaos. I will have something like “remove giant-sweater-pile from shelf and fold sweaters” on my mental to-do list for a year or so, thinking of it whenever I happen to be home and enter the closet. All those piled up to-dos for that I never have time to complete do wear on me. The end of 2013 and beginning of 2014 has led to a few unexpected days at home thanks to viral illness, snow days, and a delayed trip to Kenya. In between my laptop work (2 grant proposals and 2 papers to send out!), I have been tackling organizational tasks one-by-one. Delightful!

Every morning, I struggle to find any black socks that have a partner. I suspect I have been buying more trouser socks rather than taking the time to figure out which of these singletons belong together…

black socks

None of these socks were paired. Sigh. How do you people keep these things together?

But even my sock drawer has fallen in defeat to the organizational spirit of the new year. Now, if only I could find the time to tackle the “office” above my garage which is really more like a storage unit… that challenge may require another year.

Trail of the Doodler

As a compulsive doodler, I was very pleased with the doodle-friendly calendar I had on my desk in Indianapolis this year. I had a card for each month and could doodle on it as I pleased (I doodle when I am on the phone. It helps me listen.) As I packed up the cards, I could tell which months I spent entirely out of the US as evidenced by the complete absence of doodles.

doodle calendar

doodle calendar close

I am trying out a new daily calendar with areas for both my doodling and my usual daily to-do list. We’ll see how this one goes.


And that’s all the snow-induced randomness from the little red house!

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Around You


“…most of the time, all you have is the moment, and the imperfect love of the people around you.”

- Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith

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Repeat (the good kind)


“I have heard this story too many times,” I think, as I listen to the grandmother in front of me.

Rotich is 3 years old. His father died just months after he was born. His mother spent most of his first two years of life in and out of the hospital. No one knew exactly what was wrong with her, but when she died a year ago, they told her mother that it was HIV.

Rotich went to live with his grandmother after his mother had died. His grandmother barely scrapes together enough for the two of them to eat one meal a day, but she loves this little boy and so she keeps trying. She asks her neighbors for help, and she does her best to provide for him.

A few months ago, Rotich got sick with a bad, bad cough. He kept coughing and coughing. Not only was he struggling to breathe, but he was too weak to eat even that one meal a day. Finally, his grandmother got him to the hospital. At the hospital, they learned that Rotich has this HIV virus in his blood too.

Those were the bad times. Rotich’s grandmother thought she would lose this little boy as well.

“He was all that remained of my daughter,” she said. “And I did not want to lose him. But I knew he would die. Those who have HIV, they just die.”

Thankfully, Rotich’s grandmother was wrong. She kept trying, despite her fears. She managed to get him enrolled in an AMPATH clinic in a town within an hour’s trip of where they live. At the AMPATH clinic, Rotich was started on a combination of medicines that could fight back against this virus in his blood. With these medicines, Rotich’s story transforms from death to life.

My study team started evaluating Rotich and his grandmother every month, going to their house and seeing them in clinic. During these evaluations, they make sure that he gets all four of his medicines, twice a day, every day. They helped arrange for him and his grandmother to get a small monthly supplement of food to help them get a second meal each day.

And then we all got to bear witness to a miracle. This last remaining member of his family began to thrive and grow.

I have heard this story many times, for many many children. From death to life. And even though it is a story heard over and over, it is not really too many times. You can’t grow tired of the repeat miracle.



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Sharing a Birthday

When I was a kid, I never hated having a birthday that was so close to Christmas. It seemed to me like the whole month of December was one big time of festivities. Lights, decorations, snow, special treats, singing carols, parties, concerts, presents… I loved it all. And my December 19 birthday would usually arrive just as we were let out for the Christmas holiday — or maybe on the last day of school, which was usually all parties and fun and no work anyway.

My parents were pretty great about keeping my birthday separate from Christmas. They always wrapped my presents in birthday paper (Christmas wrapping paper being the bane of the December birthday gift.) They tried to figure out if I could still bring a birthday treat in to my class at school, even if my birthday fell during the winter break. I still got to pick out my special birthday dinner (Always my mom’s lasagna. And ideally with an angel food cake.) They usually managed to not make decisions about my Christmas gifts based on what I had already gotten for my birthday… My parents tried to make me feel like my birthday was still just mine.

Strawberry Shortcake birthday cake. Awesome.

Strawberry Shortcake birthday cake. Awesome. And we flew to Hawaii immediately after this!

In my adult years, I have adapted to sharing a birthday. Part of this happened when I married someone with the same birthday as me, and part of this was the result of embracing the holiday chaos and realizing how busy we all are as adults at this time of year.  But I still love this particular holiday busyness – parties and music and finding and wrapping presents and snow and lots of reasons to enjoy a celebratory glass of champagne. December is still a month of celebration for me.

Birthday lunch today, with one of my best friends.

Birthday lunch today, with one of my best friends.

In honor of sharing of my birthday – and all of this sharing and celebrating of how we can best love each other on this big and scary planet – I wanted to share my birthday with even more of my “family” today. If you would ever think about a gift for me, whether for my birthday or for Christmas, or even if you wouldn’t, I want to encourage you to think about gifts for other members of my family as well.

As it happens, I know what they want! Here are some gift ideas for my family…

Among their many amazing community development activities, my Kenyan mother and father run a primary school called the Samro school that serves their rural community. They have also started the “Samro Polytechnic School” this year, which offers training in practical skills like sewing. Samuel and Rhoda have 8 students at their school who have not been able to pay their school fees. Their families have struggled and struggled to find the money to keep these children in school, and they do not want to make them leave school. This is likely their only shot at education. A gift of $35 per month would keep one of these children in school. That is a gift that would change a life. They also want to buy a sewing machine for the Polytechnic School. The cost is 10,000 Kenyan shillings — $125.

With my Kenyan mama, Rhoda, who dreamed of and fostered and runs the Samro school

With my Kenyan mama, Rhoda, who dreamed of and fostered and runs the Samro school

One of the sisters of my heart, Michelle, has launched a new organization in Kenya called Hope Matters. After years of running a rural health clinic, she is trying to bring more basic healthcare and skills like training in first aid to the community. She provides physical exams for orphans at many children’s homes. She runs clinics to remove the hated foot jiggers that make many children miserable. A gift of $25 to my sister Michelle’s organization can provide diabetes screening for 50 patients. $75 could run a day clinic focused on mothers and babies in a given community.

Another of the sisters of my heart, Juli, runs the beautiful facility where I try to send my saddest, most hopeless children. The Living Room offers hospice and palliative care services, but the love and diligent care and dignity they provide has also transformed some of my sickest, malnourished and neglected children into laughing, smiling, running wonders. Last month, I wrote about the little girl whose mother had died, who was abandoned, and whose name we did not even know. Today, Michelle is receiving care in her new home at the Kimbilio (“Refuge”) Hospice. I would be happy to share every single birthday with the Living Room.

Consulting with Juli about patients at the Living Room and Kimbilio Hospice.

Consulting with Juli about patients at the Living Room and Kimbilio Hospice.

One of my “brothers”, Dr. Mabeya, has the amazing ability to do surgeries that change women’s lives, transforming them from rejected and stigmatized outcasts into women who can be welcomed back into society. His clinic, Gynocare, operates on a skeleton budget and relies on donations to provide fistula-repairing surgeries for the impoverished, young women who most often suffer from this condition. Gifts to Gynocare save my younger Kenyan sisters from lives of stigma.

And then there are my children. We have been raising money to run special support activities for our older children with HIV. Meeting other kids like themselves – kids who are growing up with HIV and figuring out how to be healthy adults – makes a huge difference for these children. And we are trying to organize at least 6 times a year when they can have half a day for education, peer group support meetings, and fun activities. Each of these days costs about $600, but it changes life for my kids who are growing up with HIV. A low-income school in Detroit just raised enough money to hold an adolescent support day for December. My colleagues just gave half of the money to plan our next day. If you want to contribute to this birthday party for me, you can send a donation to AMPATH through the IU Foundation and include the notation “Vreeman Adolescent Clinic.” Of course, AMPATH does lots of other great things for my kids too — and I am delighted with any gifts that support our 15,000 kids with HIV.


I know this is a GIANT gift list, but if you need a last minute Christmas present for someone on your list – or if you really want to share in my birthday/Christmas/Festivus celebration – my family will rejoice with you. Thank you.

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(Almost) Wordless Wednesday: Santa

I can tell you from experience that there is a LOT of excitement on the day when Santa brings gifts and cookies to each of the children waiting to be seen in our HIV clinics in Kenya. The whole clinic buzzes with the idea that there are presents and treats, and the volunteers from the Sally Test Pediatric Centre lead the parents and children in singing Christmas carols. Everything shuts down in excited joy. That was today.

AMPATH Christmas_Santa


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