Married to Medicine

Married to Medicine

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

I'm here. We're here. And it's gonna fly by...

For *all* the hours of my life...

- all the hours bored in grade school.
- all the blissful childhood summers.

"Up North" Wisconsin - my favorite childhood memories.

- all the countless evenings spent in my childhood home, hanging out, safe and happy.

Family.  *So* lucky.

- all the exams stressed over and all-nighters pulled.

8th grade - Prosecutor.

- the trips with dad to visit college campuses.
- the wondering and dreaming about college.

If only I could dive into this picture and be there all over again...

- college: the campus, the classes, the professors, the friends, the boyfriend, the magic.

- Freshman year, Ellingson Hall.  Best EVER.

- the "big trip" to study abroad for a year and prove my independence.
- the post-college year living with friends and planning a wedding.
- the wedding!

The one thing from St. Olaf I took with me forevermore...
Five years of dating and neither of us had a clue the ways in which we'd later be tested.
I'm thankful for every bit of our foundation.  We needed all of it.

- law school: stress, excitement, boredom, and a lot of cafe-studying.  The thrill of being one of the top 4 finalists in Honors Moot Court and going to regionals.

All women our year!!

- the lawyer years:  stress, excitement, boredom, and wanting to be a mom.  A few big victories (a settlement and a suprising win on a federal court motion) I'll never forget.  Shock at some of the depravity in the non-academic world.

- the big move to Boston...
- finally pregnant...
- finally a baby...

- the baby days... the stroller walks to cafes and parks, messy feedings, cherished nap times.
- the "difficult phase" ... wondering if my son would ever be well-behaved.
- the baby girl.
- the relief, amazement, and euphoria:  They get along!

- more relief, amazement, and euphoria:  He's a total sweetheart!
- "in just two more years, she'll be the age he is now, and it'll be a little easier..."

- "someday we'll have a nicer place..."

I feel like my entire life has been building up to where I am right now, because this was my dream.  Not the grandest dream, but definitely what I wanted out of life.  What I most wanted was to be happily married and raising kids - not babies even, but the kid stage.  I wanted to repeat my own childhood; I wanted to give my children what I'd been given and to relive childhood with them.  And I wanted this more than I wanted to live in France for a year and become fluent... more than I wanted to go to law school... more than I would have wanted to win the lottery - for real!  And the crazy, cool, terrifying, and exhilarating thing is that I'm here.  This is it!  I can look into the face of my daughter, that is what her face looks like, it's her!  I can marvel at how sweet my son is, blown away every day that a spirit so good was somehow created by our bodies.  I can actually decorate cookies with them and it's not a disaster, and read books with them that I enjoy, and answer interesting questions about life.  I get a break when they're at school and then I enjoy them all the more when they come back to me (for the first five minutes, especially... haha).  This is it!  I'm here!!!

But the here is bittersweet.  It took long enough to get to this pinnacle of life that the enjoyment is tinged with the knowledge that

- there are only a few years of this bliss before they're teenagers... I enjoyed my teenage years with my family too, but those little old ladies at the grocery store are right, the kid days go by so fast.  And then they're gone.  Just a few more years... after all those other years.  A lifetime of waiting... a blink... gone.
- real struggles await my children.
- heartaches and pain await them.
- tragedy may well await them.  This thought is ever-present when one's spouse is an oncologist.
- my health will fade.
- my parents will pass on.
- and when those things happen, this "pinnacle" of life will seem like the blink of an eye ... the big goal is just a blip.  The best of the best is transient and fragile.

It is with this knowledge that I'm making extra efforts this fall to enjoy.  To do all the fall stuff with my kids.  To go through our books and make sure we're not forgetting any great ones.  To catch up on our stack of Kiwi Crates.  To keep my house clean so that I can maximize my enjoyment of living.  To go to bed on time so that I can live this particular blip of life with eyes wide open and memories fully processed to store and cherish forever.

It's "now" as I type... but someday it'll just be "way back when."

Married to Medicine Blog is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by linking to where products carried on Amazon are mentioned.  

Monday, October 10, 2016

Best EVER Fall or Holiday Cookies! Spicy Cream Cheese Cut-Outs!!!

Oh.  My.  GOSH YOU GUYS!!!!!  I haven't been this excited about a recipe in a long time!!  Sorry to boast but I legit SOLVED the ever-frustrating conundrum of sugar cookie cutouts being SO cute and SO fun for kids to decorate, but just not that amazing to eat.

Longtime readers may be familiar with this recipe - my favorite cut-out recipe that yields soft cookies and a little something extra in the cream cheese frosting.  Well, this weekend my I spiced it up - literally - and the result was divine.  The autumn spices were the perfect thing to cut the sweetness and they, along with the cream cheese icing, made for cut-out cookies that broke the "yummy" ceiling and finally achieved "addictive" status.

Without further ado...

Spicy Cream Cheese Cut-Outs

For the cookies...
1.5 cups powdered sugar
2 sticks butter, minus 1 tbsp
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 large egg
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cream of tartar 

For the icing...
1 stick butter, room temp
1 package cream cheese, room temp
3 3/4 cup powdered sugar (sometimes I do less)
1 tsp vanilla
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp cloves

Add ingredients in the order listed from the first list above; that's the dough - you can consider making a half batch or a 3/4 batch if you aren't feeding a crowd.  Split the dough half and wrap each half in plastic wrap; refrigerate for 1-2 hours.  Working with one half at a time, roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface, using a lightly floured rolling pin, and sprinkling more flour on top of the dough (spread it around with your hand) as needed.  When the dough is slightly flattened but still a couple inches thick, pick it up, reflour the surface underneath (spread with hand), and flip it over, then sprinkle a little more flour on top and continue rolling.  This will ensure the dough is easy to work with and doesn't stick to the table.  You can also dip the cutters in flour if you need to.

Once the dough is about 1/4 inch thick, cut with cookie cutters.  Place the dough shapes a couple of inches apart on a pan that is either buttered/greased or that has an Artisan Nonstick Silicone Baking Mat - these mats are the best money you will ever spend if you bake cookies; they give cookies a professional, uniform texture and are nonstick to the extreme - you can literally lift cookies off with your bare hands once they're cool, even cut-out cookies!

Bake at 375 for 6 minutes.  They won't look done but you do NOT want them to if you like soft, moist cookies.  Allow them to cool slightly (they'll firm up) before removing them to another surface to await icing.  Make the icing by mixing the ingredients above - do not ice until the cookies are fully back to room temp.  These will be great right away but even better the next day; moisture from the icing will seep down, further softening the cookies, and the icing will harden on top making them easier to transport.  Apply sprinkles immediately after icing so that they will stick.

Tip:  My kids at 4 and 6 LOVE to decorate these - my 4 year old excitedly exclaimed that it was her "favorite thing she had ever done."  To minimize the mess, try (1) giving them a large pan (with edges) to decorate in and/or (2) giving them each a mini muffin pan with different sprinkles in each cup so that they don't have access to the big jug and they can pinch some sprinkles with their fingers.


Married to Medicine Blog is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by linking to where products carried on Amazon are mentioned.  

Saturday, September 24, 2016

My Top 5 Must-Have Books for Young Children

Disclaimer:  I'm just a lowly product connoisseur; I'm not a teacher or a librarian.  But I do happen to have a lovely, high-functioning case of O.C.D.  If you've been following this blog, you know I once spent over 3 hours obsessing over hundreds of reviews before settling on a new measuring cup set (this was it, if you're curious).  If you'd like to piggyback on that kind of research without having to reinvent the wheel, and your kids are somewhere around the ages of 3-7, this list is for you.  (Also - see my affiliate disclaimer at the bottom of the post - some, but not all, of these links are affiliate).

ADDITIONALLY - one thing we've been doing that my kids love is "The Book Fairy."  She occasionally leaves new books in silly places, especially if the kids have been good!  Highly recommend!!  It's fun and it's a great way to reinforce kids seeing books as special treats (rather than just toys or candy!!)

Hands down, this is my #1 favorite book for young children.  I actually consider it to be the single most important book my kids have yet read.  It is a simple yet spot-on analogy that teaches kids about kindness, happiness, empathy, and community.  Young children are concrete thinkers so giving them a visual (the bucket) is a highly effective way to show them how their words and actions impact other people.  It's also an excellent tool to help them process how others' actions have impacted them - good and bad.  As early as preschool I found myself using the bucket analogy when kids weren't always nice - the book calls that "bucket dipping" and talks about how you can never fill your own bucket by bucket dipping; rather, you fill your own bucket by filling other peoples' buckets.  Seriously - amazing!!  You can grab a copy on Amazon by clicking here.

Grab a copy - and check out the outstanding reviews - on Amazon, click here.

(2) Rosie Revere, Engineer (and Iggy Peck, and Ada Twist)
This trio of books is a must, must, **must** have.  Each is a rollicking, action-packed tale of empowerment featuring a child inclined toward a STEM type of calling (engineering, architecture, and science).  Rosie Revere, Engineer is our favorite of the three - it's even my son's favorite, which says a lot since he avoids all things related to girls (*sigh*).  In it, young Rosie learns to overcome her fear (and embarrassment) of failure when her fabulously eccentric aunt arrives and  teaches her that failure is great because it's the first step toward success.  The phrase "The only true failure can come if you quit!" is now a permanent part of my kids' worlds.  Iggy Peck and Ada Twist are similar books; heavier on the fun, lighter on the lessons.  I love that this trio of STEM stories features two girls, one boy, and a child of color (Ada).

You can grab a copy on Amazon here.

(3) The Snow Queen (Barefoot Books)
If you **at all** like fairytales, Barefoot Books' "The Snow Queen" is the ultimate.  It's a hauntingly beautiful recounting of the 19th century Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale that inspired such classics as "The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe" and Disney's Frozen.  The illustrations are downright enchanting - I'll post a few below.  Surprisingly for such an old fairytale, this story involves a girl saving a boy.  When reading through the story with my kids, I like asking them about what the heroine's actions show us about her character.  She is courageous, loyal, open-minded, humble, and idealistic.  Final bonus - The book comes with an audio CD that even my husband enjoys in the car - a great and fun way to build vocabulary on the go!  This book can only be ordered through Barefoot Books - click here to get there!

Breathtaking.  Enchanting.  Hauntingly beautiful.  The entire book.  Sold only at Barefoot Books - click here.

(4) "Secrets of The Apple Tree" (Usborne Books)
Hello autumn magic!  I hide this book all year until our apple picking day and my kids greet it with squeals of delight.  It follows a seemingly-simple apple tree through its growth and seasonal changes.  But kids learn to look beyond the surface when shining a flashlight behind each page reveals hidden images that teach us more about the inner workings of the tree and the nature around it.  A perfect way to introduce a little science (and like I said, magic!) to your orchard traditions.  This book can only be ordered through Usborne Books - click here to grab it!  It makes a fabulous gift, too, especially if you add a cute flashlight!!  Check out the Melissa & Doug "Buggy" flashlight by clicking here - it's perfect!

(Photo Credit - and awesome youtube video!)

(5) Snowmen At Christmas (and Snowmen At Night)
It's so hard to limit a list of amazing children's books to just five, but these really are the five that are most magical for us.  Snowmen at Christmas (or, if you don't celebrate Christmas, check out Snowmen at Night) is once again a book where the storyline is simple but perfect.  Top that with truly dreamy, captivating illustrations and this book really whisks you away to a sweet, cozy Christmassy world.  I want to read it every year at least once ... even after my kids are grown!  You can grab a copy on Amazon by clicking here.

Click here to grab it on Amazon.

So there you have it!  My top 5 must-have children's books for ages 3-7.  If you have any other suggestions, I'd love to hear about them!  And if you want more product recs and coupon codes to get them on the cheap, join my Facebook group "Claire's Closet Finds"!


Married to Medicine Blog has no financial affiliation with Usborne Books or Barefoot Books.  Married to Medicine Blog is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by linking to where products carried on Amazon are mentioned.  

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Top Ten Space-Savers (for Tiny living with Tots!)

If you're in a situation like we were (family of four in a 2-bedroom apartment) or if you'll soon be headed that way with your residency move ... OR if you just like to save space and keep things neat and tidy ... this has been rolling around in my mind for some time now.  I'm finally putting it all down on paper, so here you go - My top ten space-savers:

This may seem like an odd one to lead off with but it's seriously the best product ever.  EVERYBODY should be using these; NOBODY should be hauling and storing cans of broth.  They not only save a TON of cabinet space (and hauling effort; each small jar makes 38 cups or 14 cans of broth) but they taste BETTER and you can make it a stronger dilution (add like 1.5 tsp per cup of water instead of 1) which almost always enhances the flavor of whatever I'm using it for.  Once you get into it it'll become easier and easier.  I don't even bother diluting anymore; I just add however many tsps I need and however much water right to the recipe.  And keep in mind that 3 tsp = 1 tbsp.  That'll make it even faster.  You HAVE GOT to get on this.  Find them in the broth section of your local grocery store.

(photo credit)

We actually only just discovered these bed frames two weeks ago but I'm obsessed.  These are easy to assemble (they come with all the tools you need), they work great, they eliminate the need for a box spring, and they leave a TON of room underneath for storage.  AND they're cheap!  These are an awesome solution for city living OR if you have a lot of stuff you want to store in the bedroom itself rather than in a basement or attic.

Fourteen inches of storage!!

If you're in the high chair stage and you're short on space, do not get a freestanding high chair.  Get one of these - they work awesome and they sit on a chair you already have.  Bonus:  SUPER cheap.  You can get a 4-star one for $20 or less, or go for the 4.5-5 stars at $20-50.

One thing we didn't have space for in our old apartment was a glider.  We didn't need one for either child, thanks to this.  It did the rocking for me, right next to my bed - and was a complete magic bullet for my firstborn, I literally was never once up at night with him after a feeding.  As for the feedings themselves, I just used a My Breast Friend on the couch or another chair.  Saved so much space and so much money this way.  And got lots more sleep too!

We had the "Starlight" one.  LOVED IT.

If you're an Apple devotee but you can't swing the price tag, my husband came up with the awesome solution of getting a "Mac Mini" (the computer without the screen - it's tiny) and using a Dell Monitor.  LOVE LOVE LOVE it.  Not only did we save hundreds and get me an awesome monitor, but when my mac needs to be serviced all I have to haul to the Apple store is the tiny Mac Mini.  It fits in my purse.  If you go this route, be sure to double check that you've selected a monitor and a mini that are compatible with each other!  And then presto, you're good to go.  BONUS:  You can reuse the monitor when you need to replace your Mini.  This is WAY green, since monitors are one of the worst things for the environment, and saves you the cost of a new monitor AND the cost of recycling your old one, which is $20 where I live.

We could NOT have made it through our years in the 2-bedroom without this thing.  Not only does it keep all your dirty laundry sorted by color (white, bright, dark) and ready to be thrown in the wash, but the pole extends up so you can hang tons of stuff on it.  Yes, it's an eyesore.  But it's in your bedroom (or your kids' room) so nobody sees it... and it's really the only solution if you have a tiny closet.

(7) The "Closet Doubler."
This is another thing I couldn't live without, even now that we have lots more closet space.  I use it in my kids' closet to keep their stuff separate but it would work great in an adult closet too.  

Pretty much my favorite thing ever!  These hangers keep each outfit together and neat, instead of crammed in a drawer somewhere with the top nowhere near its proper bottom.  They'll also save you a ton of space over using separate hangers for each piece.

If you're in a tiny space with kids (or even without!), chances are you've got noise issues.  One kid needs to nap, the other needs to scream.  If that's you, these are the ultimate... and they have a real fan inside (fans reduce SIDS).  They're pricey - utilizing the newest technology in sound waves - but more sleep???  PRICELESS.

No space for toys?  Then don't bother with them; you probably don't have space to have other kids over either, and your (young) kids will be way more interested in your purse than their toys unless someone new is around to play.  Instead, stick only to the rare unicorn exceptions to the toy rule:  your kids will play with Tegu Blocks and Magna-Tiles (and art supplies, and maybe trains when they're really small) even when other kids aren't around ... and they can be tossed in a bag for easy space-saving storage.  Their prices reflect their value, unfortunately, but very rarely (about twice a year) Tegu Blocks go up to 40% off - and when they do, I post the sale in my Facebook group that you are welcome to join.  Magna-Tiles I've heard are price controlled... I have never once seen a sale on them other than a minimal store-wide coupon.  BUT I have also heard that one of the knockoff brands,"Playmags," is as good or better than the original, definitely worth checking out.  If you're wondering about Magformers, those are great too... especially for the younger crowd since they're easier to grip.  But they're not quite as cool as Tegu's or Magna-Tiles, once your child hits 3 years of age.

If you have to choose just one, get the Magna-Tiles.  But really, you want both - Tegu Blocks are great once your kid hits about 4 years old; they're like a hybrid blocks/puzzle with the polarization of the magnets.  

I just have to squeak in one more.  These are hard to find... you have to kind of poke around periodically to find find them in stock and under $200.  But when you think about the cost of buying both a wooden toy box and a wooden play table, and you consider the space saved, they're worth every penny even when they're up around $200.  We LOVE ours.

UPDATE 3/18/17:  IN STOCK at Amazon and a GREAT price, click here!!!!

So there you have it.  My best-find products for smaller living.  Did I miss anything?  If so, let me know in a comment!

Married to Medicine is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Adult Life, Chapter Two... aka among medical circles "#ItGetsBetter"

"I feel like I just woke up from a really bad dream, and landed back in the life I had thought I was headed for ... and I'm not sure where the wrinkles, gray hair, or children came from."

I really can't describe it any way other than what I said to Mark, above.  It was especially striking as we unpacked (and repacked for storage) box after box of our college love letters and other memorabilia, as part of a recent move.  It had been ever so long since we were the young, idealistic, head over heels couple we'd been in college... so much had transpired since then that it almost seemed we were looking back at the lives of two totally different people.  Was Mark really the same man who had started a "first year of marriage" calendar and documented all our special memories and occasions?  Were we really still the same people who had each made for the other a notebook of nine months of daily messages, memories, and "hopes for the future" to keep for daily connection while I was gone nine months in France?  We are, of course... but we're also not.  Even as we finally, at long last, have all the missing pieces and things seem like they will permanently be good, I don't know and seriously doubt that we'll ever again be writing each other letters bemoaning the "unnatural state of separation."  In fact, Mark is in Denmark for the week as I'm writing this and there's no day-counting angst.  Is that just age?  Is it kids?  Or did medical training scar our relationship?  I suspect, unfortunately, *all* of the above... including the scarring.  But I can't dwell on that because it's such a relief to just to have good - if there's one thing the medical life has taught me, it's that you have to cling to the good.  When I was younger, naive, and a complete idealist I thought clinging to the good was "rationalization" - and it wasn't for me, because I wanted to take in life with my eyes wide open, feeling all of it equally; I would simply perfect any area of imperfection (of course!).  Now that life has beaten me up a little bit, I know that for most adults clinging to the good is survival.  Life is hard and messy - at least sometimes - and eventually it involves some sort of life-changing loss.

By all of the pieces, we've had several **long** awaited changes this spring.  First, Mark finished his Masters in Biomedical Informatics and defended his thesis.  That degree was a major thorn in our sides ... it was insanely demanding on top of his regular fellowship responsibilities and I credit it with ending the 8 months of bliss we had after taking The Marriage Course three winters ago.  It was one of those things (like the MGH residency itself) where we couldn't not do it when it became an option... but we still wouldn't recommend it.  In our situation it was free, it was Harvard, and medical research is increasingly dependent on biomedical informatics - a subject very few doctors know much about, so one that is often outsourced from medical labs (resulting in inefficiency).  This degree will dramatically impact Mark's career and in fact has already enabled him to co-create the first national mouse-model cancer database, a database that has already brought millions into his lab and one that will make cancer research significantly more efficient on a national level.  So we couldn't not do it... but it sucked.  It's another instance where I feel like this life chose us; we didn't choose it.

Second, our landlord kicked us out ... a temporary heart attack that ended in a thank goodness, because we REALLY needed more space, nicer space, and a shorter commute.  We never would have left the insanely low rent we had at our old 2-bedroom.  Even with the dysfunctional dishwasher, slow draining bath and sink, permanently filthy, ancient cabinetry, flickering kitchen lights, and water pressure so low I'd think our shower was broken every time I returned from a trip.  The rent was just too good, and moving seemed far too daunting to even consider.  So I can only thank the Lord that our landlord's family members wanted to move in.  After a massive, exhausting scramble we ended up moving to a new town (15 minutes from our old town) and into a very, very different place.  We now have four bedrooms, 2 full baths, a master suite, a glorious kitchen and more, all in brand new construction/renovation.  I feel like it's okay for me to brag about this because we still live in a two-family ... it's still Boston, people!  And because we really put our time in living modestly (I'm 36 years old...).  But wow, it has significantly enhanced our lives and reduced our stress just to have our home be such a nice, well-lit, relaxing type of space (is there something to fengshui after all?).  And part of it you could do for yourself even if you're not ready to make a big upgrade... no small part of the joy and relief came from having to go through ALL our stuff and get rid of everything we don't actually use.  We have only a small area of a basement for storage here... and a lot of our furniture wasn't worth replacing before the move, since we knew we'd move eventually, but also wasn't worth the cost and effort of moving.  I seriously think we got rid of at least 1/3 of what we owned; everything junky.  And it feels fantastic to be fully pared down, I highly recommend doing it even if you're not moving.  This is a digression but for real, try to just get rid of or sell ONE thing every week on trash day; I'd been doing that for years and not only was it awesome in and of itself but it really saved us for this move.  

Third, we have time.  Not only because the master's degree is over, but because Mark's commute is only 25 minutes instead of 50.  It makes a HUGE difference... it's nearly an hour extra each day not wasted in travel ... in addition to no longer being constantly swamped!  Mark is a fantastic partner when he's around (and not sleep deprived), and we've fallen into a routine where he comes home at 6:30 or 7, takes the kids to the park while I finish making dinner, we eat, and he does bedtime with the kids while I clean up dinner and toys.  I literally didn't put my own kids to bed until the sixth night we were living here.  I actually had to figure out where he'd been keeping the kids' shampoo!!  Ah-mazing.

So there you have it.  Finally and at very long last.  My husband is around and not sleep deprived.  I hosted my mom and can host both of my parents comfortably in our place.  My bedroom feels relaxing and inviting rather than just being a room with a king sized mattress crammed into the corner, impossible to make - I make the bed every single day now, just because I can.  We have a play room; beautiful and well-lit.  We live in a neighborhood with families walkable to awesome food and cafes; we love our neighbors below.  I'm excited for Matthew to start Kindergarten at a public school, walking distance from us, that offers daily Spanish, and Claire will be in a Spanish immersion program MWF and at an adorable, classically East Coast preschool on T/Th (all half-days).  I'm back to work about 4-6 hours/day doing something I love that's my own thing (if you're a blog reader and you haven't yet joined my Facebook group "Closet Deals and Steals!", you should!!  I post only the best prices on the best products!).  Summer's here and we have plans to go to Madison, Michigan, Maine, and Cape Cod between both sides of the family.  Matthew is the sweetest little man, loves his sister, loves snuggles, and has a heart of gold.  Claire is a powerhouse and was invited to be (by far the youngest child at 3.5 years) on Beginner Pre-Team Bronze at Brestyan's Gymnastics, an olympic level gymnastics organization - the man who viewed her class and had his assistant invite her is Aly Raisman's coach!  She was a little intimidated (there was a 7 year old on this "team"!!) so we'll try her again this fall.  Mark, in addition to the mouse model database, has had a few other key honors has been to Europe twice this year; he seems relieved and happy to be where he now is.  Seven years after we moved here and I cried myself to sleep ... and after many, many other nights of crying myself to sleep... I think we're going to be okay.  I think we did it.  I still can't say that "it" was worth doing, to be honest. This is a victory that feels at least a little hollow because of all the loss it required.  Time is life.  We lost life.  And I can feel that loss at 36... I know I lost some of the best years, years that should have been amazing and happy are laden with bad memories and holidays spent alone, filling the time with whatever I could until the gym and the stores and the schools reopened ... and I will never get those years back.  But again, this life chose me.  And from a global perspective, I certainly can't complain.  So here's to the present and the future.  Here's to a normal life.  Here's a goodbye to the 7 year groundhog day of all-me, all-the-time, me and my kids, no family, no support, every evening, and almost every single weekend day.  Onward and upward, y'all.  Cheers.

Laundry on the main floor instead of two flights down.

Love love LOVE our kitchen.  

Main floor.  I wish I could do pics of the other rooms but we still have some work to do!

Monday, March 14, 2016

Medical Residency with Kids: Top 10 Pieces of Advice

Match Day is here again, that fateful day when graduating medical students open an envelope and find out what hospital they'll be moving into for the next several years (no really... that's why it's called "residency").  These days, spouses and even kids join them up on stage for that magical moment, showing not only their support for the spouse but also their participation in the sacrifice and resulting achievement of the day.  "We're in this together!" the display seems to say, and "We're ready to take on the world!"  But the reality of medical residency is that it very often creates two very separate lives.  While your spouse's brain is filled to the max with things that simply don't involve you, so too will you be on your own in the "new normal" you'll be forging largely for yourself (and your kids if you have them), somewhere new and random.  Our Match Day happened 7 years ago, in 2009.  As I am now, thank God, approaching the other side of medical training, I offer these tidbits of advice to any readers who are just starting out.

(1) Get a Small Living Space.  Not only is it all you'll be able to afford, but it actually makes solo parenting a lot more manageable.  In our 2-bedroom apartment, my room, the kids' room, the bathroom, and the kitchen are all literally right next to each other.  It is so much easier to have everything at your fingertips - food, bath, diapers, bed.  If your spouse is going to work late almost every night for 3-7 years, at least cut out the stairs.

(2) Get Comfortable Saying No.  This is a nightmare for people pleasers like me!  I lost whole nights of sleep at first.  But here's the reality:  Nobody is going to take care of you, and NOBODY is going to "get it" when it comes to what's on your plate and how unrelenting it is.  So you *have to* take care of yourself.  Say no to:

  • Hosting people who don't fit in your living space;
  • Family trips you can't afford;
  • Helping with childcare at church, if you're a church-goer (you'll already be way OD'd on your own kids);
  • Watching friends' kids (unless it's paid);
  • Anyone who questions your choice to work or to stay home during this survival-mode time - believe me, no one choice here will solve your problems, so do what works best for you;
  • Anything else that you're going to dread or stress over in ANY way.

The good news is, it gets easier and easier to say no once you do it a few times.  I'm told this happens to you anyway, once you turn 40.  And it's good for you, so you might as well start early.  How many men do you know who are people pleasers?

You'll be like "Nuh to the Uh to the No No NO."

(3) Try To Accept Help Offered.  Personally I only rarely ever did this because I worried it would interfere with my ability to say no.  However, now that we are approaching the "other side," I can already see that a normal life will make it so much easier to help others and that I'm excited to be able to do so.  I remember feeling so guilty that I'd accepted 10 meals when I had my first baby and had only "repaid to the universe" seven of them.  I should hit 20 this spring.

(4) Know That Your Spouse Won't Be The Same Person During Training.  Maaaaaybe yours will, if you're really lucky.  But based on what I've seen on the threads I've followed in a Dr. Wife Facebook Group I'm in, it's more likely that the time your spouse is home will be even more problematic than the time he's gone.  You'll be left mourning the loss of your sweet, amazing partner and freaked out about whether you made a big mistake when you got married.  And unfortunately you will have no way of knowing which one of those it is until the training is over and there's been a period of readjustment for your spouse to come back to his (or her ... though I wonder if women generally handle it better, since IMO a lot of it comes down to not recognizing and properly addressing one's emotions/stress level/sleep deprivation) old self.  A lot of marriages end during medical training, and if you're in this situation for many years then sticking it out is an incredibly high price to pay and requires a lot of faith.  But if you do have kids, you really can't leave until and unless you know that he's gone for good.  And the good news is that most of the time, he does come back.

(5) Take "The Marriage Course" Once Training is Over.  On that note, once training is over, if residency took a toll on your marriage (and even if it didn't), do something big to refresh and reset.  We took "The Marriage Course" at the end of clinical training and it was revolutionary; I don't think we would have made it without it.  It turned out that the end of clinical training was far from the end of the insane hours and sleep deprivation (my husband took on another very rigorous degree on top of fellowship) so I can't say we've been smooth sailing since having taken the course.  However, I can say that I don't think we would have made it through at all without the course.  Even if we hadn't technically divorced, we were well within the zone of permanent and really irreparable damage.  But after the course, even rough patches weren't nearly as rough and now we're hopefully finally approaching our real Happily Ever After.  If it's anything like the 8 months between the course and the new degree - or like our five pre-MS years - it's going to be amazing!

(6) Join "Lives Of Doctors' Wives."  This isn't just a Facebook group.  With 6,000 members and now incorporated as a non-profit charity, it is an incredible support network.  You can find other doctor-wives in your new residency town, and I cannot understate the importance of having friends in town who are in the same situation and really understand what you're facing every day.  And that is just one of a myriad of benefits.  You can post parenting questions in the parenting spinoff (LDW Kids) and get much better answers than you'd ever find in, say, your Baby Center Birth Month Group.  You can gain an incredible amount of insight into your own marriage just reading the threads - or you can message an admin and have a question posted anonymously.  You'll have access to free entertainment all those evenings your husband is gone because you can participate in political debates in one of their debate spinoffs (I co-created and admin Physician Spouse Network... ALL genders are welcome if you're married to a physician!).  If you can manage to secure childcare, you can meet everybody IRL at the annual "get-together" in Texas ... financial aid is available for training wives.  Really, don't miss the fantastic opportunity to be part of these groups.  It's one of the perks of training, and there aren't very many others.

(7) Consider Trading Your iPhone for Cleaners.  Your spouse probably won't have time to help clean or ever watch the kids while you clean; in my book, a working spouse doesn't have to clean if they're severely underslept.  For us, this meant a messy and dirty house for the first few years, until we could afford once monthly cleaners.  It's worth every penny, honestly, and you can pay for it by switching from an iPhone to Republic Wireless, where we pay I believe $20/month for unlimited everything including data.  We didn't have iPhones to switch out so we started with cleaners shortly after my husband could moonlight.  For one hour a month of his moonlighting time, the entire apartment was cleaned.  It saved my sanity and it went a long way toward alleviating resentment.  If you can make it through 7 years without any help at home from your spouse and not be resentful, that's awesome.  But I grew up with parents who were partners whenever they were both at home (and my dad was an MD), which was evenings and weekends.  If your spouse is ever at home during training, he probably won't want to spend that time cleaning, and you probably won't want to spend it cleaning while he watches the kids - spend it together as a family making a memory instead.

(8) Prioritize Cleaning Materials.  I cannot stress this enough.  The following three items will make a dramatic difference in your daily life.

  1. An excellent hand vac.  I recommend the Black + Decker 20v Pivot.  Voltage *really* matters here, and the 20v Pivot is worlds stronger than other 18v's I've tried; it is one strong suck!  List price is $79.99 but you can sometimes find it as low as $60ish on Amazon.  You will use this constantly for tabletop messes and even floor messes.  Pop open the door to empty it.  Simply a must-have.
  2. A floor Steamer.  Having one of these will literally cut the time you'd spend cleaning any hard surface to 1/3 or less.  Plus if you have crawlers it's nice to know they're on a floor that was steamed rather than one that had soap all over it.  Amazon has lots of options; I would go by price and by star-rating.
  3. A Dyson cordless bagless vacuum.  If you can at all afford one of these, you have GOT to get one.  I only just got one last November when they finally dropped a bit in price (they were $400-600 previously) and I am in LOVE LOVE LOVE.  They're *ultra* lightweight and cord-free, so it's a one-handed vacuum experience (with the on button right on the handle) that gets your hard floors so much cleaner than sweeping does (you should see what this thing picks up!!).  Your other hand is free to move stuff out of the way, so you can go super fast ... it's seriously like having a magic wand.  THEN it pops open to easily empty.  ALSO, they convert to a handvac so you can kill two birds with one stone if you can manage to spring for one of these.  We got the V8 and then we got my mom and my MIL the Motor Head... it counts for every holiday for the year since it's so expensive, but that's how amazing I think it is to have one of these.  

(9) Get a DSLR.  You won't be able to afford professional pics during residency, but you'll definitely want to have high-quality, frameable pics of your kids from these precious early years.  Ask family to go in on one of these... add birthdays to Christmases if you have to.  Your pics obviously won't be as amazing as they would if you could afford truly professional ones.  But that time will come and while you're waiting, you can get great pics even just using your DSLR on auto as a point-and-click.

My fave DSLR pic, snapped it on the auto setting with no skill whatsoever.

(10)  Don't be too hard on yourself - or your spouse.  
Couples in which at least one spouse is in medicine tend to be perfectionistic.  But residency prohibits perfection.  You're not going to have the perfect marriage, you're not going to have the perfect house, and you're not going to be the perfect mom (or friend... or relative) during these years.  Corners during residency were made to be cut (I once posted the question "Do you shower at home when your spouse isn't there?" in a local parenting group and also in a group of doctor wives ... the local group was divided as to whether that was okay... the doctor wives unanimously did it because nobody is going to get up at 4:00 am to shower every day before their spouse leaves!).

I like the idea from last week's Mom To Mom (DEFINITELY join your local chapter if you're Christian or even if you're just not bugged by being in a religious setting, it is a lifesaver - childcare provided, great friends made, and truly insightful lessons on parenting every week!!!) of making a list of things you don't do.

Personally I don't:
  • garden, with or without my kids;
  • craft, with or without my kids;
  • avoid screen time;
  • avoid bribery;
  • always arrive on time;
  • send veggies with every lunch;
  • make it to church on Sundays my husband is working;
  • I could go on.
I do:
  • Snuggle lots;
  • Bake;
  • Go to the park;
  • Read books;
  • Play the occasional board game;
  • Do a Kiwi Crate one a month with them (we could only recently afford, but worth every penny; it's a monthly activity box that is educational, creative and fun);
  • I could go on.

Honestly, I hope you won't have kids during residency.  That was our Plan A.  But if you do end up juggling a residency with kids, know that it's doable.  It won't be perfect.  You won't be perfect.  He (or she) won't be perfect.  But this too shall pass :)

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Thursday, February 11, 2016

White Privilege - A Few Thoughts

I have to say, I hesitate to tackle this issue... this is a subject the importance of which is matched only by its sensitivity, and I'm no expert.  I'm not a person of color (POC) myself and I don't have any formal education on race relations.  But I do feel like I've been exploring this topic for the past many months with friends both online and IRL ("in real life") and I feel like I've learned a lot, and I also feel like some of what I've learned would be useful to share.  And I also feel like part of the problem is white people aren't talking about this.  We're not talking about it amongst ourselves, and key for me:  We're not talking about it with our friends of color.

Why we're not talking about it.
  • It goes without saying that a lot of white people aren't talking about it because they believe that race in the U.S. today is a non-issue.  We have a black president after all, right?  And it appears easier for (non-Asian) minorities to get into colleges and graduate programs.  So if there is still an "issue" about race, it couldn't possibly be that big of one right?  I'm ashamed to say that I used to think this way too, pretty much.  Part of what's so hard about privilege is that the fact of privilege makes it very difficult to recognize privilege.  We're blinded by our condition of being blind ... it's circular, and there aren't many paths out of a circle.  And also - 
  • We're not asking our friends of color about their experiences and thoughts about racism - or white privilege.  That means the only voices we're hearing - if we're even hearing any at all - are voices in the media, and media voices are easily discounted.  They're politicians who are trying to garner votes, or they're politically extreme on a host of other issues as well.  They're in the spotlight - if they're even there - and the spotlight doesn't often consciously filter into the everyday for us.  Why aren't we asking our friends of color about their thoughts and experiences on race?  Here are a few reasons I wasn't:
                    (1)  I felt like it might be offensive to ask, and it wasn't my place to ask;
                    (2)  I felt like people might think I was weird for asking;
                    (3)  I still didn't *really* realize that race is still a big deal in the U.S.; and
  • I do want to acknowledge that some white people aren't thinking about race (at least, not extensively) because they're wrapped up in their own extremely difficult lives.  I'm privileged not just as a white person, but also as a person of means.  Historically, social change is most likely to be achieved when economies are strong enough to support a "leisure" class - people who are (1) likely to be highly educated; and (2) have enough free time to articulate and advance their ideas.  
  • Finally, I think that some of us aren't talking about it because we fear rejection by our friends of color.  We feel a confusing mix of regret, frustration, and defensiveness when we hear the phrase "white privilege" and we're worried that some people out there already dislike us because we're white ... so we just don't "go there" in our conversations.  Better to keep pretending that race is nonexistent right?  Because if "everything's fine" already, we could only possibly make it worse...  
I continued on in the awkwardness of non-acknowledgement for many years, and through many friendships, for all of the above reasons.  But eventually a host of factors and experiences pushed me toward the realization that everything isn't already fine.  And honestly, I'm not even talking about shootings in the news (which themselves should probably be pretty sufficient!)... I'm talking about experiences I had "in real life." 

What pushed me to talk about it.

Almost all of the things that pushed me to finally start talking about race stemmed from experiences with my real-life friends of color - which, in turn, made it genuinely important to me that my children experience diversity from a young age.  The good news about the "circle" is that once you turn yourself around on it, it's still a circle - the more you talk, the more you know, the more you know, the more you talk, the more you know and talk, the more you act.  Specifically:
  • I got really sick of the "elephant in the room."  I credit this to four black women, each of whom I was incredibly impressed with and wanted to be closer to.  But in particular with the friend I saw regularly, it soon became clear that something was lacking in our friendship, and I couldn't be closer to her.  The lack of something was introducing an ever-present feel of artificiality.  It dawned on me that you can't really be close to someone if you can't talk about a major element of their life's experience.
  • Regret.  Another of the above-mentioned women one day gave me some medical advice on a health condition I have that was genius, and that no specialist had ever mentioned to me before.  Because she herself wasn't a physician (or at all in the medical field), and because I come from a medical family and I have an undying respect for and admiration of physicians, I was totally impressed that this insight had come out of the mouth of a layperson.  I looked at her in awe, from across a table of other almost-all white women, and said "I'm so amazed that you said that!"  I instantly regretted my words as she bristled.  Oh no, that's not at all what I meant! I wanted to say, but I really couldn't in this semi-formal mom-to-mom group. 
  • Curiosity.  I will credit the media somewhat on this.  Race becoming a bigger media focus over the past year made me really, really curious to know what my friends of color thought about it.  This helped push me toward asking.
  • Becoming a parent.  For me personally, I found it much easier to live with my head in the sand before I had kids.  I was in my own little bubble-world, and when I did interact with anyone other than my husband and close friends I was the lawyer; I was in charge, I was respected, and my only worry was that people would think I wasn't smart because I was young, female, and blonde (honestly - this does happen; a whole group of girls once asked me in college "How did you test into the higher level French classes?" I was like "uh... I went to a good high school?").  But then I had a baby boy... and parenthood thrust me into the spotlight in a very uncomfortable way.  Public toddler tantrums, for example, had me feeling a way I had never before felt in public - insecure, humiliated, embarrassed, and judged.  I found myself reaching to reassure myself and the reassurances made me ... uncomfortable.  I found myself thinking "Surely they can see, though, that I'm pretty likely to be a good parent... after all, I am, I mean I look a certain, or at least I don't look a certain- " It was undeniable.  I was relying on my physical appearance, and part of that was race.  I was actually relying on my whiteness (and fitness ... and even my blondness).  This did not sit well with me, and I felt awful for parents in my same situation who were judged even more harshly than I was sure I was being judged.  
  • Also on being a parent.  I realized how every advantage and disadvantage my son had seemed pretty darn important!  I worried a great deal about even the little "bad" things - his slightly delayed language as a toddler, his dad being super busy... and I also found myself inundated with legitimate information about how the little good things really do add up.  Once you're cognizant of the impact that even small things have on children, it becomes impossible to deny the impact of something big, like race ... and that means that kids do not start out on equal ground, which means that some children are disadvantaged, which means that others are privileged in comparison.  Not only are non-white children viewed by others through a lens of race and treated accordingly, but many minority groups are less likely to have access to any of the "little" good things that do add up, due to being economically behind after decades of (and continued) economic disenfranchisement.  One thing I do for my son (and will do for my daughter) at age 5 is I send him once a week to a private "science explorers" class where the teacher has him completely convinced that science is fun.  My hope is that this lengthy "first impression" will give him an advantage someday when he starts science in school.  But this program is not cheap.  The sad reality is that money *can* buy success on a myriad of levels, so the idea that race "doesn't matter" in our nation is a simple fallacy.  
  • Finally, on being a parent.  I realized for the first time just how horrific slavery was and why it was so wrong and why and how it did so much damage.  Imagine that every child you bore, you bore with the knowledge that he or she could be taken away from you at a moment's notice and sold to some far-off plantation, never to be seen again.  Just imagine what that would do to you as a parent - to your ability to bond with your child!  And what it would do to the child!!  The horror and psychological destruction is unthinkable.  I've long been fascinated with the coal mines and I'm familiar with the misery and early death that was typical of a coal miner's life.  But the thing is that even that still wasn't slavery.  Not by a long shot.  
  • Being part of an online doctor-wife group.  All of the above still didn't give me the actual courage to ask my IRL friends of color about race.  It had just always seemed taboo, and who was I to stir the pot on this subject??  But thankfully I was part of a Facebook group that provided me a unique social dynamic of closeness and distance such that the topic of race was discussed several times among people of varying ethnicities and opinions.  Closeness because being a medical spouse gives you significant common ground with someone; distance because it was online.  It was through these discussions and through some reading materials provided to me that I finally got up the courage to talk to my IRL friends of color about race.
I was so glad I finally asked about race - and I want other white people to know that they, too, can ask about it.

Here's what I learned when I finally broke the ice:
  • Race is absolutely still an issue!  Your friends of color are thinking about it and they are experiencing disparate treatment all the time!  Continuing to pretend it doesn't exist not only doesn't avoid a possible problem, but it perpetuates the problem.  It's already not "fine" anyway, so you don't have to be worried about messing up the status quo.
  • Your friends of color will not be upset that you asked about it; they will be glad!  And you will be too!  You will gain not only invaluable knowledge about the world you live in but you will also gain a friend.  Because again - you can't really be friends with someone if you're not talking about all of the important things.  I am overwhelmed thinking about the warmth, sensitivity, and insight that my asking has been met with from several people now.  Also, on that note:  Their friendship is worth the risk.  
  • At the same time, if you're willing to take this step, be sure you're willing to keep an open mind.  I don't know where you, as a reader, are coming from on this issue but I do think it's important to keep in mind that our ideas about what someone else's life must be like are just that: ideas, based on preconceived notions.  We really just have a very, very blank slate but they've lived that life and so we're just guessing at what they know.  And I'm still learning myself.  Case in point:  I was having lunch with an Asian friend and she mentioned that after the South Carolina massacre she had some anxiety herself, as an Asian.  My initial, without-thinking reaction was Huh?  But you're Asian, and we're in the Northeast, what are the chances that you're going to be killed for being Asian up here?  But ask yourself - do you feel less secure in the U.S. after the terrorist attacks in Europe?  Clearly a lot of us do; it's all over the news.  
  • Race is not just an issue for black people.  Being married to a half-Asian man whose personal opinion is that race has in no way affected his life, and having myself never experienced any static for marrying a half-Japanese man (not even from my WWII veteran grandfather, who adored my husband), I definitely thought Asians were "totally fine" in the U.S.  I also defensively felt that if there was any racism, it was in the opposite direction ... in law school, for example, an Asian classmate once asked me (mistakenly assuming that Mark was fully Asian himself) "How I had gotten my husband's family to accept the fact that I was white," which was a question I simply couldn't imagine anyone asking about someone having married a person of any non-white race.  Well... imagine it.  Because you know what?  It is definitely happening.  Again, part of what I learned through talking to my friends of color was that I truly don't know the extent to which other races are treated differently because I'm white, and I can only know my own experiences (unless... I ask).  And I know that some of you are thinking "See, that's why I can't be bothered to care about race; they don't like us either, and I haven't myself personally done anything to deserve that."  No, sorry, we cannot take that way out of this.  If some minorities don't like white people, and don't like you because you're white... again:  There are a lot of white people who don't like minorities.  If we can so easily be tempted to abandon this cause because of some people's opinions, just imagine what we're asking them to do, when you consider that a white man just massacred 9 black people!!

A note on "White Privilege"

I want to end this by talking about "white privilege" because as a term, it doesn't sit well with a lot of white people and there is really no need for that.  If you're one of those people, please hear me out: 

Privilege is a necessary corollary to disenfranchisement.  It is simply not possible for any group of people to be disenfranchised without that disenfranchisement being measured against a "norm."  The white experience is that norm, and it is not possible to fully understand the extent of minority disenfranchisement without also thinking about that norm.  The term "white privilege" is the most sensical way of calling to mind not only the stark, but also the often very subtle differences in the treatment and experiences of people of different races.  It is not meant to shame you, as a white person, or to guilt you for things that are are likely to be either entirely or almost entirely out of your own personal control ... at least, I really don't think it is.  Those feelings of shame and guilt are natural responses to the term because we wish the world was fair, and thinking about it being rigged in our favor is a really uncomfortable thought whether and to whatever, if any, extent we personally rigged it that way or not.  But we have to prioritize working toward justice over (white) feelings of discomfort.  So ... we need to get comfortable with talking about white privilege.  To not do so would be ... completely racist, really.    

A few Resources

  • If you still don't believe me, please watch this video.  Watch it all the way through - it's heartbreaking.
  • If you still can't yet come to terms with the phrase "white privilege," consider replacing it with the phrase "racial privilege."   The TED talk I'm linking to here is really informative.
  • This article was an important read for me - it makes several good points I would never have been able to conceptualize because again, I've only walked in my own shoes.
  • Finally, this article discusses "9 Annoying Things White Men Say On Dates With Black Women" but most of the points made apply pretty universally to black/white relations.  On that note, be prepared that some of your friends of color won't want to talk about race, and as individuals they're all going to differ in their thoughts on the subject.  My overall takeaway is that if it's someone you're close to and you're respectful about it, curious, and open-minded, it's still always going to be a good thing to ask - and to learn.