Married to Medicine

Married to Medicine

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!

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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!