Budgeting Life

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This weekend, I picked up Dr. Paul Kalanithi’s extraordinary memoir When Breath Becomes Air.  I had bought it on a fire sale as an e-book before Christmas (thanks to this Stirrup Queens post) and when my lunch break rolled around, I thought I’d start on it.

Reading it at two in the morning, just down the hall from the ORs, wearing periwinkle blue surgical scrubs, a vital sign monitor on my desk that I needed to put away after my break made the story more real, and I was pulled in almost immediately.  It was not at all hard to imagine Dr. Paul Kalanithi as a physician, as a neurosurgeon, walking in and issuing his postop orders, doing the usual things surgeons do.

But of course, that is not the whole of the story, nor its most brilliant, poignant part: Paul Kalanithi was an undeniable genius, yes, clearly a gifted physician, yes, but he was also a patient.  The two personas, brought together in one who could clearly articulate the connections, tensions, and even find humor between them are what make this one of the most exceptional books I’ve read in a long time.

Kalanithi’s book was published posthumously and while it is absolutely about dying, it’s about more than that.  It’s about living within limits – unusually cruel tight ones in Kalanithi’s case – but limits are a fairly universal human experience.  I think what I found particularly instructive and lovely about When Breath Becomes Air is its acceptance of human limitation.  Kalanithi accepts that his cancer is terminal and seeks to live within that diagnosis – there’s no talk of “fighting” or being the exception or beating cancer.  Instead, he thoughtfully decides to live fully whatever time he has left.

It’s rare in this day and age where a relentlessly ‘positive’ mindset is stressed and the acknowledgement of the chance that an outcome might be anything less than miraculous restoration of health or a return to previous life is often met with “oh, don’t say that!” to see a treatise like this one.  Even outside of life and death situations, there’s a cultural notion about being able to accomplish anything with enough effort/investment – one with which I know much of the infertility community is intimately familiar.  I think the way this book challenges that is a central part of the appeal, or at least, it certainly was for me.  Kalanithi’s resolution to move forward by grieving his losses, knowing his death will come untimely early, and doing his best to both find and continue in what he valued until that death reads as far more positive than an empty promise to seek a ‘cure’ at any cost.

Personally, when confronted with limitations that truly grieved me, I’ve tended towards anger.  Maybe it’s because sadness and grief seem passive and anger gives the illusion that there’s something I can do, something that with enough force might change the distressing situation (even when I know better).  Kalanithi suggests a very different path.  He interrogates himself to find the values he wishes to cling to within the whirlwind.  And then he does it.  It’s not a denial of emotions or grief or putting a good spin on a tough situation, it’s a measured choosing of response.  “It felt like someone had taken away my credit card and I was having to learn how to budget” he writes.

There’s so much more to consider in the book – and hopefully write about – but that felt particularly resonant.  The next time I must budget my life, I know I’ll return to Kalanithi’s thoughts on doing so.

This post is a part of Microblog Mondays.  If you want to read more, head over to Stirrup Queens.  Thanks to Mel for originating and hosting.

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Reading: “Crazy Rich Asians”

I finally got to the top of the hold list at the library for Crazy Rich Asians.  With all the hype from the movie coming out this summer and the gorgeous trailers and movie posters, I knew I definitely wanted to read the book.

It’s a comedy of romance, manners, and people from somewhat mismatched backgrounds coming together.  There are the obligatory parties, snubbings, and displays of wealth and power with the tension set up by the expectations of society and family.  I found a good bit of it fun and the gorgeous clothes and settings a lovely change from my own currently dreary, grey, wintery surroundings.

That being said, I have to confess that I…didn’t really like the romantic interest/hero, Nicholas Young.  I’m not really spoiling anything to say that the plot pivots on the fact that Nick is handsome, incredibly rich, but has made a life for himself in New York where he has distanced himself from his family wealth and glamour to present himself as a regular college professor.  I mean, he’s handsome (cool) and down to earth (also good), but he’s been in a relationship with his girlfriend for two years and still has not revealed his full identity.

In the Jane Austen novels I’ve read (or heck, even in similarly wealthy/escapist shows like Downton Abbey), one of the qualities I appreciate is that generally, everyone knows The Rules.  Society is fairly rigid and people know when they’re social climbing, the rules surrounding manners and expectations, and how social interactions work.  I mean, Elinor Dashwood (Sense and Sensibility) knows that Edward Ferrars is out of her social range.  Charlotte Lucas (Pride and Prejudice) makes a very calculating decision surrounding the realities for women to marry the awful Mr. Collins.  There are definitely many surprises and tensions deriving from social mores, but while the players may not be evenly matched, everyone is governed by rules that are widely understood.

That’s where Crazy Rich Asians departs from Austen and company, because one of the major plot movers is the fact that Nicholas Young asks Rachel (and let me stress this again, after two years of romance) to go on a ten-week vacation to Singapore for the wedding of Nick’s good friend without telling her much of anything about his family or wealth.  In other words, a major time commitment for Rachel that implies the possibility of an even greater romantic attachment, with a huge piece of information withheld.

Basically, Nick sets the woman he purports to love up for some really severe cruelty at the hands of his some of his family and friends when Rachel inadvertently trips over all the social mores, norms, and gives various impressions that Nick’s family (predictably) interpret uncharitably.  While some of this may have been unavoidable, not giving Rachel at least some basic pointers on his social group feels unconscionable to me.  Oh, sure, Nick’s presented as ambivalent and somewhat troubled by his own wealth and social standing, but it didn’t code to me as “down to earth” when it came to bringing home the girlfriend.  It felt immature and selfish to throw his girlfriend into a pit of some not-very-nice people and social situations that would be challenging for even the most well-versed.

Rating this book, I’d give it a 2.5 stars out of 5.  The escapism and wealth-gawking part is really beautifully done.  The romance, though, didn’t gel for me.  It says something, though, that I’m curious enough to see some of the big conflicts resolved to be on the wait list for the sequel.

December Updates

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  • I’m working on reestablishing my exercise routine. I hadn’t fully realized how much the lack of movement was affecting my physical strength as well as my mental health.  It’s meant getting much more creative than previously, but I’m really trying to get in 3-4 30 minute sessions of moving (whether that’s walking/jogging outdoors, indoor running, using the mini trampoline, circuit training at home, or actually going to the gym) per week.  Hopefully as my strength improves, I can increase those to 45 minutes or do a 30 minute + a later 15-20 minute session.
  • Speaking of movement and mental health, I’ve long had a personal rule that for the first half of my run, I would think about all the things that were frustrating, angering, or otherwise hacking me off but then for the second half, work on considering more meditative or thankful thoughts (yes, this led to some pretty long runs during infertility since I wasn’t ready to be calm until 2.5-3 miles in!). I’m doing that again and have noticed that I’m less stressed at other times – I know I’m going to have some specific time devoted to worrying/anger/frustration and that helps me to be more functional at other times.
  • We’re decorated for Christmas! I bought a “tree collar” this year – mine’s a wicker thing that covers the base of the tree and a little way up to the bottom branches – that hides the weights I use to prevent the tree from getting accidentally tipped over better than the tree skirt.  It’s amazing, honestly, after years of carving out space that didn’t really exist in our apartments for the tree to have places to put decorations now.
  • Tree Collar
  • Above is tree collar, I can’t seem to get a picture of mine without all kinds of stuff around it :), below are some of my actual decorations
  • I made myself a dress!!!! Not the one I initially started on, but a different one.  The sleeves are slightly wrinkled (ugh) but really, for my first time I set in sleeves and did all of it, I’m pretty proud of how things came out!
  • The original dress is on its way back, however. My aunt saved my rear end after I cut it too small and was able to put in gussets to make up the difference.  I get to hem it. I’m so fortunate to have so many wonderful aunts.
  • I also made myself an infinity scarf with the left-over fabric from a skirt. I gather that animal prints are in this season and I am…not normally an animal print wearer.  However, it’s a nice, lightweight seersucker with zebra stripes and perfect for an easy scarf to add a touch of flair to an outfit.
  • The kids are doing well and growing fast. E is 3 going on 13 😉.  The other day, we finished off a paper towel roll, she held out the cardboard tube and goes “we need to recycle this.”  I told her: “Yeah, but look!  There are so many cool things we can do with this!  We could make a trumpet!” (made trumpeting noises with it).  E stared at me, very unimpressed, and goes “Are you done?  We need to recycle this.”  Ha, and here I thought I had a few years before I became embarrassing to her 😊!
  • The cold is really starting to set in, and I am very thankful for a garage! First time in 13+ years we’ve had one during the winter and it is marvelous.

This post is a part of Microblog Mondays.  If you want more, please check out Stirrup Queens!  Thanks to Mel for originating and hosting.  

When It Comes to the Holidays, “Pleasant” and “Unmemorable” are Quite Underrated

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For a long time, I’ve sort of more-or-less subconsciously and sometimes overtly had a tendency to try to make holidays “the best ever!”  In some ways, this is testimony to a pretty happy childhood where Christmas and Thanksgiving were days to anticipate.  For a long time, we went to my maternal grandparents’ house yearly for Thanksgiving and I used to spend hours staring at boxes around the Christmas tree trying to anticipate what was inside (I was allowed to look but not touch/shake).  In other ways, I think it’s the influence of advertising/Insta.gram/Pin.terest/Face.book.

The thing is, I’ve had my share of great holidays (Arthur proposed to me on December 21, 2002), and also really crappy ones.  With infertility and treatments, I found out we’d need to see an RE in December of 2012 and had a miscarriage a few days before Christmas in 2013.  In 2014, I was on bedrest, bleeding a lot, and the doctors were trying to be kind but also not particularly optimistic about the pregnancy.  In 2015, my brother died in late October and Christmas entailed a huge kerfuffle with my in-laws and in 2017, more in-law unhappiness stuff.

Thanksgiving in the US was this past Thursday, and I have a tendency to get anxious leading into the holidays.  Thursday morning, we headed out, and the holiday was…no big deal.  The food was good, I mostly enjoyed the company, and it was fairly low key for as big a group as was present.

In short, it was pleasant and largely unmemorable, which was lovely.

“Pleasant” gives me a more realistic goal to shoot for and mentally, lets me off the hook for “perfect” or “great”.  It allows for the mixed emotions that accompany this time of the year for me.  It’s okay to be happy or excited when I feel it, but also, to be sad or grieving when those moments come.  It doesn’t have to be a holiday season “to remember” (and it’s also okay to just “take the year off”).

This post is a part of Microblog Mondays.  If you want to read more, head over to Stirrup Queens!  Thanks to Mel for originating and hosting.

Infertility Quirks

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When I first went to the fertility clinic to start injected medications, I remember literally choking on something I was drinking when I called the specialty pharmacy and they told me how much foll.istim cost.  It’s still pretty mind-boggling that I only did a spit-take over the cost and then more or less went, “okay, so where do I sign?”  (Back when I was going through it, a vial cost just slightly less than $1 USD for 1 unit of the drug.  And if I bought the smaller size vial, the vial was usually overfilled by about 30-50 units, so it brought the cost down slightly.  But yes, a *lot* of money.)

Anyhow, this induced a really bizarre association in my brain that persists to this day: I measure the cost of just about everything in terms of how much infertility treatment cost.

New couch?  About one to one and a half vials.

New flooring? Around the cost of the drugs for two fresh IVF cycles.

Chimney cap? About the cost of clinic fees for a TI cycle.

Down payment on a house?  About two fresh IVF cycles plus the FET thrown in.

This last was particularly good when the mortgage banker gave us a sort of startled look after he quipped about the down payment being the biggest check most people ever write and I just started laughing.  It wasn’t really funny, but it was either laugh or cry.

The kicker in all of this was that when we wrote the checks for house-related stuff, it was a guarantee – we were actually getting a house, the flooring had a delivery date scheduled, and we could look at samples and touch fabrics for couches.  We weren’t paying for a 25% chance that we’d get the house or a 30-50% chance that the flooring would come.

There’s still a sense of unreality about every check I wrote during infertility, especially now, pitted against the tangible things that money can buy.

This post is a part of Microblog Mondays.  If you want to read more, please head over to Stirrup Queens!  Thanks to Mel for originating and hosting.

 

 

Not Quite the Original Project, But…

Fun fact: pattern sizes are NOT the same as ready-to-wear sizes.

As a consequence, I am paused on dress-making, mostly because I discovered that I cut the fabric too small. One frantic call to my aunt (amazing fabric arts person) later, and I’m sending most of the project to her to help figure out because she’s pretty sure she can save things by putting in a gusset, but that’s outside of my skill set right now.

Did I mention that aunts are THE BEST?  Because they really are.

Instead, I pulled out some fabric I had bought a couple of years ago and found a free 1/2 circle skirt pattern online.  That looked a bit less intimidating, as it involves two pieces only.

I got working, and by the end of the day, I had a skirt for Older Daughter.  I even knew enough to put interfacing in the waistband (that the tutorial/pattern didn’t mention) to get it to look right and managed to get the invisible zipper in (mostly) invisibly.  The hem is slightly crooked, but I’m pretty pleased with the outcome!

2018-11-06 18.42.56

I figure I increased my skills and followed a pattern correctly.  Next step is making a skirt big enough for me and putting in a lining.  We’ll see how that goes…

 

Meant To Be

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As one of those getting-rarer people who married their high-school sweetheart, people sometimes ask me if I knew he was “the one”.

Uh, no.  I met and started dating Arthur when I was 15.  That was entirely too young to seriously think of marriage.  I was a lot more worried about getting to a final round in speech team competition and trying to control the frizz of naturally curly hair than finding a marriage partner.

More than a few people who knew us back then, however, have told us that they knew we were going to end up together.  One of the speech coaches, also the yearbook adviser, put this photo/caption in the yearbook from my freshman year of high school:

Altered Speech Photo

This is at a speech team party, during an improv game.  My glasses and the frizz are, uh, fierce.  Please excuse my editing skills!

Now, around 21 years after our first meeting, it’s an interesting artifact to pull out every now and again :).

This post is a part of Microblog Mondays.  If you want more, please check out Stirrup Queens.  Thanks to Mel for originating and hosting.