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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2018 Year in Review: Books

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Every time I put on the Rent soundtrack, one of the ways I consistently answer the question “how do you measure a year?” is “In books I read!”  Naturally, there are plenty of others, but books are a marvelously quantifiable answer.

Fiction:

Two Dark Reigns – Kendare Blake

Crazy Rich Asians – Kevin Kwan

Kingdom of the Blind – Louise Penny

Norwegian Wood – Haruki Murakami

Prep – Curtis Sittenfeld

Sisterland – Curtis Sittenfeld

Rapid Falls – Amber Cowie

Burial Rites – Hannah Kent

Innocent Traitor: A Novel of Lady Jane Grey – Alison Weir

Three Wishes – Liane Moriarty

We Have Always Lived in the Castle – Shirley Jackson

The Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday Horror – (Daniel) Mallory Ortberg

Three Dark Crowns – Kendare Blake

One Dark Throne – Kendare Blake

The Young Queens – Kendare Blake

Origin – Dan Brown

The Family Next Door – Sally Hepworth

The Long Drop – Denise Mina

Small Great Things – Jodie Picoult

Nonfiction:

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Start Up – John Carreyrou

Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder – Caroline Fraser

King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa – Adam Hochschild

Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things – Jenny Lawson

Year of No Clutter: A Memoir – Eve Schaub

Between the World and Me: Ta-Nehisi Coates

The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter – Margareta Magnusson

Hell’s Princess: The Mystery of Belle Gunness, Butcher of Men – Harold Schechter

Siblings Without Rivalry: How To Help Your Children Live Together So You Can Live Too – Adele Faber

In Bloom: Trading Restless Insecurity for Abiding Confidence – Kayla Aimee

Night Driving: A Story of Faith in the Dark – Addie Zierman

Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy – Sheryl Sandburg

Life in a Medieval City – Frances Gies

The Art of the English Murder: From Jack the Ripper and Sherlock Holmes to Agatha Christie and Alfred Hitchcock – Lucy Worsley

Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith – Barbara Brown Taylor

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) – Mindy Kaling

The Blood of Emmett Till – Timothy B. Tyson

Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again – Rachel Held Evans

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened – Jenny Lawson

Mary Boleyn: The Mistress of Kings – Alison Weir

Squeezed: Why Our Families Can’t Afford America – Alissa Quart

The Trauma Cleaner: One Woman’s Extraordinary Life in the Business of Death, Decay, and Disaster – Sarah Krasnostein

You’ve Been So Lucky Already – Alethea Black

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI – David Grann

Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century – Peter Graham

Dead Mountain: The Untold Story of the Dyatlov Pass Incident – Donnie Eicher

Infreakinfertility: How to Survive When Getting Pregnant Gets Hard – Melanie Dale

The Cross and the Lynching Tree – James H. Cone

When We Were on Fire: A Memoir of Consuming Faith – Addie Zierman

Unf*ck Your Habitat: You’re Better Than Your Mess – Rachel Hoffman

The Monopolists: Obsession, Fury, and the Scandal Behind the World’s Favorite Board Game – Mary Pilon

More Than Halfway Through, and Still Reading:

The Republic of Pirates: Being the True and Surprising Story of the Caribbean Pirates and the Man Who Brought Them Down: Colin Woodard

World of Our Fathers: The Journey of the East European Jews to America and the Life They Found and Made: Irving Howe

Reread:

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End – Atul Gawande

Ready For Air: A Journey Through Premature Motherhood – Kate Hopper

Juniper: The Girl Who was Born Too Soon – Kelley Benham French, Thomas French

I’m looking forward to reviewing a few of the highlights on the list and looking forward to more books in 2019!

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

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.  

Meditations on Moving

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One of the few authors I’ll spring for straight up (instead of waiting at the library or until I find it on sale) is Louise Penny.  I’ve written a few (okay, okay, probably more than a few) times about how much I love Penny’s mystery novels here.  She’s one of the authors writing today that I really want to meet, though I’ll admit that I’m a little terrified that if I did, in fact, meet her, I’d just fan-girl all over the place and embarrass myself.

In any case, Penny’s latest, Kingdom of the Blind came out last week and I’ve spent the last few days reading.  Yet again, I’m struck by Penny’s ability to get to the heart of life, living, and human emotions.  One of my favorite parts of the books are the author’s note at the end, where Penny writes so evocatively about her own life and struggles.  For a number of years, Penny’s husband Michael suffered from dementia and died in 2016.  Penny has also been open about being a recovering alcoholic and the incredible loneliness, anger, and sadness she felt for so long as well as many wonderful things she values in her life now.

“A funny thing happened on my way to not writing this book,” Penny notes, “I started writing.”

“How could I go on when half of me was missing?  I could barely get out of bed.” She continues.  “But then, a few months later, I found myself sitting at the long pine dining table where I always wrote.  Laptop open.”

I relate to that in such a big way.  While I’ve never lost a spouse, I have lost loved ones, as well as other, less tangible bits and pieces along the way.

It’s hard, losing, whatever that loss comprises.  Especially at this time of the year, when everything seems suffused with traditions and the place at the table seems all the more empty than usual.  When it’s impossible not to remember and the commercials and pictures and expectations are designed to evoke emotions that often I’d rather leave in the background or unexamined.

Sometimes living, moving, feels a bit like a betrayal.  With an ache that has the sharpness of a gunshot echoing from 2015 and holes that rend the threads to keep weaving it all together, it feels impossible to tie the knots and work to keep creating.  To set the empty place and also hold the feast.

That’s been a struggle for me lately, even though my grief isn’t new.  I’ve reached that sort of half-mourning stage, where the sadness doesn’t seep into every moment or corner, but comes out at both expected and unexpected times with a startling strength.

I’m grateful to Penny for not denying the darkness, but also for the joy she takes in how moving forward encompasses her loss: “Far from leaving Michael behind, he became even more infused in the books.  All the things we had together came together in Three Pines.  Love, companionship, friendship.  His integrity.  His courage.  Laughter.”

In so many ways, that’s what I’m seeking.  Not to leave behind, but to hold the love and live.

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.  

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.

 

 

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.