Saturday, September 23, 2017

young girls have picked them every one

Despite the fact that it's eighty skrillion degrees outdoors in the sun, it's officially Fall, which (at least around here) is the season for a particular brand of autumnal barnyard revels. Most of these places are pretty much the same. There are pumpkins, usually some variant of bounce apparatus, listless animals to pet, perhaps some sort of giant PVC tube slide done on the cheap, a corn maze, hayrides, a train ride where the train cars are inexplicably spotted like a Holstein cow 50% of the time, and perhaps cider with donuts. Standard.

That's not that interesting, because we've all been there, done that. But today we returned to a place we went to last year, Southern Belle Farm. The reason we went back to Southern Belle Farm is because they have a pick your own flower field. You heard me. PICK YOUR OWN FLOWERS. different!

A few reasons we like this place. One is that, unlike the apple orchard we went to two weeks ago, they don't nickel and dime you for every damn thing. One ticket for admission covers everything you could possibly want to do, unless you want to buy food. Second reason is that it's very well-kept. Well laid out, neat, clean, and (at least on the two occasions we've been there), not crowded. Third reason is that right there. Pick your own flowers. 

The flowers are beautiful. I don't know what kind they are (maybe someone could chime in if you recognize them), but there's a giant field of them, organized into deep rows. Flower picking is included in the price of admission ($14 per person between the ages of 3 and 65 years old). You just go in and pick as many as you want to take home. Last time we came we didn't know about the pick your own flowers, so we weren't quite prepared. The stems are pretty fibrous so it's hard to pick them with just your hands, and also we didn't have anywhere to put the flowers, so they were all wilted and dead by the time we got home. But this time I was prepared, boy. I had a bucket. I had cold water . I had garden shears for each kid. FORESIGHT IS 20/20 (is a thing that over-planners should smugly start saying).

Oh, and just this last. On our way to the car, we passed the corn maze. My kids don't want to do cornmazes anymore because the last time we did one we got lost (an anxiety-provoking experience enhanced by the fact that I was actually on backup call that day and anxious about my potential for ready egress already) but I don't think this formative trauma prevents them from standing near corn. (Yet. I suppose there's still time for them to be PTSDed by the Iowa caucus later on.) So I told them to stand amidst the corn and peek their faces out, because that would be a great "Children of the Corn" joke that might be me. It was a marginal success, if you consider the margin to be the floor. Maybe in addition to garden shears, I should have brought scythes.

(Thanks to Andrew Moore for recommending this place to us last year. We'll miss you, Good Andrew.)

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

back in the saddle again

So here's the thing about going back to school when you really haven't been in the classroom for the past...oh, let's say 16 years. (I am lopping off the last two years of med school in this calculation, since that was really more clinical than didactic, and really more indentured servitude than clinical.)

First of all, I can't remember the last time I've had to sit still for as long as I was in class over the course of the last weekend. And I'm old! Sitting still should be my default state at this point, and as I get older I expect I'll get increasingly horizontal until finally, I'm dead. (Meanwhile, also because old: reminiscing/bitching about how the good old days were better than this all bullshit.)

Second: I am trapped in amber. School is different now. I see it with my kids (Cal in particular has a particularly robust online curriculum in middle school, and he'll usually get all his homework assignments to complete and hand in online, or complete group projects via Google Hangout and the like), but I am a traditionalist. I don't like to consume didactic material on a screen. I need to read on paper. I need to write notes with a pen. I like touching things. Consuming information of a certain sort on line is like trying to eat after contracting cholera--it all just goes right through me. I don't know if it's simply a matter of preference or motor processing or what, but after a few half-hearted attempts at reading online, I just had to print out all my course materials from online and keep it in a binder, which I had to do at home because Columbia refused to do it for us, citing a grand school philosophy of environmental awareness and conservation. (My take? Fuck you, trees. Get in my printer.)

Third: There are a lot of words I haven't had to apply to myself personally in a while, and it feels weird to say them. I have "homework" to do. I have "problem sets." There are "papers" to write and "finals" to take. I have to locate and use a "pencil."

So in sum, this is all very different and disorienting and it's a lot of work.

I kind of love it.

Carry on.

P.S. Oh yes, many of you have told me that my page has been loading slowly and crashing with some frequency. So first, disclaimer: I don't actually know how computers work anymore, so this might be a bit of a process to fix. But second, I tried to streamline a few things on the sidebar that I think were causing problems (I suspect the Tumblr code widget was going Skynet), so if this has helped, or if it's all still exactly the same degree of shittiness, let me know, and for what it's worth I will tinker some more.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

high water mark

Hurricane Irma hasn't arrive in our area yet, but somehow she's already caused some flooding here.

(We were trying to fill our bathtub with clean water in case anything came up, but then we lost track of how full the bathtub was getting and it overflowed. This reminds me of when we're starting a case in the OR, make a hash of the A-line or central line or what have you, and dryly note, "Anesthesia EBL: 10 mL." We caused the very problem we were trying to avoid.)

So, Hurricane Irma's set to arrive here tomorrow. Our friends to the south obviously have it much worse than us, so it feels insulting to even tangentially compare our situation to theirs. But Atlanta is...bad at weather. So. The kids have no school for the next two days. Joe cancelled his clinic tomorrow. We got a few extra flashlights to keep on hand. (We had a bunch already, but somehow they always wander, because the kids think that flashlights are toys, which I guess they kind of are until you actually need them.) We filled up a bunch of thermoses with fresh water. We are charging all our stuff, and all our accessory battery packs, just in case the power goes out. (This is actually the most likely scenario, as the power goes out with some regularity even under normal bad weather conditions.) We opened up the pool cover and checked all the gutters. And, of course, we tried to save a bathtub full of fresh water just in case.

I honestly think it's not going to be a really big deal, in the end, but Governor Deal has declared a state of emergency (which I think it's likely the most prudent decision), so what can you do? I'll be heading in to work tomorrow (ahead of the bad weather, I think--I don't believe it's supposed to get bad until the afternoon) but I'm pretty sure that as extreme weather shelters go, a hospital is probably not a bad place to be.

Everyone stay safe, drive slow, and I'll see you at work tomorrow.

Saturday, September 09, 2017

the cider house RULES! a joke that has surely never been made before!

(Sorry John Irving. Maybe if your books weren't so fucking depressing people wouldn't need to make jokes about them to laugh through the pain. A Prayer for Owen Meany? More like A Prayer for Owen SADDIE, am I right?)

(I' myself out.)

Anyway. Where was I? Oh right. Today we went apple picking, because it's fall and the weather is beautiful and there's no way you would know that Hurricaine Irma will be up in our zone by the day after tomorrow. (Though hopefully just a tropical storm by then. Floridian friends, stay safe.) My kids like to pick things (noses, fruit, and scabs, in that order), you know I have a thing about getting out of the house on the weekends, and going apple picking means a higher than average chance of getting to eat a fried apple pie, which was the best thing they had at McDonalds before they decided to change the recipe and ruined my entire life.

(When I was about nine or ten, my family and I went to Paris, where I realized that McDonalds was still making their apple pies there in the old fashioned manner--that is to say, apples in a crust cooked directly in the deep fryer, served fresh.) And honest to god I think I ate a McDonalds apple pie there just about every single day of our trip. To Paris. Fuck off, galettes des pommes, I'm eating this other, better thing right now.)

The apple orchard we went to was B. J. Reece Apple House, where we'd gone apple picking last year. B. J. Reece is located in Ellijay, GA, where all the other apple orchards are, and they have a reasonably large variety of apples that reach peak season throughout the fall. I think right now, pretty early in the season, we were picking Golden and Red Delicious, Red Romes, and Galas--though we didn't get to the Galas because they were across the road and our bags were full by the time we finished one side of the orchard.

B. J. Reece also has your standard panoply of of Farm FFamily FFFun activities, though they do nickel and dime you a la carte. $12 per peck sized back of apples, $5 per person for admission, $3 per person for the petting zoo, $2 per for the bouncing pillow. Because of this piecemeal ticketing process, the check-in process is a bit annoying (and not precisely cheap), but...I get it. They need to keep the lights on. I have no idea how these places ever really make money, frankly.

We only ended up doing the petting zoo, and the giant slide (which, thankfully, was included in the price of admission rather than a separate ticket). The petting zoo was quite nice. They had your standard animals (there are always goats), but they also had puppies and kittens (I KNOW) and a baby cow, who was not at all interested in being pet, but very cute, and will probably teach you Important Life Lessons à la City Slickers.

This chicken thinks he's FABULOUS.

Also, these asshole turkeys. Why do they always have turkeys at a petting zoo? WHO WANTS TO PET A TURKEY? LOOK AT THEM.

B. J. Reece also has a market and bakery that sells your usual stuff. Pre-picked apples, farm fresh vegetables, honey, jams and jellies, hot sauces, baked goods, boiled peanuts, popcorn, cider, that kind of thing. They also have a bit of a lunch operation, though I don't think they've fully ramped up for the season yet, as the only food they had on offer were hot dogs.

I included this because I've seen clover honey before, but...cotton honey? That's a thing? (I guess it must be. I'm no apiologist.)

One last plus of going to an apple orchard early-ish in the season is you can still try to get in your family picture for your holiday cards. These never turn out that great (because usually we take the photos ourselves, quite often using a selfie stick, which is what you do when you are too cheap and/of self-conscious to hire someone to take family photos for you), but aside from general too-sunny squintiness, I think we made out OK this year.

Now to defensively eat apples for the next three months.

Friday, September 08, 2017

office space

That face when you realize that instead of having one written assignment due for your Healthcare Management class on Thursday, you actually have three written assignments due.

Where do you find a place to do work? I've always had trouble really getting work done at home. Always. It's not a matter of not having enough space. I have space. Physical space, I mean. We even have a room designated as an "office," though in recent years there has been some creep as one kid or two have gradually taken over my desk to use my computer for this that or the other thing. But it doesn't even really matter--even with the separate room, and even with the door closed, and indeed, even when no one is home but me, I find it very distracting to work at home. There's just too much else to do. I could do my work, or I could put another load of laundry in. Or clean up the living room. Or start prepping dinner. Or let the dogs out. Or let the dogs in. And hmm, this keyboard seems awfully dusty. (Smash cut to a 30 minute quest to find that one compressed air blower thingy that I'm sure I saw coming out of a box when we first moved here more than three years ago.) And on and on. So it's not so much a matter of finding the space, you see. It's just a matter of finding the correct sensory deprivation tank.

My go-to for the past decade-plus has always been to go to a Starbucks. Starbuckseseseses are generic and neutral enough, and if you bring headphones, reasonably quiet. (Though I did memorize the entire Beck "Mutations" album in med school against my will because apparently that's all they ever played at that Starbucks on 103rd and Broadway while I was studying for Step 1 of the Boards. "It's nobody's fault, nobody's fault, but my oooooown.")

My only real problem with Starbucks is...well, there are two problems. One is that you kind of have to pay to be there. It's not a rule, of course, but what kind of ass parks themselves in a coffeeshop for hours without buying something? So that's four or five bucks right there. (Sometimes, when I would really stay there all damn day, as I did during med school to study, or in residency while writing my book, I would buy a drink in addition to the cheapest real food item possible, which was usually an egg salad sandwich. I...don't like egg salad sandwiches that much anymore.)

But the issue of rent is to be expected. My real problem was more of a sensory one. I have headphones, I stay in the corner, I don't lollygag at what other people are doing. But the smell. I don't know if they have a roaster on site, or if that's just the smell of coffee itself brewing, but if you sit in a Starbucks for a few hours, you're going to smell like you just walked out of a bonfire. Everything. Your hair, your clothes, your skin, the inside of your nose. You smell like an arsonist. You smell like you just finished smoking four packs of cigarettes.

Anyway, I know this is, like, the most obvious solution in the world, but today I tried something new.

The library. I know, duh. THE LIBRARY. This was a nice library! So quiet! Such beautiful natural light! Such a delicious old book smell when you walk in the door! So close to my house! So free!

I don't know why I'd ruled this option out in the past, but I've had several formative bad experiences trying to get real work done in a library. In med school, people would get weirdly territorial about their study spaces, and I would leave all their stuff by choice carrels or tables (and I mean STUFF--not just books, but changes of socks, full meals, honest to god desk lamps that they toted in from home) and their general gunnerishness turned me off. (Sorry, fellow med students. You're great, but recognize that there was a point in our career development where we were all borderline intolerable.) As for my regular neighborhood public library, this may have just been my area in New York, but our local branch library was more a place where pleasantly demented seniors would come read all the newspapers on Earth (licking their fingers before turning each page, which is something they somehow managed to do loudly), and where homeless dudes would come in out of the cold and wash up in the bathrooms. Which is fine, but maybe just not the ideal space to try to do some hard core memorization. Or even soft core memorization. Or barely legal memorization. Because I would get really interested in the side stories. Like: how many newspapers can you read in one day? Did you bring them into the library from home? What's the point of reading a two year-old newspaper cover to cover? I HAVE QUESTIONS.

Are you able to work at home? How do you do it? Do you have kids? Don't they always want to talk to you? How do you minimize distraction? How do you carve out the mental space for this work but not that work? These are things that I'm going to need to start to address more, once I start having to do more school work after hours, in the margins of my day. But when I'm able to use it, the library is going to be a nice option.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

reading the room

I'm going to be out of town for four days next week (see: yesterday's post), so I signed up to be the "parent reader" for Nina's kindergarten class today. Because of guilt. Oh yeah, also I wanted to promote literacy and volunteer my time and surprise my kid at school. But mainly guilt.

I've done this "parent reader" gig a few times in the past, and I've learned a few things along the way. The first time I did it this, when Cal was in Pre-K, it took a lot more planning and schedule swapping (I was still working full time back then), so it was a higher pressure situation all around. I actually had to get some kind of special dispensation from the teacher to switch slots, since "parent readers" were supposed to come in only for the kids' SUPER DUPER ALL ABOUT ME SUPERSTAR week, and on Cal's original week I was work-scheduled up to the gills. (Cal went to a private school in midtown Atlanta at the time, and as a general rule I've noticed private schools are much less understanding about parents not being able to drop every damn thing and show up midday for stuff on short notice.) But anyway, that first time, the book I brought was...well, I thought it was a good idea. It was one of Cal's favorite books. It was by Dr. Seuss. We had a big hardcover with pictures that everyone could see, even all the way in the back. I loved this book as a kid myself. Right here:

MAJOR ERROR. First of all, the book is 64 pages long. Second of all, it has way too many words. Third, too much lingual dexterity is required, so you can only read it so fast.

Oh, brother.

I think by page four of the Happy Birthday book, the kids in the class were flopping around on the floor, running around the back of the room, and generally talking through the whole thing. (Even my own kid was losing interest, and this was HIS BOOK.) I think I skipped a whole chunk of pages in the middle, just to get through it (no one noticed), and at the end, one of the teachers came up to me and said (sympathetically, helpfully), "Yeah, I find that...shorter books are...usually better choices."

I'm not a naturally performative person. I will read to my own kids but I don't naturally have the type of personality that makes me want to read to all kids. I'm not even sure that I like most kids that aren't my own kids. But I can limp through this "parent reader" type of thing OK, because now I know to make better book choices. In sum:

* Keep it short. 
* Keep it pithy.  
* It doesn't matter if it's "too easy" for your kid. The other kids don't care how sophisticated your child's taste is, and the teacher isn't making judgements on your household or your kids' I.Q. if you end up choosing SPIDER-MAN'S POP-UP LASER TAG ADVENTURE for your parent reader selection, so long as the kids in the class stay out of her hair for ten minutes so she can check her e-mail and finish her sandwich.
* Pick books that are funny, where you can really act out the voices, are almost always successful if you're willing to go there. 
* For God's sake, don't read The Giving Tree unless you want to cry in front of a bunch of five-year olds like some kind of psycho. In fact, I try to stay away from melancholia altogether, because I hate feelings. Where the Wild Things Are? Get outta here. The Runaway Bunny? Fuck you.
* Bring a selection, and let the kids choose, but know that there will be split votes and you'll have to end up reading pretty much all of them.

So here are the ones I brought.

Not pictured: Don't Push the Button (which is kind of a dumb book, but interactive--and yes, I know the book was not written for me, but it's still dumb) and The Monster at the End of This Book, which is actually the perfect book for this kind of thing, but it's only available in teeny tiny board book or Little Golden Book size, and also I can't find our copy. (Those groovy fonts, tho!)

We ended up having time to read three. Don't Push the Button as a warm-up act, This Is Not My Hat as the headliner (I like the art in that one, as well as in John Klassen's other book I Want My Hat Back--first in a three part hat oeuvre, I suppose), and closing with that old evergreen Don't Let The Pigeon Drive the Bus.

"How come you have so many funny books?" this one kid in the front row asked me at the end. Like it was some kind of accident. Kid, you don't even know.

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

back to school

I've enjoyed seeing everyone's back to school photos of social media these past few weeks, though they make me realize that I must be either one click off age-wise or else totally disconnected from current parenting trends, as I have never in my life taken a picture of my kid holding a sign (or if you want to get real fancy, a blackboard) broadcasting what grade they were going into. (Another trend that either came later or else that I just totally ignored was that thing where you put a giant sticker on the front of your kids' onesie telling everyone how many months old they are.) I mean, not that I don't take a picture of my kids on approximately the first day of school, because I do...kind of. But it just seems like there are so many things and rituals and accoutrement now. Like the child-rearing industry is slowly becoming the bridal industry.

But speaking of back to school...

Around the end of last year (right around, oh, say...Wednesday November 9th), I started thinking about how I could get more involved in healthcare on a broader level. I love my job and have no plans to stop being an anesthesiologist, but I also wanted to do something...else. Something more. Something less zoomed in, something a little more macro, something more policy and population-based. A broader way to help out. So what I decided to do was to go back to school and get a Masters of Public Health.

This was not an easy decision. Getting this degree is going to take a lot of time. It comes with a not-inconsequential monetary cost. I don't "need" to do it, and in most ways it's going to make my life a lot harder. It's not linked to any particular path for upward mobility or higher earning power, and I'm not looking to switch jobs. Almost no one that I'm close to understands why I want to do this, or thinks its remotely a good idea. (My parents seemed initially excited at the news, but then rapidly realized that I said I was getting an MPH, not an MBA, as they misheard. They were much less excited after that.) Oh, and also, I don't really have a really good specific idea of what exactly I want to do with this degree when (or if) I finally complete it. If I'm going to be totally honest, the only real reason I want to go back to school is because I want to learn more about public health, and can only hope that in the process of going through the coursework I'm going to find a useful, real-life way to marry this knowledge with my current career and find a good, real-world application for it. But I don't know what that's going to look like yet.

So anyway, that's happening. I've been accepted to the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia, and will be starting their part-time executive MPH program next week. "Part-time" means I still will working my normal job, exactly the same as before. It also means a lot of remote work and an online curriculum, though once a month, for one long weekend (Thursday through Sunday, all day long), I will be flying into New York and completing my in-person classroom requirement. This, every month, for two years. We had an on-campus orientation in August. The first official day of classes is next week on September 14th. If I can get through this all without losing my mind, I'll be slated to graduate in August of 2019.

The time investment. The time investment is...a lot. I take it seriously. I work part-time at the hospital, but I have three kids (which is why I went part-time in the first place), and kids don't just go on auto-pilot. Doing this program necessarily translates into less time for me for them. It means more time in the evening spent in front of books, more than twice as many weekends I will be out of the picture, less flexibility for everyone all around. This was Joe's main objection to me starting this program. I don't think I'm airing any dirty laundry by talking about this, because he'd tell you just as easily: he doesn't think this is such a great idea. He's nominally supportive, and by that I guess I just mean he would never tell me explicitly not to do it. But for our family, I know he'd really rather I just...didn't. He doesn't see why we spent so many years getting to a point where our life was finally getting easier only to deliberately make it harder again.

But that was my exact thinking, only in reverse. We have three kids. Our youngest, Nina, just started kindergarten this year. I'm not saying our kids still aren't youngish (they are), or that they don't need me as much (they do, though the ways in which they need me are less about immediate survival and more about presence and guidance and...well, I guess I do all the food shopping and cooking, so, yes, maybe a little bit of survival). But it's a bit easier now. We have some breathing room. We have margins. What do you do with that elasticity? What else do you want to do? What's important to you? Is it about the luxury of empty space, or is it about the luxury to take on more? To do more with your life? What comes next?

Also. I finished residency nine years ago. Nine years into private practice. I love my current job, I love taking care of patients. It's the most rewarding, immediate, and intimate type of service I could ever hope to provide. (I know I'm supposed to say, "outside of parenthood" right here, but I won't. It's not that I don't think parenthood is important, I just feel it's a completely different thing.) But I feel like there's more I want to do. I just don't know how yet, so I want to learn. Because life is not lived in order to be easy. Life is lived to be worthwhile.

And honestly, once I decided to go ahead and do this thing, part of me was really tickled and excited about the idea of going back to school. It's been a long time. And I like school. I like learning. I like knowing things. I especially like knowing things that I feel I should know already. I've been doing some pre-reading for some of my classes, and there are so many things I'm learning now--about healthcare economics, policy, the history of Medicare and Medicaid--that I can't believe I hadn't been explicitly taught before. And the fact that I'll be back at school right where I started, at Columbia, on the health science campus...I just get a kick out of returning "home." (Columbia friends: the School of Public Health is located in the old Psych Institute, next door to the new Psych Institute, two doors down from our first year prison dorm rooms in Bard Hall. That was a grim little block wasn't it?)

So anyway. That's what's new with me. How have you been doing?