Thursday, February 28, 2013


I was soooo smug when L was born. Spouting off about how two kids was not that much harder than one, really. And it was true. Then. What's an extra newborn around the joint? Just bring 'em along and live your life. And have a build in excuse to sit down for a while because the baby needs to nurse you know. We already had all the infrastructure---the physical stuff, the routines, the child-care set up, the parental mind set. Going from 1 to 2 kids wasn't the same completely catastrophically life-changing experience that going from 0 to 1 child was. 1+1 was more like 1.5.

Until. L found forward motion and a pincer grasp and an iron will for whatever the hell he wanted to do. Now its  not just meeting all the needs of two children: inputs, outputs, cleaning, maintenance, rest. There is this whole third entity of managing their interaction together.

When B was L's age, he could sometimes play around us, running, climbing, grabbing whatever he wanted. And it was fine. Cute & fun, even. We could either play with him,  watch him from a seated position, or do our own thing. We cannot do this with L. Because L's #1 priority in life is to get whatever B has (and usually try to eat or otherwise destroy it). Puzzle pieces are thrown into the toilet, crayons are stuffed into mouths, books are torn. And B is not one to simply take it. The usual scenario is: B is playing nicely. L grabs B's toy. B runs after and hits or pushes L. L cries. L hits B. Repeat.

So we have to watch them constantly or keep them physically apart. This is harder than it seems because L wants to be around B constantly. If I separate them by floor, L will shake the safety gate on the stairs and yell. Separating them vertically used to help---I would set B up with puzzles, coloring, or books on the dining table. Recently L learned how to climb onto the chairs and straight onto the dining table. One of us has to physically restrain L when B is doing something not-L-friendly.

They do sometimes play together...throwing balls, pushing each other around on push toys, climbing onto and jumping off of tables (ummmm....wait....), wrestling, or simply chasing each other around. Note that all these activities are bound to result in one or both parties being injured in a maximum of 60 seconds.

Its practically impossible for one of us to handle the boys ourselves outside of the house unless they are contained in the stroller.  I tried taking them to the park myself last weekend and it lasted about 15 minutes. B ran off onto the sidewalk (outside the park) and L found some trash to eat on the ground. I basically had to hold L while B ran around (imagine how much he howled), or have all 3 of us run together. I see people do it, and have concluded that either they are saintlier than I or (more likely) their children are better behaved. 

I've heard that they will soon be "each others best friend" and play together. I am eagerly waiting that phase, because ya'll I am tired.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

What is work?

When I started my first research year of fellowship, it was disconcerting to suddenly have control of my schedule & work day (rather than responding all day/night to the immediate needs of patients/pagers). I eventually figured it out and was rather productive in my research but every now and then continue to be hit with uncertainty about the progress I am making. How much of my days are spent doing REAL work---advancing my goals and utilizing my skills---vs. "busy work" only peripherally related to my (and my employer's) mission.

I recently read that career/job satisfaction is highest when workers see progress being made. I definitely get that; my best days are those in which I have achieved something tangible. For me that equates to one of the following:
  •  writing grants and papers
  • diagnosing, treating, or reassuring patients
  • creation of usable laboratory data--designing, performing, and analyzing experiments
Yet there are many many days where I do NONE of those things. I can have a busy 8 hour day doing nothing towards my major goals! How is this possible? What am I doing with my time? I'm not necessarily "wasting " it in the traditional sense of chatting, internet surfing, or spacing out. Its just the little (or big) extraneous tasks that I still have to do that take up so much damn time!

For clinical work, in addition to the actual revenue-generating office or hospital visits, I am:
  • returning phone calls or emails, sometimes playing days of phone tag with patients
  • typing in telephone encounters for above
  • calling in/faxing prescriptions (we used to have nursing support for this but are in-between nurses)
  • filling out prior authorization forms (same)
  • printing and mailing (hand-addressing the envelope) lab or radiology prescriptions
  • writing letters to referring physicians---initial office note and updates for all lab/xray results
  • reading about complicated cases
  • discussing cases with colleagues for advice
  •  arranging appointments for patients because our schedulers will not overbook without explicit instructions from case to case
  • scanning my schedule ahead of time because schedulers with been known to stray from the template or even put in a panel on days I have requested off months in advance

In terms of research, I also spend a LOT of my time not writing, planning experiments, or performing benchwork. I hired a tech that started in November, so I am doing way less crap than before but still:
  • Ordering reagents/supplies. Tech actually places the orders now, but a lot of this is new to her so she wants me to provide catalog numbers and to help her research bigger equipment pieces
  • Following up on said orders because our ordering people suck and have messed things up weekly
  • Meeting with research mentors---my primary mentor who I meet with approx 3 times/month, another mentor in a junior faculty mentorship program, my division chief. This includes time spent trying to set up these meetings and then time wasted waiting for these busy, invariably late, people to show up to meetings
  • Doing rote lab work when my tech is out (she was out 3 days for a funeral and I had to do all cell culture, which took 2 hours/day) or just because no one else will do it (next week I will be pooling mouse plasma consistently for assays)
  • Looking up protocols, emailing people about protocols/methods
  • Meeting with collaborators or potential collaborators (see above re: time spent waiting)
  • Going to seminars of interest, lab meeting, journal clubs, etc... I limit this a LOT, but I do need to get myself out there
  • Reading
And then of course there is the unique heartbreak of science, when hours/weeks of writing will result in a rejection  or weeks/months spent on experiments will yield absolute no usable data.

Writing all this out is helping me realize that I need to better schedule my days. I talked a big game last year about limiting email checking, and setting aside time for writing, but I have not yet done any of this. If I could spend one hour a day on writing papers, one hour 3 times a week for reading, limit my email checking to 3 times a day, and lump clinical busy-work to 3 concerted 30-60 minute sessions a week? Come to meetings armed with something constructive to do while waiting (maybe save email checks for these times or bring clinical/research related-reading)?

Any advice?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Oh Sundays: Our Lunch Cooking Strategy

OK, now prepared to be really astounded. Not only do we eat the same meal all week for our dinner, we actually have eaten the same EXACT meal for lunch 75-80% of ALL weekdays for the past several years (i.e. pre-kids and I think even pre-marriage, I remember us working on making these lunches in our own respective apartments and driving them over to each others' place!)

This is our lunch:

Grilled chicken salad: Chicken rubbed with G's special spice blend & cooked on the grill (we used to cook on a pan when we lived in an apartment, but this is WAY easier), romaine hearts chopped up and spun in the salad spinner, red bell peppers, shredded carrots or celery pieces, feta cheese (a more recent addition that we now cannot live without), cherry tomatoes (when in season, no gross winter tomatoes!), and chickpeas. The salads are pre-made on Sunday and put into those square ziplock plastic containers (yes they stay fresh until Friday). We put our dressing of choice in 2 oz tupperware containers directly in there too. There is a separate little container with crunchies as needed (croutons, toasted nuts). 

Before we get groceries we run through our schedule and decide how many salads we want that week. The default is 4, so we have 1 day to eat something different. Some weeks we have lunch meetings or special occasions and we only take 3 salads.  G makes the salads---he has it down to an exact science and the whole process takes less than an hour including the chicken prep.

I eat mine with Blue Cheese dressing. I also have 2 fruits to go with it and some water. It is extremely filling volume-wise and the low-carb nature keeps me from the post-lunch crash. This was actually why we started eating this....G always got sleepy after his sandwich for lunch, and we were also jumping on the low-carb bandwagon that was so popular at the time.

If we travel or somehow can't make the lunches on the weekend, we just buy food all week and it sucks. There were occasional times when we've been tired of the salads & we alternate other meals (chunky curry chicken salad with bread; tofu/veggie stir fry with quinoa) but that hasn't happened in a couple of years. When I was pregnant with B I could not stand the thought of chicken or salad or anything other than white carbs so I ate white pasta salad---basically pasta with salad dressing and minimal veggies that I also couldn't stand the thought of).  I've given the salads away when I haven't felt like eating them and all my friends think they are delish.

The boys also have a boring lunch routine. This is their 3 meal rotation---one meal per week, Monday-Thursday (on Friday they get pizza at school for $1 a slice).

Week 1: Veggie Hummus Sandwich---one cup peas (or other), one cup chickpeas, 1 T tahini, lemon & salt to taste. Spread on one slice of bread and fold/cut as needed.

Week 2: Veggie Chicken Salad---one poached chicken breast, 1 cup lima beans/peas or one avacado, mayo/yogurt, salt to taste all blended to smoothness. Spread on one slice bread.

Week 3: Pasta & Chicken---whole grain or veggie pasta with cubes of grilled chicken breast tossed with pasta sauce (tomato sauce +/- alfredo)

Other than the Friday pizza, we have to provide ALL meals/snacks so they each get about 6-7 containers of stuff every day. It is my job to make their lunches every evening. If I have time I do it before they all get home for the evening (after walking the dog, checking the mail, starting to heat up dinner). Otherwise I do it after they go to bed. Everything goes in take-and-toss containers such that our dishwasher top rack is ALWAYS full.

1: main lunch
2: veggie (steamed baby carrots, peas, green beans, edamame, broccoli---one veggie per week)--B eats his, L doesn't
3: fruit # 1 (banana, clementine, kiwi, grapes, strawberries, blueberries, mango, pomogranate, pear, apple, apricot, peach, plum, nectarine are all options depending on the season) most need to be peeled or cut.
4: fruit # 2
5: Fruit #3 for B, yogurt for L
6: cheese stick (whole for B, cut into tiny pieces for L)
7: snack (goldfish, pretzels, etc...)

We also throw fruit leather and Lara bars into their bag for emergency travel snacks (usually needed on the way home)

Next we'll talk about breakfast---and I'll need your advice because we're at a loss.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Oh Sundays: Our Dinner Cooking Strategy

Whenever I mention to people what we do for dinners, I get the same incredulous response: "oh. that's...interesting. we could never do that." So I am already prepared for the comments to this post. But just in case one of you could imagine doing it, I'll fill you in on the details.

Here's our secret: complete lack of variety. We pick a meal for the week, cook/prep it on Sunday, and eat it for 4-5 days. For obvious reasons, the rotation of meals is limited to things we all (OK at least the two adults) really love to eat. We started doing this pre-kids, when we began to realize that neither G nor I had the energy or motivation to whip together dinner after a long day at work and were resorting to a lot of budget and diet-busting takeout options. It was actually an accident---I made a big pan of lasagna Sunday night, for just the two of us, and we ended up having leftovers all week. And it was the BEST week! Not having to think about what to eat, to rush home & start prepping and cooking, to have something we KNEW was yummy to look forward to every night. The absolute BEST. So we went with it.

The kids are used to it---they know no different. It sometimes works really well, since it takes them a day or so to get used to a new food, they may eat more as the week goes on. Or they get sick of it and eat less. Or they eat granola bars on the way home & don't eat a bite. Or they get cranky and throw it at their brother. Whatever. We offer them the meal, or some component of the meal, and they eat as much or as little as they want. There have definitely been some losers that B refuses to even try, in which case we make up some pasta or sandwich as an alternative.  When they grew up and eat bigger portions this won't work anymore, so we're taking advantage of their tiny appetites for now!

There are many pros: greatly reduced mental load only having to plan one meal per week, streamlined grocery shopping, extremely efficient cooking (honestly takes little to no more time, as recipes tend to be made for 6-8 portions), being able to sit down to eat within minutes of getting in the door, and less cleaning every night. I'm so used to it that I don't get "tired" of eating the same delicious meal for a few days in a row...I find it similar to the usual "Monday Taco, Tuesday Pasta, Wednesday Chicken...." style of meal planning. Once we've eaten something, we won't have it again for at least a month.

The major con is that Sunday can get a bit busy with cooking (I'll post about lunches separately...similar approach), and if we're away for the weekend & don't get to do our Sunday cooking, the weekdays become a mess of take-out and pasta. I used to love experimenting with new and creative recipes and techniques, but now cooking is very much a robotic chore---there isn't time for everything in our lives and cooking as a hobby is mostly out. We will do one-off meals on the weekends occasionally.

Here are some examples of our weekly meals:

Lasagna/Stuffed Shells: with ricotta & spinach. Use a piping bag to get the mixture into stuffed shells without breaking them. Sometimes G will make a "meat sauce" with ground turkey, or chopped up chicken sausage to go with, but I prefer it vegetarian. The boys love the pasta part & will eat whatever spinach they can't scrape off.

Chicken/Fish with carb & veggie: The chicken/fish is cooked daily, of course. B LOVES breaded fish. We used to buy different kinds fresh from the store every couple of days, now we buy the frozen tilapia from Trader Joes. We make a huge batch of breading (breadcrumbs, spices, parmesan, nuts all ground together). Carb can be roasted or mashed potatoes, wild rice, risotto, or just bread/rolls. Veggie can be greens, green beans, asparagus, roasted brussel sprouts, or a salad. The boys won't touch the veggie anyways.

Mac & Cheese casserole: This recipe.  Everyone LOVES this. We add shredded chicken and broccoli to this to make it healthy. Will often serve with a salad or greens for adults.

Tex-Mex: Shredded chicken, seasoned veggies, "mexican" rice and all the fixin's (guac, salsa, sour cream, cheese) on tacos, burritos, quesadillas, enchiladas, or a mixture thereof. The boys love tacos (broken up pieces of taco shells with refried beans & cheese) and B will eat an adult portion of a quesadilla (WITH the veggies inside!)

Indian: G has a great recipe for chicken tikka masala that even the boys will eat. We add some sort of vegetable curry and make rice or naan from Trader Joe's.

Turkey Chili: I have a recipe from somewhere for a delish and super easy (brown turkey and throw in cans of things & spices) 4-bean turkey chili that we eat with cornbread or regular bread. This one was a fail with B (L ate little bits of turkey & bean that we put in his tray); B refused to try it and ended up eating pasta with red sauce that week.

Turkey Burgers: Made from scratch and served with veggies or salad. A huge hit for the kids. I dislike this meal. G made it this week, with roasted winter veggies that neither boy touched and were too mushy for my taste. I couldn't complain since I was on call and he pretty much did all the cooking solo. I don't mind it in the summer time, eating outside picnic-style, with avocado slices & a summery pasta salad.

So there you have it. Our bizarre but energy-saving cooking strategy!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Just to clarify....

I honestly don't believe there is anything inherently superior in one clothing size over another. Nor do I even really prefer myself to be one clothing size vs. another.

I just really would've preferred to be able to wear the pants I already shopped for, paid for, and had hemmed rather than spend the time, money, and aggravation to get a new set.

Also the size 2s made my butt look great. The 6's are a bit baggy in that area, but do prevent the muffin top. You win some, you lose some.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Letting go of...

  • Thinking I'll ever be a size 2 again. Bags & bags of pants out of my closet and into the donation pile. 3 pairs of brand new size 6 work pants and 1 pair of amazing size 6 stretchy skinny jeans into rotation.
  • Expecting to have "productive" evenings after work and dinner-bath-bed-cleanup  madness. Actually planning to relax with TV and reading, rather than planning something ambitious and feeling guilty when I end up reading or vegging. 
  • Reading advice about how to run my life and feeling inadequate that I can't don't want to follow it. I don't need 5 "anchor events" in a weekend (the thought is exhausting), or to save money by checking out books & movies from the library, or to hire a nanny instead of using daycare. 
  • Guilt about losing it with the kids now & again. They really can be horrid. I'm not a saint. When potty-trained-for-over-a-year B decides its fun to poop in his underwear (and LAUGH ABOUT IT!), mommy will get scream-y. Also, L, you are 16 months old. Getting up at 5AM is really really old news & mommy WILL be surly and neglectful to you until 6AM.
  • Nearly 50% of the blogs in my Reader. If I don't: laugh, comment, or learn something after reading, we are through.If you are reading, I do not mean you.
My size-6 body feels lighter already!

Saturday, February 9, 2013


Again, busy. Here are some updates...

-The weekend after this happened the boys were actually amazingly well-behaved. It was cold and snowy and we had a nice cozy weekend at home. Generally "nice" and "at home" don't go together for weekends with small children but this went surprisingly well. I think the boys appreciated having unlimited time to play with their toys, read books, and eat snacks.

-B is still hitting L a lot, often completely unprovoked. Not sure how best to handle it. Right now we are giving warnings and then time-out & "taking away" toys or privileges. Of course now L has learned to hit B and while we try to be equal in our discipline with him, the impact of "taking away" is obviously lost on such a young child.

-January re-set: I stuck to most of it---no sweets at all, exercising 3-4 days a week (very moderately, 20-30 minutes max), I completely stopped playing games on my phone before bed and have started reading instead (I've finished 2.5 novels instead!). Since I really don't have a sweet tooth it was pretty easy for me to abstain from random candy & baked goods. Since February I've only had 1 homemade cookie, 1 homemade muffin, and a few pieces of good dark chocolate.  I did quit the no-booze thing because it was my friend's birthday, and I'm not a fan of self-deprivation for its own sake...I think even the short period of not drinking helped break the daily habit which was the point. 

-My parents came for a week-long visit. It was SUCH a help. they came late Thursday night & stayed until the following Thursday evening. The boys stayed home for daycare, which means no lunches to make or drop-offs and pick-ups. Usually when L awoke at 5 or 5:30, one of my parents were up to get him. Over the weekend they took both kids with them to visit some friends for SEVERAL HOURS on Saturday and I went shopping and hung out with friends. We also got to go out to dinner on Sunday to a restaurant I'd been dying to try (no we didn't care about missing that football game that was on).

-I am on inpatient service this week & weekend. It's been really stressful, but satisfying. There is something to be said about patient care---you can't slack and be unproductive like you can sitting in your office "writing" or "analyzing data". I like doing it... once in a while.

Lots of thoughts in my brain, gotta work on getting them written out...