Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Enough already with “War on Christmas”

A few weekends ago, our lab hosted a holiday party for research participants and their families. During the party, I noticed the diversity of the group. I also realized that of the 75 or so guests at that party, at least one-third likely do not celebrate Christmas for either cultural or religious reasons. Which makes me wonder…why are some people so angry about saying Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas?

I’m pretty sure most people who do not celebrate Christmas are not offended by Christmas greetings and d├ęcor, but what’s wrong with making our sentiments a little broader and more gracious in more public contexts? There are lots of people who celebrate Hanukah or Ramadan or Hindu holidays, but I’m wondering if the "War on Christmas" people know any of them. If they did, maybe they’d have a change of heart. It’s really not difficult or offensive to be inclusive. Really.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Advice for future doc students

Now that I'm realizing that I actually may graduate one day, I keep thinking about what I wish I had known (or fully embraced) when I started. The problem is my brain is so gone that I can't remember all these tidbits at once. So, I'll just try to log them here when I think of them.

1. Keep all your books, articles, notes, posted slides, everything from your coursework and seminars. Be geeky and organize them for easy access later. It's very likely that you'll one day be TEACHING the very topics you thought you could doze through since they don't really relate to your research.

2. Everyone is required to read journal articles that are dull, utterly confusing, seemingly irrelevant, and/or, again, do not relate to your line of research. When pressed for time (or losing your sanity), read the abstract, then skim the introduction and the discussion. Look for phrases like "In other words" and "To summarize" and "For example" as they will shortcut you to the learnin.

3. When you are reading stuff that actually DOES relate to your line of research or is otherwise important, and you're having trouble focusing, synthesizing, retaining or even understanding the material, come up with your own examples. Write them down. Draw an illustration of the example. Then explain it aloud to your dog. Multi-modal learning works!

4. Similarly, when preparing for general/qualifying exams, write while you read. Read a few paragraphs, think about it, and write about the concepts for yourself, including your nifty examples (be very careful to note any paraphrasing and put verbatim in quotes to avoid plagarizing). You will learn the material more thoroughly, and hey! how cool is it that I already wrote two pages about this construct that I can now synthethesize with another two pages I wrote about the Schmedly & Furgus 2007 article and dump it into my exam!

To be continued...

5. If possible, try to have a baby during your doctoral program. It will make study time feel like a vacation. (Kidding...kind of...)

Sunday, November 13, 2011


Style appointment. New car. Playdates. Doc appointment. Conference call. Cider. Model discussion. Lantern walk. Trader Joe's. Good conversation. Seahawks. IRB. Grant reviews. Conference proposal. Error analysis. Stats consult. Lunch. Caregivers group. Art with Heart. Meet with Nancy. Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Style file

I recently signed up for an in-home clothing/style consultation as part of one of those 50% off Groupon-type deals. This is incredibly exciting to me as I've been wanting to do something like this for ages, but just couldn't justify the expense. Anyway, I decided to write down a list of style likes and dislikes to maximize my 90-minute appointment. No use spending time telling them No Thanks on peasant skirts and wedges...but I'm getting ahead of myself.

wool plaid skirts (above knee, esp with tights and boots)
wool in general
boots, boots, boots
wingtip inspired footwear (e.g. platform heels)
leather (esp camel-color)
wrap shirts and dresses
minimal jewelry
New England prep (sometimes meets British punk)
neutrals, orange, blue, red, yellow
jackets and cardigans
tailored shapes
t-shirts under jackets and cardigans
patent leather
mary janes
stylish shoes okay for longer walks
penny loafers

prints (graphic preferred, some floral okay)

skirts cut on a bias
peasants skirts
most purple, many pinks, many greens, most pastels
wedge heels
crew neck
elastic hem/hip shirts
many florals
overt polyester
Uggs except as slippers
hoodies except to the gym
patchwork leather

Monday, October 3, 2011

My husband also has 2 kids

While from the title it may look like Ray has 2 other children, what I mean to say is...my husband has the same general life situation as I do, and yet he doesn't seem prone to dropping 8 balls a day. He works full-time, he has a 4-year-old and a baby, and yet, he remembers what's in the fridge, what resources are available to fix a problem, what appointments he has each day. Me...not so much.

I've always be an organized, on-time kind of person. I've always kept a calendar, but often didn't need to refer to it even when it was chocked full of plans. I also used to remember my list of to-dos without much trouble. I'd write them down, but generally they'd percolate in my head until I could check them off. No longer.

In the past few weeks, I've "no showed" for 2 appointments. This is surprising and embarrassing. I am NOT a no-show kind of person, at all! My present to-do list is so long, that I can't keep track of even half of it. At most I can think of 3 or 4 things that are the most pressing, and then occasionally one of the other 41 things will drift randomly in my head. I am lucky if I'm near a piece of paper to write it down in that moment, because a moment is all it takes before it's out of consciousness for another few weeks.

I guess I have to attribute this to lack of sleep (please, Baby, sleep through the night SOON), 2 kids, several big-push deadlines in the last 4 months, and the general stress of graduate studies. But again, is this really any different from my husband? We trade off nights with the baby, he has lots of stressful changes at work, and to be honest, he does most of our cooking and all of our laundry. I guess I pick up the other household stuff -- general errands, projects and household upkeep -- but still.

I guess the problem is really that my working memory capacity has shrunk, but my need for it has increased exponentially. Regardless, I've got to work out a new system for things. Maybe a talking calendar or flashing to do list. Something!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Hello, er...40!

Today is Friday of Birthday Weekend. I am not working today, getting home stuff done that has been languishing while I've been marathon reading and writing for the last...forever. And having a leisurely lunch and nail appt with Jana. Nice way to start the new year/decade/life, part II.

Anyway, this birthday is one where people like to take stock, look at their lives so far, look ahead, mull, evaluate. Not a bad exercise...

Aside from the typical why-didn't-I-figure-that-out-sooner! moments, life's been pretty darn good and satisfying. When I was a kid, I had no idea what I wanted to do after college. I imagined myself married by 27 (...???). Though I consciously envisioned myself with a Career, I've recently realized that the only career I could actually picture was being a housewife. That was a shocking realization, but it makes sense: my mom, my first and most influential role model, was a full-time stay-at-home mom, and a darn fine one at that. It's a tough job...and one that does not fit me at all. However, it took me a gazillion years to finally land on what I should be doing after twisting around down some inappropriate (and expensive) for me paths. I've always had a sense that I'm here to do something, and I'm so glad I've found what that something is.

I think my biggest...not regret, not disappointment...wish is that I had not listened to the messages in my head that said "you are not good at math" and "you don't like science" -- because guess what? I CAN do math. Dare I say, I even LIKE it. And I DO like science. Had I known this long ago, my path to the really satisfying "should be doing" part of my life would have been much, much shorter. However, there's no reason to dwell on this now, other than to make sure that my kids have access to the fun of math and the fun of science, and let them make career plans based on real information rather than unhelpful (and unhealthy) BS internal messages.


There is more to say on this general topic...but I'll have to tackle it later. Birthday kick-off awaits!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

On my way back

Since June 2010, I have written more than 200 pages and read more than 100 journal articles. I've birthed a general exam and an 8 lbs baby. But I've missed my blog, and I'm ready to write about something besides aphasia, working memory and cognitive inhibition. Seriously.

I'll do that before the end of this week.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Time to post

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


Last post I wrote about my plan to follow a gestational diabetes eating plan. That is still true, though I haven't made much progress. However, I now know why that is true, and a whole lot more.

Years ago, when I worked for a medical center and had access to all kinds of specialists, I saw a neuropsych about my foggy brain. For years I had experienced nearly daily brain fog and trouble initiating, especially noticeable at work. Though I rarely talked about it, I described it to a few people as akin to writing with a really dull pencil, or even closer, being asked complex questions after waking from a dead sleep. Bottomline, I struggled to maintain focus on my work, reading, and sometimes had trouble figuring out what I was "suppose" to be doing in the given moment. I was also tired, even groggy, more than I thought was normal. The neuropsych listened to my (brief) description and said, "Oh, you have dysthymia. You'll probably need to be on anti-depressants for the rest of your life." (Dysthymia is chronic, low-grade depression.) It kind of made sense. What I had been experiencing were symptoms of depression, except I didn't actually feel depressed. Anyway, she wrote me a prescription and sent me on my way. Oh well -- better living through chemistry, right?

I took a low-dose of anti-depressants for a while, maybe 6 months to a year. They did seem to help my mental agility and fatigue, but I also felt a little too amped sometimes...a little like being over-caffeinated. I eventually decided that the brain fog was better than agitated productivity.

Since then, whenever I'm seeing a new clinician and am asked about my medical history, I always have included "dysthymia." And as a grad student, it felt almost comical to devise ways to trick my brain into doing what every grad student does most, read, think and write. I felt really slow at these fundamental activities about 80% of the time. Once in a while (maybe once a month), I would have a whole day of clarity. Otherwise, my strategy: suck it up, persevere, drink coffee.

Flash forward to a few months ago. I saw the endocrinologist about my gestational diabetes, and he mentioned the 'slight hypothyroid' note in my chart. I told him I had been borderline hypothyroid, as discovered by my naturopath after August was born. He wrote out a lab slip and said with some gravity, "Make an appointment with me 6 weeks post-partum. We need to talk about this." Okay Doc, whatever.

At six week post-partum, I showed up in his office, complete with my latest thyroid labs. I figured he would give me the low dose thyroid med my regular doctor had prescribed a couple years ago and I'd be on my way. Instead, he looked at me and took out a blank sheet of paper and a pen.

"You see, most people use this range to diagnose hypothyroid. See how broad it is? Well the American Academy of Endocrinologists have recommended a narrower range. See how your numbers are at the outside of that range? Now, even more recently we have research to show that the range should actually be even smaller. Given this, see how you are way outside the range. And the way your labs look, you probably have some trouble with mental function, like concentration and fatigue. Your previous thyroid meds wouldn't have addressed this at all. So I'm writing you the following script..."

I don't know what my face was doing through this description, but I finally managed to say "Doctor, you have just described my entire adult life."

I am now about a week and a half into my new prescription, and I think it's making a difference. Unfortunately, my infant-related sleep deprivation surely confounds the effects, not to mention I'm not doing much heavy mental lifting since I'm on maternity leave from school. But I think I feel better. I'll really be able to tell when I get a few more weeks out. Also, as it relates to my eating plans, it will also impact my metabolism. And I believe it will make a dent in the intense sweet cravings that have surfaced in the last month (intense enough that I am blaming my post-partum down-drifting thyroid function).

I'm excited to see what happens next -- though I wish I would've figured this out before my general exam.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

GD eating plan

In my last post I wrote about a number of surprises which came from Baby Theo's delivery. One surprise I neglected to mention was the little gift which manifested over the course of the entire pregnancy. In short, this gift was a dark cloud with a monstrous silver lining. Or so I believe now.

During my third trimester, I got the dreaded gestational diabetes (GD) diagnosis. Ugh. In some ways this was more challenging on a day-to-day basis than the pre-eclampsia had been with the previous pregnancy, as it required constant vigilance. And, it required some interesting eating since, remarkably, I had not gained more than 2 pounds over the course of the pregnancy when I received this diagnosis. I wasn't interest in eating much at all throughout the pregnancy, so I had to work with the nutritionist to eat enough calories, and the right calories. It's a pain to force yourself to eat when you don't want to.

Initially I lost weight. You can imagine how nervous this made me when you're suppose to put on weight during the 3rd trimester, not lose it. I went down 4-5 pounds in the first few weeks following the diagnosis. Then I got the hang of eating extra of certain foods to put the weight back on. All told, when Theo was born, I probably was about 2 pounds over where I was in my first months of pregnancy and before.

Alarming? For some, yes. Because I had been carrying extra weight before the pregnancy, I wanted to gain no more than 20 pounds total. When it was clear I wasn't gaining any weight, my doctor scheduled a few extra ultrasounds to make sure baby was on track. Since he was gaining weight and length appropriately, my doctor wasn't too concerned (though kept an eye on me).

Flash forward to delivery...in the course of a morning I lost 15 pounds. Two weeks later, I was down another 10. My pre-pregnancy jeans needed to go to Goodwill as they were too baggy. What the hell?! Can this be healthy?

Of course, now that fully accept what the doctor has told me, I am ecstatic about this little gift that came with Baby. And I don't want to squander it. In fact, along with the "free" weight loss, I also received a potentially powerful tool in getting rid of the rest of the excess weight: the Gestational Diabetes eating plan. I seriously think this could be the key for me.

Here's the deal -- the recommended eating plan given to pregnant women with GD is all about consuming a limited number of carb grams, spread out evenly throughout the day. If you are someone who eats pretty healthy -- i.e. sufficient fiber, veg, fruit, good fat/lean protein and little to no processed foods -- there is really no need to count anything other than grams of carbs.

Recommended grams of carbs per meal/day:
Breakfast -- 15-30
AM Snack (2 hours after breakfast) -- 15-30
Lunch -- 30-60
PM Snack (2 hours after lunch) -- 15-30
Dinner -- 30-60
Evening Snack (2 hours after dinner) -- 15-30

1. I was told that I should eat at least 175 grams of carbs for the day, but that wasn't always doable. Ultimately, I tried to eat at least 150, and I had a few occasions of eating up to 200. The way the carbs are spread out over the day forced me to make good and thoughtful choices (and since we stock our kitchen with 'good choices' anyway, this wasn't that hard). As a result, I think my diet was more balanced and healthy than what's typical for me.

2. I had to eat a meal all at once...meaning I couldn't eat a little bit, then go back 30 minutes later for a little bit more. This is because I had to take a reading of my blood glucose 2 hours after starting a meal, so I didn't want to get a high reading just because I finally finished my breakfast an hour or more after I started. Basically, this means I would make myself eat the entire meal within 15-20 minutes.

This was probably the most challenging aspect of this regimen, as I realized I rarely sit down and actually "eat a meal." With the exception of dinner, my meals are usually larger snacks spread out over an hour or two. While this may work for some, I think it probably leads me to eat more than I need. Forcing me to figure out the entirety of what I want to consume in one sitting, and then eat nothing for the following 2 hours was really weird, and difficult. But as a result, I ate more mindfully, and therefore less.

ANYWAY, without making this post a magnum opus, I am going to do a month of this eating plan now that I am not pregnant and see what happens. I want to see how I feel and see if I lose an appropriate amount of weight during the month of March. As part of this process, I'm thinking I'll spend some time blogging about the experience, what I've learned and am learning, mostly for my own use and motivation. And, as usual, writing about it and putting it out in the universe makes it so.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Baby Theo

Now that it's been four weeks since his arrival, I am finally realizing I need to write up a few things about newborn Baby Theo before it's all a distant memory.

Baby Theo's arrival was thankfully a really smooth operation. Compared to August's birth, there was no pre-eclampsia, no hospital bedrest, no induced labor, no baby-in-distress delivery. In fact, there was much less physical trauma than I expected, even though major surgery was involved to get this baby out.

However, smooth does not mean it was a surprise-free birth.

Surprise 1: They had me walk into the operating room and climb up on the table myself. Quite different from being wheeled around the hospital for a week prior to a rush into the operating room.

Surprise 2: Theo did NOT arrive with a shock of black hair like his sister. Ray and I spent a few days after the birth in bewilderment over our "generic white baby." We had counted on nothing being the same between the two kids...except lots of dark hair.

Surprise 3: Recovery from surgery was incredibly fast...less than half the pain, discomfort and general side effects following surgery than I experienced last time. All I needed was some ibuprofen for a few days once home, and then even that wasn't necessary. I felt ready to do stairs after about day 2 at home as well. Amazing.

Surprise 4: (Not for the faint-hearted) I asked my doctor to walk me through the tubal ligation while I was on the operating table, which she did, followed by showing me the removed portion of tube. "It looks like penne!" she said. And it did. A flattened, smallish piece of penne pasta. Wow--I was expecting something more like spaghetti!

All in all, it was an incredibly positive birth experience for someone who had so much go wonky the first time around. I'm grateful. And I'm super pleased with our very hungry and vocal little guy, who has already gained about a pound in his first month with us. He not only eats well, but he also sleeps well, and I'm crossing my fingers that this trend continues!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Justifying dessert

Ray and I have regular conversations about healthy foods and eating habits, maybe even more than most people. We are pretty active in making good food choices and acknowledging what trips us up. However, what does one do when one really wants to try recipes for things that one should not eat. I'm talking about dessert. And just recently I realized that I've been stockpiling (both physically and mentally) about 5 dessert recipes over the last 3 years or so.

1. Panna cotta -- This dessert always looks so good when they make it on tv...even though it seems more or less like jello-fied custard. I think I tried it once but it was runny and disappointing. Must attempt again.

2. Banana pudding (DONE) -- Every time Alton Brown or Ina Garten or whoever makes this, I run to the computer, find and print the recipe. Alton Brown even makes his own Vanilla Wafers to go with the pudding. Anyway, I have several variations in my recipe stash...and have attempted none. (Feb 14 -- Well, it was good, but not that good. Not adding it to my permanent dessert line-up...like item 5.)

3. Zabaglione/Sabayon -- Oh Italy, why do you come up with so many good things to eat. I had never heard of this dessert before having lunch with my old boss/favorite priest Terry several years ago, who loves everything Italian...especially the food and drink. He insisted I order it to "share" and then made me eat the whole thing. No joke. Thankfully it was very worth it. I haven't had it since. I'm not sure I've seen a recipe for this custard/fruit dessert, but I WILL find one. And it will probably take a few attempts to get it right -- it seems challenging.

4. Pavlova -- Ina Garten does this nifty meringue shell/roasted berry thing that looks so good. And pretty. And doable.

5. Chocolate loaf cake -- I'm throwing this one on the list even though I have already made it 2-3 times. It's a really simple chocolate cake that you make like you're whipping up some banana bread, and somehow it puts other chocolate cakes to shame. Seriously. It's that good. Leave it to Nigella.

Oh, I have one more in the "already done it" category:

6. Ginger ice cream sandwiches -- A bunch of years ago, I saw a recipe for ginger ice cream with chocolate cake. Intrigued, I borrowed a friend's ice cream maker, and bought some of those Famous Chocolate Wafers or whatever they're called. The ice cream came out great, wasn't too hard, and was TO DIE FOR sandwiched between the wafers. I've been pining for a redo ever since.

I am not someone who believes in 100% deprivation, so I will attempt these desserts sometime this year. In fact, I kind of want to perfect the ones that are hard, so I have them in my arsenal of go-to desserts for company and occasions. I'll just need to really pace myself on the "perfecting" process. Maybe one a month is a good pace to set, and shared with a couple willing taste-testers.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

New year

Today is the first day of 2011. Trippy. There are 18 days between me and birthing a small boychild, if not sooner. There are about 170 days of "time off" before I'm officially back at school. There are probably 75 loose pages of recipes sitting in an inbox next to my desk. There are way way more photos that have been taken, but not uploaded, much less printed, from the last year or more. There are about 10 cupboards and closets that need a good sorting out (see last post). There are XX pounds to be lost after boychild arrives, which I'd like to take care of in the first 162 days post-partum. There are more than 100 cds that I have yet to upload to my computer/iPod. There are at least 10 friends that I haven't seen in far too long. And there is one cell phone that needs to be replaced in the next 48 hours, before it cramps my style any further.