Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Evening Routines

OMDG posted today about her challenge with evenings, which got me reflecting on my own evening routine since starting back at work.  When I was on holidays, my plans for my work evenings were very ambitious - cook tasty dinners with my girlfriend, clean the kitchen, take care of housework/paperwork, exercise, and read stimulating and erudite books.  Shockingly, the reality has been somewhat less impressive.  Despite not actually working that hard yet (I'm only working about half-time at the moment), I've been coming home mentally exhausted every day, and I haven't been able to motivate myself to do most of the things I would like to.

Currently, my post-work schedule looks something like this:

1)  Arrive home and dump all possessions (lunch bag, purse, backpack, jacket) in the front hallway.  Ignore voice in the back of my head that tells me that I should be putting things in the spaces I created for them.

2)  Cook dinner with my girlfriend.  This varies from spending 2-3 hours making an elaborate dinner (we love cooking) to BBQing hot dogs and eating potato chips from the bag.

3)  Spend way too much time on the computer.  Facebook, blogs, news, repeat.  I haven't mastered the art of turning off the computer when there is nothing good left to look at, so this eats up a lot of time.  On a good day, I write a blog post of variable quality.

4)  Watch something on Netflix with my girlfriend.  Lately we've been watching Human Planet, which is actually a decent and not entirely mind-numbing show, so it could be worse.

5)  Look at the stack of library books on my coffee table.  Decide it isn't worth the effort.  Possibly watch another Netflix show, usually of lower quality than Human Planet.

6)  Feel progressively more exhausted.  Resist the urge to go to bed like a reasonable human being.  Repeat item #3.

7)  Realize it's past my bedtime.  Rush around trying to make a lunch, pack my work bag, feed the cats, and do anything else that needs to be done.  (Feeding the cats is the only thing I consistently accomplish before bed, and that's only because they meow at me.)

8)  Finally get to bed much later than I should.  Realize that eight hours of restful sleep has become an impossible dream.

9)  Lie awake staring at the ceiling, regretting all of the things I didn't do.

This is something I need to work on, because evenings make up a lot of the quality time I have for myself and my girlfriend outside of work.  Looking back on this time of my life, I don't want Facebook and Netflix and a cluttered apartment to be my most vivid memories.

How happy are you with your evening routine?

Sunday, August 23, 2015

A Post on Parenting by a Childless Woman

One of my good friends from medical school has three children between the ages of 7 months and 5 years.  When it came time for her to go back to residency after her first maternity leave*, she and her husband were faced with the inevitable question of who would take care of the child.  From a financial perspective, it made much more sense for him to stay home, so they decided to go against the societal norm and make him the stay-at-home parent.

Now three children into the process, it seems to be working very well for them.  My friend thrives on her work as a physician and earns enough to support the family, while her husband (mostly) enjoys being the primary caregiver.  Whenever I visit, he is the person that the children go to first, whether for food or comfort or just to whine about one of their many grievances. 

Although the arrangement is mostly good, it does come with its own set of challenges.  While there is a huge network of supports available to mothers from the beginning of pregnancy onwards (exercise classes for pregnant moms, lactation groups, mom-and-baby programs), there is very little for fathers who choose to stay home with their kids.  There's the constant judgement of women who choose not to stay home with their children.  And then there's the never ending societal narrative that says that women should be the caregivers, not men.  It's present in ads for baby products that feature only mothers, in the language we use to describe parenting (e.g. talking about fathers who "help" with the kids or who "babysit" them when the mother is away), and in the way we label restrooms for parents with kids as "Mommy and Me" restrooms.

Even though I don't have children, and probably never will, these things frustrate me to no end.  They frustrate me because they make it unnecessarily hard for fathers to stay home with their children, even when that's what works best for their families.  They frustrate me because they perpetuate the idea that a woman's role is to raise the children, regardless of whether she would prefer to be in the workforce.  And they frustrate me because they limit us to traditional gender roles, even though two X chromosomes don't automatically make a person a better parent than an X and a Y.

We have to start doing better.

*Unlike in the States, Canada has a great parental leave policy that allows the mother and/or father to take a combined total of 50 weeks of partially paid leave.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Doing the Unthinkable

Yesterday afternoon I left work at 1 PM.

This may not sound all that amazing to you, given that people sometimes leave work early for doctors' appointments or other things that need to be done during working hours.  What made it amazing is that I had absolutely nothing to go to.  I was simply done my work for the day*.

As a fellow, I never intentionally came late or left early; it was completely unacceptable to not be at work for the full day.  The few times I was late because of a missed alarm or unexpected traffic, I was inevitably met by a supervisor who would look at his watch and say "Slacking off, are we?"  It didn't matter if I was finished my work for the day or if I could accomplish my work more efficiently in the quiet of my own home:  if it was between the hours of 9 am and 5 PM**, I was expected to be at my desk or in the hospital.

As an attending, on the other hand, I set my own schedule (within certain limits).  I decide when I take call, I decide how many clinics a week I work, and I decide when to do research (if at all).  The freedom is awesome!  And while I have no intention of abusing this freedom, I do intend to make the most of it.  Before starting work, I decided that I will no longer stay at work just to make an appearance.  If I finish my work before 5 PM, I will go home early and enjoy my life outside of the hospital. 

I don't expect this to happen often, and I'm sure there will be days when I make up for it by staying far past 5 PM.  But on the days when I can go home in the early afternoon, I fully intend to do it.  And I intend to enjoy every minute of the kitchen gadget store browsing/cooking with copious amounts of zucchini/napping that I do with my time off.

*Of course, as soon as I left the hospital I got paged to go back, but such is life.

**If you're a resident/physician/other hard-working person who can only dream of a (mostly) 9-5 schedule, I'm sorry.  My chosen career is awesome.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

It Only Took Two Days

As a resident, it used to drive me nuts when I would try to page my attending and he or she wouldn't respond to my page.  It was particularly annoying when it was the middle of the night and all I wanted to do was review a case quickly so that I could get to my call room and possibly be horizontal for a few minutes.  Whenever it happened to me, I would vow that I would never, ever fail to answer my pager as an attending.

Guess which attending woke up this morning to discover that she'd slept right through a middle of the night page?

Tuesday, August 18, 2015


Last night, my girlfriend took me to my favourite Ethiopian restaurant for a meal to celebrate my first day as an attending.  We ordered one vegetarian platter and one meat platter, which is too much food for two people to eat, but not quite enough food to leave a good serving of leftovers.  After my girlfriend had given up, while I was still trying to finish off every last tasty morsel, we had the following conversation.

Girlfriend:  "You know...if you stop eating now, we could share a mint Oreo Blizzard for dessert."

Me (pausing while bringing a handful of food to my mouth):  "What if I want to keep eating, but I also want to have a mint Oreo Blizzard for dessert?"

GF:  "'re an adult and you can make choices for yourself.  My only request is that you not vomit in the car on the way home."
Me (reluctantly returning the handful of food to the plate):  "You never let me have any fun." 

Monday, August 17, 2015

That Wasn't Horrible

When I was planning my schedule a few months ago, I thought that I would "start off easy" by being on the consult service for the first two weeks and only doing one or two half-day clinics per week.  I spent months (and months and months) on the consult service as a fellow, so being on service as an attending shouldn't be all that different from what I was doing before, and it guarantees me a minimum income to help with the bills that have piled up after seven weeks of vacation.

The only problem with my plan?  I scheduled my first clinic for the morning of my very first day.  At the inner city clinic where I've only worked twice and therefore am unfamiliar with pretty much everything (like the bloody EPR).  The clinic with the very complicated patients who actually require time.

In the end, my two-and-a-half-hour-long clinic took four hours, followed by a full hour of charting and paperwork.  Amazingly, I stayed calm throughout it and didn't once cry or freak out.  And it was actually (dare I admit it) a tiny bit of fun.  My nurse is absolutely amazing with both me and my patients, and she was the main reason why I didn't go insane when my clinic ran horribly over.  It also helped that there was nothing pressing on the consult service, so it was okay that I showed up at the other hospital at 3 PM.

Maybe this attending gig will be bearable after all.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Habits - Work

It's the evening before I return to work, and my feelings are alternating between excited and distraught and absolutely terrified.  It definitely feels like time to go back (there is almost nothing left on my to-do list), but at the same time I'm dreading the first day.  I start with a busy clinic and I'm on home call for the first 12 days, so it won't be an easy return.  But I can do this.


I'm hoping that, if I start off on the right foot, I can set myself up for long-term success.  With that in mind, here are a few of the work habits that I hope to cultivate from the very beginning.  For those of you who work in medicine, is there anything else you'd add?  Any advice?  (Or just reassurance that I will not in fact spontaneously combust during my first clinic tomorrow?)

Record Billing Information as it Happens:

This seems like a rather greedy thing to be thinking/talking about, but the reality is that I'll be paid fee-for-service, so if I don't bill for things, I don't get paid.  While I have no intention of exaggerating my billings (I spent three minutes talking to the that counts as 30 minutes of counselling), I do want to get paid fairly for the work I do.  The best way of achieving that is to document things as I go along so that I don't miss patient encounters or forget about things like phone calls and letters and family meetings.

Finish my Dictations Every Day:

So many of the other attendings (can I really say other?) have offices filled with charts and are constantly lamenting how far behind they are with dictations.  Which means so much unnecessary stress!  When I've been on clinic rotations in the past, I've been successful at keeping up with my dictations on a daily basis, and I plan to do the same as an attending.  It just takes discipline, as well as remembering how much longer it takes to dictate on a patient I saw two weeks ago than on a patient I saw earlier in the day.

Devote Time and Energy to Teaching:

Most of my work will be in a teaching hospital, meaning that I'll have medical students and residents and fellows working with me most of the time.  As a recent trainee, I know how frustrating it is to work hard and do all of the scut work without getting some teaching in return.  Even though I find teaching challenging and sometimes stressful, I plan to make it a priority to do some of it every day that I have a learner on my service.  I also plan to take on some of the teaching opportunities (small group sessions, lectures, etc.) that are always understaffed as a way of giving back to the medical school that got me to where I am today.  The bonus of teaching is that it's a great way of keeping up my own skills (and getting some Continuing Medical Education credits so that I can keep my license).

Read for at Least Three Hours per Week:

Medicine changes.  Every day, I get emails from journals about all of the articles that I should be reading.  In order to keep up with at least part of the giant fire hose of medical knowledge, I plan to set aside three, one-hour reading sessions every week.


This is worthy of a post all its own.  I don't even know what to say here.  I have a few research projects that I'm interested in pursuing, but I have no funding, time, or salary to support research.  Soooo.....we'll just have to see where this one ends up.  I had hoped to have this figured out by the end of my vacation, but not so much.

Put Patient Care Above Other Considerations:

This is more a work philosophy than a habit, but I think it's important to always remember that my patients are real people, with hopes and fears and people who love them and lives outside of my clinic room.  Their outcomes are more important than how much I bill or what time I leave work at the end of the day.  While I do want to earn a good living (pay off debt!) and have a life outside of medicine, those goals can never be at the expense of providing good patient care.

Saturday, August 15, 2015


On day 19/21 (yesterday), I somehow forgot to write a blog post.  I spent my day finishing off Barbara Kingsolver's "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle", after which I rushed to get takeout shawarma and pick up my girlfriend from work in time to go to an outdoor movie in a local park.  Amidst all the fun, I forgot entirely about blogging.

Now that the 21 days of consecutive blogging are almost finished, I'm forced to address the question of "What next?".  On the upside, over the past few weeks I've felt much more engaged with the blog, and I've found myself drafting posts in my head while doing dishes and other tedious activities.  I've also written a few posts that I've been happy with, including parts one and two of my thoughts on money, as well as my post about so-called road bump opiates.  On the downside, it's been difficult some days to find the time to blog, and I've often found myself crawling out of bed after 11 PM to whip off a quick (and often uninspired) post.  Some of my worst posts ever have resulted from this forced writing.

I may keep up with the daily blogging for a while just to see where it goes, or I may revert to blogging less frequently.  While the ideal blogging frequency is probably less than daily, I worry that if I lose the regular habit I may stop doing it at all.  Which would be a loss for me - I love the record of my thoughts and activities, the feedback from commenters (even if I don't always find the time to respond), and the sense that I'm perhaps sharing something that will be useful to the next generation of medical students/residents. 

I guess we'll see.  If you're a blogger, how do you balance regular blogging with all the other things going on in your life?  For everyone - what would you like to see from this blog as I start life as an attending?

Thursday, August 13, 2015

In Need of Sleep

The past few nights I've found myself lying awake for hours on end, stressing about money and my return to work and anything else I could think about.  Despite the resultant fatigue, today I drove to the country to visit one of my closest friends from medical school.  While we ate cafe food and she nursed her wee babe, I poured out my anxieties and fears for hours.  She, a master listener, absorbed everything I said.  After I had exhausted my deep pool of insecurities, she said simply "It will all be okay".  And because she is always right, I knew it would be.

Now, back in the city, I feel lighter than I have in weeks.  My mind is slowing and my limbs are growing heavy, and it is time to give in to sleep.  I'm hoping it will be a good one.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Summer Bounty

Thanks for all of the suggestions on what to do with our abundance of CSA vegetables.  Tonight we had a CSA feast - grilled zucchini and pattypan squash, roasted beets with balsamic reduction, steamed baby carrots, and a cucumber-yogurt salad (thanks for the idea NOLA!).  The vegetables were so varied and flavourful that the barbequed sirloin steak seemed like an afterthought.

Washing down the meal was a bottle of Valpolicella Ripasso that I had brought back in my suitcase from a trip to Italy in 2013.  The bottle had long been stored at the back of our liquor cabinet, waiting for a special occasion to be opened, and I worried that I might have left it too long.  Thankfully the cork came out effortlessly, and the wine inside was smooth and mellow.

It's amazing to me how good local food can be, whether it's purchased in your home community or smuggled home from a special trip.  With such foods, why on earth would anyone buy flavourless food from Walmart* that has been shipped from hundreds (or thousands) of miles away?

*I hate Walmart, but that's a post for another day.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Day Off Fun

When I started planning my vacation, I imagined an abundance of time with my girlfriend.  We would sleep in late, cook elaborate breakfasts, ride our bikes through our local parks, and head off on adventures in the city and across the province.

I did not imagine weddings.  And multiple family gatherings.  And all kinds of things that involved people other than just the girlfriend and me.  In the end, we've had much less time to spend together than expected.  Until today!  There was no wedding to attend, all of the family has flown back to their home cities, and my girlfriend had a mid-week day off.  Bliss!

We started the day with a very large breakfast at an old-school diner.  The diner is only a few blocks from where I'll be working starting next week, and it's right in the heart of the inner city.  A lot of people avoid this part of my city because it's associated with gang activity and drug use, and they worry that it isn't safe.  While these are definite issues in the neighbourhood, in reality most of the members of the community are good people who are just trying to build their lives under sometimes difficult conditions.

And there's great food available at low prices.  (If you're not familiar with the deep fried pockets of goodness on the right, they're perogies, which are a staple in diners in my city.)

After breakfast, we headed across the street to a Thrift Store to search out some bargains.  My girlfriend found an assortment of $0.50 CDs, including the Sound of Music and a few classical CDs, while I scored big on knitting needles - six pairs for only $0.25 each! 

(Please do not put any needles in here)

While a big part of my motivation for going to thrift stores is to save money, it goes beyond that.  In our wasteful society, I think it's important to look for ways of reusing things and reducing how much we send to the landfills.  It's also a great way to support charities such as Mennonite Central Committee, which focuses on relief and peace-building efforts across the world.  And there's something really satisfying about making a great find (like six pairs of knitting needles for $1.50).

(End of soapbox)

After the thrift store, we went to almost every bike shop in the city to look for a bike for my girlfriend.  She's been using a second-hand bike from her brother for almost ten years, and it's probably well past the time when she should have bought one for herself.  She's looking at a cruiser bike, and I think she's finally settled on the one she wants to buy.  (At least I hope so, because I think I might ram a kickstand through my eye if I have to look at another bike.)

After the bike shopping, we headed to a local farm to pick up our Community Supported Agriculture share.  (I could wax poetic about CSAs for days, but I think the thrift store paragraph was probably enough sappiness for one blog post.)  The people with whom we've been splitting our weekly share are away for the next few weeks, so we have an even greater abundance of produce than usual.  I have no idea how we're going to eat ten cucumbers, five zucchinis, and four bags of kale in the next week.  Any suggestions?

And that was our day.  My girlfriend got a last minute invitation to a free play, so she's off watching that while I read and blog and try to fit copious amounts of produce into our tiny apartment fridge.

Life is good. 

Monday, August 10, 2015

Habits - Home and Hobbies

As I was reading Gretchen Rubin's book "Better Than Before", I kept thinking about habits that I've recently incorporated into my life, as well as habits that I'd like to adopt.  There are so many of them, most of which unfortunately fall into the latter category.  Over the next few days, I plan to write posts outlining the habits I'd like to have in four different broad categories:  home and hobbies, personal, work, and relationships.  (Not necessarily in that order or on four consecutive days.  I'll pick my topics as the mood hits me.)  Because going back to work is going to make habit change challenging, I plan to do a check in on my habits once I'm two weeks in (and finished my first stretch of call as an attending).

In deciding on the habits on which to focus, I'm trying to remember that the end goal isn't to adopt good habits - it's to be happy in both the short and long term.  If these habits aren't making me happier, then I can choose to drop them whenever I please.  (Isn't being an adult wonderful?)

So here we go with habits in the home and hobbies category.  The habits are roughly arranged from what I consider to be least important to most important.

Have two knitting projects on the go at all times: 

I started knitting sometime in the last year after being inspired by the many women (and some men!) at my girlfriend's church who knit.  Some of them knit during the services, and many more of them knit at social events, and I was always jealous when I watched them work.  Since I started knitting, I've knit three infinity scarves (one for myself and two for my nieces), as well as almost one sock and almost one baby sweater.

I love a lot of things about knitting - dreaming about projects and picking out nice yarn, watching a project slowly come together over weeks to months, and having something to distract me when I'm in a boring or awkward social situation.  I also like that it's slightly subversive to be a knitting physician.  Physicians are supposed to be constantly rushing and stressed and short on time, so I love the idea of doing something that is intentionally slow.

This is something that will undoubtedly wax and wane depending on how busy I am, but that's okay.  Knitting projects can sit idle for a long time and then be picked up when needed.  I'm choosing to have two projects going, as it's nice to have something that gives me a bit of a challenge (e.g. a baby sweater) as well as something that is purely mindless and relaxing (e.g. an infinity scarf).

Cook regularly with my girlfriend:

My girlfriend and I both have a huge love of cooking and of trying new foods/recipes, and it's one of the things that brought us together early in our relationship.  We've unfortunately fallen out of the habit of cooking together recently, as my girlfriend's job has required her to stay at work until after the supper hour.  I think our relationship has suffered as a result of us not cooking and eating together, and it's something I want to work on.  Thankfully, starting next month her days will be ending at 5 PM, so hopefully it won't be hard for us to get back into this habit.

Read for pleasure every day:

Have I mentioned recently how much I love books?  I love reading once I get into it, but I sometimes avoid it when I'm tired, because checking Facebook/surfing the internet/watching tv seems easier and more relaxing.  Which it isn't; reading is definitely more relaxing than any activity involving technology.  I want to maintain the habit I've developed this summer of always having a book going and of reading every day.

Keep up with my finances:

I was a bit of a financial disaster during my training.  Not only did I not budget, I also did terrible things like file my tax returns late (really, really late) and occasionally miss a credit card payment.  I've finally gotten on top of everything financial, including meeting with my financial adviser to figure out my get-out-of-debt-as-soon-as-humanly-possible strategy, and I want to keep it that way.  To do this, I plan to deal with financial things (bills, etc.) as soon as they come in, even if that means waiting a day or two to check the mail until I have time to deal with it.  I also plan to set aside time on Sunday mornings (while my girlfriend is at church) to quickly review my bank/investment statements and to do anything financial that didn't get done during the week.

Spend time daily and weekly on keeping the apartment clean and organized:

This will be a challenge.  A huge challenge.  I've done very well this summer at getting the apartment decluttered and organized, and I've managed to adopt the habit of doing annoying little tasks (like unpacking from our weekend camping/wedding adventure) as soon as they come up.  The apartment is so much tidier as a result, and it facilitates things like cooking and reading and other fun activities.  But doing tasks when they arise isn't my default setting, which means that this will be really hard to maintain once I go back to work.  And my girlfriend is much more tolerant of chaos than I am, which will make it hard to get her on board!

My first strategy for achieving this is to set aside dedicated times for cleaning and tidying.  On a daily basis, this will mean taking a few minutes when I first arrive home to hang up my jacket/purse and empty out my lunch container, as well as spending some time doing dishes before bed.  On a weekly basis, this will mean spending some time every Sunday morning doing laundry and tackling some of the items on my to-do list.

My second strategy is going to have to be talking to my girlfriend.  While I've been on holidays, I've assumed the majority of the household responsibilities, and it's gotten stuff done, but it won't be sustainable (or fair) once I go back to work.  As difficult as it may be to do, we need to come up with a way of dividing up the household tasks.  The big challenge for me will be accepting that we have different ideas of what needs to be done around the apartment; therefore, if I want things done better than she does, I may need to do a bit more of the work. seems like I have my work cut out for me.  And this is only day one of four!

Sunday, August 9, 2015

The Last Week

As of tomorrow morning, I will have only one week until I go back to work.  It seems like I've been gone forever; I've managed to relax and get stressed out again and return (slowly) back to a relaxed state one more time.  I'm sure more stress is coming, particularly if my license doesn't come through in the next day or two.

Part of me wants to stay on vacation - to enjoy structuring my days as I please (minus weddings) and to sleep in as late as I choose.  But most of me is getting impatient to move on with the next stage of life.  Fingers crossed I'm ready.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

This Counts as a Post

I'm three minutes away from our scheduled departure time for a wedding in Middle-of-Nowhere, Canada, so this will be the briefest of brief. 

This is my third wedding of five (one of my family members, one of my friends, three of the girlfriend's friends) this summer, and I'm starting to wish that we had a smaller social circle.  While I have nothing against the idea of weddings (love, commitment, buffets), the actual act of attending a wedding is not my preferred thing.  Too many people (particularly too many people I don't know) for an introvert.

But what to do?  People host weddings, other people attend.  It's the social convention.  So I'll pull out my fancy dress one more time and pretend that I'm having fun, even though I really just want to wear sweat pants and work on my knitting*.

*It's entirely possible that I'll knit at the wedding.  I'm not above that.

Friday, August 7, 2015

The Weekly Hiss and Purr - August 7 Edition

Oh this week.  This week has been one full of angst, coming from a variety of sources.  Even though I'm still on vacation (yay), I feel like I could list a dozen or so hisses without much effort.  Bah.

Angst is soooo overrated.  Take a nap, Mom.

The (Biggest) Hiss - Anxiety:

One of the best things about this vacation has been how relaxed I've been.  Until recently, I was waking up feeling refreshed and looking forward to all the great things the day had in store.  I even looked relaxed - my skin was tanned (as much as my Northern European ancestry permits), my hair was longer and curlier than it had been in years (the word "mullet" comes to mind), and my clothing choices were comfortable, if not bordering on vagabond.  

And then, a week ago, I decided to get my hair cut so that I would look slightly put together for the wedding I attended last Saturday.  And it was as if everything changed.  Going back to my "work hairstyle" seemed to signal that it was time to go back to work, or at the very least to start stressing out about it.  Since then, I've been experiencing increasing bouts of panic as I come to terms with the fact that I will be the one in charge starting August 17.

It doesn't help that there are still major issues up in the my license.  Everything is happening at a snail's pace because it's summer, and despite doing things in what I thought was lots of time, I am still waiting on a number of important documents that are required for me to work.  And I have only five business days left until my first day of work.  Aaaaaah.

(Please be patient while I go and vomit.)

The Purr - Reading:

The biggest thing I need right now to keep myself sane is distraction from thinking about work (and from hitting refresh on my email program to see if anything is happening with my license).  Enter reading!  As I previously blogged about, I just finished reading Gretchen Rubin's book "Better Than Before".  I also have her book "Happier at Home" sitting in my to-read pile, but for a change of pace, I've decided to start with Barbara Kingsolver's book "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle".  This book tells about her family's journey of moving across the country and trying to eat locally for a year.  I'm only one chapter in, but I'm loving her writing style and her exploration of all the issues (environmental, economic, health) related to what we choose to eat.

There are so many more things that I want to read!  I have a giant stack of books from the library on my coffee table, plus a list on Goodreads and another list in my iPhone.  I need more hours in the day!

What are you reading this week?

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Road Bump Opiates

Ana from anabegins wrote an interesting post today in response to a post on the Frugalwoods blog.  In the original post, Mrs. Frugalwoods refers to the things we buy to make ourselves happy as "road bump opiates" and argues that these indulgences are barriers to achieving our long-term goals.  For example, a muffin purchased at work may give us temporary pleasure, but will ultimately make us feel worse because it works against goals of eating healthy food and becoming more financially secure.  She further argues that focusing on spending money takes us away from addressing more important questions, such as "How are we fulfilled? Where are we happiest? When are we appeased?".

In Ana's post, she talks about how she was considering going out with her husband in an attempt to feel less "blah".  But then, she felt guilty about this desire after reading the Frugalwoods post, as eating out seemed to be just a "road bump opiate" to "soothe our unsatisfied consumerist souls".  The post made her "feel bad about [her]self and [her] life choices for having the type of life that is prone to having the blahs and [her] immediate desire to use "going out" to fix it".

Reading and reflecting on the two posts got me to wondering - why is taking pleasure in anything that costs money suddenly a bad thing?  Why is anyone made to feel guilty because she wants to *gasp* go out with her husband?

Yes, living within your means and meeting your financial goals is important (I feel like recently I've been a bit of a broken record on this topic).  Yes, it's important to not let spending and consuming replace the more important things in life.  But we're also physical beings who derive pleasure from creature comforts!  Eating in restaurants, going out for coctails, taking in a show, drinking an overpriced coffee-based beverage made by a hipster barista - these are enjoyable things!  If someone wants to do these things and can fit it within her financial plan, then she should be able to do so without feeling guilty about it.  I want to not feel guilty about doing these things, even if it means I take 16 months to achieve a positive net worth instead of 12 months.

Furthermore, sometimes spending money can help us to achieve the grander goals that make life worthwhile.  Money let me go to medical school and become a physician.  Money has taken me to all sorts of exciting places and expanded my understanding of the world.  Money lets me eat in restaurants with friends and family members and maintain my connections with these people, even when we don't have the time or energy for cheaper options like having a potluck.

I think that ultimately, it comes down to recognizing our own personal "sweet spot" for spending.  It's great that the Frugalwoods are happy to never buy new clothing or eat in restaurants, but not everyone feels that way.  For many of us, retiring at the earliest possible moment isn't worth giving up every last bit of discretionary spending.  And that's fine!  We're all different, and we're all allowed to spend in the way that helps us to best meet our goals - even if one of those goals is to drink an $11 glass of Pedro Ximenez sherry at our favourite tapas restaurant.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Patience and Forgiveness

Because nothing says vacation like dealing with your finances, I spent most of my morning today figuring out a strategy for getting myself to a positive net worth*.  Ever since I started budgeting, I've been haunted by the negative on my balance sheet and desperate to get back into the black.

The good news about my strategy session is that I figured out that I can be back to a positive net worth in just 16 months, thanks to having lots of room to invest in an RRSP (Registered Retirement Savings Plan, the Canadian equivalent of a 401(k)).  The bad news is, it's going to take me 16 months.  Which literally feels like forever.

It's hard at times to forgive myself for the financial mistakes that I've made in the past.  There is absolutely no way that I could have made it to this point debt-free, but I know that my burden of debt could have been much less if I'd been more careful with my spending.  And it's even harder to be patient, to refrain from adding more call shifts and more patients to each clinic just to bring my bank balance up.

I have to remind myself, on pretty much a daily basis, that it took me eight years to get to this point.  16 months is entirely doable for getting rid of it.  I just need to breathe.

*My goal is to increase my assets beyond the level of my debt, rather than to pay off the debt itself, because interest rates are currently so low.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015


As I've written about before, part of my motivation for taking so much time off this summer has been to catch up on all the things I've neglected over the past five years:  finances, household organization, paperwork (why is there so much paperwork?), and cleaning BBQs, amongst other things.  While I've been spending hours of my precious vacation time on these not so enjoyable tasks, I've been thinking a lot about how to keep up with these tasks on an ongoing basis, rather than waiting until things get desperate to play catch up.  As part of my attempt to figure out how to do things better, I recently read Gretchen Rubin's book "Better Than Before: Mastering The Habits of Our Everday Lives".

This book explores the ways in which we adopt (or fail to adopt) new habits, with a focus on internal and external barriers to making positive changes.  Included in it is a whole chapter on "loopholes", which basically describes what goes on in my mind whenever I try to change myself.  (I'm an expert at coming up with reasons not to follow through on my goals.)

What I found most interesting about the book was Rubin's categorization of people into four groups - Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, and Rebels - based on how they respond to inner and outer expectations.  I would really like to be an Upholder (one who meets both inner and outer expectations; Sarah from theshubox strikes me as a perfect example), but after reading the descriptions and doing the quiz at the end, I had to resign myself to the fact that I'm an Obliger (one who meets outer expectations but not inner).  In the book, Rubin writes of Obligers that "Because Obligers resist inner expectations, it's difficult for them to self-motivate - to work on a Ph.D. thesis, to attend networking events, to get their car serviced.  Obligers depend on external accountability, with consequences such as deadlines, late fees, or the fear of letting other people down."

Difficult to self-motivate.  Yup.  That's me.  I could complete my 21 days of regular blogging just by giving examples of how I've had difficulty self-motivating throughout my life*.  My Master's degree is the perfect example - it took me forever to get experiments done and papers written, to the point where I nearly drove my supervisor crazy.  I actually told her once that if she wanted me to do something she just needed to give me a deadline.  And it worked!  When I had something external to motivate me, I got my work done without difficulty - even if the "deadline" was entirely arbitrary.

Which brings me to a dilemma.  As an attending, I will decide everything that I do.  I will decide how many patients to see and when to do dictations and whether or not to do research (etc, etc).  There will be no external expectations, aside from some very minimal requirements for teaching and clinical duties, which will not be difficult to meet.  How, as an Obliger, do I not allow my life to devolve into chaos in the absence of external expectations?

I still don't know the answer to this one.  Maybe I need to re-read the book.

*And then no one would ever read my blog again.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Procrastination and Accomplishment

There are things I'd like to write legitimate posts about, but early in the day, when I have time to blog, I manage to convince myself that I can put it off.  "I have all day!  I can blog in the evening...the fact that the girlfriend will be home from work won't make blogging difficult at all."  Hence scrambling at 11:17 to get a post written before the midnight deadline.

Every day, I knock one more thing off of the to-do list that has been growing over the past five years.  Today it was "clean the BBQ", which hasn't been done in at least two years; I anticipate that there will be many hot dogs and steaks and grilled chicken breasts consumed during the last few weeks of summer to make up for the long period of time that the BBQ was too dirty to be useable. 

Approaching the end of my to-do list is making me feel like Superwoman.

And it's making everything in life better.  But how on Earth do I maintain this (or even something remotely close to it) when I go back to work in two weeks?

Sunday, August 2, 2015

My Favourite Sound

With the weekend drawing to a close, the girlfriend and I are relaxing by spending some quiet time together on the couch.  I'm sitting with my laptop lap, and she is reading the book The Language of Baklava.  In the background, last night's wedding song, You Are The Best Thing, is playing on YouTube.

As I struggle to find something from my utterly ordinary day to write about, every few minutes my girlfriend breaks out in laughter at something she has read.  I love when she reads funny books, because her spontaneous laughter is one of the best sounds in the world.  Pure happiness.

I am lucky.

Saturday, August 1, 2015


It's 11:19, and I just arrived home from too many hours of wedding, and I'm exhausted.  And I stink of bug spray.  So this will be short.

The wedding was lovely - a big, spirited celebration of two young women who fell in love at (of all places) bible college.  It was wonderful to see so many people from a fairly conservative religious community come together for a wedding that not everyone in their community supports.  And the Indian buffet was fabulous.

What stands out most for me about the day, however, isn't something specific to a same-sex wedding.  It's the dancing.  After the ceremony and eating and many, many speeches, the backyard where the wedding was held was turned into one enormous dance floor, and almost everyone got up and danced.  In the beginning, I managed to pass as someone who isn't terrible at dancing, but after a few songs, my energy level began to wane, and my awkwardness became apparent.  I suck at dancing.

I wish I didn't.  I wish I could be one of the uninhibited people who has a great time on the dance floor, instead of the all too self aware nerd who stands on the edge of the group looking uncomfortable.  But that's always been me.  And probably always will be.