Saturday, December 30, 2017

2017 - The Year in Review

I love the end of the year.  Partly that's because I have time off (10 days this year!), and partly because I love to reflect back on the year that was. 

2017 has been a pretty major year in my life.  I started it in a long-term relationship with plans to buy a home and eventually get married, and I ended it single with cats.  But in a very good way.  I can't remember a recent time in my life when I felt as happy or as deeply satisfied with life as I do at the end of 2017.

Here's a brief recap of the major events of 2017:

The Breakup:  M and I went through a breakup in 2016 but very quickly reconciled.  In retrospect, reconciling was a really unwise thing to do, as we were even less happy in round two of our relationship than we had been in round one.  We loved each other a lot, but we couldn't actually live happily together, which is somewhat essential for a committed romantic relationship.  For me, I started seriously considering breaking up again about a year ago, and from December 2016 until September 2017 breaking up was rarely far from my mind.  It was a really unhappy way of living.

And then, it was over.  After months of thinking and agonizing and building up to the moment, I finally ended it, and I felt like I could breathe again.  All of the emotional energy I had been investing in a relationship that wasn't working was suddenly available for more interesting and life-giving things.  Like joining Twitter.

I have not regretted the breakup for a single moment.  It has been an adjustment, of course, but everything about it feels right.  People comment regularly that I look happy and that they are glad to have "old me" back, and it is true that I am happier than I have been in a long time.  I have time to spend with my friends, instead of my social life being mostly dictated by M*.  My apartment is tidy and back to the semi-minimalist state that I love.  My cats have regained their rightful place next to me on the couch.  All is as it should be.

Work:  At the beginning of 2017, work wasn't going well.  I was feeling so overwhelmed by it that I declared 2017 "The Year of Saying No" and resolved to turn down as much extra work as I possibly could.  I knew at the time that I couldn't sustain my level of work unhappiness in the long-term, so I committed to doing whatever I could to improve my job.

Over the past year, I have made some major changes.  One of the most important ones has been going to a performance coach, whom I shall call B**, and whom I promise to write about in more detail in a dedicated post.  B is trained as a clinical psychologist and used to work with high-performance athletes, and over the years he has transitioned to working with high-performance professionals such as physicians.  He and I have worked on improving my thought patterns using a sort of cognitive behavioural therapy "light", which has been hugely helpful for dealing with my anxiety around work.  He's also given me some very practical advice about things that I can do on a daily basis to enjoy work more.

I have also committed to taking vacation every three months.  I cannot overemphasize how life changing this has been.  Vacation time is the only time that I can completely let go of the stress of work, and it is essential to recharging my easily depleted batteries.  It also gives me time to stock up at Costco and to replenish my freezer food stores.  And when I return from vacation, I no longer feel the dread of knowing that the next one is a long way away.  At most, it's another three months.

Lastly, I have been saying no.  When I was stressed about having to give a Grand Rounds presentation, I said no to a week of call so that I would have time to work on it.  When I got my 2018 call schedule and saw that I was scheduled for two more weeks than usual, I found other people to take those two weeks.  When I was asked by the trainees to develop two new teaching modules during a very busy work time, I agreed to do one but not both.  I am valuing my time and my mental health more than I ever have, and I am protecting both of them by setting my own limits for what I'm willing to do.

Finances:  When M and I were still together, we were planning to buy a home, as our one bedroom apartment was too crowded for the two of us.  For over a year, I saved all of the money that I didn't spend or invest for a down payment.  After the breakup, I underwent a major change of heart, realizing that I wasn't going to be comfortable taking on a mortgage until my debt was gone.  Since then, debt repayment has been my financial priority.  You can see the change in my line of credit here:

Until September 2017, my debt was gradually trending downwards thanks to my minimum monthly payments.  But in both September and December, I put large chunks of my down payment towards the debt.  What was once over $200,000 of debt is now $64,000.  And I anticipate that I will be able to get rid of it all before the end of 2018.

So those are the big parts of 2017.  There is much more than I had thought about saying, but this post is already long, and if I were reading it I would have started skimming it a long time ago.  So I will save my other thoughts for future blog posts.

I'm looking forward to sharing more in 2018.

*Not to falsely imply that she was controlling in any way, as she wasn't.  She is simply an extrovert with much higher social needs than introverted me, so I never had energy for social activities beyond the ones that she arranged.

**I am very creative with names on the blog.  You're welcome.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

What I Will Be Doing Instead of Writing a Play

Remember when Christmas was still a month away and I was freaking out because I thought I wouldn't have enough to do?  And then I decided that I was going to use some of my spare holiday time to write a play?


Yeah.  About that.  As the holidays approached, my list of things to do slowly grew.  At the current time, I am absolutely committed to the following activities:

Dinner and a movie with my new friend tonight*
Christmas Eve dinner with family tomorrow night
Christmas Eve sleepover with my Mom
Christmas Day dinner with more family
Counseling session with my performance coach on Thursday**
French lesson on Thursday
Dinner and a show with friends at the Art Gallery on Friday

And this is with minimal effort actually put into making plans.  I still have a list of multiple other friends with whom I'm hoping to make plans in the next ten days.  I have made so many plans that I actually managed to double book myself for Friday night, and for the third year in a row I will not be attending my residency group's annual party.  (Is it surprising that an introvert would pick an intimate evening with friends over a big party?  Zero surprising.)

Until about a week ago, I was still thinking about writing a play.  But the more I thought about it, the more it seemed like a burden that I would resent, rather than a fun activity to keep me busy over the holidays.  And then I had an insanely busy week on call, which has left me with a desk covered in unfinished work, and I thought "nope".  No.  No play this year.  Rest.

Over the next ten days, I'm just going to recharge and get my life back on track.  I'm going to empty the dishwasher that has been clean since Monday and refill it with the week's worth of dishes that are on the counter.  I'm going to replenish my freezer stores so that I won't go hungry the next time I'm on call.  And I'm going to do a little (lot) of work stuff so that I will not feel too horribly overwhelmed when I go back to work.

And I'm going to do fun stuff!  I saved season two of Stranger Things, so there will be some serious binge watching.  And books.  And drinking peppermint hot chocolate.  And drinking all of the wine I couldn't drink while I was on call.  And sleep.  Glorious, glorious sleep.

It may not be the same as Christmas with my ex's family, but I think it's going to be lovely all the same.

*I made a new friend this year!  As an introvert who treats friends like precious heirlooms and keeps them forever, this is exciting.

**I need to write a post about this, because this has been life-changing.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Solitary Diner, Debt Slayer

When I was still in residency, my financial advisor recommended that I pay off my line of credit as slowly as possible so that I could maximize my investments.  From a numbers perspective, his advice made perfect sense:  I pay prime (currently 3.2%) on my LOC, and I can earn more than prime from investments, so investing wins.  When he made the recommendation, he followed it with the prescient caveat "Assuming that you aren't bothered by the debt".

"Why would I be bothered by the debt?", I wondered.  I had been in debt for almost a decade, and I was doing a great job of ignoring it, so why would it be any different when I was an attending?  I was a rational person who did not make financial decisions based on emotions.  This would be easy.

After finishing training, I initially stuck with the plan.  I took the one-year grace period before I had to start paying back my LOC, and I poured every extra penny I had into retirement savings.  Then when the repayments started, I paid the monthly minimum with the plan to pay it all off in the required ten years.  Everything was on auto-pilot, and everything was great.

Except...every time I logged into my banking account, I had to see the balance on my LOC.  And it was big.  And ugly.  And even though I had achieved a positive net worth, it didn't feel real, because I still had this horrible six-figure debt hanging over me. 

At the same time that I was not repaying my debt, I was saving cash in my savings account* for a future down payment on a home, meaning that I was basically throwing away interest on my LOC.  Which wasn't a big deal when the down payment was small, but got increasingly painful as the down payment grew.  I eventually moved the down payment into an online bank account to earn a bit of interest, but I was still losing money by not using that money to pay off the LOC.  And I hated it.

So...I started going against the plan.  When my ex and I separated earlier this year, I decided that I would defer buying a home for at least a year, and I took some of the down payment money and put it towards the LOC.  Then a few months later I put some more of the down payment money towards my LOC so that I could achieve this:

For about ten minutes, I was ecstatic about my debt being under six figures!  I would look at the balance and smile, realizing that I had cut my LOC by more than half from its highest level.

And then I got mad about the fact that I still owed $100,000 to the bank.

I have tried really hard to not hate my debt and to stick with the plan of maximizing my investments, but the reality is that I. Hate. My. Debt.  I hate paying almost as much towards my debt every month as I do for rent.  I hate that the debt represents bad financial decisions that I made during training.  I hate that my really lovely net worth feels meaningless to me when I still have this debt to repay.  And I hate that I am making big financial decisions like whether to buy a house based on the debt rather than based on what I most want to do.  (Although I would probably still not buy a house right now even if I didn't have the debt.)

So this week, I said fuck it.  I am paying off this debt.  I am taking every penny I had set aside for a down payment and putting it towards the debt, because realistically I am not going to buy a house until the debt is gone.  I have a big end of the year payment coming up, because the university retains part of my income to control for variability in billing, and that is also going towards the debt.  In the new year, I am going to continue with my regularly scheduled monthly investments, but everything else is going onto my LOC. 

Fuck logic**.  I am done with debt. 

*This is a terrible idea.  Do not do this.  Get an online savings account that will at least pay you some interest.

**I apologize to anyone whom I ever silently judged for using the debt snowball method, which always seemed like a ridiculous waste of interest.  I totally get it now!

Sunday, December 10, 2017

You Should Buy A Home

At least once a week, someone will ask me when I'm going to buy a home.  It started in residency, and it has increased in frequency with every year that I continue to "throw my money away" on rent.  In residency, it was easy to justify not buying a home, because I had over $200,000 in debt and I had no time for home maintenance.  People could understand those reasons.  But as soon as I became an attending, paid off a lot of my debt, and stopped doing 28 hour-plus call shifts, those reasons disappeared.  And suddenly, my renting instead of owning became some sort of personal affront to people who own their homes.

These zealous home owners seem to have made it their personal mission to get me to buy a home too.  They will send me listings in my favourite areas, along with messages about how perfect the living room would be for a games night or how much I would love the granite counter tops.  Any time an article is published that extols the virtues of home ownership, I can expect at least two or three of these people to send it to me.  And if I dare say anything even remotely critical of my apartment, I am immediately subjected to a tirade about how much better owning is and how ridiculous it is that I'm still renting.

But you know what?  I like renting.  For a lot of reasons.

I am not throwing away my money:  I have used various calculators to compare the cost of renting and owning in my situation, and based on the home I would likely buy, renting comes out a few hundred dollars a month ahead of owning.  So contrary to popular belief, I am actually saving money by renting.  People immediately respond by saying "Well...paying a mortgage is forced savings.  No one actually has the discipline to invest the money they save by renting."  To which I just laugh.

I like putting almost zero effort into my home:  This summer, while we were out for dinner with friends, I got a phone call that my kitchen sink had overflowed and was flooding the apartment below it.  My (now ex-) partner had to run home to shop vac up the mess, but otherwise the building took care of everything, including paying a plumber premium rates to come out on a Friday evening.  The cost to us was zero, and the time involved to deal with it was minimal.  As has been the case for anything else that has gone wrong with the apartment.  The only maintenance I'm responsible for is replacing the light bulbs!  There is no snow to shovel, no leaves to rake, no grass to mow.  And I love it.

I love my location:  The ex and I started looking at homes earlier this year, and when we talked about where we wanted to live, we both decided that we were already living in the perfect neighbourhood.  It generally takes me 15 minutes or less to drive to and from work, which gives me so much more free time than the crazy people who drive 45 minutes or more to the suburbs.  My apartment is in mature area with old houses and lots of trees, so it's a beautiful place to walk when the weather is nice.  I'm within walking distance of two major restaurant areas, so I can have a drink or two without worrying about driving home.  I can even walk to the library!  Because it's a very desirable and popular neighbourhood, the housing prices here are high.  So I'd be paying even more than a few hundred dollars a month extra to have a nice house or condo in the area where I'm already happily living*.

My apartment is nearly perfect:  In addition to location, there are a lot of things I love about my apartment.  I have huge balconies (plural) to sit on; there are two washing machines and two dryers just down the hall; there is an exercise room that I use on occasion; there's an indoor hot tub; and I have heated indoor parking.  The size of my apartment is pretty perfect for a single person with minimalist tendencies.  My building is also filled with dogs who love to visit, which means I get the pleasure of enjoying other people's dogs without ever having to pick up their poop. 

I hate the idea of taking on more debt:  Although all the other reasons are valid, this is probably at the heart of why I am not looking to buy a home right now.  I still have a six-figure debt, and on my current repayment schedule I'm four years away from paying it off.  The idea of adding a six-figure mortgage to that makes me want to vomit.  "But it's good debt," people say.  Gaaaaahhhhh.  No.  It's still debt.  It's still money that I would owe to someone else, which would limit my choices and almost guarantee that I would have to stay at my current job until the debt is gone.

I may buy a home someday.  Once the debt is gone and I've saved a bigger nest egg for retirement, I can see myself being interested in buying a place.  Something with a bigger kitchen and more space to entertain and hardwood floors, because carpets are gross when you have cats.  But at the current moment, renting works for me.

Which ties into one of the most important (and cliché) things I've learned about personal finances:  it's personal.  Everyone has their own unique circumstances, preferences, and neuroses, so there is no one perfect formula for life happiness and financial success.  Lots of people want to buy a home, and it makes sense to them, so great!  Buy a home.

Just stop telling me that I should too.

*I looked at an apartment condo a few buildings down from where I'm living, and the condo was over half a million dollars with condo fees that were only slightly less than my rent.  It was a really nice condo, but OMG talk about throwing money away.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Living Now Instead of Ten Years From Now

I don't think I knew just how focused I was on my FIRE date until I started actively trying to not think about it.  Since adopting the "set it and forget it" approach to money, I have noticed that I think about FIRE all the time.

Waking up in the morning:  "In ten years, I won't have to set an alarm clock."
Seeing a difficult patient:  "After I FIRE, I won't have to see any patients at all."
Editing trainee dictations:  "I hate my life!  Woe is me!  This is the worst thing ever!"

(Also..."I will never have to edit another poorly written trainee dictation after I retire.")

It's...sad.  Here I am doing what I have trained most of my adult life to do, and I'm dreaming of what comes next.  And it isn't because I hate my job; it's because I have this idea that retirement is going to be so much better.  I've internalized the belief that work is just something you do to earn money before you can quit.

I'm trying really hard to stop.  Any time I catch myself thinking "I just earned enough to not have to work for three days", I am pausing, noticing the thought, and letting it go.  I'm trying to mentally be here, now, instead of when I retire in ten (or more) years.  Because constantly resenting the now and dreaming of later doesn't make anything better.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Set It And Forget It

I am really lucky to have had a Dad who was an insurance salesperson and later a financial advisor.  From the time I was a kid, we had long talks about money and economics and saving for the future.  I had a university savings account from the time I was five, and half of my $2 a week allowance got put into it.  When I turned 18, my Dad gave me a $500 RRSP and a copy of The Wealthy Barber for my birthday, complete with the advice to always put 10% of my earnings directly into savings.

"Even when I'm a university student and I can barely afford to pay my tuition", I asked?

Yes.  Even when I was a university student and I could barely afford to pay my tuition.  Always.

Along with the recommendation to save at least 10% of my earnings, my Dad advised me to "set it and forget it".  Pick a good investment vehicle (or vehicles), set up a monthly direct deposit, and then almost never look at it.  Check it every 3-6 months to make sure the investment strategy is still sound, adjust as necessary, and then ignore it.  Don't get caught up in the day to day fluctuations in the market, which cause people to make damaging emotional decisions, and just focus on long-term wealth building.

This strategy served me well.  I followed his advice through my 20s, and by the time I started medical school at 29 I had a nice chunk of savings, which I kept for retirement instead of putting towards school.  And I kept up the 10% rule through medical school and residency, so even though I became a wild spending machine, I was still building some savings.  (Although not nearly as rapidly as I was building debt, sadly.)  The best part of the "set it and forget it" advice was that I could do just that:  forget it.  I included savings in my budget, they came out automatically, and I could rest comfortable in the knowledge that I was preparing for the future.

All of that changed when I became an attending.  As a fee-for-service physician, I was no longer earning a regular paycheque.  The amount I took home fluctuated wildly depending on whether I was on call, how busy my clinics were, and whether I took vacation.  This year, for example, there was a four-fold difference between my best and my worst paid months.  I'm not complaining at all about how much I am paid - it's wonderful to earn enough to save over 2/3 of what I'm earning without having to adopt Frugalwoods-level frugality - but I have struggled a lot with the variability of my income.

In good months, when I am earning and savings lots, I feel great.  In months when I'm not on call or I lose a lucrative Monday clinic to a long weekend, I feel anxious.  What if I don't save as much as I normally do?  What if this is the beginning of a decline in my income, and I'm not going to be in a position to retire in 5-7 years?  What if I burn out and can't keep working until I FIRE?

I hate it.  I hate that I'm earning way more than I need to live and yet I'm just as anxious about money as ever.  I've tried not looking at my net worth, and it did help to reduce my anxiety, but I'm not very good at ignoring my net worth on an ongoing basis.  I'm good enough at mental math that I can generally estimate my net worth even if I'm not looking at my spreadsheet.

I've been thinking a lot about this anxiety, and I realized that a lot of it stems from having set a very aggressive FIRE target for myself.  Based on the amounts I've been saving to date, I could retire on a reduced budget in about 5 years and retire more comfortably in about 7 years.  So January 1, 2025 has become my tentative FIRE date.  But that FIRE date requires that things stay essentially the same.  It doesn't allow me to buy a house, nor does it account for the very real possibility that physician payments may be cut, or at the very least will not increase at the rate of inflation.   It's an anxiety-provoking FIRE date, rather than a liberating FIRE date.

So this weekend, I came up with a plan.  I've figured out how much I would need to save to FIRE in 10 years, when I will be 50, and it is about 2/3 of what I've been saving to date.  I'm going to take that amount and put 75% of it into investments and 25% of it towards repayment of my line of credit, thereby reducing my remaining time to pay off the LOC to another 4 years.  (Initially it was supposed to take 10 years, but thanks to a lump-sum payment this year and increasing my repayment rate, I've cut that by almost half.)  In the past year, I achieved this level of savings in all but two months (both big travel months), so it is a comfortable amount to set aside.  And I know that it is enough, so hopefully I can relax more knowing that I am meeting good savings targets.

The funny thing is, it won't really change much on a practical level.  I'm not going to go out and blow the 1/3 that I had previously been saving, as I am pretty happy with my current lifestyle.  Any extra money will simply go into a high-interest savings account, where it will act as a bit of a cushion for the months when I'm spending more or earning less than usual.  When it gets too big, I can either put it towards more investments or use it to pay down the debt more aggressively.  I'm not really changing how much I'm spending and saving, but I'm hoping that a bit of financial hocus-pocus will allow me to stop thinking about it so much and just focus on enjoying life.

Friday, December 1, 2017

I Made it Through NaBloPoMo!

30 days!  I started a day late, so I decided to post today to make it the full 30 days.  While not technically following the rules, it totally counts in my book.  Yay me!

I started NaBloPoMo on a total whim, and there were a few times I considered stopping.  Like after I wrote this totally uninspired post.  But I hate failing at anything, so I kept going even though I didn't always want to.

There have been lots of good things about the challenge.  For one, I am really darn proud of myself for sticking with it for 30 days, particularly given that I've not been feeling at my emotional best this month.  It's nice to know that I have the discipline to stick to something, even when the consequences for not doing so are essentially nil.  Second, I've loved all the comments I've been getting!  NaBloPoMo happened just after I joined Twitter, so the volume of comments has increased both from having more posts and from having more traffic.  I love that people will visit my blog, even though I'm just some random person somewhere in Canada, and I love even more that people are affected enough by what I write to leave a comment.  Thank you!  And I am sorry that I have been negligent at replying lately.  I blame Stranger Things.  I am still reading and appreciating every comment.

Lastly, I love that NaBloPoMo has gotten me thinking more creatively.  My work is very rote and routine most of the time, and it's easy for me to fall into boring life patterns.  I've appreciated being challenged to look at life differently and to come up with interesting things to say.  In a tiny way, it makes me feel a little bit more alive.  And the comments on this post have inspired me to take on another challenge at Christmas:  I'm going to write a play.  I've had an idea for a Fringe play bouncing around in my head for months, and I think 10 days will be enough for me to get a very rough draft written.  (Maybe?  Creampuff?  I feel like Creampuff, who is a professional playwright, is just laughing hysterically at this.  But worst case scenario I get something on paper.  Right?)  I don't have any intention of ever presenting the play at the Fringe (I have zero acting experience.  And just barely more than zero playwriting experience.), but I think the experience could be fun.

(Also, Judith Thompson told me to write a play.  I got to talk to her one-on-one for 45 amazing minutes at a local women's theatre festival, and she encouraged me to write a play.  And what else can you do when JUDITH THOMPSON TELLS YOU TO WRITE A PLAY?)

So this is the end of NaBloPoMo.  Huge thanks to Creampuff and OMDG and ana for keeping me company with their own NaBloPoMo writing.  Although I won't be writing every day anymore, I am committing to a minimum of one blog post per week going forward.  NaBloPoMo reminded me of how much I value this space, and I don't want to wait another year to write here regularly.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

How YouTube Saved me $200

(This is going to be really quick, as I need to leave for dinner with friends in 20 minutes.  Yay friends!  And dinner!)

All of my shoes decided to die simultaneously*, so over the past few weeks I have slowly been replacing them.  I have been doing it very slowly, because the idea of spending hundreds and hundreds of dollars at once, even if it is very necessary, makes my stomach turn.  My first purchase was a pair of work shoes, as my old shoes had passed the point of being acceptable months ago, and my second was a pair of hiking shoes.

I must have been tired when I bought the hiking shoes, because I clearly didn't spend enough time choosing them.  I tried on 3 or 4 different pairs, settled on the pair that felt best, and then walked around the store for a few minutes.  They felt generally okay, although not as comfortable as my seven-year-old pair, and I figured they would feel increasingly good the more I wore them.


They got worse.  The shoes were tight in the front and loose in the back, meaning that I had to choose between painfully compressing the front of my feet because I had tied them tightly or almost walking out of the shoes because I had tied them loosely.  The more I wore them, the more I hated them.

The worst part was, in a fit of minimalism, I had thrown out the receipt and the insoles (I wear orthotics**), so I couldn't even take them back.  Which left me with the choice of a) wearing the bloody things for years until they wore out or b) getting rid of them and spending another $200 on a new pair of shoes.  For days I was tormented by the shoes, because I didn't want to continue being uncomfortable, but I also really really really hate wasting money.

Last night, I gave in and started looking on Mountain Equipment Co-op's website for other shoes.  I was done with sore feet, and I was going to just suck it up and buy new shoes.  But first, I decided to see what people who had bought my shoes had to say.  And found this:

OMG...that was me!  Someone whose heels keep slipping!  So I went on YouTube.  And found this video about how to tie shoes:

It has completely changed my feelings about the shoes.  I decided to try tying one of my shoes this way to see if it would help, and by the time I had walked to my car I was practically crying because I no longer despised my $200 shoes.  They fit!  From top to bottom!  And my heels don't slip anymore.

Moral of the story:  The internet is amazing.  And one should never throw out $200 pairs of shoes***.

Now to spend then $200 I saved on dinner****.

*This may have something to do with the fact that I hate spending money and shopping, so I put things off until the absolute last minute.  Like the zero-tread-left, ice-water-leaking-in-through-holes last minute.

**I am a good, book-loving, nerdy queer woman.  Who wears orthotics.

***I would not have thrown them out.  I would have re-homed them.

****I will not spend $200 on dinner.  I like eating out, but not that much.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

More Spoiler Alerts now that I have Watched the First Season of Stranger Things

So in the last episode of Season One of Stranger Things, there is a scene in which the Chief of Police has a flashback to the death of his daughter.  She is clearly dying of cancer, and the medical team is running a resuscitation code to try to "bring her back".

Why?  Why on earth would any physician run a code on someone with a terminal cancer?

One could argue that it's just television, but my understanding of the US medical system is that it isn't uncommon for people with terminal cancers to have CPR performed on them, to be intubated, and to be admitted to the ICU.  Which isn't at all the way things are practiced at the institutions where I trained.  Generally, when someone has a clearly terminal illness, the medical team will try to talk with the patient and his/her family to get them to choose a do not resuscitate order.  Sometimes the ICU will even refuse to take terminally ill patients.

Which to me seems to be the ethically right decision.  CPR is a horribly violent thing to put someone through, and few patients survive it to go on to have a meaningful quality of life.  For myself personally, I would only want resuscitation attempted if there was a reasonable chance of me recovering and surviving long-term.  If I had a terminal illness* and my heart stopped, I would want to be allowed to die without intervention.

And I don't think this is just my personal preference.  In my experience, most patients choose a DNR order when they are properly informed about what an attempted resuscitation entails and how low the survival rates are.  A refusal to accept a DNR is generally a result of poor communication from the medical team.

Thoughts?  For people in the medical profession, what have you seen in your institution(s)?

*God forbid, knock on wood, throw salt over my shoulder, etc.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Binge Watching Stranger Things (Slight Spoiler Alert for Anyone who has been Living Under a Rock and has not Watched the Show)

This past weekend, when I was feeling a bit bored and aimless, I tried to watch a few different shows on Netflix.  Orange is the New Black, Gilmore Girls, Breaking Bad.  Even though I've enjoyed all of them in the past, I couldn't quite get into them again.  I was beginning to think that I had moved beyond television and become someone who just does intellectual things like read books and drink sherry.

And then I started watching Stranger Things last night, and OMG it is so scary, but I can't stop watching it.  Every light in my apartment is on, and I'm probably going to have to sleep on the couch with the cats because my bedroom is now scary, but I really need to know what happens.

Also...the Chief of Police is an idiot.

And I really wish Eleven could talk more, because really?  Do we need to have a major female character who doesn't say more than 2 or 3 words at a time?

And that is my blog post for tonight, because I'm on episode 5 and I need to go to bed soon because my clinic starts at 7 am.

I will not start episode 6 tonight.

Probably not.

Although if I'm lying awake on the couch unable to sleep, what's the harm in watching another episode?

Monday, November 27, 2017

OMG I Have Ten Days Off at Christmas

The past two years, I haven't really enjoyed Christmas.  As the junior staff member, I've been on call over the holidays, meaning that I've never quite been able to relax, lest I get paged away in the middle of the gift opening or family dinner.  It also means I haven't been able to drink, which is a bad thing given the specialness that is my family.

When putting in my call requests for this year, I asked to have the full week off in return for taking Christmas two years in a row, and I was successful!  M and I celebrated when the call schedule came out, envisioning leisurely days spent sleeping in and playing games and eating all the Christmas baking.  It was going to be wonderful.

Somehow, it didn't occur to me until today that my Christmas plans have changed.

I mean...I knew intellectually that I wasn't going to be spending Christmas with M and her family.  I am actually in touch with what is going on in my life.  But somehow, in the moments when I would look ahead to Christmas, I still pictured an abundantly full holiday, packed with all of the activities I've done since I met M.

Which isn't what's going to happen.  There will be no family puzzle or Christmas morning cheese tray or days spent at M's parents' house in pjs.  There will be one Christmas Eve dinner at my brother's, followed by the opening of a few presents the next day, and that will be it.  And then there will be eight days on my own, when my friends are busy with their families or traveling to other cities.  Me, the cats, and my apartment.  For eight days.

When I suddenly realized what was ahead of me, I panicked.  I actually thought about booking some clinics that week so as to not have to face such an abundance of alone time.  Or maybe flying away somewhere, so that at least I could be distracted from my aloneness by the sites of a new city.  Anything to not spend the holidays drinking wine and singing sad love songs a la Bridget Jones.

But, I probably won't do any of those things.  People are notoriously bad for not coming to clinics during the Christmas holidays, which would mean I'd be miserable and lonely while wearing work clothes instead of sweat pants.  And given that I just came back from Quebec City and am planning a trip to France, I don't feel like I can justify any more travel for a while.  So I will be here.

And now I am planning.  I'm messaging any friends who might be around to say "Please entertain me".  I'm booking a massage.  I'm writing a list of things that I can do to keep myself from spending what should be 10 wonderful days off wallowing in a sea of self pity.  Or (God forbid) from trying to online date over the holidays, which is really one of the saddest things a person can do.

Any suggestions of things to add to my list?

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Taking a Risk

In my first year of medical school, an opportunity came up to work on the development of an inner-city student health clinic.  I got excited just reading the job description; I loved the idea of getting early exposure in a clinical setting, and the clinic was well-aligned with my desire to improve healthcare for marginalized individuals.  The job opportunity was exactly what I wanted to be doing during my first summer of medical school.

I didn't apply.

I had no experience working with marginalized populations, so I thought there was no possible way I would ever be chosen for the job.  I didn't even give them the opportunity to reject me, I just self-selected out.  I completely ignored the fact that I had been writing and editing grants professionally for four years, which would have been a huge asset in a position that involved a lot of fundraising.

My best friend got the position.

She had even less relevant experience than I did, but she wanted the position and had the guts to apply for it, so she got it.  And she was excellent at it, because it turns out you don't need to fit perfectly with a position to be good at it.  You bring in your existing skills, and you learn and you stretch yourself, and you gain the ability to do something different.

Her getting the position actually worked out well for me, because she didn't want to work full-time in the summer, and she asked me to job share!  (Funnily enough, there wasn't a huge demand for the poorly paying job, so they were willing to be very accommodating.)  I ended up liking it as much as I had hoped, and I stayed on to volunteer during the school year and to work for the clinic again the following summer.  

Fast forward to the present.  I have been looking for ways to meet new people and broaden my activities, and in my search I came across a feminist theatre group that is looking for new members for its board of directors.  I luuuuurve the theatre, and I am an unapologetic feminist, so the ad filled me with the same excitement I had felt reading that job description as a baby medical student years ago.  Followed immediately after by that same sense of inadequacy.

Why would a theatre company want me?  What do I know about theatre, beyond attending 39 fringe festival plays this summer*?

It was exactly the same as with the summer job years ago.  So I sat on it.  Didn't apply.  Ignored the fact that the opportunity sounded fun and exciting and exactly like something I would want to do.

But then, I asked a friend about it.  Poured out my heart and my doubt and my little tiny bit of hope to her, and she said "The worst that could happen is they say no."

As simple as that.  She stated it matter-of-factly and then immediately resumed stuffing her face with deep fried veggie balls at the vegan restaurant where we were eating.  My neurotic self wanted to counter with one hundred reasons why they might say no and why being rejected would be the worst thing that ever happened to anyone, but really?  If they said no, I would get over it.

So this morning I wrote a letter.  And as soon as my friend edits it and gives me feedback, I am sending it off.

The worst that could happen is they say no.

*Too many.  I think 25-30 in 12 days is my sweet spot.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Cortical Homunculus Saturday!

I needed to make some space on my iPhone (my fancy, modern iPhone 4S) in order to upgrade the software, so I decided to look through and delete some of my photos.  Most of which are photos from the three-and-a-half years that M and I spent together.  Oddly enough, this was a somewhat emotionally wrenching experience, and as a result my motivation to write a coherent blog post is a bit low right now.  So I'm stealing an idea from Creampuff, who has been posting pictures of her dog on Saturdays and calling it Shar Pei Saturday.  Except instead of my cats (who were featured on Thursday), I give you a cortical homunculus.  This photo is from Le Musée de la Civilisation, which I visited on my recent trip to Quebec City.

What is a cortical homunculus, you ask?  According to Wikipedia: 

A cortical homunculus is a distorted representation of the human body, based on a neurological "map" of the areas and proportions of the brain dedicated to processing motor functions, or sensory functions, for different parts of the body. Homunculus is Latin for "little man", and was a term used in alchemy and folklore prior to the concept being utilized in scientific literature. A cortical homunculus, or "cortex man", illustrates the concept of a representation of the body lying within the brain.

You're welcome.

Happy Saturday everyone!

Friday, November 24, 2017

When Other People Screw Up

Once a month or so, I do an extra Friday afternoon clinic in a different location from my usual clinics.  It involves rushing out as soon as my morning clinic ends, driving 45 minutes across the city, and generally arriving 10-15 minutes late at the second clinic.  It isn't my favourite thing in the world, but it is necessary for a whole bunch of reasons, so I just suck it up and do it.

Today was one of those days.  When I was about halfway between locations, I got a call from the second clinic.

"Did you forget that you had a clinic today?"

"  It's 12:55.  I'll be there in 15-20 minutes like usual."

"Oh.  Uhhh...there are patients here for you."

I didn't think much of it until I arrived at the clinic to find eight patients already waiting for me.  It turns out, for reasons that are unclear to me, the clerk had booked my clinic starting at 12:30.  Even though I've been doing this for over two years, and I never arrive before 1 PM.


And this is just the end of a week of screw ups.  Misplaced requisitions, incomplete tasks, and other things done wrong.  It is driving me nuts.  We're professionals working in a healthcare setting - just do things right people!  I do not have the time to double check everything you are doing to make sure you're doing it correctly.

/end rant

Thankfully, my patients are all lovely, and I didn't have a single complaint despite being over an hour behind at the end.  But I just wish that I didn't have to be the person who is ultimately held responsible for everything, including the incompetence of others.

Have a great weekend everyone.  It's time for a book and some popcorn.  And wine.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

17 Things I'm Thankful For

Happy American Thanksgiving everyone!

Here in Canada, we're working and eating zero turkey.  So I'm in no way thankful for that.  But I thought I'd do a cheesy post in honour of the American holiday that I'm not celebrating.  Because it's NaBloPoMo, and I will take ideas for posts anywhere I can find them.

This year, I'm thankful for:

  1.  The approaching weekend and the ability to sleep in.
  2.  Friends who have babies, so that I can cuddle them and give them back.
  3.  Taking myself out to dinner at a really tasty Ethiopian restaurant.  For $13.  With leftovers.
  4.  My best friends, Ben and Jerry, with whom I'll be spending some time after I finish this post.
  5.  My two hairy beasts, who think the best thing is cuddling with me on the couch. 

  6.  Taking a six-month hiatus from dating, thus postponing the horror of online dating sites.
  7.  My almost clutter-free apartment.
  8.  The fact that my mother is usually not as annoying as she was last night.
  9.  Almost an entire calendar year in the black!
  10.  My introversion, which makes being alone after a breakup kind of awesome.  (Sometimes.)
  11.  Picking up three more books from my favourite library.
  12.  Ivan Coyote.
  13.  My really warm winter coat, which makes Canada even better.
  14.  Universal healthcare (also something that makes Canada better).
  15.  A work trip that will take me to Paris in the Spring.
  16.  Duolingo for helping me learn to say "Une table pour une personne, s'il vous plaît".
  17.  Wine.

What are you thankful for this year?

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

And Then I Disowned My Mother

I am home late and writing a very quick post because tonight was dinner and the theatre (pronounced "thee-a-tahhhh") with my Mom.  We had a really lovely time, right up until the point when she casually mentioned that she is planning to donate money to a Christian charity that is known for stating that gay people should be killed.

" know their stance on gay people, right?"

"Well.  People have a right to their own opinions."

"Sure. you think that maybe you could not donate to a charity that thinks that your daughter should be killed because she happens to like women?  Maybe?"

She didn't see the problem. 

Because apparently the charity does good work.

Anyone want to adopt a 40-year-old doctor?

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

When Things Are Just Hard

My ex-girlfriend came over this evening to drop off a suitcase she had borrowed* and to pick up some things she had left behind.  It was emotional and awful, even though two and a half months have already passed.  I wanted to say or do something that would make it better, but there isn't anything to say or do.  This is just hard.

Like many things in life are hard.  Sometimes there is no fixing separation and loneliness and illness and death.  And all you can do is give someone the biggest hug possible and cry.

*Brilliantly, she forgot the suitcase.

Monday, November 20, 2017

How I Feed Myself

I am obsessed with food.  I watch Top Chef religiously; I spend way too much money in restaurants; and when I am unhappy, a surefire way to make me happy again is to feed me good food.  That being said, I hate the fact that I have to feed myself regularly.  I'd far rather eat five really amazing meals per week than have to deal with the tedium of three meals a day, seven days a week.

Tonight, I was driving home late from a long Monday in my inner city clinic, when I realized that I was far too hungry (HAANGRY) to finish making the beef and barley soup I'd started yesterday.  There were a few things in my freezer, but I was not feeling virtuous enough to eat lentil soup or bean-packed chili.  I wanted something tasty.  My initial impulse was to go to McDonald's, but I haven't been back since my nieces informed me that there were 17 ingredients in their fries.  (I was under no illusion that McDonald's food was healthy, but I though that at least their fries were potatoes fried in oil and salted.  Nope.  I was 17 kinds of wrong on that one.)

So I decided to stop at the store.  And what I was really craving was pizza.  I could've just picked up a frozen pizza, but I've mostly been cooking at home lately, and as a result most processed food tastes like cardboard to me.  So I picked up some pita bread for crusts, along with pizza sauce, cheese, canned mushrooms, and pepperoni.  And 1 hour and 15 minutes after I pulled into the parking lot, I pulled six of these out of my oven:

(Only five are shown, because one was in my stomach by the time the photo was taken.)  Once again, the light is terrible (no natural light after 5:30!), but the pizza is super yummy.  Look closer...

Mmmm.  Given that I have five leftover pizzas to freeze, this works out to about 12 minutes per meal for shopping and cooking time.  And that's probably a bit of an overestimate for how long it took, as I spent the last 15 minutes or so sitting on the couch eating my pizza while the remaining pizzas baked.

So this is how I feed myself:  batch cooking.  I am absolutely not going to come home every night and cook for myself, but I am happy to cook big batches of food and freeze leftovers.  Whenever I hear someone say that they don't like leftovers (like my mother), I look at them like they've just grown a second head, because leftovers are my entire cooking strategy.  All hail leftovers!

(Yes, I recognize that pizza is not the healthiest dinner.  When I eat the leftovers, I'll probably invest a bit of extra time into making a salad or some veggies to make it healthier, which will likely stretch the pizzas even farther, as a whole pizza is a lot of food on its own.  With a big serving of veggies, I can probably get ten meals out of the rest of the pizza.  Also, I generally eat pretty healthy food, so I figure that on a day when I am tired and grouchy and just want to eat a quarter pounder washed down with liquid sugar, a homemade pizza is probably acceptable.)

What is your cooking strategy?

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Looking Ahead to Buy Nothing Day

Since I was in university over 20 years ago, I have been an enthusiastic participant in Buy Nothing Day.  Founded in Vancouver in 1992, Buy Nothing Day is a day on which people are encouraged to literally buy nothing as a way of reflecting on the negative aspects of our consumer society.  Not coincidentally, in the United States it is held on the Friday after Thanksgiving, when many people are rushing out to the stores (and sometimes killing each other) to get a start on their Christmas/Hanukkah shopping.

I love Buy Nothing Day because I think it is all too easy to get caught up in the message that holidays are about things.  Giving the best gifts, serving the fanciest foods, and having the most festively decorated home.  And while none of those things are inherently bad (especially not the fancy food), every one of them requires an investment of time and energy and comes at the expense of other activities.  If you're out pepper spraying someone to get a deal on video games, then you aren't at home playing video games with your family.

For me, Buy Nothing Day is another reminder to be mindful.  To think about what is important to me in life and especially during the holidays, rather than just taking directions from advertisements and the dominant culture.  Over the years, I've decided to reduce my gift giving, because I don't want more things in my apartment, and because I prefer time with my family to time in the mall.  I was reminded of how ridiculous gift giving can be last weekend when I decluttered a huge portion of my apartment, as many of the things I got rid of were things that had been gifted to me.  Huge expenditures of time and money had gone into things that I ended up leaving in my apartment lobby for other people to take.

I'm really excited this year to have a full 9 days off over the holidays, which hasn't happened since my last year of medical school in 2009.  I could use some of my abundant time off to do more Christmas decorating and shop for Christmas gifts...but there is zero of me that wants to do that.  I want to hang out with my nieces and have games days with friends and eat appetizers with my Mom.  To me, these are the things that make a holiday.  Not anything that I can buy on Buy Nothing Day.

(Edited to add:  Ten days!  I actually have 10 days!  I didn't realize that the Monday (January 1) was a holiday too.  WOOOOOOO-HOOOOOOOO!!!!!)

Saturday, November 18, 2017

For the Love of Libraries

As a kid, there was no library in my neighbourhood.  Instead, a "Bookmobile" would be set up once a week in the parking lot of our local shopping mall, giving us access to a rotating assortment of books from the public library.  I made my parents take me there pretty much every week, and I can remember running up the metal stairs into the trailer, eager to see what new books awaited me.  (I was not an even remotely athletic child, so only the most exciting of things would get me to move quickly.)  I would return from those visits with a grocery bag overflowing with books and immediately park myself down on the couch to start reading.  I loved it.

My love of libraries and reading lasted until medical school, when it became my job to read and learn.  I replaced my piles of library books with Netter's Anatomy and Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, and I almost completely stopped reading for pleasure.  Where I used to easily read a book every week, after the start of medical school, I was reduced to one book on Christmas vacation and one on summer.

As a result, I also stopped going to the library.  I could no longer be guaranteed to finish a book within the three-week lending period, and I certainly couldn't be guaranteed to remember to return a book, so there was no longer a place for the library in my life.  Instead, I would periodically go to my favourite local bookstore and wander its shelves, dreaming of having time to read all of the books.  When I found something that really appealed to me, I would buy it and save it for a rare stretch of holidays.

It wasn't until I finished my licensing exam three years ago that I once again had time to read on a regular basis.  But by then, I had gotten so out of the habit of going to the library that it didn't even occur to me to go back.  I just kept buying books.  Until M started making fun of this increasingly expensive habit.

"Why don't you just go to the library?"

I blinked in confusion.  What was a library again?  And what purpose did it serve in my life, now that I was earning an income and could afford to to buy my own books?

I was initially resistant to the idea.  I wanted to own books!  And I didn't want to be limited by the small selection of our one-room local library.  Nor did I fancy having to pay overdue fines when I inevitably forgot to return the books.

I would like to say that I was a mature adult and didn't stubbornly refuse to listen to M.  But.  It took discovering Mr. Money Mustache* and wanting to live within my means to get me to go back to the library.  And, just like when I was a kid in a frigid trailer trying to grasp books through my thick wool mittens, I fell in love with it.

Of course, there is the fact that books at the library are free.  This is awesome.  I have now read 26 library books in 2017 (yay completing my Goodreads challenge!), which has saved me over $500.  Based on the 4% safe withdrawal rule, that's $12,500 less that I need to save for retirement by using the library.  But it's so much more!

I can take out books I might never read:  When I used to buy books, I would be careful to only buy something I was pretty certain I would read to the end.  I'd look up reviews, I'd ask friends, and I'd stand in the bookstore reading the first chapter to make sure it was something I liked.  Picking a book was a process!  And it limited the books I would read to books that I had some reason to think I would like (e.g. a book by a favourite author).  But with library books?  If a book looks remotely interesting to me, I will take it out.  When I see an interesting book suggestion on Twitter or Facebook or someone's blog, I add it to my "To-Read" list (now at over 200 books).  It has greatly expanded what I am reading, and my reading life is richer for it.

I don't have to finish a book I don't like:  This ties into the previous point, but when I spent $20+ on a book, I felt obligated to finish it, even if I hated it.  This has sometimes led to me wasting time on a book that I didn't enjoy or, worse, not reading at all because I didn't want to move on to another book until I finished the one I hated.  Not with library books.  Hate a book?  Return the bloody thing and move on.

I can get books from any library in my city:  Until M introduced me to it, I had no idea that there was this thing called inter-library loans that would let me order books from any library using my computer.  It's like magic.  See a book recommendation, order it online, pick it up on my way home from work within a few days.  It is amazing, and it is actually easier than going to the bookstore to buy a book.

The library reminds me to return books:  Email reminders of when books are due!  This is awesome.  I still end up paying fines sometimes, because I am lazy, but I pay far fewer fines because of this.  Plus, I can renew books online, which often lets me avoid the fines altogether.

Libraries are part of my community:  I recently read Jane Jacob's book "The Death and Life of Great American Cities" (from the library, bien sûr), in which she looks at all of the important elements of a vibrant city.  She talks about all of the little daily interactions that contribute to a sense of community - chatting with the local butcher, giving a spare key to a trusted neighbour - and since reading it, I have been thinking a lot more about what makes my community.  And, it turns out that the librarians are now part of my community.  The three regular librarians recognize me, and we will often spend a few minutes chatting about books or about the librarian's cool necklace made from locally salvaged wood.  It's a small thing, but it makes me feel a little more connected to the place I've lived for the past seven years.

So, after this love letter to my favourite place in the city, it is time to read my library book.

Are you a library user?  Why or why not?

*I learned today that Americans spell it "mustache" and Brits (and Canadians) spell it "moustache".  Who knew?  I love language!

Friday, November 17, 2017

Resisting the Introvert's Tendency to Nest

Despite the winter solstice being over a month away, it is already cold and dark here.  Which means that when I'm not at work, I'm happiest when I'm on my couch with a blanket and a good library book.  (Currently reading Shrill by Lindy West on the advice of...someone?  Twitter?  A blog?  I really like it!)  As an introvert, I can go for very long periods of time with minimal human interaction and actually feel okay about it.  Until I emerge from the dark, eyes blinking in the bright sun, and realize that I haven't maintained any important relationships, of course.

I was reminded of the need to nurture relationships this week when I encountered someone who was in hospital and was very much alone.  It's bad enough for someone to be in hospital, where the beds are hard, the food is cold and bland, and there is absolutely zero privacy.  But to do it completely alone?  I never want to be in that position.  And even if I am lucky enough to avoid being in hospital, I want to always know that there are people in my life that I can turn to when I need them.

So, immediately after the interaction, I pulled out my phone and started texting.  "Friend, want to go for brunch this weekend?"  "Friends-who-are-family, let's spend a day together at Christmas and binge watch movies in our pjs!"  "Mom, want to come put up the light that I unearthed during my massive purge last weekend?"

(The last one may have been more practical than relationship-building.  But that's why we have moms, right?  Ideally, at least.)

It's good to be reminded that I need other people.  Even when I'd rather be at home in my sweatpants.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

I Really Have To Do This Every Day?

There's nothing like writing a blog post every single day to make you realize how routine and uninteresting your life can be.  Today was a typical Thursday:  go to work, get lots of paperwork done (I have no clinics on Thursdays), go to my French class, come home.  I have to give a presentation tomorrow at 7 oh-my-God-it's-too-bloody-early in the morning, so I also had to spend part of my evening running through the presentation.  Always fun.

The act of daily blogging is reminding me of how little extra mental energy I have in my life.  I am not overly short on time, as I tend to leave the hospital at a reasonable time most days, but my job exhausts me mentally.  After a full day of high-stakes decisions and endlessly talking to people, my highly sensitive, introverted self is worn out.  Going to a French lesson and practicing a presentation and writing a blog post is about as much as I can handle in an evening, and I haven't done any of those things particularly well today.

I have huge respect for the people* who come home from a long day of work and then have to care for children.  I am honestly really glad that I've never felt a strong desire to have kids, because I think I would lose my mind if I had to come home to whining and disobeying and all of the many secretions that children produce.  (One of my friends with kids described her house this week as a "tsunami of diarrhea".  Shudder.)

And...that's it for me.  Daily blogging is helping me to generate lots of ideas for blog posts, but it isn't leaving me with enough drive to write a long one, so some of those will have to wait for once this month is over and I have more time for things to incubate.  For now, this will have to do.

*Not to be too sexist, but I will say especially the women.  Because in most households, those are the ones who bear the brunt of everything family/household.  For those rare men who are doing their 50% or more, well done.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Weight of Work

I am caring for a lot of very sick people right now, which isn't typical.  Most of my patients have chronic, slowly progressive illnesses, so a lot of the work that I do is just checking in on generally healthy people to make sure that everything is okay.  Lately though, things haven't been okay.  I have patients going for major procedures, patients in hospital, and patients approaching the end of life.

I know that this isn't about me.  The people most affected by this are of course the patients themselves and the people who love them.  And yet, this is hard for me too.  It is hard to be witness to suffering, particularly when there is nothing in my medical bag of tricks that I can use to change the outcome.  I can of course offer comfort and support and symptom control, but dammit, sometimes I just want to fix it.  I want life to not be the way it is, with illness and death and all of the other bad things.

So tonight I'm lying low.  I've passed on trivia night, and I'm sitting in my sweatpants with a steaming bowl of spaghetti bolognase and a cuddly cat.  And I'm grieving all of the things I cannot change.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Best Salad

I love good food.  (Not a shock to anyone.)  Thankfully, I also like to cook good food, and over my many years of adulthood, I've accumulated a few really good recipes.  Some of them are for fancy things that come out only for holidays, like the perfect creme brûlée, and others are for everyday things, like ridiculously easy pulled pork.  But I love them all in their own ways.

In case there are other people out there who also like to cook really tasty things, I'm going to share some of my favourite recipes on the blog.  It's kind of like public service.  You're welcome.  The first of these, because it is what I made for supper tonight, is a really tasty salad.

When M and I were first dating, she invited me for dinner, and she made a veritable feast of lasagna, French bread, and this salad.  While I was really impressed by the fact that she had made bread from scratch (something that would later drive me nuts when it happened in our kitchen), my favourite part of the meal was definitely the salad.  That night, I raved over how tasty the homemade dressing was with the salty cheese and nuts and dried fruit.

She promptly waited two years before she make it again.

After she finally made the salad for me a second time, I declared it the official salad of our household.  "What do you want for dinner, Solitary?" would inevitably be answered with "Saaaaaalaaaaad".  I was addicted.

When we separated for the first time last summer, I am not certain whether I was more sad about the end of the relationship or the loss of the salad recipe.  As soon as we reconciled, I made her bring back the recipe book, and I copied the recipe into my computer.  So now I can always have the salad.

(I feel like I have perhaps built the salad up to be more than it actually is.  Do not expect miracles.  But it is a very good salad.)

The recipe for this salad comes from the Simply in Season cookbook, which is published by the Mennonite Central Committee and which focuses on using local, seasonal ingredients.  While I don't agree with MCC's policy of preventing us gays from working or volunteering for them, I do love their salad.

Solitary's Favourite Salad:

Mix together the following:
  • 1/3 cup oil (I use canola oil, but you can use any neutral oil.  I think.)
  • 1/2 to 1 tbsp Dijon mustard (Start with 1/2 a tbsp and increase to taste.)
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
I tend to squeeze all the juice from a lemon, measure it (last time was about 3 tbsp), and then add proportional amounts of the other ingredients to make a big batch of dressing.  I've never had it go bad on me.

Once you have the dressing, use your imagination to make your favourite salad combination.  You will need the following components, but the exact combination is up to you:
  • Some sort of green (lettuce, spinach, kale, arugula, etc.)
  • Some sort of soft and salty cheese (feta, goat, blue, etc.)
  • Some sort of fruit, sliced into bite-sized pieces (apples, pears, strawberries, blueberries, etc.)
  • Some sort of dried fruit (cherries, blueberries, cranberries, raisins, etc.)
  • Some sort of nut, preferably toasted (pecans, cashews, almonds, pine nuts, etc.)
Toss the greens with the dressing, and then put the other ingredients on top.  Tah-dah!

I am clearly not a food blogger.  But that ugly photo shows the really tasty salad that I made for supper tonight, which contained kale, blue cheese, blueberries, and pine nuts*.  (I forgot the dried fruit.  Am now sad.  But it was still tasty.)  The dressing is a permanent fixture in my fridge, so it took about five minutes to make.  I have a very large head of kale, so this will be part of my supper every night this week.  And because of the many possible combinations, it will be a different salad every night.

Make this salad**.  Mmmmmm.

*For the record, I am not a ridiculous spendthrift who just tosses expensive pine nuts into all of my recipes.  These are very reasonably priced Costco pine nuts, which I keep in my freezer so that they will last forever.  And I was using up some extras that I had toasted when I made pesto in the summer.  I'm preventing food waste by eating leftovers!

**Bonus points to anyone who makes this salad and posts a picture on Twitter/their blog.  Especially if their photo is better than mine.  (Almost guaranteed.)

Monday, November 13, 2017

Weekend Progress

Remember how my living room looked on Friday?

This is how it looks at the end of the weekend:

The after photo doesn't quite do it justice, as everything that is currently on the table is waiting for someone to pick it up and take it away.  There will be a lot of empty space once it's finally done.  Including space for games nights!

A few more before and afters:

The desk:

The bookshelf:

The light in the photos is terrible, but you get the idea.  I have gotten rid of a lot of clutter.  So far I think I've done a reasonable job of not getting rid of important things, with two notable exceptions.  First, I gave away some chargers that I thought were old and not in use anymore, but which turned out to be for my bike lights.  So I'll need to get a new charger before bike season next year*.  And second, I gave away a tea set to one of my friends, and a few hours later, she texted me to say "You didn't look in the teapot before you gave it to me, did you?"

Turns out I had stashed $130 in cash in it at some point in the past.  (Years and years ago, perhaps?)  I'm really glad I gave that one to a friend instead of putting it in the lobby of my building.

Anyone else decluttering right now?  How is it going?

*Also a new bike, as I had previously been using the ex-girlfriend's bike.  Sigh.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Dialing It In

It is late at night and I've just returned from drinking two glasses of wine at a friend's house.  I had many ideas for a post earlier tonight, but none of them can be written in under 15 minutes with the amount of mental capacity I have remaining.

It was a good day.  I slept in a bit; did important life maintenance tasks like dishes and laundry; purged a few cupboards in the kitchen; went to dinner and a play with my nieces; and then ended my day with friends.  I totally did not follow through on my plan to finish minimalizing the kitchen, but sometimes when a friend texts you with a photo of the bottle she is about to open, the right thing to do is leave the overflowing cupboard of Tupperware for tomorrow.

It is not always a linear process, but I feel as if I'm starting to settle into the next phase of my life.  Freed from the need to accommodate someone else, I am figuring out what I most want to do, and I am doing it.  And it feels right.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Why Are You Getting Rid of Your Christmas Tree?

A few nights ago, I called my Mom up to ask her if she wanted any of the Christmas decorations that I was getting rid of, and she asked me what I was going to use to decorate my tree this year.

"Oh, I'm getting rid of my tree," I responded.

Long pause.  Followed by my Mom going through all five Kubler Ross stages of grief while she adjusted to this news.

"'re not actually getting rid of your tree.  Your Christmas tree?  You're getting rid of your Christmas tree?

"I didn't raise you to not have a Christmas tree!  No daughter of mine is allowed to not have a Christmas tree!"

"What if I come over and put up the tree?  I can bring egg nog!  You have to put up a tree."

"Well...I guess Christmas is ruined again this year.  I'm just going to lie on the floor feeling sad about how treeless your Christmas is."

"Unnnnngggghhhhh.....fine.....maybe this isn't the biggest crisis to ever hit mankind.  I suppose someday I can forgive you for getting rid of your tree.  Maybe."

(I exaggerate only in the slightest.)

I should have expected this kind of reaction, but despite knowing my Mom for over four decades, she still has the capacity to surprise me.  And I was surprised by the intensity of her reaction to me getting rid of my tree.  Because I wasn't trying to ruin the holiday or make some sort of anti-Christmas statement.  I actually really like Christmas!  I just don't want to put up a tree anymore.

My dislike of Christmas trees (or, more accurately, of my former Christmas tree) stems in part from living in a not very big one-bedroom apartment.  As you can see from yesterday's picture, my living room doesn't really have space to put up a tree, so it was always crammed into a corner where I could barely see it.  And when it wasn't up, it was in my storage space (or in its box in the living room), blocking my access to my non-perishable food supply.

More than that, I hated taking the time to set up a tree at Christmas.  I am usually on call for at least part of the holiday*, leaving me constantly short on time, and I started to resent spending any of that time putting up and taking down a tree.  It stopped being an activity that "sparked joy" and started being yet another thing on a too-long to-do list.

So I got rid of my tree.  I moved it from my living room floor to the free giveaway area in my lobby, and it has now been adopted by my building caretaker**.  With the tree and the Rubbermaid containers and the really crappy chair that didn't work gone, I feel like I can breathe in this room again.  And when the holiday comes, I can spend time with the people I love, instead of decorating a tree that I had come to hate.

*But not this year!!!!!

**He is going to put it up in the lobby, meaning that I will be able to enjoy my tree without storing or decorating it.  I feel like I won.

Friday, November 10, 2017

My Exciting Friday Evening

Although I have enjoyed the resultant comments and conversations, I have had enough writing about controversial things for one week.  It is the beginning of the long weekend, and I am going to stop thinking and writing about "big things" for a while.

So that I can move on to this:

This is my living room.  At some point in the not too distant past, it was reasonably well organized and uncluttered.  And then.


Stuff happened.  Christmas* and the Women's March and music festivals and camping and all kinds of other things that we never quite cleaned up from.  Where once we used to eat meals and entertain, now I just store things.

A few weeks ago, I was thinking about the things I want to do in my post-breakup life, and one of the things that kept coming up was games night.  I don't love games quite as much as Creampuff and Katr, but I do love games for their combination of competition and buffer against awkward social interactions.  Playing a game is a great thing for an introvert such as myself who sometimes gets overwhelmed by the need to maintain a conversation the whole time someone is in my home. 

The only problem is, there is no game playing happening in the living room shown above.  People and games just don't fit into it.  The initial solution I had to this problem was to buy a house, which in retrospect is a slightly extreme solution to the "my living room is a pigsty" dilemma.  Thankfully, the second solution I came up with was to actually organize my living room.

Which I have been doing for the past few weeks.  Before tonight, I had:

1)  Organized my memory box, two boxes of children's toys, and one box of Christmas ornaments;
2)  Gotten rid of three bags of books, one of my two Cabbage Patch Kids, and multiple bags of Christmas things;
3)  Recycled the Women's March posters; and 
4)  Decided to get rid of the desk.

And then tonight, because I am one of the cool kids who spends my Friday nights going minimalist, I:

1)  Organized another box of Christmas ornaments;
2)  Went through every single item on the tall bookshelf;
3)  Put all my (now organized) boxes away in the storage space;
4)  Started a pile of things to sell or give to the thrift store; and
5)  Got rid of the proofs for my med school grad photos, every single note I took during residency, my ridiculously uncomfortable chair that has never quite worked, printable labels that I bought for medical school applications (in 2005!), and my Christmas tree.

There is space!  Everything to the left of and behind the table is now put away, gotten rid of, or on its way to being gotten rid of.  And the rest of it will be tackled this weekend.  I am ready to use my space again.

*Yes, I am blaming a holiday that happened almost a year ago for the state of my living room, because until earlier this evening the tree was still on the living room floor.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Why Don't Men Read Blogs By Women?

It has been an interesting day on Twitter.  I have been at home working on a presentation that I am giving next week, and so I've been regularly checking in and causing trouble.  I may have gotten really angry at a blogger for disregarding privilege.  I regret nothing.

One of the things that came up on Twitter was female bloggers and the recognition that they do (or do not) receive in the financial blogging world.  I've never written or tweeted about this before, but I have definitely noticed that there are far fewer comments from men on women's blogs than there are on men's blogs.  Sometimes this makes sense:   In a world where women are predominantly responsible for the domestic side of life, I get why there aren't a lot of men reading bloggers who write about frugal cooking and parenting*.

But sometimes the blogs written by women are just damn good blogs for anyone, regardless of gender or gender role.  And yet, men still don't read them.  To make sure this wasn't just something I was imagining, after the Twitter conversation today, I reviewed the comments from two really good financial blogs that everyone should be reading:  Physician on FIRE and Bitches Get Riches.  Of the last 20 comments for which I could identify the commenter's gender, Physician on FIRE had received a somewhat even split of 8 comments from women and 12 from men.

Bitches Get Riches?  18 women and 2 men.

Which means that men are missing some of the funniest and most thought-provoking posts in the financial blogosphere right now.  And why?  Because a person's genitalia somehow makes them more or less capable of writing about money?

Sadly, I think this is all part of our legacy of presenting the white male viewpoint as the primary viewpoint.  Now, please don't misinterpret this as me saying that I dislike white men or I don't think we should read things by white men.  There are many white men who I think are lovely and valuable members of our society**.  But I think it's unfortunate that in the vast majority of books, tv shows, movies, plays, etc. that we are exposed to, the protagonist is a white male.  It not only limits the ideas that we're exposed to, but it also conditions us to see the white man as the default.  Anything else is "diversity".

As a queer woman, my own identity compels me to search out things that are created by and represent people more like me, so I naturally go beyond the white/straight/cis-gender male story.  But if I were a white man?  What motivation would I have to look beyond the abundance of stories that speak directly to me?  And how would I ever learn to appreciate that the world can be a very different place for people who aren't exactly like me?

I know that this is a broad generalization and that there are men who are enlightened and who read blogs and other things that are written by women.  But we need more of them.

*This is its own blog post.

**Apparently not this one.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

NaBloPoMo Will Not Defeat Me (The 30 Minutes or Less Post)

For the past few years, Wednesday nights have been trivia nights.  My (now ex-) girlfriend and I would meet at a pub with whomever we could drag out (friends, parents, co-workers, friends of friends) for terrible but cheap chicken wings and PubStumpers trivia.  We were never any good, but it appealed to my competitive side and to my I-love-deep-fried-animal-fat-drenched-in-sauce side, so I made it a priority to go almost every week. 

The last time I went was the night before the breakup.  My ex was the one who had gotten us involved with trivia, so until now I've kind of stepped aside and let her continue to go without me being there.  But now that two months have passed, it feels like time to go back.  (Also, she is out of town for the long weekend.  But it's also time.)  So I've gathered four friends, a table is reserved, and to trivia we go.

No matter how shitty the breakup, life does eventually continue.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

How To Not Let Twitter Take Over Your Life

This is going to be a short post, because I stayed late to finish all of my work tasks from the day, and all I want at this moment is to eat a bowl of peanut butter chocolate ice cream and read "Health at Every Size".

(Ironic combination?  Maybe, maybe not.)

I joined Twitter less than a month ago, and at the time I was completely oblivious to its addictive potential.  I assumed it was going to be roughly equivalent to Facebook in terms of being a time sink, but hahahahahahaha.

(That is the sound of the laughter of any regular Twitter user.)

Twitter is literally an infinite time sink.  Unlike with Facebook, where you're somewhat limited by your number of friends and how often they post, there is no end to the rabbit hole of Twitter.  Finished reading all of the tweets from the people you follow?  Click on their lists of followers and find more people to follow!  And then their lists!  And their lists!  I actually forgot to go to work on Monday because I was so caught up in reading just one more thing...

I.  Forgot.  To.  Go.  To.  Work.

(Thankfully I came out of my haze only about 15 minutes after I was supposed to have left, but OMG.)

As I am typing this, I can see a (1) displayed next to the word Twitter on my Firefox tab, and my hands are itching with the desire (neeeeed) to see who has tweeted.

(Didn't resist.  It was Canadian musician Veda Hille posting a picture of a dinner party.  Sure am glad I didn't miss that.)

So, want to know how I don't let Twitter take over my life?

I have no idea.


Monday, November 6, 2017

How to Get an Introvert to Dance

Dancing and I have never been friends.  In junior high, the smell of teenage boys who hadn't yet discovered deodorant scared me away from the too-tightly-packed gymnasium, so I avoided dancing and its associated social awkwardness altogether by hanging out at the student council canteen.  (I was treasurer.)  By high school, almost everyone had become too cool to go to the school dance, so I would just hang out with my fellow student council members and band geeks (I was both) in the nearly empty gym, awkwardly gyrating without any worry that my lack of dance skills was going to make me less popular than I already was.

It wasn't until I entered university and lived with a roommate who wanted to go out dancing all the time that I started dancing in public.  My city's few queer bars were much more welcoming and pleasant than the straight bars, so despite the fact that I was out to only a select few people at the time, I spent many Saturday nights of undergraduate dancing amongst my kind with my roommate*.

It never really went well.  I was not born with an inner rhythm, and my social anxiety prevented me from ever really relaxing, no matter how many horrible $1 shooters I downed.  While I tried earnestly to not look horribly uncool on the dance floor, it was beyond my reach.  And the worst part?  People told me that I didn't look cool.  My roommate, my friends, friends of my roommate.  It was as if people were trying to do a public service by drawing attention to just how inept I was at dancing.

So I stopped.  Until this past weekend, I hadn't set foot in a queer bar in 17 years.  But one of my good friends has been badgering me for 4 years to go to the bar with her, and for some reason I decided that last weekend was the weekend to do it.  There were conditions, of course.  Under no circumstances could she make fun of me or my dancing.  I was allowed to spend as much time on my phone as I wanted/needed to without being criticized for not being fun.  And she had to periodically come over and talk to me at the table.

I had anticipated sitting at the table babysitting the jackets all night, but the group I was with kept encouraging me to come out and give dancing a try.  Not in a critical or demanding way, but in a "We love you no matter how bad you look on the dance floor" kind of way.  And at one point, a friend came and sat next to me and said "Come out and just stand next to me.  You don't even need to dance."

And she was so supportive, that I did.  And I even moved my arms and legs a bit in a way that kind of approximated dancing.  And it wasn't horrible, and I didn't die.

So that is how you get an introvert to dance.

I may do it again in another decade or so.

*As I was typing this, I started thinking about my high school math teacher, whom everyone had suspected of being gay.  I ran into her at the lesbian bar one night and afterwards proceeded to tell everyone I knew about it.  I initially chuckled at the memory, until I realized OMG I OUTED MY TEACHER.  I feel retroactively terrible, 20 years later.

Don't ever out someone.