Wednesday, December 31, 2008


Wrapping paper is one of my favorite parts of the holidays...

The further along I get in grad school, the more I feel like I need breaks, and the less it seems like I'm really allowed to take them.

In my last meeting with my advisor, she strongly encouraged me to do some of the prep work for my prelim "before the holiday." I thought this sounded great, but failed to consider that I would be writing 4 final papers during that time (a total of approximately 70 pages of text and some absolutely pain-staking tables for my stats paper) and dealing with a level of burn-out I hadn't encountered since studying for boards. Suffice it to say I did not get much done before my exams were finished (exams used loosely here, only to mean important assignments that happen at the end of the term). This left only my "break" between December 19 and January 7 in which to complete this preparation. It¿s been a little rough.

Immediately following my exams, I entered what I somewhat-less-than-fondly call the post-exam ADD period. It's during this 1.5-2 days in which I feel a more sincere form of empathy than I'd ever thought possible with individuals who suffer from ADD and ADHD, as well as potentially those who suffer from coming down from highly addictive drugs, from manic episodes, and from insomnia. During this time, I cognitively acknowledge that I need a break from school work, but am unable to actually relax. I am fidgety (much more so than usual), unable to focus on anything, and often end up compulsively cleaning the kitchen, doing the dishes, and purchasing groceries. (Note that these last three items often rise to the top of the compulsive to do list because I have not done them since exams began 3-4 weeks earlier.) In addition to running around my apartment like some kind of hamster on a wheel, I am unable to sleep, cry periodically, and am generally horrible to be around. This is not the time for accomplishing great things. It is the time for accomplishing all of the small things that have accumulated around the apartment for the last month.

As the post-exam horror begins to fade, I can usually negotiate a peaceful time of quiet accomplishment - getting a little reading done, sleeping more than usual, knitting, but also doing some work. Not so this year. I have been unable to sleep through the night since I started trying to sleep during the night (after exams ended) and as a result am sleeping sporadically during the day (napping, if you will). Though these naps provide much needed rest, they are also profoundly disorienting, as I'm unable to restrict myself to the not-long-enough-to-be-disorienting-but-long-enough-to-be-restful 20 minute siesta. Instead, I find myself sleeping for 2 hours between 8am and 10am and wholly thrown off for the rest of the day. You see, one of my rules for break is that when Alicia gets home from work, I chat with her, and watch movies, and knit, and have fun, since (in theory) I have done some work during the day and deserve to enjoy part of my break. I have been pulling off the evening schedule pretty well (and will share some movies I have seen this break later), but not so much the getting work done during the day. I have been sucked into blogs, stared out the window, stretched out on the couch with the dog, and continued to clean the apartment, as well as doing ~50 paltry pages of reading over the last few weeks. This is unsettling to me, and even as I try to convince myself that I really just need a break, it's hard for me to buy. What I really need is to find a balance between assuaging my deep-seated fear that I will fail my prelim at the end of this term and releasing all of the tension from last semester. Also finding funding and health insurance for next summer¿ To top things off my yoga teacher is out of town and the sub last week was like a pilates/synchronized-swimming/aerobics instructor. Welcome to the holidaze...

Thursday, December 18, 2008


Walter and Alicia in the back seat on the way home from Walter's foster family.

We've welcomed a lovely new member of our family into our home. His name is Walter and he is a 2-3 year old Boston Terrier. We adopted him from the Midwest Boston Terrier Rescue on Sunday and have been having fun with him since then. He's quite a bright little dog, and we've had a pretty easy time getting him used to our house.

So far, one of the most exciting aspects of dog ownership (apart from the joy of carrying a little baggie of dog poop in your coat pocket, of course) is that he somehow learned to do this army crawl-type move. He does it when he's stretching in the mornings, or when he's trying to be very good (and thus stay laying down) and also get toward something (like his ball). It hilarious... He stretches his back legs out completely behind him and moves forward with his front legs. At some point we'll catch it on video and post it for everyone to enjoy.

Time to go for a walk!

Thursday, December 11, 2008


Apologies for the long gap between posts. I should be writing a paper right now, so this is short...

We are finally adopting a dog... It is an exciting process, and we're most of the way toward adopting Walter. We have our home visit tonight (I know, it seems crazy, but they want these rescue dogs in good homes), and then I think we should get to adopt him. I still don't know when we'll pick him up (assuming the home visit goes well). Keep your fingers crossed for us!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Can we vote on your marriage now?

Me in DC at the Marriage Equality Rally with my sign

I have mixed feelings about gay marriage.I don't like that it has taken the focus off of issues like employment and housing discrimination that I think are a lot more pressing for our community than the right to marry. I don't like the thought of a "gay movement" that seems to be a movement of middle-aged, wealthy, white men and women, where it seems that men are directing many of the efforts, and transgender people are completely left out of the dialogue. I don't think that the government should be in the business of recognizing relationships at all, and so find it difficult to argue my way into an institution that I think should be wholly left to individual families and religious institutions. I don't want my ability to be the legal parent of my child, or the health insurance status of my family, to depend on what I chose to call my relationship with my partner.

And yet, while I busily list the things I don't like or support about the idea of gay marriage, I am quickly brought back to reality. The reality is that right now, gay marriage has taken on the symbolism of equality of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people. Someday, when I can call the shots, the government will get out of the business of recognizing marriages and can simply recognize the legal documents I create to define my civil contracts. Until that point, however, having the right to marry is the only way to really ensure that my kids will have two parents, that my partner can inherit my (even minimal) stuff in the event that I die, and that she will receive Social Security benefits after my death. There are also a million other benefits that I think should probably come with citizenship, but actually only come with marriage. Unfortunately, that makes marriage important.

Finally, and for me this was particularly frustrating, it just seems wrong to give people rights and then take them away. The California Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriages were required by the constitution so that everyone would be equally protected under the law. This was really exciting, and lots of people got married. Now their marriages are being taken away? Few things illustrate the tragedy of this as poignantly as Judith Warner's blog entry.

So I conclude with this: I have mixed feelings about marriage but I support it anyway, and I hope you'll join me. People should be free to have their families legally recognized and supported.

Monday, November 10, 2008


Amid weather predictions calling for lots of "wintery mix" and other unsightly weather conditions, I hoped for the best. I did have to brave a little bit of freezing rain the other day, but it's all worth it for the early fall snow. There are still some bright red and yellow leaves left on the trees and the ground, and the snow just makes everything look sparkly. Granted, it would be more sparkly if the sun would shine, but we can't expect miracles, can we?

Monday, November 03, 2008


It's hard to believe that the election is almost here. Discounting the sleeping I'm about to do, it is here! I'm voting in person for the first time - having voted absentee during the start of my democratic participatory career - and I'm really excited. I'm excited to push the buttons or pull the levers or whatever it is you do inside a voting booth. What I'm moderately less excited for are the lines (though still somewhat excited because they mean that people are voting - take that apathy)...

I don't have much to say about this (particularly that I would feel comfortable publishing on a blog for a publicly funded medical school), so I will simply say this:

Vote! Vote like your life depends on it!

Remember that you are allowed to bring whatever you want with you to the polls, as long as there is no campaign material visible. This means it's perfectly legal to print out a ballot, mark all of your preferences and notes, and carry it in your pocket to the polls. If you have a button, t-shirt, etc with a candidate's name on it, you can still vote, you just have to cover the item when you get within 100 ft of the polling place.

And if you aren't sure where to go, what to do, or who to vote for, check out: Get your whole ballot and use their nifty side-by-side comparison to see what the candidates said and what their background is:

League of Women Voters: They also collect information about the candidates and line it up so you can compare their views on different questions:

Still have questions? Visit to print out a ballot, find your polling place, and find contact information for local officials.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

No one is perfect...

Apologies for the delay in posting. This started out as a post about the presidential race and being a feminist. The post was, however, trumped by course readings, midterms, travel, and sleep. This month seems to be the fall version of March, also known as the month during which everything happens. This month I have already attended one wedding. Next weekend I have two conferences, and then have 3 midterms (two papers and a stats analysis) the following week. Finishing it all up I have another wedding on the 24th. While all of these things are wonderful (except maybe the midterms, but even that¿s debatable), it is crazy that they all have fall in the space of a single month.

I'll post more on the other side...

Sunday, September 21, 2008

AIDS Walk 10

Today was my 10th AIDS Walk. They haven't been consecutive, but only because I was out of town last year for an AMSA event, and that would have been my 10th. So I've been walking for 11 years now. This weighs heavily on me.

If you had told me when I was 14 and stepping off for my first AIDS Walk that 11 years later I would be taking steps to devote my life to studying this disease I wouldn't have been surprised. I would have been a little disappointed that my enthusiasm and small amount of fundraising didn't quite go far enough to nip the epidemic in the bud, but I wouldn't have been surprised. Even at that point, I recognized that HIV/AIDS would define my life. We were, after all, practically part of the same birth cohort. Although cases were showing up in the late seventies, and very early eighties, 1983 still falls solidly at the beginning of the epidemic. As a high school student I learned about HIV/AIDS in a purely domestic context, blissfully unaware of what would transpire over the next 25 years across the globe.

When I first learned about HIV/AIDS and the discrimination faced by the gay and bisexual men who were the public face of the disease, I felt a deep sense of injustice. I'm tragically unsurprised that structural hierarchies of gender, race, sexual orientation, and class continue simultaneously to define the communities hardest hit by the epidemic and to limit the emotional and physical resources devoting to combat it. At the same time, I hold on to the hope that the world can change, and that we can come together to implement creative solutions.

I spent a few moments today at the beginning of the walk silently reflecting on the terrible loss of life from this disease, as well as the incredible strength of those living with HIV/AIDS. I walk for those I¿ve known and lost, as well as for those who continue to fight, and encourage anyone reading this to take a moment of silence, and then dedicate a lifetime to speaking out.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

The last hurrah...

As I post this, I have already attended my first class of the semester.It has been a pretty good start, overlooking the fact that I missed a class I wanted to sit in on this morning because I had it in the wrong time slot in my calendar. But this post is not about the beginning of the school year. This post is about that gloriously tragic portion of the year we call the end of summer.

I'll start by wrapping up the summer reads...

I know this much is true by Wally Lamb

I finished this, and it was an incredibly beautiful book. Wally Lamb certainly has a gift for capturing the bizarre and yet mundane about life, and for writing in a way that makes the incomprehensible absolutely quotidian. I really liked this though, as I've found with many great novels, it was somewhat disturbing. I've discovered that I enjoy books with multigenerational plots (think Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides) that are connected by more than a family tree. The story of the grandfather in this book is infuriating to read, but only more so when the same themes are echoed through the story of his twin grandchildren. Overall I really liked this one, and enjoyed the time it took to work my way through the thick volume.

Better by Atul Gawande

I didn't like this when I started it. It seemed like yet another doctor listing the amazing accomplishments of medicine: smallpox eradication, end of life care, etc, as well as bemoaning the difficulties in the profession. As I kept reading, however, I found myself enjoying the book, and appreciating the thesis. Gawande suggests that although good ideas are important, and definitely needed to make significant progress, the proper implementation of the technology we already have would make as much, if not more, impact on the world. Nevermind the fact that this is not a new idea, because it is a good one. I'd argue that people in public health have been struggling with it for decades if not centuries. Gawande makes a convincing argument though, and I can only hope that doctors everywhere will read his book, be inspired by a need to evaluate our healthcare system domestically and across the globe, and decide that funding public health is a good idea.

That's about all I've read since I last posted, in addition to assorted magazine articles and some riviting pieces on the theory of the total institution and incarceration in the US. The best part of this last piece of summer, however, is the vacation. The MSTP allows fellows to take several weeks of vacation over the summer. In practice, this rarely happens as we have work to do and want to graduate in 8-ish years. Most of us are able to take a few long weekends, however, and carve out a little bit more time than usual to read, bike, swim, sleep, and relax. Alicia and I decided to fly to Montreal for 5 days and really get away. It was lovely.

We walked around downtown quite a bit. Apparently Mark Twain described Montreal as "the city where you cannot throw a stone without breaking a church window." Despite what is probably rather sloppy paraphrasing, this sentiment is true. There are lovely buildings, many of them religious, scattered liberally throughout the city. We also biked along the St. Lawrence Seaway, which was wonderful. I got to see one of the locks where they raise and lower the ships, which I think is fascinating. Apart from a small amount of sunburn, and slightly more ill-fitting bikes than we¿re used to, this was great fun.

We also climbed the Mont Royal which gives the city its name. Oscar Wilde is said to have offended many by referring to it as a "hill" rather than as a "mountain," but I'd have to say I agreed with him. In spite of being a rather steep climb for a good 15-20 minutes, we did, in fact, summit the "mountain" in 20 minutes. I don¿t think this can count. It did offer a spectacular view of the city, regardless of its geographical classification.

In addition to all of this walking, we ate a lot. Montreal is a great city for food, and we enjoyed a lot of it. I must say, however, that the traditional Quebecoise cuisine left a bit to be desired for me. This is mostly because it is very heavy on the meat. Their signature dish is a smoked meat sandwich. Alicia gave it a decent review, after noting that she doesn't think she really likes red meat. I tried the "poutine," which consists of fries covered with cheese curds and gravy. I left off the gravy, and found cheese curds and fries to be a delicious combination. Alicia was unimpressed, however, which is unsurprising as she is a fry connoisseur and prefers only ketchup. Apparently there is also an option for "poutine Michigan" which substitutes tomato sauce for the gravy. This sounded horrible to me, and I was similarly put off by the fact that any food with the adjective ¿Michigan¿ appended seems to mean "with tomato sauce on it." Is Michigan really such a culinary low?

It is also of note that we were in Montreal for the International Film Festival there. We saw one of the feature length entries from Spain, titled "Bienvenido a Farewell-Guttman," and a short entry from France titled "Break." Both were entertaining, though we were pretty tired by the end of the films. I really liked "Bienvenido a Farewell-Guttman," and it was a somewhat novel experience to see a show after only reading a one sentence description and not having seen some kind of preview or trailer. I thought it was a well-done piece of cinema, and I appreciated the dark humor that permeated the film.

The trip was a great way to end the summer, if there can be a great way for a summer to end. My consolation lies in the fact that classes look good this year, and the beautiful cool season that is my favorite is clearly on its way. Not to bad...

Monday, August 25, 2008

Is global warming making my eyes itch?

I'd say I'm about as environmentally conscious as your average person, or maybe slightly more so. I try to avoid driving my car when I can walk, bike, or bus, and I stick to organic produce as much as my budget will allow. Additionally, reports of northward migrating insect vectors and their tropical diseases have me a little worried. Today, however, may be the last straw. I think global warming gave me allergies.

Before last year I had never experienced the joy that is itchy eyes, nose, and throat, combined with the non-stop sneezing that seems to tear out the back of the throat and sinuses. As much as I tried not to judge, I considered allergy suffers to deserve sympathy, but often asked myself how horrible could it be when it was a little plant causing the whole problem? Well, last year I discovered that it could, in fact, be quite bad. When I couldn't stop itching my eyes last August, I went online to investigate. I discovered that the timing of my eye-itching corresponded directly with when some grasses were releasing their pollen. I felt some remorse for having laughed at a friends grass allergy at one point...

This year, things seem to have gotten worse. Yesterday I was unable to stop sneezing, and I thought my eyes might swell shut from all of the sneezing, watering, and itching in which they engaged. As I did last year, I went to the drug store, bought some newly-available over-the-counter allergy medicine, and went home. I seem to have forgotten just how awful the stuff is, however. Aside from feeling vaguely out of it, as though there were a veil and a sound barrier of some kind around my head, I'm also dehydrated to a degree I can't describe. I've used almost an entire tube of chapstick for my dried out lips, and other little tub for my raw nose.

Recognizing that you may not wish to read my whining, I will get to the point. I heard a news story on Michigan Radio the other day about increasing levels of pollen due to global warming. I can't find the transcript, but it was similar to this article in content. The reporter interviewed someone who had looked into yellow-jacket stings, and found that numbers of people seeking treatment for stings had increased astronomically over the past few years. Additionally, he reported that allergy sufferers everywhere have had progressively worse and worse allergy seasons ovver the past few years. Apparently the warming climate favors the ragweed, and other weeds that are common allergens. The larger plants are able to release more pollen, making allergies not only worse, but more common as more people¿s thresholds are reached. This is terrifying. The ragweed is taking over the world.

I'm not too sure just how to fight back, as my 10 mg of loratidine doesn't seem to quite be doing the trick. Somehow, however, I must triumph over over the weeds. At this point, I can only hope that global warming will accelerate quickly and send us into another ice age, killing the stupid plants and (perhaps?) saving all of humanity. If you can retain any hope at all, however, then I urge you to attempt to combat the plants, and drive less, recycle more, cut down on consumption, and make decisions that will save our (pollen-free) home. If you don't have allergies yourself, then at least do it to cut down on the number of mind-numbing conversations you have with people on allergy medications who haven't figured out how to appropriately dose themselves. Please, do it for us all.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Getting out of town

Alicia and our bikes in front of the lovely St. Clair River.

Yesterday, on the recommendation of a free-book room find Road Biking Michigan, by Cari Noga, Alicia and I took a short drive (1 hour 26 min according to Google Maps) to St. Clair, Michigan. It's on the eastern coast of the mitten, right on the St. Clair River. The St. Clair River connects the Detroit River with Lake Huron, making it an important waterway connection. More important to us, however, was the fact that it is one of the most beautiful blue rivers around. We parked at St. Clair High School (again, at the recommendation of the fabulous book), and unloaded the bikes. With only a few turns, we were on Riverside, the unambiguously named street that runs along the river and through downtown.

We biked through St. Clair, and stayed along the river all the way up to Port Huron. This turned out to be 13.3 miles, a distance I'm quite comfortable with. We locked the bikes and headed into Quay Street Brewing for in-house root beer, a salmon burger (me) and a chicken sandwich (Alicia) on their patio. It solidified my appreciation of the road biking book, and my good opinion of cyclists the world over, all of whom seem to appreciate not only beautiful bike routes, but also good food and drink. (Being somewhat dehydrated already, and recognizing the need to get back on the bike, I elected not to try one of their beers. Maybe next time...)

After walking around to let lunch settle and move our legs differently for a bit, we got back on the bikes and headed south. The wind wasn't with us as much going back, but the route was quite flat, so I did pretty well. It took us about an hour each way, adding on a little bit on the way back because I thought the backs of my legs might fall off. I'm proud to have made it 26.6 miles on my bike, which is a personal best. I was less proud to learn last night that the Olympic women marathoners run approximately as fast as I can ride my bike, and for just as long. That aside, it was a lovely ride, and I'd highly recommend it.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Hanging in there

I've just returned from the annual MSTP (MD/PhD program, for those of you not in the know) retreat at the Ralph A. MacMullen Conference Center. (Okay, it's been a week, but cut me some slack here...) Affectionately called "the RAM", it's on beautiful Higgins Lake and offers large cabins with double rooms, a small beach, a lodge with a dining room, and an education center with projection facilities. It provides a beautiful setting for getting to know the new MSTPs, and reconnecting with other MSTP fellows I haven't seen since being up there last summer.

As I think I've mentioned on this blog before, although I occasionally gripe about having to take the weekend away, it's always a great getaway, though not the way you might think. The best part of being at the retreat is that everyone thinks 8 years is a great amount of time to spend in school. (That may be a bit of an exaggeration, but most of them at least consider it an acceptable and reasonable amount of time to spend in school.) No one there spends significant portions of a conversation pondering the hilarity of graduating at or after the age of 30. No one there wonders why on earth one individual would need so many degrees. No one there asks "Couldn't you just do that with an MD?" In fact, as much as griping about various aspects of the program is par for the course, most folks seem downright happy about their lives and their projects.

This year was particularly lovely, as we now have 3 MD/PhD students in public health. Although we are far from normalizing this path (as the other 70-ish students are mostly in the basic sciences, with the exception of a few in engineering and physics), it¿s really nice to talk to other people who understand at least some aspects of the field.

Apart from the science, of course (*cough cough*), my favorite part is the canoeing. I simply can't get enough of the water, and the lack is beautiful. I opted not to swim this year after reports of "the itch" (read: schistosomiasis) from swimmers last year, but couldn't resist going out in the boat. I also did yoga in the mornings in front of the lake, which was a wonderful and balancing experience apart from the swarming vicious mosquitos.

It's also incredibly motivating to see other MD/PhD students who are further along in their training. Seeing folks returning to the wards, and especially finishing the entire program, is really incredible. It's a nice yearly reminder that this will, at some point, become "real life" rather than "grad school" and I just need to keep hanging in there.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Want advice? Take stats.

That’s right. There are relatively few life-courses I can imagine that wouldn’t be made easier by a decent understanding of at least introductory statistics. A frankly, there are a lot of lives that would be improved greatly by an excellent understanding of more advanced methods. I would include mine in the latter category, fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your perspective.

If this summer has taught me nothing else, it’s that there are not enough hours in a lifetime to take all of the statistics and methods courses that one should. (I use one here rather generally, knowing that many people are uninterested in research. Still, I think it’s good for everyone to know, at the very least, what it means when the New York Times reports that something is “associated” with something else, rather than something “causes” something else.) That said, I’ve also discovered that even the most lucid and clearly written stats books lose something without a lecturer or a discussion with someone who already understands the stuff.

Additionally, if you can learn about 5 different stats packages, this is helpful. Everyone seems to use a different one, and I haven’t met anyone who could, with a straight face, say “No, I don’t mind at all if you work with my data using a statistical program I do not like.” So this summer, in addition to pioneering my way through large data sets of categorical data, I’m learning Stata, one of the friendlier stats programs I’ve encountered in my brief tenure as a stats program victim user.

Bottom line: take stats. Secondary take-home message: send me happy thoughts of correct Stata syntax and successful analysis.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Books of Summer

In what is becoming a trend, I feel the need to post what I’ve been reading this summer.

And Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris

I enjoyed starting this book. Alicia had recommended it to me, and had read little snippets as she read it, entertaining me with the hilarious anecdotes of office life that Joshua Ferris writes with the insight of one who has been there. As I started it, it struck me that it was a bit like a novel version of “The Office.” Like a sitcom, however, the book didn’t have much direction to the plot. It was an entertaining series of stories following the lives of familiar characters, but I kept reading to be entertained, not to find out what happened at the end.

The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz

This book was amazing, and I can’t recommend it enough. Junot Díaz describes in amazingly nerdy Spanglish sci-fi references, the life of Oscar, a Dominican teenager living in New York. Oscar dreams of becoming the Dominican JRR Tolkien, and rivals all others in his longing to fall in love, and be loved in return. Laced with acerbic but disturbingly funny footnotes describing many of the more brutal segments of Dominican history, the book is some of the darkest humor I’ve ever enjoyed. Perhaps because of this, I think I cried a little when I finished the book, only then realizing how dark it was.

Stephanie Pearl McPhee Casts Off by Stephanie Pearl McPhee

I found this at the library, and needed something a little lighter to read. I have to say though, that I didn’t care for this one as much as some of the Yarn Harlot’s earlier work. This book was written as a travel guide to the land of knitting (with embassies = yarn stores, etc) and seemed to be an almost anthropological collection of stories about knitters and knitting. Although I enjoyed it, I recognized many of the stories as ones I had heard either in other books or at her talks, and that was a little disappointing. It wasn’t quite to the level of trite, but I didn’t find it as insightful as some of her other writing. I can’t complain too much though, as it as a relaxing read.

Londonstani by Gautam Malkani

This was another dive into diaspora, with Gautam Malkani describing a group of young men in London defining themselves by “rudeboy” culture - a mix of hiphop, Indian, and teenage sensibilities. It was really well written, though it took a few chapters for me to understand the slang (thank you to the glossary in the back). The combination of Hindi and British English was a bit of a challenge, but one I liked. The book also had a surprising ending that made me reconsider the entire novel, which is a feature I appreciate in a book. It takes the sting out of finishing a good book you wish would keep going, and makes you rethink what you’ve already read.

Potential by Ariel Schrag

This is the second book (technically the third, but the first two were published together and bound as one) in a series of comics that Ariel Schrag writes about her experiences at Berkley High in the late nineties. Awkward and Definition, the first two, were well drawn, ranging from cartoon-like depictions of being drunk to lifelike renditions of Ariel’s dreams, and Potential was the same. I never fail to be impressed at how well some people are really able to draw their emotions. Alicia found both of these in the free book room at work, so I don’t know where they are available.

The Yarn Harlot by Stephanie Pearl McPhee

This is an older book (that I bought for my mom a few years back but never borrowed to read), and I throughly enjoyed it. It is a collection of essays about knitting and knitterly life, and is truly a beautiful set of stories. This is the kind of depth I like from the Yarn Harlot, and I’m excited that it looks like her new book will be more along this vein. While she talks about knitting, she also shares stories of being a doula, being a mom, and teaching others to knit. This richness of experience is what makes her stories about knitting so interesting, as although knitting itself is fascinating, it loses its soul without the people who do it.

Right now, I’m reading I Know This Much is True by Wally Lamb. So far, it’s fascinating, and disturbing in the same way I remember She’s Come Undone, which I read quite a few years ago now. I’ll probably post in a few months with the rest of the books of summer, and I’ll report back on how this one finishes up.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008


“Heliosphere” performed by The Dream Engine

I’ve always liked balloons. In particular, I like the giant balloons that grace the streets of Detroit every Thanksgiving Day for the parade. I appreciate the translations of two-dimensional illustrations to three dimensional balloons. I also enjoy the artistry inherent in flying a giant balloon on a particularly windy day.

For all of these reasons, I was quite excited to see that The Dream Engine would be performing “Heliosphere” at Top of the Park, a free summer festival near campus in Ann Arbor. I dragged Alicia to campus with me, and watched what I would say was a somewhat mediocre blues/folk performance, but nonetheless enjoyable. The highlight of the evening, as I’d anticipated, was the balloon and the associated handlers and acrobat. It struck me that although I tend to find that interpretive and lyrical dance can be a little dull on the ground, they are in fact fascinating when lifted 25-30 feet into the air... Alicia and I both enjoyed the constant vertical motion of the dancer, which resulted in little crowds of kids scurrying around below the balloon to touch her hands when she dropped toward the grown. They were so excited, and clearly believed her to be of another world.

My conclusions from the event, balloons are magical. While a dancer hoisted on a pulley system in a theater can be impressive, and the upper body strength needed to control that kind of apparatus is equally mind-boggling, there is something extra special about using a helium balloon to carry the weight, and challenge the wind to interrupt the performance.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Like the first time you saw snow?

I was riding my bike last Friday. This is not an uncommon occurrence, as it’s the least expensive, most cardiovascularly beneficial, and most fun mode of transportation available to me. Something amazing happened on Friday though. I was riding along, excited for the yoga class that awaited me at the end of my ride, and not really paying attention to much of anything. Suddenly, I realized I’d entered a slightly shady part of the path, with just those magical little rays coming in and illuminating everything through the leaves. There were little puffs from the cottonwood trees swirling around me. It was like I had been transported to a mystically warm version of winter! I was on my bike, and the sun and air were warm, but there were little white puffs blowing lightly across my path. I wondered if this was how people who had never seen snow felt during their first encounter with the soft white flakes.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Staying in Touch

After a year of coursework in the School of Public Health and the beginning of a second summer of research I’m feeling less like a medical student than ever. Although I see my med school friends periodically (which never fails to send me into bouts of anxiety about returning to my clinical years), I feel quite solidly situated in the graduate school. I’ve found myself beginning conversations with “I’m a graduate student” rather than “I’m in medical school.” I’ve stopped being the token medical student in my cohort (at least I think so), and I talk less about the medical school. My research interests have shifted from physician biased, focused closely on my future clinical career, to a much less physician oriented research area (prison health and HIV). It’s been a strange transition, but one that has people commenting that I seem happier, more relaxed, and generally more pleasant to be around.

I attribute much of this to the more supportive and caring environment I’ve found in the School of Public Health, as well as to the exciting challenge of thinking for myself rather than just memorizing and regurgitating facts. Although I know folks who thrive in a very externally competitive environment, I think I do much better when I’m competing with myself. I also appreciate the openness and sense of community I’ve found in my cohort. Rather than being terrified to share our difficulties, and shy to mention successes, I think we share both the ups and downs of our academic careers much more openly than I did in the medical school. Additionally, although I made it through the first two years of medical school without serious academic problems (just a few slight bumps) I don’t like just memorizing facts. Even memorizing relationships is challenging because it’s not necessarily something that you thought through and came to on your own. The experience of graduate school fits my academic style much more (in spite of feeling challenging): writing papers and giving presentations about ideas and topics I’ve put together through reading the literature is much more stimulating. Apparently, the last few years of medical school are also more based on research and individual motivation, but I haven’t gotten there yet so I can’t really judge.

In spite of feeling like I’ve taken to the School of Public Health like a duck to water, I don’t want to lose my connection to clinical work and medical student advocacy. For this reason, I’ve stayed involved with AMSA, the American Medical Student Association. Having served last year as the chair of the LGBT Health Action Committee, I’ve stepped down a notch in the organization and am serving as the LGBT Grassroots Organizing Coordinator on our newly defined Committee on Gender and Sexuality. I spent last weekend at June meeting, the first of our two national leadership meetings, and it was wonderful. AMSA is a gathering of many of the medical students I have the most in common with. They are progressive, enthusiastic students working to make the world a better place.

This weekend I made plans to invigorate our network of regional and local LGBT activists and organizers. I have some exciting new tools, as well as a fantastic team of folks with lots of grassroots organizing experience, to help me get this off the ground. I’m also planning to make this year’s National Coming Out Day the biggest ever. Last year we had over 1300 medical students from across the country participate in that day’s festivities. Hopefully this year it can be bigger and even more meaningful.

This weekend was filled with meetings and discussion (literally: we met from approximately 8am to 8pm both Friday and Saturday). Although I’m exhausted and still recovering a few days later, I had a great time. Nothing like total immersion to keep you in touch with what being a medical student should really be about.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

The end of an era…

I fear my computer is dying. Actually, I’ve successfully progressed through all of the stages of death and dying (Kubler Ross, 1969):

Denial: My computer is fine. There was just a little power short - perhaps in my battery - that caused this blue screen of death to appear. I will just force a shut down, and it will be fine.

Anger: I hate PCs. Weak! Weak! That’s what you are - weak! Next time I want a Mac. How can my computer be going down this soon??? I’ve only had it for four years!

Bargaining: Please just last for another year or so - just long enough for me to save up for a replacement. I’ll let you start up slowly, and not open too many programs all at once, just keep letting me type and send e-mail.

Depression: It’s inevitable. You will die when I need something the most, so why should I bother trying to do anything about it.

Acceptance: Well, we’re on this downward spiral. I should probably look into replacements that I can afford within the next month and a half. I wouldn’t call it a will, but it’s something similar when you back everything up religiously every few days and plan for a transition of material from one machine to another. Don’t worry little computer, I haven’t given up on you, I’m just being realistic.

Through all of this I’ve been backing up all of my files, so as long as my external drive doesn’t die at the same time, I should be fine. Now I’m just trying to plan my next steps: Do I get a desktop for school so that I don’t have to carry my laptop back and forth? Do I get a much lighter computer so that it doesn’t slow me down so much? Does my bike damage my computer when it rides in the saddlebags? Do I get two small laptops and leave one at school? How soon should I start this transition?

It’s all overwhelming, but at least I’m dealing with it before my computer actually dies. Keep your fingers crossed for me and my little Inspiron…

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Welcome to Academia

For those of you in academia, or who have had any kind of brush with the academy, you understand the mythical nature of funding. If you look at it too closely, it may disappear. If you keep your faith strong, and put that faith into action, you may be lucky enough to feed yourself, your family, and your research for another semester or so. For faculty (and graduate students), grant funding is like a magical beast: much sought after, exceedingly rare, and frustratingly elusive.

This week has truly been an initiation. After finding out (rather last minute) about a Request for Proposals that fit some of my research interests, Rachel and I decided to go for it and submit a letter of intent. Submitted at the eleventh hour, it did actually all work out, and now we’re working on the proposal. I never knew just how many offices and individuals had to look at/approve/sign/wave sages over and dance around proposals before they could be submitted. I’m somewhat convinced that there is a unique kind of mysticism that surrounds funding proposals for the following reasons:

1. The deadlines continually change. This can only be because some kind of spirit has shifted the ether slightly.

2. No one seems to really be sure what is required. This can only be because there are, in fact, no fixed requirements. The letters on the page swim, begging me to miss some size 6 font requirement.

3. Proposals seem to be due in threes. I suppose it is possible that this is only right now, but I don’t think so. I currently have three things due early next week. Rachel, my advisor, has two that overlap with mine, as well as one (much larger!) of her own. I think that this unsurprising coincidence suggests a much deeper superstitious reality.

Wish me luck!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Baby sweater

Here is my latest finished object… I finished it just in time for Caitlin’s baby shower last night (literally… I found the buttons yesterday afternoon). It is lavender and dark grey, though my camera made the colors a little off. I knit it from a corn fiber, which is lovely and machine washable, so I love it.

Many of you have been hearing about this baby sweater for Ash’s niece-to-be for quite some time. It took me a while, mostly because I measured the back incorrectly, and was then afraid that I wouldn’t know how to fix it with any kind of speed. But, I figured it out, and I’m pretty happy with how it all came together.

Here is the detail on the buttons:

And here is how the wraparound part of the sweater opens:

I found different (flat!) but still cute buttons to attach the inside wrap piece:

I don’t know how soon I’ll be doing another sweater, since I found the finishing on this one really frustrating. There were a lot of seams, and a lot of edging put on after the fact. That said, Ash made a really beautiful pullover sweater with a hood for the baby, so maybe I will just stick to things with fewer pieces and patterns that hide seams well…

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


We’re not quite to the official start of summer, but it’s clearly here in the School of Public Health. There’s almost no one in the offices, it’s almost eerily quiet, and my e-mail box is practically empty. I can see the wind blowing in the newly leafed trees out my window (which goes into my advisor’s office, but she also has a window, so I can see out). It’s taken a few weeks to ease into it, but I think my summer is officially going.

The semester always ends on a high note. With exams, papers, and all of the other work from the semester coming to a head, as well as the formation of plans for the summer, the end of the semester is a crazy time. It’s a frenzied few weeks of intense reading, writing, making notes of things to do once the reading and writing are done, and relatively little sleeping and eating compared with the rest of the semester. It’s an exciting time, with lots of work, lots of productivity, and a healthy dose of panic.

The intensity of those few weeks reminds everyone why they want to eventually graduate, and why summers are critical. At the end of those few weeks, no normal human being can return to function the following Monday. It requires much more than a weekend for the limping transporters of neurotransmitters to rest up and get ready to run again. Perhaps not coincidentally, most summer plans allow for a week or so of rest and relaxation. This, however, is not as easy as it sounds. Maybe it’s just me, but after a crazy few weeks of adrenaline fueled papers and exams, and a schedule that no one would envy, it’s really hard to give up a schedule entirely. After I started my relaxing week of semi-vacation (working 4-5 hours a day, but not much else) I stopped being able to sleep properly. I would have a difficult time falling asleep, and wake up at odd hours. After a few days and nights of listless wandering, Alicia, in her infinite wisdom, told me to make myself a schedule. I did, and it seemed to help. However, over the course of those few days, as well as the day I made the schedule, I somehow successfully transitioned into relaxation mode. This made it incredibly difficult to concentrate while working according to my new schedule.

Starting this week, however, I feel like a new person. Perhaps it was the jarring realization that I’d nearly missed a deadline (or rather, that I had missed it, but by some miracle the proposal was accepted anyway), or perhaps it was just reaching that moment where I was ready to work again. Either way, my brain is functioning again, and I love it. I worked with Ash yesterday (as she is visiting, but had work to do), and today I’ve been in my office for quite some time and am still being productive.

Maybe someday I’ll learn how to tell exactly how much downtime I need after a large deadline, and how structured that downtime should be. Maybe I won’t. Either way, many thanks to those who put up with me during that time (mostly Alicia, but also other friends), and apologies to those who didn’t have to put up with me because I neglected to contact you by any means during the last month. Keep your fingers crossed that I’m on the steep part of this learning curve (contrary to the popular expression, I hold that the steep part must be when you make the most progress per unit time, not the reverse).

Friday, April 18, 2008


As soon as it started to warm up, I switched to cotton. I got this beautiful hand-dyed yarn when I was in Portland. I’ve been wearing it pretty much every day since I finished it last week.

It seems that we’ve weathered the winter, and spring is here. It’s still fits and starts of warm weather, but it’s definitely getting there (read: it snowed a little last weekend). It’s been sunny and between thirty and seventy for the last week or so. You wouldn’t think that a range of 40 degrees in the space of three or four days was reasonable, but I assure that here, in lovely Michigan, it is. I for one, quite enjoy this part of the season. It’s what reminds everyone from out of town that the layering that’s such the height of fashion recently has always been critical to survival here. When the day starts out just below freezing, but warms up to a sunny practically tropical temperature during the day, there are really no options other than layers. (Apart, I suppose, from going home in the middle of the day, but that just seems silly.)

Adding to my lovely (albeit tired) mood is the end of the semester. Though I still have one take-home exam left to work on, I’m mostly done. I’ve handed in several papers, taken and exam, and am emotionally/mentally completely finished with the semester. Hopefully that won’t get in the way of the stats exam still to come…

Sunday, March 30, 2008


Finally, all three items in the set are complete... Please ignore the ghostly pallor the flash created...

I bought this red/orange yarn when I was in South Africa last summer. I loved the color, and really needed the wrist warmers to keep me warm in the cold South African winter. I knit up the mitts while I was there, and enjoyed them thoroughly! Once I returned (with a whole suitcase filled with yarn), I was wrapped up in lots of other projects (knitting and otherwise) and I left the yarn languishing in my basket. Once it got cold, and I realized that the only hand-knit hat I had was the first one I had ever made, I brought out the yarn again. I made the hat, and it kept me delightfully warm. Finally, I realized that I couldn’t wear the hat with my green scarf without looking a little like one of Santa’s elves. At that point, I pulled out more of the yarn (and believe it or not, there is some left over even now) and planned the scarf. I finished the scarf yesterday, and am quite proud of my little trifecta.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Terrified Kitty in the Park

Ash and I took her cats to the park. Here is Lincoln looking terrified. We didn't stay very long, especially after the cats decided that the most interesting thing about the park were the busy streets that surrounded it...

Smoker Dance!

Here we are, in all our crazy makeup with the crazy bellies...

March Mysteriousness

Me in Houston, attending the 2008 AMSA National Convention and visiting Laura!

While I don’t get into March Madness as much as some folks around here, I do find March to be a mysterious month in many ways. Firstly, it is mysterious because of the weather. The old adage of “in like a lion, out like a lamb” could not be less true here. I might change it to be “in like bipolar mood disorder, and out like borderline personality disorder.” When March begins, we’ve already been suffering from long periods of cold depression. We can still remember when it was summer and we were happy and sunny, and fall, when we were manically joyful because of the beautiful colors, but it’s been a while since we actually saw the sun. March promises the beginning of spring in many places, and we can’t help but be bolstered by the false hope that here too, spring will begin. Instead, the weather transforms into an impossible to predict, one-day-warm-two-days-cold-one-day-of-rain-three-inches-of-snow disaster. It fluctuates between beautiful and terrible so quickly that you almost don’t remember how it happens. This is clearly mystery number one.

Mystery number two is how quickly the semester passes in March. The first week is often taken up by Spring Break, which marks somewhat of a midterm point for winter term coursework. This always comes somewhat by surprise, and the week of vacation serves to throw it off further. This year I went to Portland to visit Ash, which was the most fantastic break ever. We ate lots of vegan food, rode bikes, walked around, went to knit shops, and in general had a fantastic time. I’ve posted a picture or two below. Despite this fabulous, deadlines seem exponentially closer after break (though the calendar insists that time and dates are, in fact, quite linear). It takes a few days to get back into the swing of things, and then, poof, there are only a few days of March left and only a few weeks left of the semester.

The third mystery is the number of exciting events that always seem to take place in March. In the context of the medical school, I suspect that this is planned. You see, the second years disappear into board studying at the end of March, so anything interesting needs to be done by then if they are to participate in any form. This means that it is a perfect time for the Galen’s Smoker. (See below for a lovely picture of me using a bag of batting to create a makeshift empathy belly.) This year’s show, “Billy Medicine” was based on the movie “Billy Madison,” and was one of the best shows ever, according to most credible sources. I was a dancer, and had several walk-on/no-lines bit parts. It was wonderful.

In addition to the Smoker, the AMSA National Convention always occurs in March. This weeklong meeting (a few days of leadership meetings, and a few days of fabulous programming!) is kind of intense, and definitely exhausting, but one of the most fun weeks of the year. This year I was thrilled to hand down my chair position (I was the chair of the LGBT Health Action Committee), and to be elected to a position within the newly restructure Committee on Gender and Sexuality. (I am now the Grassroots Organizing Coordinator for Sexuality.) I think this will free up some of my time (no more administrative and managerial duties), but I will still get to do what I love, which is help local chapters organizing amazing programming around important healthcare issues.

Finally, March is also when Match Day occurs. Last Thursday, all of my graduating friends (except those who were in the early match specialities...) found out where they will be doing their residencies. It was incredibly exciting, and made me really want to work quickly to finish my PhD and the rest of medical school and move on out!

Ash and I in Portland

I have my eyes closed, but it was so bright I didn't notice that on the tiny screen, so this is all I've got. :(

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Michigan Winters

Me, in snowshoes, in the Arboretum.

The winters in Michigan are one of the last things that admissions folks or current students mention to people considering UM. While many of the more northern states boast impressive ski offerings, and beautiful winter getaways mere minutes from the university, Michigan has a giant mountain built out of a landfill, and requires at least a few hours in the car to get to the beautiful state and county parks. What Michigan does offer during the winter, however, is a chance to be creative and innovative. In the interest of full disclosure, here are some examples:

--Michigan provides the opportunity to see how flexible your internal thermostat can be! When the weather fluctuates from a wind chill of -15F to 40F in the space of a week, your body can hardly keep up.

--Michigan dares you to wear more pairs of pants than you ever thought possible. If you have ever had to stand at the bus stops around campus for more than a minute or two during the winter, you’ll understand how close to death you can come in that short period. The answer to the biting wind and blowing snow/rain/sleet/hail is obviously tights, long underwear, and normal pants. You only thought we all gained weight during the winter.

--Michigan challenges you to make the best of a difficult season. There isn’t snow all the time, and it’s almost always cloudy. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get out and have a good time. Sledding, cross-country skiing, and snow-shoeing (see above photo) are all fun options, and there are local spots to rent gear (since you’ll only be able to use it a few weekends).

--Michigan defies your love of precipitation in winter. Sometimes we even get all different kinds at one - euphemistically called “wintery mix.” If you thought you liked cloudy winter skies, think again. Here, you have to love snow, sleet, hail, rain, fog, mist, freezing rain, and “ice-rain”* to enjoy everything coming out of the sky.

--Michigan bets you can’t beat SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). We go weeks without ever seeing the sun. I’ve heard that we have more cloudy days than even some of the more temperate northwest, but I’m a little afraid to check. With a little ingenuity, however, and a small amount of cash, you can invest in a light that has all the right spectra and may help bring you out of your funk.

That said, many people have found Michigan to be a hospitable place. The answer to the question a professor once posed “Why did people ever stay here - why didn’t they keep going?” is probably that they arrived in the fall, when it is beautiful and everyone is happy. Nonetheless, they lived through the winter, and were too weak to keep going afterward, so here we are. Come and visit sometime…

Friday, February 08, 2008

Quarter centenarians!!!

Note that there is a tens’ place cupcake, and a ones’ place cupcake. I ate the tens place...

Well, Alicia and I are both 25 now. I didn’t post during the week where I referred to her as being “my senior” or myself as the “sweet young thing,” and now both our birthdays have passed. I didn’t really feel any older until I realized that I am in a new demographic bubble. I got an application in my e-mail for an essay contest for 18-24 year-olds. I had read the first sentence and then realized that I couldn’t apply anyway. It was a strange feeling.

But mostly my birthday has been a lovely feeling! I had brunch at Angelo’s with Allison (in my cohort), and went to salsa class. Then Alicia and I went out for a lovely dinner. That was all on Tuesday. Wednesday we went and saw Kate Clinton (an amazing comedienne) at the Ark, which was also wonderful. It was fantastic to hear from everyone who called or wrote, and I’ve been enjoying myself. I still have several birthday celebrations to look forward to (albeit joint with the other late January and early February birthdays in my family), so it’s not over yet.

Everyone laughs at me when I talk about my birthday taking up a whole week, or even a whole month. But I don’t mean it in an egotistical “celebrate-me-for-many-days-and-many-nights” kind of way. It just takes a long time to fit in time with everyone that I care about. So let the festivities continue!

Monday, January 28, 2008

Life? Uneventful?

This is a new hat I crafted over a period of many months during free moments. It is modeled by a vase and bowl combination, as Alicia is at work.

It doesn’t seem like too much has gone on since I last posted. There have been all of the usual fun but relatively mundane life happenings. We dog sat for a week or so before the semester really got started (see below for the cutest dog pictures ever). We have seen some good movies, and some less good (ex. Persopolis was amazing, but 27 Dresses was a little disappointing). I’ve been experimenting with new small appliances I got for Christmas. (I have made a great deal of hummus in my food processor, which is my new love, with the rice cooker - in which I can also make applesauce unattended - at a close second.)

I’m taking the same number of classes this semester, but not teaching, and I think it’s making my life happier already. Don’t get me wrong, I love teaching. It was great to work with students, and I hope to make it a big part of my career. That said, it took up so much time! I didn’t realize how much of my own thesis-related thinking I wasn’t getting done until this semester started! I’m finally actively working to narrow down a dissertation topic and think about methods.

Things seem pretty uneventful, which is a bit of a change of pace, but good. I am still working a lot, and enjoying school, but it’s a little less frenetic… Hopefully I’ll have something more exciting to post next week…


Isn't he cute!


Such a sweet face...