Monday, March 31, 2014

Mindful Monday

I feel my stress in my shoulders and in my jaw. I don't notice that it's happening, but gradually, so gradually, my jaw clenches and my shoulders start defying gravity and hunch up toward my ears. I stop, take a breath, and relax my jaw and let my shoulders drop.

The first few weeks of March were busy and stressful. In addition to the winter that just wouldn't quit, we celebrated two birthdays, buzzed around with the anticipation of match day, and then there was the opening of the envelope itself; I had a lot on my plate.* But I didn't realize it. I was snappy with the girls, I spent way too much time on the internet, I bemoaned anything and everything. When I yelled at Freja or groaned when Matilda wouldn't let me put her down - and then instantly felt guilty for not trying a little harder - I reassured myself that my job is hard and not always fun. I can't keep smiling all the time. All this is true. I was grumpy.

Last Monday was such a relief. I laughed out loud when Matilda knocked over Freja's snack, spilling Kix (sans milk) all over the carpet and causing both girls to start screaming as if the end of the world was nigh. I put the music on and danced with Matilda when she was fussy and needed holding. Hey, this feels more normal. Our loose ends are tied up. We have a plan for the future (at least the next three years). I can relax again.

I wish, however, that I had been able to stop for a minute and give myself a break. I wish I had spent a few minutes to reflect on what was causing my angst. Sure, the stress would have still been there, but at least I would have acknowledged it and, perhaps, been a bit better equipped to deal with the fallout.

I've made a commitment to be more mindful. I'm starting with checking in with myself throughout the day. Literally. I check my shoulders. I check my jaw. I breathe. I relax. I continue. Back to regularly scheduled programming, but hopefully with a little more ease.

Where do you store your stress? Do you have a physical trigger point(s)? Is your sleep affected? Your dreams?

*I really, really, really hope I'm not jinxing us by putting winter in the past tense.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Get a life

2006 - eight years ago. This is what a pre-kid evening looked like.
When you are the parents of two small children, is it even possible to have a life outside of the kids? Everything we do is centered around our two little ones--centered around their naps, around their activity level, around their moods. A typical Thursday night involves a quick glance at the calendar and then the weather; what should we do this weekend? We make plans with friends that have kids. Events happen pre-nap or post-nap and they often include a stop at the playground, a kids' museum, or the zoo. We're back home promptly at six, in time for dinner and bed.


If we want to do something non-kid related, Hans or I go out after the girls have gone to sleep, separately, while one of us stays at home. On a rare occasion we'll get a babysitter and go out together. We look with envy at blogs of people cruising with kids; always remarking that "those kids have the best life."Actually, I think we're really thinking: "those parents have the best life." The parents are doing adult things and the kids are doing kid things. Side-by-side without organizing a playdate or going to a kid friendly event. Parallel play.*

It would be nice to weave in some more organic activities on the weekend. We do, of course, have to worry about naps and bedtime. Otherwise the kids are grumpy and grumpy kids make for grumpy parents. But there's got to be some middle ground. Our lives are so segregated right now and not only is that unhealthy for us, the adults, but it isn't natural for the kids to think that daily life revolves around them. We've fallen into a rut, one that I'm afraid will persist in the future: soccer Saturdays, weekly birthday parties, pizza dinners at 5pm. You get the picture.

There has been some buzz in one of my online communities around this article in The Atlantic, The Overprotected Kid. Parenting v.2014: planned playgroups, supervised activities, classes, sports teams, "safe" playgrounds. Parenting v.1988: My mom did her thing (which, in reality, was likely cleaning, laundry, and cooking) while I played outdoors, by myself or with my siblings or neighbors. I'm aiming to give Freja and Matilda a more 1988 version of childhood (with bike helmets, please) - imagination, free play, autonomous thinking.

One of the girls' favorite winter games: "cushion mountain."
My attempt to integrate a little free, imaginative play into their daily lives.
But we live in the city and the girls are very young. That time will come. In the meantime, we'll do what we can. Go for a hike on the weekend instead of the playground. Pack a picnic for the park. Be a little more flexible on the weekends with nap and bedtime.

Last night, as Hans and I plugged into our respective computers promptly at 8PM, he looked at me and said, "we've gotta get a life." Indeed.

*Written 100% tongue-in-cheek.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Matching? What does that mean?

We know that Hans matched...but where? 11:58AM: waiting to open the envelope...
Yeah Jacksonville!
We were elated yesterday at noon EST to learn that Hans had matched with the EM department at Jacksonville. We hugged, we kissed, we took pictures, we sent texts. A couple hours later we posted those pictures and the news of the match on Facebook. Most people knew what we were talking about. Or they at least knew that we found out we'll be moving to Jacksonville. But what exactly does "matching" mean? And why is it such a big deal?

To explain, I'll back up a bit and share Hans's path to becoming a MD.

Back in 2008 we were blissfully sailing through the Caribbean, enjoying sunsets, unparalleled freedom, nature, and a relaxed lifestyle. But at the same time, believe it or not, we were getting bored with our pre-retirement lifestyle. We knew we had bigger fish to fry, we just weren't exactly sure if they would be tuna or mahi mahi. We needed a new plan, our next plan.

Different options were tossed around from staying in the Caribbean, to moving to Sweden, to moving back to the States. The economy had just tanked so, on a sail from Barbuda to St. Barth's, we decided to go back to school: law school for me, medical school for Hans. After a few months working at a law firm in Philly and witnessing new attorneys working for free or for less than I was making as an admin assistant, I decided against law school. I'm still glad I made that decision.

Approaching Ile Fourche, just north of St. Barth's at the end of the infamous sail
when we talked and talked and decided our future.

Medical school has been a long road for Hans. As an older student with a non-scientific background (he has degrees in economics and history), he is the definition of a "non-traditional student." How do you become a doctor when you're not fresh out of a pre-med program?

  1. Post-baccalaureate program (they vary in length, Hans enrolled at Temple which was 1 year and guaranteed admission to their medical school with a certain GPA and MCAT score).
  2. Medical school. Four years. 
    1. The first two years are mainly lecture-based with a few patient simulations and mock patients. Hans spent a lot of time in the library. Think 12 hours  a day.
    2. The second two years are out in the field. 3rd and 4th year med students rotate through different specialties like pediatrics, OB/GYN, surgery, neurology, etc. They vary in length and intensity. Some rotations required 60+ hour work weeks, including overnights; others were more like 30.
    3. In the early fall of the 4th year of med school it's time to apply for residency, a/k/a the Match. All 4th year students have to choose a specialty and then apply to a lot of programs. Hans applied to 29 (I think..). Then you wait and wait for the interview requests to come in. Then you decide where to interview. Then you go interview. In February, all 4th years submit their rank list--they rank the programs they interviewed at and hope for their top choice. At the same time the programs submit their list of candidates in a similar fashion. A computer (or is it a person pulling numbers out of a hat?) spits out the "matches". On the same day, across the country, at noon, every 4th year medical student opens an envelope telling them where they matched. Phew.
  3. Residency. The length depends on the speciality. Hans matched into Emergency Medicine so he'll work as a resident for three, grueling, years.
One year of post-bacc., 4 years of medical school, 3 years of residency = one medical doctor.

Not only was it extremely important that Hans matched into a program (which means he got a job...), but it was important to us where we move to. We want to move south--to the beach and to warmer weather. We want to move somewhere we think we could stay for longer than 3 years. We spent a month in the Jacksonville area this summer and we really like it there. So, who knows what the future brings, but we're excited for the next three years!
Hans matched! Jacksonville, Florida ... here we come!

Thursday, March 20, 2014


The serenity of northern Sweden
In July, 2011 I was in northern Sweden at Hans's family's summer cottage on the Baltic Sea. Freja was a new baby, we were new parents. We were happy and tired. Perhaps that explains the numb feeling I had when I heard about the horrendous mass shooting on Utoya island in Norway where 69 people were killed, mostly teenagers, and 8 more at a separate, but related, incident in Oslo. It was a shocking, appalling tragedy. Since we were in Sweden, the news coverage was intense. But I remember thinking "I should be feeling more. Why is this not upsetting me?" I don't know why. I'll blame it on lack of sleep, and maybe feeling a little removed from it since all the news coverage was in Swedish. Or maybe it was just so horrific that I couldn't grasp the depth of the tragedy.

This morning, however, I was moved when I heard a report on the radio about a proposed memorial. The artist, Jonas Dahlberg, calls his vision a "memory wound." He wants visitors to feel the loss; to have a physical feeling of loss. He said: 

"It's still almost impossible to understand [the shooting]. It's also one of the reasons why it's so important with memorials for these kinds of things. It's to maybe help a little bit to understand what was happening. So it's not just about remembering, it's also about trying to just understand — or helping to understand."

This seems so important to me. We hear of new tragedies almost every day--mass shootings and natural disasters and war--but it's really hard to understand the loss, to feel the loss. I worry that mass shootings have become so common in the U.S. that people just add each new one to a running tally. I was in college when the shooting occurred at Columbine High School. It really disturbed me and the headlines went on for days and weeks. Is that the case now? It seems like mass shootings are becoming commonplace and Americans are just resigned to that new part of our culture. Otherwise, surely we would be doing something to prevent this happening in the future. As far as I can tell, nothing has been done in terms of gun control reform or funding for mental health programs.

Jonas Dahlberg's vision for a "memory wound," what I'd also call a living memorial, is spot on.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014


Mindfulness, being mindful, living a mindful life. It seems like a buzzword, but it's been buzzing around my head for the past few days as I'm trying to pull myself back to center.

What does it mean? For me it means paying attention to my daily life. It means not being pulled from one task to the next without stopping. It means pausing, reflecting, and thinking about what I am doing. It means completing daily tasks with meaning, instead of just going through the motions. This can also be called living intentionally.

I've been feeling stressed out recently. Not in the classic sense that I have so much to do and just no time. No. I accept that dishes will be dirty. Laundry will always be piled up. My inbox will be full, emails will remain unwrittten, and phone calls will not be returned. As a mom to two small children, I take that kind of stress for granted (which is good since it's always there). This kind of stress is something deeper. I can't put my finger on it, but I know it's there as evidenced by my lack of patience, that antsy feeling, and the state of my fingernails (I'm a nail biter). We have some stuff going on. Hans finds out his residency placement (aka our future home) on Friday and the girls both have birthdays this week, but I feel like there is something else under my skin.

I blame the weather. I blame our cramped living quarters. I blame the new nap schedules which keeps us home for a large part of the day. I blame the fact that we're moving to a new city in two months. (Big. Yes, that's big.) And then I make some resolutions.

I can try to chill out. I take a deep breath. (I say I should meditate but I don't.) I make a goal to take each day one at a time. To focus on the small moments and enjoy the giggles and laughs in between trying to get something done even if those laughs make us another five minutes late. I narrow my focus: I center my focus on my daily life and on the individual tasks and I stop trying to look at the bigger picture. I enjoy my girls and remember to cherish each moment--even if we are stuck at home a lot. I pay attention to what I am doing and appreciate my rich, happy life. I try to live intentionally.

Back in January, when I knew we had no travel plans (nothing happens in the winter anyway), I made a commitment to attend church every week. I'm not a big church-y person in the traditional sense--I don't really pray, I get a little uncomfortable talking outwardly about Jesus and God, and I'm a big believer in evolution--but I value the quiet, reflective time every Sunday morning offers me. I've missed the past four Sundays, so I returned to church this past Sunday thinking maybe my absence, or, rather, church's absence in my life, was the reason I've been feeling a little out of sorts. The sermon? All about those times that you feel scattered and lost. Come back to church, connect with a community, and get centered. Church isn't the only answer for me. It's part of it. But I know that I need to get recentered. I need to live each day a little more mindfully and enjoy the motions, instead of just go through the motions.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Living Aboard: the good

Last week I griped about some daily inconveniences we put up with as part of our living aboard and boating lifestyle. I also mentioned that the good outweighs the bad. Why do we live aboard? What's the best part of living on a boat? Hint: It's not the irregular shaped bunks (beds) that require custom fitted sheets.

Community. I love the boating community. From our neighbors at the marina to boaters in far flung harbors in Mexico and Australia, if you live, cruise, or spend time on a boat, you belong to a larger community.

Within the first two days of our arrival in Philadelphia we were on the receiving end of the following neighborly gestures: 
  • someone dropped off some subway tokens and a subway map
  • fresh flowers were delivered
  • we were invited over to another boat for a barbecue dinner
  •  people stopped by our boat to introduce themselves and offer assistance
  • a big bag of fresh veggies were dropped off, fresh from the farm
I doubt this would have happened if we had moved into an apartment building in the city. Five years later and we know all our marina neighbors by name and we've shared dinners, happy hours, Christmas parties, countless barbecues, regattas, and boat trips. 
An impromptu birthday party for our Harbor Master, Chuck.

The marina community even threw a baby shower for us before Freja was born. 
Kristen & Pattie at Freja's baby shower.
Our neighbors love our girls: they chat with them, they drop off little gifts, and they always ask after them. Everyone knows that Hans works a lot; we haven't been able to help out with shoveling the docks at all this winter (well, maybe once), but the finger pier where I park the stroller and the steps up to the boat are always shoveled. And a few weeks ago, when winter (still) had its icy grip on us, one of our space heaters broke and two marina neighbors quickly brought over spares for us to use.

It is a wonderful feeling to live in the center of the city yet be surrounded by so many people who care about us and look out for us.
Pattie, Freja, and Kristen when Freja was a few days old.
Freja goes trick-or-treating for the first time.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

ziploc bag budgeting

We're not good at budgeting. We are good at not spending money and hoarding it away like squirrels hide their acorns for winter, but we're not good at budgeting--at least not in the traditional sense.

Hans owns a couple sweaters and one pair of jeans; I own two pairs of jeans and a pair of black pants, all of which I bought at various thrift stores. We have mismatched cutlery, mismatched plates and bowls, and some of our pillowcases date back to my childhood. We don't spend money on stuff.

We also don't have any Excel spreadsheets and we tried to do Quicken once and gave up after two hours.

So how did we save up enough money to sail around the Caribbean for nearly three years? How are we staying afloat (pun intended) while Hans plugs away at medical school? The answer: ziploc bags.

When we quit our jobs and set sail for the tropics, we had a finite amount of money. We parceled it away into CDs and kept one year's worth of cash in our checking account. Weekly expenditures were divided into categories: fun, food, gas & diesel, laundry, etc. The actual cash was then parceled out into its respective ziploc baggie. Why ziploc bags? We were living on a boat and traveling to and from land via a dinghy. More times than not, we were getting splashed on or just plain wet. A good cruising friend, Dave, loved to see us slap down a ziploc bag on the bar and count out our cash to see if we could afford a rum drink or a beer.

Since returning to the U.S., our budget has been non-existent. We simply try not to spend any money. We're not always successful--it's hard to live in Philadelphia and be surrounded by awesome restaurants and farmers' markets and not spend--but we've done a pretty good job. But now our money is finite again. There is no more cash flow until Hans starts his residency at the end of June. So we've divided and subtracted and itemized; and we've re-instituted our ziploc bag budgeting.

We each get $40/week in cash which seems like a lot but disappears in an instant. Or on one meal out or something extra like taking Freja ice skating or buying tokens for the subway. (And, of course, there is wine, rum, and beer to buy...) Beyond that, we try not to use our debit cards. Don't buy anything new for the boat. Our clothes may be a little frayed on the edges, but they are just fine. The girls don't need any new toys; they can play outside.

It's hard to stick to a budget when there is so much temptation--so much to buy, so many treats, so many things that will make our lives a little better or a little cushier. I wonder if wanting more, if "needing" more, is a natural human tendency or if it is cultural. We naturally want to live a more comfortable life and having a new t-shirt or cappucino maker (yes, we have one!) are easy ways to feel a little better about our daily lives. We see people with nice things; society reveres those that have the nice car and the big house. How far can we stick our heads in the sand to live contrary to the norms of consumerism? It's easy for me to distinguish between a need and a want, but it's also easy for me to justify that want and turn it into a need.

If anything, our strict budgeting and forced non-consumerism is good training for when we need to live off Hans's resident salary for three years.

Freja, happily entertained with a pencil and a piece of paper.

Friday, March 7, 2014

playing in a small space

A fellow boat mom once told me to not even bother trying to make regular toys or furniture work on the boat. They just won't fit. I was going to have to use my imagination and our DIY skills to make the boat kid friendly. Before Freja became mobile I did a lot of sewing to baby proof the boat: I sewed fabric gates to block off the stairs and lee-cloths to contain her in the vee-berth. We've moved toys around and cleared bookshelves to find the best set-up. And, sometimes, it's not all that difficult (or expensive).

No space for an easel? Simple. Tape some paper on the fridge. Instant easel.

Looking for a cheap and cheerful hiding spot for kids that's also storage friendly? Ikea sells a collapsible tent for $10. Both the girls love it and it has provided active entertainment during this long winter. Perfect.

It folds flat for easy storage behind the couch.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

I'm on a boat

We've been living aboard boats for a long time. We first moved aboard our sailboat, Whisper, in the fall of 2006. We sold her in the summer of 2009 and bought our current floating home, m/v Rhumb Line
Our first night as full-time liveaboards.
I wonder if we ever imagined we'd still be living aboard 7 1/2 years later.

The day we moved aboard Whisper back in 2006. Where does everything go?

Home sweet home, July 2009. The day we bought m/v Rhumb Line.

 A lot of people want to know what it's like to liveaboard. They're amazed that we can live in a such a small space and remain married. And now we have kids? How do we do it?!

Of course we love the lifestyle, otherwise we'd be living in an apartment or a house or in one of these awesome tents, but, there are times. There are times.... In the winter, especially, there are times when I groan in frustration: "Why do we live on this boat?" Or "boats aren't made for full-time living." Or "You're not supposed to liveaboard in Philadelphia in the winter."

For example:

Laundry. We have a small washer onboard which is a luxury for boat living and is perfect for washing cloth diapers and baby clothes. But it's small and all sheets, towels, and adult clothing has to be done at the marina. No big deal. It's a short walk and it's cheap. But. But. I have twinges of envy when I think of how easy it would be if we had a full-size washer and a large clothesline in a sunny backyard.
Our little washing machine. Before Hans installed it up a little higher and permanently plumbed the hoses.

Showers. Again, we're lucky to be liveaboards and have a dedicated shower onboard. We didn't have one on our sailboat and spent nearly three years showering in the cockpit with a 2.5 gallon solar shower. Bigger boats have a handheld shower head attached to the bathroom sink, thus making the whole bathroom a shower. Wet. Very wet. So, relative to other boats, our dedicated shower is indeed a luxury. But boy is it small. I don't know the measurements but stand up and put your elbows out to the side. If you were standing in our shower, one elbow would be hitting a wall and the other elbow would be hanging outside of the shower stall.

Leaks. Hans has much more right to complain about leaks than I do since he's always the one squeezing his body into tight spaces with a headlamp and a pair of pliers. But it's fair to say that a dry floor at the galley sink is more of an exception than the rule these days.

Okay. What's leaking under here now?

So, yeah. I'm on a boat, but it doesn't even come close to the glamour depicted in the satirical music video.Tonight I'm grumbling about washing machines and showers and leaks. Really, no big deal, not in the big scheme of things. There is so much more to love about living aboard than there is to complain about.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

ice pellets

This winter has been tough. Relentless cold, snow, and ice. But I'm not going to gripe about the winter weather. There is enough of that going around and if you get me started, well, I might not stop. At this point I'm not surprised that we have ice pellets in our forecast. Again.

Regardless of the conditions outside, it's hard not to be a self-professed weather geek when you live on a boat. We are, literally, so close to the elements. I hear the first rain drops fall, I know the exact moment the sun peeks out from behind the clouds, and I am pretty spot-on when dressing myself and the girls to go outdoors.

It is also fun to watch Freja learn about the weather. We watch the sunrise every morning (which is nice, but I'd be satisfied with watching it rise just once a week) and Freja is quick to point out the moon in the evening. It always surprises her when she sees it in the daylight.

There are some negatives about being so in tune with the weather: Freja immediately wakes up when it starts raining. Sleeping in the vee-berth is akin to sleeping in a car, or a tin can: you can hear every little noise on the outside surface. We turn up her noisemaker pretty loud, but she still has trouble sleeping through rain. We feel every little breeze and every big gust of wind. Storms are obvious. When the wind is blowing we really get pushed around in our slip. Rock and roll we call it. Rock and roll.

In general, I love feeling like I'm in touch with nature even though I'm living in the middle of the big city. Sometimes that nature is simply a dead catfish floating belly-up past the boat, or a particularly rough night when the boat rocks in its slip and we rock back and forth in our bunks. But, at other times, that nature is watching the sunrise every morning and feeling warm sun on our faces in the middle of winter.