Songs to Drive to.

Friday, May 28, 2021


I used to be a big curator of playlists. I think in another life I would have loved to be a radio DJ (I know that is a very weird alternate career, but it works. haha!) 

I haven't had the bandwidth to do this in a while but I enjoy it and it makes me happy. So one of the afternoons when my Mom had E I threw something together for our trip to South Dakota. To be honest I was really intimidated by the idea of being on our own out there with no help or support and hours of driving to get around with a young infant. Obviously many folks do all of this and more alone, so no complaining here- but I was nervous!

She did great, and we had an amazing time. And this is some of the music we listened to driving those country roads winding their way through the plains. Hope you enjoy :) Will drop a little summary of what we got up to later when I have some more down time!

Travel with a baby (hi, we have a baby!)

Thursday, May 20, 2021

 Um, hi, hello! I always tell myself I will never take a month off from writing...and then life hits. And to be honest, I don't think I've ever had a bigger distraction than the one we've got right now...

In November I became a mom, maybe a couple days after that last post (and a few days early, to my shock and disbelief!) It has been a wild ride but suffice it to say we are so incredibly happy to have little E in our lives.

I'm not up for sharing the birth story just yet (may never be, to be honest) but I did want to pop on here and share how our travels went and what we learned. We traveled a lot before E came into our lives, and since her birth we've lived in 3 different places(!) Some days I felt really awesome managing to continue working in global health and travel with a baby in tow. And some (many) days I felt like I was drowning and life was irrevocably changed and I was failing at both my career and being a good mother. I think both are true to an extent (that's a story for another day.) So without further ado, here's some general advice and things we found that made traveling with a baby easier. 

Have a loose routine. Like it or not, your life will change when a baby arrives. When E first came (aka before reality hit,) I was very motivated to keep life as unchanged as possible. I tried to get her to sleep anywhere, with normal daily life buzzing in the background, in hopes that she'd learn to sleep on the go. HA. ha. Did you know that babies are actual humans? (note the sarcasm here.) And sure, some humans can literally sleep anywhere...Others need pitch black, total silence, Abby the bear and a lavender diffuser in the room to sleep well. Once we were exhausted into submission, we found a happy medium that worked for us by tracking and identifying our kiddo's wake windows/sleepy times and establishing a flexible schedule and sleep routine that worked for us. We loved the Huckleberry app for this (side note: none of these shares are sponsored.)

Obviously we didn't want something too complicated so it would be easy to implement in a bunch of different places (in the last month alone we have put her down for naps/bedtime in 2 houses and 3 different hotel rooms plus the occasional car or lap on the airplane.) So I'd argue for something really simple/loose- for us it's change diaper, sleep sack, books, bed with the sound machine on/lights out for naps (we just add a bath for bedtime, which can be skipped in a pinch) and naps around 9 am, 1 pm and 5 pm +/- 30 minutes. It really did work wonders for us. E is a different kid when she's able to sleep well, and this simple routine goes a long way in helping her get the rest she needs.

...And be willing to break it. Ok so I know I just went on and on about how amazing routines are...but hear me out. If you've got limited time somewhere (whether a few days or a few weeks,) you're not going to want to spend 5 hours of your vacation sitting in a hotel room in the dark, texting your significant other because you can't actually speak since the little one is sleeping two feet away. Peter and I agonized over this for a long time. Ultimately what worked for us was prioritizing naps in the first parts of the day, and either skipping or pushing off the later nap to do things as a family, since the third nap is hit or miss for her anyways. Sometimes we ended up with a grumpier baby. Sometimes it ended with E excitedly flailing her arms at the sighting of her first ever bison, a truly sweet and hilarious thing to see. 

We really tried not to do this every day, but on weekends or special occasions we wanted E to see or do something with us as a family, we made it work. It ended up giving us some sweet family moments that we would have missed out on if we were nap-trapped in our hotel room. 

Have an on the go routine option. I guess this is an extension of having a routine. South Dakota is pretty rural and spread out, so we spent many 3 hour chunks of time driving with E having a meltdown because she was so tired and couldn't sleep more than 10 minutes. That was until we stumbled on the magic of mimicry- in an act of desperation I flung my nursing cover over the car seat, we blasted the AC to make some white noise and just kept driving in total silence. While I wouldn't recommend using this method routinely, it did work for us and could prove useful if you're in a bind. 

Modify your expectations. When we first arrived in South Dakota one of the first websites I found had a list of '15 things to do in a day in the Black Hills.' Being a realist with a 5 month old, I cut the list down to 8 or 9 things that were realistic with an infant and sounded like fun. In the span of 4-ish days in the area we did 4-5 of them. Some of that was weather and not baby-related, but the reality is time just disappears with an infant. The days of driving for 8 or 9 hours straight are gone- instead, every 2-3ish hours we were stopping to check a diaper and feed. When we visited the site of the Wounded Knee Massacre I ended up stuck in the car nursing and didn't get to climb the hilltop to pay my respects. 

The first weekend I was super disappointed that my 7-item to do list went so terribly. By the last weekend there, we'd figured out that for stuff we were trying to do (mostly scenic drives, sight-seeing and short hikes) a list of 3 felt less daunting- 2 things we would definitely get done and one that was a maybe, depending on how well the day had gone. You can probably adjust this based on driving time, how long it takes to do something, your child's age, etc. But the more laidback schedule definitely made for a more enjoyable time for all of us.

Stay close to the action. I wish we had learned this sooner! Our first weekend out exploring we booked a hotel that we knew was kid friendly but was also an hour away from the hikes and parks. With a small infant often the timeframe that they're awake and happy is pretty short- in our case at most 3 hours on a good day. Staying somewhere we could walk or quickly drive to the spots we wanted to check out made a huge difference! Less time driving = more time to do things you enjoy as a family. It's that simple :) If you do one thing differently on your travels, I'd say this should be it, even if it means paying a little more for that convenience.

Come up with your packing list. Having moved to two states in E's first 6 months, I now have a good sense of what we do and don't use for her in the span of a couple days, a couple weeks, etc. This will definitely look different for everyone, but in general we realized we should have packed more clothes and fewer toys. E went through multiple outfits a day some days thanks to spit up, drool, and blow outs, and babies are often down to play with just about anything (just make sure it's safe/not a choking hazard.) They also LOVE repetition- she ended up playing with the same 1-2 toys every car ride, and we read her 4 of the same books over the span of of that month we were gone. I would also add that it is helpful to calculate how many diapers your kid goes through in 24 hours, then figure out how many you should bring for your travel day from there and maybe multiply by 1.2- just for peace of mind :) then you can buy as many diapers as you need once you arrive. We always purchased more than we needed and ended up donating what was left over to a local organization. 

As far as large items, a few things to know before you go: if you're renting a car you can also rent a car seat, and most hotels have pack and plays/cribs you can use- just ask! If you've got a mobile little one I'd also think about if there's a safe space to put the baby down, if you can make a space up by moving stuff around, or if it's worth it to try and buy an exer-saucer or playpen secondhand. I'd also add if your kiddo is taking some solids a high chair would be useful if you're going to be somewhere long term. We had some pretty comical dinners where we'd sit E on our laps in a diaper with a towel to keep things clean. A high chair would definitely have made life easier!

Stroll (or carry? or...) So this is less of a recommendation than a call for you bring your stroller or carry your little one through the airport? We've done both- it was super useful to have in Boston when we flew to Florida with all our stuff- but once we arrived at our hosuing in South Dakota we didn't touch the stroller as Peter carries E in our Lille carrier (linked, no commission.) I imagine once the family grows the stroller is kind of a must. But with one baby and a backpack diaper bag we found it much easier to navigate travel with our Sakura Bloom or the Lille. We also found the more stuff we could check or gate check to the final destination, the easier life was. And the less sore and exhausted we were by the time we made it to our lodging.

If you're a parent let me know what you find to be the best way to travel with your little one! Would love to hear more tips/advice. :)

Photo by the insanely talented Lyndsay Hannah. Definitely check her out if you are in the Boston area and in need of a family photographer.

Schlepping into the last trimester.

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Hi! How are you holding up? Like much of the world, I’m pretty anxious about today. I voted early to avoid having to stand in line at the polls too close to my due date, and since I suspect there won’t be a clear winner tonight maybe even for a couple of days, I have a pretty hefty to-do list to try and distract myself from doom-scrolling. First off: a 3rd trimester check-in, because why the hell not? :) 

Currently: I’m 39 weeks, so the baby could come any day, or hang out awhile. I am definitely in a semi-denial state; for several weeks I’ve been telling people the baby will come after their due date, that first babies never come on time(I even looked up data on this to corroborate my conviction because, well, have you met me?)…but it is entirely possible I’m kidding myself! Babies come when they want to! I need to get over that fact. Clearly I am not great at being out of control of things. 

Feeling: Ready and not ready. I work with children so I know enough to know this is going to be a shock to the system. On paper, we’re ‘ready’- hospital bag packed except for last-minute toiletries, car seat base installed, bassinet assembled, birth classes read and reviewed… but the truth is, you’re never fully prepared. You just can’t be. One day you’re living your life, barely feeling like an adult, and the next you’re responsible for keeping this tiny, complex being alive, warm, fed and safe. Not to say I’m not excited- both P and I are so stoked to meet this kid. But I’m trying mentally to be prepared to feel unprepared.  

Physically, I overall still feel pretty ok. I am wishing I’d been better about actual exercise, but I’ve managed to keep walking throughout the pregnancy and we’ve even hiked quite a bit, so I haven’t done too bad. Funnily enough after being so worried about getting certain symptoms, the worst one has been one I didn’t expect- reflux! Majority of pregnant women get it and it. Has. Been. A. nightmare. Luckily I’ve gotten away with smaller, more frequent meals and popping tums like there’s no tomorrow. But I really can’t wait for that symptom to settle down.

Craving: Confession time: I never had any major cravings or aversions. I wanted more of the stuff I usually like- sweets/desserts, and spicy foods (I could probably eat buffalo chicken on a bed of greens every day if you let me!), but there was nothing I was absolutely desperate for. Same with the aversions- the smell of eggs threw me off very briefly, but since the second trimester I haven’t had any problems with food intolerance or nausea, which I’m super thankful for.

Wearing: Down to pretty much 1 pair of maternity leggings from Pact (thanks sis!) and 2 hand-me-down maternity jeans. Luckily since I'm done with work pants are mostly optional and I pretty much live in sweats and loose t-shirts these days. When I do go out, more often than not I'm wearing one of my husband's sweaters and a North Face coat I bought second-hand for my Mom's stay, since mine is way too tight and currently on loan to my sister. Considering how much new stuff we bought and received as gifts for the baby, it feels good that I haven't had to invest in too many new pieces for myself. Not spending or buying too much is also a big motivator to get back into my pre-baby clothes, but I'm going to give myself a year and a lot of grace since growing a baby is hard work and I want to go easy on myself and my body as it recuperates. 

Listening: Ok so I may have put together a playlist for our little one already, and it *may* be well over 6 hours of songs and music (linked here). Other than that I’m definitely not mad that Fleetwood Mac made a surprise comeback thanks to tik tok, but I wouldn’t be mad if the world decided to obsess over another song of theirs eventually (so many great options to choose from!) P has been playing guitar for our little one  every bedtime- he’s nailed Country Roads, which my Mom used to sing to me and my siblings, and I’m convinced the baby loves it since they start kicking when they hear the first chords 😊 

Reading: Mostly for class- on wildfires and climate change- this article was a good read, on psychology and the Covid-19 response, on healthcare systems and supply chains in different parts of the world- fascinating stuff and I have to pinch myself every day that my job is paying me to learn about these things. I’m also trudging my way through a book on breastfeeding (you can find it here on the AAP website.) It’s a little hard tp get into because there’s so much about breastfeeding technique that is hands on and nuanced- how to hold the breast to help your baby latch, positioning their body against yours, how their mouth fits over the breast- that it can be a little dry and hard to follow. Luckily there are some great resources online, including free info from board-certified lactation consultants on Instagram (I know, proceed with caution on social media!) If I have time I may try this $20 course thisweekend. We’ll have to see.

Making: mostly just drafting work for school- papers, project proposals to submit to our IRB- I haven’t felt up for drawing recently, which is fine. We did do some tie-dying at my baby shower, which was really fun and has left me with an excessive number of hippy-style baby outfits (not that mad about it, TBH, but this kid will stick out at the playground.) I’m also baking a TON, which is a first-ever for me (these were delicious and a big step up from my usual funfetti from the box cookies)… I’ve found writing here and in my journal to the baby to be really cathartic as well.

Hoping: we get good news on election night, though if history repeats itself we’ll be stuck with the current president for 4 more years. Heartbreaking, especially knowing how much work we need to do to make this country a safe place for Black families, migrants, minorities, and so many others.

Dipping our toes into low-waste parenting.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Hey friends! Hope everyone is doing ok. It’s been insanely busy around here and I’m REALLY looking forward to being done with clinical duties (after this weekend! So close!) The husband and I have meanwhile been trying to wrap up a few last minute tasks before baby’s imminent arrival- installing our car seat base, packing the last odds and ends into our hospital bag, and squeezing in quality time whenever we can. After all, we’re not going to be a twosome much longer :) 

I’ve been wanting to write about low-waste parenting throughout this pregnancy. Reducing our impact on the environment is something I’ve been interested in since learning about how my fast fashion habits were impacting the planet, and since raising kids inevitably requires that you increase your consumption, we’ve been thinking and reading about this quite a bit lately and wanted to share some of what I’ve learned. This may or may not be inspired by the zero/low-waste parenting panel (link) we attended last night :) But for real, we have been making a LOT of purchases we normally wouldn’t and also reading a ton on this topic. So it's definitely been on my mind quite a bit.

Before we dive in I wanted to raise a couple caveats to the low-waste parenting movement. I think talking about any aspect of parenting gets tricky - there can be a lot of emotions and criticism of the ‘other way’ of doing things when it comes to parenting, and I want to say off the bat - there are very few wrong ways to raise a child. I’m not a parent yet, but from my experience as a pediatrician, this is 110% true. Do what works for your family. A lot (but not all) of zero-waste lifestyle choices are time-consuming and costly. Even considering cloth diapering as an option is a privilege. For that and plenty of other reasons, I think shaming families for choosing to do things a different way is unacceptable and not what this post is about.

Secondly, a big criticism of the consumer side of low-waste/zero-waste movements is that big corporations generate a LOT more waste and play a bigger role in squandering our natural resources, so what’s the point of ditching plastic straws? My response to that is I agree that we need to hold large, powerful corporations responsible for how their actions impact all of us- we can do this through advocacy and political activism, as flawed as the process is. But I don’t think that negates the importance of individual choices, and if I have the privilege to choose a more sustainable option, I’m certainly going to try and do that.

Lastly, in total and complete transparency, I am not a perfect consumer. I’m really lucky to have the time and resources to consider some of these options as a parent. I also work nights, attend grad school part-time, and have a not-great debt-to-income ratio. While we haven’t fully decided, we are definitely going to at least start this kiddo out on disposable diapers. We also received a really generous gift card to Amazon from family, so we’re going to be making some purchases from Bezos. I guess my point is I don’t want this post to come off as holier than thou. I’ve learned a good amount the last few months and want to share in case another parent finds it helpful. So with that in mind, here’s a few of the big take-home points we’ve gathered the last few months.

Get items used or second-hand if you can. This spring I learned about the buy nothing movement and it has honestly been a life-changer. I received some unused breast pump parts and a bottle rack for free, and plenty of strollers, baby clothes, toys and gear have been posted since I joined. If you live in a larger town, I can almost guarantee there’s also a parenting listserv you can join where people will be giving items away or selling them at low costs. I also really like buying clothes second hand when I can (Poshmark is my favorite so I can search specific brands but there’s literally dozens of sites and of course in-person stores if its safe in your area.)

One caveat to this that parents should be aware of is car seats. Because the plastic decays in heat, most infant car seats aren’t safety approved beyond about 6-10 years. Believe it or not, they have an expiration date you can check on their label or manual if its still around. There’s also a risk of a car seat that’s been in a crash being unsafe, even if it looks ok. So keep this in mind when scouring second hand sites and groups.

Get on top of gift giving. It’s no secret that Americans own a lot of stuff, and yes, you can actually have too many toys. Kids tend to play better if they just have a handful to choose from. In addition to this, while the jury’s still out on the human health impacts of microplastics, they definitely aren’t great for the environment, especially marine life. One option we’re considering to curb excess and unwanted plastic toys is a gift moratorium - outside of immediate family, requesting no gifts for your kid at holidays and birthdays. Instead, you can ask for donations to a favorite nonprofit, or for people to contribute to a college fund if they’re able- or nothing! A mom on a recent panel also suggested guiding grandparents towards second-hand gift options, preferably plastic free, which I think is a great option.

Another parent at the panel we watched recently emphasized experiences over stuff, so if you’re in an area where it’s safe to do so, having an aunt take your child for a day of fun together can also be a really special gift option that doesn’t have to generate waste.

Repurpose for play. This is one we probably all grew up doing- our paper towel rolls became castle towers, cardboard shipping boxes were anything from boats to houses to planes, and we raided the garage as kids for junk to make into robots, costumes, and pretty much anything you can think of. Sure there’s plenty of sparkly, colorful, fancy kits you can buy to add to your arts and crafts box, but looking around at home first can yield a lot of great options! Side note: did anyone else grow up playing with home-made playdough? Here’s an easy recipe .

Alternatives to diapering. this is one P and I are still scratching our heads on. Wirecutter has a really great article that briefly addresses the environmental impact cloth to disposable diapers (link), and unfortunately, the term biodegradable diaper is somewhat misleading as well (see this post). Another option, elimination communication (explained in detail here), involves monitoring your child’s behavior to figure out when they void and stool and offering them the toilet when they give you these cues, but requires a lot of time and attention (also I’ve heard from a personal account it gets quite messy.) 

I’m going to be honest here- we’re not sure what we’re going to do in terms of diapering just yet. We really want to find the lowest impact option that works for us as a home with two working parents and a limited budget. I’ll keep you posted on this one (and if you have any advice or experience, I’d love to hear!) 

Consider your feeding options. Another sensitive subject that comes with a lot of emotions packed into it, so I will start by saying, in all caps letters, while pulling my pediatrician card: FED IS BEST. If your baby is developing and growing on target, great job Mom! (and Dad :)

Now that that’s out of the way, breastfeeding (whether breastfeeding or pumping and giving breastmilk) is the most low-waste option, if it works for you and your baby, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways that formula can’t be lower waste, too. The most wasteful option is unfortunately the most convenient- pre-mixed bottles that just need a nipple attachment, and can then be tossed or recycled once the baby has emptied the bottle. Obviously re-using bottles by mixing your own formula is a better option, and should only take a little more work. Just follow the instructions on the can...I am not 100% sure, but I believe this option is a lot cheaper, too. 

Once you hit around 5-6 months, and have been cleared by your child’s doctor to start introducing solids, a whole new fun challenge arises- pre-packaged baby food! If you do have the time to make your own veg and fruit purees at home, this is just another small area to reduce single use items in your home and life. To be clear, it IS extra work- remember that babies have immature kidneys and can’t handle the salt and seasoning that you have in your own food, so even that pureed spinach needs to be prepped separately. If you can manage to prep some baby-friendly solids at home, even a couple times a week, its a great option to reduce your use of single-use plastics. 

That’s all for now! The reality here is we are first-time parents, and are in for the ride of our lives. That’s partly why I wanted to post now, pre-baby, when I’m not sleep-deprived and can be a total optimist; I am sure this list will look totally different in reality once the baby comes, and I will try to post a follow up so we can see what worked and didn’t work for us in a few months’ time. I’ll leave you with a few resources we’ve used to gather information on low-waste parenting these last few months. Have a great week!

Babylist - this isn’t a low-waste resource per se, but using a babylist registry allowed us to register for more items from smaller businesses and fair trade/sustainable companies over Amazon, when we could find them. You can still register from bigger sites like Amazon and Target, but also include these smaller companies, or even a cash fund, so it's pretty flexible, which is nice.

ZeroWasteNYC: While their focus is NYC, we really appreciated the low-waste parenting panel they hosted. We found it through Instagram, and they were able to sponsor some free tickets as well to make the event more accessible. I also appreciate their honesty about the privilege behind whole zero/low-waste parenting and importance of advocating for policy change as well as individual lifestyle changes to tackle climate change.

Veronica Milsom/Zero Waste Baby: She was a panelist on the ZeroWaste talk we attended last night, and I really appreciated her candor on a lot of subjects, including the cloth versus disposable nappy debate. She has a low-waste parenting podcast I’ll definitely be following :)

TheGoodTrade: A site I’ve loved for a long time, mostly because they post great lists of organic and fair trade companies for all sorts of things, from baby products to thrift stores to home goods. 

Any sites or resources I’ve missed? Any personal experience or advice with living low-waste with a baby or kids? Would love to hear!

Things my grandfather taught me

Monday, October 19, 2020

Hey friends, So obviously posting consistently has been a bit hard- my apologies. I think the heavy political climate coupled with a ramped up work and school schedule kind of wore me down. Add to that a belly sleeper who can no longer sleep on her ginormous belly and you get...well not a reliable blogger, that's for sure. 

Oh, and my grandfather died a few weeks ago. So there's that. 

It's always sad when you lose someone you love. Even someone who hasn't been well for a long time. In my training I've witnessed a lot of suffering (more on that here,) and it really changed my outlook on death. There are times that a good death, a passing with peace and dignity, can be better than even a few days or weeks trudging onward. 

Still, I never thought I'd miss my grandfather's funeral. Nor did I think he'd ever be alone in a hospital room, no visitors allowed due to Covid-19 restrictions. I never thought I'd be coaching my parents through donning and doffing PPE to safely say goodbye. I never thought I wouldn't get a proper chance to say goodbye, for that matter.

 hanging out at our favorite place in Florida

But there you have it. I've adopted an 'it is what it is' mentality to soften the blow, but it does suck all the same. I take some small solace in knowing that at thirty-something weeks pregnant, there's probably little chance I'd be able to get home to say goodbye anyways, in the counterfactual world where the pandemic doesn't exist. 

Nevertheless, I didn't write this post to score internet pity points. Because my grandfather had many years of declining health, I didn't really know him as well as I thought I did. As it turns out, the real beauty of these last few weeks has been in the quiet unfolding of little stories and anecdotes I never knew, and great accomplishments I'd never heard about, partly due to his inability to communicate for some time, but also because of his humility. He was not the type to brag. I didn't know he started his career caring for Indigenous People through the Indian Health Services. I learned in my classes at Harvard about his involvement in a men's health study that is still referenced and talked about in academic circles, all these years later. I didn't know that he attended Juilliard before pursuing degrees in medicine, public health and nutrition.

And that's just the professional CV. From our time together I knew how much he loved his wife, his children, his grandkids (all 19 of us), and his faith. And how much he loved dessert and coffee (I'll forever think of him and smile when I see halvah at the local Lebanese shop.) How he cared for his father-in-law for years after my grandmother died, as if he were his own parent. 

Anyways, there's no need for me to re-hash his beautiful life here, so I'll stop. That's what obituaries are for, right? I'll leave you with a few lesson he taught me in the time we shared together. I hope you find them useful, interesting, or at least a brief distraction from this crazy world we're living in. 

Work hard and humbly. As I alluded to above, my grandfather accomplished a lot in his professional life. He conducted the orchestra at Stuyvesant high school before attending Juilliard and going on to obtain 3 health-related degrees and working internationally in nutrition and health. But those just weren't things you'd hear about if you sat down for a talk with him. At least when I knew him, he preferred to talk about his childhood on the Upper West Side, where he was in a gang known as the '103rd street sharks,' and even more keen to tell stories about my grandmother. In a world obsessed with the hustle, winning, and outward displays of success and wealth, I think he sets a great example of a a more beautiful, quiet and better way to live. 

Have faith. My grandfather's faith ran extremely deep. He met my grandmother at a bible study in New York, and when he couldn't remember who his own kids were, he remembered every word and hymn in the Orthodox liturgy. Even after losing his wife too soon to cancer, his sadness had a hope about it because he knew he'd see her again one day. I can't be sure, but I think it also really drove him in his work, as his career focused public health and service, and on using his skills and knowledge to help others. As a Christian in medicine, I've found myself thinking a lot about his ability to balance the use of his skills to help as best as he could and surrendering the final outcome to God. Faith and science aren't always complementary, but when I think of him as a scientist and Christian, how he had faith in God and faith in evidence-based medicine, I realize you can have and practice both in life. 

Find joy in the small things. For such an accomplished guy, the grandfather I knew was also quite a lovely, silly person. I can't tell you how many photographs and home videos we have of him delightedly bouncing a baby in his lap, striking a silly pose, whole-heartedly immersing himself in a classical performance (he conducted many a Youtube video concert in his later years!) or sneaking food from the table to the family dog. He even greeted us on entry with a self-composed 'grand entrance' tune, every time he visited, without fail. I'll never forget what a joy he was to be around :) 

Broaden your horizons. Through his jobs in the Coast Guard, consulting and volunteering with the the Orthodox Christian Mission Center, my grandfather spent a good amount of time traveling the world. When I was five, he took me and two cousins out of the country for the first time. I actually remember hating the trip- a typical American kid, I didn't like the taste of Greek food (I know how insane this sounds now), I missed my parents, and half of us ended up with a stomach bug. It took a few more years, along with some tales and souvenirs he brought back from Japan, Russia, and Kenya, but I eventually came around. I used to describe his home as a museum, full of fascinating tchotchkes from places I couldn't pronounce the name of. I'll forever be thankful I picked up his travel bug gene. 

blurry photo of the two of them together, probably New York

Love never fails. We lost my grandmother way too soon, before I was old enough to remember much about her. But I feel like I knew her all the same, through the stories my grandfather told so sweetly and tenderly, over and over again. He was amused and amazed by everything she did- from calming down an angry mentally ill patient as a young nurse in Manhattan, to trying a cigarette on an airplane once, even the most mundane moments with her were like magic to him. From a young age I remember confiding with the other girls in the family how we all aspired to find a love like they had, to find someone who talked about us the way my grandfather talked about our Yiayia Emmy. If only we were so lucky, we'd say. 

Well that was therapeutic. Hope you found it interesting, or at least a brief diversion; either way thanks for indulging me. Stay safe and well. 

If you like the new folklore album, here's what you should listen to next.

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Me and Taylor Swift have kind of an interesting history. I didn’t really learn about her until 2008-2009, when I moved up to a college town and made friends with some girls who introduced me to the mainstream country scene. One of them burned me copies of her music (thanks, Cait!) and while I liked some of the songs, 19 year old me felt a little too old for the big hits like ‘Love Story’ and ‘You Belong With Me.’ I was also deep into the rich indie music scene on campus, seeing bands like Bright Eyes, First Aid Kit, The Hold Steady, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Drive By Truckers and Iron and Wine at the college venue for free (RIP CDU.) Honestly there were just so many great lesser-known artists that I could see live that I dove head-first into that world and didn’t look back. Even then I could see that Swift was a talented songwriter (Tim McGraw, the Best Day and Fearless are some of my favorite songs from that era) but it was definitely more of a side interest/guilty pleasure.

Fast forward to medical school, when I hit a pretty rough patch between struggling with coursework and a floundering long-distance relationship. As if on cue, Swift dropped Red and between the title track and ‘All Too Well’ I had found the soundtrack to the very rocky 2012 I had been having. I spent a lot of time driving winding backroads and singing along off-key to some of the best break up music I had heard since discovering Rumours after getting dumped in high school. It easily remains one of my favorite albums of all time and sealed me as a TS fan for the foreseeable future. Songs like Holy Ground, Treacherous, and State of Grace to this day are among my absolute favorites. I've since loved everything she's put out, with an admitted emotional bias/attachment (and dragged my husband along into the fandom; he excels at singing along the wrong lyrics, relishing in the very wrong 'boys only want love if it's Georgia' since he knows it makes me cringe and laugh at the same time. He's going to be a great Dad, haha.)

 So when she rocked up with folklore last week, between my love for pretty much anything she does at this point and long-time passion for artists like Bon Iver and the National, I felt like this was the Taylor Swift album that was made for me. After a few listens I can say folklore has stolen the crown from Red for me as her best work yet. I tear up every time I hear the lines to epiphany, and my tears ricochet and peace really hit me on a personal level. I’m so stoked she did something different for this album and after a few listens, really found myself going back to some of those independent artists I loved back in college. After reading this round table talk at Atwood Magazine, I realized a big part of why I loved the sound is that it brought me back to a sound I really loved back then, but had drifted away from in recent years.

 One of the writers made a folklore-inspired folk playlist on Spotify, and while I love and agree with 99% of his choices, I wanted to add some of the artists and bands I loved in my college days. So in full disclosure, this is a total copycat idea 😊 I’ve highlighted a couple of the artists below. Most are more true folk than Swift’s album is (I feel like calling her album folk is a bit of a misnomer), but some (like the Sundays, Bob Dylan, Arcade Fire, and Maggie Rogers) I included because I can hear elements of their sound in folklore. I linked the playlist below... Feel free to have a look if you’re a music nerd like me, or just enjoy the spotify playlist. :)

Bob Dylan- I think in an interview somewhere Jack Antonoff or another collaborator mentioned that Betty had been inspired by Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan/Bruce Springsteen style, but I can’t find the quote now. As a huge Dylan fan, my best guesses were Don’tthink twice, it’s alright or Tangled Up in Blue. Any other ideas?

Jason Isbell- another of my absolute favorite songwriters, Isbell really knows how to make you feel some kind of way with his narrative style. I’d highly recommend his albums Southeastern, Here We Rest and The Nashville Sound (latter two are with his band the 400 unit as well.)

The Postal Service- Give Up was one of the first pop albums I ever purchased (ok confession time: typed this out and then realized Celine Dion came first- I got her greatest hits in 5th grade because that’s what my friends were listening to. Still love her. No regrets.) It’s definitely more upbeat that folklore, but melancholy songs like The District Sleeps Alone Tonight and This Place is a Prison make for equally good quarantine listening.

Phoebe Bridgers- I have to admit I just this week got around to downloading Punisher. But Stranger in the Alps is a great album, and Motion Sickness made me cry the first 20 times I listened. Honestly, I would love to see her and Taylor collaborate on something. I think it could be really great, if either of them are reading this…(note: they are most definitely not reading this.)

 Bright Eyes- Conor Oberst was the original emo musician prodigy, starting to play professionally when he was only 13 or 14 years old. I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning was the sound of my high school years, and Cassadaga deserves so much more attention than it got (Four Winds is one of my favorite songs of all time.) When it comes to songwriting he’s right up there with Swift for me.  Also I have to thank him for introducing me to First Aid Kit, who I was lucky enough to meet when they opened for one of his shows in Tallahassee :)

Neil Young- forever a favorite of mine, and someone I have always admired for speaking his mind and writing politically-minded protest songs (see Southern Man and Ohio.) I love his heavier stuff too, but songs like Old Man, This Old Guitar, Heart of Gold, and Unknown Legend will always be among his best work in my opinion.

Maggie Rogers- this girl’s EP is unlike anything I have ever heard before, in the best way possible. The mix ofelectronics and nature yields such a unique and beautiful sound, it almost feels transcendental, and it’s a sound that is definitely all her own, which is such a rarity in the pop world these days.

Band of Horses- most of their music is decidedly more rock than anything Swift has done, but Infinite Arms was one of those albums that changed my life and that I’ll always anchor to a certain memory, one of with my family through rural Ireland playing these songs on repeat. Easily one of my favorite albums of all time.

Fleetwood Mac- considering they are one of my favorite bands of all time, it was surprisingly easy to pick ‘Storms’ for this playlist. I have a lot of love for both Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie; their words (and Lindsay’s) brought me through my first break up back in high school (as stated above, Rumours changed my life,) at the age when you feel those kinds of emotions at 10 times the magnitude compared to when you’re older.

Iron & Wine and Calexico- the In the Reins EP is one of my favorite albums of all time and I’ll forever be grateful that these two artists have continued their working relationship over 10 years later with a new full-length album. Be careful though- 16, Maybe Less will tear you apart.

Global Health will never be the same (and maybe it's not a bad thing.)

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

During my time overseas I got tapped to assist with a training session of sorts for the resident physicians at the hospital. A handful of people had flown in from the U.S. to facilitate the sessions, and they ended up staying at the same complex as me and inviting me out to dinner a couple times.

On one night out in particular, one of the visitors casually mentioned over club beers that he was exasperated with his group of trainees. They just weren’t interested in the research topic he wanted them to get involved in. He complained that he wasn’t sure how his study was going to get off the ground in time if they didn’t get on board (and by ‘on time’ he meant before he returned home a few days later.)

I quietly sipped my beer and said nothing. These comments surprised me. I had been around a couple of months and gotten to know several of the resident physicians. Most of those involved in the training session were senior trainees who had their own ideas about what problems concerned them in their patient populations, and what they wanted to study. I also knew a little about this person’s study topic of interest, and from my brief time on the ground knew there were probably a dozen different research projects that, if pursued and funded, could have a much bigger impact on our ability to help our patients.

Fast forward several months and both me and this person are back in the United States, for the foreseeable future or until our government can get itself together and stop being the punch line of pandemic response jokes. I haven’t written about it much (between school and work and life changes I haven’t had much time to sit and write my feelings about the pandemic and global health out) but I have definitely thought about this a lot. How being forced out of so many poorer nations where we are used to being hands on and taking the lead has forced us all to take a step back, to slow down, and really reflect inwardly on what our motives are and how to best move forward if we truly want to be of service.

I am not a perfect global health worker. I have had my share of mistakes and white savior moments. I’d like to think I’ve learned from them, and from my time working with the pediatric team in Liberia, although there will always be room to improve. And I can’t help but think that being forced to stay home, having limited access to all but 14 other nationals in the world, is a good thing for Western global health workers.

For a long time, we’ve been flying in for short visits, trying to use that fleeting time to establish connections, and accomplish whatever teaching or research is on our agenda. But what about our colleagues on the ground? The doctors, nurses, and public health workers that work in these clinics and hospitals every single day, and know the health system like the back of their hand? They see when infants come in time and time again with birth asphyxia, or when their adult patients show up sick and dying from an AIDS-defining illness because of the cultural stigma that keeps them from seeking care for their HIV. They see these problems every day, up close and personal. Are these not the best people to decide where resources go for research, for interventions and system changes? Who are we (myself included) to arrive somewhere for a few short weeks of the year and decide that we know best what the problems are in this hospital, or system, or community? And who are we to decide we know best how to fix it?

I’m not trying to say I’m glad that Americans can’t go anywhere (though it’s definitely the right decision for the rest of the world to shut us out right now.) My time working with the doctors and staff in Liberia was invaluable; I learned so much from my colleagues, and hopefully was able to be of use to the residents and residency program as well. So much can be gained by both parties from long-term, on-the-ground collaborations involving face-to-face clinical time overseas.

But if the pandemic does anything, I hope it forces Western global health workers to take a back seat- let their partners and collaborators in their respective home countries take the wheel and direct the work towards the problems they see as most important. Let’s continue to share resources, but without the many caveats and contingencies we’ve become so hellbent on tacking onto delivery of global health care. Instead of barging in with that brilliant idea already written out into a proposal, work with a partner overseas – help them to draft a proposal of their own idea, to navigate the colonialist world of academia to get their own research ideas off the ground. Maybe this is the kind of work we should have been doing all along.

This is getting long so I’ll cap it here. For some more interesting perspectives on how global health may change in the post-pandemic era from people who are much smarter than I am, check out this link…hope everyone stays safe and well this week!