Tuesday, January 18, 2011

That's What I Want ... (Part I)

It's important to get in to medical school, obviously. But it's also important to fit in to a medical school. Because you will be there for four years. A tough four years. That means thinking about what kinds of criteria are important to you (or in this case, me) as a potential medical student.

I've done some thinking about this. And while I haven't come up with an exhaustive list, I have developed some ideas on what I am looking for. If I developed these criteria in one blog post, it would be rather onerous to read, so I have decided to divide this into a series of posts. (At least, that's the plan.)

So how do I know what I want? Figuring that out involves knowing myself pretty well. Which is one benefit of being a "non-traditional" (translate: older) student. I've had more life experiences -- and time -- to learn about myself, what works for me, and a little bit more about what I want out of life. I have a much better idea of these things than I did 10, or even five, years ago.

One characteristic I am looking for in a medical school is the opportunity to do at least one international rotation as a medical student. That means going abroad during my time as a medical student (typically during the third or fourth year, when I would actually have some clinical skills) and working in a clinic or hospital in that foreign country.

Why would I want to do such a thing? After spending a semester abroad in Chile while I was an undergraduate student, I realized the importance of gaining exposure to other cultures, other languages, other people, other ideas. Not that I hadn't thought that was important before -- but its importance was impressed upon me more than ever. Being in Chile was, by far, the best experience of my undergrad education. I think everyone should study abroad, if at all possible. It was an invaluable educational experience -- not so much in the classroom, as out in the streets of Chile, Peru, Bolivia, and Argentina.

Of course, I would love to hit those same street again -- this time as a third- or fourth-year medical student (or resident) -- but I would also be interested in seeing other parts of the world.

Fortunately for me (and others), the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) and Foundation for Advancement of International Medical Education and Research (FAIMER) have put together an online database of medical schools that offer such opportunities: International Opportunities In Medical Education

According to a basic search I did on that database, 74 medical schools offer international opportunities to their own students (you can also search for resident opportunities, faculty opportunities, etc.). That's pretty amazing. And I can't wait.

A Worthwhile Challenge

A couple of weeks ago when I left the free clinic where I volunteer as a Spanish medical translator, I thought to myself, "I belong here. And I like that."

Not that I hadn't had this feeling of belonging before -- but it has definitely cemented over the last few shifts I've worked.

On a basic level, part of it is knowing my way around the neighborhood -- the quickest route to the clinic, where to find parking even during rush hour, what drink to order at the local cafe when I need a caffeine boost. 

There's also something to be said for now being on a first-name basis with the clinic coordinators and the volunteer coordinator, and being known as someone who can be relied upon to come through when the clinic is especially short-staffed.

My Spanish -- which was excellent to begin with -- has improved as well, which helps me feel more comfortable in my role as an interpreter for the patients, doctors, nurses, and other medical practitioners.

My Spanish skills were particularly tested, and mostly affirmed, recently. (Although I was also dealt a bit of humility in the process.)

Typically, I translate for primary care appointments -- medication refills, diabetes check-ups, pap smears (a papanicolaou, in Spanish -- try saying that 10 times fast!), that sort of thing. This appointment was a little different. The practicioner was a registered dietitian, and the patient was there to get some tips on how to eat healthier and lose weight. Which is knowledge many of us take for granted. But, as I learned, is knowledge that is very cultural in nature.

Juan* was from Ecuador, and had been in the United States for about 15 years. He had put on 30 or so pounds in the last few years, partly as a result of American food -- a few too many hamburguesas at McDonald's, he said. He had developed severe sleep apnea, which required surgery. His doctor said he needed to lose weight before having the operation. So he was quite motivated to get in better shape.

But he had no idea where to begin. And he had a lot of misconceptions about healthy eating and weight loss that needed challenging and changing.

"Whenever I go on a diet," he said, "My stomach acts up. So how can I go on a diet?"

It turned out that to Juan, going on a diet meant eating puras frutas y verduras -- all fruits and vegetables -- which would make anyone's stomach unhappy. Not to mention that it's unhealthy, because you're not getting balanced meals.

So far so good, as my Spanish was concerned. Then things got tricky. The dietitian started explaining the chemical mechanisms as to why eating a balanced meal is important -- you need protein at every meal so that your body doesn't start to digest your muscles. That was certainly something I'd never translated before! And you need fiber to help pass the food along in your system. To my embarrassment, I translated that as: Necesita fiebre para ayudar en pasar la comida por su sistema. Juan looked really confused for a moment. Then clarity hit him. Quiere decir fibra, he said. Oops. I'd been saying "fever" instead of "fiber." Luckily, we both got a good laugh out of it. So did the dietitian.

Aside from my fever-fiber faux pas, I seemed to be able to get everything else across. Juan asked question after question, wanting to understand every little detail of how to proceed. "I want to know what to do so that when I get home, I'm not confused," he explained.

I was impressed with his motivation and dedication. This man knew next to nothing about healthy eating, and he wasn't afraid to admit it. On the contrary, he brought up every question he could think of -- including plenty that to those of us who grew up learning about the food groups and the need for balanced nutrition, might seem ridiculous. "One of my friends told me that if you drink water right after you eat, your stomach gets fat. Is that right?" he asked. The dietitian patiently explained that no, you can drink water whenever you want to, that it actually helps with digestion. Juan soaked it all up like a sponge.

The dietitian had prepared a week's worth of meal plans for Juan, and we spent a lot of time going over that, as well as determining correct portion size. I reached back into the past, to my high school days, trying to recall all the food vocabulary I'd learned back then. To my (pleasant) surprise, it came back, for the most part.

There was so much information to translate (I kept having to stop the dietitian so I could remember what he had said and make sure to translate it all), so much different vocabulary from what I usually translate in an appointment, so many explanations that I'd never had to make before. But the satisfaction of seeing how much Juan learned, and how excited he was to now have these tools, was so worth it.

I don't know how Juan is doing. Obviously, it's up to him whether he will use the tools he has acquired. But truly, knowledge is power. And I feel so honored that I had even a small part in helping him gain that power.

* Name and some details have been changed to protect patient privacy.

Monday, January 17, 2011


I'm not normally one to endorse particular products or brands. Because as a rule, I hate advertising. So I avoid inflicting it on others.

But when it comes to Apple, I bend my own rules. I write this (and every other) blog post from my trusty MacBook Pro, which I absolutely adore. I own not one, not two, but three iPod devices (a regular iPod, an iPod touch, and an iPhone). And when the iPad 2 release is announced -- rumored to happen this quarter -- I will be first in line to pre-order my own, as I mentioned in a previous post.

Why? Of course there are games, music, movies, all that jazz. But really, and I mean this sincerely, I want to use it as an educational and practical tool. I call it my "iEducation." Let me explain, by way of introducing some of the apps (that's short for "applications," for those of you less familiar with the smart phone and iPad frenzy) I plan to get.

Flashcards++ (Jason Lustig, $3.99)
I already own the iPhone version of this app, and it's fantastic. For anyone who uses flashcards, I highly recommend it. (FYI - there are a bunch of flashcard apps out there, and I combed through them all and decided this was the best for my purposes.) You can make flashcards directly on your iPhone (or iPad). Or you can make them on the Internet (which I find easier) and import them to your Apple device. Then once you've imported the cards, all you do is tap the screen to flip them over. There are study modes and test modes, and the program keeps track of your score (you punch in whether you got the card "right") so you can monitor your study progress. Flashcards++ supports the use of two different flashcard Web sites, www.Quizlet.com and www.Flashcardexchange.com. I've been mostly using Quizlet; I prefer its interface. With Quizlet, for $10 more a year, you can use images on your flashcards -- a feature I've found to be worth its weight in 3x5s. But not only can you make your own flashcards, you can search through literally thousands of other people's flashcards and import them as your own. Everything from art history to biology to French. I personally find that making the flashcards helps me retain the information, but everyone learns differently.

MCAT Review (Watermelon Express, $19.99)
I won't be taking the dreaded MCAT for more than a year. But there's no time like the present to start studying. And while there are better-known MCAT review programs out there -- including one by Kaplan -- this is the highest-rated one, and the one that seems to have the best content. Watermelon Express sells its physics, chemistry, and biology MCAT study apps separately, but if you buy them together in this package, you save $10. Sounds good to me.

Instapaper (Marco Arment, $4.99)
This app allows you to save Web pages -- i.e., newspaper, magazine, or journal articles -- for later (offline) reading. The really cool thing is that it saves them as text pages, which "optimizes for the iPhone and iPad screens," according to the iTunes store site. With all the scientific journal articles I've been reading lately, this would be quite handy.

iAnnotate PDF (Aji, LLC, $9.99)
Speaking of scientific journal articles ... one of the main reasons I want to get an iPad is to that I have a convenient, portable way of reading all those long articles without having to print them out. But I need to be able to highlight them, write notes in the margins, circle important figures, etc. This app allows you to do just that. And it's gotten rave reviews.

(Cocoa Box Design LLC, $0.99)
Handwriting notes on the iPad. How cool is that? Draw pictures, sketches, chemical compounds, whatever. You organize your various pages in "notebooks" of your choosing (infinite notebooks are available). You can also send your pages to anyone in PDF form. Pretty nifty.

Quickoffice Connect Mobile Suite
(Quickoffice, Inc., $14.99)
While I much prefer the Mac OS, let's face it: most documents we use these days are in Microsoft format (Word, Excel, etc.). This app allows you to open, edit, and create those types of documents on the iPad.

dPad HTML Editor (drikin.com, $6.99)
Clearly, I enjoy blogging. But if I could do more with HTML, I could do more with my blog. I'm hoping this app will allow me to do that.

And this is only the beginning ...

P.S. My username on Quizlet.com is "menhenne" if anyone wants to check out my own flashcards. Mitosis, genetics, molecular bonding ... good stuff.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

My Dream Vacation

It was like a two-person game of telephone. You know, the childhood game where one person whispers something in a person's ear ("I ate pizza for dinner") and the next person hears something totally different ("I hate Lisa Windsor") and it gets passed along until the beginning phrase is no longer recognizable. Silliness usually ensues. This time was no different.

My mom and I were talking (and we were actually on the phone). I told her I had been searching for some protein research topic on PubMed (the National Institutes of Health online article database). After I had been talking for a few moments about the articles I found, she burst into laughter.

"I was really confused there for a second," she said. "I thought you said 'Club Med,' not 'PubMed.' "

Tropical cocktail with a 3-D
protein structure as a garnish.
I started laughing too. But then I thought about it. Maybe she had something there. And somehow my dream vacation took form over the phone -- in the union between Club Med and PubMed.

Picture this: a giant cruise ship sailing in the Caribbean. Swimming pools, tennis courts, a fancy restaurant and bar. Stops at various islands for exploring, shopping, hiking, beachcombing, fishing, etc. But this is no ordinary cruise ship, nor an ordinary cruise crowd. On board is a fully equipped, world-class research lab and a mini convention center. Those aboard the cruise are scientists interested in protein research, and they have come together to collaborate on research and present their latest findings at a floating scientific conference.

Since my mom helped me come up with the idea, I wholeheartedly agreed that she could be my "plus-one" at the conference. She said that sounded great, as long as she could bring a drink into the conference room. Fine by me, as long as the drinks have edible 3-dimensional protein conformations as garnishes. And as long as the drinks are named after proteins.

Tom cholinesterase, anyone?

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Top 10 of 2011: Looking Forward

I know, I know -- 2011 has just started. So unless I count things like sleeping and eating, I couldn't come up with a true, best-of, top 10 list for this year yet. That said, I do have a different kind of top 10 list to write about for 2011 -- a list of things I'm looking forward to, as well as some goals. (And I promise, this is my last top 10 list.)

A third drum roll, please ...

Top 10 of 2011: Looking Forward

10. Exploring new music.
Ever since I was a child, I have loved music. Back then, it was mostly classical, oldies, and church hymns; these days I listen more to electronic and industrial rock. I am a bit stuck in a musical rut, however. But with school, I simply don't have time to comb through the (daunting) depths of material out there. That's where my husband, Geoff, comes in. He is a true music aficionado, a lover of jazz, blues, new wave, rock, soul, electronic, dance, you name it. We have dedicated an entire room in our house to his music collection (all in all, a few thousand CDs and LPs) and stereo equipment. So his mission is to help me find some new music. Luckily, he knows very well my tastes, while at the same time knowing how to stretch me and encourage me to listen to things that I might find a bit challenging (but enjoyable in the end). It will be a fun, cultural, enriching, joint project that we will do together, and one that will fill our home with beautiful music.

9. Volunteering with Future Problem Solving.
Talk about a blast from the past. I was involved in Future Problem Solving -- better known to me as simply "FPS" -- when I was in middle school and early high school and living in Tucson, Ariz. Part of my schools' gifted program, FPS is a written, team-based problem-solving competition. I absolutely loved it, and my three teammembers (one of whom I'm still in touch with), and my coach. We won our state competition twice, and did very well at the international competition level (Australia, New Zealand, and Canada also have teams). My coach also took us to Beijing, China, to present the basics of the FPS program to educators at a national Chinese education conference. But back to the present. My old coach recently contacted me and asked if I was interested in being put on the FPS alumni e-mail list. "Why not," I said. A few days ago, I got an e-mail from the FPS program. A wave of nostalgia hit me. And I thought how wonderful it would be to help out in some way. I've gotten in touch with the Illinois FPS director, and hope to get involved (I'm not sure how yet) this year. Go FPS!

8. Keeping the house cleaner.
I will admit: I am not the greatest housekeeper. Not that it's the woman's job to keep the house, of course ... but Geoff does other things, such as taking out the garbage and mowing the lawn. So I take on the laundry and basic housecleaning. And I haven't been keeping up with it lately. It's hard, with school, to get those things done. In terms of priorities, I'll put a physics exam above cleaning the toilet any day. That said, I can't completely ignore the fact that I have a two-story house (three if you count the basement) that needs taken care of. And I rather let it go to seed last semester. I definitely did an early spring cleaning (in December), so it's nice and tidy now. I intend to keep it that way.

7. Cooking more.
Again, it's not the woman's job (entirely) to cook. Geoff and I have always shared this task, thankfully. But last semester, as with the whole cleaning thing, I rather fell off the chuckwagon and Geoff wound up cooking most of the time. Either that, or we wound up eating out. (One of the reasons for #6; see below.) So this semester, I'm stepping up. Not to do it all -- but to do my fair share. Because that's how a marriage works.

6. Getting into better shape.
As I mentioned above in #7, Geoff and I did a bit of eating out (often at our fav local Mexican joint, King Burrito) this last semester / year. Not so good, healthwise. And with a new (and rather grueling) school schedule, I found it hard to fit exercise into my day. So this semester, it's time to start breaking a sweat again, on a regular basis. No excuses.

5. Pre-med: year 2.
I know, I know ... I haven't even finished year 1 yet (haven't even begun the second semester of year 1 yet!). But this fall, I'll be starting year 2, which will bring with it the opportunity to take more advanced classes. I'm especially looking forward to biochemistry, advanced anatomy (with cadaver dissection!!!), and pathophysiology. I can't wait to get beyond the basics. But I know I have to be patient, because it will be worth it.

4. Researching medical schools.
This is something that stresses most pre-meds out. But I can't wait to spend more time (I've already spent some) perusing the MSAR, scouring med schools' Web sites, flipping through brochures, calling admissions offices, visiting campuses ... I find it incredibly exciting to imagine the possibilities. And they are endless.

3. Spring 2011 research seminar with Dr. Kreher.
Last semester, I spent a good amount of time in my bio professor's office. Not because I was struggling in the class -- I finished the semester with above 100% -- but because I enjoyed the material and wanted to ... well ... go beyond what we touched on in the course. I had questions. Lots of them. And I found Dr. Kreher to be a good sounding board, as well as a passionate teacher and researcher. Midway through the semester, he sent me an e-mail inviting me to take another course with him this upcoming semester -- a research seminar course. I was thrilled (and flattered, because I technically hadn't met the pre-requisites), and found a way to work it into my schedule. Thankfully. It's a small class, limited to 10 students, and we will be working with fruit flies, bacteria, genetic sequencing, all kinds of cool stuff. I can't wait.

2. My summer triad.
Yes, this is a rather cryptic heading. But I wanted to mention all three pre-med-related things I hope to do this summer, so I have wrapped them all up into one item here:
- volunteering more at the free clinic as a Spanish medical interpreter
- working at the UIC research lab (and hopefully working on my own project, or at least more independently)
- interning with a physician at a local hospital (part of my post-bac program requirement)

1. Saving up for an iPad (and an iPad bag). 
Am I a techie? I don't know. But I do know that I desperately want the new version of the iPad when it comes out, supposedly this spring (according to rumors circulating the Web). For e-mailing and Web surfing, of course. But also for reading: I would very much like a portable way of reading books and articles, and of carrying them around with me without carrying around a brick-laden backpack. And I've already got an Amazon.com wish list set up of titles that I'm planning to download (eventually). Here are a few of them:
- Nature's Robots: A History of Proteins (it's obvious why I want this one)
- Zeitoun (the relatively new Dave Eggers book)
- Generosity: An Enhancement (by Richard Powers, one of my favorite authors)
- Several Richard Dawkins titles (famous biologist)
As I said in the heading, I'm saving up for this iPad. Which means I'm supposed to spend less between now and then. My iPad is in sight ...

The iPad bag I want, from Etsy.com.
The fabric I want for my iPad bag

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Top 10 of 2010: School's In

OK, so I know I just did a post about my Top 10 of 2010. But that post was about my "personal" life. I've got another top 10 list -- this one is related to school, education, that sort of thing. So here we go again.

Another drum roll please ...

Top 10 of 2010: School's In

10. Being chosen for a faculty assistant position.
About a month into my post-bac program, the director of the post-bac program approached me about coming on as a faculty assistant. There are a number of FA's in the program, and they do things ranging from TA the anatomy course to organize the internship program. Clearly, I'm in no position to TA an anatomy or pathophysiology course. But I do have some skills that the program needed: writing and editing skills.

9. Physics I.
Those of you who keep up with me on Facebook are likely scratching your heads and furrowing your brows at this one. Because throughout the semester, I definitely did my fair share of griping about my physics class. Mostly how difficult the exams were and how impossibly long the lab reports took to write (my record was 18 pages and about 8-10 hours, if I remember correctly). However, that said ... I found physics to be an incredibly valuable experience, all told. Unlike biology and chemistry, much of the material I learned in physics was new to me. And the material that I had touched on in high school physics we took to a whole new level. So I had to work my ass off in this class. I had to ask for help. I had to battle confusion. I had to work problems over and over and over. But in the end, I proved to myself that I could learn something new and challenging and outside of my "comfort zone," so to speak. I gained confidence in my scholastic abilities. FYI, I'm taking physics again next semester. And I say: Bring it on.

8. Caritas et Veritas Symposium.
I like to pretend this symposium was Dominican University's birthday present to me, because it fell directly on my 29th birthday. (Note: I did write a separate post about this symposium. See "Caritas et Veritas: Love and Truth," posted on Oct. 3, 2010.) I was especially intrigued by a literature theory called consilience (the union of science and literature, in short), introduced to me by Dr. Ellen McManus at one of the lectures. I got in touch with Dr. McManus and she recommended two books for me to read on the subject. As I was incredibly busy with school during the semester, I have just now started the first one. But I am already enthralled. I'm sure I will be posting about it as I make my way through the book.

7. OldPreMeds.org.
This online community, of which I am a member, has been a warm, welcoming place -- as well as a great resource. I have met so many wonderful and fascinating people, and learned so much. I have also had the opportunity to share my own knowledge and expertise. In addition, OPM hosts an annual conference -- and last summer it was (fortuitously) held in Chicago. I decided to attend at the last minute, and it was amazing. I met a woman who has turned into a dear friend, I was able to network with all kinds of people (including ADCOMS), and I learned a great deal about the application process and timetable. I can't wait for the 2011 conference.

6. My blog.
Keeping this blog has been so wonderful for me -- a chance to continue writing, a chance to tell my story, a chance to get feedback about what I am doing. Thank you to everyone who is following and reading. I hope you are enjoying yourself.

5. Superb Dominican faculty. 
One of the best things about being at Dominican University is that the class sizes are so small and you can get to know your professors personally. Of course, that would be useless if the professors weren't any good. But my professors have been stellar. Thank you all: Dr. Scannicchio, Dr. Hughes, Dr. Kreher, Dr. Gulley, Dr. Sagerer, Dr. Andrei, and Prof. Buber. Thank you so much for your time, energy, effort, and help throughout the semester.

4. UIC lab research.
Gel electrophoresis equipment
When I decided to embark on the journey toward medical school, I never imagined I would have the opportunity to do research. Thanks to a very generous and helpful fellow UIUC alum (an anesthesiologist), I landed a job (albeit unpaid) as a research assistant at UIC. Those of you who read my posts over the last summer know how much I learned, and how excited I was about this position. It has inspired me to want to do research during my career as a physician (in addition to clinical work). Thanks especially to Olga and Rich Minshall for letting me tag along and soak up so much. And for giving me the chance to come back again in 2011. I can't wait!

3. Volunteering as a Spanish medical translator.
This has been another amazing opportunity, chronicled (again) by a number of blog posts. It has been a chance to really help people, to empower them in their need for health care. And also a chance for me to learn about ambulatory medicine, Spanish medical terminology, and so much more. I look forward to continuing to work there in 2011.

Computer-generated 3-D protein structure
2. Proteins!
No, I'm not talking about a love of steak (although I do love a good filet mignon). I'm talking about the macromolecule. The intricate structure, the precise formation, the functional group interactions, the diverse processes ... I find it all fascinating and amazing. Honestly, I can't wait to take biochemistry and learn more about these little guys. (I know, I'm crazy. I have accepted this fact.)

1. Physician shadowing.
It's one thing to watch "House" or "ER." It's another thing entirely to stand in the hall of the ICU as someone in the room in front of you is about to die. It's another thing entirely to stand in the OR as a surgeon puts a metal pin in someone's broken hand. I have witnessed these things. And I still want to become a physician. In fact, the shadowing I have done -- in anesthesiology and critical care medicine (thus far) -- has only intensified my interest in this career. I plan to spend more time in the hospital in the coming semester, thanks to the generosity of a local ICU director. And when I am a physician, I will return the favor to some budding pre-med student.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Top 10 of 2010: Life As I Know It

The year 2010 was quite a ride. I don't know quite how else to put it. There were ups and downs, there were all-arounds. But I came out on top. With a little help from my friends, as the Beatles would say.

I've also got lots of pictures to share, so hopefully this will be a fun post (visually speaking).

Drum roll please ...

Top 10 of 2010: Life As I Know It

10. A good year for art.
My art, that is. I sold more than usual, especially during the holiday season, including several whopping orders from one woman who bought more than 25 beaded spoons throughout fall and winter! She told me one even made it to Okinawa, Japan, to a military family. So apparently I've gone international. Pretty cool. Here are some pics of newer pieces:


The old blue-and-yellow front porch

9. Painting our front porch. Finally.
When we moved into our house, our hideously-painted front porch (bright yellow and blue -- think IKEA colors) was the first thing I planned to change. Six years later, I had managed to completely redo the inside of the house, but the front porch stood only half-primed. But we found a good handy-man who finished the job, and it looks beautiful now. What a relief!

8. Nine Inch Nails.
NIN's show at Northerly Island
It might seem funny to list a now-defunct band as a top-10 item. But there are two reasons for NIN (my favorite group of all time) to make it on this list, specifically this year:
1) They had a fantastic farewell tour, which Geoff and I saw. The last Chicago show (held on Northerly Island) included performances of rare Downward Spiral material we had never heard live before. I was especially excited to hear "Ruiner."

2) Founder Trent Reznor continues to be active in the music scene, having formed a new band called How To Destroy Angels with his wife. And it totally rocks. So while we wave goodbye to NIN, we welcome a new incarnation of Reznor's music. And so all is well.

2010 Stanley Cup-Winning Blackhawks

7. Blackhawks Winning the Stanley Cup. 
OK, I'll admit. I'm not a huge sports fan. But I'm a sucker for hockey. And of course, as a near-lifelong Chi-towner, that means I'm a Chicago Blackhawks fan. And for the first time in 49 years, the Blackhaws won the Stanley Cup -- the World Series of hockey. I don't get cable at my house, but luckily both my parents do, so we had multiple playoff game viewing parties. ONE GOAL!

Abby, Cheryl, and Lorien

6. Great friends, old and new.

Nephew Jackson and brother-in-law Dan

5. Seeing my "in-loves" (aka in-laws) for Christmas.
It was so wonderful to see Wendy, Geord, Lindsay, Dan, Kyle, and Sarah again -- after an entire year. And to meet my little nephew, Jackson, for the first time!

Lindsay and Jackson

Wendy, Jackson, and Geoff

Geord and Jackson

Sarah and Kyle

4. Family support & proximity.

Sister Sarah

Sister Joy
I feel lucky that my family lives within a short drive. I am thankful for their support and companionship. Specifically: My near-daily 6 a.m. conversations with Mom (usually in Spanish); "sister sleepovers" with Sarah; sharing vintage clothes and jewelry with Joy; and Blackhawks games and home improvement projects with Dad.

Lorien & Mom at Mt. Kilauea
3. Trip to Hawaii With Mom. How could going to Hawaii not make it on my Top 10 list?! But going with Mom made it all the more special. We had quite an adventurous time, from snorkeling (several times during the day, and once at night to see giant manta rays), to hiking around Kilauea, to visiting a seahorse hatchery, to strolls through a tropical botanical garden. Here are a few photos from our trip:

An orchid
Lobster Claw heliconia

A waterfall we saw
on our birdwatching trip

The View from our condo

Mt. Kilauea fuming

No more credit card debt!

Geoff's 2006 Hyundai Elantra

2. Family generosity. 
Let's face it. As a one-income family with a mortgage that we took on when we were a two-income family, we're not in the greatest of financial situations. Add to that some accumulated credit card debt (like most of middle-class America). Add to that a year-and-a-half of my being unemployed. Add to that both Geoff's and my cars going kaput within 48 hours of each other this fall. We were in dire straits. But some very generous (although not so wealthy themselves) family members totally came to our rescue in helping us to pay down that credit card debt and make down payments on not one, but two very nice and longlasting cars. (Geoff got a 2006 Hyundai Elantra; I got a 2008 Honda Civic.) I don't know what we would have done otherwise. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

My 2008 Honda Civic 

Geoff & Lorien on New Year's Day, 2011
1. Geoff (my husband).
I would not, could not, be doing this without him and his support. Financial support (he continues to work full time while I go to school), emotional support (hugs when I get frustrated), you name it. This has not been easy, and will not be easy in the future. But he is behind me. One of the great things that I especially appreciate is his listening ear. I tend to get really excited about things (like proteins), and I want to share that with someone. Geoff has been incredibly patient with me in listening to my (sometimes lengthy) stories and explanations of what I am doing at school, at the clinic, and so on. Thank you, my love.