Thursday, August 27, 2015

Currently Reading | August

100,000 Hearts by Denton Cooley
Memoir of Denton Cooley, pioneer in cardiovascular surgery. This guy. Wow. He invented one of the first heart lung machines, designed a heart valve better than any available at the time, performed the first heart transplant in the U.S., developed improved aneurysm repair techniques and performed the first artificial heart transplant. So yeah. Pretty knock-your-socks-off awesome. Great science but easy to read for us novices. I am very grateful, unlike some memoirs (I'm looking at you, Mr. Clinton), Dr. Colley's background and childhood are briefly covered but the primary focus is on his accomplishments. Let's be honest: when you read a book by a brilliant heart surgeon you want to hear about heart surgery, not fifty chapters of childhood memories. Well done, Dr. Cooley. You can cut and write.

The Soul of a Doctor by Susan Pories
This book is a collection of essays written by Harvard medical students. Focusing on the experiences that influences them the most on their journeys to becoming doctors it definitely offers some unique insight into the emotional changes medical students experiences. In the afterword there is a brief synopsis of each author...so neat to see what kind of doctors they became after getting a peek into their minds.

In Stitches by Anthony Youn 
Okay, so maybe I profiled a little when I found out Dr. Youn is plastic surgeon and TV doc. I expected shallow, false...I was wrong. As he chronicles his journey through medical school Dr. Youn is very honest and real about just how human he is. Refreshing. I loved reading about his family dynamics and how his father, who some might consider stern to a fault, was one of his greatest influences.

The Devil's Cave, The Resistance Man and The Children Return by Martin Walker
The last three books in the Bruno, Chief of Police series and YES I do feel proud of myself for finishing AN ENTIRE SERIES in one summer. The Devil's Cave lacked the charm of the other books...sexual crimes and the occult...not the light, French countryside I love about this series. The Resistance Man was just okay and The Children Return, again, not the quaint stories I've come to expect. Disappointing but I'm not going to let that rain on my series finishing parade.

In ten days I leave town for four weeks so I would love some suggestions for beach reading! What books would you pack for vacation?

Friday, August 14, 2015

The Sanctity of Death

I have never cried at a funeral. I used to think this was because I had never experienced the death of someone close enough to feel the loss that deeply. Last summer my dear friend and adopted grandmother passed away. None of my biological grandmothers are involved in my life so I thought the pain would be acute. But three times she had battled breast cancer and three times she had survived and thrived. Her body was weak. Her mind was failing. She had lived a full and influential life. I miss having her in my life. But her death -the end of suffering- was a relief.

Now another friend is facing terminal cancer. He has had many wonderful months since his diagnosis but in the past few weeks his body is giving up more and more. We have said goodbye and are waiting for the news of his death. When the news arrives, once again, it will be a relief. He will again be lucid and pain free.

My adopted grandmother died surrounded by her family. Her children had respected her throughout her life and as she aged and they took charge of her care they always honored her wished above all. Even when they disagreed on what was best for her they recognized it was her decision to make.

On his deathbed this friend of my family is being cared for by the children who for many years were estranged. From the beginning of his treatment he has been very adamant about wanting to be medicated as little as possible. He does not like the way the drugs make him feel and wants to be fully present for his final days. He is dying. The drugs are not healing him, they simply mask his pain. He would rather feel the pain than feel the emptiness. But he values peace with his children above his preference and has deferred to them. His children no doubt love him and want the best for him but they have not respected his decision.

Do we take away the sanctity of death -of life itself- when without cause for hope of improvement we interfere with the course of nature? The family has an opinion. The health care providers have opinions. We as a society have an opinion about the right and wrong way to die. But do we have the right to have an opinion? In India the greatest blessing a person can receive is the blessing of an elder. Does our disrespect for the decisions of our passing elders take from us that blessing?

Is it right to, against their will, rob the lucidity of a person's final moments in the name of comfort? To what point should we help the inevitable come quickly and comfortably? Is dignity in death even possible?

As a daughter who one day will make decisions for my parents...as an individual aspiring to a profession that gives care in the final moments...I ponder these questions. I suspect I will never know the answers. Perhaps it isn't for me to know but just trust that what will be will be and when the time come God will give the wisdom and grace to do what is right.

I don't know. I wish death was black and white. I wish there was a clear right and wrong. But there isn't. So we ponder. We accept. We give dignity. We comfort. We respect.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Top Three | Summer Style Helps

I am not, nor will I ever be, a fashion blogger. Partially because I just don't have what it takes but mostly because fashion is not my main style priority. I'm concerned with looking neat and put together while staying comfortable and quite often that overlaps with the world of fashion. Elegance, Class and The Pursuit of Comfort. Pretty much sums up my style mantra.

Is there a greater challenge to staying stylish than the heat and humidity? I know it's late to be posting about summer but I've had this post on the back burner since May and here in Maryland we have another month of heat and humidity. So bear with me as I share my top three hot weather helpers.

AG Re: Coil
If you are a fellow curly head you know the love/hate relationship that is having curly hair. During the summer it's all hate. At just the slightest mention of humidity you can forget the curls...all you have is frizz. And heat=sweat=daily hair washing and we all know how much curls love that. (Read the sarcasm.) Thankfully we need not despair. There is Re: Coil by AG. I have used so many curl creams over the years and none have ever come close to this level of amazing. It keeps my curls light and lovely even in the heat. After showering I just scrunch a dollop in my hair, blow dry my bangs (if I'm not feeling too lazy) and I'm good to go. Five minutes to awesome. It doesn't get any better.

Linen Pants
I don't have good sundress or shorts legs and I don't like jeans in the summer. Linen pants have been a lifesaver. Yes, they are pretty much glorified yoga pants. But guys, they are so. comfortable. And with well selected shoes and accessories you can channel Palm Beach instead of pajama party. My very favorite pair are from Forever21 but, sadly, they are no longer available. Old Navy's linen pants are a close second. While not linen, they are loose and comfortable so I think these awesome Old Navy pineapple pants deserve a mention as well. Pair with a cami or two and cute sandals. Summer comfort perfection.

Powder Foundation
Powder foundation is awesome for touching up melting makeup and quickly covering blemishes when you don't feel like doing a complete makeup job. I went through several brands before finding one that doesn't irritate my acne. Physicians formula powder foundation has been wonderful and I love that it is SPF50.

and as a bonus...

Because I'm kinda obsessed about sunscreen (I blame the scary skin cancer posters in my dermatologist's office) I can't recommend enough Hawaiian Tropics sunscreen. It smells amazing. I mean how many sunscreens can you love for the smell? Plus it always leaves my skin feeling moisturized instead of greasy and heavy.

What are your summer style tricks?

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Big Family Post

Anyone else get soap opera cast from this picture or is it just me? Photo credit to the oh so talented Susan Schmidt.
Frequently I receive big family related questions. "Did you like growing up in a big family?" "Have you ever wished you were an only child?" "Do you want a big family of your own someday?" It's never really been a topic here on the blog for no reason except it never seemed relevant. But today I'm here with all the answers to your big family questions, to satisfy your curiosity and hopefully dispel some myths along the way.

A few things I would like to clarify before we delve in...

-I believe growing up in a larger-than-typical family is a great experience and really one of the best things my parents have done for me. I love my siblings and wouldn't want to live my life without any one of them. So of course I like being a part of a big family because there isn't a sibling I would want to wish out of existence. 

-In this post a large family will be any family of five or more children from a traditional (two parents, biological children) or non-traditional (multiple marriages, adoption, etc.) family. There is no rhyme or reason behind the number five except five seems big.

-When big family parenting is done right it can be one of the best things to happen to a kid. But not all parents do it right and I acknowledge it is not the best option for every family. There are children who have been hurt because their parents had a poor approach...although parents who are going to screw up their kids would probably screw up their kids regardless of the number of kids.

That being said...

There are unique challenges that come along with the benefits of big family life and I want to be honest and realistic. 

My mother makes a habit of occasionally asking my siblings and I what we like/dislike about our family and what we would change if we could. FYI: this is a great parenting practice. We are not a perfect family but we're pretty close. (JK...sorta.) We have our issues but the only thing I dislike about the number of people in my family is the lack of storage (but really closet space) and constant need to rearrange and organize. But that really has nothing to do with a big family and everything to do with our small house. (Which we love and are sad to be adding onto soon because, while there will be more closet space, we love our little house just as it is and closet space isn't everything.) And while constantly re-organizing is a pain it encourages me to get rid of the excess so it's not all bad.

In all seriousness, the one aspect of being a big family I could really live without is the age gaps between my siblings and I. My older sister is 23 and my baby brother is 2. That's a pretty big gap. It makes me sad that we didn't all do childhood together and it makes me sad that as I move on with my life I will miss out on parts of the little ones childhood. With my littlest siblings more often than not I feel more like an aunt than sister. But the age gap is not all bad! I love observing my little siblings and being able to enjoy their newborn and toddler stages and help with their upbringing. It truly is a unique experience and I have learned so much about children and human nature in general from watching them grow.

The most frustrating challenge comes not from my family itself but from people's perception of big families. There is a common idea among the world in general that kids of big families are screwed up by virtue of the fact that they are from a big family. Intending to be kind, a friend once said how surprised they were after getting to know us just how normal we were. That stung just a tad. At one point they thought we somehow damaged merely because the size of our family. Whenever we as a family go somewhere together people will point, stare, count kids and ask rude questions. Often in a restaurant people will interrupt their meal and move to a table farther from the big family. Few friends are brave enough to invite my entire family to their house. And for some reason people feel the need to bring the Duggars into every. single. conversation. For the love of all things sacred, stop comparing us to the Duggars. We do not know the Duggars, we do not watch their show, and we strongly disagree with many of their family's choices.

But then again...when has it ever mattered what people think?

Children (usually teens) have confided how much they wish they were an only child. I think they expect sympathy. My advice: suck it up and deal with it. It's not your decision how many siblings you have. As the procreators and bread winners it's your parents call to make. You can't control your situation but you can control your attitude and it's attitude, not situation, that determines your happiness. You can embrace the family you've been give or be miserable. It's your choice.

Do I want a big family of my own? Honestly, I haven't given it enough thought to know yet. Not being in a position to be a parent right now it's not a decision I should be making. I will say, if I ever sided against having a larger-than-typical family it would not be because I have been burned by my experience but because I realize the really amazing sort of parent it takes to raise a large family well. And I strongly disapprove of parents who have a large number of children out of a sense of religious or social obligation and spend their parenting years in bitterness and resentment, failing to properly treasure their children.  

I hope this has helped demystify big families for you! Most importantly, I hope you will realize that the size of a family is a small fraction of the many factors that make a family. My family is unique and wonderful and I am grateful to be a part. I love our many inside jokes, how we always manage to find our own happiness wherever we land, how we understand each other like no one not-a-Wachter could ever understand, how we will give or do anything for each other, how we stick up for each other even when someone is being a jerk and, yes, I love that there are eight people in the world who share my life and DNA.

If you grew up in a big family I would love to hear your take on it! As always I welcome your questions and comments and encourage you to speak openly. I don't offend easily and appreciate frankness. 

Monday, August 3, 2015

Top Three | Summer Coffee

I believe strongly in keeping things seasonal. Weather, clothes, activities...there is a time for everything. Even coffee. In fall you have your pumpkin and cinnamon, in winter the peppermint and caramel but in summer it's all about the sugar. Kidding. Sorta. 

Now, I like my frappuccinos as much as the next guy but they did not rank in the top three coffees of summer...sorry and please don't hate me frappi fans! These three made it because they are simple, unique, completley delicous and, of course, scream pool side sipping. Over the summer months I typically start the day with a hot coffee (French press or espresso with a little half and half), have an iced coffee in the late morning, one of the first two coffees below in the afternoon and a black espresso after dinner. 

Coffee Concentrate
The name does not begin to explain the delight of this drink but, for lack of a better name, coffee concentrate it is. This recipe originated from a really amazing coffee icecream recipe. So it's pretty much like drinking icecream. How cool is that? In a sauce pan combine 1.5 cups very finely ground coffee, 1 cup sugar, 4 cups milk, 4 cups half and half and 1 tablespoon vanilla. Heat on your stove's lowest setting being very careful not to boil until the milk starts to steam. Remove from heat and let sit until cool. Strain and chill in fridge. Serve over LOTS of ice. Alternatively, you can blend with a few icecubes and serve with whipped cream for a more frappuccion esque drink. I shutter to think what the calorie count of this might be. But because it's so rich I only drink a very small serving and try to limit myself to one of two cups a week...depending on my self control. 

Coffee Cocktail 
Breakfast + coffee cocktail + poolside = little bit of paradise.  In a cocktail shaker, shake for 1-2 miutes 2 parts very strong iced coffee to 1 part vanilla syrup (I like Starbucks vanilla syrup). Serve over ice. If you do it right, there will be a nice thick layer of foam and your arm will be sore for several days. Take a few ibuprofen and deal with it because it's so worth it!

Cold Brew
I know, I know. I'm two years late on the cold brew trend. In my defense, Starbucks just hopped on the cold brew wagon so it's not completely blase yet. For this recipe you've gotta start with a really good coffee bean. My family loves The Bean Coffee Company's organic coffees. (And, yes, we do buy the five pound bag.) To 1 gallon of cold water add 4 cups finely ground coffee and let set 12 hours. Strain through a reusable coffee filter (we've used this one for years), chill and enjoy over ice. (I like mine in a straw cup with a splash of half and half.) 

How are you drinking coffee this summer?