HIYOH & the First Month of Dental School

Back in May of this year I started planning my first real hiking trip: a three day trek on the Appalachian Trail (which then became a three day hike on the North Country Trail). In my quest for knowledge of all things hiking and backpacking related I joined a couple of Facebook groups for women who hike; they were a little intense but quite helpful and interesting. One of the phrases I heard quite often in these groups was “hike your own hike”. It was repeated as a kind of hiking mantra or motto.  But it seems a little obvious right? Everyone is one their own journey and moves at their own pace and all that. Yeah yeah. Blah blah whatever.

Months later, in August, as I was running a trail half marathon with little to no training that phrase popped back into my head: hike your own hike.

It occurred to me that the same holds true for running: you are running your race and no one else’s (even when you’re running with or right next to them). That aspect of personal improvement and competition with yourself is something I’ve always loved about running. And at that moment I was on track to run the worst (time-wise) half marathon I’ve done to date but I actually felt proud of myself, like I was doing okay. I was running my own race and I was killing it (compared to myself and my expectations for myself). My sister died in early June, barely two months prior; it put my summer off to a bad start. After that I had a couple weeks of bare minimum levels of functioning. Then my work schedule got crazy (partially to accommodate some of the time off I needed to be with my family); I was working a few nights in a row and then having a few days to function as a normal person. Up and down, back and forth, awake for 24 hours straight then trying to sleep during the day but also trying to not waste the time I could/should be spending with my kids. The thing about working nights is that messes with your body beyond the exhaustion part of it, going back and forth between being awake all night and trying to function during the day multiplies those negative effects.

SO there I was on the morning of August 4th (which, fun fact, happens to be my former wedding anniversary) running slowly through some random woods in Michigan as the day got hotter and more humid by the minute feeling not too bad about myself and my race. I definitely wasn’t winning any awards on this one but, considering the circumstances and the challenges I’d faced, that was okay. I was running MY race; my unique life experiences had brought me to that place and were a part of the accomplishments of the day. No one else was dealing with exactly the same things I was so maybe even if they were faster it wasn’t a big deal; we were playing with different decks. (Then again maybe it was an even bigger feat. Who knows what personal struggles brought them to that moment of their lives.)

Fast forward another few months (okay, two) and here I am, not running or hiking much but I’m finally starting to grasp the full meaning of “hiking my own hike”.

I started dental school this fall. The average age of my class is 24. There are a handful of people who are turning 21 this year. Most of the others are 22 or 23. I am not; I’m a non-traditional student. A really non-traditional student. I’m 38, a single/divorced mom with five kids, the oldest of them just a couple years younger than some of my classmates.

We have very different lives, my classmates and I. There are a few who are 30 or close to it and a couple who are married. Pretty sure I’m the only one with kids. I’m one hundred percent sure that I’m the only one in my class with five kids. But right now (and for the next three and a half years), these are my peers. These are the only other people in my life who really understand the demands and expectations I’m dealing with.

Dental school is Crazy; the course load is insane! (22 credits this semester) And it’s literally a complete reversal of what my schedule has been for the past seven years. I’m awake by 5:30 every morning (some days closer to 4) and out the door by 6:15 (okay, 6:30 the weeks my kids are home). I spend two and a half to three hours a day commuting to school. Two days a week we have roughly five hours of heavy science lectures (and a couple others) in the same classroom. It’s hard.

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Balancing dental school and family life…it’s messy sometimes.

But I expected that. It’s dental school, it’s supposed to be hard. (If it was easy everyone would do it.) The one thing I didn’t anticipate is how isolated and lonely I feel some days. Dental school, like nursing school or any other set program, is one of the few times in your adult life you are surrounded by people going through the exact same thing as you. Typically that produces some deep-seated friendships and a strong sense of camaraderie among classmates. And I do feel some air of community with my classmates but often I’m set apart by the differences between their day-to-day and mine. It’s been taking a minute to get used to.

Much like the race, different circumstances and life experiences brought everyone to this place. While we are (according to the school) all high achieving and highly qualified individuals we did not go through the same process to get there. We are not all dealing with the same challenges and struggles as we adapt to dental school either; some of us have trained more than others. While I’ve been struggling to find my place socially, I’m finding that my crazy life experiences have prepared me for dental school in ways I could not have imagined. I’m used to juggling a wide variety of demands and having very little free time. I know how to prioritize things when everything id SO important but you just don’t have time to do it all. And functioning optimally on little sleep has been my way if life for a while. Heck, I’m less tired than I’ve been in years because now the five hours of sleep I’m getting is actually at night. (Sleeping at night is AMAZING, y’all!)

Yeah sure, it’s been ten years since I took anatomy and I don’t remember the enzymes of the TCA cycle or glycolysis but my other life skills are coming in pretty handy.

We’ve all got different tools, strengths, and skills and we’re all out there using them to get where we need to be. I guess that’s what hiking your own hike is about.

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It’s that time again….I love a good New Year’s Resolution

I say it every year (2014, 2015, 2016 & 2017) and I’ll say it again, I love a new year’s resolution. I love the fresh start even if it’s just because the calendar is turning over.

Last year, 2016, was a maintaining year with no big changes. That was not the case for 2017. In April I graduated from nursing school and in July I left my job of seven years and started a new nursing job.

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It was so exciting to graduate and pass the NCLEX. However, I took a hospital job and I really don’t like it. I never enjoyed the hospital during clinical and I really dislike it on a regular basis.

Resolution #1: Get a new nursing job. Preferably one without a midnight shift and not in a hospital. After years of a messed up schedule- night shifts, weekends and everything in between, I’m really looking for something consistent and normal.

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Along with the change in jobs and the end of school I now have time. It was pretty elusive in 2016 but all of sudden I actually have downtime. I haven’t really made good use of it either. It’s time to get some other areas of my life together. Especially if, as a nurse, I’m going to be preaching self-care and healthy living, it’s time to take my own advice.

Resolution #2: Lose 50 pounds. With diet and exercise, of course.

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You know, the normal ones that everyone makes.

#3: Try some new hobbies. – I’m taking a photography class in January for six weeks with a DSLR camera. I’m interested to try my hand at something new. New hobbies might including cooking too. I’ve been watching a lot of Top Chef lately. Those meals and ingredients are amazing. It’d be interesting to learn just a little of that.

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I think those are it. They seem big enough to tackle for the year.

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Time After Nursing School….the Black Dog

Recently I was grumbling to my co-blogger about my job and, well, life in general. I was noticing a trend of procrastination and, let’s be honest, downright laziness. I’d work my three days a week, perk of nursing schedule, and then do nothing on my days off. Maybe not quite nothing- I’d have lunch with friends I’d been neglecting during school or do some general shopping but that was it. I have a rotating schedule, so a day right after night shift that’s completely acceptable but the rest of the time…it just wasn’t okay anymore. As I was grumbling that it had been six months since graduation and I didn’t have my shit together my co-blogger introduced to the concept of the Black Dog. Essentially I’d been having a really long “now what?” period in my life.

Now what? I have all this time that I didn’t have before. I just couldn’t figure out what to do with it.

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And on top of that I didn’t want to do anything. I didn’t want to crochet. I didn’t want to bake. I didn’t want to blog or start home projects. I was in a slump. A quality six month slump.

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The solution? Advice from my co-blogger was essentially fake it until you make it. That’s advice I’m actually a big believer in. I think she told me to “just start doing stuff.” So I did.

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Transition Time, Again

I’ve been away from the blog for quite some time. My co-blogger has been holding down the fort – that’s why there are two of us I suppose. It’s been a busy few months with the completion of nursing school, graduation, and taking of the NCLEX. Now that all those things are done and I secured a real nursing job it’s time for change. Big serious change, again.

A little less than six years ago I left a dead-end rather toxic work environment that I had been at, stagnantly, for seven years. During those seven years I played around with going back to school but it never really took. I tried early childhood classes, accounting (a hard no, that subject), and looked into several Master’s programs without ever finding something commitment worthy. I was stagnant. Until I got a new job – the midnight position where I met my lovely co-blogger – and things began to change. I had momentum again. That transition shook up my world. All of a sudden it became easier to make other changes. I altered one thing, threw my world into transition, and all of sudden there was movement. Then making changes began to get easier. I researched additional schooling, debating OT and nursing, and started taking classes.

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A few years later, here I am, a nursing grad and starting a new job again. It’s back to a big transition.

How do I tell my story in 4500 characters or less?

That is the question I’m struggling with this week. How do I take all that I am, all that I am capable of and all that I’ve struggled with to get where I am, and sum it up professionally and concisely? How do I stand out and make them want me in their program? know I’m pretty damn awesome and I’m almost certain that they would too if they just talked with me for a few moments. That’s not how it works though. Those aren’t the hoops and the choice is jump or don’t. Don’t isn’t an option; that’s already been determined. And so the pressure is on as I attempt to put pen to paper (figuratively of course as no one actually writes anymore) and tell my own version of the hero’s journey in 4500 characters, including spaces, or less.

As a side note, on top of the usual craziness of my rock n’roll  single parent lifestyle I’ve been trying to get my dental school application around (including retaking the super stressful and intimidating DAT) to reapply. It’s all coming to a head over the next two weeks. Regular blogging will commence after this ginormous task at hand is complete. (Okay, semi-regular at best.)

Graduation: It’s kind of a big deal.

Today is my would-be graduation day. Scratch that. Today IS my graduation day. I’m not going to graduation (because it’s too damn expensive and my kids are at their dad’s this weekend anyway) but it is still my graduation day.

College, bitches, I did it!

As of Thursday afternoon when I handed my completed final to the professor and walked out of my last undergraduate class, I have completed my bachelor’s degree. Logistically I may need to check on the status of a form and complete my loan “exit counseling” to actually get the piece of paper but all the real stuff, the classes and course content, that’s done.

I can now say that I’ve got a B.S. in General Biochemistry.

I’m not sure how this changes anything or what it really means for my family and our quality of life but, regardless of what may or may not happen now, I am super fucking proud of myself! I understand that getting my degree is not some magic pass to a better life; I get that nothing changes now unless I work hard to make it change. (I’m a single parent running a one adult household so that’s pretty much the story of my life. The wheels don’t turn themselves, something has to drive them. I get it!) But, still, graduating from college is a big deal. At least for me it is; it’s been a long road and I worked hard for this!

I didn’t realize how I felt about graduating until I was leaving my final on Thursday. All week I was oddly emotional and off kilter. I blamed stress, hormones, and lack of sleep. The usual suspects. But as I walked out of class and down those five flights of stairs I was overwhelmed with a sense of pride, a feeling of accomplishment, and a little bit of that “Oh shit what now” fear. Emotions, strong ones but mostly good.  glass case of emotions

As usual they took me by surprise. Before that point I thought that finishing, graduating, was just kind of…meh. I mean, (hopefully) this isn’t the end of my education and I’m not taking part in all the pomp & circumstance, no cap and gown for this girl, so it’s just a box checked off this list of things I need to do to get to the big thing I want to be doing (Hello Dental School!) I’ve been downplaying this and not even realizing I was doing it; I’ve failed to acknowledge that graduating really is an accomplishment. It’s also a big status change for me. I’m no longer a student. I no longer have to check the “some college” box under educational status.

With finishing my bachelor’s degree I accomplished a long term goal and that is something to celebrate. I worked hard to do this thing and I did it well. So while my eyes are still trained on what’s yet to come and there is no time to take a break if I’m going to do the next hard thing and keep propelling my life forward, I’m going to revel in my accomplishments and be unabashedly proud of myself this weekend.

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Holiday Baking (despite the craziness)

This weekend, my weekend with the kids and a holiday weekend, we’ve done yard work, had a family outing to an old school arcade, colored Easter eggs, baked (Well, I  baked, the kids not so much.), did the Easter basket tradition, and are about to attend Mass and head to a big family dinner. Yet it somehow feels like I haven’t accomplished enough. Final exams loom, I’m about to graduate with my bachelor’s degree in biochemistry…but I’ve got one more lab write up, a homework assignment, and a final to get through first. That’s the cloud that hangs low and heavy over this weekend. (And my fairly legitimate excuse for the terribly infrequent postings around here.)

Balancing working enough to support my household of six, meeting ALL the needs, and giving time and attention to my classwork is a massive challenge, one that requires constant focus and re-calibration. Somehow I’ve gotten this far and done decently well at it. Most the time. Sometimes it makes me a less than enthusiastic parent. I’m not fostering the pre-holiday excitement or planning fancy coordinated outfits for my five  (not so) small ones like I once was. But there is one holiday tradition I’ve managed to maintain, one of my favorites, the holiday baking.

I know it seems like baking holiday treats is something I do for others…It’s not. Don’t be fooled. It’s a totally selfish thing I do. I bake what like for holidays and don’t do other things so I can get the baking I want to do done. Baking has always been a comfort thing for me. It’s a soothing ritual when I’m stressed or upset and a productive distraction when I’m bored or anxious. I think this (past) weekend I was all of the above. So I baked.

This year the emergent theme of my holiday baking was fruits and vegetables. Don’t worry though, it wasn’t healthy. I made pineapple upside down cake, carrot cake, and that blueberry cheesecake from last Easter.

Pineapple upside down cake is one of my mom’s classics. She makes it in a cast iron pan with this amazing gooey brown sugar goodness crystallized on top just under a layer of juicy baked pineapple rings. My mom usually makes this at Easter but decided we probably had enough desserts without it this year. I noticed fresh pineapples on sale on one of my many weekly grocery store runs and had seen a bundt cake pan version of the old cast iron classic that I wanted to try. And thus pineapple upside down cake was added to my baking list.  Like I said, this is selfish baking here!

Having never made my mom’s version of the cake I’m not sure how close this one was but I used a recipe found online. The melted butter and brown sugar went into the bundt pan first and then pineapple slices and cherries (which my mom never used). The cake batter gets poured over that, it’s all baked, and then flipped out. Easy peasy!

No really, this was quite easy to make. I’d recommend it. The only changes I made to the recipe were using fresh pineapple which I mashed up real good and, because I was concerned about the moisture level of the batter, an added splash of rum. I only had coconut oil on hand so rum seemed like a good balancing liquid. One of my sisters commented that the cake had a vague pina colada taste….maybe next year I’ll be sharing my magical upside down pina colada cake recipe with you all. We’ll see. 😉

Unlike pineapple upside down cake, carrot cake is one of my favorite desserts to make (and to eat too). I started making it back in my early twenties when I was married. And, actually, carrot cake is responsible for my cheesecake baking obsession too.

My ex-husband’s birthday is in December. The first year we were married I wanted to do something fun and special for his birthday. I got tickets to a Piston’s game and planned to make his favorite dessert…but I didn’t know what that was so in the weeks leading up to his birthday I asked what kind of cake was his favorite. I swear he said cheesecake. Swear it! I had never made one before but had seen my mom make a classic New York cheesecake every year at Christmas for as long as I could remember. It never looked that hard. So I pulled out a cookbook, scanned the recipe, bought ingredients, and started a cheesecake a half hour or so before we had to leave for the game. I thought I could just whip it up and bake it real quick before we left so it would be cooled and ready to eat when we got home. It was going to be great and he was going to love it!

Except it takes way longer than half an hour to bake a cheesecake. Apparently my reading ahead and planning skills were even worse when I was 20 than they are now.

The result was a soupy mess of a cheesecake AND then, come to find out, my then new husband didn’t even like cheesecake very mush. He says he told me carrot cake was his favorite. There is no way he said carrot cake. Maybe he meant carrot cake but he said cheesecake. After that fiasco I decided I was going to master the art of cheesecakes. I’ve made many successful cheesecakes over the past sixteen years. I think I’ve succeeded. At some point after that I got a great carrot cake recipe from a co-worker and got pretty good at that too.

 

I consider it a win-win…at least as far as desserts are concerned.

 

As for the aforementioned blueberry cheesecake, I used the same recipe as last year because, despite my poor judgement on ingredient substitution, it really was a good recipe. This time I still didn’t find friache but I did use a better quality substitute: plain Fage Greek yogurt. It’s rich and creamy with a slightly sour taste and none of that cheap vanilla Greek yogurt overpowering after taste. It was super yum!

 

Oh, and I did get all my kids to dress up even if they weren’t in coordinated outfits. With a group of mostly teenagers that’s as good as it gets.