5 Years of Technology in 5 Minutes – my first smart phone

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Until a week ago, this was my phone.*

I’ve had this phone for five years, and it doesn’t connect to the internet, it doesn’t have email, it doesn’t do group texts and the photos it takes appear the size of a postage stamp before they become blurry.  But back when I got this phone, before smart phones were everywhere, I liked it.  It did everything I thought a phone needed to do; call and text.

Fast forward half a decade and smart phones are the norm. Call it invention being the mother of necessity, but it began to feel like not having a smart phone was actually having repercussions on my abilities to socialize and work.  Someone would send me an email and I would get it four hours later when I was back at the office.  If I was heading out to a meeting I quickly did a map search of the location so I could find my way there. My friends would make dinner plans by having a lengthy text battle in group message format to ascertain the where’s, the when’s and the who’s.  My strategy for this one was to wait out blank message after blank message until the torrent subsided and I could ask one friend where we were meeting.  It’s like everyone else was Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Watson, while I was still saying “Hey guys, what’s so wrong with the telegraph?”

So, after months (maybe years) of going month to month on my little Neon, I decided it was probably about time to update myself.  I went to the (insert cell phone carrier name here) store in the mall.  Why not buy online you say?  Well, because it took me until 2014 to get a smart phone - do I seem like the kind of girl who can jump right to the online ordering and registering of my new technology?! Anyways, I went to the store. The salesman was friendly, although he did call his fellow salesmen over to look at my phone, like I was on an episode of Antiques Road Show. “Larry come over here, she has one of the old green neon LG’s. I haven’t seen one of these in ages!”

It is a great jump to go from the technology of five or so years ago, to today.  The greatest leaps for me are the gps and the messaging.  Every app that I download wants to know my location.  If I’m buying shoes online, does the internet really need to know that I’m across town at a coffee shop and not in my apartment?  However, getting places is much easier with a little voice from the passenger seat prompting  “turn left in 900 feet.”  I can check the news whenever I want, my calendar sends updates to my email – these are all new things for me! But as for candy crush … I just don’t get it.

I was not fighting the new phone for any sentimental reason or because I don’t like technology  in general (to the contrary, everything else I have is pretty up to date), it just seemed silly to get rid of a phone that worked.  The problem is that what works in 2009 may not work in 2014, simply because everyone has moved forward in their communication methods.  The new technology becomes part of how we relate to each other. It is not only about being able to group message all my friends a photo of my cat at once.  It’s about communicating in a timely manner.  Years ago, someone sent you a letter and it travelled by mail to your door. Then you read it, wrote a reply and it travelled back to your friend or colleague.  With email and laptops that exchange was collapsed into a few hours. Now, the expected return time on a message or email is much shorter, given that you can receive an email anywhere.  I’m not saying that you have to respond to all communications right away, just that I’m happy I now have the option.

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*I know that having any phone is a privilege that I am afforded because I live in a country with cell reception, I have a good job, and I can afford it.  This post is not about having an expensive phone as a marker of status, it is about older cell phone technology vs. smart phones, and where that places you in a cell phone culture growing ever more accustomed to having a bazillion apps in your pocket at all times.

Glass Gardens

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I have a new hobby.  It’s gardening in my apartment. I know what you are thinking … urban vegetable gardens! Nope. Google ‘urban gardening’ and the results are rife with tomato gardens on fire escapes, rows of onions in cement containers along balconies, and snow peas trained along open roof trellises.  But I have neither a fire escape (at least outside where I can grow veggies), a balcony nor a roof.  What I do have is one large window.

Maybe it was this year’s unusually snowy winter that kept me inside, or the polar vortex with its frigid blasts, but I’ve been feeling the need to bring some Spring into my life.  It’s been years since I have lived somewhere with a lawn or place to plant flowers outside.  I used to have a vegetable garden.  I was in high school and my dad dug a small square of clumpy earth with his tractor, which I surrounded with chicken wire to keep the ground hogs out.  That last sentence makes me sounds like I grew up on the wild expanse of the midwestern plains, when in fact, I lived in a small town in the suburbs of Philadelphia, surrounded by other suburbs, malls and mall parking lots. I just happened to really like growing tomatoes.

Dirt is good for the soul.  Our ancestors began cultivating wild plants to serve their own survival and humans have not stopped since.  Our relationship with plants keeps us fed, but also reminds of us where we come from.  The smell of warm earth signals Spring, telling us it is safe to emerge from our apartment-caves and be open to the world again.  And growing flowers or plants indoors is a way to preserve some of that connection to the natural world, even living in a city where the nearest tree is a four block walk away.

But back to my apartment garden… the restrictions are these: not much space, no outside space, and a cat who puts her nose in everything. So my husband and I decided to try a terrarium.  The first one was jungle-themed and we are growing it in a miniature glass greenhouse on the bookshelf by the window.  For the second tiny world, we wanted to go in the opposite direction, so purchased a miniature cactus and several varieties of succulents (shout out to City Planter). An interesting facet of terrariums is that when grown in glass containers, both the leaves and the roots are visible.  This allows you to decorate the scene above as you would any outdoor garden, but also to carve patterns with pebbles into the earth below.  A desert theme is also a nice way to ease into indoor gardening – requiring only lots of sun, and the occasional watering.

Happy gardening!

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“The earth laughs in flowers” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Elizabeth Taylor, goddess of glamour, once said, “Pour yourself a drink, put on some lipstick and pull yourself together.” I’m not sure about the drink or the pulling one’s self together, but putting on lipstick does seem to convey to the world an I’m here and I’m ready kind of attitude.

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Lipstick in some form or another has been around for a long, long time.  The ancient Egyptians used red dyes, Mesopotamians used crushed jewels, and a cosmetologist in ancient Arabia is thought to have been the first to create lipstick pressed  in molds.  Popular in England in the 16th century with upper class ladies, and manufactured in France by cosmetics companies.  Different shades and types have become popular throughout the centuries.  Pink lipstick is everywhere these days, and the brighter, apparently, the better. One of my many resolutions this year was to learn how to wear pink lipstick. As a porcelain-toned, redhead, the color pink causes me no small amount of trepidation.  Still, I am confident that I can find a shade that will allow me to follow this adorable trend. Lipstick is one of those things that when done badly is truly bad, but when done well is elegant, eye-catching and glamorous.  My goal is the latter.

My lipstick endeavors began in highschool when I experiment with a tube of burnt orange NYC brand ‘lipstick’.  I’m pretty sure it cost less than $2, and I thought it was very grown up.  Since then, I have gone through various stages of lipwear including gloss (Neutragena with spf 20 is unbeatable) and balm (Burt’s Bees, of course). However, I have not been completely satisfied with any one lip regimen or product.  But no more, this is the year I conquer the lipstick!

I purchased two tubes; one, Smashbox in “matte red”, and the other, Sephora brand in “shimmer.” I intend to use the deep red for parties and the bright pink for any other day events.  I tried both colors out in my bathroom mirror, and they looked very pretty but something was missing – liner. Lip liner is another one of those things … the things that can look lovely or horrid.  So use it, but tread lightly with the liner. After trying and failing to make myself look like a 1940ies movie star some very scientific testing, here is what I would tell my 17 year old self about how to pull off intense lips:

  • Exfoliate lips – I like Sugar Lip Polish, but you can make your own at home with coarse brown sugar, or just rub a wet cloth towel across your lips
  • Put on a small amount of waxy lip balm
  • Line lips with a color a little lighter than the lipstick you intend to use, and then rub the liner off so just a little remains (always rub/blot toward the inside of your lips to avoid a pink smear around your mouth, because that looks like you just ate a raspberry popsicle and not like you are going to a gala)
  • Lipstick
  • Then blot by kissing a napkin/back of your hand/boyfriend

I Want to Be the Girl who Scares Me ~ Rediscovering an Interest in Fitness

I signed up for a 5K.  I know,  I know, it’s not a very long race, and I also know that I am going to run it very slowly.  But that is not the point.

My athletic career has been neither storied nor consistent.  My fitness endeavors have been comprised of playing on high school teams (where I kept benches toasty) and subsequent sporadic gym memberships.  As I think about it, many of the moments that I look back on as the most cringe-inducing of my teen years involved athletics …

I once had a basketball coach put me in for the last 44 seconds of a game.  44 SECONDS! The score was already so lopsided in my team’s favor, he likely assumed that I would not have time to mess things up.  I also did not have time to dribble, pass or shoot either.

Then there was the mile test.  In 9th grade, to pass gym class all the students in my year had to run at least a 10 minute mile.  On the day of the test, my class arrived at the crunchy cinder track that looped a quarter-mile around a hilltop field above the school.  We lined up, and, with the click of Mrs. H’s stop watch, off we went.  To my delight a fellow 9th grader (who I had an epic crush on) ran with me for the first lap and a half.  After finishing the run below the required time, I was sweaty but elated … until I signed my time into the class chart.  As I wrote down my time, I overheard the teacher telling the boy who had run with me, that he could have made really great time had he not jogged slowly at first.  No one noticed that his jogging pace was equivalent to my running pace - and no one cared - but I was silently mortified.

It should be said, that I did have fun playing sports as a kid, but I with several very athletically gifted friends, it was hard to feel like I was supposed to be out on the court or the field.  Sports intimidated me.

Sports still intimidate me.  Every time I see a friend post a photo of themselves smiling in a race bib, or report a mile time online, I have the same thought “Wow, I couldn’t do that.”  I’ve always had this weird conviction that being extremely fit correlates to other mythical attributes, like having a fully organized closet, or waking up naturally at 5am.   I assumed that going out for your office soft ball team, or being able to run an 8 minute mile with a timed chip in your shoe, is a sign that other aspects of your life are organized, punctual and put-together. People who go running every day for fun, who do regular pilates or do everyone’s new favorite, crossfit, kind of scare me.

Recently, I realized that I have clung to this idea and used it as an excuse, not only to be half-hearted in my gym efforts, but to avoid trying new things. For the record, my new interest in fitness has nothing to do with how I look, in fact I like my appearance (most days), but I have always described myself as un-athletic and, frankly, I’m tired of it.  I am a little clumsy, a little slow and I still curl into a ball and scream “No!” when someone tries to toss me a set of keys/remote/anything, but while my high school basketball court was for athletes, the gym is for everyone.  Even me.

…Who knows, maybe a 10K will be next?

The Padding of Paws in the Hallway

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It is 5 AM and I am awake, my skin tingling with the sensation that there is something in the room.  My husband is still asleep, although his alarm will be buzzing shortly, so this unease must come from the shadow silently creeping up the bed. Suddenly, two furry ears appear over the edge of the comforter, whiskers hover inches from my face, and our new cat, Z, says ‘good morning’ by chewing on my thumb.

Getting an animal should never be a quick decision.  We had been considering a cat for several months, and had already factored in whether our building would allow cats (they said ‘anything but a dog’ … does this mean elephants are OK?) and if we had the time and finances for a pet.  However, my parents have this theory that you never really set out to get a cat on purpose – you just sort of end up with a cat.  As kids, my sister and I brought home barn cats, inherited cats from family friends and one time even found a kitten while trick-or-treating around town on Halloween.  With Z, we  were slightly more intentional. We decided to stop by PAWs on our way home from some Sunday afternoon errands, but  I should have known that if we stopped in ‘just to look’ we would find one.  And there she was!

There is an episode of Modern Family where Mitch and Cam decide to get a cat for their daughter.  After picking out a kitten at an adoption event they try to take it home.  The adoption woman refuses because there is a “process.”  Cam then becomes angry and tells her he thought “the process is, we say that we want this one.”  Ok, I’m butchering the comedy right now, so just watch the episode.  But we also had to go through the process - application, vet reference, building approval – before we could claim Z.  It feels funny to be so stressed over a pet application, but the organization does it to insure good homes for all.  The most nail-biting part was after we were approved, racing there to pick her up before anyone else could fall in love with her little orange face.  As my husband has told me, he is not a cat person, he just like this cat – so it had to be her!

We have had her at home for a few weeks now and in that time learned, that she will escape into the hallway if she gets the chance, but also that she will come back if there are treats involved.  She gets car sick.  She becomes electrically charged with static if she runs around on the carpet long enough.  She will follow you around, every move you make, just to hang out with you :-) So if you are considering a new furry buddy, don’t forget that there are many fun and friendly pets out there at organization like PAWS or other groups with older animals that need homes – well worth the process!

A Quiet Day In – Spouses Living on Different Schedules

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This week, my husband worked the night shifts on his floor at the hospital.  This means that he is at home all day and I am home all night.  It makes for a strange altered reality where you live with someone and know they have been there, sleeping in the home you share all day long, but when evening falls they are nowhere to be found.  That is, until the weekend comes around and I’m home during the day too.  It is now Saturday afternoon (a rainy one, at that) and our curtains are drawn, lights off, and I’m sneaking around the apartment in sock-feet cursing the loudness of the refrigerator door.

Having a nocturnal spouse is certainly an aspect of being married to a resident I had not anticipated.  The late nights – check.  The long hours – check.  The missed social events, stress, and exhaustion – check, check, check!  However, when we both have a Saturday afternoon off it feels like a waste to spend it with him sleeping all day and me then sleeping all night.  The obvious answer is to go out and do something.*  The other day I met a physician, recently done with residency, who counseled me that ‘having my own life’ is key.  She told me that not waiting around for the spouse who is extra busy to be home is important for creating space for both people.  She is right.  The first few months of residency, which were also the first few months of marriage, I tried to spend every free moment that he was not at the hospital with him.  It was hard.

Coordinating schedules between two people is difficult anyway, even without the ever-changing shifts of a hospital.  And the issue of how much time you have together v. how much you spend alone or with your friends is certainly not unique to marriages with odd schedules.  You have to do activities that are you just for you, so that you do not feel like you are just waiting.  Waiting for them to come home, waiting to get his schedule to book a vacation, waiting to make dinner.  I understand that this situation is especially applicable during residency, however I think many people in relationships struggle to find common time.  This means using time apart to do things for you, and time together be a couple.

Before we got married, someone asked us if the time we spend together is valuable.  I had never thought about that before.   Do we just vegetate in front of the tv, or do we talk and be present for each other?  It’s sort of a quality time over quantity time idea.  Since the start of residency, my longer commute and all of the preoccupations that go with both of our jobs, I will admit that there have been more evenings of dinner with the tv on.  However, we still make an effort to go out, to talk and to connect, which has become even more important now that out schedule so rarely align.

*I did go to the gym the today! See Resolution #3

Saying ‘No’ to Saying ‘Yes’

In the words of Rodgers and Hammerstein, “I’m just a girl who can’t say no.”

For as long as I can remember, I have always had an issue turning things down – be they work obligations, extra-credit assignments in school, party invitations, missing an event or class I’d planned to attend, even casual get-togethers.

People love stating that saying ‘yes’ to everything opens your world to opportunities and new experiences, which it undoubtably does.  However, agreeing to do everything begins to add up – so where is the limit?  I took a course a few years ago, while still a student, on persuasive writing.  The professor informed all the eager students in my section that in a professional setting, or really any setting at all, people want to say ‘yes.’  Saying yes is easier, it’s fun, it makes you feel better about your decision.  The class taught us, among other techniques, how to craft questions that could always be answered in the affirmative, even if that answer was really a ‘no’ in disguise.  So I am certainly not alone in my aversion to saying ‘no.’

Perhaps saying no – picking and choosing each event, obligation or lunch date – is a skill.  In high school I never had to learn how to be judicious with my time.  The school schedule allowed students to pursue music on one afternoon and sports on another – so I could do both!  In college, there was mention of study-life balance as a concept, but there were also semester credit limits to keep us in check, and leave room for dorm parties and movie nights.  Life in your 20ies is a little less organized.  No one is going to tell you that you cannot practice volleyball on Mondays because you have a history test, or that you cannot take 22 credits and write your thesis (not that I ever attempted that many credits!) like the good ol’ days.  The world is full of possibilities, assignments and commitments, and I could say ‘YES’ to ALL of them!

It is not simply that I say ‘yes’ to events or work that I do not want to do.  I say ‘yes’ to things that are interesting or important to me or those around me.  I do want to finish that draft of the assignment for work, AND attend the volunteer event AND meet my friend from out-of-town for dinner, but I cannot do them all the same night.  So then I have to make a choice, and it’s this choice that leads to the stress.  First comes the anxiety about which event to choose, then comes the guilt about turning down the other obligations.  I know it sounds like I stress  a lot about trivial decisions (I’m not saying this is not true) but I also think it is a wide-spread affliction.  People generally hate disappointing other people, and saying ‘no’, we believe, inevitably means we are disappointing someone.

Since discovering my proclivity toward saying ‘yes’, I have tried to say it in more discerning contexts.  It is getting easier to say ‘no’ to an evening at a bar when all I want is bad tv, pretzels and my sofa.  There are two areas, however, that still trip me up.  One is saying ‘no’ to an ongoing obligation, for example, if I am working on a longterm project and have to miss a meeting related to it, I feel like I have failed to show my dedication.  The second is learning to prioritize social and family events, which is especially difficult if they are in conflict with work.  Simply because I could not make a housewarming party does not mean I do not care for my friend or her new 1 bedroom.  Skipping a meeting here or there to catch up on other projects or attend a family dinner does not mean I am not committed to work.  However, I imagine that practice will make perfect, and I will continue to ask myself what I really want instead of just blurting out ‘yes’ to every request.