Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Fresh Starts

I find New Year's to be such an interesting holiday. While some might celebrate with chic city style, others know that they will be wearing the party hats and grabbing those obnoxious noise blowers to bring in the New Year. Wherever you are or whomever you are with the occasion is an event. Even more entertaining to me is our fascination with the ball of crystal wonder that twinkles in the vacant dark sky. The thousands of eco-friendly light bulbs that illuminate the ball's descent as the clock strikes midnight not only marks the beginning of a new year, but also the fading flicker of the old year. The sound of the pop and sizzle from the freshly opened champagne bottle is melodious to my ears. The gentle lull of the saxophone as it plays the song "Auld Lang Syne" drowns out all possibilities of fear and apprehension that the approaching year might bring. Yet, New Year's to me is so much more than a Parade of Roses or a kiss at midnight; it marks the evaluation of a year and the fresh start that is much needed after trudging through 12 months of the daily grind.

I would be lying if I said there weren't things I didn't liked about the New Year. For starters the constipation that the gym experiences do to girls trying to tame their tummies for the quickly approaching Spring Break season, is one of the most annoying and irritating events that tests my patience daily. But, for the most part I feel rejuvenated from the feeding and family frenzy of the holidays and ready to conquer and accomplish more than I did the previous year. You see my yearly ritual for the New Year began in the 8 th grade, where I wrote all of my goals for the New Year down and posted them in my closet. Every day I would look at them and each turning of the calendar year I would bring the scraps of construction paper down from my closet ceiling and post new ones, and the tradition has stuck with me ever since. Being forced to look at your goals in the face everyday is a wonderful and constant reminder of what we want to accomplish in this year and in this life. I am floored at how fast 25 years can escape me and still I have so many goals and aspirations that I am hoping to achieve. Yet, I see how facile it can be to put dreams and hopes on the back burner and say ...Ohhh next year or next week, but in reality the New Year is a reminder that there is no better time than the present.

The present........yes, the time is now. You see we have all been given the gift to celebrate another year and to watch the infamous ball drop one more time. Yet, I ask you how are you going to make this year different than the last? While I tend to be the Type A highly goal-oriented person, I realize that not everyone is programmed like me. Therefore, maybe pick one goal you want to accomplish or one habit you want to break. I promise you the satisfaction of accomplishment is one of the sweetest boosts of confidence you will ever experience. Thus, this year I encourage you to leave all your skeletons in the closet and to leap out of bed on the 1st of January with a spring in your step and a smile in heart knowing that this year belongs to you.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Cookie Cutter Christmas

One of my favorite childhood memories is the aroma of homemade sugar cookies permeating my nostrils, while my mom and I prepared for good ol' Saint Nick. My mom and I would sing and dance to our favorite songs by Bing Crosby and Amy Grant for hours. We both had our own tasks. My mom was in charge of the batter and I was the designated cookie cutter; and if you know me, you can believe I took this job very seriously. I had a basket devoted to all of my favorite cookie cutters. I would line them all out in front of me in a row as I contemplated which cutter to use. I had snowmen, gingerbread men, stars, trees, angels, and a vast array of other culinary carving figurines. I will never forget the way my mother's face would cringe as she watched me slather icing all over the cookies as well as different aspects of my own body. I would always walk away from the counter with globs of icing in my hair, on my face, and a rainbow of color on my freshly washed clothing. Yet, the smile on my face that radiated from ear to ear was evidence of my love for the holiday season.

Looking back I now realize how important it was to me that everything was just perfect for Santa. I wanted St. Nick to feel welcomed in our home even if my epileptic Yorkie, Suzan Nicole, sounded like she wanted to eat his reindeer for dinner. Unfortunately my mild obsession for the man in the red jump suit transversed onto the school bus a very dangerous place for Santa lovers everywhere. I remember the day like yesterday, I was wearing an oh so festive holiday outfit, with my matching bow, and jingle bell socks as I took my usual seat next to my neighbor, Jason. We were chatting it up about our weekends and I was meticulously describing all of my preparations I had made because Santa was coming to town. I had cleaned my room, brushed my teeth every night, and made Christmas cookies in order to be a good hostess. I remember as he looked at me and just began to laugh, he doubled over with his hand across his mouth and asked me if he could tell me a secret. Naturally curious, I said, "why of course." He looked at me expressionlessly and said, "Santa is Dead!!" I shooshed him and told him Santa had elves everywhere and if he wanted to get presents to never say such horrible monstrosities again. I stuck my little nose in the air and told him I wasn't listening to him anymore. That evening when I got home from school I will never forget the bomb my mother dropped on me as she revealed to me the stupefying news that Santa really had kicked the can.

I don't know if I ever fully recovered from this shock, but I continue to make progress as the years go by. I look at what we do now on Christmas and can't help to laugh because Santa would be so disappointed. While I have kicked my cookie habit, for a healthier lifestyle and a not so pudgy physique, I still enjoy the smells that come from our kitchen during the holiday season. The early morning Christmas ritual of opening gifts has now traversed into late morning coffee and movie marathons. While secretly I have always yearned for a large family with lots of holiday rituals, what I have received is an intimate gathering with my mom and dad around the TV. We usually have a couple of gifts to open, but we have even resorted to going green and scrapping the wrapping.

I think like many things in life we get caught up in what the perfect cookie cutter holiday should be. The one where everyone gets what they want, the family gets along, the decorations are immaculate, and the food is sinfully decadent. While this is a zealous and a commendable goal, in reality it is not practical or obtainable. Thus, this Christmas my hope for you is to embrace your own family traditions and the things that make the holiday special to you. Remember that holidays and life in general don't have to be cookie cutter perfect. In all actually my favorite cookies were the not so perfect ones, the gingerbread men who had lost a head or the star that had lost an arm, because everyone knows their ten times sweeter because you always remember to eat them first.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The most wonderful time of the year?

I am one of those people who believe that Christmas music is so great that it should be played at least for three months out of the year. I also have no problems acknowledging that the powder sugared dusted earth is one of the most beautiful and serene sites the eye can see. Therefore, I am pretty much a so-called jolly soul during the holiday season. Yet this morning of all mornings, I was reminded that this is not the case for everyone this time of the year.

I woke up this morning grabbed my cup of joe and flipped on my favorite news program the TODAY show with Meredith, Matt, Al, and Anne who I like to believe know that I am a die hard fan and faithful viewer. I was sauntering over to my computer in the hopes of robbing wireless internet service from "jim the fruit snaza" when all of the sudden I heard the distinctive sounds of a woman sobbing. I mean the crying was uncontrollable. I looked out my window and there in the bitter cold walked a woman with no coat dragging her purse. I mean in my head I am going through all of the horrible things that could of happened to this person. I decided right then that I had to make sure she was ok. So here I am in my night gown, glasses, and hair in a massive nest like mass on top of my head, running out my backdoor to catch the weeping woman. As I approach her I call to her "Excuse me, Excuse me are you alright." The woman looks at me with her dark mysterious eyes and for a moment quits weeping and says, "oh I am fine." The woman then begins to walk away at an alarming speed with the sounds of weeping clearly audible. I just stood there in the blistering cold trying to understand what just happened.

It was so blatantly obvious to me that this woman in no way, shape, or form was ok; yet she proceeded to try to make me believe that everything was just fine. I then asked myself how often do we all put on a facade of happiness? When is ok to have a really good cry? All these questions I pondered as I looked at my own life. For the most part I am generally jolly and merry and on the occasion I am not I tend to find my own haven, my own place of surrender to sulk in solitude.

Yet, if we were honest with one another what we all want is someone who can listen to us and just care. We might find pleasure in the quiet of our own room, but in reality we all are just searching for someone who genuinely commits to caring about our day, our joys, and our sorrows. I often say I have this genetic defect and that is that I sometimes love people more than they love me in return. This is fine because over the years I have become callused just like the palm of someone's hand and I can handle the fact that my love isn't always reciprocated. Thus, as an adjustment I try to put my yellow blinkers on, but the darn caution lights just don't seem to work. While I still find myself in this vulnerable position, wearing my heart on my sleeve, I guess I wouldn't have it any other way because the satisfaction of helping a friend (or a stranger for that matter) far outweighs and personal strife I might experience from unrequited love.

I honestly don't know what I would have done if the woman would have said anything else but" I' m fine." All I do know is that as we approach the heart of the holiday season, remember that "the most wonderful time of the year" can be quite the contrary for many people. And sometimes the most reassuring force in the world can be a friendly hug, an open ear, and a warm heart.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Fabulously Flawed

It is true. No one can escape the fact that we all are fabulously flawed, we all have these obnoxious and perhaps endearing defects to our character. While some would be distraught to learn of this shocking info, I take it with stride and know that in some ways these are the things that separate us from the norm and make us all the more alluring and interesting.

One of my friends and I were talking the other night about expectations and what it is that can make a person who has been pursuing another for so long in a matter of days realize that they had been mistaken. I like to believe that often times we fabricate these perfect images within our heads of the people we want to pursue, date, and perhaps marry. You know what I am talking about, the guy who opens the car door for you, says please and thank you, and is infatuated by you and only you. It is only when we begin to spend time with one another, that we become blatantly aware of others shortcomings. That he no longer opens the car door, he forgets the meaning of please, and his infatuation for you is now mirroring that of his favorite sports team. While some can handle the fact that no one will be perfect that no one will fulfill the pristine image that they have created in their dreams, others can't handle the fact that in their mind the person they envisioned will never live up to their great expectations. They are tragically flawed like the characters of a great novel. Yet, I like to believe that it is only through these blemishes that we realize the characteristics that truly define who we are and give us a unique quality that no one else has.

It's not just in relationships its infiltrated in to every aspect of our lives. All I have to do is open up the recent headlines of the daily newspapers and I will find smatterings about all the flawed people and events in the world. While I believe flaws can show our individuality, I also begin to wonder if human flaws are really not just an avenue to highlight the humanity that resides within us all. Let's take for example, President-elect Barack "Star" Obama who has publicly and openly admitted to his struggle with cigarette cessation and his multiple attempts at kicking the nasty habit. Even Oprah Winfery has publically acknowledged that she has fallen off the weight-loss band wagon and now weighs 200 lbs. Why is that we secretly feel more connected to these people when we see them through a not so perfect light? Is their something in us all that relates to the imperfections of others?

I feel that it is only when we are cognizant of our character defects, that we will be able to recognize the things that make us different and the things that can hold us back. Thus after much personal reflection, I have developed a running tally and in no way a comprehensive list of the faux pas that define me. It is through this pastiche of traits that I hope you will realize that while your flaws are individually distinct in many ways we are not all that different.

To begin on the brigade of flaws, I would like to start with the fact that I am a 25 year old stuck in the 1900's in technology and advancements. I have a 7 year-old laptop which resembles a small brick accompanied by the biggest battery pack known to man. I pay for Internet monthly yet I don't recieve the services, but I keep paying for it. Now some of you will think I am indolent for not addressing this issue, but this is yet another fabulous flaw of mine...confrontation. I avoid altercations and any form of disgruntled friends like the plague. I instead like to approach life with (at times I am sure overbearing) joy even at 7 am in the morning. I can't go to bed without flossing my teeth and brushing my pearly whites which is due to a childhood night terror about Mr. Decay obliterating my teeth. I love alliteration and try to use it as much as I can in daily life (ex. Fabulously Flawed). To be honest I hate looking in the mirror because I never like the reflection that is thrown back ever wrinkle, lump, bump I find as a glaring imperfection portrayed to others. My patience is something of what I call non-existent and I show that by twirling one of the curls on the right side of my head continuously. And let's be honest I always have room for one more glass of wine.

While these are just a few of those flaws that I am willing to own up to, I hope that you to will stop and think about those imperfections that personally define you, but at the same time connect us to one another. Thus fess up to the flaws, embrace them, and delight in the fact that being Fabulously Flawed allows you, like the other characters of novels, to be the heroine of your own story.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

To a Quarter of a Century

When do you reach the point when you stop celebrating birthdays? I hope never. Today just happens to be the 25th anniversary of my birth and quite honestly I feel as wonderful and youthful as I did when I was 15. I have many beliefs in life and one of them is that we only get better with age. While some would disagree whole-heartedly as they try to recapture every morsel of their youth, I have decided to live each year and experience all I can in that year and then -move on to the next. You see with each year I gain experience and knowledge and while the looks and beauty of our youth may fade at an alarming speed I find something alluring and enchanting about the wisdom and sense of self- awareness that comes with each calendar year.

Now don't get me wrong their are moments that I look in the mirror and think wow...is this what being 24 and in med school does to a person. I too have started to see the little lines of age creeping up around my eyes and mouth. I like to call them my smile indentations and the signature sign of a life full of laughter and happiness. Even more wonderful is with the turning of each chapter in my life I have found that I become a little more comfortable in my shoes, and more accepting of who I am. We all have our own hopes and passions for our lives and I look at what I have done in the last 25 years and am amazed. I have traveled to some of the most beautiful places on earth Spain, London, Italy, El Salvador, and lets not forget the gorgeous terrain of Maine. I have ran 4 marathons and have devoted my life to serving others through medicine. I feel so richly blessed because I have some of the most amazing family and friends that anyone could ask for. Thus adding another candle to the birthday cake this year for me is only an indication of the things I have to look forward to in the year to come.

What do I want for the next year ? In medical school we are forced to look as the psychology of age and it just happens that 25 is a pivotal role in development. It is the year of self-evaluation. You look at your life and decide if it is going in the right direction. Are you happy with the events that have occurred or are you going to change the way you live? I find it an interesting evaluation because right now in medical school I feel like my life is on pause. The world around me revolves friends get married, buy houses, and have babies and I am stuck on the endless wheel of studying and stressing. Don't get me wrong I am very happy for these people in my life, but wonder am I missing out on something. Am I paying for an institution to take away the so-called best years of my life?

Yet, after this deep contemplation I realize that what matters right now is the present. I want to enjoy each day whether it is my birthday or not to its full potential. I can't focus on what other people have or are doing, but only on myself and where I am currently. Thus here is to Pasko panache being 25, in medical school, single, and fabulous. Here is to loving the outdoors, running, La Croix, the Biggest Loser, and peanut butter. Yet even more important are the years to come and the things I have to look forward and to experience like for example growing old and wearing ridiculously large hats with feathers...yes the possibilities are endless.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Creatures of Habit

I am continually fascinated by how we all are truly victims of monotony. You see I don't think we aim to be, but it is just so easy and comfortable to do what we do everyday. The science gurus claim that it takes 2 weeks to make a habit, and if that is true I wonder how long it takes to break a habit- good or bad. I start to think about all the things I do daily and how they are programmed into me. I wake up, start my coffee(lots and lots of coffee), turn on the news, and the list of daily jen to do's continues. And why does it bother me so much when my routine is jostled just a smidge? Is it just me or do others depend on this routine and doesn't this memorandum of structure just make our lives void of all spontaneity?

All of these questions brought me to a fond memory of the summer I spent in Boston doing research at MGH. Each day I spent in Boston was a well mapped trip with no unexpected turns or stops. But perhaps the most interesting discovery I made that summer was that I was not the only one who was stuck in their own routine. Each morning as I scurried around the infamous "nunery" where my father had so graciously found living quarters for me, I would walk 45mins to work. I would never change my route but would delight in window shopping on Newbury and the daily tai chi-ers in the Public Garden. Yet, as I hit Charles St. my favorite street in Boston I would feel this bit of apprehension as I approached the eclectic boutiques and shops. You see everyday I would pass Panificio a local breakfast nook and bakery that had seating that overlooked the picturesque city street. Each day I worked in Boston I woke up at the same time, walked the same route, and each day passed the same man in the business suit drinking his coffee and reading the Boston Globe. I don't know what came over me each day, but I couldn't resist a coy smile and a wave. Every day it was just the same, he would smile back and raise his coffee mug as I scurried on my way to catch the bus.

I am not going to lie this 30 something man was alluring and mysterious. I would often make stories up about who he was and why he showed me his pearly whites every day. It wasn't until my last day in Boston I decided to make my monotonous walk a little more spontaneous. As I approached Panificio I decided to meet this mysterious man. I walked up to him and asked him if the seat next him was taken. An hour later we had discussed everything from our own daily routines to the beautiful city of Boston. He even invited me out on his boat later that evening, which I kindly declined. Although, I will never see my window waver again he showed me that we are all just creatures of habit going through the routine waiting for a chance for a change of scenery. I believe to often we let our daily routines dictate our lives and we resist opportunities for new experiences.

Thus, I encourage you this next week to spice up your life, let loose, and mix it up. Refuse to be a victim of a life that is just going through the motions. Instead you should resist and perhaps brush your teeth before you wash your face or take a different route to work --you might just find that you are a rebel instead of a creature of habit after all.