Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Laundry

No, this is not a woman who writes complaining about her mountains of laundry. I just want to let it be known where I am in this moment.

In 68 minutes, people will be showing up to my house- some I have never met before. I'm dressed, sans makeup. Let me be perfectly clear: Oh, I am dressed and ready. My cute shoes, nice jeans, and Michael Stars shirt are walking proof that I am ready. I even have on long gold dangly earrings before 5 o'clock.

Michael Stars shirts are really sparkly in the daylight. They should only be worn after the sun goes down.

The bright red shirt is a little bosomy. Not too much, but just enough to let it be known that sass is flying..

People will be at my house in 65 minutes and I am sitting in a plastic chair nailed to the linoleum floor of the laundry mat.

Our dryer died today. I was not impressed with this nor very excited. But, my first trip to the laundry mat today (because, this is-- in fact-- my second trip), I looked like a local. Rather, a townie. Yoga pants and a well dressed kid as my accessory really set the stage for my four baskets.

But now... now is very different from than.

"Than" was not at a time when I would be having people to my house in 61 minutes. "Than" was perfectly acceptable to be in sweaty workout clothes. Now though... Now I am dressed and ready for a party.

Looky here, I have just been handed a leaflet about "Can the Dead Really Live Again?" It has purple flowers. Apparently, purple flowers show us that indeed, yes. People can live again as long as you are a Jehovah's Witness.

Cool. Good to know.

Before arriving, I was warned by several signs... and people that items left at the laundry mat can be stolen. FYI- people steal anything.

Got it.

No, thank you. I don't want your phone number, nor do I think this is a very good place to meet men. My standards have gone up or the caliber of folk at the laundry mat has gone a ways down.

You know, in college-- there was a bar in the laundry mat. No kidding. It was a great place to go on laundry day. I haven't spent much time at a laundry mat since then.

55 minutes. Can I get it done? According to this other leaflet next to me, I can get anything done... with Jesus.

Another good tip.

Jesus Saves.
Take your own risk with unattended items.
But leave the magazines.

53 minutes.

Monday, January 18, 2016

If he knew me... he'd kill me.

All these years later, I still have those old love notes. I told Husband about them and we laughed at how innocent and down right silly they were. The few friends I have shown them to have all said the same thing: His penmanship is impeccable. I am going to protect the innocent, because-- somewhere out there is a box of folded paper with my penmanship scratched on those lines and that cannot be denied.

But, it is fun to look at these and both laugh and smile:

----

Wife,

I am glad you had fun last night, I did too. I am in Horticulture right now and we are watching a very boring video on "ground cover." I think I will be coming to Hometown a lot in the next couple of weeks for all the Social Christmas parties. Are you going to Charleston in two weeks? When are you going to Atlanta? I want to go to Athens and stay with "Bob" sometime soon and we will go to my grandparents at Lake Sinclair the weekend after Christmas but besides that I should be around. I hope you will be able to come to the game Friday night. It should be fun. Our record is now 11-1. Thanks for my shoe.  I don't know quite what to think about it, but I always like getting things in the mail. It is kind of funny how our postal system can sometimes fail to get a simple letter to someone, but they can deliver a shoe, yes.... a shoe. Well it is about time to go (yes, I spent most of the class period on this letter), so I will just talk to you later.

That Guy

----

Wife,

I am looking forward to the Christmas dance. Is Scott going to it? We should have a lot of fun (as usual) Well, the bell is about to ring to go to fourth period- see you later today!

That Guy

35 year old me commentary: {Scott... I would end up going on a few dates with him in my twenties. Whoopsie}

----

Wife,

I just got finished taking an anatomy test and I have about ten minutes left in class, so I thought I would be nice and write you a letter. I am glad that you are coming to the game tonight. It should be packed. Our whole town and school are pumped about this game. We are playing a team from Albany. I think their record is 10-2. (ours is 11-1) Our steaks were better than I thought they would be. (at lunch) I had two. This is the first time I have been filled up by a school lunch. When I got to fourth period after lunch I wanted to lay down and take a nap, but we had a test instead. Well... it is about time to go... so I will see you tonight!

That Guy

----

Wife,

I am in fifth period (Horticulture) and I wanted to write you to let you know I was thinking of you. It is such a nice day and I am glad you are coming to see me! I am glad the weather is finally warming up. I hope you get to play Friday in the game because I want to come see you in action. I think you would be cute running up and down the field. Well, the teacher just called out some work for us to do, I better let you go!

That Guy

35 year old me commentary: I was on the inaugural girls' soccer team at my high school and lettered my first year. Never the best player; I had a lot of fun.


----

Wife,

I am glad I got to see you so much this week. I am in Anatomy and we are learning the bones in the body. We have a skeleton and it is life-size. No... it is not real, it is made of plastic, but it costs $1,000. Its name is Skippy! I know that your grandparents are coming down this weekend so you most likely can not come down so I will not mind coming to see you in Augusta. We just for finished watching a laserdisc. The bell just rang.

That Guy

----

Wife,

I want to make an attempt to write a response to the letter I just received from you. I want to thank you for the letter first. That is the best thing you could have done. I am glad that you are able to trust me. I am glad you are able to write me poems (and give them to me).........

35 year old me commentary: Woah. Wait. I wrote poems.... AND GAVE THEM AWAY?! Geez, 17 year old me... what were you thinking?! WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?! Please don't find those poems. Please tell me you burned them or threw them away or something other than put them in a box to be found almost two decades later.

Even if we only last until tomorrow, I want you to know you will always have a special place in my heart.

That Guy

35 year old me commentary: {We wouldn't last more than another sixty-ish days.}

----

Wife, 

I am being distracted right now, but I am trying to write you anyway. My pastel drawing of a car got second place in an art show. I won $50! They announced it on the morning announcements. The bell is about to ring, so I better let you go!

That Guy

----

Wife,

I just finished my test in Anatomy and had a few minutes to write you a note. I really am proud of you for your essay. I was sitting English the other day and I thought to myself as we were reading Milton and Wordsworth that you could easily write as good as them. I think you will be a great writer one day. I have not read much of your writing, but what I have sounds pretty good! 

That Guy

35 year old me commentary: {I used to be terrible embarrassed of my writing. Loved to do it- hated to show it. The essay he is referencing won first place in a national contest. Something about 'reading being life's silver lining' ... I think. My teacher submitted it on my behalf.}

----

There are other notes from a variety of people and places in my life, but high school seems to be the most fun and the most innocent ones to share. Life gets sticky and complicated as we grow up and as we move on they become less funny to look back on.

Husband and I looked at my old pictures and read these old notes last night and he said the sweetest thing to me, "It seems like you had a beautiful childhood. It looked like it would have been amazing to be you growing up. I am glad I met you as an adult."

And it was a beautiful youth. It really was.




Friday, January 15, 2016

Mama's attic

My brother can accomplish anything he wants-- when he wants to. Last week, he asked my mother to please clean out their attic. I think his exact phrase was something to the effect of, "Before you and Dad die, please clean out your attic and do not leave it to Wife and me."

No kidding. "BEFORE YOU DIE, PLEASE CLEAN OUT YOUR JUNK."

Only Brother can get away with saying something like that... even better, do you know what happened?

They cleaned out the attic.

Mom and Dad hired their trusty worker bees to make the 77 trips up the trap door and back down again, lugging trunks from the 1800s (you just think I am exaggerating), old toys, boxes of keepsakes, love notes between my parents, and boxes and boxes and boxes and more boxes of .... stuff.

There was quite a bit in the Christmas decor department.

There was old furniture- with green tweed upholstery, and old cabinets from when Dad cut them out of the kitchen.

Stuffed animals. Lots and lots of stuffed animals. Old cancelled checks from before my grandfather died. My grandfather-- who died in 1962. Let's not talk about the automobile expenses from 1957-1958 on the old Studebaker and the Grandmother's old Cadillac with every single ESSO receipt where either my grandmother or grandfather filled up on a regular basis for $1.12.

Not to mention Doris, Grandfather's secretary-- she got paid $28.66 a week. By the time of his death, she would get a pay raise to $35.48. Let's hope inflation was better to her than to the others. Doris got paid more than Janice, the secretary before her.

One of those old trunks from the 1800s held my aunt's Madame Alexander dolls and handmade doll clothes. Not knowing what I was getting into, I threw open the trunk to find six arms, doll stuffing, and three heads practically melted together. One eye peered at me from under a moth eaten lace dress. I swear it blinked in the sunshine. There were loose arms with fingers that had long separated from the body. I screamed and dropped it. The arms and fingers rolling out as it hit the garage floor. I kicked them and screamed again- like seeing a cockroach kind of scream. They landed in the dirt of the front yard, straight in the air clearly clinging to life.

Dolls can be scary when you are not expecting them.

There were painted portraits of my great-great aunt; Aunt Irene and her husband, Uncle Herb. Looking at the picture of Irene from the mid-1960s in that white frame and off-white backdrop, Irene is wearing a green shift dress with gold collar necklace, I can so clearly see my grandmother in her face. Dad has a ring made out of Irene's wedding jewelry that Irene's son gave him before he died.

Her husband, Herb, adopted Irene's son from a previous marriage- Lynn. Herb was so well decorated from both World War I and World War II that General Douglas MacArthur publicly praised him for his bravery and selflessness.

And then there was a box of stuff that was of a modern era. "Modern" being a loose word for Brother and Wife and those two famous words: High School.

Electing first to go through Brother's, mostly because he did not want to mess with it, notes were read and twenty year old gossip was spilled across those loose leaf pages as I sat on the kitchen floor. Girls dotted their 'i's' (excuse the punctuation imperfections) with stars and my 35 year old eyes can so clearly see their hints at 'like' for him, whereas- those 18 year old eyes might have missed it.

And then there was my box... or, rather, my three Rubbermaid bins full of the keepsakes that proved I was once young. Young and foolish. Young, foolish, naive, and incredibly fortunate. There were love notes (don't you worry, those are coming out), and my high school sorority jersey. "SMACHE" sewn on the back with a big pink #3 on that white jersey only completed the oversized greek letters on the front: Phi Delta Sigma. There was my rat tail, diaper bag, and bottle. For giggles, I tried on that jersey and it was a little smaller than I remember, or maybe my bosoms have just gotten bigger? Either way, it still fit and I am wondering if it would be funny for it to work its way into the T-shirt rotation.

Memories of songs crossed through my mind... Phi Delta Sigma the best sorority, I'm an ... you know the words, everyone! Sing Along!

There was a Cotillion jersey from Social, pictures of footballs players whose names I had remembered and faces I had forgotten, and more notes from algebra class. Kids are going to miss out on the most fun thing about the socialization from high school: passing notes in class. Texting is not nearly as much fun, and the perceived danger therein of passing notes in classes and hallways. The reality is, texting and all other sorts of technical communication can go viral in a skinny minute and a life can quickly be ruined. Give me notes any day.

I learned a lot in high school and very little had to do with what the teachers taught as we sat in the desks of our grandfathers's youth. I learned more than just the polka, Shakespearian sonnets, and reciting the Greek alphabet backwards by the light of a lone match. I don't think it is until recently that I realized that those times were times I learned how to interact with peers and people.  Those times were the times that taught me the beauty of being young and innocent.

Young, innocent, and so very fortunate.

-----

If you are a grandparent and are reading this-- take a moment and think about what might be in your attic. Do you want your children going through those boxes when you are gone?  Or, do you want them to be overwhelmed, grab everything, and throw it away without giving it its due course? Do you want the love notes between you and your spouse spilled across the kitchen floor? Old dolls and proof that you, too, were once young and foolish for the eyes of your children? No. No you don't. And they don't want that either. Take a moment, a lot of moments actually-- and get everything out of your attic. EVERYTHING. Decide what is trash, what is a keepsake, and what needs to be burned.

Sit by the fire and read your old love notes. I watched my parents as they did this and I had no desire to see what those young hands wrote to each other. One by one, those letters were read, laughed at, and tossed. They are still young enough to remember and appreciate that time in their life, but old enough to know that those things needed to go!

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

I once said...

I once said that there are some things that we will not talk about on the world wide web.

There's a list and, it seems, that one by one... I am crossing those topics off the list.

We are talking about finances.

That dreaded four letter word that is very taboo and not allowed in polite conversation. It does not matter how much or how little is in your bank account and I do not care who you are -- money is something that everyone thinks about, worries about, plans for, and celebrates.

A long time ago, a friend talked about how she met her husband in college. Early in their dating, he told her he wanted to be a doctor. In her total candidness, she said she remembered thinking, "Sweeeeeeeeeet!" These were young and foolish days that would lead her to learn that there was much more to the story than having a doctor in the family. With it comes unwanted health questions from people, strangers revealing too much information, lonely nights, and debt.

Often, so very often, I take pride in my husband and what he accomplishes and can accomplish because of not just who he is, but what he does.

I don't know if you can tell, but I am trying to circle into and ease into a very touchy topic that, geez.... let me get right to the point:

We have student loans.

Medical school did not come free. Wouldn't that be nice? Husband is not the first doctor to graduate with loans-- he is the norm. Over 80% of doctors graduate from medical school with debt. I don't need to go into the details of the loans as they are ours and not yours. Don't be nosy- just know that we don't regret them nor would we change where we are.

This year, 2016- we have been calling it the year of REDUCTION! (yes, both the caps and the exclamation point are very necessary) We are focusing on the loans and forcing ourselves to cut back to the bones. I have been doing research and research and more freaking research looking for the silver bullet that will magically make our loans go with the days of Atari and pet rocks. I have learned a lot about student loans and want to share what I know; maybe this will save you a few hours.

Advice you didn't ask for:

1- YOU ARE NOT ALONE IN THE LOANS. There are people ALL AROUND that carry a similar burden to you and your loan. Find a friend who wants to eliminate their debt. You don't need to share the intimate details and you don't even have to share the same kind of debt- just have someone that has the same goal as you. Lean on that person and be there for them when they need to lean on you.

My friend wants to pay off her house. Can you imagine being 35 with a large beautiful house fully paid for? It's her goal for her and her family and I think that is an amazing goal. I love it. I told her that this year was the year we wanted to get serious about the loans and she recommended this "partnership" for us.  Eight days in, we have already admitted that we want to crack and spend money on something frivolous. Having someone to text or call and say, "I've had a flipping nutty morning and I really want to go to Chick-Fil-A for lunch, but I  know I shouldn't." And have them respond, "Nutty morning? CFA ain't gonna solve it. What would you rather have?"

We also cheer each other. When we find a place where we can save a few dollars or a place to make a few dollars-- we are quick to send a text to each other with our tidbit of success. Those cheers ensuing remind us what we want more- the "this" or the "THAT!"

So-- get a friend. And, if you're a doctor's wife-- you have a lot of friends who are in your boat. You have friends that you didn't know were friends. Look back on that fraternity of fellow interns' widows and reach out to them.

Something else- we let ourselves down all the time and don't think twice about it. But, the thought of letting down a friend? It gets real. I don't want to let HER down and she, in turn, doesn't want to let ME down.

2- YOU CAN PLAN ALL DAY LONG. But, until the plan is put into action, the wheels are spinning. If the plan you started does not work: make a new plan. There is no failure in this. The only failure is accepting that debt is acceptable.

Our house did not sell at the price we chose and we are not going to sell it for less than we want. Like I said, we don't have to sell our house-- we wanted to sell our house. We are going to tackle these loans from another way.

Pick a date that you are going to pull everything back and lock down the accounts. When that day comes, attack it. Go at it as fiercely as you can. Which leads me to the next point:

3- OWN IT. Own your debt. It's yours and yours alone. No one is going to pay it off for you, as much as you want to ask (and you will. There's no shame in considering asking someone for a fat check to make your life easier. That being said, how would you feel if the check were written, deposited, and all you did more for the mountain was open your big, fat mouth? You have accomplished nothing.) OWN IT and own it TOGETHER. Find satisfaction in it. Look at it for what it is: there would be no Doctor at the front end of that name if there were string of zeros following that dollar sign.

4- BE ACCOUNTABLE. Don't be ashamed of it. If you are asked to do something and can't, don't be afraid to say, "Sorry- it's the year of REDUCTION! and we're tackling other things. If you want to {insert something less expensive/free here}, I'd love to!"

5- BE FORGIVING. Give yourself some room to breath and the occasional chance to celebrate something-- anything. New friends want to go out to dinner? GO! An invitation out of town? GO! Just make your expense be worth the expense.

6- NO MAGIC BULLET. I have looked for all kinds of things for an individual to pay off their student loans and you know what I have discovered? That a pediatric sub specialist gets the short end of the stick. When Obamacare was released, the lawmakers were adamant about putting into law that a large portion of student loans for doctors who go into pediatric sub-specialists should be forgiven by the government.... butttttttttt, at this moment it's a hollow law as there is no funding for it.

Really?

I think that we were holding out hope that this part of Obamacare would flesh out and get funded. We, in turn, would have our magic bullet and get to the sweet life of being debt free.

Guess what? It's been over five years and nothing has changed. Sure people, congressman, organizations, and groups support this-- but no one can find the funds for this. We can continue to hold our breath, tread water, and hope for change- or we can be the change.

7- PLAY THE LOTTERY. Why? Why not. I am not saying that hundreds of dollars should be spent on this, but every once and a while when luck is coursing through the veins-- pick up a scratch-off and see how lucky you really are.

8- PUT A PEN TO THE CHECK. Not literally- because who writes checks anymore- but one can only plan so much. Unless you physically make a payment, the wheels are spinning and the interest is ticking away. Want to reduce debt? Pay on it. Pay on it until it is paid off. All the websites I have seen, all the books I have read, all the people I have talked to-- not one flipping person has said these simple words: Make payments and put your money towards the debt.

9- TRACK YOUR PROGRESS. I made one of those old school fundraising thermometers and I put an obnoxious amount of hash marks on it: both by percentages, tens, and quarters. In doing so, I was able to see how quickly we got to eliminate 10% of our debt over the last 60 days. Yeah, there is still 90% to go- but to see that thermometer fill up with my green crayon- it makes me feel good.

Put it somewhere where you can see it, but where it is still private.

And, for Pete's sake-- be positive. Negativity will not pay these loans off. Focusing on the 90% instead of what has already been accomplished will not solve the problem. Be the change.

10- GET THE WHOLE FAMILY INVOLVED. We told Birdie that this was the year of REDUCTION! We asked her if she had any good places we could save money and she had a few ("Use one tissue instead of two when we blow our nose," or "We really don't need to spend any money on art supplies right now"). It made a good reminder for us that we are all in this together- both the hard part and the fun part of celebrating our success. It is also something to let her know why we are choosing to pour water instead of opening a Capri Sun for supper- because we can put that little money towards the loans and they can go away faster.

2016  kicked off with a whiplash of a payment. If We can stay on this strong trajectory and if we can continue down this path, the cost of medical school will be eliminated by the end of 2018. It will be a moment for celebration, for ordering a good bottle of champagne and acknowledging that driving a 15 year old car, not wearing the newest fashions, and sacrificing in areas both obvious and subtle were worth it. Because we want more for ourselves, we want better for our children, and we want satisfaction of not just a job well done but a job done AWESOME.

Don't be afraid to ask us how we are doing. And don't be afraid to celebrate our success-- as long as you celebrate yours, too.

REDUCTION!