doc w/ Pen

journalist + medical student + artist

Tag: Chicago

Friendly inspiration

When I was in Chicago over winter break, I spent most of my time with my family. But I also caught up with my old “crafternoon” buddy. We talked shop, discussing the best paper collage glue and the sharpest scissors for maximum cutting precision. We also wandered the aisles of Hobby Lobby, picking up random treasures to use in our respective craft projects. Going to Hobby Lobby with a fellow craft addict is both marvelous and dangerous. Marvelous, in that you inspire each other with ideas on how to use this or that trinket; dangerous, in that you rationalize each other’s ever-expanding pile of purchases. But it’s mostly marvelous. My friend also graciously gifted me some vintage children’s book and magazine images, as well as other colorful paper.

Below are some of my recent origami crane cards, made with these new acquisitions. Click on any photo to open up a slideshow with larger images.


Understanding the umbrella

I quickly snapped this picture while walking to the hospital this morning.

In Chicago, where I spent most of my life, “winter” means having to dig your car out from a mountain of snow and bundling up against sub-zero windchills. In New York, I’ve seen people wearing down jackets and gloves when the temperature plummets to *gasp* 50 degrees. When I see these people, I chuckle to myself.

“Wimps,” I whisper under my breath. “They think this is cold?”

But finally, today, we got a real winter day in New York City. It’s been snowing for hours now, with several inches predicted. And it’s coming down pretty hard, even by this Chicagoan’s lofty standards.

For perhaps the third time this winter (not counting the days I spent with my family in Chicago over Christmas), I donned my long, down coat. For the first time this year, I tugged on my heavy snow boots. (And was reminded just how heavy they are.)

As I trudged down the slick sidewalk toward the hospital, I wondered how those people who wore parkas in 50-degree weather were doing. I hoped they were surviving. I thought about how ridiculous all this thick, winter garb looks on everyone, but how no one cares (or laughs) because we’re all just trying to stay warm.

In New York, some people attempt to fight the snow with an umbrella. I took this picture to prove it.

And then I saw the umbrella.

Yes, the umbrella. I’d forgotten about the umbrella.

Different cultures handle adversity in different ways. New York City definitely qualifies as a separate culture. It’s practically a foreign country. And as I was reminded today, some New Yorkers handle the adversity of blowing snow by shielding themselves with umbrellas.

When confronted with this fact, I did exactly what I’d told myself we don’t do in winter: laugh at how people were coping with the weather. It just looks so ridiculous. This is not rain, people! It’s not falling straight down. It’s not even falling sideways. In this wicked wind, it’s swirling and blowing in every possible direction. The only way to truly protect yourself from being pelted is to hail a taxi. And lord knows how rush hour traffic in Manhattan is when it snows.

This is the thing about New York, though. Walking these streets, you see a little bit of everything. Everything from a woman wearing a turkey stuffed animal on her head to a guy strolling down the sidewalk in shiny-cotton-candy-pink spandex to commuters hiding under umbrellas in the falling snow. Sometimes you’ll stare, laugh, or shake your head. Sometimes another person stares, laughs, or shakes their head at you, because they think you’re the weird one. Somehow the city survives on this invisible undercurrent of understanding that we’re all a little weird, all a little different, and that’s ok. It’s actually pretty cool. Even if you carry an umbrella in the snow.

The theme of my summer break: exploring the integration of art and nature

Today marks the beginning of a new clerkship, surgery. I’m sure I will have plenty to say about that in the coming 8 weeks. But right now, I want to write about the marvelous summer break that just came to a close. Without intending this, my vacation decidedly had a theme: art, nature, and their integration. I explored this three-part theme both in New York City with a dear friend who came to visit, as well as during a brief trip to Chicago to see my family.

Taking a break to hug a tree at the Morton Arboretum.

It all started while I was in Chicago, with a visit to the Morton Arboretum. The weather was perfect for seeing this outdoor plant sanctuary, a favorite of my mom’s, and I had never been there. When my mom and I arrived, we discovered there was an origami exhibit underway. The beautiful arboretum grounds were sprinkled with immense metal sculptures, precise replications of miniature folded paper creations. We oohed and aahed as we walked around, both at the plants and the intricate folds of the sculptures, and took lots of fun photos. At the end of our visit, we stopped by the gift shop. I came across a craft kit on how to make origami flowers. It had everything you needed: instruction booklet, paper, and a DVD showing how to make the folds.

“This would be fun,” I told my mom.

Ever the supportive homeschooler, she replied, “I’ll buy it!”

An orchid bouquet that my mom and I crafted together.

So she did. We learned how to make orchids, plumerias, and leaves. I bought floral tape and wire, and we made bouquets. We found YouTube videos detailing how to make cards. We did all this not from the paper included in the kit, though — that paper was plain and boring, so we used it for practice only. But I’d left dozens of sheets of fancy paper at my mom’s apartment, the remnants of my decoupage days. They were still in her basement. I lugged them up the stairs, thankful that most art supplies find use in multiple projects.

I had so much fun that I mailed all my paper (in poster tubes) back to me in New York, and on my plane ride home checked an extra suitcase full of other art paraphernalia. Now I’ve got another way to express my creativity — one that doesn’t involve sitting in front of a screen.

I told my dad one morning a day or two later about the Morton Arboretum and our origami adventures. Along the lines of Japanese culture … he asked whether I’d ever visited the Anderson Japanese Gardens in Rockford. I hadn’t. The afternoon forecast called for rain, so we hurriedly got ready and hopped into his Corvette for the drive to Rockford. Our walk among the Japanese maples and other carefully cultivated plants was sublime.

Enjoying the falling water and beautiful foliage at Anderson Japanese Gardens in Rockford, Ill.

Posing with one of the Chihuly sculptures at the New York Botanical Garden.

Back home in New York,  a good friend of mine came for a brief visit. We headed to The Met, of course, at her request. At my suggestion, we also visited the New York Botanical Garden to see the Chihuly exhibition. I’d seen a similar show at Chicago’s Garfield Park Conservatory several years prior, and had been blown away. His immense blown glass sculptures, which have an unmistakable signature, dotted the garden’s landscape. Some stood alone; others were mixed into the actual plant beds or flowing fountains. For those of you in New York City, I highly recommend going to the botanical garden before this show ends on Oct. 29. Pay the extra few bucks to see not only the outdoor sculptures, but the indoor ones too. It’s totally worth it.

Below are additional photos of my art and nature adventures. Click on any of the photo galleries to see a slide show version with larger images.

Morton Arboretum:

My origami:

Anderson Japanese Gardens:

Beautiful blooming dogwood tree on the grounds of the Japanese garden

New York Botanical Garden / Chihuly:

A refreshing spring break

Last week was my much-welcomed spring break. I spent a few days of it in Chicago visiting my much-missed family. As usual, we talked, laughed, played games, watched movies, ate wonderful food, and drank beer and sparkling wine (not simultaneously, of course).

I also made a trek back to the Garfield Park Conservatory. I’ve been visiting this gigantic, tropical greenhouse since before I can remember, and posted about my time there at Christmas. One reason I love Garfield Park is that every time I go, I discover something new. Sometimes, it’s at a seasonal flower show. Other times, I come across something that’s always been there and I simply see it in a new way. Both happened during this most recent visit.

When I went last Friday, the spring flower show was underway. I’ve never seen such vibrant azaleas or Persian buttercups.

Brilliant azaleas at the Garfield Park Conservatory’s spring flower show.

In the fern room, a childhood favorite for games of hide-and-seek, I noticed unusual patterns of fern spores. Usually, fern spores aggregate in little round, brown balls that line the underside of the leaves. But I discovered that they arrange themselves in other beautiful ways — in straight lines and in zig-zags, for example.

Schismatoglottis — parasite or plant?

Part of how you see things depends on your perspective. And I was looking at the plants as a medical student. So when I saw a plant called Schismatoglottis (pictured at left), I immediately thought the placard read “Schistosomiasis” — a nasty parasitic worm you contract by exposure to infected water.

And looking at the miniature silver nerve plant, I had flashbacks to our brain and behavior unit last fall. The veins in the leaves do bear resemblance to axons and dendrites.

Miniature silver nerve plant

I found unexpected humor at the conservatory too. In the same room where my sisters and I had run amok as kids, I saw this gardener’s bin. I’m glad to see childhood playfulness is still welcomed — even encouraged.

And now, after such a refreshing spring break, it’s time to get ready for my next clerkship: primary care.

Recharged and ready to go after winter break

Playing with my dad's cats, Regina and Ismael, was such a treat.

Playing with my dad’s cats, Regina and Ismael, was such a treat.

It’s always hard to get back into the swing of things after vacation. As I got up this morning, inwardly I groaned, thinking about the weeks of intense studying that lie ahead. (I’ve been studying for only five days so far, and already I’m exhausted … only five weeks to go.) But looking back on some of the wonderful memories made over the two weeks I was in Chicago raised my spirits:

  • Spending much-needed time with my parents, sisters, and future brother-in-law. We talked, laughed, ate, drank, played cards, watched movies. I only wish we could do it more often. But since we can’t, our time together is all the more precious.
  • Visiting with some (but not all) of my lovely Chicago-area friends — what a treat!
  • Going to the Garfield Park Conservatory to get a chlorophyll hit as winter raged outside.
  • Watching a Blackhwaks game at the United Center. The Blackhawks lost, but did score so we got to do the goal dance thing. If you’ve been to a Hawks game, you know what I’m talking about.
  • Reading a whole novel — I hadn’t read for fun in months and months.
  • Seeing Rogue One in 3-D IMAX (I hadn’t been in a theater in ages) and then following that up with three more Star Wars movies over the next two weeks in my dad’s man cave.
  • Driving a car.
  • Creating things with my hands.
  • Eating Lou Malnati’s deep dish pizza not once, but twice — giardiniera and sausage, yum.
  • Playing with my dad’s two cats.

These next five weeks, post-vacation, will be intense as I study for my board exam. But this two-week break was exactly what I needed to recharge after such an intense semester. This time off put me in a better frame of mind to start my study period.

I’m ready. Bring it on.

Inspiration via interruption

Regina likes to keep me company when I'm writing.

Regina likes to keep me company when I’m writing.

When I’m in a good mood, I write. When I’m in a bad mood, I write. When I discover something new, I write. You get the idea.

Putting amorphous thoughts into words, sentences, and paragraphs helps me interpret and understand my daily life. It helps me reach deep inside, to locate and process ideas and feelings I didn’t even know were there.

Usually, writing is a solitary task. This week though, I’ve had help from my dad’s cat Regina, as you can see. When I’m on the couch in the morning, computer in my lap, she quietly slips beside me and gingerly steps, one paw at a time, onto the keyboard. Soon her rump is on the black keys, her front paws on the track pad. Typing becomes a lost cause.

But I’m ok with this interruption. Regina stares up at me with her hazel eyes, and I don’t care about finishing my work. I scratch her head, stroke her back, and she purrs with contentment. I’m contented too, happy to have this warm, furry creature sitting with me and basking in my company. Writing can wait.

Unless I take allergy medicine, I get sneezy and snuffly around my dad’s cats. So felines are not likely in my own future. But the joy of having Regina and her brother, Ismael, sidling up next to me has gotten me thinking about what it would be like to have my own animal distraction.

I do like living by myself. I find solace in the peace and quiet. But it gets lonely, especially when I’m studying for hours on end. Maybe having another warm body around, even a little one that can’t talk, would help. Living in a little apartment, pets are tricky — and often not allowed at all. So perhaps this is something for my life beyond medical school. But it’s something to ponder.

The writing process helps me think. Apparently, this is the case even when that process is interrupted. It just goes to show that sometimes, interruptions — in the form of cats, or otherwise — are the best inspiration.

Under the glass roof

Who loves a garden, loves a green-house too.
Unconscious of a less propitious clime
There blooms exotic beauty, warm and snug,
While the winds whistle and the snows descend.
— William Cowper, “The Task,” 1785

I read that verse on a placard at the Garfield Park Conservatory earlier this week. My family and I have been visiting this incredible Chicago greenhouse since I was little, especially during winter holidays. Under that glass roof, you’re transported to tropical and desert climates, despite the frigid temperatures outside. This year’s visit was especially special to me this year, as a New Yorker, with so little greenery around me. (And obviously, no backyard garden.) Here are some photos I took during our visit. Click on any image to enlarge.

Be in the moment

This morning, my dad's cat Regina reminded me how important it is to just be.

This morning, my dad’s cat Regina reminded me how important it is to just be.

I had the most incredible experience this morning. It didn’t involve leaving the house. It didn’t cost anything. I didn’t even have to change out of my pajamas. For an entire hour, I sat on the couch petting my dad’s cat Regina.

My dad’s two cats are friendly, and love attention. But neither has ever sat still that long for me. So the encounter itself was a pleasant surprise. Even more surprising, though, was how amazing it felt just to be for that time. Just to exist in the moment.

I don’t often take the time for anything like that. It always seems like there is so much to do. If I’m not doing something, anything, then surely I’m falling behind. But maybe the sense of peace I got from this simple 60 minutes is a lesson to me. A lesson that no matter how much is going on, taking even a few minutes to ground myself, for serenity’s sake, is worth it. I think this is especially important as I approach my Step 1 study period and my clerkships. During both of these experiences, I’m bound to feel more harried than ever. Which means I’m bound to need a moment of tranquility more than ever.

If only I had a purring, furry friend like Regina who could remind me of that every day. I’ll just have to remind myself.

Preparing for what’s next

Being unprepared is one of my worst nightmares. Literally.

The dream takes different forms. Usually, I’m at school. I discover there’s a huge test I didn’t know about (and so didn’t study for). Or there’s a big assignment due, and I completely forgot about it.

I wake up from these dreams unsettled, because in real life, I make a point of being prepared. I know that in general, there are all kinds of things that I can’t control. So the things that are within my power, I try to manage as best as I can.

Nowhere is that more true than with my upcoming clerkships. So much in that realm is out of my hands. I recognize that. But certain aspects, I can prepare for. Like having everything I need in advance.

Living in New York City without a car, shopping can be a challenge. So I’ve tried to get some of that done more conveniently (and more cheaply) while here in Chicago visiting my family.

Jeans aren’t exactly appropriate for the hospital, so I needed more professional attire. And to take a patient’s heart and respiration rates, I needed a wrist watch. Thankfully, I think I’ve gotten everything I needed. Christmas sales made it all relatively affordable — certainly more so than in New York.

I did roll my eyes when my mom explained our shopping trip to a sales clerk at the local mall:

“My daughter came all the way from New York City to go shopping here in Chicago!”

But really, she was right.

I came here to see my family, of course. That’s my main priority. But I also came here to get ready for what’s next. To get in the right mindset for studying for Step 1, and to get what I need for clerkships.

At this point, I’m prepared for what I can prepare for. And the rest? I’ll handle that as it comes.

Reconnecting with my creativity

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Coming home to Chicago means I’ve reconnected with my family. It also means I’ve reconnected with my creativity.

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved creating things with my hands. Beads, wire, glass, and paper have all been my mediums, at one time or another. Before starting medical school, I even sold some of my work at arts and crafts shows. But creating takes space. That’s something I lack at my New York City apartment. So the few supplies I didn’t get rid of, I left at my mom’s place.

This morning, I zipped open the red duffel bag that sat on a shelf in her musty basement for the last year. Inside the bag are clear tubs of beads and spools of colored wire. A velcro-secured pouch holds my wire cutters and other tools. In another box are pieces of second-hand silverware that I’d bought at resale shops. Take all those supplies, add some personal inspiration, and what you see in these photos is what you get.

Watching something take form before your eyes, something you have designed and created, is a good feeling. I’ve missed it.