Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015: Das Jahr das war.

2015 war ein Jahr von Verabschiedungen. Meine Grossmutter, Ann, starb im März mit 89 Jahren. Sie war Bibliothekarin, Ehefrau, Mutter von 4, Grossmutter von 6, Urgrossmutter von 1. Bis sie sehr alt war, war sie clever und sharfsinning. Ihr bedanke ich meinen zweiten Name.

Im Juli starb unsere Katze, Erasmus Galileo, mit 17 Jahren an Beinosteosarkoma. Er war unsere Freude, ein liebenswerter Schurke. Wir warten bis diesen kommenden Sommer, nach dem Umzug, bis wir eine andere bekommen.

Auch haben wir uns von den beiden Pastoren verabschiedet. Der Ältere ist mitten im Jahre wegen Krankheit von der Gemeinde ausgeschieden; der Jüngere wurde neu zugeordnet. Sie sind gute Männer, die ich unter meinen Freunden zählen.

Michaels 1997 Chevy Malibu wurde mitte-Juni tot erklärt. Die Reparaturen waren uns zu teuer. Er hat das 2006 Chevy Malibu seiner Mutter gekauft.

Das Gute des Jahres habe ich auf Zetteln in einem beschmukten Konservenglas gesammelt. Am 31. Dezember sass ich auf dem Sofa, um die Papieren einen nach dem anderen auszuziehen und zu lesen: gute Noten, Kinokarten, schöne Momenten mit Nichten und Neffen.

Ich habe Chicago (zweimal); San Antonio, Texas; Madison, Wisconsin; Zentral New Jersey; und New York City besucht. Für Praktikum-Interviews bin ich nach Indianapolis, Indiana; Cleveland, Colombus, und Cincinnati, Ohio; Denver, Colorado; Boston, Massachusetts; Rochester, New York; Newark, New Jersey; Pittsburgh und Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Baltimore, Maryland gereist. Ich habe Tours von Häuser von Frank Lloyd Wright Haus, Ernest Hemingway, und den Vanderbilt Familie ("Biltmore Besitz") gemacht. Ich habe Museen von western Kunst (TX) und moderner Kunst (NYC, TX, und Madison) besucht. Ich habe Apfeltorte zum ersten Mal gebackt.

Diesen Winter habe ich viel Tee getrunken. Wann ich Tee trinke, denke ich an meine deutschen FreundInnen, weil wir immer zusammen Tee getrunken haben. Im Mai promoviere ich mit meinem M.D. Wonach wir Juni umziehen werden wir am 18. März herausfinden. Bis dann lese, schreibe, und lehre ich. Ich vorbereite für den nächsten Schritt als Ärztin, mit Mann, Familie, und FreundInnen, die mich unterstützen. Ich wünsche euch ein gutes, schönes, gesundes Neues Jahr!

Doorbells and Sleigh Bells and Schnitzel with Potatoes

Easter is for ham, Thanksgiving is for turkey, and at our house, Christmas Eve is for steak. If I'm cooking other holiday meals, I like to try out new recipes. If it's a fancy dinner with out-of-town guests and a deadline (church, a concert, etc.)--what could go wrong? For Christmas one year I baked salmon with dill sauce; another time blackberry-glazed pork; and in 2007 it was Cornish hens with pomegranate and date salad (left). Two years ago for New Year's Eve I made lentil patties and black-eyed peas (of course). This year I decided to try my hand at Wiener schnitzel for the first time. I used a recipe offered by the Austrian government.

I had made chicken parmesan for the first time a few months earlier, and it turns out that the methods are similar: meat coated in flour, next egg, then bread crumbs and fried in oil/butter. Although Wiener Schnitzel is Dear Husband's favorite dish when he visits Central Europe, he didn't get to enjoy any of this, as he had an early call time. The rest of us ate schnitzeled veal scallopini, sauteed green beans, and boiled parsley potatoes. In retrospect, this kind of dish does not make a very good party dish, because it is hard to mass produce. I fried them independently in a pan and kept the cooked ones in a warm oven. Here are a few photos.

The veal scallopini were so thin that they didn't require
much application of a saran-wrapped rolling pin.
From right to left, plain flour, 2 eggs with 1 tbsp oil, Italian bread crumbs.
Add grated parmesan cheese to make chicken parmesan.
On the left are green beans in sesame oil with soy sauce and sesame seeds.
I like green beans steamed, but DH prefers them this way.
The finished products, with lemon and parsley.
And a sweet rose wine from Ohio in the background.
Then it was off to the theater to revel in a night of one of my favorite things: Broadway tunes!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, goodbye!

In 2015 we said a number of goodbyes to...
Our church's senior pastor, to retirement. I was continually grateful that Wes felt confident enough in his preaching ability and in the congregation's talents to "share the pulpit." That included allowing a handful of us to start a creative worship team to brainstorm readings, liturgical dance, sanctuary decorations, etc. He even admitted me to his Sermon Dream Team, who read his draft(s) each week and offered suggestions. Mine mostly consisted of encouragement to make his thesis clearer and/or rearrange paragraphs. Wes was very good natured about it. When I finally thought I had the time to take his Disciple I class in my third year of medical school, we kept each other amused by sparring good naturedly about historical and literary interpretations of the Bible.
  • My sister-in-law's mother, to breast cancer. She fought long and hard and will be fondly remembered.

My maternal grandmother, to old age. On facebook I wrote that I was "bereft of one amazing grandmother. I bear her name as my middle name; I make sure it's there on all my presentations and publications: Ann. She was sharp as a whip, a strong woman who raised four children, a loving wife, a librarian who introduced me to some of my favorite books. I will always remember your wry sense of humor, Grammy Benbow. xoxo" That's how she used to sign cards to us: xoxoxo.
  • The University's Chancellor, to scandal. Also the Provost. And the Head Football Coach.
Our church's associate pastor, to reassignment. I will always remember Brad for his moving portrayal of Joseph as a fleshed out man and husband-to-be in the Christmas pageant he wrote. His joy at being engaged to Mary soured into abject disappointment. I think I cried both times this play was performed. I also appreciated Brad's willingness to talk about contemporary politics in another Christmas pageant, which looked at Mary and Joseph as teenaged immigrants oppressed by their society. Here we are being unintentionally photobombed by one of Brad's favorite waiters at his favorite Mexican restaurant.
  • Michael's car, to dead brakes, springs, and struts. Good-bye, 1997 Chevy Malibu! So what if your replacement is a 2004 Chevy Malibu with working heat and AC, a CD player, and butt-warmer seats. It's not personal.

Please note the blue milk jug ring he has so expertly subdued.

If this post was too much of a downer, check out my list of "rememberlutions"--good things that happened in 2015.

Monday, December 28, 2015

"Biltmore"--Because "Cost More" Sounded Crass

For Christmas my grandmother treated us to a trip to "America's Largest Home," the Biltmore Estate outside Asheville, North Carolina. We drove over from Charlotte the day before, staying at a hotel in town for half what it would have cost to stay in one of the three hotels on the estate. Robber-baron heir George Vanderbilt (1862-1914) bought the 125,000 acres in the Blue Mountains in the 1880s and began construction at the age of 32, when he was still a bachelor. He married Edith Stuyvesant Dresser in 1898, and their daughter, Cornelia, was born there in 1900. The French Renaissance house has been handed down in the Vanderbilt/Cecil Family ever since. Cornelia and her husband opened it to visitors in 1930 in order to increase the revenue of the estate. The grounds are “only” 8,000 acres now, 87,000 acres having been sold to the federal government as Pisgah National Forest in 1914 after George died of complications from appendicitis surgery and Edith decided she couldn't run such a large tract of land by herself.

The day of our visit dawned wet and gray. We carpooled to the estate and waited in the mist for our turn to enter. Audioguides in pressed to our ears, we followed the herds of people, some with children, strollers, or wheelchairs, winding through the rooms on four floors of the 252-room mansion. First up was the Winter Garden, a sunken glass-domed parlor filled with green plants. I asked Dear Husband if he wouldn’t like to practice in there every day, but he complained that the shiny black grand piano would go out of tune from the changes in temperature.

In the game room the Christmas tree was decked with pheasant feathers like this wreath on the conservatory--a nod to the gentlemen’s hunts I supposed. The medieval-style Great Hall banquet room held the only live tree, but it was massive, reaching above the chandeliers. There are 500 electric light bulbs on it and 200 presents in and around it. Next on the tour, both the women’s salon and the music room—completed well after the house had opened on Christmas Eve in 1895—had touches from Albrecht Dürer. DH told me he wants an original Dürer mantelpiece for Christmas next year; I told him to dream on.

Nowadays the 12-member floral department plans the next Christmas’s decorations all year. It takes them and 8 volunteers 3 and a half weeks to install all the trees, wreaths, garlands, and other touches. This year’s theme was “a Gilded-Age Christmas” and consisted of richly beribboned greens and classic, jewel-toned ornaments. My favorite display was probably the bare branches filling the alcove at the foot of the back staircase; they were covered in white lights and dripping crystal icicles. Unfortunately photos inside the house are prohibited--probably because the crowds would move even more slowly then. And of course they want you to visit yourself and purchase their merchandise!

The house is massive: there are 35 bedrooms, 65 fireplaces, 43 bathrooms, and 0 sinks. Apparently running water was considered a necessary luxury for running a bath and flushing the toilet, but not for washing hands, which means the germ revolution was only halfway successful, as the bathroom we saw was tiled in the latest hygienic style already.

Upstairs were bed- and sitting rooms for the family on the second floor and for guests on the third floor. DH and I compared the various well-appointed rooms to bed and breakfasts at which we have ever stayed. Downstairs in the basement you can touch the 14-foot-thick foundation walls. In the “Halloween Room” you can see black and white photographs taken during the construction phase. Actually, the amateur wall paintings don’t have anything to do with All Hallow’s Eve: the homeowners and their guests did them in advance of a New Year’s Eve party in 1925. The theme was a Russian folk tale, which accounts of the witches and black cats. Next door were a two-lane bowling alley, an indoor swimming pool that unfortunately leaks now, and a gymnasium complete with parallel bars and “needle showers” (think massage shower heads). Downstairs were also the female servants’ quarters and all the kitchens and pantries. It was all very "Downton Abbey."

Two hours and fifteen minutes later we had completed our 1.5-hour tour and repaired to a big round table in the loft of the Stable Café for an excellent rustic lunch. DH, my mother, and I walked through the gardens while the rest visited the gift shops and fetched the car. Gray skies turned to sprinkles turned to rain, hurrying us down the hill into the conservatory, which I am very glad we did not miss, as its many glass-enclosed rooms were stuffed with poinsettias, ferns, succulents, tropical flowers, and one room with a variety of beautiful orchids (the only one under video surveillance, I noted!). Above left you can see me with what must be the world's largest chia pet. With a fluffy pink flower for a nose, I think it's supposed to be a botanical Rudolph.

I don't know the name of the fluffy
pink flower in the upper left, but it
seemed to me to have come straight
out of a Dr. Seuss book!
Then we drove through the grounds to Antler Hill Village, a collection of shops, restaurants, and a few exhibits around one of the on-site hotels. We walked through the old dairy barns that now house the winery and stood in line (again!) for a free tasting. Due to the uncertain handling of checked baggage, none of us bought any bottles to bring back with us. However, because Biltmore milk and ice cream are supposed to be famous, we bought generous to-go scoops of mint chocolate chip and black cherry. The ice cream was soft and fluffy. I would have liked a stronger mint flavor, but there were real cherry pieces in the other kind, so in all quite good. Thankfully the rain stopped long enough for us to load up in the van and hit the road for what turned out to be a scenic but long drive back to Charlotte.

The grounds of the estate are reportedly gorgeous in the early spring, especially when the dogwoods are in bloom. There is also a rose garden, and they offer an hour-long upstairs/downstairs tour that I would take if we were ever back in the area. Apparently Antler Hill Village also offers a number of outdoor activities like guided horseback rides, fly-fishing classes, and Segway tours. The place was crowded for a Monday, maybe due to the holidays, so I probably wouldn’t want to return on a weekend. I’m sure the estate is doing quite well for itself now!

Sunday, December 27, 2015

What Medical School Looks Like XXV

Sometimes medical school looks like having two awesome parents who have supported you through almost three decades of schooling.


Thursday, December 24, 2015

Oh Christmas Tea, Oh Christmas Tea! Week 3-ish

Here is the third and final installment in this year's Advent calendar: 24 days of tea. Catch up by reading Week 1 and Week 2.

Day 17 ~ "Mulled wine" ~ an oolong tea with low caffeine that I liked so much I had two cups that day.

Day 18 ~ "Forever nuts" ~ a caffeine-free fruit infusion that describes us perfectly! (See above.)

Day 19 ~ "Dark chocolate" ~ a black tea with medium caffeine that smelled like chocolate and tasted like a mild black tea.

Day 20 ~ "Moment of zen" ~ green tea with low caffeine that I paired with a book on Medizin and Krieg (war) in Deutschland.

Day 21 ~ "Cardamom French toast" ~ a black tea with low caffeine whose aroma reminded me of one of the buildings where I went to college (Eads Hall at Washington University in St. Louis). A little milk made it good and creamy.

Day 22 ~ "Snow day" ~ a low-caffeine herbal infusion that was wishful thinking for a winter as warm as we've had. I confess between all the travel and the confusing weather, it hasn't felt very much like Christmas. I don't know how the southern third of the country gets in the mood when the mercury is so high. Anyway, this one reminded me of nothing so much as a York Peppermint Patty. In the background you can see I'm reading about military statistics and the development of biological thinking in Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries (that's my favorite online German dictionary on the right).

Day 23 ~ "Gingerbread cookie" ~ another new kind of tea for us: maté. Maté the caffeinated drink is made by steeping leaves from the South American yerba maté plant in hot water. It is typically drunk through a straw that filters out the leaves. While researching it, I learned that maté can be bitter if prepared with boiling water. That's when I noticed the temperature suggestion on the back of the little drawer-box: 85 C / 185 F for maté rather than the 205 F for black tea. Apparently white and green teas like lower temps, too. Ah, whoops. This one was labeled "stimulant," and I hoped it would "stimulate" me to finish reading yesterday's research book and move on to cleaning the kitchen. Smelled and tasted like gingerbread, which I don't normally like.

Day 24 ~ "Santa's secret" ~ a medium-caffeine black tea we drank at the start of a loong day of cleaning, packing, cooking and eating two big meals, rehearsing, performing, and celebrating Christmas Eve at three church services, the last one ending at midnight. Can you see the tiny red and white candy-cane shapes in the tea? I couldn't quite pin the flavor, but it was delicious. Must be Santa's secret recipe. Today's research book: French and German doctors during World War I (also auf deutsch).

Those of you who have read along this whole Advent, thank you! This was a delightful present from my Mother-in-Law that Dear Husband and I were able to turn into three-ish weeks of experimenting and taste-testing across the miles. And because the little canisters have more than two servings in them, we get to continue drinking wonderful tea into the new year. From our little house to yours, wherever you are, Merry Christmas! May it be safe, happy, and restful.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Santa Came Two Days Early

Dear Husband and I mentioned to a friend yesterday that we were skipping the Christmas tree this year. The local tree farm was closed the day we had planned to go tree hunting; I was gone on residency interviews for much of the month; DH was busy with rehearsals and performances when I returned; and we will be celebrating elsewhere with family, so it made sense to just put up the creches and outside lights.

Today DH got home from lunch to find Santa had sent elves with a tree AND working lights! While I was running errands, they moved the furniture around and set up the tree in its usual corner. They absconded just before I returned home, wondering aloud what DH had needed from the garage storage space, since he'd left his car in the driveway and the ladder leading to the attic down. "What's going on? Where did this plastic bag of lights come from? What are you laughing about?" I peppered him with questions while opening the card left on the dining room table: "Daddy wanted you have this tree. =) Merry Christmas!"

That's when I looked to my left and discovered...a real live evergreen tree, standing where my rocking chair usually sits. I threw back my head and laughed and laughed. DH captured the moment on his cell phone camera, because it's 2015, and that's what you do when your wife comes home and notices all the little things but not the one big change.

So we put on the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, heated up some Kahlua-spiked hot chocolate left over from a party, and decorated our hearts out. All the boxes came back out of the attic: bulbs, garland, star tree-topper. And the two ornaments that always go on the tree, no matter the theme for the year: a green glass pickle (my turn to look for it!) and the ornament I made in honor of our engagement 11 years ago. DH's immortal words from his proposal--"I can see what's important!"--adorn a shell I picked up from the beach on the Outer Banks. (He asked me to marry him at sunset; that morning he had lost his glasses in the post-storm surf.)

A tree and lights are not what are important about Christmas, but sharing the surprise and decorating together brought us closer as a couple and reminded us that a selfless gift is the reason for the season.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

My Medical Grand Tour, Part 3 of 4

While undertaking residency interviews, I collected photographic mementoes. Click here for Part 1, Part 2, and Part 4.

The farthest I traveled was to Aurora, CO. I stayed at a hotel near the Denver airport  and the Anschutz medical campus. The hotel was decorated for the winter holidays with a Christmas tree and garlands decked out in blue, white, and silver baubles. The lobby led into a large open hall with the restaurant on one side and the bar on the other. In the middle was an elevated platform with a grand piano and this large stone formation (decked with gauze and lights) with a noisy, cascading fountain. I guess it brought the mountains a little closer. You had to walk up a ramp on the side to access the hallway with the elevators hidden behind it.

Here are the actual mountains, visible on the other side of downtown Denver from an upper floor of University Hospital.

The newest building at the Nemours/Alfred DuPont Children's Hospital in Wilmington, DE, looks like an enormous fish tank, what with its curving blue-glass walls. Inside the vaulted lobby stood an impressive Christmas tree.

In Philadelphia, PA, I visited the Reading Terminal Market to buy ice cream for me and edible Christmas presents for my family. The stalls--most local, some Amish--selling candy, sausages, local produce, and souvenirs were busy for a weekday afternoon. The last time I was at the RTM would have been in 2004, when I treated myself to an early dinner after a medical school interview before hopping a train home.

Good morning, Bromo-Seltzer Tower!

Despite its long history of German culture, Baltimore, MD, didn't have a Christmas market until 2013. A couple of applicants and I walked over to the Inner Harbor pavilions after our interviews wrapped up. We stopped by The Fudgery and then the temporary stalls to buy delicious flavored popcorn by a local vendor. I was appalled at the exorbitant prices on the "Saxon" Christmas ornaments that were probably made in China. Outside was an Advent calendar on which the organizers posted a fact about German Christmas every day. Peaking over the top, you can see Baltimore's World Trade Center.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Oh Christmas Tea, Oh Christmas Tea! Week 2-ish

Here is the second installment in this year's Advent tea odyssey. Click here for Week 1 and Week 3.

Day 9 ~ "Organic cinnamon rooibos chai" ~ a caffeine-free tea. I like rooibos a lot, but chai not so much; turns out I couldn't tell the difference. Dear Husband likes chai and thought this one was pretty good; here is the image he texted me of "us" enjoying his mug of tea together.

Day 10 ~ "Organic Nepal black" ~ a black tea with medium caffeine I drank with a little half and half.

Day 11 ~ "Hot chocolate" ~ a pu'erh tea with medium caffeine. If you have never heard of pu'erh tea before, it's a kind of fermented dark tea that originated in Yunnan Province, China. Smells and tastes delicious! To the right you can see DH blowing on his steaming mug.

Day 12 ~ "Organic: the spice is right" ~ a green tea with low caffeine. Reminded me of Bengal Spice.

Day 13 ~ "Buddha's blend" ~ a medium-caffeine white tea that smelled like peaches. I liked this one, as you can see below.

Day 14 ~ "Alpine punch" ~ a caffeine-free rooibos that smelled of...coconut? No,...cherry. Either way, delicious.

Day 15 ~ "Honey, I dew" ~ a low-caffeine white tea that smelled and tasted of honey dew melon. DH's least favorite selection.

Day 16 ~ "Organic Japanese sencha" ~ a green tea with medium caffeine.

It's not really Christmas until you break out the holiday mugs!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

O Christmas Tea, O Christmas Tea! Week 1-ish

For Christmas this year, my parents-in-law gave me a special kind of Advent calendar: a David's Tea collection. Each of 24 little drawers pulls out to reveal a little screw-top container with a different kind of loose-leaf tea. Dear Husband decided that drinking the same tea every morning would be something nice to do "together"--no matter where I was on the interview trail. So we re-packaged the tea into single-serving baggies that I tucked into my luggage with the tea infuser. [Insert dime-baggie joke here.] Every morning we brewed a different tea and texted each other a photo. I've broken up the teas into three-ish weeks of eight days of deliciousness.

Day 1 ~ "Sleigh ride" ~ a "fruit infusion" sans caffeine. Lovely pink-red color with fruity smell and taste that we enjoyed together before driving to the airport.

The floating frog-on-a-lily-pad tea infuser was a gift from my Aunt J. It stayed home with DH.
I traveled with the collapsible infuser on the left that came with the box of loose-leaf tea.
Day 2 ~ "Mango madness" ~ a white tea with a light caffeine. The delicate flavors of mango and white tea blended well together.

orange pekoe!
Day 3 ~ "Orange pekoe" ~ a black tea with medium caffeine. I ran out of hot water for this one, so I spiked mine with some almond milk. The black tea flavor was not too strong.

Day 4 ~ "Organic sweet almond green" ~ a green tea with low caffeine. The almond really came through in this one.

Day 5 ~ "Banana nut bread" ~ a fruit infusion sans caffeine. Smelled good--like raisins? Tasted like your standard fruit tea.

Day 6 ~ "Glitter & gold" ~ a black tea with medium caffeine. Having had two colds in two weeks, I did not feel like "glitter and gold" that morning.

Day 7 ~ "Organic North African mint" ~ a green tea with low caffeine. You could really taste the organic goodness.

Day 8 ~ "Cherry blossom" ~ a white tea with low caffeine. I sort of forgot this one, steeping in the hotel bathroom while I ironed, dressed, and packed. It was unobjectionable.

That's me enjoying Day 7's tea out of a Texas wildflower mug, having just rolled out of bed at my parents' house on a non-interview day.

Continue reading with Week 2 and Week 3.

Monday, December 7, 2015

What Medical School Looks Like XXIV

The fourth year of medical school sometimes looks like watching Monday Night Football from yet another hotel room somewhere in the continental United States while on yet another residency interview.


Friday, December 4, 2015

My Medical Grand Tour, Part 2 of 4

Click here for Part 1, Part 3, and Part 4.

Traveling for residency interviews offered a great excuse to save money and reconnect by staying with friends and family.

The weather in Pittsburgh, PA, was mild enough to enjoy the shops and lights in the Squirrel Hill neighbor-hood one evening. Dinner was sushi and seaweed, since Dear Husband doesn't eat it. After my interview, I snapped this view of the Cathedral of Learning. I bounced back to Baltimore and then to Pittsburgh again. I would like to think I made friends with a certain Milton Tiberius Cat, although he probably would have liked me better if I had known how to feed him breakfast.

I had brunch with a sleepy
tabby while back in
Urbana, IL, one weekend.
Back in Baltimore I had another first, visiting the grave of Edgar Allan Poe at Westminster Hall, within sight of the University of Maryland Medical Complex. He was (re)buried there with his cousin/wife, Virginia, and his aunt/mother-in-law, Maria, in 1875. A UMMC physician has written a whole book of "medical history mysteries," including the mysterious death of this famous author.

The week of Thanksgiving I went to Cincinnati, OH, to stay with my in-laws and to interview there. I helped our niece and nephew decorate gingerbread cookies. Here are representative samples; Santa's first name is Bob, and the martial arts student's name is Joohnny-Son [sic]. For the holiday, Dear Husband joined us, and we went for a walk around Sharon Lake.

Back in Boston, MA, I was under the weather, which was rainy. Dear Husband and I stayed connected while I was gone by drinking our way through an Advent calendar of tea. Here's orange pekoe black tea and an egg for breakfast before flying off to the next place.