Saturday, May 18, 2019

That's So Pittsburgh: High Tea with Sherlock Holmes Afficianados

Today Dear Husband and I celebrated the end of two weeks of night shifts with a date for Sherlock-Holmes-themed high tea with the local Britsburgh Anglophile group. It was hosted at the Omni William Penn Hotel, the fanciest hotel in the world when it was built in 1916, at least according to the maitre d'. The chandeliers behind us were gifts from the queen of Austria and are worth $50,000(!). The organizers chose this hotel in part because of the fancy-schmancy atmosphere of the Terrace Room, and in part because Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself spent one night there when traveling through the United States lecturing on spiritualism and the paranormal.

The invitation encouraged guests to get all dressed up and ladies to wear hats, and we happily complied. We ended up sharing a table with a slightly older professional couple. Sheila is a runner, and Frank likes organ concerts, so there was a lot to talk about. DH chose the mountain berry tea, while I opted for Earl Grey. We enjoyed a variety of finger sandwiches but could not manage to finish this impressive display of fruit and desserts. The china was a beautiful, classic, floral rose-on-white pattern. Service took over an hour, however, so the special lecture was delayed.

The guest for the day was Sherlockian Jim Zunic, who described himself as someone who has "an inordinate interest in Sherlock Holmes," and it made me wonder what constitutes an "ordinate" interest. He has read all 4 novellas and 56 short stories, watched the television and film knockoffs, and collected a variety of ephemera. It was a short but very interesting lecture. Zunic reminded us that many details associated with the famous detective in popular culture are not "canonical" from Conan-Doyle's original writings: the deerstalker hat, the curved pipe, and the phrase, "Elementary, my dear Watson!"

One last thing: the Terrace Room is overseen by a mural of George Washington recapturing Fort Duquesne (now Fort Pitt) in 1755. The hotel maitre d' pointed out a number of intentional inaccuracies, from the depiction of an elderly GW for recognition's sake, although he would have been 33 at the time, to the Plains Sioux headdress on the Iroquois Native American man in the foreground. The soldier on the left is General Braddock, not Governor Pitt the Elder, for whom the fort and later city were named.

Editor's Note: If you enjoyed this edition of That's So Pittsburgh (TSPGH), you might like the World War I commemoration we attended, or this post about other historic murals.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

What Residency Looks Like XLI: Llamapalooza

Sometimes residency looks like a houseful of pediatricians and their dates/families hiding from the rain in an old farmhouse, crowding around the potluck table and grilled meats, and darting out to the barn to feed the llamas and pet the friendly barn cat. The llamas are all named Jackie, and the cat's name is Twinkie. The hostess and her husband used to have as many as 35 llamas; now there are 6. In the spring they invite the department out for a party on their farm an hour outside of town, complete with legendary grilled salmon, music over speakers from the second-story porch, multiple mixed drinks, and a bonfire once dark fell and the rain relented. If the weather hadn't been so wet, there would have been cornhole and frisbee. As it was, the 5 dogs had the time of their lives. The llamas had no comment, although one deigned to eat a little cracked corn out of my hand.

You had better believe that when the first guy to feed the fire left, yours truly, Girl Scout Extraordinaire, continued to nurse it.


Wednesday, May 8, 2019

That's So Pittsburgh: Mystics in Motion

One night at Mystics in Motion (the Wednesday night service formerly known as Worship Jam), we made sock puppets. The idea was that while we might show one face to each other, God knows our innermost selves. So we decorated socks and then turned them inside out and decorated them again. And because this is a group of creatives, we went around the circle to name and describe our characters before and after their transformations. (That's my sock with its two different personalities above.)

Because I waited too long to write this post, I can't remember any of the details, but that's probably just as well, as many of them reflected their creators' personalities and interior journeys. I will say that I was struck by the fact that no one's sock puppet had the same shape as anyone else's: one was tall, another short, one with a long nose, another short, and so on. That diversity and the safe space to open up to one another--to do crafts, and sing/dance, and have the faith of children--is one of the reasons we enjoy this group so much.

In an effort to be conscientious, the socks were undecorated and donated after we finished with them.

Friday, May 3, 2019

What Residency Looks Like LX: Starzl's stare

Sometimes residency looks like listening to interdisciplinary rounds with the intestinal care team under the watchful gaze of Thomas Starzl (1926-2017), the famous liver transplant surgeon. He was recruited to Pittsburgh from Colorado, where he had grown tired of opposition to his pioneering but as-yet unsuccessful operations to save the lives of patients in liver failure. At Pitt he developed a highly successful transplant service, training fellows who went on to populate the field. This was back in the 1980s, when transplantation was still so new that Starzl had to fly in a rented private plane to the various hospitals where a donor had died, harvest the organ, take it back to Pittsburgh, and implant it--there just weren't other surgeons who could do this kind of surgery. According to Burden of Genius, the well-done documentary I watched on the IMAX at the Carnegie Science Center, he was a no-nonsense perfectionist and difficult to work with. But he got results. There was scandal about the way he let wealthy patients from the Middle East pay their way, but he also operated on any patient, regardless of their ability to pay. A government investigation found him innocent, but he burned out of the OR after 10 years here and turned his attention to researching immunosuppression regimens for preserving organs after transplantation. Click on the link above to see some great photographs and watch the doc-trailer.

p.s. Pittsburghers, you have two more chances to see the film at the Science Center, May 19, 4pm and 7pm!


Tuesday, April 30, 2019

What Residency Looks Like LIX: Poop Deck

Another entry in my log of bathroom posts. One of my colleagues bought this sign and accompanying door handle charm for our workroom/lounge. Seems self-explanatory.

When I was a third-year medical student, I observed/assisted in an operation with the colorectal team. One of the PAs laughed when I made some comment that suggested I wouldn't deal with poop as a doctor, since I hadn't chosen colorectal surgery. She was right. It is inescapable. I also gave up calling it "stools" or "bowel movements" pretty quickly, because some people didn't know what I was talking about, but everybody knows what you mean when you ask, "When was the last time you pooped?"

For instance, while shadowing an ER physician in medical school, I developed a simple "review of systems" questionnaire, 6-8 questions I ask all my patients to make sure I'm not missing something that impacts their daily lives: eating/drinking, peeing/pooping, sleeping/playing (or working). We also prefer that our patients are walking/talking before they are discharged (or whatever the developmental/ functional equivalent is).

Ahoy, matey! When was the last time you pooped?


Tuesday, April 23, 2019

What Residency Looks Like LVIII: An Oasis

Sometimes residency looks like checking email under a gazebo in a rooftop garden oasis in the middle of an urban hospital complex on a warm and sunny spring day while hidden birds loudly chirp their business to the world. I'm on campus on a vacation day to hear a Grand Rounds presentation about current trends in medical education.


Sunday, April 21, 2019

Happy Easter 2019 + bonus recipe

 Happy Easter! Dear Husband and I celebrated with a lovely service at church with music that was much nicer than the weather outside. Then I spent a second day in the kitchen, this time preparing to host small dinner for work colleagues. The menu included a McCormick & Company shrimp and dill pot pie, pineapple angel food cake, fruit salad, and a delicious white German wine. We ended the night with a game of Settlers of Catan.

Frau Doktor Doctor's Easter Dinner

1. Saturday morning, go grocery shopping with half the neighborhood. Sunday afternoon, realize you're still short the shrimp, half-and-half, sugar snap peas, and angel food cake mix. Send DH.

2. Begin to prepare the pineapple angel food cake by messing up the crucial step of substituting 20 oz of crushed pineapple for the water.

3. Strain the cake mix over the sink, add the pineapple, and bake as directed at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, saute 1/4 of an enormous yellow onion, chopped, and 1/2 of a 3-pound bag of shrimp in butter.

5. Realize the sauce won't fit and divide the mixture into two pans.

6. Take the cake out after 30 minutes. Should have left it in another 10 minutes so the top wasn't so tacky. Increase oven temp to 400 degrees.

7. Whisk 1 1/2 cups of half and half, 1/4 cup dry white wine, 1/4 cup flour, 1 tsp dill weed, 1/2 tsp salt, and 1/4 tsp thyme. Divide between the pans and bring to a boil while stirring continuously.

8. After sauce thickens, pour into a 2 qt dish. Stir in a package of sugar snap peas. Cut a roll of pizza dough into slices and arrange like shingles on top.

9.  Put into the over 20 minutes before your guests are due. 10 minutes later, turn off the oven but leave the dish inside. 10 minutes after that, decide the top isn't baked enough, so turn the oven back on to 400 until you smell the juices overflowing onto the bottom of the oven and burning.

10. Dig in! Too late you realize the shrimp still have their tail shells on. Good thing it's so delicious!

N.B.--While I was writing this post, I looked back for the last time I used dill weed--only to discover that I had made this very same recipe 3 years ago. I asked why he hadn't reminded me, and he said it was because afterwards I had become violently ill! Thankfully no guests were harmed in the making of this blog post.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

What Residency Looks Like LVII: Sunshine, at last!

Sometimes residency looks like the first nice day of spring when you aren't busy, so you slip outside for an hour of reading articles about medical student evaluation for Evidence-Based Medicine Morning Report the next day, and also just eating a snack and basking in the warm sun, until the wind chases you inside to get some emailing done before the Diversity & Inclusion committee meeting. You know it's warm because I'm wearing footies instead of socks or stockings.


Friday, April 5, 2019

What Residency Looks Like LVI: Time/Travel

Sometimes residency looks like starting the day by waking up early to work on your comments for a conference panel with the oversight of certain feline...

...and ending the day 6 hours away at a friend's house eating homemade curry and Pittsburgh Popcorn, and playing German card games. So much winning, despite the losing.


Friday, March 29, 2019


Sometimes marriage looks like sleeping on the couch for 4+ nights in a row while your spouse hacks up a lung in your conjugal bed in the pest house formerly known as your joint bedroom. Dear Husband been laid low with what we suspect is influenza, but he felt too poorly to go to the doctor to get tested, so we've been treating him symptomatically with Day/Nyquil, ibuprofen, and whatever food or drink appeals to his diminished taste buds (mostly Gatorade and orange slices). He's starting to sound more like himself, so he's probably over the hump and on the mend for the next several days.

p.s. Yes, that is a canister of bleach wipes. I've been using them twice a day on door knobs, light switches, faucet handles, etc.

p.p.s. "Flu season" peaked late this year, with influenza A cases only starting to decline this past week; influenza B hasn't even started its ascent yet. If you haven't gotten a flu shot this winter, it's not too late! Remember that it takes 2 weeks for your body to respond to the vaccine, so sooner is better than later.

p.p.p.s. If you happen to be laid up with the flu, let This Podcast Will Kill You's influenza episode will entertain you will the history and epidemiology of this disease.

p.p.p.p.s. Wash your hands/cover your cough!

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

What Residency Looks Like LV: Stanley Two-Brick

Sometimes residency looks like a new board game, good food/drink/music, and the company of 2 co-workers and 2 rambunctious cats (not pictured). It's too rare that this happens, and it's so wonderful when it does, even when you lose the game.


Saturday, March 16, 2019

Recipe for Dirtying Every Pot aka Milos's Lentil Soup

I got this recipe for lentil soup from one of my graduate-school colleagues many years ago. Milos was from Eastern Europe and studied urban history; we've unfortunately lost touch after he left Facebook. The recipe has been sitting in my hand-copied cookbook just waiting for me to remember how much I like the idea of lentil soup. One of my New Year's Resolutions the last two years has been to cook more from my recipe collection than from the internet, so I decided to seize the opportunity to make a delicious cold-weather dish that was can eat from for the next week. According to Milos, you can make this with browned beef, but I decided to go vegan and leave that out. It's really creamy and delicious! The process left something to be desired, however...

1. Figure out how to buy 1.5-2 cups of split yellow lentils (labeled mung dal at the co-op). Also pick up 0.5 pounds fresh green beans, a couple of plum tomatoes, 3 large carrots, and a medium white onion. Assume you have tomato sauce at home.

2. Listen to the radio while chopping the carrots into thick rounds, the onion into little dices, and the green beans into ~1-inch sections. Soak the lentils in a pan, then drain. Put it all in the fridge for later. Discover the tomato sauce has become a fungus farm.

3. Two hours before dinner, turn on the radio again. Decide 8 cups of water aren't going to fit; transfer lentils to large pot. Add 3 bay leaves, the rest of a jar of sweet paprika (just over 1 tsp), a little black pepper, and some salt.

4. Realize you need to saute the veggies before combining with the lentils. Start heating olive oil and garlic in a small pan. Change to large saute pan. Cover veggies and some salt with a lid until onion is translucent, then add to lentils.

5. Improvise 0.5 cups tomato sauce with last week's cherry tomatoes, the dregs of a watery jar of salsa, some olive oil, a pinch of sugar, and a little water. Add to lentils once cooked down.

6. After an hour, turn the heat on the lentils way down. Ask Dear Husband to put the green beans in and stir. He will do this with a clean spoon instead of the ladle on the stove. Cook another 40-60 minutes. Add a bunch of basil shortly before serving.

7. Burn some bread in the broiler.

8. Spoon soup into bowls, add a spoonful of yogurt, sprinkle with parsley, and serve with a nice Greek salad.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Ybor City, Cigars, and Chickens

One of the things I wanted to do with Dear Husband while we were in Tampa was to tour Ybor City, the area's "Little Havana." I had hoped in the intervening year since our last trip that they would have completed the promised Tampa Baseball Museum. Alas, there is a beautiful website but no exhibits yet. Instead we settled on the charming little Ybor City State Museum, tucked into the old Ferlita bakery. 

Our original itinerary was to eat lunch in Ybor City--either at the famous Columbia Spanish restaurant or someplace that sold Cuban sandwiches--and then spend the afternoon looking around, but because it had been a lazy day of me getting a mani/pedi and DH baking a strawberry pie, we didn't actually arrive until nearly 4pm. We walked into the museum behind a family of five who spent as much time haggling over the price of entry as they ended up spending in the exhibit. (The mother had some sort of coupon the park officer had never heard of, so in the end they were charged $4 each, just like the rest of us.) While that drama unfolded, we watched a short documentary about Ybor City, which is named for Spanish-Cuban cigar magnate Vincente Martinez-Ybor (1818-1896). The city's seal (left) is comprised of the American, Cuban, Italian, and Spanish flags; the ship that brought the first cigar makers in 1886 (the Hutchinson); a tobacco leaf and a guava sprig; and a lit cigar whose smoke spells out the city's name. It was designed by historian Tony Pizzo in 1952. The guava are because that's what Spanish merchants were looking for when they came to the Tampa area; they ended up staying in this relatively underdeveloped area because Henry B. Plant had just extended the railroad to the western coast of Florida, which was sheltered from the worst of the Atlantic hurricanes.

What surprised us was how anti-labor the documentary and accompanying exhibits were. Ybor first moved his cigar manufacturing business out of Cuba to the Florida Keys due to the 10-year war with Spain (1868-1878); he moved from the Keys once a ferry came in the 1880s. I quote: "Then Ybor was no longer able to control his workforce." The video lauded Ybor and his fellow robber barons for developing the Ybor's infrastructure--aka building a company town--although they do not appear to have stooped to the level of company scrip. Immigrants of all kinds were attracted to the area: Cubans and other Caribbean islanders, Jews/Germans, Italians. They tried very hard to establish a balance between inter-ethnic cohabitation and the realities of the Jim Crow South, including the fact that lighter-skinned Cubans and darker-skinned Cubans had to belong to different Associations. The video further omitted what the exhibit didn't: that the first day of work in Ybor's new factory was delayed because the common Cuban workers didn't want to labor under a Spanish foreman. The exhibit also blamed the development of cigar-worker unions with the death of the entire business sector in the 1930s. 

Something neat we learned was that the workers would hire a reader to sit above them and read the newspaper, novels, etc. to entertain them. The lector probably also commented on the roiling political situation in Cuba. Revolutionary Jose Marti spent a lot of time in Ybor City giving speeches and collecting money and supplies. In fact, the connection was so strong that since 1965, the country of Cuba has owned Jose Marti Park in Ybor City.

Unfortunately, we were too late either to visit Cuba without our passports or to tour the cigar-maker's casita attached to the museum, which would have made our $4 entry fee even more of a bargain than it already was. We wandered down 7th Street to see the cigar makers (using leaves imported from Central America) and took ourselves out for ice cream while awaiting our dinner-meetup up a cafe/bar in a nearby neighborhood.

This is the museum's courtyard with Marti's bust in the background. Funny story about the chickens and roosters: nobody's entirely sure where they came from, but they're such a fixture in Ybor City that on Shrove Tuesday, we could have attended a New Orleans-style funeral parade/bar crawl. (We passed.)

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Oh for Saint Pete's Sake! Part 2 of 2

So stuffed from our vegan burgers for lunch that we took a piece of chocolate cake to go, our last stop in St. Petersburg was the Sunken Gardens. Thanks to the morning's rain, our impression of this "botanical experience" was wet, green, and cold. But we're not sorry we stopped for a walk through the 4 acres of palms, ferns, oak trees, and waterworks. One George Turner, Sr., purchased the property in 1903, drained the sink hole, and began cultivating tropical plants. It turns out this part of Florida is only subtropical, so they brought in heaters to get the Royal Palms and bougainvillea through the winter. He let curious motorists pay a quarter to walk through, until in 1935 it officially opened as one of the state's earliest roadside attractions. It's now owned by the city, rentable for weddings, and is currently undergoing renovations. For instance, the animal enclosures made of concrete and laundry detergent (?!?) are being updated to house the current parrots and macaws, and an anticipated flock of chickens. There are also Chilean flamingos, which you can recognize by their pink knees and webbed feet! The park only had 2 left over from the 1950s until earlier this year, when they purchased 20 from the San Antonio zoo. They are understandably very popular.


Editor's Note: If you missed Part 1, you can find all the sparkles here.

Oh for Saint Pete's Sake! Part 1 of 2

Our Florida Spring Break did not get off to an auspicious start: Southwest Airlines cancelled our Sunday evening flight more than 12 hours before the forecasted snow began to fall (but not stick). Then, they cancelled our early-Monday-morning direct flight, so we finally landed in Tampa 12 hours and a lot of aggravation later. Good thing we had planned for the first day to be nothing but lying around, visiting with family, and eating. Oh, and starting a cut-throat, week-long Joker tournament

Day 2 dawned cool and rainy. On the agenda was an hour-long drive across Tampa Bay to St. Petersburg, where we flip-flopped our itinerary to start with the Jean Schlumberger exhibit of jewelry and objects d'art at the Museum of Fine Arts. He was a (gay) clothing, jewelry, and art designer in the middle of the 20th century probably most famous for his three decades at Tiffany & Co. To be quite honest, I found most of the pieces gaudy, overwrought, and/or strange--his early work was heavily influenced by surrealism; see, for instance, the bebaubled ostriches below.

This necklace of diamonds, rubies, and turquoise was one of the few I felt I might have wanted to wear. A nature lover, he had an apparent affection for the asymmetrical tendrils of starfish and vines. I'm not sure where the tendence for garish colors came from; the excessive use of gems was presumably part of his Tiffany's contract.

Schlumberger formed a close patronage friendship with Rachel "Bunny" Mellon (1910-2014), second wife of Paul Mellon (1907-1999), both of whom were ridiculously wealthy from banking, thoroughbred horses, Listerine, and inherited money. Bunny appears to have spent much of her time gardening at the couples' 6 homes, vacationing in Paris and on beaches, and dropping in on Jean's atelier in New York City to design gem-encrusted things with him. (She also designed the Rose Garden at the White House and arranged flowers and landscaping for the Kennedys.) Jean painted her friendly letters (below left), which is one of the most wonderful things I have ever heard about and makes me doubt my friendship with anyone who has not sent or received such a greeting with me. (Below right: still lifes.)

The Pisces broach on the right was Bunny's favorite piece, and it makes me question her taste, mostly because of the red enamel. Nevertheless, Schlumberger's enameled bangled bracelets became popular in the 1960s after Jackie Kennedy Onassis was spotted wearing them, and I have to agree that those are classy. Below is a seashell covered in diamond algae.

The museum itself is modestly sized, but they have displayed a variety of objects from all time periods around the world. In the two hours we wandered the galleries, there were at least two school groups learning about art and history.

Above is "fairyland" Wedgewood porcelain by Daisy Makeig-Jones (1881-1945), especially popular in the 1920s.

Finally, we also looked at Glow: The Hand-Painted Photographs of E.G. Barnhill (1894-1987). He and other photographers would use a variety of paints and glazes to colorize glass and paper prints of black-and-white snapshots of Florida landscapes to sell to tourists as souvenirs. Many on display dated from 1914-1923. He closed his shop in the 1930s when tourism largely dried up during the Great Depression. Oh, and he used uranium-based pigments imported directly from Germany, but don't worry, the level of radiation is low (!). Gives a whole 'nother meaning to the exhibition title...

For lunch we stopped at the Cider Press Cafe for a delicious vegan lunch (click for my Yelp review). Then we headed back up the peninsula to the Sunken Gardens, a Florida roadside attraction since the 1920s. (Click here for wet and wild Part 2!)