Time is a gift.

I awoke like a child on Christmas morning.

It’s not Christmas yet – that comes seven days from now. No, today my gifts were the promise of a pot of fresh Peet’s coffee, double sliding doors with a mountain view, a soft leather couch, and blogging. As I emerged from the dark of the oversized bedroom to the muted gray of foggy mountain top morning light, I smiled.

K and I are spending time in Pigeon Forge courtesy of Westgate’s generosity in affording over 2500 veterans two nights of stay in any of their resorts.When we arrived, the concierge greeted us with “Thank you for your service” and then proceeded to upgrade our reservation to a deluxe suite: king-sized bed, double-jacuzzi tub, porch, full kitchen and living room, fireplace. It’s beautiful. This time is a gift.

For me, this time comes at the end of my first semester as a doctoral student, a title for which we moved across the country and set down roots in Knoxville, TN. It’s been a busy semester:

We moved into a temporary apartment in a complex. We learned where the nearest grocery stores, Starbucks (yes, that’s a bourgeois self-care strategy), vet clinic, and route to school.

Our dear dog, Bryce, became very ill. She was hospitalized twice for infection and fever, and had a feeding tube inserted after becoming anorectic. After four weeks of hospitals, round the clock care, and tube feedings, she began to pull out of it.

Eight weeks after moving, we began looking for a new home, a process that became much more difficult that we anticipated. Finding a rental house, with a fenced yard, within 20 minutes of downtown Knoxville, with distance from neighbors, is a difficult task. After a month, we found a beautiful place in NorthWest Knox. It’s the house that Jack built; each day we find workarounds the owners have done on the house structure. But, it has two bedrooms, a deck and large living room, a dining room with beautiful morning light, a front and back garden for Bryce, a workout room, and a garage. We’re lucky.

After a long search and many complications, K found a part-time job. For the time and space we were in with Bryce recovering, searching for a new place, and packing/moving, his hours were initially perfect. Now, we’re finding a need for him to gain full-time employment. Please send us good thoughts for this in the new year.

And I. I negotiated re-entry into life as a student this fall. I took three classes, and learned many lessons on how to teach from being on this side of the bench. I figured out how to study for tests. I struggled to grasp the “B = PhD” sentiment and not spend all my time studying to get A grades. Eventually,I  pared down how much study I was actually doing in favor of research hours. I managed a mixed-methods study and began both quantitative and qualitative analysis on results. I submitted my first abstract based on the quantitative analysis.I presented two posters at a professional conference. I wrestled with imposter syndrome; wondering if my knowledge and skills as a researcher were enough. Then, I pitched three research ideas and began work on the first; a chronic disease paper which involves work with a population-based data set. I created a timeline for initiating ideas 2 and 3 in 2016.

In between all of this I learned many life lessons this semester, the biggest of which is that self-care is essential and multi-dimensional:

  • Eat well. After watching my weight drop and gain the same 10lbs and seeing the amount of money we spend on “easy dinners” (aka takeout), I realized the need to work in cooking and meal prep time into our lives. For the new year, K and I have decided to adopt a strategy shared with me by my mentor who, with her wife, plans each the week’s meals, chores, and shared time each Sunday during a “family meeting”.
  • Move. Workouts make me feel better. Tools that help me work out more are a good investment. Structure is a necessity. We’ve invested in a treadmill for 2016 (oh of the love of school loans…) and are planning to training for a late summer/fall triathlon.
  • Connect. Some of my best moments this semester have come in the company of colleagues and new friends. From our first BBQ invitation on a holiday weekend to our conference trip to Chicago and girls night out, wandering at “The Island” to hanging out at the Farmer’s Market, Friday night drinks (or soda for us!) to hosting our first Chanukah party, we have had the joy of building new friendships.
  • Do. While I don’t have a lot of “spare” time because of my academic program and research commitments, it’s important for me and for my marriage that I “get up and do”. There’s so much beauty in these Tennessee mountains, and I’ve only gone hiking once and distance walking twice (on the Greenways). That’s just unacceptable. It’s important that I make time for activities that fulfill me – visiting the farmer’s market, listening to live music, hiking/walking through the woods, kayaking, baking and blogging.
  • Accept. “I” am the most important thing. I have only so much bandwidth – even when I want to do it all. I do not know everything and I never will. That’s the beauty of it. I’ll always be learning. My life and job is as a PhD student and it will take up most of my time. I will need takeout sometimes. There will be days when I choose not to work, days where I need to play, and days where I happily spend 14-hours at the office. Accepting all of these new experiences and dynamics is essential for balance and success navigating this new path.

This move and change has been scary. And yet, I feel more fulfilled here in Knoxville than I did during my last few years in Boston. Once I left REACH in 2012, nothing truly lined up at work. There were moments of wonderful in teaching, baking, dog walking, and curriculum building, but it wasn’t fully “right”. I’m now on my path. I can feel it beneath my feet, in my strong calves and thighs, pulsing through my core, energizing my heart, and firing my brain. I’m walking my path.



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