Wednesday, January 30, 2008

A FAMILY THAT SWIMS TOGETHER... often wet and smells of chlorine!

David and I started swimming together about a week ago. We've gone to the pool a handful of times; twice we've gone on Friday nights (yes, sometimes we are boring) and had to swim widths of the pool because of the aqua aerobics class being held in the shallow end. Nevertheless, I'm really enjoying it. Call me crazy but the repetition of swimming back and forth; counting strokes per length; and counting laps swum is very therapeutic. It is a lot of fun and such great exercise. I believe that when I'm in swimming shape I'm a better runner. Cross training is good. Maybe this year I'll be able to run a sub-4:30 marathon (that's 4 hours, 30 minutes)!

David is planning to do the Nation's Triathlon in September. I thought about doing it, but I have my heart set on running the NYC marathon in November. The idea of racing and preparing for both the triathlon and the marathon is too much for me. David, on the other hand, is planning to do both (for the record: he has so much natural ability and his body recovers like a 16 year old). As David prepares for the triathlon, I'm going to swim with him. It is something that we both enjoy and have found fun ways to swim together. For instance, we do sets where I'll hold onto his feet and make him pull me across the pool and then we switch and I pull him on the way back. We've also started doing underway, no-breathers at the end of our workouts or 10 minutes of treading water without using our arms. It is quality bonding time. We are no longer sitting in the hot tub after swimming. This is because the pool water is already warm enough and I nearly passed out after our last work out and a hot tub sit.

We've been swimming at the Turkey Thicket Recreational Center in DC. It's a public pool and is free to all DC residents. It's a great facility; David enjoys the fact that after a swim he can usual play a game of chess with one of the kids hanging out at the rec center. I'm particularly found of the clean locker rooms, high chlorine levels in the pool, and few people who use the lap lanes.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008


Sunday evening we gave Chai, the cat, a bath. He was starting to stink - sort of like something old and musty - and stinking cat makes for a disgruntled and sick Becky.

David decided that Sunday would be the day. He took Chai down to the basement with a bottle of nice smelling shampoo (complete with conditioner) for a bath. As the water starting running, I asked David what I could do to help and he responded, "go get the camera." So as David shampooed and Chai yelped in what sounded like agony, I took pictures and made a couple of home videos. was the perfect way to start the week: a sweet smelling cat (and watching/listening to him yelping was really fun, too).


In other news, school is really busy this semester and I'm wiped out. Tonight I'm going to enjoy a spaghetti and (veggie) meatballs dinner before heading to bed. Tomorrow I start my second research rotation. This rotation I'll be focusing on MRSA. Hope to have some stories about the nasty bacteria to share with y'all...

Friday, January 25, 2008


I'm a huge fan of public transportation here in Washington DC. We live a short three minute walk from both a train station and two different bus lines. Neither David nor I drive to work/school, and we never have. We rely on Metro for most of our transportation needs and are seriously thinking about selling our car (if you want/need a 2000 VW Jetta with approximately 60,000 miles let me know).

That said...

The price to ride metro - both the trains and buses - increased at the beginning of the month and I'm frustrated. This is the third fare hike since I moved to the DC area. The base train fare increased from $1.35 per ride to $1.65 per ride. Bus fare only increased for passengers paying with cash (if you use your SmarTrip card, bus fare is still $1.25). The price increase has had a dramatic impact on my commuting budget. During the fall semester, it cost me $2.10 to travel between the Georgia Ave/Petworth train station and the College Park station. Now it costs $2.50. And if I take the 3:30 train home from Baltimore, I have to get off at the Greenbelt station (b/c it is an express train that skips the College Park and Riverdale stations) and it costs me $3.05. Unbelievable! A 15 minute ride, five stops, costs me more than $3.00.

In an effort to save as much money as possible (in light of the fare hike), I have made the switch from the MARC train monthly pass, which included a 15% student discount, to the MARC/Metro Transit Link card. The card gives me unlimited rides on Metro buses and trains, as well as unlimited trips to/from Baltimore --- for JUST $230.00 per month. Ultimately it is cheaper than driving the 65 miles to Baltimore everyday and more environmentally friendly to take public transit. Plus I can study, sleep, and eat on the train. However the price of my trips to/from the MARC station on the Metro trains is irritating. I'd rather spend my money on trips, home-improvements, or a good bottle of wine than on commuting...

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


During my junior and senior years of high school, a typical day began around 4:45am. I'd wake up in the middle of night several mornings a week, drive to school, swim for an hour and a half, go to classes from 7:35am until 2:37pm, jump back into the pool for practice from 3-5pm, do 45 minutes of dryland or weights, and then go home. Then I'd do homework until I couldn't do any more, go to sleep, and repeat it all the next day. Rarely during the school day would I step outside the doors of Hampton High School. The thought of a nap or even grabbing a needed sip of water at a fountain was unthinkable. This was my schedule. I wasn't going to let anything get in my way - of graduating, getting a college scholarship, and winning the 100 butterfly at the PIAA swim meet. (NOTE: I never won the 100 fly at states...I was second two years in a role; lost to two different girls; lost each race by less than a tenth of a second.)

Yesterday I headed back to school (my second semester of my first year as a PhD student) - this time as a 30 year old wife, who exercises maybe an hour a day. I had three classes yesterday: an hour of observational epidemiology, an hour of statistical programming, and three hours of my research practicum class. After class I went to the gym and did 50 minutes of cardio and 15 minutes of strength training. And I was whipped. Honestly, I got on the train to go home and couldn't keep my eyes open. I slept from Baltimore all the way to DC. I got home and didn't have the strength or willpower to open my backpack. The idea of doing homework was completely out of the question. I made myself some dinner, read a little bit of news online, picked David up at work, and then fell asleep on the couch before 10:30pm.

My question is: how did I keep my high school schedule? Was I able to do it because I was 16? Was it because I didn't know the beauty/luxury of a good nap? Was all the swimming providing me with more energy? Was it a combination of these things? Or something else entirely? Or is grad school just more draining than high school? Am I using more brain power?

All I know is I'm glad I don't have a high schooler's schedule any more. I can barely keep up with my 17 hours of class each week (15 credits) and an simple hour a day at the gym. I'm also grateful for the fact that I can nap on the train on my way to/from school.

What about you? As an adult are you keeping a schedule similar to high school? Or do you have more freedom during the day? Are you more or less tired now compared to when you were in high school?

Monday, January 21, 2008


It was very cold in Washington DC yesterday, and I struggled to stay warm. The day just started off cold. I'm convinced that the heat in church was NOT working. I took the metro home after church, and it, too, was cold. As I did chores yesterday afternoon, I warmed up, but never did I have the sense of being warm and comfortable. So as the sun set and temperatures outside became to dip even lower, I started thinking about dinner. A warm dinner; something comforting; something that would require me to turn on the oven; something that would be piping hot; something that would warm me to the core.

I started to make a mental list of possibilities: grilled cheese and homemade tomato soup, chili, white chili, homemade veggie soup with garlic toast. It all sounded so good.

As I was constructing my list, David called. He had been out helping a lady from our church set up a computer. He'd been there since right after church (hence my taking the metro home), and he was hungry. He wanted to cook dinner for us and was interested in knowing whether or not I felt like having fish. FISH? Not what I think of as a comfort food, but knowing how much David loves to cook and having heard the magic words "mashed potatoes" also come out of his mouth, I agreed to his fish dinner.

About forty minutes after David returned home, he produced this...

It is poached cod wrapped in chard with carrots and radishes. It is served atop homemade mashed potatoes and beside steamed spinach. Around the edge of the plate is a ginger yogurt sauce, which was magnificent.

Needless to say, my definition of comfort food changed after last night's meal. I was warmed by the fish and the mashed potatoes met my need for something hardy and warm. The ginger yogurt sauce could have been a meal unto itself. It is great when David just does his thing in the kitchen. He never disappoints and is constantly surprising me with new recipes and food presentations. As we sat down to dinner, I was extremely grateful not to be eating vegetable soup.

Friday, January 18, 2008


Pedestrian safety is an important issue in any city. In Washington DC, a lot of people use public transportation, which requires them to walk to a subway station or a bus stop. Some people (and I was once one of them) even walk to work. Ensuring that crosswalks are well marked, traffic signals for pedestrians are working, and automobiles yield to pedestrians is very important. According to some sources, DC has the highest pedestrian fatality rate in the country. Regardless of whether or not that statistic is true, too many pedestrians are killed/injured each year in DC.

Last year an alarming number of pedestrians were killed by a Metro Bus. Two of the women killed were crossing (in a crosswalk with the right-of-way) Pennsylvania Ave at rush hour when a Metro Bus plowed into them. Obviously the press has been all over these events and Metro claims that safety is the primary concern of all of their bus drivers. The events that I witnessed yesterday cause me to think otherwise...

Yesterday afternoon around 3:30pm I was walking through Dupont Circle. It was sleeting and the roads were wet and a little slippery. I waited for the pedestrian crosswalk light at the intersection of Connecticut Ave and Dupont Circle to indicate that it was safe for me to cross. When the light changed, I stepped off the curb and started to cross the street. About halfway across the street I heard a horn beeping AT ME. I look to my right (towards traffic heading north on Connecticut Ave) and sure enough a Metro bus driver was honking at me and gesturing that I get out of the crosswalk (READ: out of his way). I nodded to the crosswalk sign, which indicated that I had 42 seconds remaining to cross the street. As soon as I was clear of the bus, the driver took off and made an illegal right-hand turn on red onto Dupont Circle. I could feel the breeze of the bus speeding past me before I reached the curb.

Needless to say I was appalled. First of all, a bus making an illegal turn on a snowy afternoon in one of the most walked areas of the city is an accident waiting to happen. Second, how dare the bus driver honk at me. No matter what, as the pedestrian, I have the right of way. He HAS to yield to me; it is the law.

So today I wrote a VERY NASTY (and highly detailed) letter to Metro - it was a 42 bus heading north #2822. (This is the second time in a year that I've written...last year I wrote to complain of a bus driver who was listening to his iPod and talking on his cell phone while driving.) When I wrote Metro last year, I received a response indicating that disciplinary action was taken. This time around, I have told Metro that I would like a formal apology from the bus driver as well as the company. That way I will know that Metro actually talked to the bus driver about the incident.

Whether or not I get what I want is to be determined. However, I feel much better having written my complaint. I also am thinking that the Mayor's office and City Council need to know. I may send formal letters there, too. It may seem petty to some people, but the safety of walkers all over this city cannot be taken for granted. Bus drivers shouldn't just be punished/fired after someone has died. They should be accountable for abiding by every law and making every trip a safe one for people on the bus and those walking down the sidewalk.

Thursday, January 17, 2008


Maybe it's a sign that I'm getting older; maybe it was the scrapbook my mom made me after our trip to London and Paris; maybe it's that I was so touched when friends and family members put such effort into buying/making such thoughtful wedding gifts; maybe it's the Christmas plate that Grandma Smullin gives to be each year (and this year I received two plates - one new and one from HER collection); maybe it was the look on my parents' faces when I told them I designed our wedding scrapbook.

What it is, I'm not sure. But I love to give (and receive) homemade gifts. They are invaluable to both the receiver and the giver.

Today is David's birthday. He's definitely not a "stuff" guy. We lead a fairly simple lifestyle, and definitely are NOT the couple who is waiting for the next great kitchen gadget/appliance or the larger flat screen TV to be released. Not knowing what to give to David, I decided to bake. He's a huge fan of a sour dough jalapeno made by a bakery here in DC. Unfortunately, it is a hard loaf to come by. So I decided to make my own.

That along with some fresh flowers, a nice bottle of wine, and peanut-butter filled pretzels from the Trader Joes made the perfect gift. Note: the bread didn't rise as much as I would have liked. I'm blaming the cold weather. I'll try it again in the spring.

In addition to making birthday gifts, I'm also working on several baby gifts. Below are two hats I just completed for my friend, Jen. Her daughter is due in March. The pink hat can be worn right away; the black and gold one (for the little Steelers fan) is a little bigger so it can be worn next fall during football season. I'm planning to add a gold flower to the black and gold hat to make it a little more girly.

As for receiving homemade gifts, David and I were surprised to find this...

in our dinning room when we returned from our New Year's trip to NYC. Our friend, Ted, made it for us. And he surprised us by moving it into our place while we were out of town. It is a beautiful piece and a welcome addition to our dining room. I feel so blessed to have such thoughtful (and talented) friends who would make such an effort for us. Everytime I look at it, I think about what a great friend Ted (and his wife, Martha) are to David and me. It will be treasured for years to come.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


My four weeks of winter vacation are quickly coming to an end. Classes begin on Tuesday. As much as I love the University of Maryland, the classes, the professors, and the students, sometimes I get bogged down by all of the exams, papers, readings, homework assignment, and blackboard discussions. I have been known to lose my perspective; focusing on the short-term deliverables and forgetting about my dreams of becoming an epidemiologist.

In an effort to refresh my passion, I watched the movie And the Band Played On yesterday. The movie is based on the book (by the same title) which chronicles the AIDS epidemic from the very beginning. It touches upon the epidemiology, politics, economics, scandals, and personal trials in the fight to identify, control, and prevent the spread of HIV. I read the book during the summer of 2006, and it was my motivation for applying to PhD programs. To be honest, I'm not planning on studying or researching anything related to HIV/AIDS (although more work needs to be done and a vaccine needs to be developed); however, the work of the epidemiologists in the field and in the laboratory described in the book re-kindled my passion to study diseases and disease outbreaks.

So I watched the movie yesterday. Barely five minutes into it, I was reminded why I am in school right now; why I kill myself to write papers and study for exams; why I forgo sleep to finish a reading or to comment on blackboard. Allow me to describe the scene: the main character is in Africa in the late 1970s investigating a deadly disease outbreak along the Ebola River. The disease, later termed the Ebola virus, was controlled by physicians and epidemiologists working for the World Health Organization. After the doctors in the movie are shown throwing dead bodies into a fire to prevent further spread of the disease, the movie screen goes black and then it reads:

The Ebola Fever outbreak was contained before it could reach the outside world. It was not AIDS. But it was a warning of things to come.

This is why I am want to be an epidemiologist. There are diseases that need to be treated, contained, and prevented. And there are always new diseases on the horizon to be identified and controlled. This is what I want to do with my life. This is my passion: to understand diseases and how they spread. And then to work to create effective control and prevention measures to keep people healthy. Having this passion makes me feel so alive and inspired. I'm so excited.

I'm also left wondering...what will be the next "AIDS"? What, as an epidemiologist, will I face during my career? Are the diseases such as SARS, MRSA, and avian influenza warnings of things to come? Just like Ebola was for AIDS? I DON'T KNOW.

What I do know is that I am excited to be studying epidemiology now. I'm looking forward to the coming semester with a new/fresh perspective. This is all part of my journey to make my dream of becoming a world-class epidemiologist a reality.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


It's a new year. A new semester is about to begin. And it's a new look for SLOWLY GROWING OLD TOGETHER. After much time away from my blog, I decided it needed a new look/feel and A LOT of focus. I've spent the past three and a half weeks of my winter vacation thinking a lot about focus; not just for my blog, but focus in my life, relationships, activities, and (maybe most importantly) future dissertation research.

The question that I continue to ask myself is: what does it mean to be healthy, wealthy, and wise?

Having recently turned 30 (or celebrated my 30th candycane festival, as Jill has named it) and having a bit of a health scare over the holidays, has forced me to think a lot about my physical health. Diet, exercise, sleep, seeking medical care when needed, and good products to keep away wrinkles and age spots are all important. But I also want a healthy marriage, healthy relationships with my friends, and a healthy community to live in and be apart of.


As a graduate student living off a student stipend, the word wealth is almost funny to say! However, I have been blessed with so much in terms of material goods and I am so grateful for the stipend and scholarship I receive. How do I steward what I have been given well? And not think that I need/deserve more? David and I took a Crown Ministries Financial Bible Study class last spring, which revolutionized the way we look, talk, and budget our money. We've made a budget for the new year and are eager to track our spending and stick to our budget.

But what I have and how much I make is not what makes wealthy...In addition to my money and stuff, I have a wealth of friends and family members who I love. I have a wealth of skills and abilities that I need to put to good use. I want to learn to steward all of these things (money, talents, abilities, relationships) well and be appreciative for all that I have been given.

As a PhD student, I'm taking in more information than I know what to do with, and I love it. Achieving my goal of getting into graduate school (again) and working towards my PhD has been life-changing. David says I'm blossoming, and I'm beginning to understand what he means. I love what I am studying and am eager to earn more. I want to make the most of my educational experience and become the best epidemiologist I can be. I also want to learn to be a better wife, friend, listener, marathon runner, and hostess, among other things. Wisdom isn't just taught at school.

And so, as I slowly grow old together with David, I hope to share with you my experiences, observations, and lessons learned as I attempt to uncover the true meaning of what it means for me to be healthy, wealthy, and wise.