This one’s for the ladies

2015 has been a year of change – I graduated, moved, started my first big girl job, and got a taste of the ups and downs of adult life. Looking back over the past year, and in fact the last few years, the most positive influences have been the women in my life. I have been incredibly fortunate to be surrounded by intelligent, funny, supportive, and strong women (yes, and dudes too, but like the title states, this one’s for the ladies) in my family, friends, mentors, and teachers. But since college, I’ve begun to value and appreciate all of these women even more.

We hear all of these narratives about how women are competitive and catty and all the ways in which they try to undermine each other, but this has been so opposite from my experience. I went to grad school with 21 women (and one guy) who supported and pushed and laughed and cried me through 2 grueling years. I have been blessed with former roommates who are some of my best friends (and not just because they know the weirdest and grossest things about me). My coworkers at my new job have been amazing – they’ve made me feel welcome, gotten me through the days where I felt like wasn’t doing anything right, and have become mentors and friends.

Life in your twenties is messy and scary and confusing, but sharing the highs and lows of jobs and money and dating and big life decisions with lady friends has been what gets me through. This is for the friends who call and text and email and send cards so that being hundreds of miles apart doesn’t feel quite so far, for the friends who forgive you for not calling for too many months, for friends who get on a plane to visit you, for friendships that span a decade or two and for friendships with decades to go.

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Female friendships: 100% guaranteed to make you feel like a queen.

So, as 2015 winds down, here’s to all the ladies who make me laugh, keep me sane, and over-inflate my ego – looking forward to 2016 adventures!

 

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I Am…

It’s been almost a year since I last wrote, so here’s a quick update on my life: I graduated from Vanderbilt with my masters in speech pathology, moved back to San Diego, and recently started my clinical fellowship at a private pediatric clinic.

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I started this blog over two years ago as a way to document my big move to Nashville – I jokingly referred to it as my “study abroad blog” since moving to Nashville felt like moving to a different country. I suppose part of the reason I stopped writing was that somewhere around this time last year, Nashville stopped feeling like a foreign land and started feeling like home. I don’t know what spurred the change, but the country music, Southern twang (and hospitality), copious fried chicken and biscuits, and yes, even the cold weather, snuck their way into my heart. When I got ready to move back in May, I hadn’t expected to be heartbroken about leaving. But I guess 2 years of fantastic friends and adventures in Nashville left their mark.

Moving back to San Diego has come with some challenges, but it always has been and always will be home. This was the first August in 20 years that I didn’t head off to school. My identity for so long was that of a student – for years I answered questions about my future with “I want to be a ______,” which then changed to “I’m going to be a ______.” It’s exhilarating/terrifying to finally get to a point in your life where at least for one question, you can stop talking in the future tense and answer in the present: “I AM a speech pathologist.” Sometimes I still can’t believe that people trust me to help their children, and then I remember that I have some outwardly resemblance to an adult and a bunch of fancy letters after my name that supposedly qualify me to do this job. There are parents of kids I work with who call me Ms. Noopur and I’m like WHAT ARE YOU DOING PLEASE STOP but I also secretly love it.

Being/becoming an adult is no walk in the park and there are a million unanswered questions about my future, but it’s an incredibly empowering feeling to look inwards and realize – I like who I am, I like what I am, I like where I am.

I AM a speech pathologist, I AM a California girl with a little Nashville mixed in, and I AM happy, and that’s a pretty marvelous thing.

Diversity, Desis*, Diwali

One of the most jarring differences about living in Nashville is the lack of ethnic diversity I have experienced. I by no means grew up in a cultural mecca in my suburb of San Diego, but both at home and in college, I was surrounded by a myriad of colors and cultures. In Nashville, I have frequently found myself to be the only person of color in a room, and if nothing else, it has been a disconcerting experience. However, living in the South has been a cultural experience in itself, so I’ve reconciled myself to the fact that diversity comes in many forms.

Perhaps the biggest difference I’ve noticed though is that I find myself missing having an Indian community in Nashville. This came as a bit of a shock to me initially, because in college, my lack of desire to involve myself in any Indian cultural groups on campus was often seen by my friends as a sign of disdain or dislike for my heritage. The truth is, I love my Indian culture – I love the history, the mythology, the people and the food and the clothes and the music. But I’ve never sought to surround myself with other Indians or to be friends with someone because of our shared race. In fact, I probably placed higher standards on my friendship with other Indians in an effort to make sure that the relationship was based on something other than race.

So, it’s been a strange experience for me to find myself wishing now and then that I knew some Indians in Nashville. This feeling mostly arises when there’s a Bollywood movie playing in one of the theaters in town or whenever an Indian festival rolls around. In college, I always knew where to go and who to go with if I wanted to attend an Indian event, but here, I find myself at a loss for where to turn. Earlier this month, I celebrated Rosh Hashanah with my friends instead of celebrating Dussehra and went line dancing instead of going to Garba. While I am always grateful for the opportunity to exchange cultural experiences, I realize now that I have always taken for granted the feeling of belonging that comes with having an Indian community. And as much as I’ve loved all of those alternate experiences, today on Diwali, the festival of lights, I find myself missing celebrating with my family and friends back home. Last year on Diwali, I microwaved some Indian food from a box and called it a night – not the most inspiring celebration. This year, I plan on lighting some tea lights at home, waiting on the package of sweets my mom is sending me, and going out for good Indian food with some wonderful friends who are kind enough to share this holiday with me. Diwali is an opportunity to celebrate the triumph of all things good, of the victory of light over darkness, hope over despair, and well being for the year ahead.

Today, I take this moment to share my culture and heritage with you, and to wish you a very Happy Diwali. May your year ahead be filled with light and love and happiness.

*Desi is a term for the people, cultures, and products of the Indian subcontinent and their diaspora – Wikipedia.

Nashville: Year 2

After an overly long 3 month hiatus, I’m back! I can’t believe that it’s officially been a little over a year since I started this blog and moved to Nashville. I’m half way through grad school, still complaining about the weather, and a little more country-fied. Life is good – I had a relaxing summer in Nashville even though I was still in school, and now I’m on to Fall semester! The best part is that I still LOVE what I’m doing in school. I’m so excited to be a speech pathologist a year from now and can’t imagine finding a career path that would suit me better (other than professional pizza eater/netflix watcher, but alas, those don’t pay the rent).

I thought I’d share a little bit about some of the classes I’ve taken over the past year; what I’ve enjoyed, what I’ve learned, and where I think I’m headed next. 

Aphasia: I’ve blogged about aphasia before (What is Aphasia). This is a communication disorder most often seen in adults, but there are many teenagers and young adults (and some children too) who acquire aphasia following head trauma. We work with these patients in the hospital as well as inpatient and outpatient rehab.

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI): Following injury to the head (yes, even a concussion might be a mild TBI), many individuals experience deficits in language, memory, planning, cognition, processing speed, etc. Speech pathologists help assess and treat these patients to help them regain independence, and possibly return to work or school. Although not immediately obvious, memory, cognition, and executive function (higher level thinking, planning, decision making) are crucial components of language and communication. Speech therapists (along with physical and occupational therapists) help patients regain skills to perform activities of daily living, and regain or compensate for lost skills. 

Voice: Voice disorders may result from vocal nodules, polyps, cancer, paralyzed vocal folds, etc. and can cause prolonged hoarseness, loss of voice, pain, change in pitch, and more. Speech therapists often use a video attached to an endoscope to look at your vocal folds (by going through your mouth or your nose). We help treat voice disorders through non-surgical methods that include better vocal hygiene and changing speaking habits. Some speech therapists also do singing voice therapy (in high demand here in Nashville since singers often wreck their vocal folds). 

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This is my art project larynx. That’s basically what the inside of your neck looks like in living color (but not)

Dysphagia: Dysphagia is the fancy term for a swallowing disorder. Many people don’t know that speech therapists also treat swallowing and feeding (not eating) disorders, since swallowing, breathing, and speaking are inexplicably linked by the anatomy of the head and neck. Following surgery, intubation, a tracheotomy, radiation for cancer, neurological issues, TBI, or even normal aging, many people have trouble safely swallowing food or even their own saliva. If they are unable to protect their airway while swallowing, they may aspirate (take food/liquid/saliva into their lungs), which can lead to asphyxiation, pneumonia, infection, and malnutrition. Speech pathologists often work in hospitals to assess swallowing safety in patients and help determine a safe diet for the patient (or determine whether the patient is unsafe to eat and needs a feeding tube). 

Pediatric Feeding and Swallowing: We also assess safety to eat and swallow in children. Children with complex medical problems often face long hospital stays in the first few months or years of their lives. This can interfere with normal development of feeding and swallowing behavior. Most of us eat so automatically, but if you think about all the steps of bringing food to the mouth, chewing it, controlling the food and gathering it with the tongue, pushing the food back to swallow, stopping breathing while we swallow, and then resuming breathing, eating is an extremely complex behavior that requires a lot of coordination. Some babies are put on a feeding tube early in life, so we educate parents on how to stimulate oral development. Other children have severe food allergies and acid reflux that cause them so much pain that they develop a fear and aversion of eating. Very premature babies may require a different type of formula and bottle to drink successfully. Children with cerebral palsy often have such strong bites due to their muscle spasms that they break utensils or teeth, so we find alternative feeding devices for them. Children born with a cleft lip or palate often experience feeding difficulties related to pressure and food/liquid coming out of the nose. Many children have sensory issues that lead them to gag at the sight of food, or only eat foods of certain colors or textures, and we help expand their food repertoire. I had a clinic placement in feeding therapy over the summer and absolutely loved it – this may very well be the specialty of speech therapy I want to pursue in the future. 

This semester, some of the classes I’m taking include Autism (super excited about this one), Stuttering (a lot less straightforward than people assume, especially because no one really knows what causes stuttering or why most children stop stuttering but others don’t), and Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC – this is anything that supplements or assists speech and writing. This may include speech generating devices such as the computer Stephen Hawking uses to speak. For all of you doing the Ice Bucket Challenge for ALS – speech therapists often help patients with ALS find an AAC device that can help them with communication as they lose their ability to speak and move their limbs). 

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Vanderbilt ALS clinic doctors taking the Ice Bucket Challenge

I still think I want to work with children, but this semester my clinic placement is in acute care in the hospital, so I’ll be working with adults in the hospital doing cognitive and language evaluations as well as swallow studies. Next summer, I’ll still be enrolled in school, but I’ll be doing a 10 week full-time clinic placement (hopefully at a clinic/hospital in San Diego, fingers crossed)! I can’t believe how quickly this year has gone by – I feel a lot smarter and the next few years of my life are starting to take shape. I’m also so glad I started writing last year – I’ve always loved reading and I feel like I express myself well when I speak, but I never felt like I wrote well (unless I was writing a paper for school, which required zero personality). I finally feel like I’m able to put the words in my head on paper through this blog, and for a future speech pathologist, being able to communicate through another modality is always a positive feeling. Thank you to everyone who takes the time to read – I always love and appreciate all of your comments!

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SLP night out

Hair today gone tomorrow: The long and short of it

Too many hair puns in the title? Sorry, I couldn’t chose one so I went with both. Today, I finally cut my hair (more than the 1-2 inches I get cut a couple times a year) and chopped off 17 inches! Which means I’m still hyperventilating and feeling major haircut regret but telling myself that I’m going to love it.

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17 inches, 5 years of growing it out

Yesterday, to honor my last day of long hair, I made sure to do some of the things I probably won’t be able to do again for a few years:

Cousin Itt:

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Hair moustache:

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And of course…I Whip My Hair:

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It’s taken me a long time to finally decide to cut it short. In the last 6 months, I started telling everyone that I was going to cut it in May so that I felt accountable to people and would be too embarrassed to chicken out at the last minute. There were a lot of reasons though that I decided to cut it:

1. Long hair is a pain in the butt sometimes. It would take anywhere from 3-8 hours for my hair to fully dry…ain’t nobody got time for that.

2. Hair. Everywhere. My hair used to shed like crazy and I would frequently have to pick up large hairballs from my carpet. If I didn’t tie my hair back while eating, I’d usually end up with food in my hair or hair in my mouth.

3. My go-to hairstyle had become a bun since I wasn’t going to spend 45 minutes straightening or curling my hair everyday so that it looked good. What’s the point of having hair that long if it’s never actually down?

4. I measured my hair yesterday…and it was 29 inches long. I am only 62 inches tall…which means my hair was almost half as long/tall as I am…THAT’S WEIRD GUYS. It also means that some of the hair on my head was 5 years old and it felt kind of like straw. Yuck.

5. I’m going to be in Nashville all summer and I CANNOT handle the heat and humidity there with long hair. It gets gross and sweaty and sticks to my neck and I didn’t want to deal with it. So chop chop.

6. I’ve wanted to donate my hair for a long time, and it’s finally long enough that I could donate a lot of hair…although I will admit that 17 inches is now feeling a little over-zealous.

7. And finally…change. Change is good, or so I’ve been trying to tell myself all year. I am an extremely change-averse person – I’m that person who hates it when Facebook changes its font. I finally convinced myself that this is a good year for change – I’ve moved across the country, made new friends…so why not change my hair.

So even though I’m freaking out about it right now, I’m sure it’ll grow on me very soon (heh heh heh).

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Becoming a Domestic Goddess

Ok, not really…this should actually be titled “Learning how to feed myself in the event my microwave dies.”

Here’s the story: There once was a little girl who had a wonderful mother who made delicious food for every single meal. This little girl never really had to learn to feed herself beyond pouring a bowl of cereal or making a quesadilla. She also firmly resisted learning to cook, because why do it yourself when someone can do it for you, duh. When the little girl was all grown up, she left for college, where once again, all she had to do was swipe a card in the dining hall and pile food on her plate. However, everything changed once she moved into her own apartment. That’s when she discovered that she had no idea how to provide 3 meals a day for herself. Thus began the era of cereal, eggs, pop tarts, gummy vitamins, and Trader Joe’s frozen meals. The End.

So, despite my mother’s and my roommates’ concern over my limited and probably nutritionally stunted food repertoire, I managed to sustain this reliance on breakfast foods and microwavable foods for over 3 years. However, now that I’m in grad school and technically an adult, I’ve realized that maybe I need to start eating like one too…sometimes. The main problem has always been that I don’t like to cook rather than I can’t cook. When I’m hungry, I want to eat in 5 minutes, not 50 minutes. And if I can get away with washing one plate and one fork rather than 5 different pots and pans, then microwave it is. So, I’ve been taking baby steps and trying to cook something using the stove or the oven when I have some time. Here are some of the results:

 

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Pesto, Mozzarella, Tomato Pizza

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Mexican Tortilla Soup

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Salsa Chicken with Orzo Pasta Salad

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Chicken Enchiladas

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Cinnamon Pull-Apart Bread (recipe courtesy of my friend Jennifer)

Most of the time, I use a recipe, but sometimes they get heavily modified since I rarely have all the ingredients. I’ve recently discovered that paprika makes food taste AMAZING (What is paprika? Where does it come from? All I know is that on Blue’s Clues, Salt and Pepper had a child named Paprika…). As you can see, a recurring theme seems to be to cover the main course with cheese and to make sure dessert is covered in sugar. BTW, the Cinnamon Pull-apart bread is to DIE for: http://joythebaker.com/2011/03/cinnamon-sugar-pull-apart-bread/

To be honest, even though I’m cooking more these days, I still have my fair share of frozen pizza/macaroni and cheese/cereal for dinner kind of nights – old habits die hard. I’ve been lucky that most of my cooking attempts have turned out pretty well (hoorah!). After all, a couple weeks ago I burnt a frozen pizza (forgot to set a timer) and this morning I poured iced tea into my cereal instead of milk (guess that answered the “will I need caffeine today?” question). In the end, while I enjoy eating a wholesome meal once in a while, I can’t say my attitude towards cooking has changed much (sorry Mom!).

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Where the Heart is: Spring Break in California

First off, I apologize – it’s been almost 6 weeks since I last wrote – WAY longer than I ever intended to go without writing. February ended up being the craziest month ever – it made me think back to first semester when I told everyone, “Grad school is pretty easy, I have lots of free time.” HA. JOKES. I spent the whole month alternating between stress level 10 (3 TESTS THIS WEEK AHHHHHHH) and stress level 0 (around the time House of Cards Season 2 came out and school became very low priority). Combined with the cold and the sleep deprivation, I was a completely antisocial grump. The only thing that kept me going that month was the promise of spring break and my much anticipated trip back to San Francisco and Berkeley for half the week.

Even though it took me over 12 hours to get from Nashville to San Francisco (possibly the one weekend all year that the West coast experienced weather delays), I had the most wonderful 4 days back in the Bay. As I’ve said before, when I get homesick now, it’s both for San Diego and my family there, and for the Bay and all my friends who stayed there after graduation. It had been almost a year since I’d been back, and the siren song of the Bay was calling my name.

I spent the weekend in San Francisco – eating (duh), exploring, and spending time with many of the people who make living 2500 miles away so very difficult. I’m not sure I can explain the draw San Francisco has for me, but every time I go, my heart is made full by how beautiful, unique, and full of character the city and its people are. Perhaps it’s a combination of getting to be with the people I love in the city I love, but not even the fog (https://twitter.com/KarlTheFog), the frequently naked people (pro or con, you decide), or the poop on the sidewalk (dog or human – serious question) can diminish the happiness I feel when I’m in SF. Short summary of my weekend: Mosaic steps, beautiful views, a bar with a full page cider menu, SING-A-LONG OF FROZEN, boba, mexican food, and lots of hugs.

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I spent the next 2 days living out my college nostalgia in Berkeley. It was bittersweet to be back on campus and to no longer be a student there. I visited all my old haunts, explored some of the new places that had popped up over the last year, and caught up with friends who were still around. Unsurprisingly, my visit was mostly centered around more food and boba.

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I spent the rest of the week back in San Diego, enjoying the sunshine and time with my family. My brother drove down from school for an evening, so I was lucky enough to see him too (and he stopped on his way to get me boba – best brother award!). Also got my In N Out fix – grilled cheese and animal style fries NOMS.

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A week back in California with friends and family was exactly what I needed halfway through a stressful semester. This visit showed me how true “home is where the heart is” can be – as much as I’m enjoying my time in Nashville, I’m not sure this city will ever feel like home the way San Diego and the Bay do for me. It’s back to the grind here at school, but I’m already counting down the weeks till my next trip home!