The Science of Compromise


Every time they see each other they hug affectionately, and I’m always thankful they have each other. As brothers they stay together, crossing the country and collecting experiences unique to their shared bond. I hope they both become men who are not ashamed to openly express their love for each other.

The Science of Compromise |

Kevin had his first day of school (7th grade, new building), and Damian will start next week (3rd grade, new district). It’s bittersweet to break from our tradition and assign Damian a new school district, but we’ve had a lot of practice at being flexible and open to creative solutions.

I try to teach them that it is possible to feel many things at one time about a single decision. We try to collect all the data we can, make Leslie Knope pros & cons lists (kidding), expect emotional resistance (not kidding- especially my own), and move forward knowing we investigated the problem as thoroughly as possible. As a single mom working to get into medical school, I need to be as efficient as possible. The truth of compromise is that we don't move forward with everything we want. Despite difficult concessions, we aim to equip ourselves to have the most probable chance at reaching our goals.

For their sake, I am positive about the changes and remind them of the benefits. I'm also honest about some of my hesitations, because I trust them to be able to process most of it. Hope my transparency helps them feel more involved as members of our family. Damian took a tour with his new principal and is excited to get a locker + a few more days of summer. Kevin will have cello daily, and most of his friends are in his classes.


This morning it's cool and rainy for August, and I'm sleepy from an overnight emergency department shift. Love being there though. I'm still excited from learning about the mechanisms that cause pancreatitis. I didn't know that enzymes meant for the duodenum (first part of the small intestine) can become activated in the pancreas and start digesting pancreatic cells?! The physician I worked for kindly showed me the difference between a healthy vs inflamed pancreas on CT scans. This naturally led to my curiosity about what immune signaling cascade follows enzymatic activation to initiate pancreatic inflammation, and the differences between acute and chronic pancreatitis. Woke up to four emails to myself with papers to read and sites to reference later.

Sometimes I'm so intimidated by everything there is to learn in medicine, but then again it can so be fascinating that I just want to learn more. I'm not satisfied with what I've learned so far. Thankful that being a scribe affords me opportunities to learn in these digestible increments. Excited to start my master's program at the end of this month- my first courses will be Human Physiology and Biochemistry!


I still sound out princi-PAL when I'm writing like I did in elementary school though. And I don't know how much longer I'll get away with these matching outfits, but I will surely keep trying.


I Graduated


B.S. in Psychology with a Concentration in Behavioral Neuroscience + Pre-Med Prerequisites
from Wright State University

There is not a summer commencement, but my sister gave me her robe from her graduation three months ago. Holding it makes graduation seem a little more real. As I close this chapter, so many things came full circle.

Photo Jul 28, 12 15 32 PM.jpg

I took anatomy in 2004, but received an “X” in the class. I was very uncomfortable learning from donors and decided that a career in medicine was clearly not for my sensitive stomach. After that quarter, I left Wright State and earned an associate's degree in Visual Communications (from Sinclair) and went on to become a photographer. I retook Anatomy (now Anatomy + Physiology) in 2016 when I came back to Wright State as a single mom in my thirties. It went much better. In fall of 2017, I gave a speech for Boonshoft School of Medicine’s Anatomical Gift Program reception (2 groups of ~800 attendees) as an undergraduate representative to express gratitude for being able to learn Anatomy at Wright State.

The last topic I tutored this week was on acid base balance in Physiology. Me, the girl who didn’t know what a hydrogen ion was when I first sat in that class can breeze through this now. People had a lot of patience with me and I worked really hard. I also took a lot of chemistry.

The End (Graduation) Is Near |
Pizzelles and Dahlias |

Always surrounded by pictures of my sons, especially because they spend summers in Florida with their dad. I have missed them, but I'm glad they can go on vacation while I have spent long days at my classes, working in my lab, and tutoring. Studying for finals, I was lucky to be fueled by pizzelles my dad made.

Studying For Finals |

When I was writing my (undergrad) thesis, I went back to papers we read two years ago in my research lab about maternal deprivation & the impact of stress in early life. I looked at the notes I wrote in the margins and remembered how hard it was to read those papers- partially due to the difficulty of the scientific literature and partially due to missing my sons that summer. It was incredible to realize how much I’ve learned since then about the immune system and the influence it appears to have on neuropsychiatric conditions.

There was also this moment of accomplishment when I noticed my professor had written my old married name on that stack of two-year old research papers. I've settled into my maiden name so much that I forget how recently it changed.

I’m thankful for friends that I’ve made here, and feel so lucky to enjoy being at Wright State. My friends have been so supportive and my lab partners took me out to dinner after our last lab (and my final "task" before graduation). My classes are so much better because of the people I've met in them.

My sons and parents can tell you how intense it has been to graduate with all my pre-med classes & the concentration in behavioral neuroscience. My family's support has been vital as I make this transition from photographer to medical doctor. My sons have come to classes with me and watched me study continuously. My parents have supported us and helped with rides when I had to take night classes. My sister, Abby, helped me get through my divorce and was a big inspiration to help me stick with my classes. It’s bittersweet since she moved to Colorado this morning, but I’m excited for her to do what she loves there.

Only a few more days until my sons come home, and I can’t wait to start a new chapter with them. Calling them to tell them I finished was a call I was so proud to make. Only cried a lot.


Channel the Grief


Grief can be helpful. It drowns out a lot of other things, like muscle soreness from really solid exercising, or boredom from monotonous forms of work. Go organize all the receipts for your taxes. Run. Take the cat to the vet. Do 500 calf raises. Make flashcards of French verb conjugations. Grief will numb you to the little trials and boredoms that bog down happy people.

Just do really productive, somewhat-boring things repetitively and stoically in order to improve your life, so that when you feel better, you’ll look around and say, ‘Holy sh$t, the sun is shining again and my job is amazing and I can do six pull ups in a row and I speak French?’

Jennifer Dziura |

I read this quote a couple years ago. It resonated with me as I was in the thick of an uncertain custody battle and beginning my second semester back at Wright State to finish my bachelor's degree. I wasn't courageous enough to call myself a "pre-med," and I was really nervous about retaking anatomy. It was useful for me to think of all my (secret) big dreams in small baby steps that consisted of:

Looking up new words and noting how to pronounce them, like acetylcholine.
Reading paragraphs in the book from behavioral neuroscience again and again to understand the simple components of an action potential and the confusing cellular anatomy of a neuron.
Figuring out what the heck an orbital is that my chemistry teachers kept talking about.
Waking up early to do statistics homework & wrapping my head around the meaning of a P value.

Using the long commute to listen physiology lectures.

Returning to college at 32 years old, I had major deficits in math and science. The last couple years have shown me that winter months are perfect for building on my knowledge base. It’s a good time to memorize neuroanatomy & practice physics. In fact, I enjoy it or else I do not think that I could tolerate the work. I like the stimulation. It is a nice change from the life I left.

The slower pace of this semester has created a space to take inventory of how I can practice gratitude for the progress we've made. After navigating morning rush hour and dropping my sons off, I walk to my lab and try to remember the incredible opportunities presented to me. I'm still tethered to this place, but it's become the greatest honor of my life to be a student-mother-scientist. I have an enormous responsibility to recognize that I am privileged to be here.

Wright State University in the Snow |

I’m thankful I can finish my degree. I’m thankful my car is filled with boys who bring richness to my life that I would never relinquish for any price. The mornings start early & the days end late, but I get learn about the concepts that fascinate me. Difficult decisions, like prolonging my graduation a semester, led to a place that allows me to grow stronger.

It’s been two years since our divorce decree. Several legal documents & multiple hearings followed. My “grief” was the legal cloud that would not go away. Almost a month ago, I had my last post-divorce hearing. Since that day, I've suffered from quite severe side effects of spontaneously smiling, increased energy from improved sleep, and enhanced focus (secondary to a significant decrease in custody-related anxiety).

It was pure elation to close the gate for good and look toward the future.*

Winter 2018 | Tapetum Lucidum of Cow Eyes |
Winter 2018 | NEC

I say, "future," but the sun is already shining and I am waking up to realize I already built a new life that looks nothing like the one I left. In 2015, I couldn’t tell you the difference between a neutron or an electron. But while I lived in the hazy cloud of divorce & post-divorce proceedings, I created new habits and was happy for the distractions. I came close to finishing my degree, started becoming a neuroscientist, and inched closer to applying to medical school. When the stress from my case was almost unbearable, I had very careful conversations with advisors about taking time off. After looking at a lot of factors, (financial aid, how close I was to finishing, when classes would be offered, etc), they encouraged me to push forward. They reminded me that I do belong here.

Monday I'm finishing up my data collection for my undergraduate research thesis on cytokine activity in the brain in response to stress & inflammation. Cytokines are tiny tiny proteins that are involved in many cell signaling processes in the body, but we are interested in their role in the central inflammatory response. We are curious about their role in behaviors that appear to be associated with anxiety & depression. Oh I have so much to learn! I embrace it because I love the learning process and I believe in neuroplasticity. We aren't tied to our past or who we have always been. I believe that we can get up and make small decisions that impact our future very effectively. The synapses in our brains are incredibly malleable- don’t think for a minute that I am an exception. Channel the “grief” into fuel, even when you don't feel like it's of any use. You will be surprised how far it takes you. 🙌🏼


*Yes, Stranger Things, final episode, season II, seemed to be the perfect metaphor for ending the chapter on court.

** As a photographer, I'm impressed by the tapetum lucidum of a cow eye. The first time I saw it, at an anatomy club dissection from my second semester back, I was in awe of the iridescent color & significance of its function. Animals with these structures have mini soft boxes to amplify light to see better in the dark. We learned from these structures again in a course I'm taking this semester (pictured in blue & white, above). I spoke with my sons about how neat it is to know that even simple species, like fish, have elegant physiological systems that compare to our most innovative technical advances in cameras & lighting systems.



My Slice of Bedford Falls


Growing up I always identified with George Bailey from "It's A Wonderful Life," because I wanted to go somewhere bigger than my hometown. Even in the happy ending, I always felt a little sting for him not being able to go to college & travel like he once aimed to do.

Years ago, when I first became a single mom, I felt like I was stuck in Dayton. Then my parents moved back. My family & friends have been patient & kind. My sons' schools & friends have been what they needed. We found a rhythm for ourselves.

Then I went back to Wright State and I started to really understand how fortunate I am to be here. Touring my new behavioral neuroscience lab in the Neuroscience Engineering Collaboration, (a gorgeous building at Wright State), I felt humbled at the opportunities for research & hands on training we can get as undergrads to prepare us for studying medicine. More than once, I have wanted to pinch myself while I assist with an undergrad Anatomy lab in our medical school. My professors & advisors have been genuine and encouraging. This is exactly where I want to be, I really can not imagine a more perfect fit.

In my own way, I understand why George stayed. | Traditional Snowball Picture

Merry Christmas!



Re: General Chemistry

re: general chemistry by @TetherAndFly

I remember the way my fingers felt heavy as I weighed whether to withdraw from general chemistry last spring. I only understood fragments of the chapters, and was far from being competent. As optimistic as I tried to be, I knew that deep in my temporal lobes, my hippocampus was not encoding the chemistry concepts the way I would need them. By a miracle of a curve, I could possibly pass the class. "Passing the class" is not sufficient for what the future will require from me. This is the first class in a series of chemistry courses, and some of the content will be on the MCAT. I needed to have a very solid understanding of chemistry principles or moving forward would be a futile endeavor.

Coming back to Wright State in fall of 2015 after an eleven year hiatus had felt empowering. As I carefully researched my course options and sought guidance from my advisors, I started to believe that I had the determination to harness any class. It felt like I had resurrected an inner confidence that had been stifled in the shuffle of morphing into a young wife & mother. I was reclaiming an essential tenet of my identity that felt familiar, but updated. Evolved.

Just as I was getting the courage to say (out loud) that I was pre-med, I was facing the "failure," of jumping ship of a sinking academic boat. I started to wonder all over again if I could be deemed suited for the rigor of medical school. If I couldn't patch the leaks here, could I be trusted to be responsible for more difficult courses?  As a 32 year old single mom of two boys, the deck was already slightly, no, significantly stacked against me. To lose the work I had put into the first half of the semester's chemistry class was highly discouraging. My professors had recommended that we had taken previous chemistry classes, but I was too arrogant to admit that my high school chemistry class was close to fifteen years ago. I also did not admit that I hadn't really cared for it, and did not go to any length to retain any facts from it. Interesting how confidence and arrogance are probably the same- labeled differently only after we look back and assess the result of their influence.

My mindset has always been that persevering is synonymous with success, but it is more nuanced than I used to understand. Perseverance is imaginative, flexible, humble, and often has a timeline that exceeds my own patience. Perseverance also requests that we calibrate frequently in order to stay on course.

After hours of deliberation, I submitted the form to drop my chemistry class. Touching "enter" felt like I was detonating a nuclear explosion. I was wracked with guilt and fear about what I had done. I was ashamed about the money I was wasting and felt the humiliation of surrender.

Until I breathed.

Upon exhale, I felt a surge of relief.

The sensation was probably the effect of GABA and dopamine, among other neurotransmitters responding to my decision. I imagined freshly released ions crossing synaptic junctions and receptors carefully setting updated biochemical reactions in motion. I pictured my microscopic cell assembly line in slow motion, as a beautiful kaleidoscope of fireworks responding in a synced cascade to the new chemical messages. That is when I knew I had to quit feeding the neuronal circuit that relied on my insecurities. It grew strong from the repetition & frequency of my worries. Either I would move forward or I would choose another career- constantly questioning myself was costing my neurons a precious supply of limited energy. I couldn't keep wrestling with my fears because I needed every spare atom to rally around building up my strength. I also needed to stop looking at my age and single parenting like a deficit. I could make excuses or I could make a plan. There would be a rematch, and I would take time to change my approach. I couldn't walk into the classroom as the same student. What was I going to do to prepare for fall semester?

Plan A: I could watch Khan Academy videos this summer. Yes that would be wise. I'd revisit chemistry in the fall and feel ready after a summer of self tutoring. Except that I knew myself and I knew I needed structure. There was a high probability that I would not watch the videos and would most likely cram a few in just before classes started. My intentions don't always serve me well without structured responsibility.

Plan B: I could take an online intro to chemistry class from Sinclair Community College. It would keep me motivated and I could still have flexibility to take other classes at Wright State. Except that I needed to take a lab in person, and online classes usually get slumped into one day a week. I remember the art history class I took online years ago at Sinclair (for my Visual Communications degree). Sundays were the days tests were due. They were always a scramble of speed reading + a sloppy search for keywords so I could finish all my work in one sitting. It was doable but don't ask me anything about art history. This is not the outcome I wanted for general chemistry.

Plan C: I could take an in person chemistry class from Sinclair. I went with Plan C.

It had been eight years since I graduated from Sinclair and funny how I had never taken classes at Building 12 in the chemistry department. As I made my way from the parking garage to class I saw construction under my feet. I stopped to watch below the walkway as workers dug the first layer of a new building. I felt consoled by the parallel that much of my academic work would serve me in a similar fashion. This semester at community college would support the weight of my future classes, so I determined to benefit from this opportunity.

It was a perfect fit for me. It kept me accountable to go to class and gave me the opportunity to ask questions. I was in lecture three times a week in a very small class. My professor had a bench to create demonstrations while he lectured & was fantastic about tailoring his time to revisit concepts we struggled with. We did group assignments daily after lecture and were frequently quizzed so we knew whether we really understood the chapters. Labs were basic and informative.

Chemistry at Community College @TetherAndFly
Chemistry at Community College

Very soon into the semester, the foreign language of atomic theory started to make sense. Lewis Dot Structures became relaxing to draw instead of a futile mess of pencil lead erased over and over in frustrated strokes. After class I would review definitions and draw my own notes, because I knew a major weakness was my lack of fluency in science vocabulary. There are many concepts & names that sound the same, but have important differences. This time around, I wanted to carefully examine them until I could pick them apart by memory. In lab, I loved building molecular models and imagined showing my sons how to play this "game." I learned that the once intimidating algebra behind many of the formulas is reliable and I liked the consistency of its application. We scratched the surface of organic chemistry and I was excited to see snippets of physiology referenced. My professor said we could skip reading the medical references in the book, but for me, the integration of chemistry with my neuroscience and physiology classes is essential:

The molecular model drawing of L-DOPA is on my book cover? What?!
This realization several chapters into the semester felt like meeting a celebrity. I took pictures of it and tried not to act too excited.

Hey look, there's a paragraph about osteoid!
My spring anatomy/physiology course taught me to instantly recite, "Osteoblasts turn into osteocytes, which are broken down by osteoclasts..."
This basic premise of bone histology hummed in my head like a nursery rhyme as I read the page about bone matrix. I'm not too embarrassed to admit that I often channel Phil Dunphy's enthusiasm- I am delighted that life offers ripe plums & fanny packs.

As I started to understand what chemistry can teach me, it was stimulating to begin to see the connections between these disciplines. It gave me an appreciation for why I have dedicated my mind to working through a subject that felt impossible. Earning an A over the same type of content that used to make me frustrated felt immensely gratifying, and working through the obstacles reinforced my determination to become a doctor. My chemistry impediment became an opportunity to invent my own sequence of reactions. It became a chance to measure the transformation in myself.

I was always careful, of course, to use sig figs. 



Chemistry Calibration

Student Success Center at Wright State |

This winter I took on too many courses. It's been a blur as I tried to find a rhythm that would work for me to balance everything on my plate. It's a lesson I'm slow to learn & only grudgingly accept, but balance usually requires a reduction of what I believe I can handle.

I've enjoyed Anatomy/Physiology, Statistics, and Behavioral Neuroscience. However, I wasn't prepared for what effort and time commitment it would take to add Chemistry to the lineup. It's been more than a decade (maybe 15 years?) since I took Chemistry and I can honestly tell you that I remember almost nothing from having it in high school (oops). I finally had to withdraw and give myself some time to refresh & practice before I tackle it again.

Now that I have postponed Chemistry for another semester, I've been reflecting on what went well this semester and what I need to design differently. I'd like to think that the choices I make will always create the results I want if I work hard enough. In some ways, I will always believe that. I'm simply learning to reevaluate my original time constrictions on these goals.

To be clear, "timing" feels abrasive. I have to daily resist the temptation to imagine what could have been different in my life if I had been able to begin this leg of my journey sooner. Taking longer than I already have feels like a tremendous defeat, but lingering on the sting of this frustration would be an incredible waste of my limited energy.

It helps to believe that approaching Chemistry as a future neuroscientist will play to my advantage. As someone who believes in the power of repetition for improved long term potentiation, I am consoled that the rematch will feel more familiar. Until then, I can focus on what fascinates me about the anatomy & wiring under our skin. Like the meninges that so eloquently swaddle our brains, the beautifully designed cauda equina, and all the unfathomable little bundles of neurons that mysteriously grant us both our existence & our adaptability.


It amazes me that a difference between college in 2002 and 2016 is there are so many resources online. I try to remember that help will come to those who search persistently on YouTube. :)


Winter Skin


When the Damian noticed the toilet was flushing slowly, he looked at me and asked, "Do you need to use the plunger again?" 

He remembered I did it last year and didn't blink at the thought of me using it again. Eight years ago I would have never dreamed of learning to unclog a toilet, because there was always someone to do it for me. Now that we've been our own the better part of two years, I have learned to Google & YouTube my way through many "adventures" around the house. It is reassuring that my four year old sees me as a more capable handy-gal than I used to see myself. 


When Kevin saw me applying for college this morning, he said I was too old to go back. I explained that I'm not.  

He said I already went. I explained the reasons for checking out the requirements of finishing my bachelor's degree.

He said I would be gone all the time. I told him probably not, but if I were it would be for a good reason.  

This conversation echoes the many we have had and will have about being a secure unit of three. There have been many decisions to make and many opportunities to consider as I map out what the future looks like. I've finally been able to start moving toward the goals that used to be fragile ideas in the back of my head. Honestly, I don't have a lot of choice but to adapt and evolve. Staying the same is not an option. Once we thicken our skin and see the world with new eyes, I believe there is a strength that surprises even our own expectations of who we can be.

I want to make sure I'm raising boys who embrace a life that is not conventional.


Time to shovel the driveway & officially begin our Christmas season.