Saturday, January 25, 2014

Sabbatical FAQ

The last two weeks have been filled with goodbyes and well wishes.  Man, if you ever want to feel grateful for your life-- start saying good bye to it! That said, we feel really good about making this step with our family and the experience we will create with our kids.

We have found through the last couple weeks that most people are a little confused with this crazy life of ours.  I thought I would take a bit to give a little history on how this plan came to be and the questions that have come up over and over again.

Why are you moving to Alaska?

Alaska was really secondary to the experience.  There were a couple conversations that happened in rapid succession that made us think that there was a greater fate at play.  Matt did want to get a deeper clinical experience but probably more importantly we wanted to create a kick-ass experience for the family.   We have several people who we admire who have done similar things with their families and we wanted to follow suit.   It so happened that I was in a career transition and James has two years until kindergarten: Moons aligned, fates spoke and we realized that the risk regret from not taking this time as a family could be worse than just doing it!

So Alaska. . . . After we decided to do this we looked at programs or areas in which we had an interest:  medical experience, family bonding and an opportunity for something new.  In the past we had talked at length about spending an extended time in Africa but frankly with James' hearing and our own student loans that would be difficult to swing.   Matt has had a couple good friends spend time in Alaska and since they are often short on physicians. . .

I am most looking forward to the time with our kids.  It's really incredible that we can have this time with them. 

How did you pick Ketchikan? 

We really came down to places where there are hospitals and who also hire 'hospitalists.' (Matt's position).   There were a couple front runners including Ketchikan and Anchorage.  There are very different  trade-off's associated each location. (There would be more for me to do professionally and possibly socially in the Anchorage area, but as Matt put it-- we don't want to just move to another cul-de-sac and call it an Alaskan experience.).  Ketchikan is a town of about 10,000 people in the very south of Alaska.  It's a mix of tourism and fishing and has a big arts community.   Matt also had a very good friend do some medical work there and spoke highly of the hospital and the community.  We have been really impressed by the people there and think it will be a great fit!

What will Matt be doing? 

Professionally, Matt will be in essence doing the same thing he does in the Twin Cities.  There are some new experiences and procedures and he is excited about becoming a better physician through the process.  Ketchikan is a smaller hospital then where he is now so there is more autonomy in the role.  

Personally, Matt will be fishing, praying and hiking.  It's maybe my perspective here, but I think Matt has been working hard for years to get through med school and residency-- all while having a family.  I think this will be a great way for him to succeed professionally and personally.

What will Dana be doing? 

Well, having a baby this summer for starters.  Actually, I am not entirely sure of the full answer here.  I don't do well with large blocks of unstructured time so I will indeed have a plan and a schedule for how I spend my days.  I won't write too much about this now since we can certainly touch on this later as I figure my shit out.

Time has always been my scarcest resource so it's an amazing gift to be able to do some things that I haven't had time for in the past.  We have made the decision that I won't work full-time during this 18 month period.   Matt works 26 weeks a year so if I don't work, we have 26 weeks a year to travel, enjoy our kids, hike and make awesome breakfasts in the morning.  If I do work, we have 3 weeks a year for the above.  So. . . . *   Let the hobby exploration begin!

Plan pending.

Where will you live?

We rented a house in the woods.  We will post pics once we are there but it's certainly not in a cul-de-sac sac!  Actually, we won't have neighbors, mail service or several other amenities that we are accustomed to.  We are super excited though and are glad to have an interesting experience.  

Are you moving back to MN or will you become one of those "Alaska" people?

We did keep our house and are renting it out.  Unless something really changes, we plan to come back to Minnesota in the fall of 2015 so that James can start kindergarten here.  We have found that the best things in our life seem to happen when we are flexible and go with the flow so I do recognize that plans can change.**  We'll see.

*Not to be obvious, we also have less financial resources if I don't work. . . but it seems like a fair trade off for the experience. 
**For example, this whole Alaska thing wasn't on our radar until it was.  Through this process we have also met several folks who are on year 5 of their 6 month plan.  

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Flown the Nest

Although I am largely very excited about our family sabbatical, I was sad to leave our home.   We have put a lot of effort into making this house a home and learned many valuable lessons along the way.*

Our stuff is on it's merry journey out of the lower contingent and we are the "merry" guests at my in-laws.  It's important to say that my in-laws are great-- but I have a hard time believing that we are very accommodating house guests and think that we may out-stay our welcome sooner than later.**  However, the kids are having a blast spending time with their grandparents and we are enjoying the company.

Since it takes a few extra weeks for our stuff to transit, we said goodbye to our sweet little house early.

We bought our house when we were pregnant with James and had to shake out the couch cushions to gather enough money for our down payment!  There was something sweet, exciting and scrappy about working together to buy our first home and it's amazing to think four years later all the memories that have we created in that space.    I am a lover of homes and the symbolism of the home and I often find it hard to move on from a physical space when I have experienced great love there. Home is my place of rest, play, conversation and joy.  I have always loved my home-- but have loved this home-- the one that Matt and I created together--the best.

Call me sentimental but it was a lovely, lovely place for us and the keeper of the best years in my life. 

The house itself has had quite a progression as well since we moved in.  We bought the house on potential-- and have spent much of the last four years tackling a variety of projects to bring out the shine.   I love house projects and crafty stuff so this was definitely a fun undertaking for us! 

Here are some pictures of our house during the time we owned it!

Move In Day- Fall 2009. ***
Living Room Before
Kitchen Before
Family Room Before
Family Room Before
Basement Before
House Today
Entryway Today
Living Room Today
Basement Today
Basement Today
Family Room Today

Family Room Today

Kitchen Today
We are keeping our home as a rental and plan to return in August 2015.  I hope the renters loved it as much as we did! 

*We Fitzes aren't particularly handy.  If you were to tour our home you could point to anything sort of crooked and I would bet that it was a project where we decided to stretch the budget and do it ourselves.    Made with love-- not accuracy.   That said, we learned a lot and oddly did improve as we went along.

**At this moment, Daisy is screeching about putting on the Choo Choo show and Pop Pop would like to watch Football.  Oh the tension! 

***Yes, Moving again and pregnant again. We will not be repeating this coinciding events again. 

Monday, January 20, 2014


Today marks yet another milestone-- 19 years since my mom passed away.  It's growing almost silly to talk about it here since it has been so many years at this point but I do find that my mind is often "there" this time of year and so it seems like a fair topic to write about.

I don't really feel all that emotional this week-- maybe I am just too busy to really reflect on it.  Or maybe it's that I am feeling better in so many other areas of my life.  I feel more confident in my own mothering and my mind is consumed with how to best love and raise my children that I don't often think back to the gap between what would have existed in my family if my mom had lived versus the pieces of family that we evolved to after.

This year was important for my mom for other reasons as well-- it presented an opportunity to better honor her life. 

For the past 18 years my mom's grave went unmarked.  (Trust me when I say there is significant back-story to this but nonetheless something that I didn't know about until recently.)  In story and in my mind, I had a distinct vision for what I thought her headstone was all along.  It was a pretty pink color, a lovely blush color she wore frequently.    It was understated much like she was-- nothing showy but pretty and strong nonetheless. 

We went ahead and ordered her headstone finally and because I had such distinct belief for what it was and needed to be,  it was a simple matter of creating the real from the phantom.

I went down to Rochester last fall to visit and spend time with her which was it's own odd experience.  Although I had visited the cemetery many times before, I never knew if I was in the right place.  This time I was proud to see her name displayed and see her laid to rest properly.   It was an odd peace but one I appreciated greatly. 

Somehow having this completed has healed a part of my own heart as well. 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Highs and Lows*

One of the struggles I have found with blogging is a lack of computer time and the lag between an event and the opportunity to sit down and think about it.

Last weekend we were jam packed -- and it was a little more than what I could have anticipated.  Notice-- there is no word after "more"-- as in I was kind of all over the place emotionally.   I often find that the times that are most challenging for me are immediately followed by experiences that are immensely rewarding, gratifying or loving.  Call it my rigged relationship with my guardian angel or call me blessed.  I am the happy recipient of both. 

Friday we had what one would classify as an adventure but I would like to further classify as a shitty adventure.  We made a dumb decision-- we ordered some Indian take out that normally the kids have no interest in eating (plus they had already eaten.)   One of the dishes we ordered was a naan with some mixed ingredients-- including cashews.  We know from past experience that James (our classic atopic kid) is allergic to cashews.  It's been two years since he had any sort of reaction and I am sad to say that we had grown a little lax about it.  We have ordered cashew dishes from restaurants in the past but have always had the philosophy that as long as James doesn't eat it-- it's fine to still have it around.

Well, let's just say that James did a little counter surfing and quickly told us that his mouth hurt. We threw some benadryl in his mouth and administered his epi-pen.   Although we left the house in good shape- by the time I had parked at the hospital he was having a hard time breathing again and was covered in hives.  During the triage process I noticed that is O2 Sat was dropping and I called Matt to get down there.**   I was quickly getting the vibe that the situation was worse than I originally thought.

At the end of the day, it was probably the asthma that complicated his treatment and getting the reaction under control.  I don't know if the doctors ever thought we were in true danger but I do know that we couldn't have managed the situation at home.  In hindsight-- I wouldn't rely on the epi pen again while I park the car.

James spent the night at the hospital and got to take his first ambulance ride as he was transferred to a children's hospital.  He spent the night grasping for air, swollen and hallucinating****It was horrible to see your kid in that condition and I wouldn't wish that experiencing on any mom.   The next morning, James woke up at the hospital like it never happened.  He watched tv and ate breakfast in bed.  In fact when it was time for check out he didn't want to go home--- why would you when they serve pancakes in bed, have the Nickelodeon channel and the nurses bring you unlimited teddy grahams?  High living.

Bacon induced amnesia.  This place is great!
I was driving home after picking up my car and started crying because it felt like I  nearly lost my child over being careless about our take-out choices. Lessons learned:  1. James reacts very strongly and quickly to allergens. 2. Call an ambulance.  3. The Fitzfam will now be embracing italian/mexican take out-- as we are done with asian/indian and all other restaurants that serve cashews on the menu and 4. We are going to need to talk to all future teachers, play dates and care-takers about this allergy as the epi pen is no longer just a cute accessory that he takes along wherever goes.

We had just enough time to shower and pick up our kids before heading to a going away party.  Being around friends was probably the best thing for all of us-- despite the fact that I was running on a combination of adrenaline, lack of sleep and appreciation for the wonderful friendships in my life.   Thanks to Jen and all for a lovely night and thanks to all my ladies some very special friendships that have been a true high point in my life.  Sometimes its within the mucky that you find the support you need.  I am really blessed on many fronts, especially with amazing relationships.

*In college I lived with some roommates and we would start our house meetings with a round of weekly highs and lows.  Ironic as I said goodbye to many of those folks on Saturday.
**We were also getting triaged in front of cardiac patients. Not where you want to be.  That and we had something like 8 ER staff swirling around us.
****For the record, his halucinations were about not being able to see the TV.  I kid you not.  This is apparently what makes a four year old have nightmares.

Sunday, January 5, 2014


Despite having "oodles" of time* I have yet to fall into a regular blogging pattern.  You could technically replace blogging with just about any verb but that's my issue.

There is a lot to catch the internets up on, and by internets I mean the few friends I know who actually read this thing.   So here it goes-- the mega post.

We wrapped 2013!  We declared it the year of Faith and although we had less tangible goals than we have had in the past we have had several heady conversations as a couple about what our life together should stand for and how God fitz into the greater plan.   The other big win from this was the peace I felt in light of the many unknowns around us.  Although there is less to write about regarding faith, this really ended up being a good theme for 2013.

So a year in recap--
  • We added to our family.  After three and a half years, countless documents and developing friendships with the local bank notary, we have a son.  I know I am overdue on giving a Simon update-- but he's doing great. He certainly deserves his own post and I'll do my darnedest to give a meaningful update soon.
  • I directed Matt in a play-- The Importance of Being Earnest.  It was a ton of fun and equal amounts of work.  This will probably be the last Fitz-family production** for a while.  Heck of a send off though.
  • We celebrated a lot this year-- the centennial of my college, the weddings of two of my best friends and many other daily joys.
  • I made the bold transition to a stay at home mom.  This was planned (keep reading) but came a little earlier than anticipated.  I am glad to say that it is going better each and every day.  Truth be told, I don't think I realized how exhausted I was with the career/ family thing.  Although I am still finding my groove, I feel more confident in my ability to do so. 
  • After many hours discussing faith in general and the construction of our little family,  we have made the decision to move to Ketchikan, AK for an 18 month family sabbatical.   The Mary Oliver quote from above has been bouncing around my head more frequently lately.*** What do you intend to do with your wild precious life?  Well, I don't know about the rest of y'all, but I am going to live on a remote island and contemplate the beauty that is my children while they are still children.  And eat salmon.
The Fitz Family New Digs
 So 2014 will be a very different year for us-- we are set to leave Minneapolis in a few weeks and are excited about what this next year has in store.   We also haven't celebrated our 5th anniversary yet (which was December 31) so no discussion on an annual mantra.     I celebrated the new year with a flu/cold thinger that knocked me pretty hard on my arse.  All resolutions and deep thoughts pending until I have the energy to think with both hemispheres and possibly less a toddler.

*And a healthy dose of sarcasm.
**My sister in law Mary was even in the cast! 
***As in more frequently since college.