Minimalism and the Weight of Stuff

We have now been in the new apartment for a year. We moved because we needed more space with the baby starting to walk (and getting into literally everything), plus there was no room whatsoever outside in a yard that we could take her to play. There was also an incident with the upstairs neighbor’s water heater flooding our place and leaving behind mold–which they tried to cover up with a thin layer of white paint over half of it… and then their new water heater leaked, and we got another dose of mold. No thank you. So we were looking for a new place, a place with more square footage for the baby to roam with a yard or outside space. Bonus if it was in the country and quiet.

Then we found the new place: nearly double the square footage, huge windows, high ceilings, in the country on 4 acres and a grand total of six apartments in the building so it’s super quiet. It also affords us sunsets like this:

However, there was one thing that I didn’t like about having to move: hauling all the crap from one place to another. I didn’t realize just how much stuff we had accumulated. Frankly, I was embarrassed by how much stuff we had to move, and all the boxes and the stuff that just kept coming. By having the baby we gained a third person to our happy home and all of the stuff that comes with adding a third person to our family… but it was still way too much, and it just kept coming. Babies have a way of making anyone and everyone super generous, which can be nice, but can also add up quickly.

So here we have been, in this new spacious apartment… and it’s got two closets. Not even a coat closet. So lots of stuff got pushed into the closet space we did have.

And then came the third year of medical school with work hours and patient logs and call days with 30+ hour shifts on top of studying and assignments. I kept thinking that I needed to “go through stuff”when I finally got a day off or on post-call. Well…. guess what. When I did get time off, the last thing I wanted to do was go through stuff and sort out piles of trash, donate, sell, or return to owner. Ever so slowly, those piles did form and items started to disappear. The problem was, there was still…. stuff. Everywhere.

I kept having thoughts roll around in my mind about how to best get rid of the excess we had accumulated. Little by little those same piles started to reform. If I did find myself with some free time and if something was bugging me, I’d settle into a heated, angry, cleaning frenzy (hello cluttered sink that drove me nuts for months…).

In November I came up with an idea for a donation project. I worked through my school to set up a donation drive for the local refugee center, which was a huge hit! We wound up taking over 13 carloads of household goods to the local centers. So not only did we do some good for the local community, but I also got to donate a ton of men’s, women’s and children’s clothing that needed to find a good home.

And even then… we still had excess. And it was driving me nuts. How on earth did just three people accumulate so much stuff? We’re not hoarders by any means, but my goodness, there is just stuff everywhere. When I helped with the dropoffs for the donation drive, I can’t even begin to tell you how much of a relief it was to give away bags and bags worth of stuff that could find new life in a new home. I felt a huge weight lifted from my shoulders, and a lot of the stuff I dropped off was NOT mine/ours.

I had no idea just how much mental weight all of that stuff was putting onto me.

Months later, my husband preordered us tickets to a limited-screening documentary held here in town: Minimalism: A Documentary about the Important Things. That is the kind of people we are: we preorder tickets to documentaries. I was so happy he did this–not only because it meant a weeknight date night after a busy clinic day, but also because sometimes my husband just gets me, and it feeds my soul.

I gotta say, I love this documentary. What Joshua and Ryan say is simple and clean, and made so much sense to me. Stuff and consumerism isn’t what makes us happy. How much of the stuff that we have we bought or kept because we thought we had to, or we thought that it held the memories or was the source of our happiness? And it was then that I realized that…. it wasn’t.

Let me tell you about the stuff that I have that is weighing me down. I still have clothes in my closet from high school, back when I was a muscular, slender athlete with big dreams for what was to come. Add in the grad school weight, the married life happy weight, the baby weight… I have a closet full of clothes that I am keeping for the day when I slim down and I hope my old favorites can fit again. It’s massive. My favorite jeans, shirts, even a couple dresses. The thought of letting most of it go makes me uneasy. My closet is full of stuff that I cannot wear. But… having seen the documentary, and having thought about it for months while I finish up the third year of medical school, the time had come to clean it all out.

The closet was actually one of the last things to be tackled. First was the bookshelves. I love my books. I still have some old textbooks from college, but over the years I have been so happy to use the Amazon Trade-In program to give back some of my textbooks in exchange for funds for the next batch of books I need for school (thank goodness I am entering the last year of school and the textbooks will slow down–maybe–for a bit). Books that I didn’t want/need anymore that Amazon wouldn’t take were donated to libraries or children’s programs. Also, when I’ve been published, the publisher sends me multiple copies of the journal. Do I really need four copies of the exact same issue of the journal?? No. Away they went.

Then we tackled the movie collection. When we got married, we had so many duplicate movies. I thought we had gone through them all and found the duplicates, but I found a few more. Then there was a pile that we haven’t watched since the first viewing. Out they went. Then went (some) of the movies that are unopened (like the entire Saturday Night Live collection still pristine, wrapped in plastic).

The next thing we tackled: all the old paperwork we have kept for a rainy day or just in case. I went through it all and majorly cleaned out all that paper clutter, shredding what needed to be shredded and recycling what I could. Then out went the magazines, after one more time of reading them. Bye bye, paper clutter.

One more thing we found: at my favorite local coffee shop, there was an advertisement for a shoe collection/donation that went to making playgrounds for schools and providing clean water in resource-limited areas. After going through all of our shoes, we donated seven pairs of tennis shoes to that program.

Out went the bags of trash. Out went the bags of donations. Out went the paper and the clothes with holes and all the things that we kept that every time I looked at it I thought, I hate you. Why do I still have you?

One of the things that we do for fun in the summer is go to local home shows. I love seeing how different homes are set up as I daydream about our future home. But what I think I like most about touring this homes is just how crisp, clean and decluttered they are. I know it’s all staging and set up to be that way, but what draws me to that style is the minimalism of it all.

After the first round of attempting to be minimalists, we still had a lot of stuff. But, we have much less. I feel like a huge weight has been lifted. When we end up moving early next year after I match into a residency program, I don’t want to have that same anxiety-provoking, overwhelming nightmare occur when we move for the (hopefully) final time.

An unexpected way we’ve been able to minimize: using up what we already have.  I haven’t been to Bath & Body Works in over a year. I’ve been gifted so much that I do not need anything from there until I use up what I have.

Which means my pocketbook is happier too. I collect Starbucks mugs in their Cities collection from all of our trips. Lately, on two of our trips, I have intended to buy a mug but left without them. And I’m not remorseful about it. They’d just be collecting dust until they have their own home once we move into a house next year. For now, they’d just be clutter. And who needs that? Why organize so much when you can downsize? Less stuff = no need to organize. That makes me so much more…. free…. now that I have let go of so much stuff and the need to have so much stuff.

This weekend, we tackled the most dreaded of all tasks… the baby’s room. Holy moly, so much stuff.

We are far from done with cleaning out and adjusting to be minimalists. I still have plenty of books, as they are my first love. I still have some old jeans that I hope to once again wear. Because minimalism isn’t about never having any materialistic thing, but about knowing that things and stuff do not bring happiness. We have a long way to go, but we are trying.



A Week of Babies, Toddlers, and Kiddos

Nearly two months into medical school, and I feel like I’ve been doing this forever.

This week has felt really relaxed, now that we don’t have any exams coming up immediately. I hadn’t shadowed or been in a clinic (other than ICM, and that’s just practice) since school started, so I really, really, really needed some time with patients and with kids. Having so much free time, I had to do something besides study.

Saturday, I started the morning out in the NICU seeing dozens of patients. I loved every minute! There were plenty of interesting cases and we even got to talk to some family members, so I really learned a lot in just a few short hours. We even had a blood smear come in that pathology claimed was interesting, and since I’m taking histology while the residents and fellows haven’t had it in a long time, I got to teach some of the things I’ve learned about blood, which was awesome. I felt like I actually knew something.

Saturday night was my shift in the Catch-a-Baby program sponsored by the OB/GYN club. I’m fairly confident, if you hadn’t guessed by now, that I’ll be going into pediatrics, but I am trying to keep an open mind and try out some other specialties. I do like performing surgeries and since I love babies, why not at least give OB a shot, right? So another classmate and I showed up for our shift just as a lady was being prepped for a C-section. I spent three summers in Mom/Baby at a local hospital and I still hadn’t seen a C-section, so this was really interesting. The night staff was cool and let us learn, which was pretty awesome. We hear so many stories about attendings/residents/etc being mean to students as things like that, but this was really fun. But, I’m pretty sure I’m bound to be a pediatrician, because I was far more interested in what was going on with the healthy newborn than I was in the surgery with the mom. Overall though, a great experience!

Tuesday, I got to visit a general pediatrics office. This was a lot of fun too. In just a half-day, I laughed so much that by the time I left, my face hurt. Another thing about wearing a short white coat: people trust you automatically with their kids. One of our kiddos needed a flu shot and wanted to fight it, so mom was needed to assist. She hands her adorable one-year-old boy to me, a stranger.

Thursday and Friday, I got to be a part of the SMILE program, Students Making Illness a Little Easier, where we get to play with the kiddos on the hematology/oncology floor. This opportunity is so wonderful! I love my SMILE days.

So very needed. So motivating. This was exactly what the doctor ordered. Have I mentioned yet that I love being a medical student?

Last Best Friend

It is with a heavy heart that I write these words. This week, I lost my friend. I have been dreading this phone call for a long time.

I’ve been with hospice since fall 2008, but this week I lost my first patient. I’d been with my patient for over a year, and it’s unimaginable to me that I will no longer be going to visit every week. I feel like I’m handling my grief fairly well, but I’ve been in a weird place for 24-48 hours. As a hospice companionship volunteer, I get the unique privilege to be someone’s “last best friend”, in order to make every visit the best visit, since it may be the last.

Yesterday was supposed to be an “easy” day. I went into work early to take pictures of my immunohisto slides for the week, planned on leaving early to go donate blood again, and then meet up with David and take him out on the town to celebrate the end of his next-to-last semester of undergrad. The only thing that went to plan was my microscopy session. Around noon, I got the call that my patient was declining rapidly and the facility had requested that I make my final visit. My heart immediately dropped. My patient had been normal the last time I had visited. So I left work early, got lost twice on my way to my blood donor appointment only to find out that there was no blood drive that day (WTH?!), and then raced to the facility.

It warmed my heart to see that my patient had had lots of visitors yesterday. In the 14 months that I’ve been a last best friend, I’ve never once seen a visitor there when I came to make my weekly visit. One of them said to me when I got there, “I should have come more frequently.” This was the worst I had seen my patient. I did get several minutes alone, and I looked at all of the pictures in the room. The patient in the bed did not look anything like the person in the pictures. I wonder who this person was before I came into the picture. I only know the version of this person over the past year, and there was so much more to know. But I am glad I have had the opportunity to be there in that last year, and saw the last birthday, and those last smiles.

These memories will always stick with me:

On one of my first visits, I was still a little awkward on how to talk to this person I barely knew. My patient had a favorite hat that was so worn, it wouldn’t open all the way; the back flap kept falling over and it wouldn’t go on. So I asked my patient if I could help–we always ask permission for any form of physical contact. I was able to get the hat on and situate it to my patient’s liking. At that point, I had no idea if I was making any real impact by visiting–I wasn’t sure if I was doing a good job at all. I wasn’t even sure if my patient knew my name, even though I always introduced myself. On the next visit, the nurse caught me in the hall just to say that my patient had asked for me by name several times & kept asking when I would come visit again. My heart melted. These small things I was doing actually did make a difference.

Pt: Where do you go to sleep?
Me: Where do I go to sleep?
Pt: Yeah, where do you go to sleep?
Me: At my home.
Pt: So you get to go home but I have to stay here alone?

Me: I’ve got to go home now, but I will see you again next week.
Pt: Is someone coming after you?
Me: What do you mean?
Pt: Is someone else going to come sit with me when you leave?
Me: Your nurse will be here. But I will come see you again next week.
Pt: Next week? Can you come tomorrow?
Me: I will come next week, like always.
Pt: Ok. I trust you.

Some days were better than others. Some days my patient remembered me and even my name; other days, no such luck. But, my patient was a sweetheart, and this experience has been one that I will always hold near and dear to my heart.

It is true what they say, you enter hospice work hoping to bless others and instead your patients bless you more than you could ever imagine. I will miss the stories. I will miss hearing all about the New York Yankees, even though I despise baseball. Having three pass within the past month has been rough on me.

I miss my patient already.

Evolving Plans

Guatemala City, Guatemala

Guatemala has been laying heavily on my heart lately. There hasn’t been a single day where I haven’t thought/daydreamed/fantasized about it.

There is such a strong pull on my heart to go this October on a medical missions trip. I already know that there are direct flights from Indianapolis to Guatemala City, costs of the trip, and all of the logistics. There are still plenty of questions plaguing me though.

Am I truly ready? More importantly, is my heart truly ready? I’m not sure why God has placed it on me to go, or why it feels so desperately urgent in my life right now. I’ve been thinking about it for so long. Am I wrong for wasting time thinking about it (inventing reasons to postpone….is what it feels like) instead of just jumping on the opportunity and committing? Recent issues have put a slight squeeze on my would-be funding, as well as other opportunities that are influencing my husband and I.

I’m not sure. I want so desperately to be able to go. I have not yet put the thought into my mind that I’m not going. I know in my heart that a trip of that magnitude for that specific cause is going to change me forever. The thought of having my life changed is much more exciting than it is scary; I can’t imagine how it (is/will be) to come home and have running water, electricity, and other everyday ‘necessities’ at home after going on a trip like that. I don’t see how a trip like that couldn’t change your entire perspective on life. That is one of several reasons I want to be apart of such an experience: to use my own two hands to further God’s will, to help people in dire poverty, to show people that they are loved.

What I have learned, though, is that this trip is a planned, annual occurrence, and I’ve made a good contact so I can stay in the loop, long-term, if this coming October doesn’t pan out.

Only time will tell, I suppose. For now, it feels like every day that goes by is one more day closer to the opportunity being out of reach.

I am not sure if God is giving me these roadblocks as a way to strengthen my faith to just go, or if they are His way of saying “No”, yet again. I’m just not sure, and I hate not being sure! This is definitely a struggle, and definitely one that I need help with.

And let me tell you, this has been a week of “No”s. I’m used to having to change plans, but this week has been insane, and very disappointing. There have been some good things this week: my NICU ethics manuscript is almost ready to go to the journal! One little step toward eventually doing what I want to do, improving health care, especially for our smallest (and sometimes, sickest) patients.

“Volunteer” Shouldn’t be a Dirty Word

Sometimes people give me headaches.

Growing up, I was taught that it is better to give than to receive; that we should always, without question help those in need, and to love my neighbor as myself. It is without thinking that I donate time, items, and of myself to those in need.

It blows my mind that there are people who could think that this isn’t a good idea. I’m sorry to say that on more than one occasion, I have said, “I am a volunteer…” and have been greeted with a look of discernment, scrunching up their nose, and the thoughtless comment, “Why would you do that?”

Really, people? Since when has being generous been a sin? It exasperates me every single time I am faced with this reaction. Today it touched a nerve.

I donate blood every 56 days. I’ve donated my own hair to Locks of Love. I’m on the donor list at the Komen Breast Tissue Bank, waiting for an appointment. I’ve given my own beloved books to the local library for others’ enjoyment. I’ve volunteered with several hospitals for the past decade. I regularly give clothes and other items to GoodWill. I’ve shared my story of the profound effect Blessings Bags have had on me, indeed feeling more blessed because I gave, not because I received. Isn’t that the whole point?

I currently have one hospice patient. My patient has done more for me and my soul than I could ever express with mere words. My work with hospice has truly molded my heart and spirit into a different person over the past four years, which is something worth far more than monetary value.

While I used to be of the frame of mind that said, Why would we go to the need of another country when we have our own people in need in our own backyard? Now I see things a bit differently. Our poorest people here are still much better off than those in developing, third-world countries. Now I think, The real goal is to do BOTH–help our own and those outside.  I cannot wait to go on a missions trip and help those in need that are outside of my country’s borders.

So why on Earth do we act like doing something out of kindness without getting paid, or something in return, is something to avoid?

This bothers me beyond words. Disappoints is probably the better description.

This world vehemently disappoints me, pretty much on a regular basis.

A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle.

As Christians, we are called to give. But we are not called only to give what we are comfortable with losing, but we are called to give until it hurts. To see past the shallow ways of the world and to see what real needs are, and to use our God-given talents to fill those needs.

Have you ever wondered why some people are blessed with certain talents and others are not? I wonder if it’s because we are meant to use those talents to fill a void someone else has, and to actively seek out those people.

It thrills me to see people work toward the better good of all people. We can all do something, even if we are poor or weak or feel untalented. I love seeing volunteer gigs with students on campus. Seeing how people from all over the country have helped out my hometown and the surrounding towns who were hit with the tornado early in March, warms my heart. A friend of mine is considering joining the Peace Corps, and I couldn’t be more proud to know someone courageous enough to drop everything and leave behind a home of comfort in order to do something bigger than oneself. I myself would love such an opportunity, but I know I can impact the world in such a way as to not harm my husband and our new family; to each his own, and in his own way. We are each capable of changing the world for the better, and we can (and I would argue, should) no matter what our particular situation.

I’m a big fan of Audrey Hepburn; today I saw an old UNICEF image of her work in Africa. Now I’m an even bigger fan. If you come from a privileged background, there’s no reason you can’t do something. And “privileged” does not mean rich, or wealthy, in monetary terms. “For everyone to whom much is given, of him shall much be required.” Luke 12:48

We need more people like that. On a regular basis. Our society needs a shift in its mindframe, to leave behind the me me me mentality that I absolutely abhor and loathe to no end.

I don’t know if I’ll ever see that shift in my lifetime, but you better believe I’m going to do everything in my power to promote volunteerism in my community and involve my future children. As far as I can tell, we are a society based on being mean, hateful, and greedy… and I don’t want any part of continuing that trend.

Have you ever listened to a song countless times, and then once you actually listen to the words, and they blow your mind?

For me, these lyrics hold tremendous meaning: “Check your pulse/It’s proof that you’re not listening to/The call your life’s been issuing you.” ~John Mayer

I know of at least three friends, my age or a little  younger, that have been on missions trips to Haiti, Honduras, and Nicaragua in the past three years. It makes me so happy to know that the thought of helping those in need is not dead to my generation. I can’t wait to go on my first missions trip, which will hopefully be the first of numerous. These ladies (I just noticed that all of them are women) are an inspiration. The last two in-services I attended for hospice, I couldn’t help but notice that I was one of maybe two people out of 30+ that was under 30 years of age. Quite sad.

Capitalism may be king, but volunteerism is not dead. The most precious thing you can give someone is your time; we each have a set amount, and the clock is ticking.

“The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no greater commandment than these.” Mark 12:31

A Wrench in My Master Plan

I’ve been at odds with myself on how to begin this post. The past week has brought a lot of new opportunities that I didn’t think were possible yet, and I’ve been giddy with excitement ever since. So I guess I will leave the beginning of the post as I had written it as of Wednesday, and then share some good news I got in my inbox on Friday.

Going on a medical missions trip has been on my heart for years, and I’m finally figuring out how I can turn this pipe dream into a concrete reality. The summer I worked as a research intern at the IU School of Medicine, Evansville campus, one of my fellow interns told me about a medical missions trip he had taken the summer before to Ecuador. Talk about a dream come true! I got more info from him and decided to contact the group he went with. Bad news: there were campus chapters of this organization, and none of them were my undergraduate campus. IU Bloomington had a chapter, but wouldn’t allow IU Southeast students join (YES, I asked; I was not happy). So I pretty much put that out of my mind for the time being.

Fast forward two years. After I graduated from IUS and before I started my graduate work, I contacted that organization again to see if they took on volunteers that were not a part of a campus chapter; I was put into contact with a guy (I forget his name now), but he said he would love to put me on their email list for the next trip that came up. I was so excited! But since I figured he would contact me… I’ll be honest… I forgot about it, thinking that when the next brigade went on a trip, he’d let me know if an opening was available. After months of hearing NOTHING, and finally remembering that I had specifically asked, I made an attempt to contact that same guy. Three times. No response.

After that, I pretty much put medical missions trips at the back of my mind, figuring that I’d have a much better shot at going after I earned my medical degree and could go on a medical missions as a full-fledged, licensed physician. I was very disappointed, especially since this organizations specialized in children’s healthcare, my intended specialty once I begin medical school.

Fast forward another two years. At the beginning of this year, there was a day where I needed to run from my building to the adjoining one and back, a brisk walk across the pedway that also served as a waiting station for the IU Health People Mover. In this waiting area, IU Health leaves stacks of their magazine. I’d never read one before, so I grabbed one out of pure curiosity on my way back to my lab.

One of the stories in this issue was about a newly-graduated IUPUI nursing student who was hired as a new IU Health employee and was going on her third medical missions trip with an organization I had never heard of before. Her story was inspiring, and reignited my idea for wanting to go on a medical missions even if I hadn’t had any medical training yet, instead of waiting. Her story is currently posted at my desk, so that this time I cannot forget or push it off for (yet again) another two years.

If I haven’t mentioned it before, I’m a list maker…. lists and flowcharts, plans A and B (and C and D)… I’ve always got things mapped out well in advance. So I found information on the organization this girl had used and I’ve been planning accordingly. Since the organization had been advertized by the IU Health system and this girl had gone with them on three separate occasions, I figured they must be a good group and were worth doing some research on to see if they’d be a good candidate for the trips I’m wanting to make an annual event.

Last week was a very long and trying week. There are points in my day where all I can do is wait while part of the experiment finishes; during these breaks I’ll check my email, read a book, or check my Facebook/Twitter apps to pass the time. On a lark, I had followed that first organization on Twitter, since they are specifically geared toward children’s health issues. I noticed one of their tweets discussing upcoming brigades to Guatemala, so I asked specifically if they ever took volunteers. I received a response of an email address to use if I was interested in more information. Knowing that I had been let down by this organization before, I wasn’t expecting much, but I still fired off a quick email asking for more information about it.

Who knew Twitter would have been good for something??

By Friday, I was whipped. Utterly spent. Being the only person in my lab, I have the sole responsibility for all the data that comes out; I churn out data at breakneck speed, even though I know it’s not healthy for me to keep working this hard for this long. We’re supposed to be hiring a new research tech soon, and he or she cannot get here fast enough for my liking! I decided I needed a break, so I took my printout of missions trips with me to the lounge to make up my “Master Plan.”

Technically, I’d be fine jumping into a Level 3 trip with this group, but to get a feel for the organization and get some experience under my belt, I figured a Level 1 and Level 2 trip would be beneficial, especially since I’m hoping to make this an integral part of my career. There are several opportunities that drew my interest, one in Canada and one in Georgia, as well as Disaster Response Training that is held every spring and fall. After those, I think I’d be comfortable enough to give a Level 3 trip to Greece a try. Given that these trips are going to take at least a week each, I wasn’t planning on going until at least spring of 2013, which would allow me to build up funds and vacation time to be able to go on these trips without being rushed.

If I am not mistaken, I believe I have written, “God is always perfect in His timing”, as well as “And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who shall go for us?” Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.”  Isaiah 6:8.

Oh how I wish I had a copy of the real Master Plan that God is writing for me! It would take out so much of my worrying and over-analyzing everything that I do all of the time!

So after my short break, I felt happier that I at least had an idea about what direction I was heading, and a feasible timeline for beginning. Until I got back to my desk, that is.

There it was, in my inbox. An email response about my initial inquiry, with a request for me to take part in a medical missions trip to Guatemala. This coming October.

Not only was I so excited I couldn’t sit still, but I was also scared to death. This OCTOBER! Much, much sooner than my neat timeline had calculated. And yet there it was, the opportunity of a lifetime, that I have dreamed about for years.

And I find myself hesitating. I want so badly to go ahead and pay the deposit, send in my paperwork, and make it a done deal. Right this instant! But now I’m waiting. My biggest concern is the timing. I would be gone to Guatemala the week of my birthday… which is not a big deal, except that I’m already planning on being in Washington, DC during my birthday for the annual American Society for Bioethics and Humanities conference, which I have submitted my Neonatal Ethics manuscript abstract to, in hopes of being a presenter come October, and which I will not receive confirmation about until July. In addition to this, I still have not heard about school in the fall. I’m honestly not counting on being admitted for this fall’s entering class, but if I am indeed called to fill a position in the 2012 entering class, by golly I’m not going to miss out on that opportunity as it holds the key to all of my dreams from here forward. Not knowing about these two little details is currently driving me insane.

Now, I am praying for patience. I urgently want to jump on this opportunity to head to Guatemala so bad I can’t stand it. At the same time, I’m wanting to show restraint and wait until I know everything will fall into place. I can’t help but think God is getting a good laugh as I struggle through this.

I could really use prayers as I try to figure out what to do. I am truly at a loss, with one of my lifelong dreams dangling right in front of me, waiting for me to make a move.