Dec 15, 2014

And the beat goes on

Time is whipping by really quickly.  I've always been a terminal procrastinator, and that applies to things like "seeing things as being far in the future when they're quickly approaching", if that makes any sense.

In my last post, all the stuff that's either in the past or in the immediate future seemed so far away.  And then it was here.  Christmas with mom-visit, New Year's, call week, dad visit, next week is San Diego.  The week after that is Nicaragua.  Where did the time go?  It makes me think strongly of the board exams coming up in 18 months and how simultaneously long and short that time seems.

It's also 18 months until I leave Charleston, so like my fellow third years, I'm compiling my Charleston bucket list.  Go to the plantations, eat at about 15 different restaurants, run the bridge.  That sort of thing.

I did cross the Biltmore off my list, which is kind of cheating since it's 4 hours from Charleston, but my mom's visit for Christmas went splendidly, I kind of killed myself cooking both because I had the time off (hooray!) contrasted to last Christmas, and because my boyfriend scored a 500$ gift card to Target during his company's gift exchange, and I stole half of it to get a kitchenaid mixer because the older I get, the more dominant that second X chromosome becomes.  So I did prime rib the first night, lobster the second night, and then we hauled it up to Asheville for Christmas banquets, gingerbread competitions and a candlelight tour (and of course, wine tasting) through the Biltmore.  Lovely, truly.  Pricy, but lovely.  Too brief a visit.

Incidentally, the new format for blogger not only tends to kill me but has an incredibly sluggish response speed to my typing.  It's currently listing my last paragraph as a misspelled word, so apologies if this entry seems curt or strange.

The next week I was covering surgical pathology so that others could enjoy a free New Year's week, though I still was able to get out pretty early on New Year's Eve and secure the party at the Alley, as we did last year, though this year without immediately jumping in the car to drive to New Orleans the next morning.  I'd say I feel more comfortable with surg path now, but that's usually the sort of statement I make before everything deteriorates spectacularly, so we'll hold it off for now.

I felt relatively refreshed entering my call week after that, though it does lead to the tricky situation of really eating into the clinical pathology time as I'm frequently consumed with the AP side.  It's important, but I've felt in the last six months like a lot of the lab time becomes expendable, and that's concerning for people that have their eyes on the test prize.  It's something to watch for, certainly.  Anyway, I've been in a odd little work funk lately.  This kind of culminated in my call week.  I feel way more comfortable at each task I'm assigned, but when they overlap each other, I feel like I can't

And the beat goes on...

Things that have happened since August...

Well, now I'm halfway through my final year of residency, hurtling toward fellowship.  I have, as of last week, registered for my AP/CP board exams with approval of my license and medical school diploma.  The registration relieved me of 2200 dollars from what is thankfully my now dwindled educational fund.  I spent my last thousand (minus what the hotel costs will be) on a cute small collection of books from the "Biopsy Interpretation of" series, because I know how to have fun.

Thank goodness for that educational fund, man.  When you're interviewing for residencies, find out how much it is.  Even if your salary is higher, that salary is going to be taxed, and if you're doing income based repayment for your student loans, that'll shave it right off, but the educational fund is free of all that.

So between May and June, my colleagues and I will be flying to Tampa to take this heinous double part test, which means I'm in the beautiful time of the year where fourth years begin to prepare for hibernation and become utterly useless for everything else.  And I'll be returning to studying once I complete this blog post, actually.

So the training journey is nearly at an end, minus that whole cytopathology thing.  At that point, there will be *another* licensing exam and I will hopefully stumble out of this whole mess as a triple boarded pathologist who will then be swimming in job opportunities (please?).

It's still a bright scary world out there.  Texas provides at least a stopping point on the road to "being grown" but after that, it's a big black hole.  The man and I kind of fell in love with Denver during the Great American Beer Festival, so maybe they'll open a spot for a youngster in a year and a half.  But still, everything is sort of winding up, and so much faster than seemed possible.  It seems like yesterday I was "covered in bees!" panicking to Grenada, and now I'm trudging toward an exam so far beyond the scope of the Step 1 that it makes the Step 1 look like SAT prep.

I have a weekend left of call... this weekend actually, which I traded for a lovely weekend in Asheville back in August.  Then I can finally do what I keep saying I'll do which is retire the scrubs.

I now have my permanent license in South Carolina.  One is necessary to apply for boards, and that lovely educational fund covers it, so it's official.  State law varies, but in South Carolina, IMGs such as myself cannot apply for permanent licensure until they've completed three years of training, so with that finally behind me, I have the unrestricted medical card.  Of course, I let my DEA license expire in the way back so I can't prescribe any of the fun drugs with my unrestricted license, so sorry guys, no illegal scrips for you.

Really feeling the whole "last of" tour of Charleston.  I've been steadily moving things off my bucket list (carriage ride, rooftop at Vendu, go to the Macintosh) and feeling the kind of "last Christmas here" sadness.  I've also been kind of wandering through apartment listings in Houston, and they seem nice.  Gotta make the commitment at some phase, and I will definitely need to get a bike.

When I'm not buried in microbiology lectures, I've been on kind of a health kick that was initiated by both getting cooking bling (Kitchenaid from last Christmas and NOW an overly expensive Vitamix blender) combined with getting suckered into running a half marathon in Florida in February despite nearly being killed by the bridge run, which was less than half the distance.  Still, I'm running for Save the Children, and they're a good cause, so if you want to toss a couple bucks my way in the name of securing me a permanent knee injury, the address is here.

You even get to see me dressed up like Alice, and I'm contemplating wearing the costume if I can make it without dying.

Running is an insidious creature.  It's been my go-to exercise off and on because it's cheap and easy, and kept me from going crazy (er) in Grenada.  Most of my running save for in Grenada has been on a treadmill, for years even, and it's only been lately that I've been pushing into the great outdoors, and I have to say, I kind of like it.  But I keep getting sucked farther in.  For years, I'd run on the treadmill, go all out for the first mile as fast as I could, and then walk/jog the rest in gasping bursts.  No strategy, definitely a no no for accumulating injuries, and thought a 5K was really all I was ever going to be able to do.

Well, and then a 10K, because the Cooper River Bridge run is a quintessential part of charleston, and why not, right?

Now I'm following my NikePlus trainer and arranging happy hours around when I can get the best mid-dusk run on the waterfront and working toward the half marathon.  Where I'll stop, really.  I won't get sucked into a marathon.  Well, at least I won't get sucked into an ultramarathon.  Check with me in two years.

Doing the training correctly has been helpful though, and now I use the first mile to actually warm up rather than suddenly sprint as fast as I can until all the bits and pieces holding my lower legs together start to snap and pop, and it's allowing me to really again appreciate how beautiful Charleston is (and how dangerous its drivers are).  My longest run so far without stopping at all is 6 miles, and the long runs are starting to feel better and better or at least "not as terrible as before".

And then with the work hours decreasing and the study crunch requiring more "can't sit around or will go crazy" ness, I've been cooking up a storm lately.

Few things... I've been poor for a while, and the story of the last ten years of my life has been accumulating things that 16 year old me would have scoffed at.  150 dollar running shoes?  Please, shoes are shoes.  Yeah... but the glycerines really help my plantar fasciitis.  Artwork for the wall?  So long as Rolling Stone still has full centers of Trent Reznor, you're just a few pieces of tape away from home decor!  Yeah... but frames.  Frames even make counter culture stuff look nice.  Cookware??  I mean, you can get a hand mixer from a store for 5 bucks.  What's up with these stand mixers?  It kneads dough for me.  Well, at any rate, I can tell you I'd *never* pay 500 dollars for a damn blender.

Sigh.  Last year, when I got my kitchenaid, a friend of mine said "The two things that changed my life were my kitchenaid stand mixer and my vitamix blender".  I trust said friend's cooking opinions, so I went home and googled vitamix blenders since I was poor (see above) and had no idea what they were.  My first response was laughter, obviously, because who would pay that for a blender?  In my defense, my blender is a combo gift from my dad and my boyfriend, if that justifies it.  All that's left for my Martha Stewart kitchen is a set of expensive knives and a set of expensive pots/pans.

But I'm liking cooking a lot, and I'm loving the fresh ingredients, though I'm being careful not to be one of "those" people.  "Yes, I'm making a smoothie with pomegranate seeds and chia seeds but I will absolutely *not* refer to either as a "super fruit/food"".  I'm finding a lot of fun recipes and enjoy challenging myself with them.  When I completely run out of medical school/residency related themes for this blog, I'll just start posting recipes.  I'm also having fun making my own flour.  The boyfriend is diabetic so I'm trying to keep the glycemic index low, and you can pretty much grind up *anything* and make fake flour.  There's about three cups of chickpea flour now occupying my cabinet because I found a bunch of dried ones on sale and went "Ooh!!!  This will be like magic!" because I have never had a good blender before, thus the art of changing the state of something (like beans to flour) still stirs a certain sense of magic and wonder in me.

The whole foods approach is also making it easier to make absolutely anything without needing to scrap around for ingredients.  No salsa?  Tomatoes, cilantro, peppers, and onions.  No guac?  Avocado, tomatoes.  No pasta?  Flour, egg, and water through the pasta maker.  No ice cream?  Milk, ice, frozen berries.  No rice flour?  Rice in blender.  I'm a year out from killing my own chickens.

So that's the update.  A six month crunch to boards and moving, punctuated by the growls of "pulse mode" when I'm making my morning smoothies.

Aug 14, 2014

Guess who's back, back again

Wow, this may have been the longest I've left the blog, eh?  Apologies, it is not so long and thanks for all the fish, at least not at this point.

It's hard to find a relevant point, to not make a blog intended to be a first hand look at life going through SGU and entering residency as an IMG, and not my personal livejournal and travel blog.

But Grenada is so far away.  I know there are changes on the island, new restaurants, new hotels, new apartments, probably new professors, a new deal in the making, the details of which I have no knowledge of, nor how it affects the school, nor how the teaching is currently going.  I don't know what their current going tuition is or how it compares to other schools in the states, nor what the current fixed interest is on graduate student loans and Grad Plus loans, all centers of my universe and increasing amount of time ago.

New York keeps me closer, and I still get up there, but again, that's all social.. the amazing people I met in Grenada or in Brooklyn and kept as friends.   Those in three year rotations are settling in for their real jobs, one in Maine, one in New Hampshire, others moving around, and I follow them as friends, remembering our times in New York as apartment parties and park walking and bar hopping, rather than as a harried short coated medical student only now realizing that not a single resident I worked with remembers my name, save for the one that miscellaneously showed up in South Carolina to do a fellowship and I ran into him at the gym.

I could talk about the effect of being an IMG on my current residency, but the simple fact is, there isn't one.  Pathology is poorly prepared for in *any* medical school (that's a rant for a different day), and once you're in, you're in.  I have two other IMGs in my class and a DO, and none of the former since (I hope we didn't break them), and unless we remind everyone else, which we will occasionally do with gusto since no one appreciates both the grass clearance and taste of goats, it doesn't flicker on their radar.  I got the fellowship I wanted without a lot of difficulty in the application process, which is considerably cheaper than the medical school and residency processes.  Things still cost a bit more, but that cost is offset by our generous education fund.  So what's life in a pathology residency in South Carolina like as an IMG?  Pretty  much like it is for any other pathology resident in South Carolina.  We eat, we drink, we ill advisedly run over the Cooper River Bridge, and we read books and squint at slides.  And no, don't call us squints.  We've seen Bones too.

And it's been difficult to write as of late because things have been so busy, but largely busy in a completely unbloggable way, though I can do my best.

Someday, I'll get to the end of Nicaragua and Christmas...

I mentioned I'd been accepted onto a committee, which holds meetings four times a year, which is both time consuming and incredibly awesome.  I've now been to three of them (San Diego, Chicago, and Portland) and have enjoyed luxury hotels, fine wine, and eight hours a day in a room with a ring of microscopes hanging with awesome people.  It's one of those things you never really picture in medical school because it seems so ridiculous.  Pathologists travel with microscopes?  These ones do.  So you just sit in a conference room, talk about cytopathology projects, and look at pap smears?  Yup, sure do.

I could attempt to start from the beginning but that would be difficult.  July was a rough month but also marked the meeting in Oregon's wine country, which also featured the nicest hotel I've probably ever stayed in, and it gave me a chance to make some headway on a project I've been working on for them, but it's difficult to do projects at home and projects on the road.

July was also noob month.  It marked the time that someone trusted me to be competent enough to train others in their most difficult rotation.

It was frightening, since I don't feel particularly qualified to teach anyone anything, but it also made me appreciate how far I've come in the meantime.  I'm much faster now.  Still slower than most of my colleagues, but so much faster than first year.  I know what to skip.  I know when to stain.  I joke with the attendings who still intimidate people.  I get praise from attendings who used to intimidate me.  The first years would ask me things that seemed silly.  Not stupid, but just... wow, that used to be me.

So hopefully they came out of it confident, but I know that it did wonders for my confidence.  Now I'm in an elective month, which gives me some breathing time, work on presentations, work on papers, and start the intimidating march to the board exams, which actually seems really scary.  Everyone is so relieved to finish the USMLE series, particularly when it's dragging into the Step 3, but then reality hits you.  Every test is the big one, and failing the dual pathology boards invalidates the others.

You're really all in too.  Fortunately I like my job because the reality of the loans sits in a panic on my chest from time to time where I realize... I can't go blind.  I need my eyes.  I can't get brain damaged.  I need my brain.  I need my ability to work.  I can't have a high risk pregnancy (didn't want a kid, so this is fine), I can't get sick for months on end, I can't rely on the boyfriend to support me (wouldn't want to anyway) and all has to stay on track because there aren't other options.  That's kind of the scary part.  With compound interest knocking my loan figures over 400 grand at this point, it's even more succeed or die than it was previously, but when I finished first term in Grenada, my world, and the maybe 20 grand I'd taken out for that term seemed like the world, and it seemed like my world was crumbling, and that was a moment where it could all go sour and ruin my life.

But twenty grand is nothing, ultimately.  It's in the low range of a new car (which is why I don't drive a new one).  Every value seems a little bit more insignificant once you pass it.  I remember before I started medical school when having bad credit and less than a thousand dollars outstanding seemed insurmountable.  It's weird how it happens when you least expect it.

But things are good with the boyfriend; things are good at home; with a few exceptions, things are relatively good at work.  I try to encourage the new people to talk to me or to talk to each other since I remember being so certain I was going to quit first year, so certain I would get washed out in Grenada, always so certain that each step would mean failure.

But despite the sweat generated by carrying a 400 thousand dollar loan on your back, I can't say I have regrets.  That's a question I get asked a lot as an IMG by prospective students.  Would I recommend others do what I did?  No.  Go to a US allopathic if it's at all possible.  Take out loans to apply to more schools and fly to them.  Don't wait after college.  Don't become a doctor at all.  It's a fiscally irresponsible decision.

But it was also the best decision I've made.  Medical school and residency have given me some of the best friends ever, and it kicked me out of my home state in the most immediate way possible, took away all promises of security and stability, and made me become something else.

Now I'm going to get back to work before I start quoting Arrow (because it's an awful show) but I'm back, kids, hopefully with something of value to say.

Feb 14, 2014

Extra Vacation Days? Go to Nicaragua!

I know I know.  I've been a horrendous blogger and haven't updated in a couple months.

First, I was insanely busy, mostly with decoration and planning and trips and all that stuff.  So I'll get into that.

Second, workwise, I've been in a mixed bag bad place.  Not like my first year bad place of "Flee medicine and take up professional scuba diving!  Everyone is horrible!  I'm horrible!"  Instead, it's been a weird mix of mismanagement, schedule horrors, and budget issues that has me regularly swinging back and forth between "I hate this I hate this; this is wasting my education" and "everyone here is awesome and my friends, and every program has drama and this is just our particular brand of it", but I didn't want to do a blog post where I'm like "BADNESS!" when it truly isn't, but I didn't want to do one where I completely ignored work and just posted about how awesome Asheville, North Carolina is, and how their hospital should hire me in a couple of years so I have local access to breweries, hippies, and mountains.

I'm not sure if I should go in chronological order, or if I should go in order of what's probably interesting.  Maybe reverse order.  We'll start here and end with Christmas.  If you get bored before Christmas, you can watch the Game of Thrones season 4 trailer obsessively on youtube until the show starts back up in two months, because that's what I do.  This will likely be divided into at least a couple of posts, because it really has to be.

We'll actually start a couple weeks ago.  Uhh... look!  Monkeys!

I'll also get to them in a minute, but this should hold your interest through the vacational whining I'm about to do.

Nicaragua was amazing and the people there are amazing, despite having the biggest string of difficulties from start to finish.  Ostensibly, we went there for the surfing, since my friends live at Folly Beach, are addicted to it, and I decided I didn't have enough dangerous expensive hobbies on top of ice skating, horseback riding, kayaking, hobie catting, and scuba diving.  I also like the bonus chronic injuries I inflict on myself by running regularly, which is really one of the most abusive things you can do to your body under the guise of good health short of eating unpasteurized cheese and rejecting vaccinations.  I had actually planned on running while in Nica, and we'll also get to why that didn't happen.

Getting there: Oh Atlanta!  Both Delta's main hub *and* completely incapable of dealing with any weather pattern people in the midwest would call "Spring".  There were 11 of us going total.  Two were planning to show up on the 31st.  The rest (us) on the 30th.  Boyfriend was coming back from a business trip, or at least he'd been planning to the day before we were going to leave.  With a stop in Atlanta.  Which is where he got to spend the next day and a half.

Our trip also required a stop in Atlanta, so imagine our shock when despite a thaw in most regions (including Charleston) by our flight departure time, it was delayed delayed cancelled.  No worries.  We're going for nine days.  But there were many of us, so we were getting answers of "Uhh.. some of you tomorrow, some the next day... last person in by Tuesday".  This was unacceptable.  Planner of the trip managed to sober up from our flight-delay bloody mary festival in time to get in touch with the exclusive airline people and managed to find a flight that could take us to Managua through Miami.  By way of Charlotte.  For reference, Charlotte is about four hours away.  With boyfriend still passport-less in Atlanta.

We waited for him to be freed from the deep freeze at Charleston's new Ethiopian restaurant (Oh thank all that is good and wonderful in the world!) and piled 9 into a big van to Charlotte for a cozy late night stay in the local per-hour quality motel.

At the airport, since boyfriend had been in the departure city but was with us, he was booked from Miami instead of Charlotte, which is a problem for about 17 hours worth of reasons, so he managed to get back on an original flight and hit us an hour later.

But we arrived in Managua!!  And got rental cars and made it to our overnight stay there without being stabbed or running over a motorcycle.  Nica beer, rum, and late night gas station snacks were had by all, we met all members of our party and headed out for our incredible beach house in Playa Colorado with its amazing staff.

Near our arrival, surfer #3 aka also "guy getting married on trip" was not doing well, and was confined to quarters with an illness I'm referring to as the "James Island flu" since we apparently brought it with us.

Despite his infirmary, the beach house was kicking:

We hit the pool the first day, because duh, and heard one of our party exclaim from the backyard about the monkeys.  Remember the monkeys?  There were monkeys.  If you've been reading since I went to Costa Rica (you poor poor soul), you know that despite having an anthropology degree with a primatology adviser, everywhere I've gone that you're supposed to see wild monkeys has been utterly monkey free.  Until now!  Ha!  Howler monkeys!  In the trees!  With babies!  And hooting in the morning!  Awesome!!!

We had an awesome woman that cooked for us, provided beer and rum, and cleaned.  I am happily full of rice, beans, fish, and plantains for a while.

We saw our first sunset in Nica, played in the water, and headed for an early bed.  While we were wrestling in the surf, a local warned us to be careful of stingrays.  This was good advice. 

The next day, it was time to rent a surfboard and try out the waves!  The woman that runs the surf shop should be called "the getter".  She's never surfed, but can recommend any type of board, but more critically, she can get damn near anything.  And by anything, I mean cough syrup, flowers, white pants and a jacket, and a Catholic priest willing to marry a Mormon to a Baptist.  This is exactly what I mean by "anything" and yes, that is exactly what we asked for.

So round one of surfing... I was not doing well out in the lineup, particularly since it was full of good surfers and I can't really stand up.  So on the advice of planner, I took my surfboard into the surf break zone to try and clumsily ride the white stuff and get a feeling for it.

I was struggling with it, and my boyfriend was standing next to me in the water (which shows you how well I was surfing) at which point I clumsily kind of fell off the surfboard and stood up (I do everything clumsily on a surfboard) and felt something slash open the bottom of my left foot.  I then jumped off my left foot onto my right foot (as you do), and landed on a surface that felt exactly like a startled piece of wet rubber being yanked out from under you.  Fortunately, the ray I actually fully stepped on was more forgiving than his buddy, and did not light up my right foot.  Then I saw a huge ray with a long sharp looking tail go streaking directly in front of me.

I don't really scream as a rule.  However, it's not because I'm a bad ass or anything, it's just not a sound I make much, which means when I'm scared, injured, and startled, I kind of yell, but was also trying not to step on rays with both feet.  I tell you this, because to my boyfriend, his girlfriend went from being frustrated on a surfboard, to leaping from one foot to the other making angry chicken noises.  He was confused until I said something helpful like "Ah!!!  Ahh!!  Ray!!  F-ing ray!  F-ing stingray!!!" and gesticulated wildly toward the water, at which point a fourth ray went streaking in front of him.

Only I would attempt to take up surfing and wind up doing so directly in the middle of a stingray pride rally.  We shuffled and squawked out of the water where I inspected a large, bleeding, sand impacted gash running directly across the bottom of my foot.  Thanks, jerk.  Fortunately, it didn't leave a barb in me, but it was still starting to hurt, so after... I'll be honest, about a second and a half of trying to flag down my friends to warn them they were going to come in surrounded by venomous pain monsters, we gave up and limped back.

I was rinsing what I'm calling my "ray hole" in the pool when Maria (our housekeeper) came out.  Since I didn't know the word for "ray" in Spanish, I was trying to elaborate that I'd been attacked by a bad fish with a knife when she said "raya?"  Of course.

Then she said "agua caliente?" which didn't sound like what I wanted to pour on an open wound (hot water) but it denatures stingray venom, which is just... a really really good thing to know.  So that helped, and with no barb in, I did not get to experience the "labor intensity pain" of legend, but I definitely wasn't going running any time soon.

So that was all right.  Next day, doofy pink boat shoes on, I headed back to attempt surfing!  Honestly, awful marine life is something I got mentally accustomed to while diving, so I think of that as not really being a surfing thing, but as a "their habitat" thing.  Unfortunately, about ten minutes into attempting to ride waves into shore, I did what's called "pearling" in surfing, only did so in shallow water, so the board was ripped from me and I landed directly on my head, which would be fine, but then my body collapsed on top of me and I heard a popping sound at the base of my skull.

For about half a second, this was my train of thought "That's like C2-C3, that's it.  I'm paralyzed.  This is the moment.  I hope my surfing friends see me in time to pull me out of the water because I wonder if my diaphragm is even going to work and even if I can breath without a ventilator I'm not going to be able to get out of the water and will I be able to and is there an evac chopper I wonder if steroids will lower the damage..." and then my arms and legs moved and I drew a deep breath having only popped a couple fibers in my trapezius (only time I'll be glad to say that) and that was the moment I gave up surfing, because stingrays come and go but being too clumsy in a sport with a steep learning curve and paralyzing yourself or brain damaging yourself on the 9 foot long hard sharp object you're literally tied to is forever.

So that's cool.  Nicaragua's got a lot to offer, hiking trails to limp down, volcanoes, and tiny farm towns, so I'll do that.  We drove to one cute town the same night (one of our party was a massage therapist, thank goodness and worked on my neck) and it must have been the dust on the road because I started coughing.  And coughing.  And sneezing.  And hacking.  And being in denial.

By the next morning, with the fever, I was beginning to suspect my problem was not the dust on the road, but the illness of our party.  So I laid in bed shaking, sleeping, sneezing, coughing, and blowing my nose, for the next 24 hours.  My boyfriend increased his already impressive relationship stock by staying with me the entire time.

The next day, I was getting maudlin.  My foot hurt, my neck hurt, and I was still coughing up cups of crap.  I was well enough to ignore all symptoms so we went out to hike a dry creekbed and climb around for more monkeys and take pictures of dragonflies.

This was also the day of the wedding, or as I say "if you're going to get married, do it this way".  This was essentially, an on-the-fly, licensing already done, let's see what we can do wedding.  We weren't certain we could get a priest that would marry our friends, and certainly not one on 48 hours notice.

Wrong.  For the price of "whatever you wish to donate to the church", we got a priest, Spanish Bible, full Spanish ceremony on the beach at sunset, and then everyone all came back to the house for dinner and drinks and said priest taught us how to do tequila shots in Nicaragua which is "Arriba!  Abajo!  Alcentro!  Aldentro!" and then drink.  That is full service.

But for all the horrors we'd (I'd) faced up to this point, that night was so incredible and special and locally intimate (not like that) that it really made the trip.  We were later joined by some surfers from Spain and a full on party commenced.

So it steadily improved from there.  For me.  I hiked (limped) to an incredible vantage point over the beach and saw tons of wildlife.  We traveled to San Juan del Sur, which is an adorable town with amazing drinks and cheap lobster.  It was just prior to this that boyfriend started looking a little rough so stayed home, while I lowered my girlfriend stock (at his insistence, I swear!) by going to town anyway.  But I bought him pharmacy drugs, so that counts, right?

We wanted to do some horseback riding as it was listed for 20 dollars, so we booked that with the getter!  I didn't realize how much getting there was.  Two hours later, the horse guy appeared... on horseback, trailed by three horses.  Because that's how long it takes to ride that far without a car.  Gangsta.  I was puzzled, because we'd wanted four horses, so he gestured to the four horses, hopped off, and handed off the one he was riding.  And that's the story of how I led a beach trail ride as I was the one with the most experience of us (meaning, I rode horses regularly about 8 years ago), really hoping we wouldn't fall off or get lost.  My horse had a slight attitude problem, as I like them, and a halter as a bit, which makes me a little more nervous.  After the hour, we paid our cowboy, gave him a beer for the efforts, and he began the two hour ride home.  Egad.  And that's the sort of thing that makes me feel bad when I whine that being a doctor can be thankless and annoying.

For reference, by the way, this is what the beach looks like from horseback:

And somewhere in all this, Superbowl (not on horseback).  The night of the Olympic opening ceremonies, we headed to the surf bar for some drinks, and as I sipped my watermelon mojito, my boyfriend timidly said "When you finish your drink, do you mind if we go back to the house", and that's when *he* got to experience the full blown fever mode.  Poor guy.

But we did get to experience sunsets every night that looked like this:

So there's that!

We planned our last night to sleep in Managua again because airport, and decided to hit Granada on the way there because after living in Grenada for two years, how could I miss it.  Granada is an old colonial town with awesome buildings and cheap delicious food:

We branched off in all directions and met back at the three rental cars.  Like educated travelers, we paid a local boy to watch the cars with the promise of half now half later that works decently.  Unfortunately, as we returned, we came back to three cars and two intact passenger side windows.  Someone smashed out our friends car and took their bag.  D'oh.  Oddly, our youth was still around, though wound up going from being confused (which may have been real or not; we still don't know) to having someone pull a knife on him, which we found less likely, particularly since he seemed as surprised as we were by the broken window and the missing bag.

This led to a series I'd like to call "Ishie having to deal with the police in countries where she's unfamiliar with the native language" though we were fortunate enough to have excellent speakers with us.  I'd be more critical of the crime and such, but for one smash and grab in a third world country that could have just as easily occurred in downtown Charleston, we eventually ended up with six police officers and a ride to clarify the report at the police station (for my friends; we eventually bailed when we realized we'd be dealing with darkness in Managua).  For reference, I had one extremely disinterested police officer and a misfiled police report where I was listed as a juvenile for the arguably greater crime of arson in South Carolina, so point Nicaragua.

I know I know.  Arson again.  I bring it up now because when I went to register my car this year upon returning, I was informed that I owe 400 dollars in registration for the arsonized car despite being reported, written off, and disposed off by the state.  This has not contributed well to my state of mind when I mentioned my attitude problem of late about 10,000 words ago.  It's now been reduced to 16 dollars after digging through all my paperwork (yay memories!) and getting my old insurance company to write a letter, but I've reached that point where I'm really wanting to be past it, and it makes me angry.

Other point Nicaragua... despite it being horrible and everything, the cost of the damage on a car that, if it was like ours, had about 5000 miles on it and automatic windows, was about 260 dollars to the rental company.  I may be crazy, but that seems incredibly reasonable.

So it was a weary, well-earned pina colada night in Managua, in which our friends also arrived safely not long after we did.  Managua also not as bad as advertised though I maintain that huge traffic circles in capital cities at rush hour are the most hypertension-inducing creatures on the planet (even before stingrays!)

The boyfriend and I are still coughing up crud, but we're happy and alive, and I would definitely go back to Nicaragua.  Except for the smash and grab (which again, could have happened anywhere), all conflicts were country-unrelated, and the people there were some of the most amazing individuals I've encountered.  Friendly, funny, and helpful, not to mention, they speak Spanish relatively slowly!  Which is extremely helpful for people with a toddler level of understanding, such as myself.

Part 2: "Christmas is Magic" will commence at a later date.  Stay tuned.  Or don't.  Watch Game of Thrones.  Or get someone else hooked on it and record their reaction to the Red Wedding because I never get tired of those videos.  I'm still waiting for old roommate to make it to that point in the third season, because this is a girl that walked out angry during the whole Drogo thing back in season 1.  Mwa ha!