How changing sides made this oncologist a happier person…

I’ve moved to the other side. But the thing is, it’s not so dark where I stand.

 

During my residency in medical oncology, amidst the strain of learning my craft, seeing countless appointments, and studying for board exams, I centered myself by meditating on where I would wind up working when I finished. It would be my first professional job and I envisaged seemingly infinite considerations to ponder – location, benefits, hours, size of facility, caseload, etc. Sitting atop the algorithm for my decision was the question: Did I want to work in private practice or academia?

 

As I approached the terminal days of my residency in 2009, the economy was shifting and the proportion of opportunities for employment were a mere fraction of what is available nowadays. Candidates nowadays have their pick among dozens of opportunities, whereas I applied for the grand sum of three jobs. Two were in private practice, while the third was an academic position at a veterinary school.

 

Each had the requisite pros and cons and I dutifully weighed my options. Would geography be the deciding factor or would it come down to the numbers? Where would I feel the most valued and useful and professionally satisfied? To fully consider those questions I had to take a serious look at what brought me to this decisive point in the first place.

 

Despite wanting to be a veterinarian since I first knew there was such a thing as an “animal doctor”, I took a rather circuitous route to veterinary school and becoming a medical oncologist. I was studious during high school and undergraduate, but my sub-stellar GPA wasn’t going to garner an acceptance, and as I approached graduation, I recognized I concurrently lacked the motivation and maturity necessary for admission at that particular time in my life.
I embarked on a Master’s degree to buy myself some time to cultivate personal needs before committing to such a specific career pathway. To help finance my advanced education, I was offered an instructor position teaching anatomy and physiology to non-Biology majors. A decision made out of a financial necessity morphed into an awakening of a passion for educating others, especially those who lacked the same enthusiasm I possessed about science and the intricacies of the form and function of the human body.

 

A few months into my post-graduate degree, I decided to switch gears and pursue my PhD in biology. My goal was to obtain the appropriate credentials necessary to be employed at a small, liberal arts college, teaching, and maybe think of vet school one day, when I was old. Like, you know, 35 or so…

 

I quickly learned the majority of individuals who pursue PhD degrees in biological sciences rarely do so for the primary want to teach. My ambitions landed as square pegs amongst the round holes of my colleagues, who were vastly more dedicated to basic science research than I was. Without much deliberation, I decided to hasten my timeline and applied for veterinary school sooner than my initial thoughts of “many years into the future”. Fortunately, I was accepted, and approximately 8 years later, found myself repeating the process of deliberating another major life decision related to my professional career. While jumping through the last hoops of my residency I struggled over deciding which job among the three I applied for would be the “perfect” one for me. Though I agonized over miniscule details, my heart and head agreed that teaching was the place for me and the academic job was what I wanted. I never considered the possibility that the choice wouldn’t be mine.

 

I wasn’t offered the job in academia. While not the first time I didn’t get what I wanted out of life, it was the only time I’d targeted a professional goal and failed to obtain it. My disappointment was magnified when my top choice of the two private practice jobs passed me over as well.

 

Four years of undergraduate work, a Master’s degree, two years of a PhD, four years of veterinary school, one year of internship, and three years of residency did not provide me with the promised chance to “be anything I want to be.” Instead, I was left working at the only job I was offered.

 

At no point in my lengthy training did I consider I that I would not wind up happy professionally. I knew I would face day-to-day annoyances and understood there would be expectations beyond my capabilities. I wasn’t expecting rainbows and unicorns, but I never thought I would harbor a persistent and progressive sense of frustration and restlessness in my career.

 

With each passing year of working in private practice, I grew increasingly impatient and discouraged with myself professionally. I changed positions and geographic venues several times over the span of nine years, but never found a place where I felt content with my contribution to my occupation. I was burdened by the relentless nagging concern of, “What if?”

 

What if I had been chosen for the academic job several years ago? What if I was responsible for teaching veterinary students how to be better doctors? What if I had the chance to start engaging in research again? Would that world sustain me greater intellectually? Would I feel more productive or contributory towards my chosen field? Would I even be good at it?
Then there are the more abstract questions: What if I was chosen for the academic position years ago? Would I still have met my husband and be married? Would I have liked living there? Would I always wonder what life in private practice was like?
While contemplating the parallel, but alternative, world my life could have taken was interesting and intellectually stimulating, it didn’t help me understand what the best approach to changing my current situation. I remained stagnant and unfulfilled.

 

About a year ago, an opportunity arose for an academic position for a medical oncologist at North Carolina State University’s teaching hospital. I mentioned it to my husband, more in passing than with any edge of seriousness. When he encouraged me to send in my CV, I listed innumerable reasons why I shouldn’t.

Despite the myriad of reservations I put forth, he provided the one and only one that mattered.  He was the only other person who knew I’d always wondered, “What if?” His persuasion pushed me to apply for the job as I’d already talked myself out doing so.

 

I was stunned when the call came through offering me the position. Once the initial euphoria wore off a little, I immediately questioned if this was the right choice, time, move, or place for me. Self-doubt crept up and reminded me I wasn’t good enough for academia back when I finished my residency, so why would I be a better candidate now?

 

How could I leave my current job and new house? Why would I want to disappoint my friends and family with yet another move and yet another story about how this will be the right job for me. There were many reasons not to take the offer, which were outweighed by the most important reason why I had to do it: it truly was what I always wanted to do. I knew it was time to stop wondering, “What if?”

 

While I have only been here at NC State a few short months, I cannot stress how much this was the right choice for me. I have trouble connecting with that person who so deeply resisted making this change. I am happy professionally and living in a place I’ve already grown to think of as my home.

 

Some say the other side has greener grass, while others say it’s darker. The truth is, you’ll never know until you take the leap of faith over the fence to see what it’s really like.

 

Turns out, the other side was the right side for me.

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Trying on something new…

I’ve fallen back into a bit of a funk lately. I can’t palpate the exact cause of my signs. Despite my vast medical training (albeit with animals), I’m not capable of deciphering the underlying cause of my blah-ness. I’m lethargic, unmotivated, and my head becomes a bit foggy. I possess motivation, but lack the energy to move forward.

Regardless of what’s causing me to meltdown, I know I can derive happiness from creating things. More specifically, I use writing as a means to forge through sticky, muddy water of my emotions.

So I’ve decided to give my blog site a facelift, resurrect my professional Instagram profile, and commit to writing more often, and not necessarily about veterinary medicine.

Here’s to trying on something new… Let’s hope it fits!

Where were you on this day?

Today marks fourteen years since the terrorist attacks of 9/11. I’ve posted this entry several times before, but it’s still relevant to me, and something I believe is worth repeating.

We each memorialize September 11th in our own personal way. This is how I choose to do so.

 

It’s remarkable to consider the amount of time that’s passed since the terrible events of that day. Thirteen years transpired in nothing more than a fleeting heartbeat.

I was a first year veterinary student on 9/11/01, and only few short weeks into my curriculum. It was a time of many major life adjustments, not the least of which was the move I’d made from the New York City area to Ithaca less than a month prior. Learning to live life in what was, to me, a vastly rural area, was incredibly challenging. I managed my homesickness in the best way I knew how – I wrote about my feelings.

The following is the entry I wrote the day after September 11th. It’s part of a larger compilation of work chronicling my transformation from a PhD student to veterinary student to veterinarian. I’m working on organizing the stories and random thoughts into a unified manuscript, but in the meantime, I wanted to share this piece as my small token of how to commemorate the anniversary of this most significant day.

September 12, 2001

There are no words to describe the emotions shared by many individuals this morning. There are no explanations. We may never understand the motives. I cannot begin to fathom what life must be like, waking up this morning in New York City. A new perspective has been gained. Truly I fear for the unfolding of this horrific tragedy.

We were changing classes yesterday morning when the news of the tragic events came through in broken pieces and whispers. I immediately sought out a pay phone to call out to Brooklyn, only to realize I had no money and no calling card. I don’t even own a cell phone anymore – I opted to cancel my service when I moved to Ithaca to try to save some money. A classmate I barely knew gave me her calling card to use. Immediately, it became obvious that all the lines were down and there was no way to communicate and at that point, absolute panic set in. I searched for one of my most trusted faculty members with the hope they would let me use their office phone, and upon entering the radiology lab where he would typically be setting up to prepare for teaching, I found half of my class gathered around the myriad of computer screens and began to comprehend what had actually transpired.

There were at least thirty people crowded around different terminals, desperately searching for information or pictures or audio clips, whatever small bits of news they could find. We operated in stunned silence. Some people began to pray. In the distance, we could hear the booming voice of one of our anatomy professors coming from beyond the partition that separated the large room into two equal halves. In that portion of the room, the remaining half of our classmates were being lectured to, as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. It was absolutely surreal. On our side of that wall, we spent the next 45 minutes listening to radio reports or watching the computer screens, paralyzed by anxiety and finally, until the faculty dismissed us to go home if we wanted. It was a mildly reassuring notion on their part to let us know we wouldn’t be missing anything related to our studies. I left immediately.

I expected to come home to multiple messages on my answering machine reassuring me everyone I knew from back home were all safe and sound. Instead, I came home to blankness on the machine, and the ability to watch the horror unfold directly on the television. There was really nothing more to say. The damage was done.

By 2:30 am, I knew all of my immediate family and friends living in the New York City area were ok. And the same was true for the loved ones of my roommate and my other friends at school as well. In talking to people, there seem to be too many “just missed it moments”. Guardian angels appear to have been working overtime yesterday.

In the back of my mind, I keep picturing the staggering number of people I know were in the World Trade Centers at that time yesterday morning when those planes crashed. I can see myself, scrambling along with the thousands of other commuters, heading up the various mazes of escalators and stairs as I did each day walking towards work. Each of us traveling with invisible blinders on, avoiding eye contact, and virtually knocking each other down as we pushed our way though our respective subway stations, street corners, or office buildings. I’ve walked that same path hundreds of times without any appreciable consciousness of my surroundings. The numbers are absolutely staggering in my head. I can only hope and pray actions were taken to prevent those large numbers of people from being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I am torn between wanting to be here in Ithaca, miles away and completely safe in the place I am only just starting to consider home, and to be back in New York, where my heart will always lie and where the people I love the most in my life are trying to live their lives.

There are no words to describe the emotions. I won’t even begin to try.W

It’s a girl!!! And a boy!!!

IMG_1255We welcomed two kittens to our household this holiday season!

On the top of the picture is Prunewich, named after the famous delicious breakfast sandwich at the Fractured Prune donut shop in Ocean City, MD.

 

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Yummmmmm – cheese, egg, and meat inside a (gasp!) donut….

 

 

She’s a tiny, but sassy tortoiseshell who’s already completely attached to her mom.

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On the bottom of the picture is Crabcake, whose namesake is obvious.  Well, I’m hoping it’s obvious considering we’re talking about a REAL crab cake from Maryland, not the fake stuff you find everywhere else…

crab-cake

The real deal straight from MD.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

VS.

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A sad excuse…

He’s a short-haired bi-color (almost tuxedo but looks more Holstein…) boy with ceaseless energy and a penchant for climbing my legs.

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We’re obviously dealing with our homesickness for Maryland in the best way two veterinarians know how to!

Maybe one of these are in our near future????

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Chesapeake Bay Retrievers – the official state dog of Maryland!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I really am the luckiest crazy cat lady in the world!

 

 

I’ll take your Elf on a Shelf

And raise you a Mensch on a Bench!

I’m totally kvelling over the newest addition to our home!

Stay tuned to find out if he’s full of mischief or mitzvahs!

Where were you on this day?

Today marks thirteen years since the terrorist attacks of 9/11. It’s remarkable to consider the amount of time that’s passed since the terrible events of that day. Thirteen years transpired in nothing more than a fleeting heartbeat.

I was a first year veterinary student on 9/11/01, and only few short weeks into my curriculum. It was a time of many major life adjustments, not the least of which was the move I’d made from the New York City area to Ithaca less than a month prior. Learning to live life in what was, to me, a vastly rural area, was incredibly challenging.  I managed my homesickness in the best way I knew how – I journaled my feelings.

The following is the entry I wrote the day after  September 11th. It’s part of a larger compilation of work chronicalling my transformation from a PhD student to veterinary student to veterinarian. I’m working on organizing the stories and random thoughts into a unified manuscript, but in the meantime, I wanted to share this piece as my small token of how to commemorate the anniversary of this most significant day.

September 12, 2001

There are no words to describe the emotions shared by many individuals this morning.  There are no explanations.  We may never understand the motives.  I cannot begin to fathom what life must be like, waking up this morning in New York City.  A new perspective has been gained.  Truly I fear for the unfolding of this horrific tragedy.

We were changing classes yesterday morning when the news of the tragic events came through in broken pieces and whispers.  I immediately sought out a pay phone to call out to Brooklyn, only to realize I had no money and no calling card.  I don’t even own a cell phone anymore – I opted to cancel my service when I moved to Ithaca to try to save some money. A classmate I barely knew gave me her calling card to use.  Immediately, it became obvious that all the lines were down and there was no way to communicate and at that point, absolute panic set in.  I searched for one of my most trusted faculty members with the hope they would let me use their office phone, and upon entering the radiology lab where he would typically be setting up to prepare for teaching, I found half of my class gathered around the myriad of computer screens and began to comprehend what had actually transpired.

There were at least thirty people crowded around different terminals, desperately searching for information or pictures or audio clips, whatever small bits of news they could find.  We operated in stunned silence. Some people began to pray. In the distance, we could hear the booming voice of one of our anatomy professors coming from beyond the partition that separated the large room into two equal halves. In that portion of the room, the remaining half of our classmates were being lectured to, as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened.  It was absolutely surreal.  On our side of that wall, we spent the next 45 minutes listening to radio reports or watching the computer screens, paralyzed by anxiety and finally, until the faculty dismissed us to go home if we wanted.  It was a mildly reassuring notion on their part to let us know we wouldn’t be missing anything related to our studies. I left immediately.

I expected to come home to multiple messages on my answering machine reassuring me everyone I knew from back home were all safe and sound. Instead, I came home to blankness on the machine, and the ability to watch the horror unfold directly on the television.  There was really nothing more to say. The damage was done.

By 2:30 am, I knew all of my immediate family and friends living in the New York City area were ok.  And the same was true for the loved ones of my roommate and my other friends at school as well.  In talking to people, there seem to be too many “just missed it moments”.  Guardian angels appear to have been working overtime yesterday.

In the back of my mind, I keep picturing the staggering number of people I know were in the World Trade Centers at that time yesterday morning when those planes crashed.  I can see myself, scrambling along with the thousands of other commuters, heading up the various mazes of escalators and stairs as I did each day walking towards work. Each of us traveling with invisible blinders on, avoiding eye contact, and virtually knocking each other down as we pushed our way though our respective subway stations, street corners, or office buildings.  I’ve walked that same path hundreds of times without any appreciable consciousness of my surroundings.  The numbers are absolutely staggering in my head.  I can only hope and pray actions were taken to prevent those large numbers of people from being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I am torn between wanting to be here in Ithaca, miles away and completely safe in the place I am only just starting to consider home, and to be back in New York, where my heart will always lie and where the people I love the most in my life are trying to live their lives.

There are no words to describe the emotions.  I won’t even begin to try.

A different kind of article: What makes a writer a writer?

Did you know I’ve been a writer since the third grade?

 

No joke.

 

I was fortunate enough to experience a distinct and significant turning point marking my conversion from being just another geeky child who carefully pressed pencil to lined paper and traced letters while struggling to learn the difference between verbs and adjectives, to being a writer. I quite literally crossed the threshold from being a run-of-the-mill paragraph constructor to being an actual accomplished journalist, and once doing so, there was no looking back. From that moment forward, I knew I had what it would take to be a prolific and impacting author one day.

 

The year was 1982 and Halloween loomed on the calendar as the trees began shedding their foliage and the air shifted towards being colder and brisker during my short early morning walk to the bus stop. I was an 8-year-old student at Grundy Avenue Elementary school. I’d already been pegged as a gifted student, which meant I was afforded advanced educational opportunities including progressive language arts assignments (e.g. I attending reading group with the fourth graders), exceptional extracurricular activities (e.g. I spent a lot of time in the library), and the classification of being “smart” (e.g. I was a nerd). In practicality, being gifted translated primarily into being bored with the basics of the banal curriculum and me constantly searching for newer and more entertaining ways to finish my classwork. I also really, really liked it when the teacher said I did a good job.

 

It was the start of a new marking period, and we were commencing an integrative creative writing model into our learning regimen. The assignment was to compose a scary (but not too scary) story with a happy ending. The message I was supposed to transfer, in prose, was that good things come from something that at first glance, might not seem so virtuous on the surface.

 

As an adult, looking back on this particular task, I cringe with anxiety. I have enough life experience to know when things are bad in the first place, they are probably all-around bad, and you have little chance of pulling out something good from it. As a naïve and crowd-pleasing child, I faced my duty with the assured confidence only those who have no concept of failure can possess (e.g. the very young) and set forth to create my story.

 

I wrote a fictitious tale where the Queens Midtown Tunnel, the long and twisty underground concrete and steel structure that connects Long Island (where I grew up) to New York City, developed some form of irreparable damage, resulting in the structure splitting directly in half and breaking apart. As a consequence, Long Island lost its attachment to the mainland, and began floating away, towards the Atlantic Ocean. Panic ensued and the doom of the island and all of its’ inhabitants seemed imminent.

 

Amidst the terror, the protagonist of my story, a simple schoolgirl, who’d just happened to complete a unit of studying magnets at her school, brainstormed an idea to have everyone on Long Island donate all of their metallic belongings and bring them towards the Westernmost tip of the island. Simultaneously, she urged all of the residents of New York City to gather their resources and built the world’s largest magnet. Her goal was to have the magnet attract the metal, and bring the island back towards the city. At first, people dismissed her idea as too simplistic and childish to be successful.   But when all other attempts at stopping the island from floating away failed to be helpful, the people reluctantly agreed to her plan.

 

As the laws of physics would dictate, Long Island slowly, but surely floated back towards New York. The tunnel was repaired, and everyone was saved!

 

I stood motionless, barely able to control my breathing, as my teacher silently read the rough draft of my story without comment. I distinctly remember being unable to garner any sense of emotion from her stony facade as her eyes darted rapidly across the page and she digested my juvenile ramblings. I anxiously awaited her opinion with equal parts enthusiasm and fear.

 

Without missing a step, she finished the story, placed it down on my desk, and whispered into my ear, “You are going to be a writer someday.”

 

Those simple words, which I am sure were so fleetingly stated, and not anything my teacher would ever remember uttering, are to this day, indelibly etched into the synapses of my gray matter.

 

Of anything she could have said at that time, she chose to tell me I possessed the ability to write. Her ability to complement my talent is something I carry with me to this day. She could have chosen to say, “good job”, or “nice try.” Those mediocre phrases would likely have slipped through my ears and mind as quickly as they were uttered. The fact she chose to not only compliment my work, but also to be so affirmative in her declaration, instilled within me a remarkable sense of confidence and resolve. Even as a child, I knew I needed to commit to putting my pencil to paper and find a way to get all of my complicated ideas down, because I was a writer.

 

I possess no formal training in the finer nuances of grammar, character development, or editing.   I have a hard time remembering when to use “who” or “whom.” I have to trust my spell check more times than I would like to admit. I suffer from chronic changes in tense and a passive voice that is so passive; I miss picking up on it from time to time. Each of these, among dozens of other inadequacies, suggests I am anything but a “real” writer.

 

Despite innumerable shortcomings that make me a terrible writer, I’ve never forgotten what I was told way back in the third grade, and I’ve worked very hard to make sure I could believe in myself the same way my teacher believed in me. Experience affords me the understanding of three specific character traits I possess that have enabled me to continue writing, no matter what the negative voices (who are equally as loud inside my head as they are outside out my brain) say.

 

I have a never-ending stream of consciousness and inner dialogue that I am compelled to record in written words. Whether grabbing my journal so I can write down a few remarkable terms or phrases I’ve thought about or heard, or scribbling out randomly connected ideas and mind scenes, or typing out longer paragraphs that eventually mesh into stories, I must document the words that scatter throughout my brain, or I am discontent.

 

I am, and always have been, an avid reader. I read constantly – books, journal articles, magazines, and yes, even blogs. Readers make the best writers because they tend to absorb it all. They learn what works and what doesn’t, and how to nurture their own voice through the process of reading other people’s work. Reading gives me infinite ideas about things to write about.

 

I have an insatiable and all-knowing inner critic who forces me to read, re-read, and re-re-read my own writing with tedious attention to detail. I am constantly attempting to speak my mind more efficiently and more significantly. I want to write better and I say my piece in the best possible way. I’m never quite satisfied I’m capable of achieving this goal. The critic makes my eyes hurt and makes me see things that aren’t there and pass over those that are.   I love/hate this critic with all of my soul.

 

It’s difficult to not feel resentful towards those who are more successful at writing than I am because it’s a rather random process who gains notoriety and who falls behind. Still, it’s hard not to taste sour grapes when I witness vapid celebrities publishing books or authoring blogs that do little other than chronicle their mundane daily activities. And it’s exceptionally challenging to keep up with my writing when I feel my voice just isn’t being heard.

 

Maybe the answer isn’t to quantitate the followers or the funding, but rather to truly believe in the significance of the work I’m putting out there, and to ensure I really believe I believe in everything I say.

 

I’ve been a writer long before the word “Blogger” made it’s way into the dictionary and I’ll be a writer long after computers become so obsolete, all we need to do is think of stories in our heads and they’ll be published. I know my current writing success is based partly on talent, partly on luck, and partly on the good fortune of having a third grade teacher who inspired me to push my creative voice to it’s maximum decibel, regardless of those people who tell me I’ll never be any good at doing so.

 

Maybe if I could just figure out how to recapture even just a portion of the hubris and wonder I possessed as an 8-year-old I could remember the essential fact that at the center of it all, I’m a writer. And I’ve always been one.

How about you?

What inspired you to become a writer?

 

(And I own the rights to the story about Long Island floating away… so don’t go copying my idea! )

Kitty City!

My husband and I just returned from a belated honeymoon in Europe.  While in Rome, I was told I needed to visit “Kitty City”, a feral cat shelter located amongst the ruins of the ancient city.  While I am a self-proclaimed crazy cat lady, I filed the piece of information away, but didn’t officially add it to our itinerary.  However, while strolling the streets one afternoon, we stumbled upon the Torre Argentina, where the cats sleep, frolic, eat, and poop amongst some of the oldest temples in Rome.  Fortunately, my husband knew better than to argue with me, and indulged my need to scratch a few furry felines.  The shelter was extremely clean and the staff was so helpful and enthusiastic about their volunteer work.  They take in older, “disabled” cats and rehabilitate them and re-socialize them so they can be adopted.  You also have the option of adopting cats from “afar” – meaning you can pay their adoption fee, but they will get to live their lives out at the shelter (or I suppose until someone else decides to adopt them.)  I was quite impressed with their efforts and really enjoyed spending some time learning about the shelter and their efforts.

Here is the website for the shelter:

 

http://www.gattidiroma.com

 

And for those of you not fluent in Italiano

 

http://www.romancats.com/index_eng.php


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But first…

Let me take a Goat-Selfie…

 

IMG_9339I’m obsessed with goats.  So when one made their way into the clinic today, I just couldn’t resist taking some pictures!

 

IMG_9327 IMG_9330 IMG_9334 IMG_9336

 

As if I need another reason to move to the beach….

Turns out I run faster here!  I’ll blog more about the Ocean City Island to Island 1/2 Marathon later, but the spoiler alert is despite a multitude of organizational idiocies, the race went far better than I imagined!  Stay tuned for further details about monsoons, missed busses, near death experiences, and pizza at 9:30 in the morning!

 

Happy Easter!

Awesome day in DC today! We even met the Easter bunny during brunch. I’m surprised he had the time to stop in for a mimosa. Judging from the “thumbs up”, he had a great time too!

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How is this post different from all other posts?

Because it’s Passover!

 

No challah for this girl for 8 days!

 

Chag sameach everyone!