I fell in love again yesterday. I am still happily married but Mr. Plastic Picker was in an irate mood. Sometimes when you are married for a few decades, it’s hard to remember the other person is a separate person. And sometimes, separate people have to have some alone time to deal with their emotions. But as I’m going through a time of growth and change, Mr. Plastic Picker also is going through a time of his own growth and change. So he was home walking our puppy and taking our son to his activities, and I was at Girl Scouts.
It may have been the emotional transference from husband to wife, and my need to get a way a bit from my husband. But we went on our first outing for our Girl Scout Troop for the year. And it was wonderful. Absolutely amazing. I’ve lived in San Diego my entire life, but I’ve never been kayaking and I’ve never seen La Jolla Cove from that perspective.
It was a wondrous adventure from the time Mr. Plastic Picker dropped us off at La Jolla village until when we returned home after the bonfire filled with pizza and s’mores. I didn’t intend to kayak but my fellow co-troop leader was not feeling well, and there needed to be another troop leader. So my daughter and I were in a double kayak. She was in the back steering and I was the power in the front.
San Diego you were so beautiful yesterday. This native daughter fell in love with you again. And I fell in love with the brown pelican. Brown Pelican you are 70% blind. You return to your nesting place because you need to see the bright white splotches of your white excrement on the cliffs. You can keep gallons of sea water in your gullet. And you are always true brown pelican, returning to home where you’ve marked things with your excrement. And perhaps Mr. Plastic Picker spirit animal is the brown pelican. And you were beautiful gliding over the calm waters of the cove and diving in to skim for fish. You kept on gliding over me yesterday. Or Mr. Plastic Picker, is your spirit animal the bee that tried to sting me while I was in the kayak? How in the galatic universe a bee found me in the middle of the cove to try to buzz around my face? I did not squash you bee, because you are a super being – indeed one of the most powerful living things on earth. But I did not know why you were in the ocean trying to land on my nose? Were you trying to pollinate me? I don’t think that would be appropriate! Good Lord!
But yesterday was a wondrous day spent kayaking in La Jolla Cove. I really did have a wonderful invigorating time. Even getting tipped over at the end as we tried to return to shore, and shivering in cold but saved by my dear friend’s extra blanket and jacket. The entire day was about reconnection and nature and community. And even Mr. Plastic Picker was touched by that community because he picked us up and our parent friends said hello to him. I love my husband. But even after almost twenty years of marriage, we can be mysterious to eachother. Is he the 70% blind brown pelican or the annoying bee? I don’t know. I do know that I love him and my giving him space yesterday, and being joyful is the best thing for him. I know he drank all of my plant-based almond milk and he got to see the weird bananas that by friend Dr. Joe gave our family. They are La Jolla Bananas. Who else gets to eat bananas grown in the backyard of a a La Jolla House but the Plastic Picker family?
Much love to you all, and it is so important to support your spouse when they are having one of those days. Yes I fell in love with you again San Diego. Yes you brown pelican. And every day you, Mr. Plastic Picker.
It’s been a whirlwind week. I got kind of distracted by the entire avGas project in Clairemont. We do need to remove lead from the environment, because the more developmental delay and dyslexia and behavioral disorders we have – the more social discord we have and that has led to a lot of everything. Everything is related. But I need to refocus on climate change and carbon emissions. Really no one should be flying these little propellar planes to begin with. Leaded or unleaded aviation gasoline. It’s helped me understand the leaded pollution issues in our local area more, which will help me with my work projects. It’s helped our advocacy intern find an important academic niche, and draw more people into our sphere of influence. But back to the most important issue at hand, climate change.
I try to have hope on this blog, but it’s hard when you see the issue at hand. We are not even close. COP26 is meeting and as someone who has gone to my own meetings, it’s just a huge upper management meeting. But we know change comes from the masses, the people. And that is where I’m trying to make the changes. We need less talking and more doing. And more doing with joy, that will show the world that saving the earth will bring us all healing.
I’m only on bag 13 for this month, and I only have really two more days to go. I try to get to 20 bags a month, but if I can get to 15 bags this month than I’ll be happy. Maybe if I can get to the beach early this morning which will be really good for my mental health as well, than I can get more bags and reach my monthly goal of 20. Did you hear that Boyan Slat of the Ocean Clean Up is actually now cleaning up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch? And the famous YouTuber Mark Rober is doing another fundraising thing for him and it might happen sooner than later? I’ve definitely noticed less trash on my stretch of the Pacific that I’ve taken ownership of. That’s what we all need to do, grab an area and own it. That’s how we tackle with climate change. Realize the interrelatedness of it all, and work cooperatively and joyfully together.
So far in my personal journey, I’m at 573 bags of trash. I’ve salvaged already #1775 things from the environment, and this month I’ve actually recycled 78 things mostly aluminum cans from the environment! Recycling aluminum is one of the most environmentally friendly things you can do. We’ve been most impactful in our donations, and have donated enough to preserve the below. Wow, almost a million trees – just our family.
14,697 Acres Land/Ocean
936, 780 Trees
This past week, we also voting in a pro-climate board to the San Diego Bicycle Coalition. Governor Gavin Newson announced steps to enact 3,200 feet setbacks from gas/oil wells which will reduce our oil production by 30%. This will also improve the respiratory health of much of LA. I connected with Dr. Elizabeth Friedman in Kansas City, and want to try to help her organize in Kansas City climate and health advocates and help galvanize some interest at the Pediatric Academic Societies around climate and health reserach. We are giving two big climate talks as part of work, at the county Live Well Conference and also at our big MSA. This early morning blogging helps me organize my mind and my climate work. I’m now realizing it was an impactful week, and I am able to do it and pace myself and self care at the same time.
At just a little over a $1 per carton, the kirkland organic soy vanilla milk is plant-based pediatrician MUST-HAVE! Especially since I stopped drinking coffee, and like to have my “Green Awakening” which is my matcha green tea soy latte in the morning. This morning I’m drinking my “Green Awakening” with non-dairy powdered creamer which I used to drink with coffee but it doesn’t go with the matcha green tea. Therefore, Dr. Plastic Picker is sad and annoyed. I’m sad because I need my kirkland organic soy milk and I don’t have my kirkland organic soy milk.
I don’t know when my palate became so particular and fancy, but now that I’m weaned off a lot of processed foods and try to eat generally plant-based – I’ve just become so particular about things. Case in point, my sad cup of matcha green tea this morning which is not a soy latte. But I refuse to drink it at Starbucks because it cost I’m sure at least $5 and they put tons of sugar in it. Up to 32 grams according to a quick Ecosia search.
I was emailing back and forth with a colleauge yestserday who used to be kind of like my department frenemy who is now a friend, because I decided to just love everyone (in a non-touching totally appropriate plantonic way that would not violate any human resources rules). He asked me how our family’s planetary food plant-based journey was going. It’s funny how the evolution of that relationship kind of echoes generally my evolution as a person. It’s best to be kind and not judge. And that it what I emailed him. That with our plant-based journey there are no absolutes and we try new things and make an adventure of it. I wished him joy in his family’s adventure as well.
But that got me to thinking about what are your 10 MUST HAVES in your plant-based diet? Definitely for me my organic soy milk vanilla flavored is a MUST HAVE. I need to ask Mr. Plastic Picker to get me a case. Maybe I can text Dr. Dear Friend to bring me a carton of hers? She buys it in bulk as well. I’m sure everyone’s top 10 list is different but here is ours.
Dr. Plastic Picker’s TOP 10 MUST HAVES in our current PLANT-BASED DIET!!!
Kirkland Organic Soy Milk!!! Mostly for my matcha green tea soy latte in the morning. But I also now use the soy milk to make soy yogurt, and in a lot of our cooking and baking to replace milk.
Bulk Oat Meal. We eat a good amount of oatmeal at our house and I like to make homemade granola about twice a month at least. I love oatmeal in the morning in the Instapot (which Dr. Young-Ho Yoon taught me!) with in fact I preferentially use my #1 Kirkland Oragnic Soy Milk!!!
Eggplant. Of course this list will include a lot of veggies, but eggplant has been a fantastic substitute for meats in a lot of our meals. We do eat lentils and beans, but I love to use eggplant in our Instapot pasta dishes as it enables me to sneak some other veggies in and take out half of the carbs of the pasta itself.
Onions and fresh minced garlic. This is a must for us to be able to eat savory without meats. Everytime we go to costco, we also buy bulk garlic and we are lucky that my in-laws will mince the garlic. We store it in one of those mason jars and life is always better with fresh garlic and onion to sautee with.
Bananas. We are kind of banana-breaded out right now, but in general cooking with bananas has been wonderful. There are many variations of muffins and pancakes that include bananas. And sometimes eating a banana just takes that edge off when you need a snack. Our kids don’t love bananas, but banana pancakes where I sub in mashed bananas in lieu of some of the liquid in the pancake batter works great. And all the sweetness comes from fructose (real fruit sugars).
Spices. I never truly realized how important different spices are in plant-based cooking. But we have proudly displayed on our counter now tumeric, paprika, curry, and truffle. oooohhh, maybe I’ll make some vegan omelette with besan flour and add truffle seasoning this morning? That would be soooooooooooo fancy and plant-based.
Matcha green tea. I’m still working on the powder my father gave me, but it’s so good. That has been a godsend really.
Salad Mixes. We are alternating between spinach and the spring mix salad in bulk. I hate the plastic container which is recyclable but at least we usually have a side of salad for dinner.
Flaxseed meal. I need to be more diligent about using the flaxseed meal. But when I’m baking, using flaxseed to make “eggs” is a great easy substitute.
Veggies veggies and more veggies. And honestly for us it has been about exploring and explanding our vegetable repertoire. It’s hard to be plant-based if you don’t like vegetables. I do have to brag that we love vegetables here at our household. Each child and adult likes theirs slightly different but we are usually big purchases of asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, celery, mushrooms, green beans, normandy vegetable mix at costco, radishes, beet greens, tomatoes, different types of asian gourds, bok choy, parsnip and on and on. Fruit is a definite must-have as well, but vegetables are a big must have at our household.
So that is it. That was my fun top 10 MUST HAVE list of things we buy a lot of. We have very little food waste these days because I have some go to food-waste recipes that use all those bits and pieces, and most of the scraps are composted. I have this big meeting at 2pm but right afterwards, I am going to walk to Sprouts which is literally 2 blocks from my house and buy a carton of soy milk to get me through the weekend. I could also just pick up some Beyond Meat Sausages and buns for dinner to go with a side-salad. Exciting times! Have a wonderful PLANT-BASED day dear friends.
I hate the term Servant Leadership. Someone gave me the book entitled servant leadership. I never read it. I understand the concept. But you can’t hand someone who is rising in leadership who is a young woman and from a minority group who is part of the “model minority” and who is from an ethnic group that has been fighting imperialism for over a thousand years a book entitled “Servant Leadership” and expect me to thank you.
Indeed, I’ll tell them now emphatically and honestly “NO THANK YOU.” Indeed, I haven’t really read any leadership books yet I’m a leader? I’ve never read a book about how to be a daughter yet I’m a daughter? I’ve never read a book about how to be a mother, yet I’m a mother? I think this leadership journey of mine is working out just fine.
Indeed, I’m kind of busy cleaning up the earth right now and I don’t have time to read books that don’t naturally interest me if the earth doesn’t lead me there. I did read a good novel this weekend, and yes it was a romance novel and there was no bodice ripping! LOL. It was one of those tame Julia Quinn ones. Did you know she went to Crimson University too?
I had written some blogpost in the last week but took them down. They were well written but weren’t, how do you say it, helpful. But it helped to express my frustrations and now they are deleted.
And today I just wanted to say that I’m continuing to work for the earth and for children’s environmental health. Too many projects to explain them all here. If you want to know the nitty gritty, just join our committee at the American Academy of Pediatrics or San Diego Pediatricians for Clean Air! I have to update on those venues anyway, so I don’t update everything here. One of our interns Riley Gilbertson and I are speaking at the San Diego City Council meeting on Wednesday and then we have a presentation on Thursday. We are working on a leaded avGas project. AvGas stands for aviation gasoline. In a sense, we want the propeller planes to stop passing leaded plane farts! LOL. That is hilarious. Let me try to make a funny graphic.
And that is all. I love this blog. It gets my creative juices flowing! LOL LOL LOL LOL.
And this is what my children really do in their new funny outfits.
How many blog post have I written? Let me check. [PAUSE]. WOWZER!!! 619 blogposts. Equal to the number of our area code! 569 bags of trash in total yesterday. I was worried I was behind on my 20 bags a month I promise to the earth, but there was enough left over midnight revelry beach plastic on Saturday morning to justify a 4 bag credit. There was a broken boogie board which is made of styrofoam! I tossed that before it broke up into a bazillion pieces! Two pizza boxes from Mr. Moto’s Pizza, and those pizza plastic triangular table that goes in the center. I didn’t even know they make those anymore? I wonder how much Mr. Moto’s Pizza is? Wow, $21 for a NY style fancy pie. Dr. Plastic Picker’s Pizza cost less than $1 if you make your own homemade dough. I did buy some frozen cauliflower crust pizza on Costco because it was on sale. It’s just for the kids when they are inudated with homework and I might have a work meeting that goes late on Tuesday. But usually we make our own pizza now.
I was driving from a particularly long and grueling Friday clinic day yesterday. Finished late but I’m used to later, but it had been busy. I emailed the leadership team which I am a part of my dissatisfaction with the current scheduling changes. It’s best to be honest, and I had very little to do with the initiation and implementation with the scheduling changes. Partly because in my quest for wellness the entire thing was giving me a headache from the get-go and the entire conversation surrounding it during meetings seemed nonsensical. I think the entire thing started with someone up in the LA region and then kind of spread like a fad thing to other areas, and then somehow our department got swept up in it. It’s no one’s fault but it’s a hot hot mess and I was not pleased yesterday. I was tired and irritable, and my well-meaning lovely clinic tried to have me celebrate my birthday but we fueled ourselves on really unhealthy food. I happily ate but I worry about them. I eat so much plant-based and home-made food now that one day of salt and pepper chicken wings, chow-mein, and cake is fine – but that is not the case for most of our clinic. I mentioned to my lovely friends that maybe we should take birthday walks together instead and enjoy cake outside and some matcha green tea soy latte. Indeed, I’m pretty good at whisking the soy milk now so I’m volunteering to make it for everyone. I want us to heal and to be healthy, and work can absolutely be a place of healing.
Happy Friday morning! I tried a few new things recently. Yesterday I had old mushy bananas again, but there are only so many banana bread muffins and variations on almost vegan banana breads that my family and the clinic can eat! I’ve done banana/mango bread. I’ve done banana coconut bread. I’ve varied that recipe so much, that it was time for something new. So I just Ecosia searched “what to do with mushy bananas” and a banana pancake recipe came up. I’ve heard about banana pancakes before, and I’ve made several variations which were okay. I’m not sure why yesterday worked so well, but yesterday I made 2 batches of banana peanut butter pancakes and varied the recipe yesterday and they were 100% out of this world. My in-laws, the kids, and Dr. Dear Friend were in complete agreement. They didn’t look perfect, but they tasted great. I even used the last remaining bits of my home-made vanilla flavored peanut butter. Maybe that’s why they turned out so well? I checked back at our clinic lunchroom and the banana pancakes were gone. Now that is testiment that they were good. And the interesting thing is that honestly, yesterday was a combination of ingredients and circumstances that those pancakes will never really exist again. I’ll try to replicate but I kind of made them by feel. I ommited the oil. I added more soymilk. I added a bit less flour. I didn’t even take a picture of the pancakes, but the memory of their fluffiness and how it paired so well with the matcha green tea soy latte that Dr. Dear Friend kindly bought for me at Starbucks, will be a memory that I will revist when I revisit this blogpost.
With that, I did want to stay true to the entire purpose of this particular blog and my adventures. The entire point is that I’m supposed to pick up plastic (which I did last month almost 30 bags! – but I do owe you a blogpost update) and also to make secondary environmental changes in my life. We live a pretty sustainable life now after I started this blog several years ago. We compost almost all of our green waste and thanks to the amazing combination of forces that are the bunnies that we love, and their poop – our Aerobin400 churns out this magical organic compost that fuels our garden. We eat mostly plant-based and not that much meat. Although yesterday we had just boxed frozen shrimp and tater-tots, but that is honestly once every 4 months or so! We consume less of earth’s resources. Yesterday was the first time in a long time we went to Target, and we went it to get what we needed and left with what we needed which was hopefully more sustainable gifts for our teen daughter’s friend and our daughter’s first real bathing suit. She looked so cute in the two she picked, and I’m so proud of how I’ve raised her to have a positive body image and to love and appreciate herself. This blog has helped me figure that part of my life out, and helped me be a better mother to my duaghter.
It was a magical day yesterday. I watched an exciting school volleyball match with our kids’ school’s rival. Our team lost, but it was such an exciting and well played game. They forced them into the third set, and it was very close. Our daughter was all over the court and communicating, and playing assertively but together with her team.
We had so many environmental wins last week, and the warm glow of knowing what collectively we did is really amazing. Several friends that I “activated” into climate and health activists, are working on their projects including various writing projects and presentations. I’ve cheerleading them from the sidelines and making small and helpful suggestions. Our big two projects are the Rewild Mission Bay work still with a local advocacy meeting soon in November and a blog piece coming out on the Climate for Helath Blog.
But here is why I started writing today. Just 10 secondary environmental changes I did specifically because I knew I had to be accountable to this blog’s readership.
10 Secondary Environmental Net Positives Due to Being DR PLASTIC PICKER!!!
12 showers averted (that’s on average 240 gallons of water)
1 bag of bad produce from the lunchroom fridge brought home to compost
9 coffee grounds containers from friends that I collected to compost
1 bucket of compost gifted to a friend for his fig tree
1 rug/mat salvaged and cleaned from when we did the Coastal Clean Up at the Chula Vista Boat Launch
many many succulents that I’ve propogated planted at the HMO parking structure and at my brother’s office in North Park
1 yearly planner purchased that is all of recycled content. This is one of the most important things I do personally. I like this planner as it’s functional and I can find it at my local staples and its made of recycled paper and plastic. It’s more expensive but its one of the few things I go out of my way to purchase and wait for. All the fancy planners made of virgin paper and fossil fuels? I laugh at you! New I will not buy! I support the circular economy.
5 succulents I gifted to children which kind of inspired our San Diego wide Great Succulent Give Away!
1 car trip averted from my clinic office to the sister clinic office, because I didn’t have time and I didn’t need to rush, instead I gave the plants that needed to be gifted to Dr. Dear Friend. It didn’t make sense to spew the carbon since she was there anyway.
1 climate friend I’m trying to help breastfeed her first child. Its a small but important thing for us to support eachother.
How does one begin to write a book? WHY write a book? When you walk through the few remaining books stores in San Diego, case in point the Barnes and Nobles in Mission Valley right behind the megalith restaurant chain B.J.s, there is always the section of books that are at bargain prices. $5 for two, with large red stickers plastered on the covers. Even in Harvard Square’s COOP bookstore where tourists and students would mingle among erudite tomes and popular fiction, and crimson university branded spirit-wear just steps away, there were bargain books. At some point, even great works of literature are sold at rock-bottom prices.
My name is Vi Thuy Nguyen, and I am a Harvard-trained pediatrician. Having spent the better part of 15 years as an undergraduate, medical student, pediatric resident, chief resident and to cap it off a premedical tutor (fancy Harvard-speak for premedical advisor) in Cambridge and then having a spouse with the same credentials but in a fancy subspecialty – it’s hard not to want to write a book. There are a lot of books written by Harvard graduates, sometimes even before they’ve graduated from Harvard. I’m not sure if it’s because we’ve self-selected ourselves by being self-driven and narcissistic enough to believe our life stories are THAT INTERESTING and that’s how we convinced someone to let us into Harvard? Or that we are so insecure that we need that continual affirmation, which drives us to continually update our resumes? Maybe that is why almost always a quarter of all Harvard graduates go into medicine, as those same qualities are often the strengths and pitfalls of the best doctors.
Which leads me to why I am writing this book. I’m in the glorious middle, and indeed turning 44 soon – a wonderful palindrome and even number bespoking a life that starting from the first digit or the last digit, reads the same and makes sense to me. As my requisite long self-absorbed subtitle explains, I’ve gone “From Harvard, Burn Out, to the Beach and Back Again. I was trying to save San Diego’s environment, but I ended up saving myself.” If you are reading this book, likely you’ve found my blog, Instagram, Facebook page, or heard me speak at various events. My story is simple. Two years ago, I found myself completely burned out from my career as a general pediatrician and what I call “middle-management” at a large HMO. I was a hamster on one of these wheels, running to where I had no idea. Rewarded with emails and accolades and bonuses by an invisible “upper-management” hand, doling out pieces of cheese to the hamster on the wheel. And during that time of poor sleep, constant work-messaging, middle-aged back pain from being a runner for over 20 years, always feeling inadequate as a mother and physician but with “metrics” that looked like success, I had two toddlers in my practice almost simultaneously diagnosed with cancer. They were both the youngest in their families, and I had been the only pediatrician both families had known. This book is dedicated to those two little girls (Ashley and Audrey), whose cancer diagnoses were the catalyst for my burnout but more importantly for my climate work. Their diagnoses and the reverberating pain when they become sick, affected me. I thought I was made of Teflon. I wasn’t. I was human, and I settled into a deep sadness that manifested in irritability, tension headaches, and then an irrational plan to leave my middle-management career.
But I can’t give the entire story away in the first chapter?!!! I need you to keep reading. I’m in the glorious middle. I’m at bag 560 right now of ocean plastic pollution collected from mostly San Diego’s beaches. As my fully description subtitle explains, this is “My Journey Through 1000 bags of Ocean Plastic Pollution” and I’m literally at the middle.
What does the middle of 1000 bags of trash, bag 560 look like? What does the life of a middle-aged Harvard-trained pediatrician in middle-management who is also the infamous “Dr. Plastic Picker” look like? It’s 5:08 AM and it’s pitch dark outside. I’m sitting drinking my matcha green tea soy latte with a teaspoon of sugar, and I’m typing away on my computer. I was fueled on 2-6 cups of coffee a day for over 13 years, and now I don’t drink coffee anymore. I only drink what I call my “Green Awakening,” this beautiful cup of matcha green tea soy latte in the morning. I woke up this morning refreshed and slept well, partly because I know to slow down my body with some yoga at night. My husband is asleep upstairs curled next to our little black crazy poodle mix, and he’ll go to work also as a “middle-manager” at our HMO. I’ve labeled him Mr. Plastic Picker, and he is Assistant Chief of Radiology. He is generally on the road to healing and improved health after back surgery a few years ago, because I am better. I asked him to take me to dinner this Saturday, as it’s my birthday, and we never used to take time for ourselves to go out to dinner. My in-laws are up, and they’ll be wandering into the kitchen soon to begin their morning routine. Much of my story of my climate and health activism, has to do with the lessons learned from my Korean in-laws. My son is going to take his PSAT this morning, and our daughter just won her first school volleyball game yesterday. She was former preemie and her medical struggles and my guilt as a working mother in her early years, are intertwined with my burn out story. But the beautiful thing about yesterday, is that I missed her first step and her first words – but I was there at almost 44 for her first volleyball win.
And what does the middle of 1000 bags of trash, bag 560 look like? Bag 560 looks like I’m Co-founder of San Diego Pediatricians for Clean, and Co-Chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Climate Change and Health Committee. It looks like October 14 being recognized as Children’s Environmental Health Day by multiple cities in San Diego County, and my pediatrician friends and students fanning all over the region at press events recognizing the importance of environmental health with the AAP banner behind them. It looks like an upcoming Clairemont town council meeting where I’m co-presenting with one of our advocacy interns and a developmental pediatrician friend on the health reasons why leaded aviation gasoline and it’s pollution is an environmental justice issue. It looks like I was invited back to the National Institutes of Health Undergraduate Scholarship Program to speak on my climate and health work. And it looks like I’m still in “middle-management” and happy and found my niche in pediatric quality work and head of the HMO “Green/Sustainability Team.” And it looks like my entire family laughing yesterday around dinner, happy and saying our gratitude and eating a plant-based meal.
The middle looks like happiness. It’s absolutely true what I say during my climate and health speeches. Feel free to page me, “I’m always on call for the earth.” These are the adventures of me as Dr. Plastic Picker, self-proclaimed local-litter picking pediatrician. And the WHY I am writing this book, is that I’m literally trying to save the planet as climate change is a pediatric public health crisis. My crazy adventures and social media presence and book tour are about raising the alarm. It’s all hands-on deck. But I think you’ll find that if you help me save the earth, you’ll end up saving yourself as well.