Tuesday, September 27, 2011

An Endocrinologist Walks Into a Bar ...

I don’t actually know the punch line to that joke, but when I do, I’ll let you know.
After having missed out on basic healthcare for 5 years, I recently went to the doctor to get some maintenance tests done.
I have had my suspicions that something was not right with me for some time.  I have no end of struggles losing weight and managing stress, well beyond the normal difficulties one experiences.  My body just does not want to cooperate with my efforts to slim down and chill out.
I’ve been doing my homework and I walked into the doctor’s office with a list of tests to run: full blood chemistry profile, glucose/insulin, thyroid, and cortisol.
This would be my starting point and eliminate (or confirm) a ton of common conditions, all of which can be tested from a regular blood sample.
My PA was young, energetic, and very nice.  She agreed with my selection of tests and added one more for androgen (more on that in a minute).
My blood samples secured after getting vasovagal on the lab tech (every frickin time …), I played the waiting game.
In the meantime, I started researching the two conditions my PA suggested:
·         Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
·         Cushing’s Disease
I'll give you a minute to google those <waits patiently>
Interesting, huh?  Here I was thinking that I had diabetes or a thyroid issue and I was way off.
So while I was in the Atlanta airport coming back from Florida, I got the call.
The good news?  No nutrient deficiencies, glucose and insulin levels normal, cholesterol good, thyroid not an issue. 
The other news?  My cortisol and my HGH (human growth hormone) levels were abnormally high.
Particularly after looking at the symptoms for Cushing's, I was not surprised by this.  But I am a little freaked that I have something that’s much more complicated than diabetes or thyroid issues. 
Because my PA couldn’t decipher from my tests which condition I have, I’m being passed off to an endocrinologist the second week of October.
I have two theories about the nature of this visit:
A)  Because either condition is uncommon, my PA simply wanted to have the specialist make the call (which I totally would too in her position). 
B)  The endocrinologist might not be able to make heads or tails out of my preliminary results either and need to do more extensive tests.
I’m hoping I’ll walk out of that appointment with a clear diagnosis and a game plan, but I’m fully aware that may not be the case.
I also acknowledge that I could have something completely different.  Elevated cortisol levels are connected to a million conditions, though HGH is secreted by the pituitary gland (and no, I haven’t been shooting steroids to break any home run records).
A man with his own candy bar doesn't need to be any cooler (source)
At this point, I just have to wait three weeks and go from there.
In many ways, I feel validation - there is something going on.  I haven’t just been making excuses or been too inept to get in shape.
But I also feel trepidation.  I am uneasy about what’s going to happen next.  I have a million questions about where a forthcoming diagnosis will leave me, how it will change my life, and how it will alter our finances.
But there’s no sense in worrying about a condition I may or may not have.  Until I know what I’m up against, I’m being extra gentle with my body, recognizing that the limitations I am experiencing are real and not just in my head.     

Friday, September 23, 2011

A Free Night at a Bed and Breakfast

Tonight, we are headed to Dubuque for another mini-vacation.  I know, it's kind of our spot, but we just love it there.  There are two reasons for this trip.

A) It's the 10-year anniversary of our relationship.  I had hoped to go to Chicago, but the general craziness of this summer left us without the financial means to do such a trip.  Smaller is better.

B) We have a free night at a bed and breakfast.

I scored this deal by being a considerate customer. 

About a month ago, we stayed at a bed and breakfast on another trip to Dubuque (my only sibling does lives in the area).  We'd never stayed at a B&B before so we were curious what it would be like.

Overall, we enjoyed our accommodations, but we had two issues.  Because we didn't meet our hosts (privacy being a huge bonus at this place), I sent this email:

This was our first time staying at a bed-and-breakfast and overall it was a decent experience.  We love older homes and we really appreciated how you kept a historical ambiance to the room but updated with newer amenities. The aesthetic is something we'd like to recreate!

However, we did encounter two drawbacks.  The major one is that the ceiling leaked (that's why you found towels over the register).  We lived in a Victorian years back and are forgiving of quirks, but the leak was all throughout the night and was noisy.  It didn't make for a great night of sleep despite the luscious bed.  

Secondly, the whirlpool tub is in need of a cleaning.  We love big bathtubs, so props for including it, but when we turned on the jets, we were covered in debris.  I suspect someone used rose petals in there and some got sucked into the jets.  It washed off easily, but it was a disappointment.

Thanks for taking the time to read these.  As I said, we had a decent visit and loved many details - breakfast was also good and we very much appreciated the privacy.  But with the above items, we don't feel like we got everything out of the Solon Langworthy House we were hoping for.  

Within a matter of minutes, I got a very apologetic email back from the owner expressing their dismay over the hiccups we experienced.  They even sent pictures of the ceiling being torn into for repairs!

In the end, they offered us a complimentary stay.  That certainly wasn't my intention when I emailed them - being a teacher and editor, professional feedback is just a given with me.  

But case in point - if you have dissatisfaction with service or a product, provide your feedback in a polite and respect way.  You never know what you may get in return. 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Photoblog of My Orlando Trip

Between the ridiculous delays getting to Orlando, the sweltering humidity, and hiccups like incorrect alarm clocks, Florida did not leave any favorable impressions on me.  Memphis was magical and exactly the kind of getaway that I needed - Orlando just zapped my energy and patience.

The trade show itself went well and I gathered a lot of ideas and contacts for the magazine. Since I don't have anything nice to say about Florida otherwise, here are some pretty pictures of my travels.

The view from above the clouds never ceases to be beautiful

A very large cloud formation - probably a good storm brewing!

Reminds me of Disney's version of Mount Olympus from "Hercules"

A view like this still doesn't convince to ever go parachuting

One of the few moments it wasn't raining while I was there

One of the convention hall entrances - this place was massive!

On the tradeshow floor

The hotel I stayed at

You've probably seen pictures of this whimsical building before

I passed it walking to the convention center - it's basically a fun house

Nothing says the tropics like a big flower with fresh raindrops

Isn't this cool?!  A second later we passed a cloud and I would have missed this shot

Staying Patient Through 10 Hours of Delays

Well, my business trip to Orlando this week was quite the flying adventure.  Traveling by plane is still novel and fun to me, but perhaps that's because I can count the number of times I've flown on one hand ...

My last trip involved four flights, no delays, fast security checks, small lines, good weather, and easy-to-navigate airports.  I wondered, why does everyone complain about flying!?

A very grey morning in Iowa proved otherwise. I don't remember the last time I got up at 4am, but golly I sure hope I don't have to do it often.  The airport suggested arriving 90 minutes early, but I saw no reason to show up more than 60 minutes early for a 6:40am flight.

I got through security quickly, though I was "randomly selected" for a patdown (probably because of all of the electronics I was toting along).  A very nice TSA lady quickly and professionally did her routine.

I was a little surprised at where their hands must fly – under the bra line and over the pubic mound – but it was less invasive than a routine physical by a doctor.  I know people make a fuss about TSA, but I didn’t have any qualms with it.  At any rate, those workers aren't the ones making policy decisions. 

Once I got to the boarding area, it was announced that my flight was overbooked and they needed a volunteer to switch flights. I thought I’d be a good citizen and see if I could help.  They didn’t have any way of getting me to Orlando the same day so they had to keep me.
5 minutes later, they announced that to solve the overbooking dilemna, the person to check in last would be bumped from the flight. Guess whose name was called?
Yep, there’s more than one reason to show up early to the airport.
As we looked for alternative flights, there were widespread overbooking problems.  They could get me to Detroit the same evening but not into Orlando until Monday afternoon. That would leave me with only one morning at the trade show before I had to fly back - pretty pointless.
A quick call to my boss determined I could take the Detroit flight and fly back a day later than planned on Wednesday.
Once that was sorted, it turned out that our plane had to be grounded because of mechanical issues.  With the delay and the threat of the flight being canceled altogether, a lot of people jumped ship. 
In all that shuffling, I quite amazingly got my seat back.  However, I still had the problem of having to stay overnight in Atlanta.
So we waited for a new plane to come up from Georgia just to take us back down there.  Our original flight was supposed to leave at 6:40am - we left at 2pm.  The flight itself went smoothly and I got to see the Atlanta skyline as we came in.
Once in Atlanta, I thought it prudent to confirm there was no way I could get to Orlando before securing my hotel voucher.  Crazily enough, a seat opened up and I could keep my original schedule - I just had to wait 3 hours.
Sensibily, I secured dinner (the food choices, as well as the Atlanta airport, are unremarkable), appeased myself with a Starbucks Salted Carmel Hot Chocolate (addictive), and purchased the new Anthony Bourdain book "Medium Raw" (fantastic!).
There really is no reason to pay $3.50 for a small hot chocolate but I'll definitely be making this at home!

I ended up getting into Orlando at 11pm - 10 hours after I was supposed to.  I paid $40 to have a cab drop me off at my hotel (gouge!) and crashed.
Throughout it all, I stayed in good humor, until lack of sleep made me hunger for a bed.  
Found this pic online, but this is from the hotel I actually stayed at
Lessons learned:
  • Show up to the airport 2 hours early
  • Listen to your mother - always pack extra clothes
  • Don't forgot your cell phone charger
  • Make sure to have a good book (or be willing to purchase one)  

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Orlando Here I Come!

Just like Memphis a few months back, Orlando beckons me for another business trip. This weekend, I'll be flying out for 3 days of networking in sunny Florida.

I'm attending the national conference for ASIS International - an organization for security professionals.  As I write our magazine's security column, it makes sense to send me to gather new ideas and meet with product vendors.

The Orange County Convention Center where the trade show is (source)
I'm pretty jazzed about this one. Unlike some of our other tradeshows, which are more geared toward meeting vendors, this one is chalk full of great sessions.  I'm definitely hitting up these presentions:
  • The Quantum Leap In Security Lighting: LED & Induction Lighting
  • Crisis Management and Social Media – the New Opportunity
  • Preises Liability: A Trial Lawyer's Hints for the Security Professional
  • Lessons Learned - Trends In Extreme Violence In the Workplace
I'm also looking forward to this trip as I've never been to Florida before, even though I only have two evenings to explore Orange County. Though excited about a new area to visit, this one comes with a big price tag. 

There are several major theme parks in the immediate vicinity that had looked promising, but they are too expensive - Orlando Universal is around $120, Disney is $85, and SeaWorld is $81.

I certainly can't justify the price, particularly since I could only pop in for a matter of hours. Plus, they're all things that I would want to go with the hubby or in a group, so it makes it easier to bypass.

In hunting around online, I've discovered two inexpensive possibilities that are more in my price range.

First is the I RIDE Trolley.  At $1.25 a ride, I will be shuttled around International Drive, which is home to Universal, SeaWorld, and a slew of restaurants, shopping outlets, and hotels.   

I think it would be fun to just cruise around and see the sights.  Such a simple way to get a feel for an area.  Huzzah for super cheap ways of exploring!

On this boulevard of entertainment, I've found something inexpensive and fantastically geeky: Titanic - The Experience 

Oh yes, I would go to this and relish every moment.  I've had a fascination with sunken ships since 3rd grade and I was a fan of the Titanic long before the movie came out.

I've been to a traveling Titanic exhibit before, but this experience includes full-scale reproductions of ship rooms. The tour guides are even dressed in period costume and play the part of a real passenger.  How cool is that?!  This interactive / living history museum is $20, a deal I find pretty reasonable.

Ok, enough salivating here ... Given that this is a business trip and my time is largely taken up with meetings and seminars during the day, I think one tourist stop is an expected indulgence.  Plus, it keeps my non-refundable costs in check.  

Speaking of expenses, while it would be inappropriate to reveal how much this trip will cost, I can tell you that my expenses are handled two ways.
  • My hotel arrangements and meals are reimbursed after I get back from the trip.  Now that we have a credit card cleared off just for business trips, it makes it easy to pay for stuff out of pocket. 
  • My airfare, quite thankfully, was arranged through a local travel agency and billed directly to the company.
I'm estimating that I'll spend about $40 of my own money of this trip - half going to the Titanic museum and the other half reserved for whatever baubles I decide must come home with me.

Full recap when I get back next week - I promise I won't get eaten by any gators!!!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

9/11 Hoopla

The bombing of Pearl Harbor, Kennedy's assassination, landing on the Moon, the fall of the Berlin Wall, Columbine.

They say every generation is witness to a major historical event, one so overarching that you can ask any person 

"Where were you when ..." 

9/11 is supposedly that event for my generation - the day that forever altered the course of our history, changed our political landscape, and united a splintered country.

<rolls eyes>

Oh yes, I'm the blogger today that just rolled her eyes at such a sacred event.  Let me tell you why before you publicly brand me for having a flippant attitude.

Ten years ago, I was a senior in high school.  I was outside at band practice when the news broke.  It wasn't until I walked into 2nd period that I knew, in the words of a classmate, "someone is bombing America."

I had no idea what the World Trade Center was.  We had one Muslim family in town and they had a daughter who was close to my sister.  I thought the attack was to take down our banking system.  I simply didn't have a frame of reference for what happened that day. 

As a young adult in the wake of the event, however, I gained a better understanding of the impact of that day - it wasn't just about destroying two buildings and killing thousands of innocents.

There are people today honoring the dead, as they should.  I cannot imagine the horror of that kind of death.

There are those praising the rescue crews and volunteers, as they should.  Americans don't forget valor and honor in the face of a crisis.

There are those who will talk about the unifying effects of 9/11.  And THAT is what I have a point of contention with.

9/11 may have temporarily prompted the US to pull together, but that sense of unity quickly dissolved.

In my lifetime, I have watched with disdain a growing fissure in this country.  A sharp divide exists, prompted by a toxic climate that Americans themselves, not terrorists, continue to fuel.

Without getting into the whys and hows, just look at any aspect of politics, religion, or education.  Those conversations are tainted by disrespect, unyielding attitudes, and intolerance.

In a recent class of mine, the conversation turned political (quite accidentally by an off-hand comment by a student) and you could immediately see students taking up arms.  The air of the classroom became agitated and the mood took a turn for the worst.

To diffuse the tension, I said this to my students:

"I don't care where you land with politics or religion - it's really sad that we can't talk to each other anymore.  We've really lost something when we feel silenced, when we can't share our ideas for fear of being drowned out by a fellow human being."

I would like to see an attitude of respect and patience returned to this country.  A UU minister recently wrote, "True strength lies not in our ability to destroy our enemies, but in the sometimes difficult choice to turn away from violence and hatred."

He was probably referring to physical violence, but I see hateful words, violent rhetoric, and silencing looks as one of the more brutal repercussions of how our country has changed in recent years.

But change can be the result of collective individual actions. I believe that a mindset of mutual understanding is what we really need in times like these. 

It takes strong individuals to stand up against the tidal wave of ill-will that has permeated our nation. But I'm not going to let the difficultness of this task stop me. 


Friday, September 9, 2011

Bomb Threat At Work

Ok, so technically that should read "Bomb Threat Near Where I Work" but that's not as flashy of a title :)


Check out an exciting morning in Cedar Rapids.  This building is kitty-corner to mine: http://www.kcrg.com/news/local/Cedar-Rapids-Building-Evacuated-Bomb-Squad-En-Route-to-Check-on-Suitcases-129526013.html 

Turns out they were just the personal belongings of a homeless man (very sad, when you think about it), but I'm glad that the city took the situation serious.

I am not so pleased with the people who complain to no end during these incidences - saying it's disruptive, a waste of time and money, or, I love this one, "the terrorists have won."

<rolls eyes>

Yes, it costs money to send out the police, stop trains and traffic, and let the bomb squad play with their robot.

But it costs a bajillion times more if a bomb goes off:
  • Loss of life has no price tag
  • Disruption of a business is costly
  • Heavy damage to a building (or surrounding structures) can tank a company
  • No one thinks about secondary damage - sidewalks, roads, landscaping, street signs, utility poles ... someone has to pay for those to be fixed
  • Events like these negatively impact an area's image - people may still want to visit the Statue of Liberty after 9/11, but not every city can sustain such a blow.

The biggest cost overlooked is liability.  Imagine if the police had pooh-poohed the suitcases and they had gone off as a bomb.  Now the city is on the hook for not responding to a call.  That company could then sue, and now you really are talking about taxpayer dollars.

At any rate, I'd much have a brouhaha made over nothing than to be complacent about a genuine threat.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

5 Favorite Fall Activities

Prior to this year, if you asked me what my favorite season was, I would immediately answer summer.  I detest winter with its frigid temperatures and lack of outdoor actvities for those who get cold easily.

But this summer's oven-like temperatures were too extreme.  I can't believe I actually got a case of cabin fever in July! 

This week's beautiful weather has brought me a sense of calm and renewal.  To celebrate the beginning of fall, here are some of my favorites activities that have been on hold this summer.  


Holy crap, I want this oven! (source)
Given the dearth of food-related posts, you've probably guessed I've barely turned on the oven the past 3 months.  Too much heat + cooking for one will do that.

But now is the time for comfort food to make a return.  Crockpot dinners, casseroles, slow roasting, potatoes, chili, and bread making will now populate our weekly menu.


Speaking of comfort foods, though we eat pumpkins all year round, fresh ones in the fall are awesome.  I roasted my first pumpkin just last year and it definitely beats out the canned stuff.  We have a local pumpkin patch that I'm hoping to check out soon.

Twilight Walks

Lower temperatures + harvest dust = beautiful evening walks. It's not too chilly so it's perfect for a brisk pace and the sunsets get crazy vivid.  There's also a crispness in the air that can't be beat.


Don't get me wrong - tea is great in the summer, particularly iced.  But there's nothing like setting down on the couch after a long day of work and curling up with a nice hot tea.  I particularly love the warm feeling chai gives you in the belly.

Salt Baths

This is actually the brand we use - $5 at Walmart (source)
Our bathtub isn't the most comfortable for soaking (it doesn't even fit the two of us), but I'm undetered.  I've read that Gen Y doesn't have much need for bathtubs, but we clearly bunk the trend.  I would so love to have a soaking tub one day!

There's so many other things about the fall to love - sweaters and cardigans, football season, end-of-season campfires, leaves turning ...

What's your favorite part about autumn?

Monday, September 5, 2011

Soothing September

After a nice time visiting all of our family and friends this weekend, I'm thinking about what this next month will hold for us.  Though I am no longer teaching, Mike is back in class two nights a week.  My job will continue at a slightly hectic pace until a new editor is hired.  I also have a trade show in Orlando I'll be flying out for.

One thing I realized this weekend is how much balance I've lost in my life as of recent.  Admittedly, I know that teaching + a day job will make for a busy time.  I didn't know, however, how much 2 classes each week would affect me (nor that my mate would be gone for most of it ...).  Let's just say that it would be prudent to limit myself to one in the future.

Whenever I get stressed, not only am I an unhappy camper, but my body joins in on the fun.  Like most people, I begin to sleep poorly, make unwise food choices, gain weight, have acne show up, and feel sluggish on all accounts.  The past few weeks, I've even been fighting off allergies/a cold.

All of this is completely unnecessary.  To try to get more done at work, I've rarely taken lunch breaks and routinely stayed late.  Funny thing is, all this extra time isn't amounting to more productivity.  Just more stress and tiredness.

So I'm declaring this month "Soothing September" and am setting out to regain balance.  My goals are simple:
  • Get proper rest.  Despite what the studies say, I'm a 10 hours a night kind of girl.  That means going to bed somewhere between 9-10pm.
  • Mindful eating.  Meatless Mondays and a influx of fruits/veggies are being reinstated.
  • Read.  Despite the hectic schedule as of late, I've continued picking through the Lord of the Rings trilogy and now only have the appendices to polish off.  This has been very relaxing and I need to continue making time for this.
  • Exercise. Though in an ideal world I would bike to work every day, I am going to shoot for 2 days.  I also want to take evening walks and add some simple weight lifting.  Whatever combination I fit in, I want to get 30 minutes in 3 times a week.
While I'm tempted to add more, I'm going to stick to these.  If you make your goals too complicated, I've found they just end up complicating your life. 

What are your goals for this month?  

Friday, September 2, 2011

Labor Day Plans

The last official weekend of summer is here.  It’s been a crazy couple months and while I do not welcome cooler weather, I am happy to leave Summer 2011 goodbye. 

To celebrate this extended weekend, Mike and I are headed up to our respective hometowns – Clear Lake / Mason City / Nora Springs.  We haven’t been up that way since last Christmas and I’m pretty sure our families will incite a riot if we stay away any longer!

As for costs, it’s a low-budget affair.  Gas to drive the 250-mile round trip and a mandatory afternoon treat at Taco Tico and Cookies Ect (it’s a Mason City thing …).  Each set of parents is providing meals and/or lodging, which is much appreciated.

Our days will be spent visiting family, who are all essentially based out of Cerro Gordo county.  Our time will also overlap with a visit from Mike’s sister and our 2 nieces and nephew, who we haven’t seen since Thanksgiving.

I am oddly looking forward to this trip.  Despite the concentration of family, going to our hometowns is never our first choice for a vacation.  There’s many reasons for that, none having to do with relatives.  Maybe more on that in a future post.
At any rate, work has been crazy busy as of late.  Not only are we flooded with special projects and larger issues, but we’re down a team member and have absorbed their workload.  I am in desperate need of getting away to regain some balance.

I intend to not labor at anything but eating tasty food and getting good sleep over the weekend.

What are your plans?

Thursday, September 1, 2011

$1600 Gone in a Flash

This is an odd week for me.

I just finished 8 weeks of teaching two film classes. It was a busy two months, teaching back-to-back nights in different cities.  But it was a good run – I had engaged students, taught 4 new movies that were well received, and the responses on the essay test really blew me away. 

So final grades are in, the textbook resumes its spot on the bookshelf, and my prep materials are safely stowed away for future reference.

What makes this an unusual end to a class is that I was scheduled to start teaching a literature class this week as well. 

Note the past tense.

I learned a few days ago that not enough students registered for my class and so it was canceled.  This is standard university policy – it’s just not cost effective to pay an instructor to teach less than 10 students. 

Now I’ve taught close to 50 classes, but this is the first time I’ve ever had one canceled.  This leaves me with a lot of mixed feelings. 

The bonus to this situation is the amount of time I gain back – 40 hours in the classroom, 16 hours of driving, and however many hours spent grading and emailing.  We’ve got a lot going on in our life right now, so having another free evening is not a small thing.

However, there are some definite downsides.

The first is a teaching-related concern.  I’ve taught literature a handful of times, twice before at this particular university.  I made few changes between the original courses as I was still feeling the ropes, but I was ready on the 3rd run to make adjustments. Add to this a recent university directive to add more “rigor” to gen ed courses and I was eager to get creative.

So I changed the course.  The reading list stayed virtually the same, but I redistributed the points across different assignments.  I went from 1 presentation, 1 midterm, and 1 final paper to 1 small presentation, 1 midterm, 2 responses, a final PowerPoint presentation, and no paper.

You may not be interested in my teaching methods, but here’s the thing – students have access to your syllabus prior to registering for the course.  On my old format, I clearly had enough students to hold class.  But under the new format, I did not.

There may be a number of factors why this course didn’t fly – it’s fall and students want to concentrate more on major classes, not many this term needed to fulfill a gen ed requirement, literature isn’t very popular in the first place, ect …

But I do wonder if my changes had anything to do with it.  I was excited to teach with the new assignments/activities, knowing they would enhance students’ understanding of literature and let us cover a great range of authors and topics.   
I wouldn't suggest I'm as awesome as Mr. Keating, but I'm a big fan of making literature accessible
I don’t regret the changes – if I get to teach this course again, I will stick to my new design.  I just wish I knew why there wasn’t enough interest.

But this is life as a college instructor – classes get canceled, it happens.  However, because I’m hired from term to term, I do not know when I will be teaching again next.  It might be again in October (another movies class), but nothing has been decided yet.        

The other thing that this cancelation has caused is lost income.  Though I’d signed my contract, redesigned the class, prepared all of the materials, and had my syllabus turned in, no students = no pay.

I would never say that it wasn’t worth it.  I have a fantastic literature course ready to deploy when the time is right.  But I can’t deny that we had plans for my pay.  It was to fuel debt reduction, nothing earth shattering, but that’s a good chunk of change that disappeared with only a few days’ notice.

I love teaching.  I make my bread and butter in publishing, but teaching is a natural state of being for me.  If the structure of higher education and the economy allowed it, I would work as an instructor full time, but such is not the case for our times (and the explanation would take up another post).  Hopefully another opportunity will come, but for the next few months, I will lay my teaching hat aside.