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January 31, 2011

Monica Dennis and the Puzzle Factory.

I have had the pleasure of meeting some seriously talented people during my time in the dLife offices, but one of the most driven, determined, and creative minds belonged to Senior Editor Monica Dennis.  Monica has created a puzzle business that is growing by tremendous leaps and bounds, and I'm so proud to be sharing her story here on SUM. 

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Kerri:  Hi Monica!  You are a very busy woman, working a full time job and also running your own business.  Can you tell us a little about yourself?

Monica:  Ha! The answer to that question is probably indicative of who  I am - a woman who can never seem to do things the easy way and who only wants to live out all the purpose and passions God created in me. I am a wife and mother of a thoughtful and creative 10-year-old boy and a stubborn but amusingly daring 7-year-old girl. I am a writer and all the other stuff you already mentioned. I am huge supporter of positively motivated people who do more than just talk and I am thrilled to be a guest on your blog!

Kerri:  You used to have to work with me, you poor thing.  And now here you are, profiled on a diabetes blog.  What's your connection to the diabetes community? 

Monica of Village Works EnterprisesMonica:  Type 2 is my in-law. My husband has it. His mother has it. Her sister AND brother have it. My husband's two brothers have it and I think their maternal grandmother did too. Those are just the ones I know about. My job is not so much to support my husband with it because, frankly, he doesn't need me to say much. My job is to keep my children from developing it now or later, and every now and again I do have to remind my husband of that. When I got my current job, I wasn't looking to gain more diabetes knowledge. I just love helping people in general and wanted to do something that spoke to my heart. The blessing was that I could help people with something I was in fact living and I could help my own family too because those myths that plague people are pervasive and it's nice to be able to contribute to that conversation when it comes up at the family gatherings - as it usually does. And FYI, working with you has forever left me scarred, er um, I mean grateful to have had you add more color to my world. :-)

Kerri:  LOL!  Well, moving on to your incredible business!  Monica, you have been running your own business for quite some time now, and your products are both customizable and totally fun.  Can you tell SUM readers a little bit about your business?


Monica:  The short answer is we are Village Works Enterprises LLC and my business partner and I make jigsaw puzzles - greeting card jigsaw puzzles, children's puzzles, photo puzzles. Traditional art puzzles are in development. We use 100% original artwork and we do it all right here in the grand old U.S. of A. We take those puzzles and we show people that the jigsaws they loved to play with as kids and that probably contributed to some of their best memories are still capable of captivating you and your children, creating new memories for a new generation. And even better, they can be made to suit your taste. They can be used for more than fun and games, but for business marketing and invitations and favors and fundraisers and on and on and on. (At least 41 different ways and counting. Got the list on our site!) As we tell people, the only limit is their own imagination and even that doesn't have to stop them. We have imaginations too and we're always happy to put them to use for a client of ours.

[More after the jump!]

Kerri:  What made you get involved in puzzles in the first place? 

Monica:  We weren't looking to do puzzles or any business, actually. In the beginning, my friend Ramona and I were volunteering at the summer literacy program held at our church. They needed educational materials and we went looking to buy some things. We wanted jigsaw puzzles but not characters or modes of transportation or colors, that sort of thing. This camp was about showing our children there is more to the world than what they are typically exposed to. We wanted jigsaw puzzles that accurately reflected the culture of the children who would be using them - mostly African-American, some Latino and white, and children adopted cross culturally. Ramona and I went to a toy store and walked down separate aisles calling to each other, "I don't see anything. Do you see anything? Just the usual. Blah!" We got to the end of the aisle and to this day neither of us can take credit for coming up with the business because we literally said it at the same time, "We should make them!" We had no idea what that entailed but it immediately felt right.

Kerri:  Your business has gone from "an idea" to "real deal."  Impressive!!  What helped you move Village Words from a dream to a reality? 

Monica:  1999 was the year everything got under way. It was before we had children and a real motivation to make this thing work. We spent years researching how to do this cost-effectively, and what and how we wanted the artwork to be. I was in grad school at the time, so Ramona took a 16-week business workshop. Three years later I did the same program. We did some serious trial and error of not only the puzzles, but of how to be in business and we did this all in the midst of getting married, having 3 children between us, volunteering, working full-time jobs, me eventually searching for a better fitting full-time job, and then finding my current job, which takes even more of me than any job I had before then - and I love that about it. Ramona is our pastor's administrative assistant so her hours are pretty much nonstop. We took really small steps, there were starts and stops, but by 2005, we felt confident that we were finally operating like a proper business.


There's a really long bridge between dream and reality and to keep going, we simply had to want it. We had lots of times when we were tired. We didn't want to stop, mind you. Just rest - for a long time. Usually around the time of a pregnancy. lol! But my 2nd child actually gave me some weird energy even before she got here and I was going nonstop for about 2 years after she got here before I needed another break. The things that helped get me through those times when self-motivation was practically nil was just being around other people trying to do the same thing. I had joined groups like Ladies Who Launch and worked with an incubator group for a few weeks - just me, about 5 other women in transition, as we were called, and a moderator. It was so darn inspiring and invigorating. I read books and watched business shows like The Big Idea, which is off the air now, but other shows like Your Business on CNBC fill that gap pretty well. I network a lot and am a member of a few groups, but my primary networking group is called Savor the Success. I LOVE LOVE LOVE them. The founder, Angela Jia Kim, and everyone really are so very motivational, always willing to help. Angela's expertise is amazing and she's got that mind like a steel trap. Once she meets you, she knows you and she thinks of ways to help grow your business. I have attended their conference, as I did with Ladies Who Launch, and again the stories of other entrepreneurs can really get you going. But to actually get going, you have to work your business like your life depends on it.

Ramona of Village Works EnterprisesWith full-time jobs, working the business means nights, weekends, holidays, vacations, lunch hours -- you make it work because you love it. You have to love it or it will drain you. You don't need a lot of money to start but you do need time, a willingness to color outside the lines, and if you have support, all the better. You have to know what you're good at and do that, but you can't neglect the other stuff that you may not enjoy. Eventually you get help to do the stuff you don't enjoy, but from the start a business needs planning and strategy. (We learned this the heard way. Please don't ignore the planning stage.) Marketing, sales, networking, customer service, etc. Each of those requires planning. We were fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants types in the beginning even though my creative ways were balanced by my partner's logical, practical ways. A lot of time in the beginning you just do what you can and need to because it's easier to be reactive than proactive. Bu eventually you have to stop and make a plan. Take the time because it's worth it and things flow smoother with a plan. Consistency also takes planning and effort. Customers need to see consistency before they will really trust you for the long haul. Did I mention you need a plan?

This past year has actually been our best ever and the difference, besides finally making good plans, was another thing an entrepreneur needs - help. My mother and brother are graphic designers and worked with us to get going. Other members of my family gave time and money. They all still help. Ramona's family has pitched in financially and has been our assembly line. They still ask to do more. In 2010, we added on the financial investment of working with a coach and a virtual assistant. The costs can seem prohibitive, but you can be creative with this too or start really, really small. I was able to start really small with the coach and it's been a huge help. I believe in telling people what you need and not taking on something just because someone else says you should. The coach I work with now was a quiet voice that stood out among a lot of really boisterous ones that I had happily listened to over the years because they were such cheerleaders, but I was never quite moved to invest in one of them. This coach, Sandy Martini, spoke the things I felt. She wasn't pushy or pitchy or hyped up. She felt in line with our way of doing things and that's how we operate. We work with people we feel are in line with our way of doing things, from the artists to the people who cut our puzzles - sometimes that extends to the customer too. That how everything feels authentic and how we are able to pass that authentic feeling on to our customers.

Kerri:  For readers who aren't familiar with your work - YET - can you tell us about the products you are selling?

Monica:  We sell a variety of jigsaw puzzles:
  1. Greeting card jigsaw puzzles, which are all original artwork. You write your message on the back, break up the pieces and mail. Envelope included.
  2. Children's puzzles - also original artwork. We want to inspire children and we started a line called "Yes, I Can!" The first one was based on the 2008 election of our first African-American president. We extended that theme to a coloring puzzle and an inspirational Dream Big puzzle and we even have blank puzzles for people who want to do their own thing.
  3. Puzzle bouquets - these are puzzles that look like bouquets of flowers. The message on the basket can be customized.
  4. Pre-designed puzzles that people can customize
  5. Photo jigsaw puzzles - send us an image and we can just turn that into a puzzle or we can add some graphic treatment.
  6. Traditional art puzzles - we don't have this on the site yet but we have been working on one for a couple of months now and the project got bigger when we decided we needed to add an educational component to it so it can be just the puzzle or that additional piece (that shall remain a mystery for now) for kids or whomever finds it helpful.
We can even do puzzles drawn by hand - but that's a little treat we're still developing for our customers.
The puzzles are traditional cardboard - REALLY quality. Not that flimsy, cheap stuff - and we have wooden and magnetic ones too. There are about 25 different sizes and piece counts right now, and a couple of shapes like a teddy bear, dinosaur and a heart. We go as small as 2x2, 4-piece puzzles up to 18x24, 551-pieces. We are always working to increase the size and piece counts we offer, though.  We can customize EVERYTHING. We create shapes (we have a child-shaped one so far) and specific piece counts if you want something we don't already have. Sometimes we need a decent minimum to do something brand new for someone, but never be afraid to ask us because you never know what we're already doing. We may be able to work out a deal.

What we were really excited to offer in 2010 is price matching, money-back guarantees and to be able to say we can do most orders in 2 weeks or less (after the customer approves the artwork) and that's during the holidays too! We explain more about why should buy a Village Works puzzle on our site so you can see all you get.

The thing about our puzzles is they are so versatile. They are great for their traditional uses, but you can also do invitations, favors, business marketing, thank you cards, change of address cards, birth announcements, sports team photos, school photos....so much stuff! We usually use boxes and tins to package the puzzles, but when we do custom jobs, Ramona and I treat each one individually and look for packaging to fit the occasion. We'll find what you want, but we'll give you some thoughts about ways to improve it too. We have our own artists and graphic designers who all have different styles. You just get so much more than what you see on our site because we don't send out anything we don't love. And puzzles are a perfect fundraiser too because the more you sell, the better the production price can be and in turn the more money you can raise for your organization. And when you do a fundraiser with us, if you choose, you get your own page on our website with a unique url and form for people to fill out, but we can send you something to print out as well or we'll do it for you. Some people are more tree conscious than others. :-)

We are really easy to keep up with on Facebook and Twitter. And people who opt-in to our newsletter (you can choose weekly or monthly) are automatically members of our Bronze Puzzlers loyalty group, which has a few perks of its own. You get bumped up to Silver Puzzler after your first purchase.

We know there are other companies out there doing puzzles, but most of them are just doing photo puzzles and some of them offer puzzles for fun too, but take a look at their art then take a look at ours. Compare their quality to ours. Come on! We are SO much more colorful and fun - and our puzzles aren't bad either! lol!

Kerri:  So what's next for Monica Dennis and Village Works?

Monica:  Groupon! We heard about them when the company wasn't yet 1-year-old and for a company likes ours that thrives on bulk production, Groupon seemed perfect! The problem was they were focused on brick-and-mortar businesses and getting people to do things locally. It makes perfect sense, but what about us online businesses that can service the world, you know? Still we emailed, we called, we had out virtual assistant email. We watched them grow and finally come to Connecticut then we thought, "Now! Surely now!" But nope. Not quite.

Well, Nov. 19, 2010 was the day Oprah did her Favorite Things episode and she listed Groupon as one of her favorite things. Now, I don't watch Oprah that much like I used to years ago so even though I knew that episode was coming up I didn't know when. You know who told me about it? Pete - from Groupon. He called me that very night, asked me how I was doing and told me they were insanely busy because they were just listed as one of Oprah's favorite things. Then he asked if we wanted to do a deal in Fairfield County. Um, heck yeah! He explained how they were finally branching out to online businesses and how he thought Village Works would be great for this. I was bouncing off the walls at the thought of not only finally working with them, but doing so right after they had just gotten the best endorsement a business can possibly get right now. We planned a conference call with Ramona on the line for another day and we worked it all out. It was a matter of getting the information together and then waiting for a date. But right around the new year, Pete was transferred to a different department - Oklahoma.

So you want to know what's next for us? Because of Pete's transfer, our Fairfield County feature deal not only has a tentative date now, but Pete held on to us as his client and he has already made us a side deal in Oklahoma City too! You'll see us there from January 31st through February 2nd!

I can't tell you how excited we are to have this much exposure at one time. We started this because we wanted to help children and, ultimately, our community. We want to have a nonprofit side to the business that can focus on philanthropy. We also want this business to show our kids that you can choose the route of a traditional job, like my husband - and me and my partner too, for now - or you can pave your own path, but you can be fulfilled either way you go as long as you are true to you and your abilities. My children see that in me and my husband, who loves his job too. Ramona's daughter sees that in her. All of this is our goal. We're making that dream come true - please, please pardon the pun - piece by piece.

Kerri:  Monica, thank you so much for all of this information, and I hope the Village Works Enterprises efforts are HUGE and SUCCESSFUL in 2011!

January 28, 2011

Diabetes Goal Bingo!

Recently, I reconnected with a long-lost local PWD named Ryan.  Last time Ryan and I saw one another, we were talking about diabetes goal-setting and dealing with wicked bouts of burnout.  And this week I received an email from him with a freaking brilliant idea about how to stay motivated towards setting - and reaching -  diabetes-related goals.

"I've had this 'pyramid' for about three months now.  Just something that I keep near my desk to keep me focused on my diabetes.  After completion of the pyramid I have no clue what I will do but some kind of celebration will be in order," he wrote, and attached a slide to his image.  And when I opened it, I was like "whoa."

He had created a pyramid of his diabetes goals.  Tangible goals - real life goals - that are both achievable and ambitious, all at once.  I thought this was so clever because it is a constant but non-threatening reminder of what diabetes goals are most top-of-mind for him.  (Also, having a celebration at the end of that pyramid completion sounds like a quality idea.  Perhaps a Fudgy the Whale?)

I've been working towards gaining better control of my diabetes (and overall health) lately, and I love the idea of something I can print out, stick to my fridge, and remain inspired by.  I liked the idea of a pyramid, but I kept picturing a huge Bingo hall in my mind, with a whole bunch of PWDs sitting at the tables with glucose tabs and bingo markers at the ready.  But the trick wasn't getting four in a row - it was filing the whole card.

I thought about my own, personal goals and created this:

Diabetes bingo.  Have at it, Google.
There are a few not-necessarily-diabetes-related goals on there (like "lose 6 pounds," which is because I'm still trying to de-flump), but there are a lot of diabetes goals that aren't unique to my particular circumstances.  Since I'm trying to emerge from some diabetes burnout, my goals aren't as tight as they were a few months ago (see also:  the slow progression from an A1C over 8 to one under 7.5).  But these are real, and I'm hoping to fill the card within six months.  :)  Thanks for the fun idea, Ryan!

What would be on your bingo card

January 27, 2011

I Can Only Use One Word?

ONE WORD!  And please use the letters S, X, C, and E in your response.A few weeks ago, the WEGO Health editorial team was hitting up the Twitterverse, asking people to finish the Tweet:  "My health in one word is _______."

My health, in one word, is VARIABLE.  As are my emotions related to it. 

Since that question was asked on a day when I was watching giant Ms and Ws dance on my Dexcom graph, I wasn't feeling empowered or particularly rah rah.  I was pissed, because despite the fact that I had woken up at the exact same time and had eaten the exact same breakfast and taken the exact same insulin dose as the day before, the results were completely different.  (One post-prandial was 146 mg/dl and the other was 288 mg/dl.  What the fern?)  So "variable" was a tamer way of expressing other "one words" I could have used, like "frustrating," "infuriating," "stressful," and "bogus." 

However, if you asked me to finish that Tweet on Monday, when I felt like I had things figured out, I would have said, "My health, in one word, is achievable."  Or "resilient." "Unflappable." "Strong."  And it makes me wonder - are these positive words I'm using to describe my health, or myself?  The negative words seem to point their wordy little fingers right at diabetes itself, but the positive ones seem to give the PWD a pat on the back.  (And rightfully so, because a day of in-range blood sugars isn't because of diabetes; it's the result of the hard work of the person with it.)

Which is why "variable" seems to be the best word to describe my health, and my life, with diabetes.  Every day includes diabetes, but not every day plays out the same way.  Some mornings, I wake up to a flatlined Dexcom and a meter reading that would make my endocrinologist dole out a shiny gold star.  But other mornings, the Dexcom is hollering at me and my endo would probably poke me with a stick and tell me to stop sleeping through high alarms.   (She's very nice, and I don't think she'd actually poke me with a stick.  Maybe she'd stick marshmallows on the end of a stick and poke me with that, which is what Chris and I have threatened to do to the cats in efforts to gently punish them.  Marshmallow punches.  Holy digression there.)

Diabetes is unpredictable.  Hard to tame.  Karen called it "complicated." Cherise called it "wacko."  It's demanding and pushy and relentless and difficult.  It's a child throwing a tantrum.  It's a lion with an attitude problem. It's ever-changing.  It's variable.  

How would you describe your health, in one word?

January 26, 2011

Joe Solowiejczyk and CWD.

Back in 2009, when I attended the Children With Diabetes "Friends for Life" conference for the first time, I had the opportunity to check out the "It's Not Just a Numbers Game" session with Joe Solowiejczyk.  It was awesome!

From that entry: 

Joe Solowiejczyk"I schedule my diabetes depression days," he said.  "I plan them and then I tell everyone I know to call me every hour and tell me how courageous I am."  He laughed.  "After about an hour, I'm sick of it and I just want to move on with my day."

I like Joe.  I like listening to him talk and I respect him for managing diabetes for over 47 years.  I respect him for saying, "It took years for me to be able to say, 'I'm having a hard time with diabetes,' without it being a chip on my integrity."  This statement resonated for me because I think people want to read blogs about diabetes and find a lot of upbeat moments and happiness.  But the truth of life is that there is an emotional gamut to be run and we have the right to run it, diabetes or no diabetes.

"You can not like it and still do it.  Hating it [diabetes] and doing it are not mutually exclusive states." 

He talked about the daily duties of a person with diabetes, from waking up in the morning and testing to all of the bits and pieces of precision management that are required along the way.  The possibility of a cure was mentioned.  And while many diabetics say "I'll eat the contents of an entire Crumb's Bakery," or "I'll drink orange juice FOR FUN," Joe smiled gently.   

"If there's a cure?  What will I do?  I'll sit on a park bench for three weeks and stare at the sky and do nothing."  

Joe has a video that's up on the ChildrenWithDiabetes site, and it's from that same 2009 Friends for Life session.  If you haven't had a chance to see him talk live, you can catch some of his personality and inspirational words in this video

Just watching this video again today has made me smile, and made me less frustrated with the 221 mg/dl I woke up with this morning.  Thank you again, Joe.

January 25, 2011

Guest Blog: #hcsm and a Prescription for the Health Care Industry

Today I am very proud to be hosting a guest post from Dana LewisDana Lewis is an interactive marketing specialist at a non-profit health system serving the Greater Seattle area. However, her tweets and thoughts (ranging from #hcsm to gluten-free cupcakes and elephants for BSparl) are always her own. She has had type 1 diabetes for eight years, celiac disease for two years, and is a fierce advocate for the idea that people with chronic illnesses are people first - and that no one deserves to be labeled by a disease.

Dana created the #hcsm chats on Twitter back in January 2009, and the online discussion has engaged and inspired hundreds of patients, doctors, and health care professionals alike.  She's offered to share a little bit of her story, and I'm looking forward to seeing how far her passion for #hcsm takes her!

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Dana Lewis:  BSparl's favorite long-distance baby sitter.  :)It's hard to understand the power of health care in social media until you experience it first hand. For those of us with chronic illnesses, it's a no-brainer to seek and find support from individuals (and groups) online. But two years ago, the concept of using social media for any purpose in health care beyond patient to patient support was foreign to the greater health care industry.

I'm obviously biased, but I believe the creation of the weekly #hcsm (health communications & social media) chats online played a role in helping social media become more adopted in the health care world.

#hcsm was the first regular health care hashtag and chat, which quickly evolved into a well-established community. Although I'm not a blogger, I am an avid lurker in the DOC and often experience the numerous and varied benefits of health care & social media first hand. As I began working in health communications, it seemed natural to explore social media further to learn from others established in the field. Thus, #hcsm was born simply out of a desire to have an ongoing conversation about social media in health care.

Fast forward to today - #hcsm is a growing, vibrant community with global health care impact. #hcsm has several "sister" chats in Europe, Asia, Australia/New Zealand, Latin America, and more. Social media in health care is becoming mainstream, or at the very least explored regularly, around the world.

However, the principle of #hcsm is removing the barriers so that students and established professionals can all learn from one another; so that doctors and patients can understand each others' motivations and obstacles to communication; and so that in the end, we're making a difference in health care.

While social media in health care has come along way, there are still basic elements of health communication that need to be fixed. My blanket, non-medical prescription for anyone, whether they are a doctor or patient, includes:

1. Do not label any individual or group by their disease. Call yourself what you will, but don't force a label upon another individual. We don't accept labeling in our society by gender, age, race, or ethnicity - why should we allow discrimination by disease?

2. Realize that not all patients are the same - each have different motivations, and each have a different health care (and life) experience. People don't (usually) choose to be "sick" or "ill"; we didn't ask for type 1 diabetes - we just happen to have it. Regardless, we're people first and patients second.

If you could add an item to this prescription list for the health care world (after a cure for diabetes & other diseases), what would it be?

*   *   *

Thanks for posting, Dana!  (And BSparl says thank you for all of the elephant fun treats!  We are working on animal sounds and so far we have "meow" for kitty and "pffffft" for elephant. /sidenote)

January 24, 2011

Hawkey Playah.

I clicked the button on my Dexcom receiver and saw a "212 mg/dl" with two arrows pointed straight on up.  This was the third effortless high in as many hours, and I was convinced my pump site had crapped out.

"I am going to run to the bathroom.  I need to switch out my site," I said to Chris, moving my napkin from my lap to the table.  "Do you mind sitting here ..."

"At this giant hibachi table all by myself?  Sure," he grinned, gesturing towards all the empty seats.  

"I know.  I hope this table fills up while I'm gone.  Otherwise this is going to be awkward, just us and the hibachi chef guy."  I patted his shoulder as I stood up from the table, the small, gray inset tucked into my hand. 

I am not a fan of doing site changes outside of the comfort of my home. When I'm at home, I prefer to put the new infusion set, insulin cartridge, the bottle of Humalog, and any other necessary accoutrements on the bathroom counter.  I like looking in the mirror to see where the site is going to end up, because I have specific preferences as to where it lines up with the waistband of my pants or the sleeves of my shirts.  Picky little parsnip that I am, I like putting my new sites on in a measured manner.  

So when it became clear that my pump site has conked out on me and needed to be changed immediately, my first thought was "thank goodness I carry a purse big enough to throw a spare set into" and then "Oh shoot - now I have to do this in the public bathroom?"

I went into the ladies' room and was greeted by very dark lighting, two large stalls, and no bathroom counter.  (The sink appeared to be suspended in midair.  I think it was deliberately trying to mess with me.)  I casually went to the stall and disconnected the infusion set from my arm.  The cannula was piped with blood, so I knew it was definitely uncooperative.  I set the pump to start rewinding, and the BUZZZZZZ of the pump motor echoed in the empty bathroom.

"Man, that never sounds so loud at home," I said to myself.  "Awesome."

I finished disconnecting and rewinding/priming the pump, and I stepped into the hand-washing area of the bathroom so I could use the mirror to line up my new site.  I pulled up the back of my shirt enough to see my hip, and then placed the inset against my skin.

And then bathroom door opened and a friendly-looking woman came in, just in time to see me pressing the buttons on the inset, pushing the infusion set needle into the skin on the top of my hip.

"Oh, I'm sorry!" she said.  "I didn't mean to interrupt ... what ... whatever you're doing."

"No worries."  I felt a little embarrassed - nothing like being caught with your shirt all gathered and a needle in your side.  "I am a diabetic and I have to fix my insulin pump.  I needed to use the mirror ... it's totally a medical thing."  The words flapped out of my mouth like spastic birds.  

She walked over to get a better look at what I was doiThis is a wicked hawkey playah.ng.  "Insulin pump?  My brother is a diabetic.  Has been for almost twenty years.  He's forty and just got married.  I'm having dinner with him right now!"  She smiled and gestured towards my pump.  "I wish he'd go on that thing.  He's been doing shots for like ... evah.  He has thought about a pump but he hasn't done it yet."

"Whatever keeps you healthy is best, right?"  The new infusion set shot in with a quiet shunk, and I tucked the pump back into the pocket of my jeans after taking a correction bolus.   

"True.  He's done this for a long time.  He and his wife are talking about having kids.  Do you have kids?  Can you have kids?"  

"I have a nine month old.  She's happy and healthy.  And so am I."

The woman put her hand to her heart.  "Oh doll, that's wonderful.  I hope my brother can have kids.  He'd be a good dad.  But if he goes on a pump like you've got there, he'll have to be careful with it.  Gettin' it knocked around, you know?  He's a wicked hawkey playah."

"Hockey is awesome.  Give your brother my best, okay?"

Back out in the dining room, a quick look at the Dexcom showed me that the correction bolus was working, and that the new site was on track.  And from across the crowded room, I saw the woman sitting at a table with her group, the wicked hawkey playah at her side.

January 21, 2011

From Abby: Forgetting.

While the snow piles up outside, I'm busy aiming to hit a writing deadline this morning.  So I talked with Abby the other day and it seems like she's hit a patch of burnout, much like the one I'm going through.  She's offered to post today about "forgetting," and how, even though it seems impossible, it's sometimes too easy to forget about the whole diabetes thing.

*   *   *

Help me remember ... something ...I’m 23 years old. I don't have Alzheimer's. I don’t have any kind of dementia. I’ve never lost my keys for more than three minutes. I remember my homework even though I have a planner that I write it in and never look at.

But yet yesterday I didn’t check my blood sugar until 5 pm. Seriously? My average number of checks in my pump is like seven. I habitually grab my test kit when my alarm goes off in the morning, but yesterday I didn’t set an alarm.  It was my first day to sleep past 5:45am in a week (clinicals), so I just slept and slept and slept. Then I woke up and stuffed my face with cereal, bolused without measuring or checking first, then lay in my bed some more.

After some tedious errand running, it’s 5 pm and time for dinner (or "Dinner: Part One," I guess, because sleeping until 11 am messes that whole meal title thing up) and I realize I hadn’t checked all day. A 157 mg/dl shows up on the tiny meter screen. I didn’t check again until bedtime (10:30pm - don’t judge me, I was seriously sleep deprived) and I saw an 87 mg/dl. Days like that make me think “I can forget about diabetes and things turn out just fine.

This is NOT a good mindset.

An even worse example: When I bolus first thing in the morning for breakfast, then proceed to get ready for school/work/wherever I’m going, and forget to eat breakfast until I’m walking out the door. I usually have bloused for toast on such occasions, or a half bagel or something I can bring with me, but if I forget to eat until I walk out the door, I’m extremely low (I don’t feel lows in the morning until the 40mg/dL area) halfway through my travels to my destination. Whoops.

Another "good" one: I wake up to a “Low Reservoir” alarm and a fun aqua-colored light on my pump in the morning, and I see something like 13 units of insulin left. Somehow, I forget to change my site before I leave for a 10 hour day at school/work. Running out of insulin halfway through my day with a whole extra site change but no extra insulin with me is the most interesting, and most frustrating, "forget."

How do I simply forget that I’ve bolused, or forget to check my blood sugar, or forget to refill my insulin? How is it that I can forget about something so big, like diabetes?

I need like, a little creature on my shoulder to remind me of these things.

Except that would be weird.

*   *   *

I know I'm not the only PWD who has left the house with 10u of insulin left in my pump and without a backup bottle for a refill.  (Or dreamed of a "reminder creature," only I can't decide if I want it to be cute and snuggly-friendly or something with fangs.  Still debating.  /digression) How do you guys help remind yourself to bring and to do all the "stuff" that comes with maintaining diabetes care?

January 20, 2011

What Dexcom Shows Me.

I'm very rarely caught without my Dexcom, and I've been wearing a sensor for the better part of the last three years.  But wearing a sensor doesn't mean that every low is caught and every high is avoided.  What it does mean is that I see every high and low in a big picture format, leaving me sometimes with more information than I know how to process.  So when I finally (FINALLY) have a no-hitter, I want to share it.  Because damn it, I was proud to have 'colored within the lines' for a full 24 hours … it's been a long time since I've been able to say that.  And it's also been a long time since I've cared to try.


The Dexcom graphs don't always look like this, though.  I have more days than I'd like to admit where the graph looks like a giant letter M.  Or a W.  Or an M and a W with an ampersand or some other mess in between.  I don't have a lot of pictures of the crap graphs because they don't inspire my inner photographer.  ;) Instead, they inspire me to hide the receiver in the bottom of my purse and not look at it for a few hours.  But I like the no-hitters.  I want to dress them in sassy hats and do Glamour Shots with them.  And I want to post them because I feel like there are a lot of "OMG I can't do this" posts on here, and it feels good to say that I had a good day, you know?

Last night on the weekly #dsma (Diabetes Social Media Advocacy) chats on Twitter, the question asked was "Do you believe the A1C results you see posted online?"  Last night, I said that I am not sure, but after thinking about it for a bit, I do believe the results posted online.  Almost exclusively.  That's part of what makes this community so notable and so impactive.  This diabetes online community isn't known for its jabbing remarks and cruel behavior.  We treat one another as extended family, and respect for those who are struggling is just as high for those who are succeeding.

And I love that.  I love that I've found support and camaraderie in both my well-managed numbers throughout pregnancy and in my recent crummy A1C/burnout cycle.  I need that, as a person with diabetes, because it's the emotional support that helps lift me out of a funk, and also helps me maintain a strong streak.

So yeah.  A no-hitter.  And the power and honesty of the diabetes online community.  I'm celebrating both. 

January 19, 2011

Weight a Minute ...

"Larry Bird, I'm hot on your heels ..."

I actually said this.  Under my breath, of course, and no one could hear me, but I still said it out loud.  And I meant it. Last night was my first night back at the gym - for real - since BSparl was born.  I've been exercising since her birth, but avoiding any weight training or true exertion for several reasons:

  • The c-section made me feel ... tender.  That scar, so low on my abdomen, felt strange and a little uncomfortable at times, and I feel like it took a long time to heal.  I favored it because I was afraid to put too much strain on it.  (In my mind, I had this awful image of the wound giving way and my belly contents spilling out.  Only I never pictured MY belly contents.  Instead, I always pictured the stomach of a great white shark, so like a bucket, a tire, and a license plate would spill out.)  That, and trying to do any kind of abdominal exercise those first few weeks post-surgery were comical attempts.  I would lie on the ground, try to sit up, and nothing would happen.  Tumbleweeds would roll by.  Good times.

  • Wrist issues also impeded my workouts.  Before I was pregnant, I had tendinitis that kept me from doing a proper weight workout, but after the pregnancy, that mommy-induced De Quervain's tenosynovitis hit hard and had me in physical therapy for weeks.  And that pain is still in play.  So lifting anything has been a struggle, and doing free weight workouts hurts my hands.  (Wah wah, I know.  But this issue isn't going away, and I'm pissed!)

  • Lastly, scheduling made things tough as well.  With our work schedules and deadlines and baby needs and moving into our new place and construction and holidays ... and on and on, it's been hard for me to work in a workout.  I know "you have to make time," but for everyone who tells me that, I want to punch them (politely) in the face.  Finding the time, and then finding the energy, has been a struggle.

Excuses, excuses, right?  But this week, my friends and I booked a trip to a warm and tropical location for a vacation at the end of March, and I'd very much like to enjoy how I fIn my shark belly, there are also palm trees.  And tin cans.eel and look by the time that trip rolls around. So last night, I was back at the gym and finally returned to the weight room.  Even if I can't handle free weights at this time (thank you, evil wrists), I can do leg exercises.  And I can tone up by using my own body weight as resistance.  Even with the excuse-laden hurdles I want to blame my laziness on, there are things I can do to get back into better shape.  I just have to do them

Now I have a goal, and it's not so ambitious that I will burn out in a week.  My goal isn't to weigh a certain amount or hit the gym X number of times.  It's totally emotional.  I just want to put on a bathing suit, and to feel decent in it.  I want to feel a bit healthier, a lot stronger, and a little less flumpy. 

And with the promise of palm trees and white sand on the horizon, I've found some incentive.  :)

January 18, 2011

Trenta?

Back in early December, I was at a Starbucks in Boston, and I ordered an iced coffee.  (Yes, in December.  I don't care if it's snowing - iced coffee rules all year long.)  The girl behind the counter asked what size I wanted, and since I don't speak "Starbucks," I just asked for a large.

"We have a new large.  It's a trenta," the barista said, grabbing a plastic cup and filling it with ice.

I had no idea what a "trenta" was.  I didn't really know what a "venti" was.  Every time I ordered something at Starbucks, it ended up being something I didn't really expect.  So I was used to winging it. 

"Sure.  Please leave a little room for half and half, and I'm good to go."  

And then she hands me this basin of coffee.  Something I literally could have sat in and drank, Augustus Gloop-style.  

"Seriously?  This is a monster coffee," I exclaimed, unable to keep my thoughts in my own head.

"I know."  The barista grinned.  "It's rolling out soon.  We are offering it to our customers now, though."

The coffee was big, but I thought I could handle it.  Until about an hour later, when my eyeballs felt like they were going to leap from my head, and I was convinced that I could solve complex scientific equations if I just CONCENTRATED HA HA HA okay?!  The rest of my work day was spent correcting typos that were made by my scrambled hands, and I think I drove home with my head hanging out the window like a golden retriever. 

Buddies.

There is such a thing as too much coffee.  When a coffee makes my blood sugar go from 100 mg/dl to 175 mg/dl without even adding cream, that's a problem.  Caffeine has always given me a buzz, and it's also given me a blood sugar spike, depending on my body status (see also: pregnant, lower BMI, higher muscle ratio.).  But the arrival of the disastrously awesome trenta and the subsequent Tweets about it and news articles referencing it, etc., I'm beginning to think that maybe - MAYBE - I should cut back on the coffee a bit.  It's not healthy to be fueled almost entirely by insulin and hazelnut coffee. 

Trenta.  Seriously?  Is this necessary?  Should I give some thought to cutting back a bit, now that BSparl is older?  Or should I just embrace my inner addict and dive in with reckless abandon? 

January 17, 2011

Nine.

Dear Little Bird,

First off, who told you that you could start crawling?  I never gave you permission to do such things.  About a week ago, you just up and decided that it was time to get from here to there using your chubby legs to propel you across your bedroom floor.  Your knees are red from shuffling along on the ground, but the grin of satisfaction is awesome.  You're fast, kid.  I blink and you've scuttled across the room in a blink, aiming to sink your teeth (gums?) into the lamp cord/door jam/cat tail. 

And yeah, we should probably talk about the cats, sweetie.  Here's the deal:  they aren't edible.  They also have claws.  Your desire to scoot over to them and give them a hug isn't good, because their tolerance will not last.  (Also, why do you want to touch their toes?  You are constantly poking Siah in the feet, and she lifts her food and moves it the slightest bit, and then you poke again.  Endless cycle.)  Thankfully, we have one cat who wants to be your buddy:  Siah.  You and Siah are two little nerds who hang out on the bed together and laugh at each other.  (Yes, Siah laughs at her.  It's a silent laugh.  Looks like this.)

You have also figured out how to make your mouth imitate some sounds.  "Baaa baaa" and "daaa daaa" and "maaa maaaa" and some mangled version of what we believe is "kitty."  (Sounds like "kitchy," but you say it every time the cats come wandering into frame, so I'm sticking with my theory.)  But it's another step towards talking, and I can't wait to hear all the thoughts roaming around in your head.

Nine months old.  Yowza.

Now that you're crawling, you're also investigating everything.  Including my pump.  If I'm playing on the floor with you, you sometimes drop everything and laser-focus on my hip, where the pump is clipped.  Then you try and press the buttons and grab the tubing and all of a sudden the pump is wailing Fur Elise.   (It's like "HEY!  Elise!")  You also like my meter - the beeps make you excited and twice now you've grabbed the strip from the top before the five second countdown completed.  (And in my head, I think "Cha-ching - one dollar.")  In addition to my insulin pump, you're also pretty excited about the plants in the living room (landscape architect in the making?), the cat food (veterinarian in the making?), and the bathtub (Steve Zissou in the making?).  Basically, you're excited about everything.

This month was a busy one, with your second trip to Florida for the Children with Diabetes Marco Island Family Weekend. Thanks to the constant care of your mom and dad (and also some surrogate snuggles from Uncle Scott), the trip was manageable, but traveling with a baby is hard work.  (See also:  flight delayed, landed five hours behind schedule, luggage didn't make it to our airport, etc etc et-freaking-cetera)  As much as we hate to be away from you, I think you're staying with Grammie next time we travel. But, for the record, you were a good kid on those flights.  You wooed the stewardesses and shared your Happy Baby puffs with everyone within a ten foot radius.  (Those things fly through the air almost effortlessly.  I think the lady sitting behind us had as many in her lap as you did.)

As always, we love you.  We sometimes sneak in while you're sleeping at night and we stand over your crib, marveling at how big you're getting and how old you are already and how much we can't even begin to remember what life was like before you and all your stuff moved in.  You make our world a better place, Birdzone

Now please, for crying out loud, stop biting the cats.

Love always,
Mommy

January 16, 2011

Sunday Snapshots: Banana Nutella Bread.

This banana bread recipe, minus the butter and with half of the brown sugar, swapping the white flour for whole wheat flour ... slopping in some extra mashed bananas and a dollop of applesauce.  And then swirling in some Nutella:

Totally low-carb ... right?

Makes for some delicious afternoon snacking in the Sparling household.  Sucks when baking is your forte, as a diabetic.  :)  But at least it was delicious!

January 14, 2011

Attack of the Cupcakes.

New York City was the site of this week's NBR awards, so Chris and I made sure we went into the city early enough to do some really important things.  Really, really important things that can change the course of humanity.

I'm talking about cupcakes, of course.

I don't know what it is about cupcakes that brings me such joy, but I am their target market.  I love the super sweet frosting, the spongy cake, and the portion sizes (much easier to get a small cupcake versus a small ... pie).  I enjoy every kind of cupcake, from the ghetto Stop & Shop ones to the specialty ones that cost a ridiculous four dollar price tag.  Like the ones at Crumbs.  They are my favorites.  (But four bucks?  For a cupcake?  Ridiculous, yet, I still pay it now and eat it and like it.)

While we were in New York, we visited Crumbs.  Land of massive, 500 calorie cupcakes.  To prepare for battle, I dosed well in advance of our cupcake excursion (remember, I was on Levemir and Humalog pens for that trip) and started out at a blood sugar of 95 mg/dl.

The pre-cupcake starting mark.

I had the Raspberry Swirl cupcake (not a big chocolate fan):

OMG delicious.  And 500 calories.  Bah.

and Chris had the White Hot Chocolate one:

Yes, those are little toasted marshmallows on top.  Holy awesome.

And thankfully, the diabetes gods played nicely for the afternoon, landing me at 143 mg/dl about an hour and a half after indulging.

The post-cupcake lucky landing.

If nothing else, the streets of New York City provide just the right amount of walking exercise to tame even the most frosted of beasts.  ;)

January 13, 2011

A Pump Vacation.

Chris created this image ages ago.  I still love it.  :)That insulin pump is attached to me pretty much 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  There's very little down time when it comes to being a "pumper," and for the most part, I don't have attachment issues. The tubing, the infusion sets ... doesn't really bother me.

Except when I'm attending a dressier event.  Aside from my wedding day (where my pump was strategically hidden in the folds of my gown), I've always run into issues when it comes to making my pump an effortless part of my outfits.  For me, this has nothing to do with tubing and everything to do with the overall size of the pump and the desired silhouette.  Because battling baby weight and an insulin pump lump kind of sucks when you're trying to look pretty.

Over the weekend, I decided to take a brief vacation from my pump because Chris and I were attending the National Board of Review awards gala in New York City.  (He was award Best Original Screenplay for 2010.  I am always proud of him.)  And part of attending this event meant potentially having a few photos taken, and I sure as hell didn't want any pump bulges or wires popping up.  Nor did I want disco boobs blowing my cover.  I didn't want to have diabetes discussions that night, but instead just wanted to enjoy the night and celebrate with Chris.

So on Sunday morning, I cracked open a bottle of Levemir and called in a renewal for my Humalog pens.  Taking some cues from the last time I took a pump vacation (see: white-water rafting) and from some diabetes message boards, I took a look at my total daily dose for basal-only (12.4u) and gave it a bit of a bump (to 15u), then split that dose in accordance with how my basal maps out during the day (6u at 9 am, 9u at 9 pm).  It was some rough math, but oddly enough, it worked perfectly. 

Maybe it was because I was testing constantly to confirm that my doses were decent, or maybe it was because I basically wore the battery down on my Dexcom from checking in with it, but in any event, my numbers were solid.  My overnight Dex graphs were flat-lined for two full nights, and running close to 90 mg/dl throughout.  The daytime bumps were trickier (remembering to shoot up a meal dose kept slipping my mind), but I didn't see anything higher than 200 mg/dl during my vacation.  (Even during the event itself, when there was an open bar and lovely food and chocolate lava cake.  Thankfully, sitting next to skinny celebrity types made me pass on the desserts, which was both a blessing for my hips and my blood sugars.  Sort of yay.)

But after the excitement of the gala and then sludging our way back to the hotel in the blizzard-like conditions, and after the 4 am low blood sugar induced by alcohol and a lack of dinner consumption, and after having to set the alarm to make sure I woke up in time to take the Levemir shot for the third day in a row ... after all that, I missed my pump.  So during our drive back home to Rhode Island, with the snow coating 95 North and bags both in our car trunk and under our eyes, I stuck in a new infusion set and reunited with my insulin pump.

For all its tubing and its beeping, for all its battery needs and weird little plastic pieces ... this device makes my diabetes easier to deal with.  I love that I can take a vacation from it for whatever reason I chose, but I am grateful that when I'm ready, I can just stick it back on and move forward.

January 12, 2011

Guest Post: Pump Vacations?

In the midst of a very brief pump vacation myself (more on that later), Moira McCarthy's guest post today really resonated for me.  I know if I told my mother (or my husband, for that matter) that I wanted to take a break from pumping, they'd read "burnout" in that admission.  But sometimes deciding to take a break from certain diabetes things is the opposite of burnout - instead, it can be a sign that a PWD is trying to regain control, bit by bit.  

Thanks for guest posting today, Moira.  Your perspective is invaluable.

*   *   *

The lovely Moira.  :)My college-aged daughter, who has had diabetes since Sesame Street was still a viable TV option, came at me with some big news the other day. She was going to go on shots. Shots, the evil, ruin-my-life treatment plan that I spent the first year of her diagnosis hating, fearing, chasing lows on and basically, feeling like it owned my life.
 
Now, let me say up front: I get it now. Shots have changed. There’s Lantus, for one (I think of NPH as the evil empire of diabetes, sorry), there are cool pens you can tuck away; there are all kinds of plans that make it a snap (well a snap in our D world. The rest of the world would freak out). But I had to think to myself; why the H*** would anyone choose shots over a pump?
 
Here is where mommy’s ego enters. My daughter was one of the very first young children to go on a pump in the Boston area. I did it with the help of on line friends (Thank you Ellen from kidsrpumping). I did it because it just seemed right to me. And okay, I did it so I could be that ultimate superhero: the Champion Diabetes Mom (CDM from here on it). CDM finds the newest and the best. CDM knows not only every type of insulin on the market and their peak patterns, but she can create a few fun anagrams from their names (Hey – who said diabetes can’t be fun?) I was that mom. I want to still be that mom.
 
My daughter was among the very first kids in America to use a CGM (she even used that horrid big one until the smaller one came out). No, she’s not on it now but that’s another discussion (see guest post on teens and freedom at DiabetesMine.com. Ha, ha, ha. And yes, that was a fake laugh). So for the most part, for the going on 14 year’s we’ve been at this, we’ve been trail blazers.
 
But my daughter is in college now. I need to preface this with good news. Despite my endless worries and almost insane fear of the unknown, she came home with a good GPA and a great A1c. Well, not great, but down three full points. Who does that their first semester of college? There were no ER visits, no fearful calls from friends. Sure, she had a few bad days but for the most part, she aced her first semester of majoring in Communications, politics and life with diabetes without the CDM over her shoulder.
 
So just before her endo visit she breaks it to me: she wants shots. She’s tired, she says, of the pump being attached to her (in fairness, other than when she was in the water during a swim meet, in the shower or in the time she was in denial over diabetes, it’s been connected to her body for 12 years. That’s a long time). This has nothing to do with tubing and everything to do with being connected to a disease. A “pump break” as she put it would give her a chance to breath, do something different and just take a break from LOOKINg at her disease 24/7.
 
I’m proud to say CDM kept a straight face. I didn’t react. I tried to just say “that’s cool.” But I suspect I did it in the same way I thought I was being cool way back when a bg of 450 and some ketones would completely freak me out. “No, honey, it will be fine,” my lips would read. Years later in counseling she confessed my eyes said “OMG you’re going to die and you’re going to die now.” Some fake outs take practice.
 
But here’s an interesting thought. I know everything there is to know about the pump. I can function it. I know basals. I was always the one who helped tweak it. When she steps into shot world this week, I won’t know squat. I have to wonder: is this a plan? Is the best thing for my awesome daughter for CDM to take a step back and let her learn to stand on her own? I know there is going to come a time when she goes back on the pump again. I need to know, too, there is going to come a time when she wants my input, advice and help on diabetes. But smart girl she has always been and always will be, she must know in her heart that CDM has to cease to exist. She’s moving toward being that adult PWD. I need to embrace it. And train my eyes to say otherwise.

*   *   *

As parents or caregivers of people with diabetes (CoPWD), do you want to keep your kid pumping/CGMing/technology'ing as much as possible because you think it's for the best?  As PWDs (or CWDs), do you sometimes need a "less is more" approach to diabetes management?

January 11, 2011

Guest Post: Type D Personality.

Jacquie's writing makes me laugh, makes me smirk with recognition, and makes me think.  You can read her blog over at Typical Type 1, and she's also written here before about diabetes and jury duty.  And I'm thrilled that she's agreed to guest post here again, this time writing about the "Type D Personality."  Take it away, Jacquie!

*   *   *

Jacquie, blogger at Typical Type 1I often hear it (or read it online) from others who are living with diabetes: “I'm a control freak. Diabetes made me this way.” Non-diabetics expect the same from me, it seems. They’ll make statements like, “You must be super-disciplined to take care of yourself that way.”

I wish the above statements held true for me, but they are as distant from my reality as humanly possible. In fact, I'm so far away from a Type A personality, I'm barely in the alphabet. Yes, I do my best to keep myself healthy, but I would say that -- as far as self-discipline, ambition and organization go -- diabetes self-care has emerged as my singular talent.

If there is one thing that twenty years with diabetes have taught me, it's that control is mostly an illusion. Sure, I can manage my blood sugar -- count carbs, test basal rates, correct for highs and feed the lows -- but I'm never completely in control. There’s always the possibility that a rogue hormonal surge will send my numbers skyward for an afternoon, or that I'll get a kink in my pump tubing, or that the bagel I had for breakfast wasn't as carb-crazy as I bolused for. And really? I have no choice but to be okay with that. Anything else would drive me even more insane than I already am.

Maybe it's because I expend so much energy on pharmacy trips and cereal measuring that I don't have much left for dusting and bed making. (And, you know, consistently getting to work on time and folding my laundry.) Or maybe the idea that life is inherently uncontrollable has influenced the way I look at everything from unmatched socks to insurance paperwork. With diabetes management, as with a million other things, we can only do our best, and we can only exert control over a few factors.

Of course, it’s possible that I was always destined to be a messy-desk-having, socks-on-the-floor, nap-taking slacker, and that diabetes has nothing to do with it. But I’ll take a life lesson from diabetes – or blame a personality flaw on it -- any time I can.

*   *   *

Does diabetes give your life structure?  Would your life have the same structure if you didn't have diabetes?  Or is this one of those diabetes "chicken and the egg" questions?

January 10, 2011

Oh Sh ...

Oh shit, she's crawling!

This looks like trouble to me.  :) 

Welcome to the world of mobility, birdy.

Weekend for Women 2011!

For the second year running, the Brandy Barnes and her team at Diabetes Sisters are getting together for the Weekend for Women in Raleigh, NC, where women with diabetes can get together and share their experiences.  That, to me, sounds like a ladies-only version of CWD.  (Which also sounds awesome.  Diabetes niche groups are where it's at - customized care!)

Here are the details from the site: 

"The 2011 Weekend for Women Conference Planning Committee invites every woman with diabetes to attend the life-changing conference held in Raleigh, NC on April 29-May 1, 2011 at Marriott City Center.  Festivities begin at 7pm on Friday and end at 12:30 pm on Sunday.  Highlights include gender-specific education sessions, a "Celebration of Strength" Dinner Program, highly respected speakers from various areas of the field of diabetes, and lots of opportunities to engage with other women who are living with diabetes. Please also visit the Exhibit Hall to learn about new developments in the field of diabetes.  Reserve your spot now before the Conference is FULL."

I wish this was an event I was able to attend (but honestly, I'll be up to my eyeballs in birthday cake and balloon animals for my daughter's first birthday party), but once again, I'll be missing the 'Weekend.  But I plan to be there in 2012.  So you'll just have to let me know how awesome the 2011 weekend is!

January 07, 2011

Photo Collections on my Blackberry.

The photos on my real camera are easily grouped - Thanksgiving dinner, putting up our Christmas tree, holiday dinners, trip to the aquarium ... clumps of photos fall neatly into event categories. But the photos on my phone are completely random.  Picking through these photos made me laugh out loud. 

THESE are the moments I chose to capture??

A drive to Boston
This was from a drive into Boston that was warm, sunny, and with a gorgeous blue sky.  Safe driver that I am, I snapped a photo.  SAFELY.  This was safe.  Ish.

Cat in antlers.  Like you do.
This photo was from a Reader's Digest cover in December.  I took a photo of it and sent it to Chris, saying "I promise not to become this festive with the cats."  And his response was "I saw that cover the other day and almost sent it to YOU!"  (Regardless of the addition of Ms. BSparl, I'm still sort of the crazy cat lady.)

Dexcom sitting pretty in the car
This is a shot of my Dexcom receiver, lodged above the gear shift in my car.  I usually have the receiver stashed in my purse, but for longer car rides, I like having it out and readily accessible.  This is the closest I can get to Charlie Kimball's set up, with the thing lashed to the steering wheel.  ;)

This cat needs a carseat.
And what Blackberry photo album is complete without a shot of Siah trying to hang out in the car seat?  (Even when we gave her the "No!  Get out of there, Siah!" admonishment, she just sat there, licking her paw and giving us an inferiority complex.)

The great Kissing Balls of Rhode Island
And lastly, the Kissing Balls of Rhode Island. Only $19.95!!  (I actually circled my car back to take a picture of this sign. Only in Rhode Island.)

After looking at all these photos, I'm itching to give the Diabetes 365 project another go.  Last year, I tried but failed miserably because I just didn't have the time to upload the photos.  (I have about 200 out of 365, lost somewhere on the multiple memory cards for my camera.)  But I really love the project, and the images that come as a result of it, so I think I'd like to give it another go.  Anyone doing Diabetes 365 this year?

January 06, 2011

Disco.

Over the holidays, my husband and I had the opportunity to join his agent (who happened to be in town) for dinner.  Grown-up time, sans BSparl.  (I wore tights.  It was a fancier than our average Tuesday night.)

So we all sat down to dinner and while everyone was talking, I reached into my purse to do a quick blood sugar check and to remote bolus for the bread and olive oil that had been placed on the table.  My hands stirred up the contents of my purse, but didn't score the meter.  

"Damn, I know exactly where it is," I mumbled to myself, picturing my meter case on the front seat of our car, which was down the street and tucked into a parking lot.  

Conveniently, I had this scrappy little One Touch Mini rolling around in my purse, so I was able to test, but I was out of luck in the remote bolusing department.  And with my pump tucked discreetly, but snuggly, into the front of my bra (clip against my sternum, buttons on the pump facing out), it wasn't exactly the most readily available medical device.  Not without some seriously awkward self-groping, that is.

Chris was watching me scramble.  "Just pull your napkin up and grab your pump.  No one will notice," he whispered.

"You don't think I should excuse myself to the ladies' room?"

"Nah, go for it."

So while everyone was talking, I reached down the front of my dress and deftly grabbed my insulin pump.  I programmed in the bolus and then went to tuck it back into my outfit without anyone noticing.

Except.

Once you've begun a bolus on the Animas pump, if you press a button while that bolus is administering, it prompts the pump to cancel the bolus.  It's a great safety feature for when you realize, mid-bolus, that you absolutely do NOT want to take five units of Humalog to cover a spinach salad.  But it's not so awesome when you accidentally hit a button while securing the pump to the front of your bra, and it suddenly starts singing a loud song.  And lighting up, providing a strange glow from your chest, not unlike a medicinal disco ball.

"What's that?"  One of our dinner companions asked, looking in my direction but not knowing the noise was coming from my body.

"Sounds like a cell phone!" One of the other dinner guests said, smiling and reaching for another piece of bread.

During the brief distraction, I snagged the pump again and programmed the bolus a second time, then stuck the pump back where it came from without issue.   Disco boobs.  There.  I said it.

"Oh, it's me.  No big deal - all set now.  So as we were saying ..."  I felt the bolus going in, and the pump was quiet again.  No need for me to get into a big explanation of "Oh, this is my INSULIN PUMP and I'm DIABETIC and YES I CAN EAT THE BREAD."  It wasn't what I wanted to talk about that night.  I just wanted to move on, and swiftly.

No one asked any questions, and the night went on to be a very nice one, with excellent food and great company.

And Chris and I definitely laughed our faces off when we got in the car to go home. 

"So do you think your agent and his family think I have some kind of musical ... disco boobs?"

January 05, 2011

The Patdown: Diabetes at the Airport.

Last week, we were at the airport to travel to Marco Island for the CWD Family Weekend.  And we were NOT traveling light, by any stretch.  Chris and I had our suitcases, our laptops, and my diabetes supplies (infusion sets, insulin, test strips, glucose tabs, etc) stashed in a carry on.  Oh, and we also had that giggly baby BSparl, plenty of clothes for her to spit up on, formula, bottles, wipes, diapers, water for mixing the formula, toys, Happy Baby puffs for snacks, her car seat, the car seat base, and the stroller.

Freaking phew. 

In addition to all the junk we were carrying, I was also wearing my Animas Ping and my Dexcom sensor (and carrying the receiver).  Which made me a prime candidate for the airport opt-out search from a TSA employee, thanks to the fact that these devices are better off not going through x-ray machines, etc.

I know some people have had some very troubling experiences with the full pat downs, but I'm thankful that I didn't have any issues whatsoever.  Both times (leaving Rhode Island and then leaving Florida), I was pulled aside for the pat down.  Chris and the baby went through security and waited while the (female) TSA employee gave me a good how-do-you-do.  

I have never been comfortable traveling by plane (anxiety about flying has been well-documented here on SUM), so anything that makes me feel like I'm "safer" is never frowned upon by me.  If someone wants to give me a polite pat down, I will let them.  I have never been assaulted or attacked in any way in my life, so my comfort level with this airport procedure is high.  (Note:  If you are on the "I am NOT comfortable with pat downs" side of the fence, that's great.  I'm just giving my opinion here.)

The female TSA employees in both circumstances were very polite and gave me a heads up before they even laid a freshly-clean gloved finger on my body.  "I'm going to check around your waistband and up high on your inner thigh.  I'll also be using the back of my hand for any sensitive areas.  Are there any areas on your body that feel particularly sensitive?  I want to make sure you are comfortable."  This is something both women said, so I think there's a very strict script in place for these opt out searches.  My response both times was the same:

"Nope, just those two medical devices attached that I had mentioned.  And if I want to have this done in a private room, I can, right?"  (Just checking.)

"Yes.  Would you like to go to a private room?"

"No, I'm fine, thanks.  Let's start so we can finish so I can help my husband wrangle in that wiggly eight month old, okay?"  BSparl waved from the stroller a few feet away, where she and Chris were waiting.

The search was courteous.  And diabetes-wise, it was not a big deal for me.  The TSA employee in Florida actually said, "My niece has an insulin pump.  She just had her second baby.  Now she has two little girls.  And a pump."  She smiled.  "It's an amazing piece of machinery."

The searches ended as quickly as they began, and we headed off to our gate as a family.

... scratch that.  We headed off to the gate with a laughing baby crammed into a giant stroller, a sizable diaper bag, my to-the-gills purse, our laptops, and those New-Parents-Traveling-with-a-Baby expressions on our faces.  You know the ones - where the bags under your eyes are bigger than the ones you've checked for the flight? 

Yeah.

So.  Many.  Bags.

January 04, 2011

Late Night Post: Grazie!!

Thank you!!I just received an email from Gina telling me that I've been awarded a 2010 DOC Award for Best Photographer - thank you guys!!  What a nice, virtual "hug."  I think it's very cool when the diabetes community shows, time and time again, that we're more united that your average online crew.  We're all a bunch of buddies here, despite our differences and because of our "sames." 

So thanks for the very kind award, and I'm hoping to have my camera lurking at diabetes events in 2011.  :)

Guest Post: Nursing and Diabetes.

I'm working on some recaps of the CWD Marco Island conference, but the kiddo has caught a cold and is requiring lots of snuggles and hugs these past few days.  Thankfully, Abby (the Person) has offered to guest post about her experiences managing diabetes (and the gummed compliments of ancient grandmas) while in her third year of nursing school. 

Thanks, Abby!!

*   *   *

Abby (the Person)As I finish up my 3rd semester of nursing school, and prepare for my final few months as a student, I can’t help but reflect on what worked, what didn’t and what still remains a mystery.  Diabetes is no exception.  Nursing school is not like “regular college”, (which I can confidently say “been there done that” to) and there are a few things that really stick out to me as "DiaNursingSchoolFails" (CBC term shout out).
 
We talk about diabetes in class a lot, because a large part of the hospitalized population are there either with diabetes, or because of complications (usually type 2, but that’s never mentioned in my classes).  This is where my first issue arises.  How do I tactfully explain to my teacher, who has been a nurse for umpteen years, that she is totally dead wrong on her facts?  

Example:

Teacher: “Atkins was developed for over weight people. A lot of people lost weight on it when it first came out, and most of them their diabetes went away.  Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes went away when they cut out carbs and lost a lot of weight, it’s great for that purpose.”
Me: “I’m sorry, did you say Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes just goes away when you lose weight?”
Teacher: “Yes, these people lost so much weight it made their diabetes not an issue.”
Me: Offhanded comment to the girl next to me “Well, I’m officially not paying attention in this class anymore.”

This is definitely a sticky situation, however, not an uncommon one.  My teachers are usually very accepting of me being a diabetes know-it-all.  This semester when learning about endocrine disorders, my teacher let me bring in my pump and a few random insulin pens I had and pass them around to let people get hands on experience with these commonplace devices they’ll probably never see again.  It was really fun!

Then there’s clinical.  I love going with my patients to see procedures being done.  I’ll spare you the gory details of what I get to see, but they all have one thing in common: they’re in different parts of the hospital entirely.  To a PWD, this means leaving my diabetes supplies four floors up at opposite ends of the building.  No thanks. I know it’s not the most responsible thing to do, but I’ve resorted to stashing a tube of glucose tabs in my scrubs and scurrying on my eager-student way. If only there were BGM stations at every corner like at diabetes camp.

What about those postprandial breakfast highs that I CANNOT seem to get rid of no matter what I do?  I’ve been battling this issue for almost a year now, and have yet to discover something that works 100%. As in: Exams are 8-10am. Therefore, I take most of my exams with a spacey brain, a sticky mouth, and blood glucose over 200 mg/dl. It’s amazing that I’m passing these classes.

The final issues I run into frequently are my cute-as-a-button 89 year old patients with questions like “Oh dear, how did you do that to yourself?” when they discover I have diabetes. I keep my cool, but that stigma really gets me sometimes. (If only I had known about the “case of the stupids” response…)

But on a positive note, I’ll never get sick of this one: "Sweetie, there’s no reason to be 23 and unmarried.  You’re pretty and nice (or some grandma variation of a ridiculous list of compliments).  Go find yourself a husband and make some babies!"

*   *   *

My college degree didn't require as much time and attention as Abby's (English major here), but I do remember the delicate dance of diabetes and college a few years ago.  How do you, or your kid, deal with diabetes in the college environment?  And for another perspective "from the medical trenches," revisit this guest post from Dr. Adam Kaye!

January 03, 2011

Dancing on the Beach.

Jeff Hitchcock described the Marco Island conference to me as "kids dancing on the beach."  Because I had only attended the Friends for Life conferences in Orlando, I didn't really have a sense of what that meant.   

But after spending a few days in Marco Island, Florida (leaving behind a foot of snow on our back deck, thank you very much), and seeing how the families of people with diabetes pull together emotionally and help one another deal with this disease as a supportive group, I am re-inspired.  I ended 2010 in a diabetes funk, with an A1C I was struggling with and some mega burnout.  Quality time with some of my fellow PWDs, caregivers of kids with diabetes, my husband, and my daughter, and a healthy dose of sunshine and warm sand has helped me feel a little readier to take better control of my health.

2010 was a year of intense focus on my health, on adjusting to our new lives as parents, and managing the ebb and flow of two writers circling like sharks in the same house.  I'm hoping that 2011 will be a year of quiet peace, big grins, and nurtured relationships.

So here's to dancing on the beach (with or without your sassy fried egg hat)!

Immediately after the shutter clicked, she burped in my ear.  Love this kid.

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