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Unraveling the UnConference.

Thanks to the vision, dedication, and determination of Christel Aprigliano, the first Diabetes UnConference came together in Las Vegas last weekend.

“Wait, what?  I didn’t see anything on Twitter or Facebook!”

And that’s because there was a social media blackout on the whole conference during the actual course of it.  No live-Tweeting, no live-blogging, no live-streaming.

As my daughter used to say: “nuffin.”

Which is something I admittedly didn’t agree with, at first.

I always view conferences, both professional ones like the American Diabetes Association Scientific Sessions and the more community-based ones like TCOYD and JDRF‘s TypeOneNation, as an enormous privilege to attend.  Travel, lodging, and time for conferences can be a huge barrier to attendance, and as someone who has had channels of support that make it possible for me to attend a lot of meetings throughout the year, I feel like it’s part of my “job” to report back on how things went.  And not in a wicked journalistic sense (because my tendency to curse remains what it is and sometimes I don’t take fastidious notes but instead drink copious amounts of coffee), but in a man-on-the-scene sort of sense, trying to help fill in some of the blanks for people who aren’t able to make that particular meeting.  It’s not right that everyone can’t be everywhere they’d like to be, and the diabetes community is good about paying things forward.

[And yes, this is where my disclosure comes in.  In an effort to open up more of Christel’s conference budget for crucial things like scholarships, etc., Animas was asked to sponsor my attendance as a facilitator, and they thankfully jumped on board.  I’m grateful for my personal and professional relationship with Animas and the support they have shown to me and to the diabetes community as a whole over the past five years.  For more on my relationship with the company, you can read my disclosures.]

But having a social media blackout was a good thing for the UnConference, even though it kept the conference closed.  Why was that good?  Because there was a lot of vulnerability at this conference, and it wasn’t on display for people to comment on, or document, or send out to a slew of social media followers.  Some folks in attendance were meeting fellow people with diabetes for the first time ever, and others were reconnecting and enjoying established relationships.  People talked about how diabetes affected their lives, and the things that made them feel a slate of emotions – guilty, triumphant, and all the ones in between.  To let the discussion flow without feeling the need to document it was a nice change of pace, and personally kept me in the moment.

Which was helpful, because attendees didn’t share all their “sames.”  It wasn’t an exercise in group-think, where people all said they reacted similarly to diabetes scenarios.

For example, when we were talking about burnout, many people shared their personal experiences with diabetes-related burnout, and others said that they haven’t ever experienced burnout.  I thought that was a powerful moment, because while there might be majority opinions on certain topics, the whole point of the diabetes community is that we are strong in what unites us as well as what makes us different.  One size doesn’t fit all, and neither does one emotional response.  I loved these moments because they woke me up and reminded me of the diversity of our experiences.

While I wish there could have been more people in the actual room, I know that access to conferences like this will come in time.  To that same end, half of the people in attendance were people I hadn’t met before.  It wasn’t the “same crew,” which I thought was powerful and helped shake up some of the “same scene, same people” vibe that has a tendency to dominate at a lot of diabetes conferences.  But what really resonated for me is that people felt comfortable and confident during these discussions, and I think the social media “blackout” contributed to that comfort.  Scrutiny was at a minimum and people could concentrate on being present.

Which is why, at the end of the conference when we were asked to write one word on a 3×5 to describe how we felt about the sessions, the word I wrote was “heard.”

Blog posts about this UnConference might be scarce, but to me that scarcity makes sense.  It was about sharing in the moment, not recapping after the fact.  Maybe, for once, what happens in Vegas stays there in specifics and instead makes it back into the community in the form of increased discussion, support, and connection.

 

McDave from the Plane.

“Were you saving these seats for us?”

I travel regularly for work, and because I’m usually on the road without my family, I end up in various discussions with strangers to fill the time.  Since my days as a breakfast waitress in college, I’ve always enjoyed those snippets of single-serving conversations.  Airplane travel can offer insight at 30,000 feet (sometimes from the pilot).

“Yes.  I’ve been waiting for you guys for hours,” I replied, standing up so that the couple could join me in row 9.

This was my introduction to Dave and his lovely wife.  Throughout the course of the flight from Orlando back up to Providence yesterday, I spent some quality time talking with these two and over-sharing to a frightening degree.

We talked about flying, and how none of us cared for it.  We talked about the Patriots and how mother  (and his wife) are hardcore fans.  We talked about how his daughter has been an extra in several films and TV shows.  And we talked a lot about food.  After a discussion about what I do for work and what brought me into the diabetes space (see also:  diagnosed 28 years ago, felt alone, founded a blog, found some friends), Dave admitted that his own diet could use a shift in priorities.

“We could eat better,” he said.

“We could eat a LOT better,” his wife said from the window seat, smiling ruefully.

“Everyone could eat better, but our fast-food society doesn’t exactly make it easy.  You have to go above and beyond to make sure you aren’t eating junk.  Junk is mainstream!  Think about how screwed up our perception of ‘breakfast’ is; we dump sugary syrup onto pastry-esque pancakes and call it a healthy meal.  That’s not a meal … it’s dessert!”  They nodded, and I realized I was on a mile-high soapbox.  “I’m so sorry.  Food stuff makes me ranty sometimes.  Like when I think about the kinds of foods marketed towards my daughter.  Chicken nuggets and french fries and sugar cererals.  Stuff is gross.”

“So she’s never had a Happy Meal from McDonald’s?” asked Dave, half mocking me, half actually asking.

“She’s had McDonald’s food two or three times in her life, but that’s it.  And no, she’s never had a Happy Meal.”

He laughed.  “You’re missing the chance to make her happy!  But not the food – I get that you don’t want to give her the food.  I used to make my own Happy Meals for my daughters.  I’d take a toy that they hadn’t played with in ages and pack it in with their lunch.  Instant Happy Meal!”

“That’s a good idea.  I like that.”

“Yeah.  Now you can write about it in your blog, right?  I want to be in there.  People would want to read more about me.”

His comments made me laugh.  “Sure.  I’ll write about you.  But the blog post has to have some kind of resolution, right?  Where we both promise to make changes and then we hold one another accountable?  Or is that taking it too far?” I asked him.

Dave thought for a minute.  “I can do that.  Listen, my wife and I will make a change.  We promise to eat something green with every meal.  A vegetable, like spinach or broccoli or squash.  Except that squash isn’t green, so we’ll have to be flexible with the color requirement.  But a vegetable with every meal.”  He made a fist and jabbed it towards the air with conviction.  “A vegetable with every meal!”

“And I promise to make my kid a happy meal, like the one you described.”

He handed me his business card and I promised to send him a link to the post once it was live.  (Hi, Dave!)  The plane landed and we all went our separate ways, resolute in our decision to make positive changes.

This morning, as I packed Birdy’s lunch for preschool, I put one of her small, forgotten toys in the lunch bag, alongside her healthy food options (and a crappy drawing of Loopy drinking a mug of steaming coffee).  I wondered what kind of vegetable Dave managed to work into his breakfast that morning, and smiled.

What’s the point of going through life without ever making eye contact, or making a connection?  Single-serving or not, I’m better for having sat next to Dave.

Stream of Consciousness.

Time for a bullet list of purged thoughts, brought to you by the bottom of my coffee pot.

  • It’s not snowing.  I don’t usually have a rage response to winter, but this one has been more than we could properly manage.  (Like when our snow shovel broke under the weight of the drift we were shoveling through.  Or when our snow blower ran out of gas and the gas was in the shed out back and we couldn’t get to the shed because the show was up past our hips.  #fuckyousnow and I mean it.)  So for it to be #notsnowing and #melting is a good thing.
  • Get these hashtags off my blog. #nottwitter
  • For a solid five year period, I did not lose a single pair of gloves.  If one fell out of the car when I opened the door, I saw it immediately.  If I dropped one, it always managed to fall into my bag and not end up lost forever.  Gloves were among the most lose-able things in my wardrobe and yet they always managed to stay paired up and on hand (literally).  But this year, something happened to my glove mojo and I’ve lost four pairs this winter alone.  I don’t know how to recover my good glove karma.
  • I have bought the same pair of moonstone stud earrings a dozen different times, and yet I still only have two singular earrings.  It’s unnerving.  Do these cheap little earrings go where the gloves go?
  • This weekend, I’ll be at the Diabetes UnConference in Las Vegas, where there isn’t any snow and there are many PWD on tap to attend.  I’m looking forward to making new friends, seeing old ones, and bolusing for copious amounts of iced coffee.
  • Way to GO, mySugr!!!
  • Does emotional stress spike up your blood sugar?  Caroline dives in to find out.  (But the answer is yes.  A firm and confidence yes.)
  • Did you guys see that the Spare a Rose totals have been boosted, thanks to a donation program from Asante426 lives saved, thanks to all of you.
  • Thanks to #dblogcheck day, I found some gluten-free lemon bars on this blog.  And now I love this blog.
  • At the Rhode Island JDRF TypOneNation event last weekend, I heard about a new sort of barrier tape to put underneath my Dexcom sensors to help mitigate the wicked rash.  It’s called Mepitac tape and I bought my first roll off of Amazon this morning.  I have no idea if it will work better/worse than the J&J Toughpads I have been using for the last three years, but I’ll try anything to keep the itch at bay.  Will report back after I give it a go.
  • Ripped from DHF’s site:  “The Diabetes Hands Foundation is happy and excited to offer scholarships to diabetes conferences as a part of the Diabetes Advocates program. We offer these scholarships to help get advocates to the major conferences in the US so the patient voice is present.”  You can find out more about the scholarships here, and then you should APPLY because your voice MATTERS.  All caps and such.
  • My friend Jenni Prokopy (the ChronicBabe) kicks ass, and I want her to continue to kick ass.  Check out her kick(ass)starter here.
  • I keep circling back to this David Sedaris essay about his FitBit because I am in a hardcore week of competition with an equally-competitive friend on FitBit, and I’m afraid I may wear holes in the soles of my soul in efforts to win.
  • But as I write this, I’m already itching to get up and clock a few miles on the treadmill in an attempt to gain some ground before traveling this afternoon.
  • In related news, I am relentlessly competitive.
  • And with that, I need to go run.
  • While I’m gone, the cats will guard the door like little, furry sentinels.


Guards.

A photo posted by Kerri Sparling (@sixuntilme) on

 

 

All Night Long.

Some nights just plain suck.

In related news, I brushed my teeth ten times last night.

Practice Turkey.

Chris and I are both from big families with piles of aunts and uncles and cousins at every birthday party.  Part of being part of a flurry of people means big holiday gatherings, and Chris and I are prepping ourselves to start hosting some of the holidays.

Problem is, I’m a terrible cook.  Or, better stated:  an inexperienced cook.  Cooking hasn’t ever brought me joy or satisfaction, and I’m not interested in the time it takes to perfect a recipe.  I cook for form and functionality (read: make sure my family doesn’t survive on garlic salt and overripe bananas), not for fun.  I’m not good at making the effort to learn.

But if we want to start hosting holidays, we need to learn how to prepare some of the main courses.  Which brings me to the Practice Turkey:

Practice Turkey is currently taking up residence in our freezer, and my goal is to use him to teach myself how to properly prepare a whole turkey.  (Sidebar:  Animal is in our freezer because Birdy is afraid of him, but refuses to let us donate him or throw him out.  She wants him in the house, but entirely contained.  So he lives in our freezer and has been there about a year.  I always forget that he’s in there, until someone comes over to visit, opens the freezer, and subsequently goes, “OOH!!”) In the next week, my plan is to practice my culinary witchcraft on Practice Turkey so that when we host holidays this year, I’m not in a huge panic because I can be all, “Oh, the turkey?  I know how to do that.  I’m all over that!”

I need to actually do it in order to make sure I can do it.

Same goes for technology hiccups in my diabetes management plan.  I use an insulin pump and a CGM (hellooooo, disclosures), and with that convenience and data comes an influx of autonomy and the sacrifice of my autonomy, if that makes sense.  The devices give me a lot of flexibility and freedom, but if I rely on them too heavily, I forget how to manage my diabetes on my own.

I need to be my own Practice Turkey, relearning the details of diabetes.  I need to make sure I know how to calculate a bolus, check my blood sugar regularly by finger prick, and finagle basal insulin doses if my pump ever breaks, or if I ever want to take a CGM break, or if my will to wear devices breaks a little.  And over the last week, I’ve been on a bit of a device break (thank you, winter skin issues), realizing once again that a refresher course on how to drive the stick-shift version of my diabetes (so to speak) helps me take better care of myself overall.  Taking an injection before I eat makes me think twice about the food I’m putting into my body, and also help me remember to pre-bolus (because it’s a process, not just the push of a button).  Using the treadmill instead of a correction bolus to fix a 180 mg/dL keeps exercise fresh in my mind.  3 am checks aren’t always necessary, but doing a few of them helps me spot-check my overnight basal rates.  I appreciate my devices, but I needed a reminder on what they do for me, and how to continue to do for myself.

Practice (turkey) makes perfect.

[Also, today has been unofficially designated as a “day to check in” (hat tip to Chris Snider) with the DOC blogs that we’re reading.  I read a lot of diabetes blogs, but I don’t often comment because I usually want to say something meaningful, instead of “I like your post.”  (But I do like your post!)  But instead of finding that meaningful comment, I usually roll on and forget to return to comment.  NOT TODAY!  Today I’m commenting on every blog I read, because that’s the name of the game.  I love this community, and today I’ll show that through comments.  So please – if you’re here, share what your favorite word is, or just say hello.  And thanks for being here.]

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