Archive for January 2009

I’ve always been a little slow catching on to the latest technology.  When I was a child in the ’70s, my neighbor’s Atari system was a bit overwhelming so I settled for my manual pinball game. In high school learning computer programming was like pulling teeth. In college while everybody else was in the computer lab, I was plunking away at my typewriter. It was electric.

Lutheran Interparish School, Williamsburg, Iowa, third-grade class in 1979. Guess which one is me?

Lutheran Interparish School, Williamsburg, Iowa, third-grade class in 1979. Guess which one is me? (Hint: I am standing)

Now in my late 30s and extremely proud of my Pac-Man game which plugs into the TV, you can imagine how hard it was for me to accept social media. For the last couple of years I had heard the buzz about MySpace, Facebook and those other silly sites. They were for kids and fortunately I was past the age to care.

But after peer and career pressure, I finally created a Facebook account in August. At first I felt awkward filling in my status update. “Angie is sitting at her computer.”  But then friends who I hadn’t heard from in years starting popping up. My memory incited, I searched for people I hadn’t thought of in years. And found them. Bridesmaids who I hadn’t seen since my wedding 12 years ago; college roommates who are all grown up with families and real jobs; people I met during my newspaper journeys throughout Iowa and Kansas; classmates who date back to the parochial grade school on the hill. 

We’re all a little older, a little wiser and yes, even a little jaded. Over the years there’s been health problems, financial difficulties, insecurities and heartbreak. I thought those things only happened to me. It turns out nobody has had a perfect life since school. Who knew? But there’s also been marriages, births and personal triumphs. I love seeing pictures of my friends and their families; and I like to share them too.

During the tough times over the years, there has been a sense of loneliness and isolation. I was sure my friends were living the perfect life and I was just the black sheep who couldn’t adjust to the real world. Seeing former and new friends on Facebook is comforting and gives me a sense of community. Oh, I do intend to get together with many of the buddies I am now in contact with – a computer will never replace the joy of face-to-face interaction.  

Facebook and Twitter have been my modes of social media and connecting with friends and colleagues. If that’s not for you, go ahead and seek out an old friend. Give her a call. Write a letter. Just get back in touch. It really is good for the soul.


Last March when my husband’s job was cut and our household income was instantly sliced in half, one of the first family budget cuts I made was canceling our gym membership. Spring was coming (of course it snowed for another month) and I planned to walk and ride my bike for exercise.

I had a pretty good walking regimen going but then the flood hit, I was too stressed, and a host of other excuses got in the way. I vowed that when we had more money, I would join the gym again. Walking is good exercise and clears the mind, but it just doesn’t compare to huffing and puffing away on the stepper and using the weight machines.

The stepper and tread mill give great cardio workouts

The stepper and treadmill give great cardio workouts.

Now, in my quest to slim down, shape up and get my life back together overall, I have finally rejoined the gym after nearly a 10-month hiatus. My husband is in the middle of getting his masters degree in special education and just started a new job. We’re not quite where we were financially last March, but the membership is a good investment. In what it costs per month for the gym membership, I can cut eating out and out non-essentials to make up for it.

I have gone back into my former workout routine – but at a much lighter pace. The past two days I’ve done 15 minutes each on the treadmill, stepper and recumbent bike as well as lift weights. I’m at about level 3 on the machines – compared to level 10 last March. Whew! Level 3 has been quite a struggle. But like the rest of this journey, I am going to ease my into it to prevent early burn out or injury.

While reading a magazine (Glamour, I believe) on the recumbent bike today, I came across an article about increasing your metabolism. Here were a few tips:

  1. Don’t starve yourself. Eat several small meals throughout the day to keep your metabolism stable.
  2. Get plenty of sleep and go to bed and wake up at about the same time each day.
  3. Build muscle as it burns calories faster than fat tissue.  

Any other tips that work for you?

It’s amazing how some people are the perfect parents – of somebody else’s child. That kind of thinking has been going on since the beginning of time but has only been exacerbated with the Internet and its endless stream of information.   

I’ll admit when I heard John Travolta and Kelly Preston’s son, Jett, died suddenly last week, I did a search on the family. I wasn’t aware of Jett’s medical problems and immediately became sucked into the comment sections of articles on them. Many of the entries and comments had varying versions of how Jett became ill as a toddler. His parents said he contracted Kawasaki disease – an illness that causes inflammation of the blood vessels – from exposure to carpet cleaner.

Others, however, said Jett had autism, a development disorder that affects the ability to communicate. This is where the story gets complicated. The Church of Scientology, of which John and Kelly are devout members, doesn’t recognize autism or any other “mental illness”, therefore they never had their son treated for autism.

When my son, Sage, was 3 months old, we had his hearing and vision tested due to concerns from his day care providers. His hearing was fine but he was eventually diagnosed with optic nerve hypoplasia – basically a genetically small optic nerve. As the next few months went by, it became obvious he wasn’t developing like other infants his age. He was signed up for infant/toddler services and was in therapy. Over the next several years, doctors had suspected everything from poor vision to cerebral palsy.

After a series of tests in the summer of 2006, when Sage was 3, the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital diagnosed him with Pervasive Development Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified. Depending on where you look, autism is a part of this category or it falls on the autism spectrum. Although it was not really a surprise, and we had been dealing with Sage’s developmental delays since he was a baby, the diagnosis was still devastating. So many questions, so many worries for the future.

 Autism is difficult for society to understand. Many afflicted with it look as normal as any other child – Sage is one of the most beautiful children I have ever seen. Jenny McCarthy summed it up perfectly in the forward of her book “Louder Than Words” (Penguin Group):

“When your child is diagnosed with cancer, neighbors stop by your home bringing precooked meals, hugs, and support. When your child is diagnosed with autism, families who see you in the supermarket will slip away down another aisle.”

My husband and I have had plenty of unsolicited suggestions on how to deal with our son. Discipline him more. Take him to more specialists. Put him on a different diet. And the perennial favorite, “If he were my child…”

I’m not rock solid about a lot of things in life, but I will guarantee that nobody loves that child or cares about his well being more than his father and me. I would like to think most parents, including John Travolta and Kelly Preston, feel the same way about their children.

Sage, my beautiful boy

Sage, my beautiful boy

I’m not going to comment on Scientology other to say that early intervention and therapy have helped my child tremendously in the past three years. But to those making comments about Jett Travolta’s death and the way he was raised, take a moment to think how you would feel if you lost a child. I, for one, can’t even imagine the pain.

It’s no accident that one of the most honorable fictional characters is Atticus Finch from Harper Lee’s “To Kill A Mockingbird.”  His line, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it,” is one that most students learn in junior high or high school. You learn it for a reason. Follow it.

For some reason Jan. 5 rang a bell.  Ahh, yes, that was the date I had my thyroid surgery in 2001. The plan was to remove only part of the thyroid gland which had a fairly large nodule. But after further testing, the surgeon decided to take the whole thing.

In November 1999, I went to the doctor to see why I was having a difficult time getting pregnant. The first thing she did was look at my droopy eyes, feel my protruding neck and ask me if I had ever been diagnosed with thyroid disease. No, but it had been suggested by another doctor to get it checked about seven or eight years earlier.


Within the following several weeks, I had about 15 blood tests, an ultrasound and a fine-needle aspiration to test the nodule (otherwise known as a tumor).  No amount of pain killers or sedatives can relax you during the biopsy when a very long needle is stuck in the base of your neck and the doctor taps on it to get cells. Nine times. After all that, the results were still inconclusive and the surgery was set for Jan. 5.

A little background on the thyroid gland: It is a butterfly-shaped organ in the base of your neck. It basically controls your metabolism, so when its levels are out of whack, so are you. Because of that, it is often linked to weight gain. For a more scientific description, here’s a link.

When I woke up after my surgery, my husband had that concerned look on his face. What? Again, the tests were inconclusive and the entire gland was removed. More testing would have to be done. For a week I was convinced I had cancer and the treatments would be ongoing. At the follow-up appointment, the surgeon said it was not cancerous and I would go on thyroid-replacement hormone for the rest of my life.

Since then, I have taken a daily dose of Levothroid to replace the hormone my now non-existent thyroid gland would produce. At the time of my surgery a friend with thyroid disease said she wished she could have her gland removed to better regulate her levels. I have since discovered that is not necessarily the case. I have my levels checked (a simple blood test) every 3 to 6 months. There are times in between when I request it because of the way I feel.  Some of these symptoms include extreme fatigue, stiffness in the joints, shortness of breath, irritability and loss of concentration. Yes, I know most of these are common and could happen anytime, but when your thyroid levels are off, they are magnified.

Some sort of thyroid disease is fairly common, especially in women. However, many times it goes undiagnosed and untreated. I have often wondered if I would have had the surgery – the last resort – if I would have had my levels checked when my college doctor first suggested it.

If you consistently have the above-mentioned symptoms, ask your doctor to check your thyroid levels. Like I said, it’s a simple blood test and can be regulated by a daily pill. If you don’t like needles, just think of one going in your neck multiple times for a biopsy.


Just got back from the first post-holiday grocery shopping spree. For the past month or so (well, I have to include Thanksgiving, so two months) my trips to the store have resulted in egg nog, cookie ingredients, stuffed olives and other high-calorie indulgences.

This time I wasn’t planning for any dinners, parties or football games – just focused on the desire to eat healthier. I forgot how many good-for-you, low-fat, low-calories foods I actually like. Really like.

Previously, I mentioned my weakness for Ranch dressing and was seeking substitutes for my dipping obsession. Spicy brown mustard has zero calories and light raspberry pecan dressing has a fraction of Ranch. Other low-calorie, yet filling, snacks I seemed to have forgotten about include pickles, salsa and peppers.

There is an argument that it is more expensive to eat healthy. True, you can pick up generic Ding-Dongs and Twinkies for about a buck, but at the store where I shop, you can also snag a head of lettuce for 79 cents. With the right toppings, that will be good for at least three lunches.

My trip to the grocery store has given me renewed excitement about my journey to get my groove back. I can do this.

This New Year’s Eve was reminiscent of the final day of 2001. I didn’t go out and party on either; just stayed in and waited for the night – and the dreadful year – to end.

Both years had similarities. In March 2001 and March 2008 my family faced sudden unemployment, resulting in personal insecurity, bitterness and financial challenges. While the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks took thousands of lives and forever changed the world, the Floods of 2008 also had that same sense of Armageddon. I had that same eerie feeling during the flood and its aftermath as I did that fateful Tuesday in 2001 and the days following. In both years, the nation’s economy faltered with it finally sliding into an all-out recession in 2008.

But as 2002 brought new hope and joy into my life when my son was born in November, I am optimistic 2009 will also be a year of growth and personal prosperity. I am preparing for my 20-year class reunion which will probably be held in August or September, and I am determined to lose weight and get my groove back.

In 1999 I lost a bunch of weight with the protein diet. This was at my cousin's wedding in Washington state.

In 1999 I lost a bunch of weight with the protein diet. This was at my cousin's wedding in Washington state.

The journey will not be quick or achieved by drastic measures. In 1999, I shed about 35 pounds in three months with the protein diet. It basically consisted of meat, cheese and eggs. Milk, bread, pasta and even fruits and vegetables were off the list. I was faithful to the regimen for about eight months and then got bored with it. The 35 pounds came back within about month of returning those forbidden foods into my diet.


While I am just as serious about getting back into shape this time around, I am going to take a different approach. On New Year’s Day, I didn’t starve myself or give up all of my vices cold turkey. I was more conscientious of what I ate and when the Hawks mounted a three-touchdown lead in the Outback Bowl, my family and I went swimming (that is one of the perks of being married to a swimming coach with access to the pool).

I didn’t throw away the chips and bottle of Bailey’s that was already in the house, but it’s unlikely those types of items will make their way back into my kitchen anytime soon. Goal no. 1 is to replace the culprits with foods higher in nutrition and lower in calories. This also includes letting the Ranch dressing run out and not using it with nearly everything. I am a dipper – any suggestions to replace the Ranch?

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