Phase III

16 01 2017

Phases.  Cycles.  To everything is a season.

In May of 1991, fresh graduate degree and commission in hand, my trusty little Mazda and I headed further south than I had ever traveled – to Biloxi Mississippi for Air Force tech training.  While there I spent weeks learning how to program databases in a software package called Enable and learning about the color arrangement of lights on the runway.  After class we ran the track and did drill. That July, my Mazda and I headed in the opposite direction – to Minot, North Dakota and my active duty assignment… where I never once programmed a database in Enable (Microsoft Office came out just as I arrived) and I never once was asked to explain the pattern of lights on runway.  I didn’t run a track much in Minot either – although I did pick up on the 90’s fitness craze of step aerobics (complete with snazzy purple spandex and slouchy socks). Still, that time in Biloxi was the start of an era.

We really never know what direction life will take and I consider it a strength that I never much obsessed over it.  My decision process has always boiled down to “which choice sounds more interesting?”.  Choose, and go for it. So, orders to Minot, ND?  No problem! Little did I know, on my first day in Minot that I would get lost trying to find my office.  Or, that the helpful guy that asked if I was lost and showed me the way that first day would end up helping me find my way for the rest of my life.

25 years.  Passed by in the flash of an eye.  Marriage, kids, more grad school, moves, job changes, struggles, successes – the stuff of “adulthood”.  Childhood, adolescence, college – Phase I.  Adulthood – Phase II. Then, the kids find their own wings and move on to their own phase II – and the transition occurs – Phase III.

By chance, we passed through Biloxi again last month, during another transition.  And again, the transition is taking me to North Dakota – this time with my trusty Nissan.  Another chance to explore an opportunity that sounds fascinating, if a bit overwhelming.  Definitely challenging.  I’ve been invited to teach graduate school pathophysiology in the physician’s assistant program. 2017-01-16-15-37-57

With new challenges, I work best by immersion – by focusing deeply and completely on mastery of the new task. So, soon, I head back to North Dakota.  It’s where phase II began – and I welcome the challenge of Phase III.  In a sense, North Dakota is home.  It’s where I met and married that helpful, supportive, and (mostly) patient guy – it’s where my two amazing kids were born.  Sure, it’s a little cold there… that’s why I’m headed there “soon”, not “now”.  I may always be up for a challenge, but I kind of need to ease back into those winters slowly…

Enjoying the journey (aka, look mom – no hands!)

25 09 2016

I learned to ride my bike with no hands, today.  I also braved an overpass descent with no brakes.  I consider these significant accomplishments, given that I’m the complete opposite of an adrenaline junkie (rather, more a lay on the couch with my head in a book junkie).

Even better, I achieved the no hands skill badge while coming up on my favorite part of the ride – the span of bridge high above a winding stream in what feels like the middle of nowhere (but is actually pretty close to smack dab downtown).

2016-09-02-10-01-20While taking a water break and looking down at the stream, I realized something – I was out there enjoying the journey.  That’s another significant accomplishment.  Because, as a child, pretty much the only way I could be coerced onto a bike was with the inclusion of an ice cream stop on the route.  In addition to being the opposite of an adrenaline junkie, I was also the opposite of an athletic child.

That’s not to say I didn’t try – I did – gymnastics, volleyball, basketball, tennis lessons, miles of swimming laps, mastering a jumping front dive and a standing back dive (HUGE for me!).  Pretty much anything my mom (a YMCA swimming teacher) could sign me up for at the Y, I was in. I just sucked at sports.  My heart was never in it, and I didn’t have the reflexes.  I had a doctor’s note for the grade school president’s fitness test (bad knees).

So, it was probably a shock when, choosing classes for college, I signed up for Air Force ROTC.  I know the cadre looked at me and gave each other the “wtf” look.  But, of the 55 freshmen that showed up for the first day of training, only 6 made it all the way to commissioning.  I was one of them.  In those four years, I ran, I jumped, I completed obstacle courses and learned to repel, I maxed out my sit up points on the fitness test… I even completed a sprint triathalon.

And then I graduated, and was stationed in North Dakota.  It’s cold in North Dakota.  And when it’s not cold?  Mosquitos.  Seriously, never have I encountered so many mosquitos.  So, no more running, no jumping, I didn’t even touch a bike for well over a decade.  Probably two.  And, we know how that ends… about double my military weight.  Not only did I gain a husband and two children in North Dakota – I gained a whole other me of weight.  Yah.  Nice.

So, I learned to ride my bike with no hands today.  And I looked out over the stream from the top of the bridge.  And, during the whole 23 miles, I absolutely LOVED feeling strong and skilled and balanced.  And, not once did I think about stopping for ice cream.

My weight has been plateaued since July, but on that bridge I realized – I really don’t care.  I’ll get there, in due time.  People often ask me if I feel different without the weight (I’m down 85lb now from my highest point).  Of course I feel different physically, but mentally, not so much different – more like I’m recovering who I used to be.  That ROTC gal has always been inside of me, and she’s always been pretty bad ass.  But even she couldn’t ride a bike with no hands.

Superwoman syndrome sucks

20 02 2016

me and boys 94

One of the things in my life I am most grateful for is that I failed in my attempt to earn a PhD. Let me explain…

In August of 1994, sixteen days after my second C-section, I left my infant son and his two year old brother to attend my first medical school lecture in the pursuit of my PhD in Physiology. I already had a Master degree in Education, two children, and veteran status. I had just turned 26 years old. My parents lived 12 hours away, but my mom stayed with me for the first week to care for my infant – he was too young for daycare. When my mom left, my mother-in-law took a week and then my grandmother came for two. My husband was overseas with the military, as he was about six months of every year. At six weeks, my baby went off to daycare with his brother. As winter arrived in North Dakota, I woke up each day in the bitter cold and dark to get them both bundled up, drove the highway from the military base (often through blowing snow) 20 miles to the daycare on the south end of town, then drove myself to the other end of town – making it in time for my 8am, five day a week, lecture class. I was also a TA, so after taking my courses in the morning, I taught in the afternoon. Then, the trek to daycare (again in the dark and cold and snow), and home to make dinner and study. Sometimes I also taught night classes. I was expected to be in the lab, all day, every weekday – then, seven days a week once I started working with lab animals who needed to be fed daily. The first year, I took spring break off and was almost kicked out of the program (no joke). I made sure to not take spring break… or any breaks… off again.

Looking back now – 22 years later – it seems insane. Yet, at the time, it seemed normal – expected. I was raised in the 70’s and 80’s – the time of empowerment – the time of the “superwoman” – the time of “I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, etc etc”. To not push myself to the breaking point was unthinkable. I’m not bitter about much in my life… but I sincerely hate that Enjoli commercial now. I’m bitter that, although I had a stay at home mom myself, the media and culture of my childhood and teen years NEVER gave the message that, while women could do it all it DID NOT ALL HAVE TO BE SIMULTANEOUS!!

The years from 1994-1997 are a blur to me now. Fortunately, since our families lived so far away, we took hours of VHS recordings of our kids infant and toddler years. I watch them each Christmas season, although watching them sometimes makes me angry, realizing how much I missed. I know my kids were well cared for – they had a wonderful daycare, teachers who loved them, and wide exposure to childhood illnesses (with the resulting great immune systems). Although, there was the one time I brought my son with chicken pox with me to a seminar because there was absolutely no one to care for him and I was told “be there or else”… that didn’t go over well.

In 1997, the town experienced a massive flood – shutting down everything, including the med school, for several months. That flood was a horrible experience for tens of thousands of people. It was a God send for me. I got to spend several months home with my kids. It was spring, leading into summer, and it was glorious.

As the school started to reopen in mid-summer, I went back to assess the damage to my samples (power had been out, many things had been ruined). I was faced with several more years of work to finish the PhD. I couldn’t do it. I went in to my advisor to quit. He suggested, instead of quitting, to write up what I had as a Masters. I agreed immediately. Within a year, I had written and defended my thesis. My transcripts were adjusted and the “admitted to PhD program” was changed to “admitted to MS program” (not sure why they do that – maybe to avoid the stigma of failure?). I didn’t care. I took the MS and ran. I continued teaching night classes and finally spent two years as, primarily, a stay at home mom. It scares me to think that I might have made a different decision. I might have chosen to plow on, thereby missing my kids entire pre-school childhood. I am sincerely thankful I quit. Yes, I failed the PhD, and I’m grateful for that.

And, it was really okay. My degree was enough to get me an excellent job in pharmaceutical research. I started work there the same day my youngest started first grade. I still taught night classes, and transitioned that into online classes as the times changed. In time, we moved with the military and I went back and got my high school teaching certificate when my kids were in middle school. I taught at their high school the whole time they were there – knowing their teachers, seeing them in the halls and when they came to my room between classes (usually for money or food, but still…). I knew their friends.

Now that my kids are grown, I can look back from a distance and see that it all worked out. They are well adjusted and productive adults. I think the world has realized the ridiculous and dangerous expectations of superwoman syndrome, but – if not – I’ll be vocal about paraphrasing Nike… JUST DON’T DO IT!!!

Dismantling the information silos: #integrate

16 01 2016

This past week our family reached a couple of milestones. Son 1 was awarded his certification and is on the road to professional employment.  Son 2 was promoted into the first rung of management. They are setting out toward successfully adulting. As they spread their wings to fly, momma bird is proud – and a bit relieved.  Twenty four of my forty eight years have been spent momma birding.  But then, momma birding never really stops – it just changes form. Just ask my own momma bird, her phone chirping away, signaling questions and updates – her nest of baby birds in her pocket.

Still, even before I had little family birds, I had students.  This month I’ve finished my 25th year of teaching college, and have started what I hope will be at least another 25 years.  As I look at my teaching methods and priorities now, I see how much has changed over the years.  When I first started, it was definitely a “sage on the stage” and “facts from the books” environment.  There was no convenient internet access.  No email.  No text messaging.

Ten years after I started teaching college, I was trained to be a medical school facilitator for the problem based learning curriculum.  “Sage on the stage” became a sort of academic insult – “guide on the side” became the in phrase.  I started developing my own case studies and implemented discussion groups in my community college courses as well.

Now, with mobile “always on” having reached saturation among students, I’ve transitioned almost fully away from my “sage on the stage” beginnings.  I also find myself moving further away from a reliance on books each year.  Students still need the guide on the side – they need someone to help them take a machete to the information overgrowth so they can find the path.  My teaching now is less about focusing on the facts – those can be harvested from books and other sources.  The purpose of teaching as I see it now, is the human connection – the lighting of the fire, the bringing the lens into focus.  To do that fully, I need to deconstruct the knowledge silos.  Moving forward, that is my focus, the “grand design of it all” – the linking of ideas in videos and animations.  The development of content that students want to learn.  The giving as much or as little as a student needs to reach mastery of the information.  To help build new nurses and trainers.  Not to obsess over points or quizzes or test banks – the “factory model”.  It’s time to move beyond that – to integrate the content. For, life is integrated – it is universal – to say “now we learn about the hormones of the stomach, don’t worry about the bacteria within it” and then to switch classes and say  “now we learn about the bacteria of the stomach, don’t worry about the hormones” seems silly somehow.  It’s all connected – life doesn’t separate one from the other.

My word of the year for 2016 is “Integrate”.  My goal is to extract the big concepts and 2016 integratebuild a core framework for all of my courses that shows the connection points and branches of the material.  It’s going to be a huge project, one that will take many years.  It will include a variety of tools – from OERs to commercial materials.  But, when it is finished, I envision a map – like a garden pathway – with points of interest and places to stop and explore awhile.  There will be starting gates, and some bridges to be crossed.  There will even be some challenging climbs for those up to it.  But, above all, it will be a place students feel safe to explore and learn.  Somewhere they will leave, having learned, but where they can always come back to learn more.

Through the past 25 years, I have never labeled myself with separate “teacher”, “mom”, “researcher” labels – I’ve always just seen myself as “me”.   It’s time to see students the same way.  They are not a series of blank notebooks to be filled with static writing, they are unique individuals, traveling the path in their own way and time.  If I could eliminate the semester structure, I’d do it in a heartbeat.  But, as long as I’m working within the confines of 15 week due-date laden Carnegie credit hours, at least I can make the journey more useful and interesting  – I can move it out of the pages, and into the world.

Water, waves, and sunshine – relaxing, right? Right??

4 01 2016

I work 6 days a week, 51 weeks a year.  I work online, from home.  I try very hard to not turn on the computer, or even go into my office, on Sundays.  From Christmas to New Year’s I observe a “computer blackout”.  This year, during my break, I found myself increasingly frustrated.  I’ve been immersed in a beautiful, relaxing, location with good food and sunshine… but my brain keeps spinning “must work, must work” on repeat loop.  Before I powered down for break, I made sure I was up to date and that nothing time-sensitive lingered in my inbox.  There is no legitimate reason for my brain to keep up the “must work” mantra… especially not on the ONE week I took off from the computer in the entire year of 2015.  Nothing needed attention, but my brain could not let it go.  Is it habit? Maybe.  Screen addiction? Could be.  Whatever it is, it’s primarily just frustrating.

Back at work today, I’m trying to figure out this mindset.  Although my work is challenging and enjoyable, I don’t want to give it free reign to dominate my thoughts.  But, what to do about it?

Some would say that accessing email on my phone is a bad idea – that it makes it worse.  Others would say that I shouldn’t encourage students to send me text messages.  But, I disagree.  I am less stressed now that I know I have access to email and texts – that I’m not missing anything – that someone isn’t waiting for me to get back to them.  Checking my phone and seeing zero notifications relieves the stress – allows me to not worry that someone is waiting for my input.  I’m more relaxed than I was before I had that level of access.  So, why won’t my brain stop the “must work” loop?

Others would suggest exercise.  I already do that – I walk for at least an hour a day.  I nearly always walk in nature. When possible, I walk near water, listen to the waves, and watch the wildlife.  That should do the trick, right?  Nope.  Still the “must work” loop.  If I try to stop and sit for a while, I get anxious, hearing “what next, what next?” over and over.  I find myself going over my to-do list in my head… even though there is nothing crucial on it for today.  I find myself planning to do tasks early, just to have something to mark off the list.  Even though my rational mind is saying “slow down and smell the sea breeze!!!”.

A couple of years ago I started mindful meditation. It worked – it helped my focus (not to mention lowered my blood pressure significantly).  Is the mental loop because I got out of that habit over this past year?  That could be.  I should try it again, I suppose.

I find myself searching Amazon for books on relaxation while sitting near the water.  The irony does not escape me.


And, I finally realize… the slogan I’ve lived by for so many years…  “Just Do It”… can also apply to relaxing.  It’s okay to tell my brain “you’re caught up, take a rest”.  It’s healthy.  In letting my brain relax, I can be more mentally present when I’m physically present.  It’s not slacking to rest – it’s balance.

Balance.  That’s the key.  Now, to convince my brain of that…

The second 25 pounds

21 12 2015

In April of 2009 I started seeing spots. I bought an electronic home blood pressure cuff and came in at 190/110.  I called the doctor.  They got me in right away.  My weight was the highest I had ever seen on the scale.  My blood sugar was high.  I was a mess.  Over the next year, the doctors ramped up the meds and got me a sleep test and CPAP for apnea.

A year later, my medical stats were improving – but still not great.  I was teaching 2/3 time (each) at three different schools.  My feet were so swollen that I could only wear wide width plastic Crocs. I was miserable, but too tired and stressed to do much about it.

In 2012 I finally made serious efforts to increase my fitness level. I was diagnosed with anemia which helped – knowing there was a medical reason for my exhaustion.  I went down to one full-time job, working online, and quit the classroom jobs.  I had surgery on a fibroid to correct the anemia. I spent a month in Florida walking the beach and reflecting. I started meditating. By the fall of 2014 I was down 25 pounds from my highest weight, I could fit in normal width shoes, and my stress levels had vastly improved.

Until the fall of 2015.  When all of the numbers started to go up again.  And, my doctor gave me the sad face again.  And I realized, it’s time.

I had historically been opposed to calorie counting for two reasons (1) I have an advanced degree in physiology and I know that a calorie is more than a calorie – it’s beyond simple thermodynamics and (2) I am extremely competitive with myself and I’d landed myself in the hospital twice in my 20’s with eating disorder crazy-diet related problems.

But, I didn’t know what else to try – so, I downloaded a calorie counting app (Lose It), and bought a Fitbit Charge HR and Aria scale.  I read a couple of excellent books – Salt Sugar Fat by Michael Moss and Mindless Eating by Brian Wansink. I read up on BMR and the dangers and limitations of very low-calorie diets, and set my calories consumed to 100 above my BMR, which – given my weight – gave me an extensive calorie cushion between my burned and consumed calories.  Still, the first few weeks were discouraging.  I hovered within five pounds – up and down.  But, I was in it for the long haul so I kept going.  A month in, I researched sugar and salt recommendations.  My graduate work was in renal salt regulation so I knew that with functional kidneys, salt wasn’t a major player.  I was wrong – or, maybe my kidneys weren’t as functional as I thought.  Once I set and started adhering to salt and sugar goals, my body finally started kicking off pounds.  And, my salt and sugar goals weren’t even aggressive – they were 1.5 times the RDA.

In time, my taste buds started to change.  Concentrated sugar started to give me a headache and a crash. Food started tasting all around more flavorful.  This wasn’t always good.  I stopped eating much salad because I couldn’t stand the bitterness of the spinach and broccoli – things that had never bothered me in the past. Turkey sandwiches on wheat bread with mustard became my new standard.  Pears, which had always been a favorite, became almost too sweet. Cinnamon-Raisin English muffins became more appealing than brownies.  It didn’t happen overnight, I noticed the change gradually, over a few weeks. A cup of no-sugar-added cocoa became more than enough to calm the chocolate cravings. Food tasted good, but I pretty much stopped craving anything particular.  I was getting enough real, natural, food and plenty of variety, and my body stopped obsessing over whatever it had been obsessing over at the cellular and neurotransmitter level for so many years.  My cells were okay with what I was doing so they started to play along.

When it comes to counting calories, there are a wide range of pro and con opinions – even experts don’t always agree.  But, the general consensus is that food packaging counts, and whole natural packages (apples) are always better than processed packages (apple juice). What counting calories does best is increase awareness.  Day 1 of counting calories I realized the tortilla wrap I used to make my lunch was 210 calories whereas two slices of wheat bread totaled 120.  No more tortillas. A pumpkin donut was 220 calories – fine – but nearly my whole RDA of sugar – not fine. I realized that some things I love – homemade chicken tacos – were both filling and low calorie and I could eat the2015-12-21 08.07.37m as often as I wanted without breaking the calorie bank.  I learned that the more I walked and moved, the more I could eat.  It was mostly common sense – but I had never really thought of it before.

The second 25 pounds took 11 weeks.  I’m now 50 pounds down from my highest weight, and I still have a long road ahead.  There will be plateaus.  There will be setbacks.  But, this is the long haul.  I’m hoping to be back to my college/military weight before I turn 50.  That’s two years out, so it’s a reasonable goal.  Still, even if I don’t make it all the way there – anything I do is better than doing nothing.

Molasses Cookies

19 12 2015

2015-12-16 22.47.50


3/4c butter

1c brown sugar

1 egg

1/4c molasses

2c flour

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground cloves

1/2 tsp ground ginger

White granulated sugar for coating


1. Beat sugar and butter together until creamed

2. Add egg and molasses, beat

3. Add dry ingredients and mix well

4. Roll out logs of dough about 1″ in diameter and wrap in plastic wrap

5. Refrigerate overnight

6. Preheat oven to 350F

7. Cut dough into 1/4″ slices and coat with sugar

8. Bake 10-12 min

White Chocolate Covered Pretzels

19 12 2015

2015-12-13 09.37.42Ingredients:

1 pkg almond bark style white chocolate

3oz Bakers white chocolate

1/2 lb small pretzels

If desired: seedless sunflower seeds

1. In a double boiler, on low, melt the almond bark and white chocolate together.

2. In small batches, coat the pretzels – lift out with a fork and tap excess coating back into the double boiler

3. Place on wax paper to cool

4. After all pretzels have been coated, pour seedless sunflower seeds into remaining coating and drop by spoonful onto wax paper to cool

Lukken Waffles (Belgian Cookies)

12 12 2015

Last year, I made pizzelles – but, they were more like bread and less like cookies.  This year I found a lukken recipe – they turned out more like my grandma’s “Belgian cookies”. However, this is definitely a “cookie level: expert” job.  Making these takes a steady hand, patience, and an openness to a lack of perfection.  These cookies come off the press floppy and tear very easily.  However, they quickly dry stiff and are full of buttery sugary goodness.

The original recipe called for whiskey, but I substituted vanilla.  Also, the cookies shown in the picture contain a mistake – I was in a rush when making the dough and forgot to double the flour (I only used 3.67 cups).  So, they ended up extremely fragile (but still very crisp and yummy).  Next year, I’ll fix the flour issue and see how that alters the outcome.  I may end up using only 5 cups of flour to up the crispness.  Definitely a recipe to experiment with!

I used the PizzellePro brand of iron from QVC.


2c butter

6 eggs

2tbsp vanilla

2 1/3c brown sugar

2 1/4c white sugar

6c flour

1/2 tsp salt

2015-12-10 12.38.00

  1. Beat sugar and butter together until creamed
  2. Add eggs and vanilla, beat
  3. Add dry ingredients and mix well
  4. Roll out logs of dough about 1″ in diameter and wrap in plastic wrap
  5. Refrigerate overnight
  6. Warm the iron
  7. Slice small section of dough and cook in iron (the exact amount will require experimentation for the particular iron you have)
  8. Remove cooked waffles with a small spatula and cool – they will firm up as they cool

Chocolate Crinkle Cookies

12 12 2015

2015-12-06 12.40.13


1 1/4c brown sugar (firmly packed)

1c butter

1tsp vanilla

2 large eggs

2c flour

6tbsp unsweetened dark cocoa powder

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp baking soda

2/3c dark chocolate chips

For dipping:

Bowl of granulated sugar

Bowl of powdered sugar

1. Beat together brown sugar, butter, and vanilla until creamed

2. Beat in eggs

3. Add dry ingredients and then chocolate chips and mix well

4. Roll dough into logs, 1 1/2 inches in diameter, wrap each log in plastic wrap

5. Refrigerate dough logs overnight

6. Preheat oven to 350F

7. Slice dough into 1/4 inch slices

8. Coat each slice completely in granulated sugar and then powdered sugar (do not skip the granulated sugar step or the cookies will not “crackle”)

9. Bake 10-12 minutes

Recipe adapted from a Crisco brand recipe

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