Friday, November 20, 2009

Biscuits and Okra

It's been wild lately! Lots to tell. First off, Ranger and I enjoyed a nice trip to Denver a couple of weeks ago. I actually had to attend a workshop there, but that was fine. We braved the snow on the Front Range and had a lovely time.

My favorite moment was the Saturday morning before we hit the road. We took our lazy time moving that morning. He went downstairs and returned with all kinds of breakfast goodies. We sat on the cozy bed, watching TV and munching away on breakfast sandwiches, juice, and coffee. It was a peaceful moment to the two of us, before facing the real world.

I saw the surgeon yesterday. He explained the procedure they'll do on my spine, then sent me to the hospital for pre-op testing and all. I'm in terrible pain this week, though. Had to resort to morphine to get through the night. The surgery can't come fast enough, in some ways.

A lot of yesterday's pain was brought on by traveling. Last week, I attended that conference I love to go to every fall. The one I know Vince from. This is my seventh year to attend. I'm on the Board. So, I have many friends I look forward to seeing each year.

Just for the record, SC was not there again this year. A couple of people asked about him, but all I could say was last time I heard from him was about 3:00 AM when he was having dating trouble, which happens when you date your ex-spouse.

My co-presenter, my friend Cathy, made all kinds of noises when I said we needed to be at the airport at 5:30 AM on Wednesday. She grumbled to her husband all the way there that morning. "Blogget better be here," she said. "Making me get up so early...."

I was there and already checked in when she got there. Ha!

We had a decent layover in Dallas on the way to Montgomery, Alabama. It was 9:30 in the morning, and Cathy wanted pizza. All right, I thought. What the hell? We had pizza for breakfast, at the DFW Pizza Hut. As we're leaving, Cathy points. "What is that doing here?"

One condiment bin was filled with...grape jelly.

At a pizza place. WTF?

That kind of set the tone for the day.

Once we arrived in Montgomery and made it through the cabbie we couldn't understand, we settled in at the Renaissance Hotel in the downtown area. Love, love, love this hotel, by the way. You gotta love any place that has the Star Wars Cantina Band song among the tracks in their Jazz selection in the lobby.

I spent a little time working on the research report for the conference. We conduct an annual survey of distance programs, and I'm in charge of it this year. A database glitch caused me to get some of the data late, so I was still compiling the report upon arrival. Cathy checked her email, then we headed out to kill some time.

Montgomery has this great trolley system. Two routes take you on a tour of the downtown area, for a quarter per ride. So, for a whole dollar, we both rode on both routes to get an overview of things to see in Montgomery.

Wow. This is what blew me away on this trip. This town is not only rich in history, but it's also history that happened in layers. I mean, on top of each other. And the issues are so entwined. It's completely amazing. And I never left the downtown area.

This one pales by comparison to the historical sites in Montgomery, but our hotel was across the street from the Hank Williams Museum. The trolley recording told us that they have the car he died in. So, knowing nothing about his death and being a morbid person, I looked it up. I expected a car accident, but's a much more bizarre story. I won't retell it here, but go to this page on The Death of Hank Williams to read it.

All I can say is it's a pathetic story. How sad is it that someone can be such a drunk that no one notices he's DEAD for hours? I mean, people with him, driving around his dead body, thinking he's just passed out again. Wow. His driver even got pulled over, given a ticket, drove into the next town, went to see a judge, paid his fine, and got back on the road....all without noticing his passenger was dead. I mean, really?

On our last day there, a bunch of us visited his grave. Someone had left a nearly-empty bottle of Crown Royal at the grave, with cups they'd used to drink to him. How ironic. Here's a pic -- note the bottle and cups on the ground:

But it's the rest of the history of Montgomery that fascinates me. Here's the spot where Rosa Parks caught the bus that fateful day:

By the bus stop is the building that was the Confederate Post Office. Close by is the building where the telegram was sent to clear the Union troops from Fort Sumter, starting the Civil War.

Walk about a block and a half from that spot, and you're standing where Rosa Parks was arrested. The museum with her name on it stands there now. The theater that used to be there was where Hank Williams won his first music contest. It's also where the slave markets once stood.

Go a few blocks in the other direction, and you're standing in front of this church.

This church is significant for its former pastor, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. See those lower doors? That's the room where the bus boycott was planned, and became the headquarters for the civil rights movement. While I was in my Board of Directors meeting the following day, Cathy went on the tour of this church. She was the only person there, so she was allowed to stand at MLK's pulpit and sit at his desk. Wow. I was so jealous....

Anyhow, see the woman pointing in the picture above? This is what she's pointing at:

The monument in the foreground is right across the street from the church. RIGHT there. The monument marks the spot where Jefferson Davis's inaugural parade started. He took the oath of office on the portico of the capital building, in the background. The Civil War memorial is to the left, in the trees.

See what I mean? Layers of history, in one place. Absolutely fascinating.

After our wanderings, we met the other "early birds" for dinner that evening. We went across the street to an Italian restaurant called SaZa's, run by chef Joe DiMaggio, Jr. AMAZING food! Authentic Italian that apparently outdid Cathy's Italian momma.

And who sits down next to me but Vince. I had been debating about whether or not it would be cool to bring up the review visit.

"I'm coming to see you in a couple of weeks," he said. Well, that put an end to my debate.

Vince is a wine enthusiast, so I told him it's a shame he won't have a chance to visit some of our dozen or so vineyards. He said, "Maybe you're unaware of the customary gift basket given to reviewers...." Ha!

The more we talked about where we live, the more people around us listened. Now, the debate is, when can we have the conference in Grand Junction? That would be exciting for me, to show off some of this area.

Our food began to arrive. Plates of manicotti, spaghetti, pizza, and other wonders were set in front of us. I ordered rigatoni bolognese. I didn't get a plate.

I got a big, black, clay pot. Everyone around me went gaga. "WHAT did you order?"

It had a HUGE wooden spoon stuck through the lid's handle. It was poking me so I had the big spoon in my hand when the waiter appeared again, ready to put a plate in front of me.

He eyed the big serving spoon in my hand and said, "If you want to eat it that way, you can. But I'd recommend the plate and fork." Funny boy.

He opened the pot for me. It was filled with the most incredible-looking food, with the most incredible-smelling aroma wafting out with the steam. "Good thing we have a fridge in the room," I said.

"But you don't have a microwave," said Vince. Good point.

I ate the whole dang thing. It was just too delicious to stop. I was miserable, but wouldn't have given up a bite!

Cathy and I spent part of the next morning doing some work. She answered email, and I finished compiling the research from the group's survey this year. I sent it off to the Webmaster to post online, and we were free until my Board meeting later that afternoon.

We set off down the street, to see if the baseball stadium had a shop that was open. See, Montgomery has a minor league baseball team. It's the AA affiliate for the Tampa Bay Rays. That makes it the perfect souvenir for Son. It's just that the team name is a little funky....

They had a contest to name their team. A local lawyer won, when he said, "What could be more southern than biscuits?"

Oh, yes, my friends. They are....the Montgomery Biscuits.

Intimidating, yes? Especially when you see the mascot, Monty the Biscuit:

The pad of butter in his mouth makes me laugh. Apparently, they shoot biscuits from cannons when they make a home run.

This just might be the most hilarious mascot ever. Or so I thought, until the next day....but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Lots of people at my house ended up with Biscuit souvenirs! Truly unique, and I love to make people laugh.

Vince wandered into the Biscuit store, too. Which, incidentally, is called the Biscuit Basket. He likes baseball caps, so we left him to find one and went to get lunch.

Across the street, we found Dreamland Barbecue. Oh, the smell coming from that place was heavenly! We settled in and ordered some sandwiches, and set to chatting. Someone was seated at the table on the other side of a low wall from us. They reached up and put their hat on the wall. It was a Biscuits hat. We looked at each other. Could it be....

Yup. It was Vince. He decided to join our table. He doesn't know Cathy very well, so he was very gentlemanly in getting to know her, too. We talked about the apparent differences in Texas barbecue, Kansas City barbecue, and Alabama barbecue. Soon, another good friend from Vince's school joined us. This was my dear friend who gave us the lightsabers last year. He's just arrived in Montgomery.

"You should have been at the restaurant we went to last night," Vince said.

"Was it good?" the friend asked.

"Good?" Vince said. "You should have seen Blogget! We had to pry her head out of the dish her food came in!"

"Licked it clean," I said, laughing.

Have I mentioned how much I love seeing these people every year?

At the Board meeting that afternoon, the major issue before us was the drop in registrations for the conference. We usually have about 100 people. Last year, we had 90. This year, with budgets being slashed all over the place, we had 50. Dang. We're undergoing a name change to clarify the group's purpose and attract more people in our field, but we've gotta get the ball rolling on that. People want to debate all day, but I'm soooo sick of that. Just get it done, people!

What's sad is that one of the people who couldn't come due to budgets was the president of the organization. Unbelievable. I had to pay most of my own expenses to get there, and I was doing essentially three presentations.

We had various committee reports. I had submitted one of our courses for an award, but it didn't win. Remember droopy-dog lady fro last year? The one who got caught trying to start gossip about South Carolina and a woman in her office? She's on that awards committee. Again, this year, she opened her mouth and some of the dumbest things I've ever heard spilled out.

"I never read those cover letters people send," she said. This made me fume because our cover letter had contained really important information about the course. "And if there's too many steps to get into the course, I don't look at it. That indicates a problem with the course."

No, it doesn't. That's a problem with the school's online system. Not the instructor's fault. They should be given points for working with a wonky system.

My good friend Mick from Minnesota arrived. We Twitter all the time, and I'd agreed to help with his workshop on using Twitter for professional and educational endeavors. Mick also sends me lots of cool Star Wars links via Twitter. We're complete geeks, and love it!

We had a opening reception that night, but a bunch of us met for cocktails in the hotel bar before that. I can't tell you how many times I heard, "Let me buy you a drink!" on this trip.

Have I mentioned yet how much I love seeing these people, each year?

One of the highlights of this conference for me is the silent auction. Everyone brings things from their school and region to be auctioned, then the proceeds go to a charity in the area where the conference is being held.

And I'm horrendously competitive at a silent auction. I apologize ahead of time, because I can and do lose control. Seriously.

So, I'm cruising the silent auction items, and lo and behold, I find out that I was wrong the previous day. The Montogomery Biscuits are not the most hilarious mascot ever. This fella is:

The Delta State University....Fighting Okra.

He's an angry little vegetable.

"Look at the pickle!" Cathy said. She was corrected. He's an okra. With boxing gloves. And a very angry face (like that makes him a scary side dish).

I bid on the Fighting Okra hat for Son. Vince was bidding against me. "You're driving up that price," he finally said to me.

"You don't understand," I said. "I'm bidding on that for my son. You're going against a Mommy here."

He gave me a level stare. "You want a good review, don't you?"

I let him have the hat. Son got the t-shirt.

Have I mentioned yet how much I really love seeing these people?

The next morning, we started with a breakfast meeting and keynote speaker. We're all sitting nicely and looking all professional. Then this happened....

Seriously. This woman stood up at her seat, during the keynote speaker's talk, and did needlepoint. While doing this marching in place thing. She even did three thread color changes on her needlepoint, while standing there as the man is trying to talk. Wow.

I ditched Twitter for this one and sent Mick a text. He had his back to this woman. It saw him do the subtle "I'm just looking around" thing, and spot her. His expression was priceless.

Now, on the marching in place thing, I gave her the benefit of the doubt and thought maybe she had a circulation issue and couldn't sit that long. But no....she sat just fine through the rest of the sessions that day. Still doing her needlepoint!

Unbelievable. People can be so weird.

At lunch, my friend from Texas - the fiery little Hispanic woman I see whenever I visit Lubbock - was getting nervous about our presentation that afternoon. "I have to go over my notes," she said. "And I keep reminding myself, 'You can't cuss. You can't cuss.'" Gotta love that!

This post is getting long, so I'll spare the rest of the details. The presentations went very well. My friends noticed the addition of the ring on my hand, and were full of questions about Ranger. More questions about my upcoming surgery.

As I do every year at this conference, I felt the love from people I admire and respect, and am humbled by their admiration and respect.

Saying goodbye is always hard. Cathy and I stood in the hall, watching the elevator doors close. The crowd inside waved and yelled goodbyes to us. "See you next week!" Vince hollered as the doors shut.

Man, I love seeing these people.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Why I hate my brother-in-law

I've probably railed about this guy before. I think the only reason my sister is still married is that one of her kids has some mental instability that makes it doubtful he'd survive a divorce very well. The kids idolize their dad, of course. He's a Marine in Afghanistan. He's a hero. To them.

Not to me. Can't stand the guy. He's a complete asswipe, in my humble opinion. He'll be here for Christmas, though, and I couldn't dread it more. I just don't know if I can make nice for that long.

So, he has this leave coming up for Christmas. Of course, the kids are over the moon about seeing him. He's been in Afghanistan for a long time, which is not only far away, but also quite scary for them.

For my sister's part of this, she caught him cheating last year. With a woman involved with the youth group one of their kids was enjoying. Thanks, Dad, for making it impossible for this child to return to something he loved doing. While he's been gone, he's been swearing he's working on changing, that he wants to save his marriage. He's a new man, who makes his family more important now.

Yeah. Right.

My sister plans a big reunion for them in December. She books his flight from California to Salt Lake City, so they can meet him there, see the sights, enjoy the pretty Christmas lights, then come here together for Christmas. The kids are beside themselves, counting the days to seeing their Daddy again.

Asswipe calls the other day. "I think I'd rather go see my mom during my leave," he says.

Instead of seeing his kids.

After months of being gone from them.

At Christmas.


My sister refused to change the plans. So, instead, his mom is coming here, too. A day before Daughter and I leave for San Antonio. Lucky us! His mom is an asswipe, too. The type of woman who deliberately gives her grandkids things my sister says they are allergic to.

But...can you believe the man would actually think this was reasonable?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


So, the cardiologist visit went well.

He looked at my EKG and said that he actually would not have run the stress test based on that. He showed me the report from the stress test, which basically said I possibly had a "small area" that possibly had a "minor" problem.

In other words, it's the possibility of the possibility of a minor issue. I'm a lot less worried now.

The doctor wasn't worried at all, but will look in on me when I'm in the hospital.

Surgery is still on, for the 24th.

When we left the office, Ranger crumbled a little. He held on to me, right there in the hallway, and let the tears of relief go. He'd been holding in his worry, so he didn't upset me more, and now it was over, so he just let it go.

"I don't know what I'd do without you," he said into my shoulder.

Next week will be rough. I know I'll be out of it for most of the time. He plans to be at the hospital the whole time, watching over me. Then, he'll be at my house, watching over me.

My mother is a little intimidated by this, but she'll just have to deal. She's talked to me more in the last couple of days, since thinking I had a life-threatening problem, than she has in months. But Ranger is constant and consistent, so I know he'll take good care of me.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

STILL scared and impatient

They scheduled the stress test and scans for Friday the 13th. So appropriate, given how that number follows me around.

On Thursday, the nuclear medicine department calls me to change the schedule.

"We ran out of the stuff that makes it easier and faster for the patient," the guy said. "So, we have to give you the other stuff."

Don't you love that?

So, I was to report to the hospital at 8:45 AM - fasting - for a 9:30 appointment. They'd do a chemically-induced stress test on me, since my back and knee won't allow me to be on a treadmill for long. Then, I receive the radioactive stuff (Thalium, I think) and get scanned. Then, I get more radioactive stuff and go home for four hours, and come back for more scans.

About 3:30 AM on Thursday, I woke up panicked. I was sure I'd just eaten some licorice and blown the whole test day. But wait....I didn't have any licorice. It was a dream. A very vivid dream. I tried to go back to sleep, but no good.

About 7:30 AM, my sister tells me to come down for breakfast. She's made waffles.

"I can't eat," I said.

"Oh no!" she said. "I'm sorry! And you've been smelling these cooking, too!"

Uhm, yeah.

Ranger picked me up to go to the hospital. He was super worried, I could tell. I changed into that lovely gown they give you and got an IV started. Then, I waited to be called for the test. Ranger and I made fun of a magazine in the waiting area. National Geographic....from July 1998!

Soon, a woman named Marijana (if that doesn't make you do a double-take....) came and got me for the test. They hooked me up to all the cords and the stuff that would simulate a physical stress test. It's day-glo yellow. Once it started, I felt flush and my head buzzed. And a headache started. And my stomach hurt. The test lasted for about 15 minutes. Then, I got the radioactive stuff and went to the scan room.

It looks like a feet-first open-air MRI. They strap you in and put your arms up, and you sit still while huge camera rotate around your chest, taking pictures of your radioactive, glow-in-the-dark heart.

Then, you get another dose of radioactivity and go away for four hours. This is when I noticed that they bring the medication to you in a lead container. Kind of intimidating....

When she put the medicine in my IV, she asked, "Does it give you a bad taste in your mouth?"

I said no. "It makes everything smell funny."

She gave me an odd look. "I've never had anyone say that before."


And I'm free to go. The headache has gotten worse, though. She gave me the remedy: "Go take a couple of ibuprofen and two cups of coffee. It'll reverse the effects of the stress test."

So, with that prescription, I head out with Ranger to find food and caffeine.

I made it about three blocks before the dry heaves set in. I was completely miserable.

We found food I could tolerate. While we waited for our order, Ranger ran across the street and bought some ibuprofen for me from a convenience store. It actually relieved him to have something to do that would help me. The poor guy just doesn't know what to do with himself when I'm feeling bad.

Long story short, four hours later, my headache was gone, and I went back for the second scan.

"When will I get the results?" I asked the radiology tech.

"It takes a couple of days to get the report," she said. "So, call your doctor on Tuesday and see if she has it yet."

Tuesday. Wait for Tuesday. Four days. Ugh. That's a big stretch of my patience.

So, I set about distracting myself. Ranger took me over to Bed, Bath, and Beyond. I don't move so quickly these days, since they took me off of my anti-inflammatory in preparation for the surgery. The pain has been incredible. So, I made my slow-poke way around the store, looking for a new pillow and birthday ideas for my dad.

This is about when I realized that I left my cell phone at home. Dangit! So, I texted my mom and my daughter (she's in Vegas on a school trip right now) from Ranger's phone, to let them know to call me there.

Ranger and I decided to go to dinner, then call it a day. We had a delightful dinner out, with him being sweet to me. I'd taken some pain medicine, so I had the illusion of being pain-free for a short time.

We spoke loving words, and I appreciate so much how supportive he is of me. The health issues have been heavy lately. We talked about our first few dates, how we did some hiking around the Monument. Now, I couldn't do that. I look forward to being better able to move, without pain. There's a light at the end of the tunnel....

Back at home, we chatted with my mom and sister for awhile, watched a little TV. But it had been a long day, so Ranger headed for home early. Time to turn in.

"Where's my phone," I asked, before heading to bed. I'd missed a couple of Tweets. A text from Daughter, that she had re-texted to Ranger's phone. And a call from "Blocked ID" with a voicemail.

Probably a telemarketer, I thought, but I dialed voicemail anyhow.

But it wasn't a telemarketer. It was my doctor, calling from her private phone. At 5:30 PM. After office hours.

"Hi Blogget. Your test results show you definitely need more workup. We'll start first thing Monday morning to get you to a cardiologist before surgery time. You definitely need to be seen before you have surgery. This needs a closer look. If you have any questions, call me Monday. We open at 8:00 AM. Otherwise, we'll call you about your cardiologist appointment."

For a moment, I couldn't breathe. She sounded urgent. Concerned. I started to kick myself for forgetting my phone, but realized I wouldn't have answered a Blocked ID, anyhow. And she called after hours, so I couldn't have called her back right then, either.

I have to wait for Monday to get details. I don't even know what exactly is wrong with me. But I now know for sure, something is definitely wrong. With my heart. My heart. And it could have been going on for awhile.

My mother thinks it started when Son beat the crap out of me in April. She says that the week after that incident, I complained about my chest hurting. I just remember being bruised and sore. She says I haven't felt well since then. Then again, I have a family history of heart trouble that's scary, too.

I don't know what to think. It's like I can feel my heart beat, constantly. I find myself thinking, Was that right? Did it beat wrong just then?

Ranger took the news hard. He became very depressed that night, and he was desperate to prove to me that he would always be there for me, no matter what. He was afraid he hasn't done enough to show me that now. I'm afraid I was weak on convincing him he has not let me down, that I know he's there for me. I mean, I told him that, repeatedly, but I was too worn out with my own reeling from the news to completely reassure him.

I was just ill-equipped in that moment to handle someone else's emotions. Especially when he told me that he kept thinking of his ex-wife's brother, who went in for routine surgery and died on the table, with a heart problem that had recently been diagnosed.

"That didn't help me feel better," I said. He apologized for sharing that with me, that he should have thought more before speaking. We were both overly emotional at the time. Sleeping on it, as much as I could, helped a little.

So, I'm waiting again. Monday, I have to find a way to deal with this AND the visit by the HLC reviewers. I'm not sure how I'll pull that off.

11-17-09: My doctor got me an appointment with a cardiologist today at 12:45. Anxiously awaiting that appointment, to find out more details of what's wrong. My doctor explained yesterday that the radiologist called her Friday to say that I showed "borderline" reduced bloodflow to the coronary artery. The cardiologist will have to determine what needs to be done, if it can be done before my scheduled surgery, if the surgery needs to be rescheduled, or if the treatment can wait until after surgery. Stay tuned....

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Scared and impatient

I know I've said this before, but I'm not a patient person.

Pain doesn't help that situation. With the upcoming surgery, I've been able to focus on a "deadline," of sorts. The point at which I'm likely to get some relief. I know, it'll hurt more before it gets better, but there's hope on the other side. I can make it to November 24th.

The other day, the hospital did all of it's pre-op testing. Yesterday, I went to my regular doctor to get medical clearance for surgery.

She furrowed her brow at the hospital's EKG report. "Have you ever had symptoms of a heart attack?"

Now, there's a question you don't like to hear.

"No. I've never had a problem. Why?"

She points at the piece of paper. "Right here, on your chart, we like to see a nice little bump there. Yours is flat. The report says this indicates that at some point you've had restricted bloodflow to this part of your heart."

Or, in other words, a heart attack.

"You've never had symptoms?"

No. I haven't. But neither did my dad, when he had two stints put in his heart and was told he could have had a major heart attack at any moment. And neither did my grandmother, when she had a heart attack no one saw coming, and died at age 56.

So, tomorrow morning, I go for a stress test. The doctor said the anomaly was "very minor" on the EKG, but we need to make sure. If anything shows, I need to see a cardiologist and surgery will be postponed. The thing that makes it worse is the waiting to find out. I'm a scared, impatient person.

Ranger is worried. He's always at a loss when I cry.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Not a peon....

Although, our VP has thought so. Until now.

Our school has applied to the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) to create fully-online degree programs. They're sending two reviewers to check out our distance program next week. Our VP is understandably stressed about this visit, which has a trickle-down effect to my boss.

So, I'm sitting in my boss's office a couple of weeks ago, discussing this. He says, "I finally got the names of the reviewers and what schools they're from." He's digging around on his desk for the piece of paper, while he tells me the first name. It means nothing to me. He finds the second one.

"Here it is. Vince Paulman."

I laughed out loud, startling him. "Really?" My boss is looking at me like he's considering calling security.

Dear Diary, do you remember last summer, when my favorite conference was approaching, and I decided I wasn't going to do any presentations that year? I let the proposal deadline pass, but my phone rang a week later. One of the organization's big-wigs called me and said, "We noticed you didn't submit a proposal. I'm calling to ask you to please reconsider. If you need a topic, I'll give you one. If you need help, I'll co-present with you. How about it?"

That call came from Vince Paulman. I ended up doing two presentations, one with him.

So, back to my boss's office.


"Yeah. Why?"

I gave a thumbs up. "Vince is my bud. I've known him since 2003." I explained how I knew him, and my boss started picking my brain about him. I went to my office, pulled up some titles of Vince's articles, and sent them to my boss.

Pretty soon, I get an email from the VP. "Do you have copies of any of these articles that I could read?" I sent what I had, including the one that described Vince as "America's foremost expert" on the history of our industry.

What I didn't know was that at the same time I was talking to my boss, my other co-presenter for the conference last year was in a meeting with the VP and the President of the college. The names of the HLC reviewers came up, and she had just about the same reaction I did.

The President looked at her and said, "You know him?"

"No," she said, waving away the suggestion. "Blogget Jones does. They go way back."

She said his head about spun around. She described it as seeing a light bulb come on with him and the VP.

Maybe Blogget isn't such a peon after all. Maybe she actually accomplishes things at these conferences.

Other than having a good time, that is. Although, I do have that. The post about this year's conference is coming!