Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A dog injured, an owner hit by the karma train

There is something in me that always wants to do what I'm not supposed to. Someone gives me good advice, backed up with fact and reason, and I listen. I really do. But then ... a little voice comes into my head and says, "Well ... I meeeeaaan ... what harm could it really do if ... ."

My Squishers developed an unknown injury on Thursday or Friday. She whimpered intermittently throughout the day, and that's not like her. She smiles all the time. She plays. She cavorts. So this concerned me. After studying her a while, I noticed it was attached to certain movements. Standing up from a laying-down position and climbing stairs. She made it up two stairs, froze there and cried. I had to lift her 80-pound tush -- somehow gingerly -- and place her gently on the floor.

I got into the vet on Saturday morning. Dr. Adams is a very nice man at Mn Valley Pet Hospital. But I found it to be a terrible sense of deja vu. A little more than a year ago, I had seen Dr. Adams repeatedly for a similar situation with my elderly dog. He had been crying out at random, and after multiple tests and multiple hundreds of dollars, we were no closer to finding the source of his pain. So I had to put him down. The guilt was pretty tough. Some days, it still is. I wonder if I did enough to find out what was wrong.

On Saturday, we arrived at the decision that Squishers had some sort of back or neck injury. Could be anything. A pinched nerve was likely, Dr. Adams said. Still, I insisted on x-rays. If the bubs had a broken back, I wasn't about to let her suffer longer if I could help it. X-rays were clean. And Dr. Adams sent us home with pain pills and orders to keep the Squish quiet, off of stairs, and to keep from walking her for a week.

That was the plan. The trouble is, by Sunday night, The Fat seemed to be back to her old self in certain ways. Perky. Ready to play. And darn ready to walk. She loves walks. By Monday, she was jumping on furniture again. And by Monday night, she was BEGGING to be taken outside. There were squirrels. There were rabbits. There was a whole world out there, and I was the gate keeper.

After a 10-hour day at work trying my very hardest to learn the new Multiple Measurements Rating for student testing assessment, I needed to run. And here was this poor, sad, deprived dog who desperately wanted the same.

So we ran.

I bet you think you know where this story is going -- to a sad, dark place where Squishers' injury is made worse by a mom who can't say no, who defies the doctor's orders and pays the price for it. Not quite. The karma of my refusal to ever listen to good advice came back to me in a different way.

The Squish did pretty well with running. For a solid 15 minutes, she ran at a clip for me. Then she slowed. Then she had to sniff everything in sight. And then, when we were furthest from home, she started getting ... ill.

My terrible, misbehaved dog has a way of waiting until you leave a room and then quietly -- with the finesse and speed of a jungle cat -- she eats whatever you have out in the open. At lunchtime yesterday, that happened to be a $9 tub of feta cheese.

Dead smack on the front lawn of seemingly EVERY HOUSE that separated us from home last night, the Squishers left 50 cents worth of that feta, until it was all spent.

A good dog owner brings one plastic bag with her on a walk or run with her dog. She does not bring 18 of them.

Maybe next time I will listen to good advice. ...maybe.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

A major running milestone is within my grasp

I've been running since the end of January. A couple of weeks after I started, I was benched with a knee injury, but I would say, all in all, I'd been running a solid six weeks before I signed up for My Daily Mile.

What I love most about Daily Mile is the little widget that tracks my total miles. I always glance over and say, "What!? I've run 50 miles! That's like running to Fairmont!"

Well, I happened to glance over there yesterday, and I saw that I am within close reach of the 100-mile marker!!! Now, like I said, I've surpassed 100 miles. I'd been running long enough before Daily Mile to probably be at 150 miles by now. But, you see, I didn't have the little widget as a trophy before. So I'm allowing myself to celebrate this little milestone.

So, tomorrow night, when I hit the streets, I'm going for the four miles I need to make it to exactly 100 miles. I'm going to potentially give myself till Saturday, though, because it's so frickin' humid. I don't want to die of heatstroke before I make it to the big one-hundo. Unless, of course, anyone knows where one can run four miles completely downhill in this town. Then I'd make it for sure.

Wish me luck!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

My Just Do It Summer welcomes an exciting collaborator

You've almost definitely heard the name Nicole Helget. She's a North Mankato author of a memoir, "The Summer of Ordinary Ways," published by Borealis Books, and her debut novel, "The Turtle Catcher," published by Houghton Mifflin. She and her husband, Nate LeBoutillier, just recently published a young-adult novel, "Horse Camp," via Egmont USA.

Nicole is also a teacher, a mother of six -- yes, count them, SIX -- children. She manages to find time to run marathons and also feed her kids healthy food.

Ages ago, she worked for a little while at The Free Press. And we have been chummy ever since. She was a total peach during my "Fight to be Fit," and she's been so supportive since I began running, too. When she read my first post of "My Just Do It Summer," the real food campaign resonated with her. She, too, has been working hard at providing her family with healthy, "real" food.

So, she thought -- and then, of course, I thought immediately after she thought -- why not make "My Just Do It Summer" a collaborative space where we both post amazing recipes and pictures, along with my running stuff. Why not, indeed.

So that's the plan, folks. This summer, both she and I will provide you with delicious recipes, photos of delicious foods, and commentary on living life more healthfully, or at least making our best attempt at it.

I hope you enjoy, and I hope you will email me with any recipe suggestions you have, too, at adyslin@mankatofreepress.com. In addition, Nicole has a wonderful blog where she posts quite frequently at nicolehelget.blogspot.com.

Nicole's first post, a delicious recipe for fish tacos, is up on My Just Do It Summer.

A cancer-phobic's indictment of the health care industry

The high cost and limited payoff of health care insurance is nothing new. But I think it helps to share stories of our own struggles in the hopes that somebody with the power to fix it out there is listening. So I'm about to offer my own, personal, embarrassing indictment of the health care system.

The first thing you need to know about me is that I am a cancer-phobic. Step back! you say. Aren't we all? Yes, of course. But I take it to a whole new level. My grandfather died of lung cancer when I was 8, and since then I've only had acquaintances who have battled the terrible disease, so I'm honestly not sure what implanted this debilitating seed in my psyche. But since my early 20s, there has not been a single day when I wasn't sure I had some variety of cancer. It seems to travel in my body, too. Like when I was 25, I was convinced I had a tumor in my left shoulder. I didn't have health insurance, so I went to Open Door, and a lovely doctor indulged my fears and did a chest x-ray. It, of course, came up clean. And I later realized the pain I had been feeling in the front of my left shoulder was from holding my hard, plastic phone receiver between my head and shoulder for hours a day.

This is a good time to pause and say that I'm not proud of this neurosis of mine.

Anyway, about two years ago, I started to get a twinge in my back, between my spine and my right shoulder blade. It began as a little pinch. And I couldn't tie it to any event. Did something tear when my dog lunged for a squirrel on a walk? Not sure. I can't remember injuring it.

Several months later, I went to the doctor. The pain had increased to be a constant dull ache throughout the day. I was told that it was muscular, and I should take Ibuprofin.

About a year later, the pain had become like a bruise. I liken it to feeling like someone had punched me in the back. And at night, especially, it throbs and aches. Clearly, there must be something physically going on in there that isn't healing, I though. So I went to the doctor again.

I was told the problem was muscular by a doctor who didn't even look at my back. And I was offered muscle relaxers. I went home, still dealing with the same problem I had been dealing with for 18 months.

A week later, I decided I wasn't satisfied with this response. I HATE calling a clinic or hospital because you leave messages, and you're asked what you're calling about by nurses and others, and how could I put all of the above onto a post-it note message for my doctor? Then it takes days to get a call back. So I like to write letters.

I wrote to my doctor that after 18 months of pain, I felt I deserved a scan of some sort to get a look at the area, just to make sure it wasn't serious. To my surprise, she ordered the MRI for the very next day.

The trouble came when I called my insurance company. I have a $750 deductible, and then, after that, the insurance would cover 80 percent of the cost. That means, for one scan of my back, I would pay about $1,000 out of pocket.

I do not have $1,000. I don't even have $100 extra per month to make payments to the clinic. So, basically, my peace of mind was about to literally bankrupt me. What if nothing came up on the scan? $1,000 down the drain. What if something did come up? How much more would I have to pay for whatever was wrong?

I decided I couldn't afford it. So for the past few months since that visit, I've continued to live with the upper back pain, which is constant.

The other even more debilitating side to this -- even though I fully know that this is my neurosis talking -- is that every single night, without fail, I wake up in the middle of the night, and I ABSOLUTELY CONVINCE MYSELF that it's cancer. Everyone I know tells me how stupid that sounds. And I know it does. But it's truth in my mind. I can't explain it. During that early morning hour, I'm so convinced that the throbbing in my back is a tumor that I'm near tears. It's some sort of mental illness, like OCD of some sort.

So it's not just that $1,000 is standing in the way of fixing whatever tear or whatever the back pain might actually be. But it's also causing loss of sleep and shear panic every single night.

I'd go see a counselor about this weird cancer-phobic OCD thing of mine, but my insurance doesn't cover those visits.

So I find myself without many choices here. And I often wonder how things would be different if I lived in Canada or Norway or somewhere. I probably would have waited a good, long time to schedule the MRI, but I bet it would have been done, for free, within a couple of months of me complaining of this back pain.

Anyway, this problem pales in comparison to the terrible health issues so many people are dealing with -- issues that have bankrupted their families as they're dealing with them. But if we all share our stories, maybe someone who can help will eventually listen.

Monday, May 14, 2012

My Just Do It Summer and new blog kickoff

Twice last week I did interviews with people who said mid-conversation, "You know, I followed you through your entire 'Fight to be Fit' campaign last year. I just loved it." It's amazing to me the impact that column had in the Mankato community. At the end of the summer it will be a year since that campaign ended. It just goes to show you that admitting one's flaws, and being able to laugh at them to boot, truly resonates with people. We're all underdogs in one way or another.

I lost a total of 75 pounds last year, and I've been gaining and losing the same 15 pounds ever since January. I've been totally fine with that. It was around that time that I started running and concentrating on that new fitness hobby. I've said it before, but I've never felt that level of pride in anything I've done before. It's something I didn't think I could do. So when you prove yourself wrong in that way, there's no feeling like it.

The food, on the other hand, sort of fell by the wayside while I was focusing on running. Which is why I started the all-natural "real food" experiment a few weeks ago. I've been surprised by one thing since I started eating foods with pronounceable ingredients: It's not a hassle. Not at all, actually. I pictured myself spending ages in the grocery store trying to find foods that didn't contain white flour, sugar and preservatives. But, folks, they're everywhere. Whole grain pastas, whole wheat bread, fruit preserves, vegetables and fruits of every color. I'm cooking a lot more than I ever have and really enjoying it. Rachael Ray has been a godsend. I used to think of her as the fattening pasta and cheese chef, but if you watch enough of her shows and read her magazine, you'll notice that she makes everything from scratch, so there are healthy ingredients in all of her meals. I've cut down on the amount of cheese she manages to put into every meal, but other than that, she's been a great go-to when I want to know what to make.

I've also been surprised that eating this way isn't boring. The above photo is a meal from Sunday. I grated garlic and onion into lean beef and added some worcesershire sauce. I grilled the patties and topped them with sharp cheddar, Swiss, tomato, spinach and a smoky BBQ sauce on a whole wheat bun. The salad is just a mix of what I had left in the fridge. A meal with so many colors is actually really fun to eat. And when you take the time to prepare a meal and then sit down to eat it, it'll do you for the night. I don't get so peckish around 8 p.m. or so.

However, I haven't been running as much. And the whole point of the "real food" experiment was to see what effects it would have on my body and how I feel when I run.

So it's time for a reboot.

We'll call the past few weeks of "real food" eating practice for what I'm calling my Just Do It Summer. I have started a new and temporary blog called, you guessed it, My Just Do It Summer. The premise will be: to run absolutely every day, to eat all-natural foods, and to record the process.

I will post each day what I've eaten, including amazing recipes that I know you will love to make, too. And I will record that day's run and how it went. I will also link to my Daily Mile account for extra details on that day's workout.

For the next several months, I hope this will be a little bit of a return to my Fight to be Fit that so many readers enjoyed, but this time with a focus on healthy living and less on the scale, although hopefully, if I do this right, that will come into play too.

So if you enjoyed my weight-loss entries last year, I hope you will check out My Just Do it Summer at justdoitsummer.blogspot.com! I posted a little intro already today. And tonight I will post today's workout and meals. Woo! Let's do this!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Love this Nike running music video

I saw this a few weeks ago late at night, and I loved it. But I haven't seen it since. It's a really long Nike commercial/music video.

This penguin ain't tryin' to be a gazelle

I haven't been running as much as I want to or should be lately in order to train for the 10Kato. But when I do, I've been seeking out hills to tackle just to see how it goes. And actually, it's been OK.

I've sort of found that a hill is a mental assassin more than a physical one. It's difficult, of course, to reach the top. But once you're up there, your heart rate starts to decrease and you feel fine again within a minute.

I came to this conclusion during the Girls on the Run 5K. I didn't know when I started the race that there would be hills. Four of them. And my way of dealing with it was to stare at my feet and just keep running until I felt the relief of going downhill again. It really worked, actually. So I figured maybe hills weren't that bad.

The point of this post is two-fold. The first is this: If you're a newbie runner and you haven't run a race yet, I would so encourage you to do it. The feeling of reaching that finish line -- even if you've run that same distance numerous times before -- is really incredible. Because for most of us newbies, the idea of any kind of running finish line was out of the question until quite recently when we started running and surprised the hell out of ourselves for being able to run longer than, say, a block or two. That first race is symbolic. Feels amazing. I'm so glad I did it.

My second point: Leading up to Girls on the Run, the stress really ruined running for me. I had a cold, and I was worried about letting people down. I was worried about letting myself down by not performing well. And ever since Girls on the Run, my morning jogs have been relaxing again. I have nothing to prove to anyone. I run because I like to run. And with the 10Kato looming on the horizon, I'm starting to feel that anxiety creep in again.

I realize no one would be watching me run the 10Kato. I realize nobody in the world cares if I walk even, like, half of it. But, folks, I'm not ready. I've never run six miles. I've tackled small hills, but certainly not hills as challenging as the two-mile trek up Glenwood. I know myself, and if I attempt the 10Kato and do poorly, I'm going to feel bad. And I don't want to be disappointed.

I'm thinking fall will be a better time for my first 10K. I do want to do one. But just one. And not right now. I'm not a race person. So I'm going to bow out of 10Kato and just enjoy a summer of easy morning slogging.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Protest stories still pouring in

The 1972 stories are still coming in (see last post if you don't know what I'm talking about). Friday, just after I'd put the story to bed, my phone rang six more times and continued over the weekend. One caller was retired North Mankato Police Chief Mike Pulis. He told me about working at the Mankato Police Department on May 9, 1972. He was at the station the whole day, with only a dog to protect him in the event the situation broke loose. Another woman called to tell me she sat in traffic for three hours that day, and she said she wanted me to give her the phone numbers of one or more of the protesters from that day because she never got an apology.

When the story came out Sunday, I admit to checking my email and phone messages on and off throughout the day. With an extremely complicated, multi-faceted story that, in part, relies on people to recall the same 40-year-old memories, people's stories or memories often conflict. So I was worried I would have people calling in saying I had it all wrong.

Instead, it was the opposite. I even had a college student write in to tell me how much he appreciated the article and about a conversation he had in the checkout line at Econo Foods about how well the paper was selling there that day. How cool! I'm so beyond excited by the response.

I can't post everyone's stories on my blog. But I thought this one should be because I didn't quote anyone from State Patrol, who were kind of made out to be the heavies on that day. This is from Jerry Weihrauch:

"I was the supervisor at the state highway patrol radio dispatch office during that time. I don't remember a lot, the two videos and the story from the two former Mankato State students brought back memories of that day. I don't remember the regular dispatcher on duty that day, he and I were at the radio console and I sitting by the telephone ready to make any calls for what ever action the patrol Captain Gerald Kittridge relayed to the dispatcher. I remember the patrol and probably some deputies from adjacent counties? Officers gathered at the highway building before hand and leaving with the riot gear and going to the three areas of protests. Our home was on Highway 22 near Main St on S Redwood Dr. When the troopers radioed the protesters were marching up Madison Ave and then on to Highway 22 south, I phoned my wife and told her to stay indoors and lock the doors.

I don't remember who issued the command to disperse tear gas but remember hearing some of the radio chatter between the patrol officers at the scene.

Attaching a photo my mother saved from the Mankato Free Press on one of the first days at the radio dispatch office in 1968. I opened the dispatch office in January 1968, was a new radio dispatch office. Prior to that time the dispatching was either from Rochester or Marshall patrol radio dispatch offices. In the photo I am at the radio console reaching for the phone and the other man is Arnold Bentdahl at the Teletype machine. The Teletype machine was used to obtain vehicle and drivers license records from the St Paul highway offices and to communicate between other highway patrol and highway maintenance offices around the state. ... "

Friday, May 4, 2012

All week I've been back in 1972

The only thing I knew Monday morning was this: Mankato, in 1972, had been a hotbed of anti-war protests.

That, quite frankly, was an understatement. I set out to reconstruct an event that had literally shut down Mankato one afternoon that year. I thought I'd work on it a couple of days, and it would make a nice little lookback and offer some fodder for conversations among friends who had lived through it.

I put a little blurb on Facebook and Twitter, asking folks to call me if they were there on May 9, 1972, when thousands of students had occupied Highway 169 and a couple of bridges in Mankato. Didn't hear much except for an MSU professor and Vietnam veteran who asked we not dredge up a day that he felt highlighted disrespectful behavior. (I attempted to get a hold of him for his viewpoint, but was unable to.)

Then I decided at the last minute on Monday to put a blurb in Tuesday's paper asking the same question. The power of print is alive and well, folks. I was completely unprepared for the response the next day. Every five minutes my phone was ringing from folks as far away as California offering their memories. Ex-police officers were calling, numerous former students, even reporters who had covered the events at the time. It seemed everyone who saw that blurb was moved to talk about it again. There were also some who called to tell me that I should be leaving the past in the past.

It was clear that by simply bringing up May 9, 1972, I had struck a nerve. Forty years ago seemed like yesterday for some of them. And even though the day was eight years before I was even born, I did my best to bring their memories alive on the page.

As a couple of my colleagues in the newsroom have been quick to point out: I'm not reinventing the wheel here. The story's been told. But that doesn't make it unworthy of being revisited, reminding people of an important day in Mankato's history and offering fresh sources and fresh voices whose stories of that day and that time have yet to be told.

I devoted my entire week at work on this story, and I'm proud of how it turned out and of being able to share it with all of you. I was happy, just for personal reasons, to get to hear the stories that I was told this week. They're great stories, and I hope you will think so, too.

Whatever your viewpoints on Vietnam and the protest-era, I hope you'll pick up Sunday's paper and read about Mankato State President James Nickerson, Mankato Police Chief Charles Alexander, officer Steve Davis (in the thick of it all, as he said), Vietnam veterans coming home from war, MSU professors who participated in sit-ins, community members stuck in traffic, just trying to get home and eat pork chops. I talked to all of them and more, and their stories do not disappoint.

Be sure to also check out the multi-media component. Ron Affolter took Super 8 video footage of the protests, and it was so cool to see 1970s-era students, with long hair and bell-bottoms, and to see what Front Street looked like back then. We'll have all 13 minutes of footage on our website. And we'll have a taped interview with Mankato State alums Mark Halverson and Scott Hagebak talking about their memories of the protests, coupled with numerous Free Press file photos and those submitted by Donald Jay Olson that have never been circulated.

I'm excited. I hope you enjoy it.