LORD OF THE RINGS IN CONCERT!

BEST BIRTHDAY PRESENT EVER: I very strongly suggested to my boyfriend last September that he get me tickets to the Lord of the Rings Symphony, occurring the week before my birthday. He (thank God) appreciates directness in gift-giving and rewarded me with a multi-day nerdgasm:

Fellowship of the Ring…

The Two Towers…..

and Return of the King…..

With the soundtrack being performed LIVE by a symphony orchestra and chorus!

And a signed program by Howard Shore!

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The LOTR trilogy are far and away my favorite movies. They came out while I was a high schooler and my friends and I were more or less obsessed. I had a shrine to the LOTR cast hung up in my locker. Pretty sure I had a crush on 75% of that cast, either the actors or the characters themselves. (Okay, sorry Gimli….not you.) There was fanfic and midnight showings and fervid adolescent emoting.

And of course, for years before and after this I played cello in the orchestra. I still sing in a choir. So the instant I heard about this…..I was approximately this excited:

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After anxiously waiting for months, the extravaganza was finally under way. FOTR on Wednesday, TT on Thursday, and ROTK on Friday. All with the 21st Century Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, flown all the way from Switzerland to perform at the Lincoln Center. This was the first time that the entire trilogy had been performed in the United States.

God help me, how do I even begin to describe how amazing this was?! Here is but a taste of the greatness:

Except this was my vantage point every night. Fourth row!

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I’mma try to break it down:

The movies: they never fail to be mindblowing. But this time, the movies took a backseat to the music. Someone else said it was like the score became another character of the films. Yes! What I lost in ability to be visually immersed in the movie, I gained in being able to watch the musicians work their magic.

The musicians: They were exceedingly talented. That much should be obvious.

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It had to have been exhausting to perform for three hours over several consecutive nights, but dammit if they didn’t look like they were having a good time doing it. I loved watching the double bassists go to town on the marches and battle scenes. And at every turn there were new sonic textures I picked up from the live orchestra that I barely noticed in the film soundtrack. Not many people pop in a LOTR DVD and think to themselves, “Wow, listen to that French horn line!”

The conductor: Ludwig Wicki conducts with astonishing precision and verve. Sitting so far to the side of the stage, I could see few musicians clearly but was able to watch him well. I’ve never been so delighted by a conductor! I learned later that he has a monitor on his stand, which gives him a flashing light signal to indicate score pickups and tempo. Like a drummer’s click track, in a way. Ingenious!

The soloists: Fantastic! In a twist of fate, the soprano Kaitlyn Lusk lived in my hometown growing up. I remember hearing her sing at assemblies as a teen. Granted, she had already recorded an album then and was Kind of a Big Deal, but how fun to see that she’s now internationally famous! The Brooklyn Children’s Chorus also performed, and those boy sopranos KILLED IT.

The audience: An integral part of the experience! I got over my bewilderment at people applauding the soloists relatively quickly (bewildered not because they weren’t amazing, mind you, but because orchestral performances rarely have applause after solos or between movements). As the trilogy progressed, the audience grew more and more responsive, both to the music and the movies. People laughed at the jokes (“PO-TA-TOES!”), and at the unintentionally funny memes (“One does not simply…walk into Mordor”). There was enthusiastic applause for Kaitlyn singing elven music, the concertmaster performing the Rohan theme (GUH MY HEARTSTRINGS), and Legolas’ ridiculous battle tricks. And the house went berserk when Eowyn ripped off her helmet and declared, “I am no man!”

(Let us pause for a moment of recognition for the principal violist. He had a solo during ROTK and nobody applauded. Violists never get any love, man.)

I was hoping to make friends with my seatmates. I figured everyone that close to the stage would have also gotten the deluxe package and been there all three nights. But alas, the crew changed with each performance. A family with two young boys sat next to me during Two Towers (and adorably, they covered their eyes and grumbled during every kissing scene). Lacking small talk and avoiding the astoundingly long bathroom and bar lines, I wandered to the front row during intermission and started checking out the stage setup. That’s when I met these dudes:

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{Thanks to the LOTR 2015 Instagram for this photo!}

“Wow, I just have to say…your shirts are fantastic,” I said, by way of introduction. The guys were instantly sociable and we started gushing about how stupendous the experience had been so far. Emilio and Anthony had roadtripped to NYC from Toronto to see the performances. While I’ve only once watched the entire trilogy in a single day, they do it together every year. (Extended editions.) Then we started talking to a guy who was celebrating his birthday that night….his girlfriend told him they were going to the opera, then surprised him with the Two Towers tickets instead! “Best birthday ever, although I feel ridiculous wearing a suit,” he said. Then after the show, we went out for drinks at the hotel bar with some of the orchestra members, and I got in a long and involved discussion of fandoms with a musician (LOTR! Harry Potter! Game of Thrones!) I had finally found my tribe!

Howard Shore: The man is a genius. Perhaps for a future birthday gift I’ll request Doug Adam’s comprehensive guide to the score, “The Music of the Lord of the Rings Films.” The details in my program of Shore’s thoughtfulness and expertise in composing a half day’s worth of music were fascinating and impressive. For example, he designed each race’s theme with their characteristics in mind (e.g., the mountain-dwelling dwarves are written with lots of percussion– and a strictly male chorus, hearkening to Gimli’s line, “It’s true you don’t see many Dwarf-women. And in fact, they are so alike in voice and appearance, that they are often mistaken for Dwarf-men…”)

I didn’t get a chance to meet him, but my fellow members of the Rohirrim fanclub took this photo of us inhabiting the same physical space on Friday after ROTK:

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The aftermath: I met the orchestra manager later that night at the bar. More drunk on emotion than the beer, I clutched his arm and begged, “You have to come back to the US! YOU HAVE TO!” One can only hope that this was a cash cow for all involved, given seven sold-out shows and secondary-market tickets going for several hundred dollars. But as the manager then reminded me, it isn’t cheap to travel and house 180+ musicians, either….

Who’s to say whether my impassioned pleas or the cold hard cash will have an effect. I sincerely hope so…..even though I’ve decided that I would absolutely travel to see the trilogy live again. I felt bereft for days after it was over. Like when you escape a cold and weary winter for a tropical beach vacation, and return to gray slushpiles and the smell of wet wool and misery. That feeling.

But….why? Why the hell did I love it so much, even more than I expected to? Because the 21st Century Orchestra & Chorus are fine musicians? Because epic quests appeal to us on a deep cultural level? Because Aragorn is still really hot?

Because my life is content, but perhaps in a Shire-like way. I live within a circumscribed emotional plain. Life is good….far from the margins. And in this space, sometimes music or film simply seizes you. Sometimes, an artistic experience comes along and reacquaints you with the vast and wild landscapes of the heart.

My buddy Larry innocuously asked me on Sunday how my week was. After listening to me crow for several minutes about WOW Lord of the Rings and how AMAZING and INCREDIBLE and MINDBLOWING and COLOSSALLY AWESOME it was, he looked at me and said, “I don’t think I’ve ever been as passionate as you are about Lord of the Rings….ever. About anything. In my whole life.”

I grinned and shuffled my feet. “Sorry?”

“Nah,” he said. “You’re crazy, but I love that about you.”

Farewell, fellowship. Until next time….may it be fewer than 111 years.

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Race Report: Shamrock Marathon 2015

Last Sunday the 22nd, I ran my eighth marathon! shuffled my way through my eighth and WORST marathon yet! Thus follows a race report.

tl;dr I did a marathon, it sucked for me. I don’t know why it sucked, but I can make some guesses and learn from them. And I have cool teammates and friends.

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Okay, here’s the full version.

Continue reading

IRONMAN.

This is happening.

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In exactly six months I plan on crossing the starting line– and, dammit, the finish line too!– of IRONMAN WISCONSIN with a lot of other diabetic athletes.

Why?

This can be explained in multiple parts.

A few significant anniversaries

A while ago I was on a run and letting my mind wander. My diaversary is coming up……hey, next year it’ll be on a weekend…..maybe I should do a race or something…..or maybe I should GO BIG OR GO HOME?

Which began a longer mental conversation about doing some sort of physical challenge that related to diabetes, that honored diabetes in some way. Because as much as I keep it tucked away sometimes, it is a significant challenge in my athletic (and hell, everyday) life. And it’s good for my mental health to periodically take some time and acknowledge, “This stuff can really suck! Might as well show it up and kick its ass as much as I can.”

Then I got to thinking about how I would be coming up on 10 years of Being a Runner, which is to say, a whole decade of maintaining a fitness habit. And that corresponded with the thirteenth year of managing diabetes. And for the past several years, I had been trucking along, running 1-2 marathons per year, always at a fairly average (or slower than average) time, and not REALLY pushing my boundaries.

Maybe this is the perfect time to GO BIG OR GO HOME….

Enter Jeff Mather

As I was kicking around ideas, I was emailing with my buddy Jeff about various and sundry. Or were we blog commenting about various and sundry? In any case, his devilish temptation to join an Ironteam of diabetics with team Riding on Insulin came in many forms. (I just did a quick Gmail search, and lo and behold, we’ve been talking about Ironman since 2013. Go figure!) Anyways, he threw it out there on the blog, we talked about it via email, I’m sure we tweeted and facebooked (but not snapchatted) about it too….and the idea began to take shape. How cool to participate with a team of T1s and the people who love them! Plus, Riding on Insulin is a charity headed by Michelle Page Alswager, a woman whose activism and spirit I had admired from afar for many years.

I talked it out with my darling boyfriend, who agreed that he wouldn’t mind me being a slave to weekend bricks for months on end in preparation.

Ta-da!

So that was it. I signed up for Ironman Wisconsin (WI, because it’s home base for ROI). Across the US and Canada we have a team of 70ish triathletes, about 40 of whom also have Type 1 diabetes. There is a mix of experienced Ironpeople and noobs like me. We have a FB group where people ask about CGMs in bento boxes and talk smack about Strava stats.

In the midst of this, we are all raising money to send kids to ROI camps. I’ll talk more about why I believe in Michelle and this group in another post. For now, if you’re interested in good karma, the link to donate is here.

Fear and excitement in 3…2….1….GO!

Does Emotional Stress Spike Your Blood Sugar?

A few days ago, Kerri posed this question on Twitter:

I was struck by Jess’ response:

I was always under the impression that it could– stress increases hormones like cortisol and epinephrine, which raises blood glucose– so why would a licensed physician say no?

Well, perhaps he is devoted to evidence-based medicine, I thought, and the data are not strong enough to support that hypothesis.

So I enlisted the help of my friends– Dr. Google, MD and Dr. Google, PhD– to investigate what the experimental data say.

Like much of science, the evidence is….tricky!

Some studies indicate yes:

  • An active stressor (e.g. a timed arithmetic test) led to a significant BG response in insulin-dependent subjects, but passive stressors (like watching a tense film clip) did not. (Gonder-Frederick et al.)
  • One T1 girl prone to frequent and debilitating DKA experienced a rise in glucose and fatty chain acid levels after a stress interview. (The experiment was in regard to beta adrenergic blockade, which blocked these physiological responses after a subsequent stress interview.) (Baker, et al.)
  • Rats with lab-induced diabetes showed a rise in BG when exposed to a cat, with different patterns of spike and drop between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. (Chang, et al.)

More studies seem to indicate nope:

The data showing hyperglycemia in physical stress (like stroke or heart attack) is more robust (McCowan, Malhotra, and Bisitrian). So, too, is the link between chronic stress and diabetes. High A1Cs are associated with both life hassles (Cox, et al.) and psychiatric illness. (Lustman, et al.)

But I’m just not convinced by the data regarding acute emotional stress and high blood sugars. One study involved rats. One involved two subjects. The only one that involved a decent sample concluded that “Subjects’ BG response to the active stressor was idiosyncratic,” even if it was statistically significant over time.

On the other hand….the relationships between blood glucose, stress hormones, and emotions are really complicated. Anxiety increases oxidative stress in mice, linked to cardiovascular disease and cancer (Bouayed, et al.) But in people without diabetes, epinephrine can increase blood glucose, which thereby may feed the brain and enhance memory of emotionally strong events (Blake, Varnhagen, and Parent). Oh, and watch out if you’re depressed, because you have a 37% higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes than adults without depression. (Knol, et al.)

As the scientists conclude in one baller study that measured endocrine response while subjects went skydiving, “Even in a very homogenous group of subjects and under well-controlled conditions, endocrine responses to acute psychological stress show considerable variations.”

And that’s without diabetes in the picture!

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Sometimes my blood sugar drops like this!

Medicine is a science. I can understand why Jess’ endo would take the evidence-based route and say that stress does not affect BGs. However….medicine is also art. What if this guy listened patiently? What if he took a moment to stop charting “pt is non-compliant, warned of complications of uncontrolled glucose” and took 2 minutes for open-ended questions?

How does stress affect your diabetes management? What can we do today to make it better?

Until more experiments can enter the annals of medicine, let’s see what happens when n=1.

Behold, Some Bold Blog Posts

Here’s what I’ve been reading lately on the internet that I would recommend to friends and strangers alike.

Happy weekend, and I would love to hear your own thoughts on any of these articles and blog posts!

Tuesday Tunes: First Aid Kit, “My Silver Lining”

Heard this song on the radio while driving with a friend to church, and fell in love. The melancholic chords combined with the hopeful lyrics are fitting for these last weeks of winter’s dregs.

Something good comes with the bad
A song’s never just sad
There’s hope, there’s a silver lining
Show me my silver lining

With the maturity of their music, it’s hard to believe this group is two Swedish girls who are under 25 years old! If you like it, check out First Aid Kit online. And at a folk festival near you….if you live in Norway, anyways.

Diabetes (Or Not) In the City

Within a few days, I had the exact same conversation with a coworker and a running teammate, both of whom I have known and seen regularly for several months:

Me: blah blah blah low blood sugar blah blah blah continuous glucose monitor blah blah–
Him: Wait, you have diabetes?
Me: Yeah…
Him: Oh, I had no idea.
Me: ??

I had a few reactions to this:

  1. Confusion: Haven’t they seen me check my beeg, take a shot, or talk about lows and highs before? Guess not. Or they did and didn’t put two and two together.
  2. Relief: Things have been great with my diabetes lately– I’ve had no crisis or even difficult events that puts diabetes Out There in view. Phew!
  3. Amusement: LOLlerskates, me being so self-absorbed that I assume this thing that is so obvious to me is also obvious to them! Reality check, self, no one’s watching you that closely! Spotlight effect!
  4. Despair: Oh God, the running buddy didn’t notice because I never bring my meter and insulin on long runs. BECAUSE THEY’LL FREEZE AND STOP WORKING NOOOO WHEN WILL WINTER END.

Contrast this with a meetup last Thursday with Manny and Melissa of the Diabetes Hands Foundation, along with many other diabetics (and a few non-Ds to boot). Manny is stepping down as the Executive Director of DHF, and Melissa is the new Interim Executive Director. They were in NYC for various stakeholder meetings and (wisely) planned a social get-together. We hung out at a cafe in the East Village and ate and drank and talked for hours. A lot of the conversation I was involved in was about DHF now, DHF in the future, my work in healthcare, and running in this godforsaken winter. There was a lot of talk about advocacy and where our efforts are, and should be, channeled. And, of course, the usual conversational fodder like TV shows and daydreaming of winter vacations.

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Melissa had someone take this happy, happy photo

 

The thread between these encounters is that there was very little talk of ME and MY diabetes. Which is nice. (Realization of point #3 and all that.) Not everyone needs to know. And time with my diabetes friends is better spent plotting about how to support the people who most need it.

(I realize it’s somewhat ironic to be saying this…..in a diabetes post…..on my personal blog…..”OH IT’S GREAT NOT TO TALK ABOUT ME! LET’S JUST DO IT SOME MORE.”)

In any case, I was delighted to see friends like Manny, Melissa, Maria Q, and others for the first time in years. I also met terrific people like Riva Greenberg & her husband Bou, and Marina of The Betes Org. I’m excited for the future of DHF and their ability to continue connecting and helping others, and I trust in them to be a voice for everyone with diabetes who wants to be part of the conversation.

I hope it’s less than a few years until I see all of them again! In the meantime, I’ll just continue plugging away until the next person asks, “Hey, what’s that beeping noise?”

The X-Files: Season 1 Review

I recently started working through the X-Files archive on Netflix. Did you watch X-Files when it originally aired? Did you watch it more recently and point and laugh at the hokey 90s technology? (Speaking of technology, I’ve had even more time to watch X-Files recently after spilling wine on my laptop, killing it, having to buy a new one, and thus being computer-less for a few weeks…..)

I watched bits of seasons 1-4 when it was originally on TV. My older sister was into it and I think I started sitting on the couch with her out of curiosity. Trouble is, curiosity and a desire to emulate her older, adolescent coolness did not get me very far. Every night I was either scared out of my wits or peppering my mother with so many questions about the plot that my sister Meg would roll her eyes in older, adolescent disgust and say, “Ugh, Caroline, BE QUIET!”

The epic eyerolls did not stop me from a fit of nostalgia when my man and I were sitting down with a pile of takeout and Netflix on browse. “Can we watch X-Files?” I begged him. Lucky me, my favorite nerd did not require extra guacamole as a bribe to say yes.

And so it began…..

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Obviously a lot is different now as an adult in the 10’s vs. a kid in the 90’s. The computers and clunky cellular phones are charmingly antiquated. I am able to grasp the ambiguity and plot twists involved in chasing unexplained phenomena. And I have a better appreciation for the FBI bureaucracy and obstruction now that I am a mature human with work experience. But I confess: this stuff still scares me. I keep having to take a deep breath and tell myself, “It’s okay! Mulder and Scully have to survive until the next episodes….” (The random side characters, on the other hand, you learn not to get attached to. At least 50% of them are surely toast by the end of the episode.)

Since I love taking to the internet and reading reviews after each episode of TV I watch, here’s a recap. Season 1 of [however many we’ll get through]! Obviously, spoilers follow.

The Gist: Mulder and Scully are thrown together by the FBI. Shadowy government forces being all passive aggressive, wanting to destroy them but kindasorta keeping them around too. So many ghosts and reincarnations of dead people! And of course, aliens.

Things I Learned: Doug Hutchinson was creepy before he married a porn star 35 years his junior. Alien spacecraft can fly really fast. From his ex-girlfriends to former perps to his fear of fire to his (of course) sister’s abduction, Mulder’s past sure does come back to haunt him a lot. And cute little girls are often not to be trusted.

The Mythology: Just getting set up, obviously. I forgot that Deep Throat got offed so I screamed when he was shot. The alien conspiracies are gripping and intriguing, though I know it’s going to get real messy in later seasons.

The Best: My favorite episodes were “Beyond the Sea” and “Eve.” Both featured magnificent acting. (Question: is Brad Dourif more or less creepy than Doug Hutchinson?) Both played my heartstrings as well: “Beyond the Sea” featuring the loss of Scully’s father, and “Eve” featuring the delicious creepiness of both the child and adult clones. Honorable mention goes to “Ice” for the suspense factor. (No, I have never seen “The Thing.”)

The Worst: “Space.” Space ghosts? Huh? Low on scares and high on boredom.

Episodes I’ve Already Forgotten About: “The Jersey Devil,” “Miracle Man”

Most WTF: “Genderbender.” Seductive murderers, okay. Seductive murderers…who morph gender presentation….okay. Seductive murderers….who morph gender presentation….who are Amish…..who are actually bizarrely sexy morphing Amish alien cultists?

Overall: I wonder what my life would have been like if I had been a little older when this came out. I would have eaten this stuff up as a sixteen-year-old. Oh, but wait….I already spent my Friday nights online reading fanfic as a teenager. Maybe not much was different.

Tuesday Tunes: (I Want Jesus to) Walk With Me

I finally saw Selma last week. If you have not seen it yet, I urge you to go watch before it disappears from theaters. It is moving and magnificent.

One of the most powerful scenes is the first attempt to march to Birmingham. The protestors peacefully cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge and are confronted by armed sheriffs and policemen. Without time to negotiate or even think about turning around, the thugs descend and begin beating the marchers. You sit watching in horror as old ladies are chased down and tackled, and peaceful college students are struck with billy clubs. Blood flies and people scream.

All while this song is playing.

I got a frisson of recognition when I heard the first line. We sing this song in our church choir regularly. A slightly different arrangement (no spirituals are exact, right?), but on those Sundays when we need some weight.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I walked into rehearsal a few days after seeing the film and hearing our director Amy say that we would be singing it this Sunday.

So that’s what I thought of as we sang. What’s my pilgrim journey? Where is my Edmund Pettus Bridge, and who are the forces of evil blocking the path? I want Jesus to be marching right alongside me.

The First Presbyterian Church of Brooklyn is a group I am proud to be a part of, and our choir is phenomenally talented. We have a few albums out, most recently ‘Where I Am,’ released in 2014. You won’t hear me on this, but the album features another haunting arrangement of I Want Jesus to Walk With Me.

You can preview the whole album on Soundcloud. But why not go ahead and buy it and support great music? You can find it on iTunes and Amazon in both digital and hard copies. If you are in close proximity to NYC….come to church one Sunday and you will get it for free!

More Like Winter Storm Ju-No

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No blizzard, and no fun.

The problem with working at a hospital is that….you never get snow days. Sure, sometimes when you get lucky you can go home a couple hours early in the face of impending doom. But while your teacher friends are brewing up hot cocoa, your businessmen college classmates are binging on Netflix, and your software engineers are working at home in their pajamas…..your duty calls. No matter how nonessential your regular job may be, patients are still sick and you need to schlep on in and do something about it.

Luckily, the snow and wind were underwhelming– and I live within schlepping distance. A long schlep, sure, but manageable. So Tuesday morning I put on my crummiest pair of sneakers, packed some dry socks and pants in a bag, layered up and strolled some miles through the quiet snow.

It was not eerie, like some people described Manhattan on Monday night. The travel ban had been lifted by the time I was snow-commuting, so there were cars on the road (and even a few intrepid cyclists!). It felt like an early weekend morning. The city is just starting to rumble to life.

I reported in to the disaster command center, and almost got assigned to help break down cots from all the staff who slept over…..until the Building Services guy saw some other dudes waiting for work assignment and picked them instead. I eyed their puny arm muscles and thought, WIMPS! I’m training for my eighth marathon right now and there is at least a 53% chance I could kick your asses! Don’t f#$&ing stereotype me!

I was then punted off to clerical tasks with a colleague who roped me in. At least the residual feminine rage fueled my workouts for the rest of the week.

Whatever, once I angled to make all those phone calls (“Nope, any non-essential services are shut down for today, but your appointment is set for tomorrow!”) from my office, I could lock the door and jam to some U2 and not have anyone giving me the side eye if I texted with my snow-day friends while doing so. And the hospital gave us free lunch!

The subways were back to normal by the end of my shift, so I had a normal schlep home. Not as cool as this guy:

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Ludacris shared this picture on Facebook, with the utterly perfect caption of, “you da real mvp”

With another snowstorm headed our way on Monday, he’s gonna get the opportunity to be da super mvp soon…..

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