Saturday, June 16, 2018

the post-op life: things i wish i knew beforehand, continued

Grand Canyon, taken in 2008

Just like when I go to the grocery store and realize that I bought wraps, but no lunch meat or lettuce to put in the wrap, I posted about the things I wish I knew before weight loss surgery and forgot several things. Such is life.

Here are a few more I thought of after I posted last time.  Again, these are things that I either didn't know, or my doctor didn't tell me and I had to figure it out myself through experience or online forums, or that he told me without going into depth.

Pain medications may not work as well after surgery.

(Note:  I don't know if this applies to all weight loss surgery, or just gastric bypass (which is what I had), so this may not apply to some people.)

This is a tough one. I definitely didn't know this ahead of time, and no one told me.  I was, however,  told I couldn't take NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen or aspirin, anymore, because they weaken the stomach's ability to make acid (here's an article about NSAIDs), which can lead to ulcers.  I figured I'd just be taking acetaminophen instead. No big deal. I took that before surgery with no issues and it worked for me. And anytime I need a pain reliever these days, that's what I take. I find, however, that it isn't as effective as it used to be. It kicks in fast, but it doesn't work nearly as long as it used to, which usually leads to me having to take more. I worry about liver damage, so most of the time I try to just ride out whatever is bothering me, such as a minor headache. Sometimes, though, I really need something more. I'll either take three acetaminophen (I know, I know--I'm not supposed to take more than the dosage), or I'll throw caution to the wind and take two ibuprofen. I try not to take them, since  but sometimes I need to. I try to limit to no more than once a month or so, and only when I really need it. My orthopedic doctor prescribed Celebrex for my back problems, which is supposed to be taken daily; however, for a long time I took it for a few days, skipped a few days, and then started again. I was worried about ulcers. My new bariatric doctor told me to take Protonix (it reduces the production of stomach acid) each day I take a Celebrex and I should have no issues, so that's what I'm doing now.

Also, if you've had gastric bypass, prescription pain meds, like Vicodin or Percocet, can hit you much harder than before surgery. I found this out the hard way when I took liquid Roxicet for some pain I was having. I wasn't far out from gastric bypass surgery (maybe a few months?) and I still had the Roxicet that was prescribed to me, which I never used, so I decided to use it. (I think I was having back pain at the time.) Knowing that the pain meds could hit me harder now, I took half the recommended dose (2 tsp. was the prescribed dose and I took 1 tsp.). Well, that was too much--about twice what I could handle. Basically, I was really worried that I'd die in my sleep because of how it made me feel--stabbing stomach pains, very lethargic, blurred vision, dizziness, slowed heartbeat and breathing), and my husband was asking if he should call 911; I'm pretty sure he watched me for awhile before going back to sleep. I was fine after about a half hour, but it was very scary.

Now, anytime I have to take a narcotic, or anything else that's prescribed, I start with about 1/4 of the recommended dose until I know how it affects me. I've learned that half of a 5/325 Percocet is just right. Anything more and it completely knocks me out, but not before giving me an awful stomach ache. The one GOOD thing about this?  A prescription for 20 Percocet pills lasts me more than a month, assuming I take half each night. And since I only take it when I truly need it--because Tylenol isn't working--it lasts me way longer than that.

If you want to move to a different bariatric surgeon's office after surgery, it's going to be very difficult.

I found this one out the hard way, too, and it's something that never would have crossed my mind to ask. Although people may switch primary care doctors, eye doctors, dentists, etc., most people don't switch bariatric surgeons after surgery.

A little less than a year after my weight loss surgery, I decided to move to a different part of the state. I stayed with my surgeon, though, because I was happy with him and had no reason to switch. Sure, it was a pain in the ass having to drive almost an hour to his office, but I was OK with it since it was only going to be once per year. I went to my one year follow-up about six months after I moved and noticed that every single employee in the office, except the doctor, was new. I thought that was a little strange. It seemed as though he did a complete house cleaning, but I didn't ask.  Not my business. A few months later I went for my annual blood work, and never heard another word. I was annoyed, but figured the results showed no issues and that's why they didn't call me to discuss. Then another few months go by and I get a letter in the mail that the practice had been sold to a surgical franchise and my doctor moved to Texas to teach...two months prior! It was frustrating to not know ahead of time, but I rolled with it. When it was time for another annual checkup I started looking into the new practice and, surprisingly, it isn't focused on bariatric patients. They do some bariatric surgery, but it seems that facial plastic surgery--cosmetic stuff--is their main focus. I decided I really didn't want to go there, and the drive was a PITA anyway, so I started looking for a surgeon in my area. 

Finding a surgeon that would take a post-op patient was extremely frustrating and near-impossible. It took me over a year to find someone that would take me. To be fair, I started and stopped looking several times because of the frustration, or just because I didn't want to deal with it and I didn't have any issues I needed to follow up on. I was told by everyone that they're accepting only pre-ops--people who are looking to get weight loss surgery. I got the impression that they really aren't interested in post-ops. I got serious last year and finally found someone that would review my file and possibly take me. I emailed back and forth with the surgical program (not the doctor's office directly) and they had me get my files sent to them from the old doctor. I sent my files over and then...nothing. For months. I followed up earlier this year and it turns out the person I sent my files to left shortly thereafter and my files never made it to the doctor. They went searching and found them. I was told to give them a couple weeks to have the doctor review them and they would call me to schedule an appointment. They didn't call, of course.  I had to call them. (But that's always the way with doctors' offices so it didn't really bother me.) I called and they said they'll take me, and I scheduled an appointment.

I went for that appointment a few weeks ago and I really like the new doctor. He spent at least 30 minutes with me (almost unheard of with any doctor nowadays!) and went over my file, my current health, etc. Asked lots of questions, and gave me time to ask my own questions, which was nice. He explained anything that needed explaining. He ordered bariatric blood work, which is way more detailed than standard blood work. (As opposed to the lab drawing one or two vials of blood, bariatric blood work requires usually seven to nine vials.) During the visit I thanked him for taking me on as a new patient and explained the difficulty I had in finding someone who would take me. He confirmed my suspicions and told me that the money isn't in the post-op care, it's in the surgery itself, and lots of doctors don't want to bother with a post-op patient. He said he's probably giving me too much information, but wanted to explain. I wasn't surprised and I was happy he told me that.

I now know that if I ever move again, I am probably going to have a really tough time finding another bariatric doctor. But I don't plan on moving, so hopefully that will never come up.

I feel like I could talk forever about the reality of the post-op life, but I think this will do it for now.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

the post-op life: things i wish i knew beforehand

This is going to be another long one.

What I'm talking about today are the things I wish I knew, or knew more about, before I had weight loss surgery. I don't mean that I regret having done it--I think it's one of the best things I've ever done for myself.  What is mean is that there are things I didn't know ahead of time that I had to figure out all on my own, either because I didn't think to ask the doctor or it just wasn't part of my pre-op program (every weight loss surgery program is different, which is pretty frustrating and confusing sometimes), or I knew and didn't think it would be a big deal. So, I've thought about it and here's my list of things I wish I knew (or knew more about):

Physical complications are drastically different from person to person, and are sometimes non-existent.

Physical complications or issues can cover a large range of things, such as:  getting certain foods stuck, either because they're dry (like chicken or turkey), or you took too big of a bite, or didn't chew well enough; being unable to eat certain foods because they get stuck, don't digest well, upset the new stomach, or cause reactive hypoglycemia or dumping syndrome; anemia; vitamin deficiencies; excessive hair loss; excessive weight loss (meaning a person is underweight); strictures; ulcers; and other complications.

I'd heard horror stories, both in person and in online forums, from a lot of people about how they can't eat certain foods anymore, like raw veggies, or most meats, or they throw up after every meal. I was nervous going into surgery and truly worried I'd never be able to have steak again. While that can be true for a lot of people, I am one of the lucky ones in that I have virtually no physical/food issues. I've never had food get stuck, there are no foods that upset my stomach, and I don't have any ulcers. I'm sensitive to sugar, just like other gastric bypass patients, but I manage it and am careful to check labels. I don't count that as a "complication," as it's something that is universal for people that have had gastric bypass. Also, I've finally figured out, after almost five years, that I get blood sugar drops when I eat carbs like crackers, Chex Mix, chips, and things like that without eating some protein along side of it. The simple solution is that I either avoid those foods, or I add some protein if I do have them. They're really not foods I need to be eating anyway so I try to limit them, but I've said before that I choose to eat whatever I want as long as it's in moderation. I don't tell myself that I'm "not allowed" to have something, because that just makes me want it more. (The one thing I avoid, though, is soda. I don't ever want to get back into the habit of drinking six cans of diet soda per day.) Sometimes I get acid reflux, but I've figured out that as long as I don't eat close to bedtime, and I limit spicy foods, I don't get it. Again, I don't consider this a "complication," since most people who get reflux, regardless of whether they've had weight loss surgery, have to manage it.

The psychological part is usually much more difficult than any physical complication. 

This was especially true for me. When it comes to the physical part, I feel it was a breeze for me, and it still is. The psychological part, though, is so hard, even after almost five years. Its much better now that it was the first year, but I still struggle with the disappointment of not being able to finish my meal (that sounds ridiculous now that I see it in writing), as I'm someone who lives to eat, rather than eats to live. I wish that changed after surgery, but it didn't.

Although doctors talk about this and how WLS patients need to learn to cope with their emotions without food, learn new habits, think about food differently, etc., I don't feel that doctors do nearly enough to truly help someone to prepare for the reality. Yes, it's on the patient to actually do these things and take the initiative, but part of that is just knowing that these things need to be dealt with. I think more counseling beforehand, and required counseling after surgery, is needed. Obviously I can only speak to the program I went through since every doctor is different, but I can definitely say that I was nowhere near prepared for the psychological part of WLS. I was required to go to only three counseling appointments before surgery, and nothing afterwards. Also, support groups are sometimes lacking. The hospital had a regular support group, but the discussion was dominated by the same two people every month, so I stopped going; I really didn't get anything out of it. My doctor's office had a support group when they felt like it, which I liked, but it wasn't held with any regularity. And those same two people were patients of my doctor. so they went to this same group and again dominated the discussions.

Also, eating will be different. Very different. 

I'm not talking about portions, really, but the psychological aspect of it. Before surgery, eating and food was: a job to be completed ("I bought this package of cookies and my job is to eat them all until they're gone"), comfort, happiness, reward, something to do and a fun activity, love, or companionship. After surgery, it's supposed to be a source of survival and we're supposed to find all those things, like comfort, reward, etc. from other things. Often, though, it's just not that simple. For some it is, but not for me. I spent many, many years seeing food as all those things I mentioned. It wasn't easy to have to look at it as simply a means for survival and nourishment. It was so, so hard in the very beginning to take some food and be full after three bites. Eventually I could eat more--I can now finish half a hamburger and a couple fries, or eat about five ounces of meat--but even after all this time, the act of eating still feels incomplete. The only time I don't feel that way is when I'm actually able to finish my portion, and that only happens when I have a yogurt, or onion soup, and things like that. It's so frustrating and disappointing--STILL, after almost five years!--to sit down to a meal, start to really enjoy it, and then BOOM I'm full. I can slow down, of course, but years of scarfing my food down are hard to undo. This is something I wish someone told me. I wouldn't have decided against surgery, but I would have started BEFORE surgery trying to get comfort or reward in other ways so it wouldn't be so damn hard afterwards.

Once you lose the weight, you'll need to work just as hard as everyone else to maintain it, if not harder.

OK, this one I pretty assumed, but I didn't realize how much harder it would be that what I originally though--and this really applies to anyone losing weight, regardless of the method.  Also, I'm including it because I've come across many people who don't realize this when they start talking about having weight loss surgery.  They think it's a magic wand that solves all their eating and weight issues, that they'll never have to work again at losing weight and that the weight will just magically stay off. I've overhead people say, "I'll just get my weight loss surgery. It's so much easier and I won't have to work so hard."  Oh, and that they'll get to their goal with no effort. Not true. Well, let's restate that:  it's not true once you're out of the "honeymoon phase." The honeymoon phase is that fabulous first six months (could be longer, but usually about six months) where the weight just melts off with seemingly no effort on your part. You don't exercise? No problem, the weight still comes off. You have a binge day (considerably different than pre-WLS!)? You'll probably still lose a pound or two that week. It's fabulous; you can do no wrong...and that lulls you into a false sense of security and makes you think you'll never have to truly work at it. And then when you truly DO have to work at it, it makes it that much harder to change your mindset.So, losing it is hard, but keeping it off is so much harder.

Having weight loss surgery isn't going to magically turn you into a workout maniac or give you an endless supply of energy.

Yes, lots of people who lose weight, through any means, turn into people who just LOVE to workout and are always going going going; those people really annoy me. Deeply. But if varies from person to person.

So, energy. If you were naturally a low-energy person before weight loss, chances are you'll continue to be a low-energy person afterwards. I would say I had a lot of energy the first year and maybe the second year, too. I think it was because I felt a lot lighter and no longer had to carry around 130 extra pounds. After that, though, I slowed down closer to what I was before surgery. While I no longer feel lethargic and unmotivated--a total slug--like I did before I lost the weight, it does take an effort for me to get myself going sometimes.

In terms of working out, I did not become someone who loves working out and finds every opportunity to do so. It took me until March of 2016, so about 2.5 years, to finally seriously think about exercise.  For 2.5 years it was something that I knew I should do, but I'd lost the weight, so why did I need to do it? I was looking at exercise as a means for further weight loss, not what it actually is:  a means to a healthier, stronger body. Part of what got me seriously thinking about it is that I'd regained about 29 pounds. The other part is that I wanted to get the excess skin removed, which meant I needed to be at my lowest weight possible. I tried a few times to start on my own; however, the only thing that finally got me doing it was to go to a personal trainer. Yes, it's expensive, but there was a Groupon offered for the studio, which gave me five sessions for $100.00, which is insanely cheap. I then signed up to go twice a week (working out three days on my own), and then eventually cut down to once a week (working out four days on my own) once the trainer felt I'd be able to stick with it. It took me two years, but I'm finally at the point where I never miss working out unless I'm sick, in pain, or on vacation (and even then I try to work out at the hotel or wherever I am). That's partially because it's a waste of money to pay a trainer and not work out on my own the other days of the week; you're not going to get very far if you workout once a week. Plus I feel guilty if I skip for no good reason, and I typically don't do that. Also, my trainer knows if I haven't been working out as much as I should. He can tell what I'm doing at home, and how often, based on how I do when he sees me each week. He notices when I'm struggling, or when the things he has me do seem easy for me. Without that accountability, I wouldn't stick with it. I posted  a lot more about it a couple weeks ago. So, yeah, even though I've lost 130+ pounds and have been working out five days a week for two years, I totally have to drag my ass into the gym most days.

Just because you have a tiny stomach after surgery, it doesn't mean you can't gain the weight back.

I kind of knew this one, too, and it was only from reading WLS forums online, but maybe not to the extent I should have known.  The doctor mentioned being careful about weight gain, but never said, "Hey, you can eat six slices of pizza as long as you space them out."

I've heard from lots of people, both people who are considering WLS and those who are simply talking with me about my own surgery. So many people think that tiny stomach=no possible way to overeat. That's true--partially. It's true that it's difficult to overeat in one sitting in a way that you would start to regain the weight. BUT--and it's a big one--all that means is your physical capacity to overeat is limited in ONE sitting. If you order a cheeseburger and eat half now, you'll very likely be able to finish that cheeseburger an hour or two later (timing varies a lot from person to person), then go back in another hour and eat something else, and so on. That could add up to MANY sittings per day. And what you eat matters, too. If you eat a 1/2 cup of cottage cheese, that's about 80 calories and you're full. But if you eat a muffin, that's often anywhere from 300 calories to upwards of 600 calories depending on how big it is. You're still full, but it's way more calories than you should be eating in one meal. (Actually, that's about 1/3 to 1/2 the day's calories for some WLS post-ops.)  So, if you're going back to eat something every hour or two, and it's something loaded with calories, you can very easily gain the weight back. That's why drinking water when you're not eating is important--it keeps you from feeling hungry. Plus, everyone needs water. 

Hopefully you've managed to read this far down. If you've made it, thank you! I really wish I knew if anyone who reads my blog wants to have WLS, or has had it. If so and you want to ask me anything, go right ahead. I'm pretty much an open book.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Def Leppard/Journey concert roadtrip: part two

Sunday I posted part one of the road trip, which was about the concert. Now, here's part two--everything else!

So, after having about three crappy hours of sleep the night of the concert, I was up before 7:00 am the next day. I'd been tossing and turning so much, I just gave up. Meanwhile, my sister was snoring away for another hour and a half. I was ready for the day by the time she got up.  I ate my leftover breakfast burrito from the night before while she got herself ready. We stopped off at Dunkin Donuts and then we were off to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, which was only about a mile away from the hotel.

Here I am in front of the Long Live Rock sign. It was really tough to get the whole thing in the picture.
We got to the Hall of Fame before 11:00 am. It seemed like a long walk from where we had to park to where we had to go, but what was nice was that we parked in the parking garage and were able to cut through the science center, so we didn't have to walk too far in the heat (it was 90 and humid the whole time we were in Cleveland). 

We spent a little over three hours at the Hall of Fame. It has six floors and is packed with memorabilia spanning decades. They even had a display dating back to the 1880s that contained one of the first Victrola phonographs. Many people say that it takes all day to see everything, but I think it depends on whether you look at every single item and read all the descriptions, or if you just look at certain things more closely while skimming over others. That's what we did. Some things were more interesting than others. For example, I was much more interested in the 1980s and beyond since I was born in 1974, whereas someone who's older might prefer the previous decades.  They had pretty much any kind of memorabilia you could think of:  sheet music, lyric notebooks hand-written by the artists themselves, clothing (some very hideous clothing--I don't know what musicians are thinking when they pick out these outfits...), props used in videos, photos, etc.

The ground floor was definitely the biggest. The exhibits started at the very beginning, The Roots of Rock, which covers blues, gospel, R&B, country, bluegrass and folk.  There was a room for Elvis Presley, the 1960s "summer of love", the Beatles, heavy metal, etc. On other floors you can find the history of music videos,the start of MTV (yes, it was ALL music at one time!), listening booths, short movies about music, instruments, and lots of other stuff. I really enjoyed the music videos, as a lot of them were a blast from the past for me, like Metallica's Enter Sandman. They also had a montage of past induction ceremonies, which featured, among others, Prince and Tom Petty playing While My Guitar Gently Weeps. Although I'm not a Prince fan, his guitar solo is absolutely amazing. You can see it here on You Tube. And here's a listing of all the exhibits by floor. Here are just a few of the pictures I took.

This was Elvis' double guitar. Elvis had a 
whole room dedicated to him.
Lots of great bands featured here, like AC/DC, Judas Priest, and Dio.
Angus Young's outfit. What AC/DC fan wouldn't recognize that?! There's also the lyrics to "Highway to Hell."

Metallica! Recognize the scales of Justice?
Rob Halford's jacket (Judas Priest). Sheet music for "Holy Diver" by Dio in the top left corner.
Lyrics to "Judas is Rising" on the right.

Rob Zombie's jacket.
Guess who I voted for??
I bought only one souvenir at the gift shop:  a wooden spoon that looks like a drum stick. There were actually two in the package, but I gave one to my sister since she doesn't own a wooden spoon. (Who doesn't own a wooden spoon??)

After the Hall of Fame we went back to the hotel to relax for a bit. We were hoping to find a good Lifetime movie, but no luck. Then we decided to walk around Public Square for a bit. The Public Square area is pretty cool because you can pretty much get everything you need--food, shopping, gaming, banking, movies and other things--and traverse several streets without having to go outside. Plus there are some nice sights outside within the Square itself.  We ventured outside into the heat just to see what's around. Below is the Soldier's and Sailors Monument. It's beautiful and pictures don't do it justice. 

Wonder who this is??
Below is the view looking back towards Tower City Center, which is connected to our hotel.  As you can see, there are water fountains within the Square, and people are welcome to play around in the water. The kids were having a blast on this 90+ degree day.

Below is the inside of Tower City Center. Isn't the ceiling gorgeous? The casino is connected to this building, and there's even a train station downstairs.

Here's the inside of our hotel, another old building. The lobby was beautiful and the staff friendly, but the rooms were definitely a lot smaller than what we're used to.

After walking around Public Square for a bit, we decided to head to the casino again. But not before I made a pit stop at Bath & Body Works to grab some smelly hand soap. They were closing at 7:00 pm so I had only 10 minutes to shop, which was probably a good thing. I could have done a lot more damage, as soaps were buy three get three free. We only spent about an hour and a half at the casino before deciding to grab some dinner to bring back to the room. We then ate and crashed by 10:00 pm.

And then it was time to head home. We left Cleveland around 9:00 am. On the way home we stopped at the beautiful Chautauqua Lake rest area in NY. It was so breezy and the birds were hopping around. My sister left some doughnut crumbs for them to eat. As soon as we got in the car they started swooping in to grab some crumbs. We continued on and got to my sister's house around 3:00 pm. I took a little break and then drove the rest of the way home. It was a very long day and I wasn't sure I wanted to drive home the same day, but I had a lot of things I had to do before going back to work. I'm glad I did, because I barely had time to relax even though I basically got a bonus day by doing it all in one day. I'll admit, my back was in agony the next day and I was really tired, but I was better the following day.

My vacation flew by way too fast, but I had a great time: I got to see my favorite band from the front row and meet them; didn't lose a bunch of money at the casino; got to visit somewhere I'd never been before; visit the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and spend quality time with my sister. And she got to meet her man after 35 years! That by itself was worth it. (She was a little teary-eyed after meeting him...but then giggled randomly the rest of that night. LOL)

I'm thinking my next vacation will be a staycation. I might actually relax!

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Def Leppard/Journey concert roadtrip: part one

This one is going to be long, so consider yourself warned. I'm posting two parts. Part one is the concert and part two, sometime this week, is the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

This past week I took a concert road trip with my sister to see my favorite band. Anyone who reads my blog or knows me, likely knows that's Def Leppard. They were playing in Cleveland at the Quicken Loans Arena with Journey. I live in CT and she's in NY, but since she's always wanted to see the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, we decided to see them in Cleveland and make it a mini-vacation.

I drove to NY last Sunday (a four hour drive) and spent the night at her house. We left early Monday morning around 7:00 am in order to get to Cleveland (a five hour drive) check into the hotel and make it over to the arena by 4:30 pm.  When we got to the hotel we were able to check in right away, which was nice because it gave us a couple hours to relax, unpack and change clothes--we had to look nice to meet the boys from Def Leppard!

We stayed at the Renaissance, which is across from Public Square. It's an old hotel, so the rooms were a bit smaller than we're used to.  We had to hunt down the in-room coffee maker, which was on a shelf in the nightstand, and there wasn't room to keep our suitcases out, but overall it was good and the bed was comfy (very important for me!). The service staff were very friendly. My one gripe was that there was only one restaurant in the hotel, which served lunch and dinner only. Kind of a pain when you want some breakfast and don't want to go far. We had to walk out into the mall, which is attached, and head to Dunkin Donuts. I actually liked the mall being there, as it connected several buildings and a casino. You can basically go for several blocks and not have to go outside at all. Actually, we were able to walk from our hotel to the arena without having to go outside in the 90+ degree heat. (And that was especially nice, walking back at 11:00 pm at night after the concert.)

I mentioned having to be at the arena by 4:30 pm. That's because we decided to go all out for this show and buy the front row meet & greet package for Def Leppard. (We had a pretty rough year last year and decided we needed to indulge ourselves a bit.) Check-in time was 4:30 pm and We got to the arena around 4:00 pm.  The check-in tables for Journey and Def Leppard were side by side, and there were many more people for Def Leppard. (Although, Journey wasn't doing a meet and greet so that's probably why.) While waiting in line we discovered we'd forgotten several items that we always bring, probably because I switched purses and we relaxed a little too much beforehand (oh, those pesky Lifetime movies!):  Sharpie markers, just in case we met any band members other than at the meet and greet; my ear plugs, since I'm old and can't take the volume level anymore; and a mirror and lipstick, so we look picture perfect to meet the boys.

We got checked in, got our goody bags and wrist bands, and then went through security. The goody bag was a canvas travel bag with the Def Leppard logo, and inside was a nice set of luggage tags and a travel wallet, along with Def Leppard postcards. We also got a signed poster.

We then waited around until 5:00 pm, when the hostess brought us into the arena for our group photo on stage. It wasn't with the band, just the group of concert-goers. It was pretty cool, though, to be up on stage in front of Rick Allen's drum kit with "Def Leppard" on the screens in back of us. We chatted with the security guys, who were very friendly. (This is always a good thing--butter them up so they don't harass you for taking pictures, or maybe they'll be nice and give you the guitar pick that landed on the floor in front of them.)

We then headed back to meet the guys. For some reason I thought it would be a longer walk when we got out of the seating area, but it was quite close. Seemed like just a few steps, really. While waiting in line they drew the raffle--the prize being the privilege of standing on the side of the stage for the first two songs. Unfortunately we didn't win; however, we preferred to see the beginning of the show from the front anyway, so we weren't upset. Then it was time to meet the guys!! While we waited, Stuart, Vivian's dog, made an appearance. He was trotting around while the band's assistant waited.  I was hoping to pet him, but she didn't let him go too far. It was a treat to see him, though.  Kind of makes you realize that even though the band are rock stars, they're human just like the rest of us. (If anyone wants to follow Stuart on Instagram, he has his own page:  Rockstarstu.) As we got closer to the front of the line, my sister was quite nervous and made me go first, even though we were meeting them together. When we peeked around the corner, it was a little surprising to see just how close they all were to the line for the meet and greet--they were only about three feet away! First up was Sav, then Vivian, Joe, and then Rick. Unfortunately Phil wasn't there because he had to fly home a couple days earlier to deal with a family emergency. I was disappointed--he's my favorite--but I understood. I've met him a couple times before, anyway. I honestly would have been way more upset if Sav wasn't there, as he is my sister's favorite and she would have been devastated to not meet him after waiting 35 years for the opportunity! We each shook hands with them and introduced ourselves. I said my name and then, "Nice to meet you" and that's about it. Oh, and I told them TWICE that she and I are sisters; I'm not very smooth socially. My sister asked for and got a big hug from Sav. We posed for the pictures and then it was over. I don't think it took three minutes from intro to exit, but that's the way organized meet and greets go. Autographs and extended conversation aren't allowed since they typically have about 100 people to push through in a certain amount of time so the band can get ready and get on stage in time.  I knew that going in, though, since I did the meet and greet in Las Vegas in 2013. I still felt it was worth it. They're my favorite band, after all, and I've been listening since I was nine years old. When it was over we went to our seats in the FRONT ROW, right in front of Vivian's spot. For whatever reason, security was having an issue putting on everyone's wristbands so it took a few extra minutes to get there.

We then had some time to kill until showtime so we walked around to try and find Def Leppard's new beer. We wanted to have the can as a souvenir (see below). We found it, but unfortunately the vendor didn't tell us that we can't have the empty can until after they poured the beer. We didn't think to ask, as it didn't occur to us that we wouldn't be able to keep it. The venue's policy is that everything is poured and no cans or bottles, even opened/uncapped, are allowed in the venue at all. Since neither of us drink beer, that was $10.00 a piece down the drain. I later saw online that some people were able to keep the can, but I wasn't about to walk around all night trying to find the right vendor. We checked a few, but was it.

We went back to our seats and watched the countdown. As usual, I spent the time making sure my camera was ready to go.  I always bring my Pansonic Lumix point-and-shoot camera. It's been good to me over the years; however, this time I found that my cell phone actually took better pictures, so I ditched the camera about three minutes into the show in favor of my phone. It was hard letting go since I'm a freak about taking great concert pictures, but I did it.

Finally, it was showtime!  Def Leppard was on first, as they are rotating the opening and closing with Journey. The intro started with the beginning of Excitable.  I was hoping to see the same intro on the video screen as the previous shows, which was kind of a montage of their albums along with sang snippets from each album; however, it just showed the city name and then rose up above the stage when the show started.  From then on, the show was a big blur. The set opened with Rocket and they cranked out the usual hits, one after the other. Sav did his usual bass solo that leads into Rock On, which was followed by the acoustic version of Two Steps Behind. Then came my favorite part, one of their new songs:  Man Enough. Lots of people don't like this song, but it has quickly become a favorite of mine and, man, does it rock live!  And I love the screen graphics for this one, which I posted below. The show ended with Photograph.

Here are a few of the pictures I took. I took 400+! I have to admit that they came out pretty decent for a cell phone camera, but I'm thinking I might look for a new camera next year. It seems like no matter what I use, it just can't handle the light shining off of Joe's blond hair, so Joe is a bit overexposed in a lot of pictures this time around. (Note:  You're welcome to download these pictures for your own personal viewing, but please don't post them on Facebook or other social media, you blog, other websites, etc.)

"Rocket! Yeah!"

I think this is my favorite out of all the pictures. Sav is looking pretty good!

This is one of the best out of the pics I took of Joe.

 These were the graphics during Man Enough.

 Vivian Campbell

 The Thunder God himself, always smiling. He was pretty tough to get a picture of this time.

The guys sounded great, as usual, and had lots of energy. I mentioned that Phil wasn't at the show. Steve Brown of Trixter took his place. Just about everyone had positive things to say about him, and so do I:  he was a great fill-in for Phil, had lots of energy, seemed to be having fun, and was respectful. And the guys treated him like he was a part of the band, which was nice to see. There was one person who said that no matter how good he was, he'd never be a Lepp. Well, he's not trying to be a Lepp. He's a friend of that band and is filling in for a few shows (Phil is now back on tour). I'm guessing that person would rather have seen the shows cancelled...

Next up was Journey. I have to admit, once Def Leppard was done, I didn't have a whole lot of enthusiasm to see Journey. I like their music and I like seeing them...when they're the opener. It just seemed really odd for them to be the closer, and it continued to feel odd even after the show was over. Def Leppard's music is different, as is their overall energy level and feel, and it seemed like a big energy dip when Journey came on. The first few songs were a little slow. Not in the beat, but in getting the crowd going. It picked up soon, though, and they put on a good show. At the end of Don't Stop Believing they shot off confetti and streamers.  It was cool, but I definitely felt bad for the people that had to clean all that up. Arnel, the lead singer, has a fantastic voice and has so much energy. He sounds similar to Steve Perry. Even though the guy has been with Journey for 11 years, people were still saying (online) that "he's no Steve Perry." Well, no, he's not. No one is Steve Perry except Steve Perry. Arnel was the guy they chose to replace Steve 11 years ago and they've continued to perform. Would people rather Journey called it quits?? Arnel was very interactive with the crowd, too, especially the kids. One had a sign that said it was his first concert, so Arnel pulled him up on stage. I think the kid was in shock. LOL.  My only real complaint about Journey was the solos. The drum solo, while absolutely amazing, was LONG. Neal Schon's guitar solo was agonizingly long, too. He always plays The Star Spangled Banner, but it seems more like the Star Mangled Banner when he's done with it.  I know, artists have their own take on things, but I just wish it sounded more like the actual song and wasn't quite so long.

Arnel Pineda. This guy has a ton of energy!

Neal Schon

Steve Smith's drum solo. Amazing!

Jonathon Cain

The end of Don't Stop Believing. So much confetti...

Still more confetti coming down.

And then it was all over. Time to go back to the hotel. It was so nice being able to walk inside and not have to venture outside in the dark late at night. Nothing was open in the mall, so we went over to the casino and hit up the food court. I got a breakfast burrito, which was delicious. I saved half for the following day. I didn't win any money, but I only lost $20.00, so that's not bad at all. We got back to the room around 2:00 am and then I flipped through my concert pictures until I decided around 3:00 am it was time to go to sleep. I tried to sleep, but it wasn't easy with the ringing in my ears! I tried to buy ear plugs at the venue, but they didn't have them. I asked Security, but they weren't allowed to hand them out. Oh well. My hearing got back to normal by Tuesday night.

Part two will be posted later in the week. Thanks for reading!

Thursday, May 24, 2018

what keeps me going?

Recently I was posting in a comment thread on a website I read regularly. The discussion was about working out and what we accomplished last week, and are planning to do next week. I posted that I work out five days a week: four days on my own and one day with my trainer. My main accomplishment was that I kept up with it, even though my back was bothering me more that week. I had one day where I just wasn't feeling the motivation at all. I still worked out, but I took it easy; I pretty much just slogged through it, though. (My trainer had me do burpees the day before, which might be why my back was bothering me more. I hate burpees, mainly because with my back issues, I’m always worried I’ll hurt myself, but he limits it to about 6-10 reps and makes sure before I do them that I’m feeling up to it. Since I haven’t done them very much yet, I’m pretty awkward at it. Plus I have long legs and it makes it hard to get down on the floor and then back up the way I’m supposed to.) The other accomplishment was that I'd added 10 pounds to the lateral pulldown, for a total of 60 pounds. It was tough, but I did it. I also did some chest presses (30 pounds--I'm a weakling!), which I don’t normally do. I’m hoping that doing them will help me to eventually do a full pushup; it’s been two years of working out and I STILL can’t get all the way down into a full pushup. 

As a follow-up, someone asked me how I stay motivated. I had weight loss surgery over four years ago and then had a tummy tuck last year to repair the abdominal muscles and remove a bunch of excess skin on my abdomen. Between the money I spent for that–insurance wouldn’t cover a lot of it, and the tummy tuck was totally out of pocket– and the money I spend on a trainer, even for once a week, I know that if I don’t work out on my own at least three to four times a week, I’m wasting money and will have wasted a lot of money, time, pain and hard work if I gain all the weight back. I’d be an asshole if I let that happen. Honestly, that’s actually what keeps me going. Now that I’ve been doing it for two years, I just know it’s something I have to do for the rest of my life if I want to stay in shape, help my back feel better (bulging discs and an annular tear, plus scoliosis), not regain the weight and feel good about myself. I’ve just accepted that this is part of my life and daily routine, so I just suck it up and do it. (It took a long time to accept this!) Instead of taking a lunch hour at work, I eat at my desk and then go in the gym from 4 pm-5 pm. I don’t love it, and I barely like it much of the time, but I like feeling physically strong. It gives me a sense of accomplishment. I just keep in mind that the next hour is going to tick by whether I exercise or not. It’s inevitable that the time will pass. Might as well just do it and get it over with so I feel better about myself. I spent the first 39 years of my life being overweight (as young as three, I think), then obese (pre-teen through about 24), and then morbidly obese (probably 25 through 39). I’m tired of that and I’m not going back. And in order to not go back, I have to keep up the workouts.

I’m very proud of myself that I’m still working out consistently after two years. I’ve never made it this far before. Normally six months is the point at which I get bored with just about anything I try. Going to a trainer once a week is a huge help–if I don’t workout on my own at least three times a week, it’s a total waste of money, which is mostly what keeps me going. Plus I don’t want to gain all the weight back or wreck the tummy tuck I had.

I don't continue to workout because I love it. I do it because I should and it makes me feel good. It also keeps the back pain under control. I look around at a lot of other people who have lost a lot of weight by whatever means, and so many of them talk about how they just love to workout and they have so much energy, etc., etc., etc. It really annoys me that that didn’t happen to me. I’m still not a high energy person even though I’m no longer morbidly obese, and I don’t love working out and I have to force myself to do it, but I do it nonetheless. I’m proud of myself that I never skip “just because.” If I skip, it’s because I’m sick, super busy, or my back is really acting up. (And travel is not an excuse to skip: hotels have gyms. If not, I can do a bodyweight workout in my hotel room.) I never cancel the trainer, either, without a good reason. Just because I pay him doesn't mean I can cancel last minute because "I don't feel like." That's just rude and lazy. His time, personal and working, is valuable.

So, what's the key takeaway from this long, pictureless post? Just suck it up and do it. Get off your ass and get it over with. You'll feel better and get a sense of accomplishment that you're doing something good for yourself, both mentally and physically. And it won't kill you. Really. (But do make sure you're well enough to exercise before starting!)

Saturday, May 19, 2018

meal prep: chicken with baked sweet potatoes and green beans

It's been awhile since I've done any meal prep, and it's showing in my current inability to stick to my eating plan, which of course means the scale isn't moving down like it was a couple weeks ago.  I used to do meal prep just about every week, but I admit I've been lazy about it. I need to get back to it so I can eat better and stick to my plan. And it's especially important now since my husband also needs to eat better.

A meal prep post from a website I enjoy recently popped up in the Facebook feed, so I decided to try it out. It came from Budget Bytes and it's a full meal:  chicken breast, sweet potatoes and green beans.  Aside from the fact that most of her meals are pretty easy, one of the main reasons I chose this recipe was because I'd bought some sweet potatoes...and never used them. Of course. I do that all the time. I buy stuff and then either forget I bought it, or forget what recipe I bought it for, or just get lazy and decide I don't feel like using whatever I bought.I was determined to not do that this time.

The recipe calls for trying the chicken breast; however, I hate the cleanup so I grilled it instead. I baked the sweet potatoes according to the recipe, although I omitted the cayenne pepper. Bob doesn't like a lot of spice, and cayenne tends to be pretty hot even when you use just a tiny dash. I made sure to line the baking sheet with foil, because I hate cleaning baking sheets. It seems like no matter how much you scrub, they never come completely clean. And OMG they smelled so delicious while cooking! I could smell the cinnamon. For the beans I finally used the steamer pan I bought last year. It was so easy and the beans came out perfect! I'd definitely make this again. It was easy and everything tasted great.

Here's the finished product.  And here's the recipe:  Smoky Chicken and Cinnamon Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Look at all that carmelization. No sugar added! Those are the natural sugars in the potatoes.

The beans are nice and bright after steaming. I love this steamer pan. You just set it on top of a pan of boiling water and put the lid on.

The finished beans. Just butter, course salt and ground pepper.

And here's lunch. I made a couple for myself and a few for Bob. Just grab it from the fridge and go to work. Obviously his had a whole chicken breast. This was my portion, which I could just about finish.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

birthday cake for a crowd

I took some cake decorating classes at the local craft store a few years ago, just for something to do. I found it to be fun and I seemed to have a knack for it; however, I quickly discovered that I would never want to make it a side business. Recently I was asked to make a birthday cake for my niece's girlfriend.  I, of course, said yes.

I like the process of deciding on a design (usually something simple), colors and flavors. The idea I start out with, though, typically changes based on how I'm feeling as the date approaches, what recipes I come across and want to try, how easy and/or expensive it is to get unusual ingredients, and whether I'm in the mood to make the cake. (Another reason why I could never have a cake business--people probably wouldn't get exactly what they asked for!)

My niece sent me a bunch of Pinterest pictures to give me an idea of what she and her girlfriend's family were looking for, many of which were just a little too complicated for me; all of them called for the use of fondant, which I'm not very good at.  Plus, it just doesn't taste good. We settled on a three-tiered cake that was pink, gold and white.

OK, so the colors and size were settled. Then it was on to flavors. My niece said she wanted one tier to be chocolate, one white and the third marble.  I was a little worried about making marble cake, since I'd never made it before, but I was willing to try.  I then had to decide on frosting flavors. My original plan was to use vanilla buttercream for the whole cake and just use some coloring; however, chocolate cake with vanilla buttercream didn't seem appealing to me, and neither did white cake with plain, boring buttercream.  I thought about it for a bit and then made my decision:  I ended up making the top tier chocolate with almond buttercream, the middle was white butter cake with strawberry buttercream (fresh strawberries!), and the bottom was marble cake with vanilla buttercream.

For the top two tiers I used recipes from my favorite cake book, The Cake Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum.  I really like her recipes. Although they can seem a little complicated or fussy at first, one can't argue with the results: the recipes work, I've never had one fail yet, and I always get rave reviews. For the chocolate cake I made her chocolate fudge cake recipe, which uses brown sugar instead of white sugar, and I think that makes a big difference. It was soft with a fine crumb and fudgy-tasting. When people say they made a chocolate cake, I usually feel a little disappointed and pass on it, because almost every chocolate cake I've had, whether it's from a box or the bakery, is a bit dry, bland and boring; however, this is not that bland, boring chocolate cake--it actually tastes like chocolate and it's rich! For the white cake I made her white velvet butter cake, which was very soft and buttery.  The marble cake was a recipe I found online, and it came out perfect:  very moist, a little dense, and delicious.

As for frosting, I settled on an almond buttercream for the chocolate cake. I hadn't thought of almond at all; however, as I was going through my cabinets looking (hoping) for inspiration, I noticed a bottle of almond extract. I set out to Googling and quickly found something super easy with only a few ingredients:  butter, powdered sugar, almond and vanilla extracts, a little salt, and milk. Done. For the white cake I used my tried-and-true vanilla buttercream recipe I got from my cake decorating instructor years ago and added puree made from fresh strawberries and lemon juice. (Note:  DO NOT add chilled puree to a finished buttercream frosting--the fat, which is either butter, shortening or a combo of both, will start to congeal and it will have a nasty, greasy mouth feel, and you'll have to hopefully beat it back into submission. Not that I EVER did that, of course...) Done. For the marble cake I used the vanilla buttercream mentioned above.  Done.

The top of the cake was decorated with Wilton candy sprinkles. Although I don't feel like these qualify as "sprinkles." They're more like candy discs. I tried using the Wilton Color Mist in Gold and it was a huge fail. It made the frosting a nasty apricot color and it started running. Thankfully the "sprinkled" completely covered the problem. No special decoration on the pink layer since it already had the pretty little pieces of strawberry and the seeds. The white layer was decorated with Wilton Candy Pearls on the top and sides. (You'd laugh if you knew how I achieved this look:  think "cake as dartboard.") The rim on the bottom was made with Sixlets candy, which Party City carries in many different colors. I added some artificial roses for decoration. I assembled it at home and transported it as you see it. It was a white-knuckled ride, but the cake made it in one piece.  When I got there I had several people ask me if I had a cake business. NO!!! I like doing it, but it's stressful, tedious, and takes a long time. I'm always happy to get the cake done and out of my house so I don't have to think about it again. 

It seemed to be a big hit and most of the cake was eaten. I'd heard that many people had two pieces, which was a nice compliment. But it doesn't make me want to do one again anytime soon.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

my first cat convention

View from the Asbury Park boardwalk. A cloudy day, but still a nice view.
So. I went to the Catsbury Park Cat Convention. A cat convention. Yes, a cat convention! I never thought I'd write these words, but here I am, having lived the dream just a couple weeks ago. Am I officially in crazy cat lady territory? No, I don't think so. I'm over 40 with 11 cats...but I'm married! 😸

To be clear, this was not a cat show. A cat show is where they display different breeds and they compete within each category, such as Best in Breed. No, this was a convention. Basically, it was everything "cat":  multiple vendors selling toys, beds, food, etc. for the kitties, and any kind of cat-themed merchandise you can think of for the cat lovers; food for the humans (this was strictly vegan food, as the convention is run by Catsbury Park Cat Cafe and they sell vegan snacks); meet and greets with celebrity cats; discussions with advocates; cat-themed games, such as bingo; a cat costume contest; cat adoptions; and Q&As with the owners of the celebrity cats.  One could even get a cat-themed tattoo. Oh, and the cat-themed music that played the whole time...I don't know quite what to say about that other than "pussy" was used quite a lot, and I'm thinking it didn't always refer to a cat. (Here's one such example:  The Pussy Cat Song.)

I went both days. That wasn't the plan, but we had decided to check out the parking situation and having seen it, decided we should stick around since we got a great parking space. Saturday was absolutely packed with wall to wall people, which is actually a good thing since the proceeds went to charity. We got there about a half hour before opening and should've gotten in line, but we didn't. Once we did, it took us about 20 minutes to get in and they ran out of the free tote bags by around 11:30 am. We got in around 11:45 and we could barely move. We really couldn't get to any vendor booths so we went across to the Paramount Theater and saw the Q&A with Nala. Nala was adorable and so well-behaved. I wish my own cats would behave so well! When we were exiting the convention floor to go to the theater, the guard said they were at legal capacity and couldn't let anyone back in unless they again waited in line, so we decided to leave and go back Sunday. We didn't want to go back in anyway, because it was too hard to move around. The experience soured me a bit, but I figured it would likely be better Sunday since many people came for one day only.

Sunday we got there early and since we had the wristband for both days, we waited until the doors opened and got right in. Got our free tote bags, too. I was able to grab all the goodies I wanted to buy and actually look around. The food smelled amazing, but we didn't get anything. I really wanted to try the vegan food, because it smelled amazing, but I decided to just wait awhile to eat. We saw the talk with Oskar the Blind Cat's owner, which was really well-done and very interesting. Touching, too. Oskar had suddenly passed away in February; however, his owner brought Oskar's brother, Klaus.  Klaus was so cute, and also well-behaved. We did a meet and greet with Teddy and Dexter, two Oriental shorthair cats, and that went smoothly. We were within the first 15 people to go in, so I'm glad we decided to show up early. Teddy and Dexter were very friendly. Yes, they are long and lanky, and many people think they're not the most attractive cats, but they really have personality. And those ears!

Here are some pictures.

Klaus, brother of the late Oskar the Blind Cat. He's so cute and well-behaved.
This is me with Teddy and Dexter, and their mom. They're Oriental Short-hairs. Very long and lanky, but so soft and very friendly. And yes, I'm wearing cat ears...
My free tote bag, which was filled with cat-themed goodies.

One of the gifts in my tote bag.
I just have to say a few words about PussWeek. It's marketed as "written by cats, for cats," and it's hysterical! The articles give cats advice on how to be a scary cat, there are interviews with some celebrity cats, and even some quizzes, such as, "Is your human a witch?" It was quite entertaining.

These are the gifts from both bags combined. My husband went with me, so we each got a bag.
We got two issues of PussWeek, catnip, earrings, and grain-free treats.

The Meow magnet I bought and the other I won from one of the booths.

I bought myself a Lil' Bub tumbler, which I now use for the gym. It's a little inspirational, don't you think?

I got a free magnet at the Teddy & Dexter meet & greet. Teddy is on the far left and Dexter is the black one.
Yes, their ears are huge, but I think they're adorable!

I bought this at the Leeza Hernandez Illustrations booth. She does great work.
I got this because I have two black kitties.
I got this from the Only Maine Coons Rescue booth. It's a mat that has catnip inside. My cats love it. I only wish I'd bought a few more, because at least four cats piled on top of it as soon as I got it out of the bag and onto the couch.

This was Catsbury Park's first event and I'm guessing they underestimated how many people would show up, whether it was advanced ticket sales or walk-ins. I think the convention floor was a bit small for the turnout, which is why it was overcrowded Saturday. As for the content, there were some people that complained (on the event's Facebook page) there weren't any cats to see.  I'm confused as to why people thought there would be cats on the convention floor. It's not a cat show. It's a convention, which is different. Also, the website clearly says "live adoptions" (which were done behind the stage area where it was quieter) and anyone with cats likely knows it's not a good idea to put cats on display in a crowded room. It also clearly stated that meet and greets were paid events. There were also some free presentations, some of which featured the celebrity cats.  Some people also complained that they spent a lot of money and it wasn't worth it.  It was only $20.00, which I thought was very reasonable.  Since I went both days I paid about $38.00.  I feel like my money was well-spent and it went to a good cause.

Saturday night we went over to the Catsbury Park Cat Cafe.  Reservations are required and are limited to 30 minutes inside the cat room. I made mine online several weeks before the convention. The cost was $11.00 per person ($9.00 during the week). It's a cafe on one side and a cat room on the other, and it's divided by glass so people in the cafe can see the cats and vice versa. The cafe sells vegan treats, as well as coffee and such. I got some vegan peanut brittle (delicious!) and brought it into the cat room with me. When I made the reservation I wasn't thinking about the fact that at the time we were going--7 pm--the cats would likely be all tuckered out from having more visitors than usual due to the convention.  I was only thinking about allowing myself enough time to go to the convention, get back to the hotel for a bit and then drive over there. Sure enough, the kitties were all sleeping for the most part. That's OK. We still got to see them and pet a few of them, and also see the cafe itself.

I'm hoping next year they will have it at a different venue so there's more room to move around. I thought it went really well, though, for their first time around. All in all, we had a great weekend.