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Two Harbors Rainbow

Ore Docks Two Harbors MN, June 2016

For a dozen years now, my husband and I have talked about where we’re going to live upon retirement. Duluth has figured prominently in the discussion. We went as far as buying a five-acre parcel of land in Two Harbors, 22 miles up the Lake Superior shoreline from Duluth. It was a decision based on keeping our options open. That land is ours, and we can build on it if we choose. If we don’t choose to do that, we can hang onto it or sell it.

Over the last year or two, I’ve become quite vocal about not wanting to live in Two Harbors. It’s a town of about 3,700 people. There are some shops and a few restaurants, a grocery store, a hardware store of the “general store” variety. There is a very small hospital. It’s within a half-hour’s drive of Duluth, which was my firm requirement when considering a healthcare emergency involving two people of retirement age. Two major medical centers are in downtown Duluth. However, I can see the writing on the wall that I would be spending a fair amount of time in Duluth: shopping, participating in activities with the Unitarian Universalist congregation, volunteering with wildlife rescue and humane societies, taking advantage of the many festivals and other entertainment opportunities. I don’t want to spend my time driving back and forth from Two Harbors to Duluth. I want to be there.


Duluth MN

We’ve begun to explore that option now. I’ve found an area of Duluth that I really like, the Woodland neighborhood, which is near to the University of Minnesota-Duluth and the College of Saint Scholastica. If one gets out on the edge of that neighborhood, he’s in a less developed, rural-like setting but still only a few miles from the hub of the activity. It’s got a good feel to it, combining the natural setting I love, the peace and quiet, and the close association with wildlife while still being very convenient to all the small city amenities. (Duluth is a city of 86,000. That’s the same as the population of the largest Twin Cities’ suburb of Bloomington where the Mall of America is located. The total population of the Twin Cities metro area is approaching four million people.)

Change is hard for me, though. Moving in particular is very hard. We don’t do it very often! We spent sixteen-and-a-half years in our home in South Minneapolis. We now have been in our current first-ring suburban home for twenty-one years. The move from South Minneapolis to Maplewood was very difficult on me emotionally and I struggled with depression. I’m not looking forward to going through that again.

My husband recently turned the reins of this proposed move over to me with my emotional well-being in mind. He said, “You’re driving this decision. I want you to be happy.” I’m grateful for this. Truth of the matter is that there is part of me that doesn’t want to leave the metro area. This has been my home for 40 years now, and a fine home it’s been.

We ARE moving from this home only six miles from downtown St. Paul, even though my husband said that staying here is certainly an option on the table. I’m good with the option of moving. We’re going to let some other family live in this bedroom community of people who work for 3M, Ecolab, the State of Minnesota, Wells Fargo, and other corporations nearby. We’d also like to build a home, our dream home. It would be a single-level home built with ADA-assessible doorways and bathrooms so that we can stay there as long as possible into our geriatric years. If we stayed in the Twin Cities area, though, where do we go from here?

Several of my biggest losses if we moved are my healthcare team (my primary care doc and

st paul river view.jpg

Downtown St. Paul MN on the Mississippi River

my behavioral health provider), my cat-specialty veterinary clinic with vets and staff I really like, and my professional cat sitter who is top notch. We’ve got a couple of close friends here that I’d hate to move away from. With those factors in mind, I’ve been exploring the east side of the Mississippi River around Cottage Grove, Newport, Saint Paul Park, Afton, outlying areas of Woodbury. Of course, if we get too far out to avoid being in the middle of a current or proposed surburban development, then we’re talking driving a half-hour to get anywhere! We’ve lost the convenience of having things close by and easily assessible.

This past week, I’ve been back to liking the sound of Duluth. It’s a calmer, quieter environment. The suburbs aren’t encroaching on the available land at the edges of the city. If we buy a secluded property, it’s going to stay a secluded location. Everything we need is there on a smaller scale, and the reality is, who needs a hundred choices when five is more than adequate? It keeps life simple. Simple is good. It’s sounding better all the time. As much as I hate to leave Dr. Stiffman’s care, I could find an adequate primary care physician in Duluth. I could even keep my behavioral health team here in the Twin Cities because I’m low maintenance most of the time and could schedule some trips here periodically to check in. I would need to replace my vet clinic and my cat sitter, but there has got to be some suitable options there, although no one can really replace Parkview Cat Clinic, the notorious “Dr. Grant” Gugisberg, and “Auntie Lisa,” the cat nanny. Replacing friends? No, that can’t be done, but we can visit. Our one close friend in particular was born and raised in northern Minnesota (as my husband was), lived in Duluth years ago, and loves it there. There would be some driving back and forth, but we could all manage it.

This decision is nudging towards the forefront now, no longer something that may occur five or ten years from now. My husband retired after thirty years of service with his company. He’s enjoyed the retired life for four months now. I’m still working for the State of Minnesota but not for much longer. He seemed to be enjoying retirement so much that upon his encouragement, I told my supervisor two months ago that my last day would be October 4. Three months from now I’ll join the ranks of the retired folk. Next month, around the time of my 61st birthday, I’ll collect all my documents and get my application for retirement benefits turned in to Human Resources. After forty years in the workforce, that phase of my life is coming to an end. It feel strange. (I’ll get used to it!)

I’m restless and impatient right now. I’d like to know where I’m ultimately going to land with this decision. It’s going to need to simmer for now, though. Rushing it is not a good plan.

First world decisions. So many people don’t have these choices. How fortunate I am!


A Proud MDHer   2 comments

That stands for Minnesota Department of Health where I’ve worked for the past seven years.  I become more and more proud of my contribution to that organization all the time.  Here’s what the St. Paul Pioneer Press had to say about us this week:

While others celebrated the holidays, Minnesota investigators were tracking a killer.

A nationwide salmonella outbreak had sickened hundreds of consumers, leaving a growing death toll, and nobody was sure why. Within days, state investigators in St. Paul had cracked the case – tracing the salmonella to tainted peanut butter from a troubled Georgia plant.

How did they do it? That’s what Congress wants to know as it seeks to improve the nation’s uneven food-safety patchwork. If the salmonella outbreak revealed how the food-safety system faltered, it also showed how Minnesota investigators shined during a deadly outbreak.

“Time and time again, it’s the foodborne disease unit at the Minnesota Department of Health and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture that has come up with the answers,” said U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.

More than 40 states were involved in the peanut case, but Minnesotans were the first to zero in on the type of tainted peanut butter. The first to trace it back to a Georgia plant. The first to confirm salmonella in peanut butter. And first to warn the public about the danger – prompting the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to shut down the plant that same day.

“Because institutionally-served peanut butter, in five-pound containers, was identified by the state of Minnesota as a potential vehicle, our investigation began with a strong lead: the brand name of a company and the address to begin our trace,” the FDA’sdirector of food safety, Stephen Sundlof, told Congress last week.

Minnesota officials credit no single thing for making the system here work. It’s a complex network and a culture of teamwork: health and food investigators who work side-by-side; state laws that provide strong consumer protections; good facilities and resources to detect problems; and experienced investigators who know how to interview patients, trace products and draw linkages.

“It’s almost thinking like a criminal investigation, like you’re trying to solve a murder,” said Mike Schommer, spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.

Here’s how Minnesotans cracked the peanut case, as told by some who helped do it. (Read full article here.)

I’ve never experienced such pride in what I do and who I do it for. I feel that the chances are quite good that MDH will be my last employer — that is, until I get a job in a bead store upon retirement! Even my husband has resigned himself to this probability. I say this because I am a public servant and I do not get paid what I could be making in a different kind of organization. I took almost a $2.00 an hour pay cut when I accepted this job at MDH seven years ago and resigned my position at a large HMO here in the Twin Cities. Over the course of seven years, I am now making the wage that I could have been making at my former job just weeks after leaving in 2002 when the HMO gave technologists in my position a raise to boost them up to community standards. I, on the other hand, have dealt with periodic freezes on my wages and nominal pay increases when they do occur. The union representing the professional State of Minnesota employees has tried to no avail to get the State to evaluate what it’s paying its professional employees and bring them up to comparable wages that they could be making elsewhere, but this has yet to happen since I’ve been there.

My husband shakes his head at my “folly” when I could be making more bucks working for someone else, but I enjoy what I do and I’m proud to be a member of the team. That counts for something. In fact, it counts for a whole lot to many people in a variety of ways.

In fact, I think we should celebrate with a “poop cake.” One of our chief epidemiologists on Team Diarrhea got one for his 40th birthday a few years ago, and it was a hoot. It looked something like this:

Poop Cake

Poop Cake

Yes, we ate it and laughed hysterically about it.

Posted February 20, 2009 by StPaulieGrrl in Career, Minnesota

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Soulless   19 comments

I am an RN, and every two years, I need to renew my nursing license.  Part of that renewal process consists of attesting to the fact that I’ve completed 24 contact hours of appropriate nursing education in the past 24 months.  I tend to choose educational opportunities that contribute to my areas of personal interest, for for that reason, I signed up this past week for a three-hour seminar at Century College entitled, “Soulless: When Someone You Love Doesn’t Have a Conscience.”

The course description is this:

Nearly all of us have a loved one who just doesn’t get it. Our family member may be incapable of understanding his or her emotional impact on others. Whether it’s a parent, partner or child, a soulless family member may take an enormous toll on us. We may feel disoriented, duped, exploited, overburdened, and depressed from such experiences as we overly blame ourselves for the under-functioning of our clueless loved one. Even when our loved one is sober, law-abiding, and apparently well-functioning, we may be living in anguish with a soulless person.

This workshop uses case examples, small group discussion, video presentations, and lecture material to identify and heal the syndrome of living with a person who lacks a conscience. Knowing the warning signs, improving relational functioning in the soulless family member, and learning how to care for ourselves are the themes of this presentation. The psychological origins of psychopathy and the cultural contributions to it are presented. Material in the seminar is addressed to professional helpers but is instructive and empowering to concerned family members. Indeed, to love somebody without a conscience demands that we learn to love ourselves at a deeper level.

Objectives: 1. Learn how a health moral conscience is developed in stages, 2. Identify the warning signals for soulless behavior, 3. Describe the impact of psychopathy on family members and the role that psychopathy plays in families, 4. Understand the mind of a sociopath and the different world he or she lives in, 5. Examine the psychological, biological, and familial origins of psychopathy, 6. Describe specific strategies to improve relational functioning in a sociopath, 7. Develop a repertoire of survival skills and self-soothing resources in living with a soulless loved one.

I have someone like this in my life, although, no, I have never lived with him. And I’ll say upfront here that I don’t believe that he completely fits the diagnosis of a sociopath. He officially earned this diagnosis by the legal system when he was 18-years-old, but that was in 1965, and psychiatric medicine is more refined now than it was then. Even at that, psychiatric diagnoses are often very difficult to nail down with certainty just given all the variables that human beings possess.

We know a lot more about a variety of psychiatric syndromes now than in 1965, and with more knowledge at our disposal, I would say that his sociopathic leanings are more a result of untreated ADHD and a mild form of an autistic spectrum disorder, completely undiagnosed and untreated in his childhood and exacerbated by parents and a social support system that could not deal with it in any constructive way. That aside, there are times when he definitely displays some tendencies towards the self-absorbed, selfish behaviors of a sociopathic person, behaviors that hurt and abuse other people. His level of responsibility and remorse in these situations at times seems truly minimal.

I’ve known this friend for 38 years now, even though 800 miles has separated us for 32 of those 38 years. The advent of an email relationship four years ago has encouraged more frequent contact. I am always available to him now as an email correspondent. And I’ve tried to be a good friend! But particularly when he is under stress, as he is right now with the breakup of a relationship, my frequent and intense correspondence with him can get trying, especially when he just doesn’t “get it.” He doesn’t understand the cause-and-effect of his behavior. He doesn’t take personal responsibility for his circumstances. He’s into blaming and rationalizing. In short, he’s a tough person to have a relationship with!

I saw this course in the Century online catalog, said no, didn’t want to take the time off from work since it’s held on a Friday morning, then reconsidered. I’ve decided that learning more about this is part of taking care of myself. I turned in for a vacation day, turned in my registration and will be there in my seat at 9:00 on the morning of February 6.

Matter of Perspective   1 comment

Last evening, I attended a microbiology society dinner meeting, an organization that I’ve belonged to for 25 years now.  We meet three times a year, in October, January, and April.  There are typically two speakers following the dinner.  Last night, the first speaker was a well-known Infectious Disease doc from the University of Minnesota who has been extensively involved in the AIDS epidemic since its start back in the 1980s.  The second speaker was a physician and an author who has written books from an historical perspective on disease.  He talked specifically about cholera last night.

The conversation around the break table this morning at work was interesting from the standpoint that most everyone was of the opinion that Dr. Rhame, the infectious disease doctor who specializes in AIDS treatment and research, was way “over the top” in terms of graphic information in his talk.  Way too much information, was the consensus this morning.  Listening to specific information about the HIV transmission risk of oral sex between women and tranmission risk of swallowing ejaculate and the risk incurred by anal intercourse with and without a condom was just pushing the limits of what some people could comfortably listen to.  I realized that this would be the case as I was listening to Dr. Rhame’s talk last night.  I wondered then how some of my colleagues were handling the sexually graphic information.  Not particularly well, as it turned out.

Then there was the following speaker who talked graphically about “rice water stools” and showed pictures of what such stools look like, along with photographs and drawings of people violently ill with diarrheal disease.  My colleagues found this talk to be very interesting and continued to schlep their tapioca pudding for dessert without batting an eye.   Good talk! was the overwhelming opinion. 

Interesting, though, that folks cringe at “too much information” of a sexual nature, information that is so very relevant that it may save their lives or the lives of a loved one.  Discussing fulminant diarrhea and showing pictures of it over supper while people are eating?  Not a problem!  Pass the chocolate cake, please!

Quirky bunch of people I work with!  😉

Posted October 24, 2008 by StPaulieGrrl in Career

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Dragging My Feet   2 comments

I don’t want to go to work today.  It’s dark, it’s cold, and it’s supposed to be raining off and on all day, which is miserable when it’s only 42 degrees.  I don’t have a husband to chauffeur me to and from my office building today since he had an obligation off-site today.  I have to either walk the seven blocks to and from the parking ramp or hop on the bus.  Even taking the bus is a two-block walk.  Poor me.

I don’t want to go to work for another reason.  That reason is that I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed.  We’ve had yet another E. coli O157:H7 daycare outbreak.  What is it with that this year?  I’m still trying to finish up my involvement in that Ph.D. candidate’s research project, which just becomes a bigger can of worms the more I look at his data and the samples he’s recently given me to confirm.  (Yes, my supervisor knows I’m doing this.  Hell, it was my supervisor and HER supervisor who got me into this involvement almost two years ago to begin with!)

Yesterday, we as an interdisciplinary group of Enterics Micro, Molecular Epidemiology, and Serology/Special Testing were called together upon the request of our collective manager to discuss a new study that the Foodborne Epidemiology unit has proposed and would like to see us conduct as a group.  It involves the sensitivity of our methods to find E. coli O157:H7 and other pathogenic E. coli species in stool specimens.  After an hour of discussing this project, my supervisor noted, “I sense an elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about.  Could it be that you’re all wondering how you’re going to take on another project with the workload already the way it is?”

Well, she is a very perceptive person!  Yes, she is!

Our manager (her boss), however, is Mr. Out-of-Touch.  He said, “Well, if you’re having trouble handling the increased work this will require, just let us know and we’ll bring in some more people to help.”

Simultaneously, several of us, including my supervisor, said, “From where?”  There ARE no people to pull in!  Budget cuts, remember?  People retire or quit and their positions aren’t filled.  That’s why we’re maxed out like we are.

My supervisor did say that if it were any consolation, she just got approval to fill our former coworker’s position.  Great!  Elsie retired in early April after 42 years of service with the State, and another coworker has been doing two jobs since that time.  It’s no wonder she’s wondering how we’re possibly going to add one more project to the workload.  We’re all glad that permission from the Powers That Be has been granted to fill that vacancy now, but we all know that realistically it’s going to take several months to get someone hired, and then they need to be trained in!

So, we spent 90 minutes in a meeting yesterday afternoon, time we couldn’t afford to spend in a meeting, and got back to the department with the phone ringing off the hook with folks wanting their results. 

The phrase, “I’m only one person,” frequently surfaces in my workplace. 

Well, off to it.

Posted October 22, 2008 by StPaulieGrrl in Career, Daily Life

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Hindsight is 20/20   1 comment

I had trouble getting to sleep last night and then woke up early – 4:55 AM — with the brain picking up where it left off with ruminations of what I need to do at work, thoughts of family things, and fleeting thoughts of an Internet involvement which brought worry to my life. 

I can’t do anything about the family situation today.

I can’t do much more about the Internet involvement except continue along the path that I’ve chosen the last couple of weeks and keep my distance for my own sanity.

Work?  Well, there is a lot I need to do at work, and that needs to be the priority for the rest of the week.

Awhile back, I mentioned that I was annoyed that I needed to review a draft of a research paper.  My involvement in this research project was to supply specimens for this guy in the  Food Science department at the U of MN to work with.  That’s it.  Supply him with specimens to generate his data.  I could do that.  God only knows that enough specimens cross my desk in the course of doing my own job!  It was pain-in-the-butt enough that I had to pull these specimens at periodic intervals, make lists of what I was sending him, and jump through the appropriate hoops for shipping dangerous goods.  It quickly morphed into so much more than this involvement, however, with me troubleshooting his assay and techniques and trying to make heads and/or tails of what data he was deriving.

Well, we’re at the end of the project and the rough draft of the paper has been written.  Now, he wants me to critique what he’s written.  In order to do that, I have to go back through all my data and figure out where he’s coming up with the numbers.  It’s made my head pound just to think about it.  He send me the draft of his paper just before I went on vacation the end of August, and I told him I’d get to it when I got back from vacation.  I haven’t.  My time has been booked with my own job.  He finally emailed me yesterday and asked if I’d looked at his paper yet.  I told him it was on my “to do” list and I would attempt to get it off my “to do” list (one way or the other!) by the end of this week.

Getting this chore off my “to do” list may involve a glance at the paper and saying that I can’t evaluate his data unless he sends me all the data he’s generated with the breakdown of specimens and results.  It may further involve me going to my supervisor and getting her backing to say that I don’t have the time to spend doing any further analysis of his paper.

I’m a highly competent and intelligent person.  I now wish I had more than a Bachlelor’s level education so that I could claim more status and income for myself rather than doing other people’s work.  As many of you know, I successfully completed three years of pre-med studies with a 3.75 GPA  as an undergrad and abandoned the trek towards medical school due to stress levels.  I now wish I had had more of an understanding of what my options could have been.  Yes, I wish I had gone on to medical school and pursued a residency in Pathology, something that I thought was crazy at the time.  But it would have been the perfect job for me. 

Hindsight, hindsight.  Always 20/20.

Posted October 1, 2008 by StPaulieGrrl in Career

What I Do For A Living   4 comments

For those of you who still aren’t sure what I do for a living, this article printed today in the Twin Cities Star Tribune newspaper may help a little. 

The St. Paul Pioneer Press also carried an article today from the AP wire.

I am a member of Team Diarrhea, or “Team D” as we call it here at the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH.)  There are a couple of different sections involved in Team D.  I am in the laboratory side of Team D, working with the actual specimens that people submit to the lab when an outbreak is under investigation.  I worked with all those specimens that came in as part of that recent restaurant outbreak involving foodworkers, the local outbreak that tremendously furthered our data on this Salmonella Saintpaul nationwide outbreak where tomatoes had been first implicated.  Again, I don’t work with the vegetables themselves.  That is the Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s job who work across the hall from us.  I work with the samples the sick people submit.  The name of my team — Team “D” — says it all! 

I and my coworkers here in the lab analyze the submitted specimens for the presence of these illness-causing organisms, in this case, Salmonella.  Once the Salmonella is isolated from a patient’s specimen, further serotyping and DNA analysis is done with the laboratory to “cluster” cases together — to determine if they came from a common source.  The Epidemiology folks on that side of Team D compile this data and contact patients to ask them specific questions about their health history, travel and employment history, and what they’ve eaten.  More importantly, all this data is put into a nationwide data bank that one of our members helped to found some years back (“PulseNet”) and we can keep our fingers on the pulse of what is going on in other states potentially involving the same organisms.  Widespread outbreaks involving common food sources can then be identified and acted upon.   

I’m proud of what I do and this is why I work hard and have little interest in returning to the “private sector” to do microbiology in some reference lab.  I like making a difference!

Posted July 24, 2008 by StPaulieGrrl in Career

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