Friday, January 29, 2010

Health follow-up

Just talked with the physician's assistant at the breast surgeon's office. As expected, the hospital reported that the area was too vascular to do the needle biopsy and that a small surgery would be warranted to get a sample. I suggested that given the fact that the mammograms they did last week seemed to indicate that things hadn't changed since October, maybe the surgeon could take a look at those and either confirm there's been no change or recommend the surgical biopsy. Not surprisingly (given the fact that she didn't have the specifics and the mammos in front of her), the PA wasn't about to shrug off the need to yank the things out, but she also wasn't frantically rushing it along, either.

After some discussion, we agreed that I'll get a follow up mammogram in April (six months check from the original), and then I'll go in to see the surgeon with all of the films and the report to make a determination on any next steps.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Pain in the ...

Perhaps a little stress is getting to me, re: not having an income. Yesterday as I was setting up the info desk at Ellis Island, I threw out my back. It's not the first time I've had this issue; the lower back tends to lock up on occasion when I'm stressed and haven't done any yoga in a while. This time it's got me standing less than totally upright, but at least the pain eases after being on my feet for a few minutes. I'm wishing I got that stand-up desk when I had the chance.

As for a resolution to the stress, well, the Mega Millions jackpot is up to $144 million. I'm off to buy some tix...

Getting back to a previous post, the info session at the Edison NHP was pretty cool. First off, I was welcomed to the site by the ranger I spoke to at my last visit, and he remembered me by name. Nice! Then one of the archivists talked about their vast collection and some of the efforts already done to catalog it. They're working alongside Rutgers, the Smithsonian and the NJ Historical Commission, and while there's a lot done, there's more to go. He also shared process on how people can access the archive, which I'd asked about when I visited last fall. Essentially, you don't need to be a researcher or scholar, but you do need to have a fairly well-thought out goal, as they don't allow browsing. For the most part, they ask for your area of interest so the Park Service can keep records on trends, rather than to keep tabs on anyone. It's almost unreal, isn't it? In a world where it seems one has to rationalize every request of an institution, these guys don't really care why you want the information, as long as you respect the collection.

Following the archivist's discussion, the ranger said a few words about opportunities for volunteers, given that the site has lost some of its seasonal rangers. He put a lot of emphasis on the fun aspect, encouraging us to develop short programs on our areas of interest. That rang a bunch of bells for me, given some of the stuff I've wanted to research anyway. I personally think it would be interesting to lend focus to some of Edison's projects that didn't work out the way he wanted. They'd be a great way to showcase his creativity while emphasizing that one often learns more about being successful through trial and error than by having everything go to plan every time. After all, if you're not failing once in a while, you're clearly not trying to do enough.

Wait. There's a lesson there, Sherlock. Hmm...

Next steps toward volunteering include meetings with the ranger and the volunteer coordinator, as well as some on-site visitation and the orientation meeting on the 16th. And then we're off to the races!

Friday, January 22, 2010


Success! I heard back from the volunteer coordinator at the Thomas Edison National Historical Park in West Orange. After apologizing for losing my original application, she invited me to their orientation on February 16, as well as a volunteer event tomorrow morning. As part of their continuing education, the park archivist is giving an overview of the documents and records they have on site.

The archives piece sounds pretty cool; Rutgers has had a project going for several years to catalogue all of the paperwork found on site, and it's quite extensive. When they reopened the site in October they had a small exhibit of some of the documents, which only sparked my interest in what might be there and the opportunities it opens up to learn more about some of Edison's lesser-known projects.

We'll see what the volunteer assignments shape out to be. Now that the site is largely self-guided, it's possible the only live tour narrative is done in one or two of the out-buildings (i.e. chem lab) and at Glenmont, Edison's house. I'm not all that jazzed about doing house tours, to be honest, but then it's likely better than just sitting in the visitor center.

In any case, I'll need to balance this with Ellis Island and the other stuff I need to do to get my act in gear.

As I was saying...

No question, one of the things I love about volunteering is the ability to go places people don't ordinarily get to go. I'm finding out that sometimes it's by necessity.

This week's stint at Ellis Island was pretty quiet -- not many visitors -- but we did have two people show up for the morning tour. I was with another volunteer, so we both did the tour, which was helpful because one of the visitors was in a wheelchair. While my cohort was giving the banter, I was running ahead to make sure the gates and construction doors to the ferry building would open sufficiently for the visitor to roll through.

We were in good shape until my buddy decided to return to the main building by a different route -- one that isn't obviously handicap-accessible. Fortunately we ran into a park cop who pointed us through another door to an outside corridor leading to a ramp to the area we were trying to get to. I ran ahead to check it out and then came back to bring everyone else through. Meanwhile my colleague apologized up and down to the visitor, who I sensed was pretty okay with the opportunity to check out a part of the building not ordinarily on the tour. In fact, he stopped by our desk a little later to talk more about Ellis Island and what he'd discovered, so I think we did okay.

My colleague and I got a real charge out of finding a new place to check out, and I also realized how much fun it is to do this kind of work when you're with someone who enjoys it the way you do. Otherwise, it has the prospect of getting boring and tedious really quickly.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Boob job

Lucky me, to have woken up with a headache yesterday.

I knew just what it was, too -- I tend to get dehydrated at Ellis Island, and I guess I didn't drink enough water when I was there on Tuesday. It was a really fun day (more on that later) but not worth a headache on a day when I couldn't take any aspirin and had to get my boob poked.

So, anyway, the big biopsy.

I guess if it had to happen (especially with a headache that made me feel all tired), it wasn't such a horrible experience. The breast center at Overlook is very nice and comfortable but doesn't go overboard on the "oh, poor baby" aspect of the situation. Fortunately I'd been pre-admitted, so all they needed was my signature a few times, and my insurance card. Then I went to put on a gown and hang out to wait in a comfortable area on my own.

The nurse, radiologist and doctor each came in separately to talk me through the process and answer my questions, which was nice. (Nice that they were all consistent, and all open to conversation.) The doctor noted that given how small the calcifications are, it was possible it would be hard to find them, so they'd likely have to do a bunch of mammograms to get to the spot. In fact, that would be the longest part of the whole process; once they located the spot, it was just a matter of injecting some lidocaine, letting it work for a few seconds, and then going in for the core biopsy. And the radiologist told me that once they found them, the mammo paddles wouldn't be compressed too firmly, just enough to hold the tissue in place. I've had some really uncomfortable mammos, so that was good to hear. If they're keeping you smooshed for five minutes, you really don't want to be in a vise. Believe me.

Of course, me being me, it did take a while for them to find the spot in question. And then they discovered that the number of blood vessels around it was making it difficult to route a path to the spot that wouldn't result in a fair amount of bleeding. And the whole time they were making this determination, my boob is in a vise. Oh, joy. The doctor explained that it's always possible to do a surgical biopsy; they can control the bleeding in that case. It's just that breast tissue acts as a sponge, so I'd end up with a hell of a hematoma if they hit a vein during a needle biopsy.

While I wasn't all that concerned about ending up with a big bruise, it did concern me that there could be complications, so I wasn't about to get insistent on doing the procedure regardless. I did ask whether it appeared that anything had changed since my mammo in October, and the doctor said everything looked the same, more or less. No new calcifications, and it didn't appear that the others had grown.

Bottom line, the doctor's going to talk with my surgeon about the situation, and we can make a determination from there. Right now, I'd rather do a wait-and-see, get another set of films taken in a few months to see if there's any change. I mean, the calcifications were so tiny that the original radiologist almost didn't see them. That doesn't make them any less questionable, it just makes me believe there's time before they could become anything truly dangerous. I really don't want to have any surgery unless it's truly necessary, even a biopsy.

More to come...

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Well, I'm giving it another shot

Saturday I took the boyfriend on the quasi Edison tour -- starting at the giant lightbulb and local museum in Menlo Park and then moving on to the Edison National Historic Park in West Orange. Me being me, I ended up getting into a conversation with one of the volunteers at Menlo Park, who's an even bigger Edison geek than I am and volunteers at the National Park. When he suggested going to West Orange, I mentioned my love of the site and my frustration that the management there hadn't responded to my volunteer application. Surprised, he gave me names of a couple of rangers to ask for during my visit. Cool!

Turned out I didn't even have to ask. I'd already been planning to buy an Edison park pass ($30 for a full year of visits, as much as you want), and the ranger at the visitor center tried to talk me into a pass that would get me into any park in the system, plus some other federal properties. Ordinarily, I'd do that, but I really didn't want to spend $80, and, as I told him, "I'm an Edison geek."

"Oh!" he said. "We get lots of those here! If you're really into it, you can even volunteer here," noting that he is responsible for the volunteer program and needs people desperately. Yes, he was one of the rangers the Menlo Park volunteer had told me to find.

Ah... he walked right into my web. After a short chat, he gave me a card to fill out, and said he'd give me a call to talk more.

So here's hoping! I'm sure there's a way I can do both that and Ellis Island.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Health stuff

I keep forgetting to update on the big health issue.

I'm going for my breast biopsy on Wednesday, first thing in the morning. As prep, I've had to avoid aspirin and acetaminophen-containing products, which has been a bit of an inconvenience given my current cold.

Basically, they're going to be doing a type of mammogram to locate the offending area, and then poking it with a wire to get a sample. The area gets numbed, and the entry area is very small, coverable with a bandaid, but boy, I'm not looking forward to it. Just the thought of an extended mammo is annoying enough. Anyway, I think it takes about an hour. I'll reread the material before I go.

I'm not thinking too much about results... except when I get occasional reminders. Like those damned pink ribbons. I mean, I'm grateful that people are focused on a cure, and I've contributed myself, but all the drama isn't for me.

The new boyfriend is coming with me, at his suggestion, so I'll have someone to drive me home. I just hope he doesn't make too much of a deal out of it (i.e. I'll love you no matter what, etc.). I really hate having to manage through people's own shit that they're projecting on the shit I'm going through. It's bad enough I have to go through it. I don't need people to say much beyond good luck and, if they've gone through it, what their experience was, if they want to share. That's helpful, and it doesn't make assumptions about what I'm thinking or feeling.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Blurg, indeed!

Interesting what the universe feeds back when you put stuff out there.

Following last week's slough of despond, and totally separate from this blog, I got two contacts from the past, one personal and one professional. Both were nourishing.

The personal one came from a woman I'd lost contact with inadvertently. She'd actually tried to contact me a couple of weeks ago by posting a comment on one of my other blogs. For whatever reason, I hadn't noticed there was a comment to be moderated, and when I did, there she was. We linked up by phone, and it was great to hear her voice. She's always been really supportive of me -- even when I wasn't supporting myself -- and the affirmation is much needed right now.

The professional contact was a bit of a surprise: the Princeton tour lady. Given her hectic schedule, she and I never did get back together last fall, but I became a fan on her company Facebook page to keep up-to-date on the business. Early last week someone flamed one of her posts, and I commented back in her defense, without giving it much more thought than it being a nice thing to do. A few days later I found a reply to my November e-mail to her in my mailbox, thanking me for the defense and asking me for a few dates when we could get together for lunch. Wow! It appears this social networking thing can really work.

We got together yesterday for a quick bite and intense conversation. I learned a lot in an hour! Some of what she said supported what the ranger had covered at the NPS training the day before: sheer facts and figures might interest us geeks, but the vast majority of our guests want to be entertained. You've got to make the location and the history come alive for them. She also offered up some potential alternatives to supplement the day-in, day-out uncertainty of whether people will show up for tours.

She also advised me to keep start-up costs low by not going too crazy with tchotchkes right up front. My thinking exactly. Invest in logo treatment and maybe get staff shirts (like one, for me) through Zazzle or some other on-demand business. I've never been one for giveaways, so if I can sink the money elsewhere (like a good website), I'd rather do that.

All that said, she didn't seem very optimistic that people would want to explore New Jersey when New York and Philadelphia are so close. Acknowledged. But don't'cha think the state could be doing a better job of creating a narrative of the state that doesn't start with the shore and end with Atlantic City casinos? There are an awful lot of really lonely people staffing historic sites in this state, and they'd love the company. Somehow we didn't get much farther in that line of discussion.

She did get me thinking more about blogging as a way to position myself as the guide for quirky New Jersey destinations. Let's face it: I can write, and I do have a little bit of a backlog of material already, given the jaunts I do when I'm bored. There are an awful lot of people who are covering the state in various ways, so who knows, maybe I could cross-link with them. My posts would have to be a lot punchier, but I could probably then get more mileage out of a given hot spot. She told me that she's getting up to a million hits on her site per month, but it doesn't translate that quickly into tour traffic.

I didn't mention this to her, but I've also been thinking of doing some sort of New Jersey book through an internet publisher like Because they print on demand, it's not like I'd have to sink a lot of money into inventory; I could promote it via the blog and leave some samples with local indie bookstores for consideration. Granted, I'd make more money marketing it myself, but I'll get it figured out.

Lots to think about, lots to consider. I was thrilled that she's willing to keep the dialogue going, and perhaps even to cross-market when I get something up and running.

This networking thing sure beats sitting and ruminating in my apartment on a blustery January day.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Ranger Jones... again

My gut keeps telling me park ranger. My wallet tells me otherwise.

Last week I registered on the government jobs website to be alerted when ranger jobs come up in the area. Over the weekend, two opportunities popped up -- Governor's Island and Ellis Island -- both for seasonal work. Hmm. Then, this week I attended a volunteer training session and was thoroughly inspired. The ranger gave a really great orientation on the Park Service and their approach to giving tours.

First off -- the Park Service orientation almost had me a little teary, harking back to the out and out sobbing I did while watching the recent Ken Burns documentary, The National Parks: America's Best Idea. Why does this stuff affect me so much? And why do I feel so protective of it? Interestingly, as the ranger reviewed the art of giving tours, she noted that the goal of helping visitors understand the parks is to build a sense of stewardship. It makes sense: people take care of what they own. Every American owns the National Parks, and no-one can stop any of us from going to one.

Personally, the more I travel, the more I appreciate how varied and magnificent our country is. And more often than not, if there's stunning landscape or historical significance in a given place, it's been enclosed in a national park that you can visit. It's kind of like having a friend who loans you their apartment when you travel to your favorite location. You always know there's someplace you can go to get the atmosphere you're seeking. How neat is it to be part of the organization that makes that happen for people?

As far as giving tours, we learned about the distinction between delivering just the facts and making the story come alive for visitors. It wasn't all that much different from what I'd come to observe on my own, but it was a good reminder to get an understanding of the group's knowledge level and what approach will reach them best. Like so much of communication, it's not so much what you tell them as what they hear and grasp on their own. The ranger noted that we're special people in a way: we're history geeks who really get into the topic we're sharing. Not everyone is going to share our interest in all of the stories, but it's great when you can make the connection for someone, and spark that interest.

So... I'm sitting there all sparked, myself, thinking how great it would be to do this kind of stuff every day. And I'm wondering how the heck I'd be able to support myself on the salary. Do I start writing like crazy and taking photos like a fiend and trying to sell my stuff? Do I still try to do the tour company stuff on the side, in my off hours?

Somewhere there's an answer. I'm feeling a lot more inspired that I did last week, and a lot more confident that I can make something work. I just don't know what it is yet.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Happy New Year. Blurg.

I think I'm full into the winter doldrums.

Had an invitation to a friend's house for brunch on New Year's but blew it off. Been cocooning, using the crummy, cold weather as an excuse. It's also given me plenty of time to mull over my inaction for the past several months.

Friends are kind enough to point out that I've been volunteering and learning more about the tour business, which is absolutely true. And I've done some writing, and thinking. But it still feels insufficient. I am not that much closer to anything profit-generating. Blurg, indeed.

So today I'm working up a schedule. There. I've said it. Now I have to be accountable to something concrete. A schedule. Get myself out of the easy chair and into the world, even if I'm just doing the research work and making contacts while sitting at Panera.

I think I've gotten myself too bogged in the grand scheme of things and not focused on the details. Big, grand things are scary. Details are a bit more manageable and feel more comfortable. This is nothing I didn't already know. It's just the matter of doing, rather than mulling. We all know how good I am at mulling. If mulling were a marketable product, I'd be a millionaire.

So... instead of thinking about how much I don't want to lead huge groups of senior citizens through the Museum of the Obvious, I'll think about how I become more of a niche guide. How do I market myself as an authority, someone who tells good stories and brings interesting people to interesting places for interesting experiences.

I did two more tours at Ellis Island yesterday, one being a group of two: a young couple from Germany who were curious as to how some relatives were sent back after trying to emigrate in the '50's. It became a custom tour as they asked questions up front that lent more to what's usually the last part of the discussion. I figured that since it was just the two of them, I'd modify the sequence a bit, and it worked very well.

Honestly, I was kind of impressed with myself. I know I forgot to mention a point or two on both tours, but who was to know? And I also got the Germans a little more information for further research on their emigration questions, based, in part, on some research I've been doing on my own family.

Of course, I'll also have to think about what I need to do to make money while I'm being a niche guide. The Ellis Island stuff has been helpful in keeping me from cocooning totally, but it ain't paying the bills. Do I find a not-so-high-level job that just about pays the food and board but gives me some latitude to follow my bliss? Do those jobs still exist for people with my skill set, or have they all become soul-sucking, 60 hour per week ordeals?

The motivating force here: do I go back to a life of quiet desperation, or do I do the hard stuff that gives me the autonomy I want? The old bromide is right: nobody ever plans to fail. They fail to plan.