Our New Reality

As some of you may have heard by now, my position at the University of Iowa is, unfortunately, coming to an end sooner than planned.  I had hoped it would last into 2012, but alas, funding shortages are moving the schedule up to the point where I can probably only stay here into October (though no specific date has been set).  While this, obviously, isn’t the greatest of news, I’m trying to take it in stride and view it as an opportunity to move on to bigger and better things.

Sadly, there isn’t much up in our area for my education and training level, so far as teaching or industry prospects go.  Therefore, we’ll be making the move back to St. Louis.  Luckily, Brooke was able to secure a position at her old job, Bridges Community Support Services, practically the same day I told her the news.  They are more than happy to get her back, as they’re going through the Survey process again like they do every few years (effectively, it’s a State audit of their services and records).  She has frequently commented about how she missed working there, so she’s excited to get back to work with those individuals!

As a part of this situation, we made the decision for Brooke to go ahead and start at Bridges as soon as she could.  Therefore, she started on July 18th.  Basically, this means that we’ll be living apart for the near future.  She’ll still return to Iowa on Thursdays, or we’ll meet up in Hannibal occasionally for the weekend, as that’s the half-way point.  Brooke will be staying with her sister, who also works in the area.  Meg will be staying with me here in Iowa, as daycare is substantially cheaper here than it is in St. Louis.  My Mom was kind enough to come visit for this week to help transition me into “semi-single parent” mode, and Meg will stay with Brooke’s parents for a few days next week before starting at daycare again.

Me staying up here a bit longer will also ensure we actually get something out of that garden we’ve worked so hard on!

Hopefully this transition won’t take too long.  Believe me, this strategy isn’t the ideal way to carry this out, but we’re going to make the best of it.  Again, this wasn’t exactly “The Plan,” but we’re looking at it as an opportunity to return to the friends we made over the 5 years we lived there, and to be closer to family that want to see their granddaughter/niece more often!  I’ve applied to various positions in the St. Louis area and have some contacts across the city that are keeping their eyes and ears open for me.  I should start hearing back on the first crop of applications in the next week or so, I hope.  Certainly, all your thoughts and prayers are appreciated.

Thus, we’ll probably post some updates here over the coming weeks (hopefully not months…).  We see this as “fate,” of sorts, as many of our close friends are moving back to the St. Louis area and things are aligning relatively well for our return…with the notable exception of me having a job, of course.

So, this is our “New Reality” for the time being.  Certainly not a perfect situation, but one we know we have support in dealing with.

What point could there be troubling?
Head down wondering what will become of me?
Why concern we cannot see
But no reason to abandon it
The time is short but that’s all right
Maybe I’ll go in the middle of the night
Take your hands from your eyes, my love
All good things must come to an end some time
But don’t burn the day away
Don’t burn the day away.

— “Pig;”  Dave Matthews Band

Of Snow Days and Sickly Babies

Our first truly major snow is about to hit in the next few hours.  We’ve actually gotten a decent amount of snow, and snow from weeks ago is still on the ground, yet I don’t think that this much will have fallen in a single bout in this amount of time.  Originally, forecasters were calling for something like 20″ in some parts of Iowa, while we’d probably get closer to 15″ over a period of two days, however that estimate has been reduced.  Last night, we could have gotten up to 4″, but I’d be surprised if we even got 1″.  The problem last night, however, was drifting snow, leading to a near 4′ drift on our sidewalk (very fluffy though, so pretty easy to remove).  As of this posting, they’re forecasting more like 8-10″ for Cedar Rapids, and then 10″-12″ for Iowa City between 3:00 pm today and 9:00 am tomorrow.

Normally, this wouldn’t worry me at all.  My job tends to be flexible such that, if I was snowed in under 12″ of snow, I wouldn’t really have to go anywhere.  Unfortunately, I’m scheduled to teach to the Pharm.D. students tomorrow, so if the University doesn’t cancel classes, I’m still required to get in and there’s no way for me to notify the 100+ students in the class that I won’t be there.  Regardless, I’m thinking of various strategies for solving this problem, but I hope that the University goes ahead and cancels classes ahead of time (i.e. this afternoon!!) so I can sleep well without having to worry about tomorrow morning.  Missouri is getting hammered more than Iowa is and, yesterday, SLU and Wash U in St. Louis both preemptively canceled classes for today.

Aside from snow issues, Meg hasn’t been feeling well.  Really, she hasn’t been feeling well for the past few weeks, but it really started last weekend when she stopped eating as well as she had been and certainly stopped sleeping as well as she had been.  Naptime still happened, and gradually improved as the week drew on, but she still woke up multiple times during the night and would stay awake during that period, crying out any time you’d try to lay her down (and would still cry even after she’d been asleep in your arms…and when I say “asleep,” I mean “out”).

My Mom visited this past weekend and reminded us of the fact that my sister was prone to ear infections around this age, and ear infections that didn’t present with a fever.  Ear infections that seemed to flare up more at night, rather than during the day.  Suffice to say, Brooke took Meg into the doc yesterday and, indeed, Meg has infections in both ears.  She’ll be on antibiotics for 10 days or so and we’ll need to take Meg in again in a few weeks to confirm that the ear infections are cleared up, but hopefully this will set us on a better trend toward sleeping through the night!

Of course, unfortunately, this means that Meg will miss her last few weeks of water babies

Also, Meg has had a cough for months now.  We hadn’t paid much attention to it, thinking it was related to the fact that she goes to daycare and is exposed to any number of evil demon baby diseases.  She’d seen the doc a few times during that period and the doc agreed.  However, yesterday, the doc was a bit more concerned about it, as the coughing was a bit worse than normal.  She isn’t really sure what the cause is, but she prescribed albuterol treatments, which required us to pick up a nebulizer to actually administer the drug to Meg.  She’s supposed to get the treatments a few times a day, and they take around 10 minutes to allow the albuterol to “nebulize” into her lungs.  As long as you keep her entertained, she inhales most of the drug and you can definitely tell that her coughing gets more productive thereafter.  Hopefully that helps her, too!

Meg turns 11 months this Saturday, which is a pretty crazy thing to consider.  She’s obviously come a long way in that period, and as have we.  While she’s still developing nicely, we’re still waiting on more teeth to come in (she has 1, solitary, lonely tooth…) and we’re waiting on her mobility to increase (she can scoot around and move from one side of the room to the other, but it isn’t really “crawling,” per se…).  We’re anxious to see if this, the 11th month of her life, is when all the other teeth come in and whether she starts to take her first steps.

It would certainly be nice for her to be able to chew on her birthday cake in a little over a month.  🙂

Turning It Up To ’11

There were various blog and Facebook posts bouncing around over the past few weeks discussing the year that was 2010 and the potential for 2011. I decided to spend those first few days not really posting much, mostly out of laziness, but also out of reflection.

2010 is going to go down as a seminal year for me, personally, as well as our family as a whole.  It was a year when I defended my dissertation, culminating in the completion of a Ph.D. and, therefore, the end of my tenure as a student (23 years in the making…).  It was a year marked by leaving the bustling city of St. Louis for the more laid-back trappings of rural Iowa, coinciding with both Brooke and I leaving our previous jobs (if you count being a graduate student as a “job”…) and starting new positions in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City, respectively.  There was also a 10 year high school reunion in there.

The move to Iowa brought quite a few other changes.  We now live in a house, not an apartment.  I now have to (get to?) mow a lawn.  Brooke gets the garden she’s always wanted.  I have a longer commute, plus a bus ride, in getting to work.  We had to find a new church and have become more involved that we planned to (but this is how it always goes…).  We had to come to terms with the fact that it’s pretty hard to go out to eat once a week when you can’t just walk to Joanie’s for happy hour after work.  And we live on a gravel road now.  Oh, and it’s a lot colder in Iowa – nice in the summer, crazy in the winter.

Brooke and I celebrated our 5 year anniversary in 2010.  In many ways, we interact just like we did back when we were first married, if not as we did before.  Of course, the obvious big change in that area is the fact that we added a new member to the family, Meg, who was with us (outside of her mother, at least…) for nearly 10 months in 2010.  It’s been a wild ride learning to be a parent (still learning…), but we’re both getting better at it and slowly figuring out how to handle the problems that go with it.

So, when I say that 2010 was a “seminal year,” it’s because of all these things.  Lots of big change that will influence the course of our collective life that we’ll be able to look back on with fondness in a few short years.

What’s in store for 2011, you ask?  Who knows.  Seems hard to top the year that was 2010 when you look at that list.  I’d be just fine scaling the big things down for a bit so we can coast and enjoy the changes we just went through for a bit longer.  I don’t really see much coming over the horizon except for settling down a bit further, and that’s just fine with me.  A few things off the top of my head would be that I’ll find out if my grant gets funded, which will determine how long we’re staying in Iowa; we’ll try a family vacation with a 1+ year old; Brooke will almost triple the size of her garden and get some chickens; and I will brew close to 60 gallons of beer.

Sounds like a good start.  🙂

At Work and Working

Now that I’ve been working at the University of Iowa for over 3 months, I figured I’m past-due to explain what exactly I’m doing. Honestly, it takes about that long when you’re in a new job like this to figure out what’s going on, who you’re working with, and what the general trajectory of the position really is. Suffice to say, it’s all been very interesting thus far and I’m enjoying myself.

As I’ve stated before, I’m a “Postdoctoral Research Scholar” in the College of Pharmacy at the University of Iowa.  A “Postdoc,” as we’re commonly referred to, could be equated with a medical doctor’s “Residency” period.  At this point in the career, you are above a Graduate Student (i.e. no longer taking classes), but you’re still below a full Faculty Member (i.e. no responsibilities with committees, teaching, etc.).  Basically, you have more responsibility and freedom than you did as a Grad Student, but you still report to a mentor for training and guidance.  I have been adjusting to this dynamic over the past three months, but it will probably become more apparent as the school year starts and the graduate students in the lab start attending various functions that I’m not required to attend anymore.

Speaking of which, the other students in the lab are cool.  They certainly aren’t like what I experienced at Saint Louis University (no alcohol allowed on campus…stupid public schools… :-P), but they are a dedicated bunch that do good science.  This is also a larger lab environment than I became accustomed to at SLU, with 4 graduate students and a lab manager (and now a postdoc) in this lab alone, plus all of the other students in the other labs we work with.  The grad students in our lab are working on related, yet different, aspects of Parkinson’s disease, ranging from the effects of neurotoxins on PD-like symptoms to protein binding to dopamine metabolism.  One thing I’ve noticed is that this lab is much more Chemistry oriented than anything we had at SLU.  Considering that I haven’t taken a Chemistry course in over 5 years, I’m having to remind myself and/or re-learn some basic concepts that I haven’t had to use since then.

However, that’s kinda the point of a postdoc.  The general rule of thumb in choosing an appropriate postdoc position is to a). use techniques you already know in a different scientific field, or b). stay in the same scientific field but learn completely new techniques.  I would fit into the latter category, as I’m still working in PD research, but I’m using Chemistry much more than I did in Grad School.  The ability to use mass spectrometry as an analytical technique is especially exciting in that it’s something I’ve wanted to learn more about since Undergrad, but haven’t had access to the equipment to learn on.  Now I do, and I have a variety of scientific questions built up in my head over the past few years of things to look at.

I have just started working on a grant.  The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is the primary government entity that provides scientific research funding, and they offer an F32 grant for Postdocs designed to help defray the cost of their employment, but also provide the funds for you to train in things you don’t know much about.  The application is due in December, so I’ve got some time, but right now I’m working on getting some preliminary data to include in the 6 page research design portion (6 pages is very, very little…I could write 20 pages today on the subject, but figuring out what is important and what isn’t will be the challenge).  The NIH has a relatively high fund rate for F32s, but the award is by no means guaranteed.  I’ve never submitted one before, but I’m going to do my best to write the best one I can.

Regardless, the lab itself is a good learning environment and I’m learning more and more about my co-workers every day.  It took awhile to figure out all of their “inner-workings” (i.e. who will take to my sarcastic personality and who won’t…), but I’m getting closer.  The science itself is very interesting and I feel like I’m learning, hopefully preparing myself for what lies ahead.

Not a bad day afterall….

lunch…even after the trek to Chesterfield yesterday!  So, for lunch my coworkers took me to Michael’s in Maplewood where I had an awesome gyro samdwich!  Everyone else also enjoyed their meals, and Angel LOVED real tatziki instead of the stuff that comes from a plastic container from Shop n Save.

Then, for dinner Andy and I went to Canyon Cafe at Plaza Fronetnac, where I had this lovely “2 drink limit” maragrita, that I swear was pink the last time i had it, but oh well….



So, today we visited Andy’s grandma in Lohman, and when we got back to our apartment there was a message on the machine from Barry at Bridges, offering me the job that he originally thought would be open in April, as a Coordinator.  So, now I will be in charge of about 10 staff and all of their paperwork, hiring and firing them, and making sure they’re doing all of the things they need to do for their clients as of the 22nd.  I’m really excited about my promotion before I’ve even started and can’t wait to get going, even though I still have 8 days left at HTC.  Hopefully, the next 2 weeks will go by without incident and I’ll have more news for you soon!


Well, it looks that way, anyway. So, I had a spur-of-the-moment interview today with a company called Bridges Community Support Services. It went really well, and at the end of the conversation, the CEO/owner offered me a job as a Community Support Worker. Basically, I’ll be going into mentally and physically disabled people’s homes to make sure that they’re safe, healthy, organized, and successful. So far, the position sounds nearly perfect (except for a small pay cut)….but at this point, just about anything would be better than DYS. The guy I met with today was really nice and seems genuinely interested in putting people who want to make a difference into jobs where they can do so. There’s also a pretty good chance of advancement pretty quickly, which is also a huge improvement over where I am now. So, I’ll be starting as soon as I have a starting date and can give my notice at Hillsboro Treatment Center. Let the questions begin…