High Rollers we are not. But we do know how to have fun.

Alright, so, I owe you a Vegas post.

Firstly, if you want to see the pictures, I'll send you to the album. Click here for that.

And now, on with the program.


Last year, we went to a tiny little place in the Caribbean called Turks & Caicos for our vacation. It was gorgeous, stunning, beautiful, relaxing... and small. Which meant there wasn't a whole lot to do once we did a day of scuba diving and a day of driving around the island except for lay on the beach and eat. This was perfectly fine by me, but Bryan was itching for activity. We had a great time, but I think the man got it in his head that he was going to make up for lost excursion time on our next vacation. And we definitely did. We stayed so busy during our trip to Vegas that between the two of us we gambled for MAYBE two hours. Maybe. But that was fine, because 1) we're close enough to Atlantic City that we can go gamble any time and 2) we found plenty of other ways to blow our money. ;-) I could spend hours telling you all about every day of our trip, but how about I just touch on a few highlights?

1. Penn & Teller: We stayed at Paris the first two nights partially because I love all things Paris, partially because we got two-for-one tickets to Penn & Teller. I knew of these guys (they're magicians, if you don't know), but had never seen their act. It was PHENOMENAL! We loved it. And they even came out afterwards and we got pictures and autographs like total dorks!

2. World Series of Poker: They had the WSOP going on in the same hotel as Penn & Teller, and, being poker fans and players, we went and stalked our favorite poker pros. We were total tools about it. And it was so much fun. We even got a halfway decent picture of our best friend Daniel Negreanu. (Okay, he's not our best friend... but we watch him on TV and think he would make a good one... :) )

3. Red Rock Canyon: Awesome. The rocks are red because they oxidized, or rusted, basically. Cool, huh? I found it amusing that they called the hike we went on "moderate," yet I thought I might die, it was so hard and so hot. Later we read the hiking guide a little better and it said their ratings were based on the perception of an AVID hiker. Which we are not.

4. Joy!!!: I got to hang out with my college roomie, Joy, who I haven't seen in like five years, one day while Bryan was at his conference. It was sooooooooooo nice to catch up with her and meet her son, who's 14 months old. I wish she lived closer!!!! She took me to a park she often takes her son to, where there was ACTUAL GREEN GRASS!! Ah, how refreshing. I never realized how much I love green. They also had a play area for the kids featuring a giant snake and a giant lizard they can crawl on. Yes, this is what kids play with in the desert.

5. Pool & Massage: The second day of conference, that's how I spent my day. Can anyone say HEAVEN? Oh, and I also had an ice mocha, chocolate croissant and fruit cup for breakfast. Again, they call that utopia in my world.

6. Helicopter Ride: We did a nighttime tour of The Strip. We got to wear giant headphones. Helicopters are not as scary as I thought they'd be. The Strip is bright no matter which way you look at it. :)

7. DUNE BUGGIES!!!: We spent a morning riding a dune buggy through the Valley of Fire. No pictures of this yet because they were on a disposable camera and I haven't uploaded them yet. It was quite a rush, and I don't know that I have ever been that dirty in my life. Which rocked.

8. O: This is a Cirque du Soleil show whose stage is basically a giant aquarium. There's a floor that moves up and down depending on what the act is. Phenomenal. I was breathless numerous times. I have no idea how they do some of the things they do... like high diving from the roof of the auditorium into that pool like 80 feet below? Wow.

9. North Rim of the Grand Canyon: I've been to the South Rim a couple times, but had always heard the North Rim is a different experience because it's less tourist-y and also greener. And it was. I am in love with the Grand Canyon and would be happy if my job was to sit and stare at it all day every day. Not hike it--been there, done that (2/3 of the way down, anyway), no need to do all that again. But it is so amazingly huge and beautiful and mesmerizing... There is only one lodge at the North Rim, and we got a cabin for our last night out west. No phone, no tv, no AC... it was the perfect way to wind down from the insane hustle of Vegas! We even managed to drag ourselves out of bed by 5am for sunrise... which was absolutely gorgeous. Of course. :)



Wherein I steal from other peoples' blogs.

My blog pals inspired me today, so I wanted to share a few things I found while checking in with my buddies...

-J Bird just started her blog but damned if that girl does not find the coolest stuff EVER. She always did (she was my college roomie). To this day I still envy her ability to go into someplace like Marshalls or TJ Maxx and find the most awesome deals...

Anyway, in her latest post she showcased this thing called Wordle. You can put a bunch of text in a box, and it makes this cool, well, "wordle" out of it. I used a passage from one of the best books ever, Breath, Eyes, Memory, by Edwidge Danticat. I have read hundreds, if not thousands, of books in my life, and I read this one probably ten years ago. Yet this is the only passage I've ever read that I actually recall and go back to time and again. I won't paste the full text, but you'll get the idea of it through my wordle (click on it for a larger view):

-Jynx'd provided some commentary on a hilarious story from the Virginia news. Two guys managed to get hitched in Norfolk, because one of them was a transvestite and (s)he played the part of the bride so well that no one suspected they weren't a man and a woman. Well, apparently the "bride" was so tickled to get away with getting married that (s)he decided to go back and have her name legally changed... to Penelopsky Aaryonna Goldberry. Well, this raised a red flag, and the authorities finally figured out that she was actually a he. And now there's a big uproar about whether or not their marriage was legal since (s)he is transgender and all kinds of craziness.

But can't you just hear that conversation? "Well, damn, if I am such a fabulous woman that they let me marry you, I need an equally fabulous name! What should it be, what should it be... Ooh, how about PENELOPSKY! Yesssss, honey, that is FAB U LOUS! Penelopsky Aaryonna! I don't know what the hell that means, but, girrrrrrrrrrrrl, it is FIERCE!"

-Finally, my old friend Nikole at clearframe talks a bit about discovering herself in these past few years. Nikole and I went to high school together (and, before that, played percussion side-by-side in the Chesterfield All County Band in 6th grade!), and she was always the girl I wanted to be like. She was loved by everyone, was nice to everyone, was smart, beautiful, and seemed to be so sure of her place in the world. Her post is a reminder that even those who we think have it together the best sometimes have the same struggles we do. We are all human, and we all have our self-doubts and our self-criticisms. It is also a reminder that we often don't give ourselves enough credit. We may not feel like we're succeeding in life, but there is always someone out there who looks up to us. Nikole's post stirs up many more feelings and thoughts, but I'll leave it there for now.


Never thought I'd long for humidity.

Well, we're home.

We got back from our Vegas trip yesterday around 10am, and promptly went to bed. I slept until 4:30, then fell back asleep on the couch around 6:45, where I slept until about 10pm, then went up to bed and was back asleep by 11pm and didn't wake up again until this morning at 6:30. I believe they call that "worn out."

We had an excellent time in Vegas and at the Grand Canyon, and for those that didn't keep up with me via Twitter, I'll be blogging about the trip in due time. I have to sort through all the pictures, first, though, and tend to that little thing called "life" that for some reason had the nerve to NOT STOP while we were gone! The nerve.

Anyway, while I'd love to be on perpetual vacation, I have to say that I was so dry and had so many nose bleeds because of it that I was dying to get home to the humidity so that all my mucus membranes can go back to their natural states... that is, MOIST.

And since I know you're wondering, we did not lose ANY money gambling! In fact, I won about $20 in the 1.5 hours I played poker, and Bryan won $45 in the 30 minutes he played blackjack. Apart from that, we were too busy doing other stuff to gamble! Can you believe it?! I told Bryan this means we need to go back to Atlantic City soon, because I had some new poker tactics I was trying and they seemed to be working, but I need more playing time to know for sure... :)


Viva Las Vegas!

In just 7.5 short hours, Bryan and I head out to Las Vegas for the week. He has a conference there, and we decided to make a trip out of it! I'm not taking a computer with me and I have no idea if I'll find internet access while we're there, so I'll most likely be blog-silent for a week or so.

Don't do anything too crazy without me.


Alfred Klinger presents: "The Birds"

Scene I:

The Klinger Residence. 10pm, Wednesday last week. Mr. & Mrs. Klinger have just returned from Mr. Klinger's softball game. It is dark, and, as usual, the porch light is not on, because Mr. K works for the power company and is all about conservation. Okay, not really, it's not on because they just don't turn it on. Mrs. K approaches the door first to unlock it, with Mr. K close behind.

Mrs. K feels a freaky flapping on her face as soon as she begins to open the door.


Mr. K: It was a damned bird! It was in the wreath!

Mrs. K: Holy shit, that was scary. I about had a heart attack! Thank god it didn't come in the house.

[Fade to black.]

Scene II

The Klinger Residence. 10pm, Wednesday night. Mr. and Mrs. K have just returned from Mr. K's softball game. It's dark and, as usual, the porch light is not on because the K's couldn't bare to spend the extra $.05 to illuminate their front stoop. Okay, not really, it's not on because one bird attack didn't teach them any lessons. This time, Mr. K approaches the door first, with Mrs. K close behind.

Mr. K is faster at the unlocking than Mrs. K was the previous week, and as he opens the door, he immediately throws himself belly-first into the living room, a la "Duck & Cover." Mrs. K has no idea what the hell is going on, but she looks around quickly because it appears they may be under attack by some serious enemy fire.


Mrs. K begins to laugh because the sight of her husband on his hands and knees as if he is behind enemy lines is comical, but stops herself because the idea of a bird in the house is NOT funny in the least.

Mrs. K: Honey, are you SURE it got in the house, maybe it just flew back out? (Mr. K assembles himself into a seated, semi-fetal position, and Mrs. K notices something on his ear.) What is that on your ear, baby?

Mr. K: What do you mean? Where? (Mr. K reaches up to check it out as Mrs. K registers that white... goo... on... husband's... ear... can only be...)

Mrs. K: Honey, that bird shit on you! (Mrs. K begins to laugh hysterically, and is incapable of containing the hilarity.)

Mr. K: It's not funny!

Mrs. K: Oh yes it is!!! (Continues to laugh hysterically. Runs to bathroom to avoid accident in her pants.)

Mrs. K takes Mr. K's shirt to wash it while Mr. K goes to shower away the bird poop. Mrs. K searches the house and finds no trace of the attack bird. Just in case, though, the K's close their bedroom door when they go to sleep.

Scene III

The Klinger Residence. Early on Thursday morning. Mrs. K is almost ready to head out the door to catch the bus for work, Mr. K is still attempting to drag himself out of the bed. Mrs. K goes into the spare bedroom where she keeps some of her clothes. She hears a distinct flapping noise coming from downstairs.

Mrs. K: Honey. It's in the house.

Mr. K: (Unintelligible mumbling.)

Mrs. K: I said: the bird. It's in the house. It might be in the ceiling fan downstairs. I don't know what it's doing.

Mr. K: Where is it?

Mrs. K: I said it's downstairs. I have no idea what it's doing.

Mr. and Mrs. K put on old clothes (in case of bird poop ambush) and close all of the doors upstairs. They begin to descend the stairs, much like you may remember Scooby Doo and Shaggy creeping along while trying to solve a mystery. Knees up high with each gentle step, head jutted forward, ears cocked towards the rogue bird.

Mr. K: There he is! Oh, he's just a little bird! Do you think he can even fly?!

As if having to spend the night inside weren't enough of an insult, the bird hears Mr. K and decides HE'LL SHOW HIM! The bird flies into the dining room! Into the window! Up around the ceiling!

Mrs. K stands waiting by the open door after tapping it a few times to make sure no more birds are in the wreath. When she is satisfied there are none, she removes the wreath and examines it for traces of a nest. There are none. For good measure, in case there are some sneaky ass birds still hiding in there, she taps it a little more. When satisfied there REALLY aren't any birds inside, she whacks the hell out of it while thinking, "Yeah! Take that, birds! I'll beat on your nest! That's what you get for trying to live in my wreath!" (Mrs. K would, of course, not have the heart to actually beat on anything a bird was using for a nest. But since they're gone, she can take out her frustrations with no guilt.)

In the meantime, the bird has flown up into the loft and Mr. K is chasing it around with a broom. Finally, the bird swoops downstairs and right out the front door! Mrs. K swiftly closes the front door and looks at Mr. K with eyes that say, "What in the hell just happened."

Mr. K: No more wreaths on the door.


Happy Thoughts.

Okay, so it's gotten a little deep and a little depressing on this here blog lately. Time to change the pace. Baby pictures oughta do the trick, right?

Over Memorial Day weekend, Bryan and I were in Pennsylvania for a couple of days. While there, we got to spend some time with the newest addition to the family, Miss Allie. And boy, is she precious.

Here she is with her lovely mom:

And looking rather alert with her Aunt Lydia (she's just a couple months old, she likes to sleep):
And of course, I can't post pictures of Allie without also posting some of her spectacular big brother, Joey, AKA Bubble Blower Extraordinaire!:
Excellent. Now perhaps (fingers crossed) we can get back to our regularly scheduled positivity.


An eye-opening loss.

I found out this morning that a cousin I never met died from complications from an autoimmune condition that runs in our family--and that I have, along with my mom, brother and sister--called hereditary angioedema. It's a swelling condition, and, while I don't have all the details, what happened to my cousin is that his throat swelled shut, and he died. He was 19.

As you can imagine, it throws me for a loop when I hear about someone dying from something that I have. Unfortunately this isn't the first time I've been in this situation--I know many people who have died from complications from juvenile arthritis. My angioedema has historically been pretty mild and manageable. I have been lucky. But this is a disease that my mom, brother and sister all have as well, and it's not always as gentle to them as it has been to me. Especially to my mom. It terrifies me to think about the possibility the same thing could happen to one of them, or even to me. And this is a disease for which there is no cure, and that is so rare that treatments are practically nonexistent.

There is a clinical trial at MCV for a new medication for angioedema that I'm enrolled in, and ever since I heard the news, I keep thinking, "That drug could have saved his life." Instead, he died in the hallway of a hospital not 20 miles down the road.

I don't talk a lot about how I feel about my two autoimmune conditions or how serious either of them could be, because it seems like a big enough burden for me to bear on my own... there's no reason to worry anyone else. And quite honestly, I don't often worry about it for myself. I am, again, very lucky and healthy for the most part. But when I was talking to Bryan about what happened to my cousin this morning, I sensed a little worry on the other end when I mentioned the "this could have been me" sentiment. I couldn't help wondering when I got off the phone if he was thinking about the children we hope to have one day, because talking to him about it certainly made me think about them.

The statistics are that any child I bear has a 50% chance of being born with hereditary angioedema. The chances of my children having juvenile rheumatoid arthritis are significantly lower (if they exist at all), because I sort of hit the lottery and got that as a recessive part of the angioedema gene--that's not something I'm likely to pass on. I have often thought the HAE gene must be stronger in my family since all three of my mom's children got it AND my uncle's child got it, but I trust science and there is certainly the possibility that my family's coin flips just landed that way. My brother and sister and I have always been able to cope well with our disease, we have never been so sick that we were incapacitated for more than a couple of days. My mom, on the other hand, has fought horrible swelling episodes that leave her housebound for many days at a time and have sent her to the hospital more times than she can probably count. She has felt the disease was about to take her life on numerous occasions. My cousin had it worse than any of the rest of us ever did, and although I never knew him, I always heard stories of his struggles.

So, I wonder often, if I did pass this down to a child, how could I possibly know what lot he or she would have? Will there be medications approved by then that would prevent any serious problems? Would he or she just have the issues that I have, which are totally manageable? Would knowing the answer to these questions change mine or Bryan's desire to have a family?

These are obviously questions that my husband and I have thought about, and will need to continue to think about. I don't know the answers. Even if our children don't inherit this disease, there are a million other problems children are born with that could have nothing to do with either of us. My rheumatologist encouraged us to go speak with a genetic counselor, and I decided not to a couple of years after asking myself this question: If I knew my children would have the problems that I have had, would I still have them? The answer is yes. I love my life, I am extremely happy, and I believe the medical problems I've had have made me a stronger person, better equipped to handle whatever life throws my way.

Still, my cousin's death saddens me and is a reminder that life is not as simple as I'd like it to be. It opens the door to many questions, some about the bigger picture of how this could happen in the United States in a hospital, others that are about the smaller picture of my own family choices. Each of those questions leaves me with a heavy heart today, and many prayers for my cousin's family, especially those on my side of the tree.


What's happening to people? A sad day for humanity.

Last night on the news I heard the story of the 78-year-old man in Hartford, CT who was hit by a car in the middle of the street at 5:45 on a Friday afternoon. He was hit so hard that he flipped up in the air, then crashed to the ground, bleeding but still awake. The car that hit him sped away, and pedestrians in the area and cars driving by did nothing. No one stopped to help him, no one ran to his side to comfort him. Later it turned out a few people DID call 911. But not a single person went to this man's side, not even to wait with him and give him some words of encouragement until the paramedics arrived.

What in the hell is wrong with people? Stories like this make me think that I am incredibly naive, because I still have faith in my fellow man. I--apparently wrongly--still think that most people are genuinely good and care about other people. But seeing this, I wonder, have I totally lost touch with reality? Am I so caught up in my little bubble of a world that I don't realize what it's really like "out there?"

If I saw something like this happen, I would have my car stopped in the middle of the street and be by this man's side in a heartbeat. I wouldn't be able to do much, but as humans, sometimes just having someone next to us is enough until someone gets there that actually can do something to stop the bleeding or assess the damage. A warm hand, a kind word, just knowing that you matter in this world because you are a HUMAN BEING--these things are essential in any time of need, even if the person helping you is a complete stranger. Hell, sometimes it even means more when a stranger stops because then you feel a part of something bigger, this thing we call mankind. And if we all actually felt connected to each other, well, I think a lot of our problems would diminish, if not vanish.

A few years ago on the 4th of July, we went with some of our neighbors to a little empty lot near our house to watch fireworks from the back of their pickup truck. Not more than 5 minutes after they ended, we heard a horrible noise and looked to see a Nissan Xterra flipping over after colliding with another car just up the street from us. All six of us ran up the street to see if we could help somehow. None of us had training, but we REACTED. There was an EMERGENCY and people would need HELP. No one else was there yet. Going to these peoples' aid was not a choice, it was an instinct. Yet, as we saw by this story, not everyone has that instinct.

It makes me incredibly sad to think that humans have gone from creatures that dwelled in tribes, where survival of the whole group was the responsibility of everyone, to creatures who care only about the individual or perhaps a small circle of family and friends. That some people can see someone in extreme duress and just walk or drive on by. I mean, good lord, when I was in college, I made good friends with the lady who scanned our IDs at the lunchroom because one day I walked past and she just LOOKED sad. I stopped and asked if she needed a hug, and she started crying her eyes out, and a friendship was forged. Yet there are people who see someone hit by a car and laying bleeding in the street who don't even stop to ask if there's anything they can do?!

Ugh. This story makes me so ill. Let's all commit to using our instincts and lending a hand the next time we see someone who even remotely looks like they need it. I know we're all busy, but the five minutes (or even 30 seconds) you spend making someone else's life better will make you feel more alive, more human, more loving for exponentially longer than the time you take out of your life for a stranger.


The blog where my conservative family and friends cringe.

I'm officially coming out of the closet on my blog as a liberal. Most of you probably already figured that out, but there are some people I love who I know have quite different political views than me, so I figure I might as well lay that out on the table.

The thing is, last night I watched Hillary's "concession" speech (if you can call it that), and then I watched Obama's victory speech. And I cried, because I am so freaking invigorated about the direction we could be headed in the United States.

For more than seven years now, I haven't watched more than 30 seconds at a time of what our president has had to say. I honestly can't stand to listen to him talk. I always end up cussing at him and turning the channel, not just because of his policy, but because his actual manner of speaking drives me bananas. And last night, I watched two people who are just in competition for the office speak for more than an hour. And I enjoyed it!!! It made me PROUD to be an American and EXCITED about the future of our country. And while I have always loved this place we live in, I can't recall ever feeling this level of optimism about my country.

A lot of people think Barack Obama is all talk, no experience. I won't deny his speaking skills outweigh his years of service to our country. And I know his whole purpose right now is to get people on his side, and a lot of what he says could be labeled "politics," but I don't care. I am on the CHANGE bandwagon, for better or worse. And if nothing else, I can't see how it could possibly get worse with him in office.

I mean, jeez, the man even had nothing but GLOWING things to say about Hillary Clinton, and even managed to compliment John McCain (with a backhanded jab attached, but still). The very idea that a president could speak to us and say POSITIVE things is so freaking refreshing that I even considered volunteering for his campaign. Even though I voted for Hillary in the primary (and right now, my Grandma is having heart palpitations... sorry, Grandma!).

I can't wait to see what happens in November. I can't wait for health care to be available to EVERYONE. I can't wait until education is more focused on individual children instead of some abstract concept of "no child left behind." I can't wait until the United States is back to making friends with the world instead of enemies. I can't wait until our country focuses more on our OWN economy and our OWN people rather than blowing billions of dollars in other parts of the world and sending our jobs to foreign countries when there are people in our own backyards who could use the work.

I'm not naive enough to think all of this is going to happen overnight, but I am hopeful that we are at a place in time where we could very well be on the cusp of something awesome.

Yes, we can.


This is what it's all about.

I am off today, as a "comp" day from working the whole weekend. It's nice--in my former life, if I worked weekends there was no such thing as comp days because the next event was barreling down on you and there was no time to take a day to recover. But at this job, most things can wait, and I can take one little day off (since I worked 2 I wasn't necessarily scheduled to) to relax and rejuvenate.

The reason I worked all weekend is we had some extra funds on one of the grants I manage to do education for the kids in the clinic. The grants I work with are HIV/AIDS grants--we provide services for women and children (and their families) affected by the disease. My job is very behind the scenes--I do the budgeting and the bill paying and such--so I rarely get to actually see the money in action. This time, though, was different. We decided to do a weekend conference for 12 of the families we see, and, because of my background in planning things like this, I was on the frontlines of the action.

And it was honestly the best two days I have had since I started this job two and a half years ago.

Not that I haven't had good days at this job--I love the people I work with and I like what I do. But being around those kids and their families... and being responsible for this awesome event that brought them all together... people, that is what it's all about.

Most of these kids had never met anyone else their age with HIV. They were all affected through their mothers (I think...), and so they've had it their whole lives. As you can probably figure, HIV isn't something a kid can talk about with his or her friends (imagine all the problems that could cause at school!). So finally, really for the first time in their lives, they were able to talk about this with kids JUST LIKE THEM. God, it makes me teary eyed just thinking about it.
We had the conference at Great Wolf Lodge, a resort in Williamsburg that has an indoor waterpark. The funding we had allowed us to cover all of the expenses for the weekend, which made it even better, because I'd say at least 90% of these families would NEVER be able to afford this sort of getaway for their family. One kid, at lunch on Saturday, was talking about how much fun he was having and how cool the place was and he said, "Ahhhh, pure luxury!" To hear that from a kid who was born with an awful illness and who is a foster kid with god only knows what sort of life up to this point... seriously, that is what it's all about. I will never forget that moment.

One of the teens came in on Saturday morning looking all forlorn and pissed that he was there. No smiles, arms crossed, slouched in the chair. Sunday afternoon when he left, he could not stop smiling and was hugging his new friends and shaking hands and... SMILING. HAPPY. Wow, it was amazing. One grandmother told a co-worker of mine that her 18-year old granddaughter had sung in the shower that morning. She said her granddaughter used to sing all the time, but she hadn't heard her do that in more than five years and that she had been very depressed, but told her grandmother that she was actually happy this weekend. PEOPLE--THIS IS WHAT IT'S ALL ABOUT. And while these examples might give you a little bit of an idea, it is really something you have to experience to truly know the wonderful feeling you get.

When I got home yesterday afternoon I was exhausted, but it was that good exhaustion that is a result of really caring about something and wanting to make it right and putting all your energy into something and then watching it all come to fruition and be successful. It is something I truly miss about my job at the Arthritis Foundation, when I felt that all the time. This was the first time I had really seen that what I do at VCU, no matter how non-visible, actually does make a difference in peoples' lives. And that is the only thing I ever knew I wanted to do with my life--make a difference. I am rejuvenated and repurposed in what I do. I can't wait until next year's conference.