Category Archives: Travel

Which is the bigger scam? Appraisals or the TSA?

The last couple weeks have been rather exhausting in good ways and bad ways. Good = trip to Boston. Bad = corrupt housing market.

Might I start by saying I hate property appraisers? I think I said that in my last post. It is still true. Despite the fact the houses by the same builder with the same floor plan have recently sold around the $200k within walking distance, our appraisal at $185,000, $20k below the agreed upon sale price will stand. We were already taking a hit from what was paid. And despite our complete makeover of the lawn from dirt to gorgeous grass, the addition of granite in the bathrooms, a thorough de-brassing of fixtures, a new water heater and a new roof, it’s still worth $25k less than it was appraised for in 2007. So dear, dear appraisers, yes, we all know you were oh so shady in your role (I say role, as banks and irresponsible buyers should not go blameless) in helping destroy our economy, and I’m so glad that you can continue to screw up people’s lives by swinging to other end of the spectrum and undervaluing everyone’s properties, as you once over valued them to line your pockets. I despise you and your industry. You have undervalued our house and taken money from us that should be going towards my child’s needs. I wish upon you a lousy life.

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Yes, we are going ahead with the move. It will hurt in the short term, but is best for the long-term. We had to heap much fertilizer on our money tree in the backyard to make it possible. Closing is in two weeks.

In brighter news, Connor is crawling like a fiend. He’s truly my child as he keeps making a move for the kitchen island wine rack and tries to steal one of my bottles. I couldn’t be prouder. He also knows that I have toys to sell stashed in the laundry room, and despite the nine kajillion toys strewn about the house, he wants  the ones in the laundry room. Emma has nearly lost her tail twice in his deadly jaws. I’m desperately trying to make him understand that bathrooms are grody mcnasty and that he should not follow us in there.

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We went to Boston last week for his third visit as part of the TSC study. He also had his annual MRI at Boston Children’s. Everything went smoothly, and I can see why Michael Jackson was hooked on propofol after an extensive period of time trying to wake Connor — not in a scary way, he just really wanted to keep sleeping. It’s waaaaaay better than my melatonin. We haven’t gotten the results yet. Hoping for no growth, of course.

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Connor’s veins continue to be elusive, proving that it isn’t just Atlanta that can’t get a vein in this kid. He always leaves looking like a retired pin cushion.

We’ve pretty much walked all over Boston at this point, so we just revisited some favorite areas.

We watched Harvard's sailing practice on the Charles River.
We watched Harvard’s sailing practice on the Charles River.

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We played with ducks in the Gardens.
We played with ducks in the Gardens.
We visited the only Curious George Store in the world at Harvard Square.
We visited the only Curious George Store in the world at Harvard Square.
Connor demonstrated that high chairs work best when you sit backward.
Connor demonstrated that high chairs work best when you sit backward.
He stole my bed.
He stole my bed.
Plane watching at Boston Logan.
Plane watching at Boston Logan.

I love going to Boston. I actually think I could live there in spite of the cold. The only negative aspect of the trip was the idiotic TSA. I’ve actually been feeling more kindly toward this waste-of-taxpayer-money organization as having a kid has miraculously made flying easier in a way. We get to skip the security line in Atlanta, they do a quick, problem-free scan of his milk, food and meds as they are oversized liquids and we get to board first. I even get to bypass the full body scanner and walk through problem free. But this time, coming home, my sixth flight with Connor, suddenly things change. They pull his diaper bag as usual due to the liquids, but this time, because of them, she tells me one of his parents must submit to a full-body pat down, as well as have their personal bag searched. Chris is already on the bench putting his shoes on, so in complete surprise, I begrudgingly volunteer to do so. Two questions: 1. What the hell does having oversized baby liquids have to do with arbitrarily patting me down and searching my purse? 2. What is the point of letting the parents choose? If we are indeed carrying a bomb, obviously the one who isn’t wired up is going to volunteer. She informs me that if I get all his stuff in 4 oz containers, I can avoid this. Hey pharmacist, I’m gonna need all Connor’s meds in a series of 4 oz bottles, please, and make it snappy! I inform her that I have flown with him six times and this is a first. No response. So apparently bottles of Enfagrow in your bag = right of government agency to stick their hands up your crotch. And they wonder why we don’t thank them for their service to this country. That and the fact that they’ve never stopped an attempted terrorist attack. That’s the job of the other passengers on the plane.

Anyway, our plan to try name brand seizure meds in hopes of better control did not work. We are now weaning off Trileptal and moving on to Onfi. His seizures have been increasing, and though they are short and he recovers quickly, he drops suddenly. He’s face planted on the floor three times now. We have to stop these before he walks. Please let Onfi be the one.

 

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A second trip to Boston leaves me with lingering questions…

namely, Where was Cliff parking the mail truck when he went to Cheers? Having gone there on this trip, I’m not sure I buy that he was hanging out in a place that is so expensive to park.

At any rate, when I last left you I had gotten food poisoning in D.C. The next morning, Friday, I felt much better. No stomach pain, still off, but better. Once again I had cured myself in a day. And we wouldn’t even have to cancel the next day’s trip to Boston. Oh, oops. Fooled again, but went to Boston anyway. When I get to travel I can power through. Had we been at home, I’d have milked the bejesus out of the situation. But I lived. And lost a couple pounds.

This trip we extended for pleasure. We flew in Saturday, but weren’t needed by the study until Sunday night. We spent Saturday afternoon checking out Boston University since it was only a few blocks from our hotel. There was some sort of regional track meet going on and runners were there from several schools. In fact, some were staying in our hotel. Yeah, you know what’s coming. I officially crossed into “old.” I am no longer the one keeping people awake. I am now the one calling the front desk at 3 a.m. to report “those durn kids that just won’t keep it down.”

Sunday we went to check out Boston Common and the surrounding area. I was disappointed that all the water was drained and ruined my photo op. We came upon the cemetery where Paul Revere is buried. Too bad I’m not teaching anymore. Since for some reason the state of Georgia thinks he warrants six weeks worth of social studies unit (I’m not saying he isn’t history-worthy, just not six weeks worth), I could have used this photo when struggling for material, perhaps made up a story about digging him up at midnight and running through the streets screaming, “The zombies are coming!”

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Most importantly, we went to Cheers so I could have a beer. I went to Boston when I was 16 and couldn’t drink. It felt so wrong to go to Cheers and not have a beer, so I finally fulfilled that ridiculous dream, in spite of my funky stomach.


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When we had free time, we also checked out Chinatown, and we went to dinner at Ann Davison’s house, one of my former co-workers who moved to Boston last summer. This is the view about a block from her house:

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Back to the TSC study, which is the reason why we were up there–Sunday night (at 10:30!) we had to take him for an MRI. Since it’s for the study, it’s not sedated; it’s a sleep MRI. All my MRI knowledge comes from watching House. Remember those scenes? A person is in the tube and the doctors talk to him while he lays inside. Everyone shares deep thoughts, the doctors discover secrets about one another, and House has an unrelated epiphany and runs out. Turns out that television does not portray things very realistically. I wasn’t worried about getting him to sleep. That was a piece of cake. The problem was that since we had to stay in there with him, we were given ear plugs. Paranoid much? 45 minutes of whirring is gonna destroy my hearing? Please. Chris maybe. Took him three days to get his hearing back after I dragged him to Lady Gaga.

It turns out that an MRI doesn’t whir. It’s more of a cringe-inducing series of mechanical groans that reminded me of Ripley trying to blow up the spaceship in Aliens. So he woke up. We stopped, put him back to sleep and started again. He woke up. We stopped, put him back to sleep and started again. He woke up. We stopped, put him back to…well, you get the idea. Eventually we called it quits and decided we would be opting out of this portion of the study. I want to help, but you’ve got to be kidding me. One of the techs even crawled in there with him at one point to calm him.

We also had two days of testing, some of which were the same as what he did on his first trip. It was really great to watch because he has improved so much since last time. Plus, the last time he had two seizures, so he wasn’t to into it. We still haven’t seen a seizure since February 10! He was engaged, cooperative, and the difference was awesome. The only problem he really seemed to be having with the testing was that sometimes he was too busy flirting with the ladies administering it to do it. I looked forward to hearing how the scores would show how much better he was. Finally, the big reveal! And the scores show….regression! Regression? WTF. How is that possible? Here is why. The Mullen Scale is bullshit. Last time we were there, due to the seizures he got sleepy and some had to be completed by parent report. They no longer do that, which is understandable as I see how it could inflate scores. So this time, it had to be done in front of them. Yet, he can do more! How did he regress? Last time he could barely sit, and this time he sat the whole time! Well, the way they score it is that there are a series of things he must do to be scored on. If he doesn’t perform one item, they stop. So when they got to the item where he is supposed to lay on his stomach and reach for an item, he insisted on just rolling over every time because he hates being on his stomach. Therefore, he didn’t get credit for that, nor did he get credit for the following item. SITTING. I don’t know what items came after that, but he didn’t get a chance at those either. So he was rated at a 4-month level in motor skills. He is delayed, but he is NOT at a four-month level. So clearly this test isn’t going to be particularly helpful for our personal purposes. I’m happy to have him in the study and I like the ladies in charge, but the Mullen and I are not friends.

Connor’s physical therapist about flipped when I shared this with her. The Battelle test she uses on him requires three fails in a row in an area before you move on to a different section, not one. So while I had already dismissed the Mullen as a load of crap, her agreement made me feel even better. Some kids have splinter skills. Meaning they may lack a skill that should have come at an earlier age, but they have developed other skills that are more advanced. Connor is such a case. He can sit fully independently, maintain a standing position for at least a minute holding the couch, and as of his most recently PT session, he can also maintain a crawling position for a minute (we just gotta get him moving).

We also took the opportunity to have him seen in the Boston TSC clinic. Dr. Sahin looked him over and we did the Woods lamp test for the first time. Skin involvement is common in TSC, but Connor doesn’t have anything particularly noticeable. He did have some small raised white spots on his legs I suspected were TSC related, as well as a tiny white spot without pigment, but nothing I would have thought much of were it not for the TSC diagnosis. Dr. Sahin confirmed the little white bumps were tiny little shagreen patches, and the lamp revealed some other de-pigmented spots not visible to the naked eye. Nothing that really phased us. Perhaps there is a benefit to the possibility of him inheriting my pasty skin rather than Chris’s ability to tan. His white spots will be less noticeable. He also looked over the MRI that was done right before Connor’s surgery. He said he was too young for it to be a great MRI, but he did point out some tubers, and the SEN’s Connor has were very, very small. SEN’s are the brain growths that have the potential to grow and become SEGAs  which can be very serious, needing surgery or the drug Afinitor, so it was good to hear his are particularly small. His social area of the brain also looked good. Connor will have his annual clinical MRI with them next time we go in August. We should be able to tell a lot more about what areas are affected then.

Chilling in the Boston suite.
Chilling in the Boston suite.

We cut our trip short by a day due to the storm that was supposed to hit. Naturally, that meant the storm ended up being downgraded. You’re welcome, Boston.

Random thought for the day: I think Connor should have been the e-Trade baby.

And then I told Barack, “Look! This is how we’re gonna do this! End of story!”

Back-to-back trips = no blogging for a couple weeks. I’m not one of those travelers that’s motivated enough to lug around a laptop, much less add one more item to the list of things TSA can harass me about. I’m already getting crazy with secret 4-5 oz bottles of*gasp* liquid! On February 26 I caught an early morning flight to DC to join other staff and volunteers of the TS Alliance for training and meetings with representatives and senators. Little did I know that of the four flights I would have over the next couple weeks, this would by far be the best one. It was almost empty and everyone could have their own row. I was traveling with Wendi, and she’s one of those social types that actually engage total strangers in conversation (I’m trying, okay!?). We began talking to a guy that, quite by fluke of another medical issue, had discovered that both his daughters had a health issue related to a faulty gene as well. Theirs is quite different though. I can’t remember what it was called, but basically they are lacking the ability to create an enzyme that creates a protective coating of organs such as the lungs and liver. So although they don’t have any current health issues, the basic drinking and smoking that other people may partake in casually, is a whole different ball game for them. They are at a very high risk for cancer because of this. They are young now, but that’s a lot of pressure as they get older. Those teen and college years are going to be awfully stressful for those parents…

Red velvet, baby!
Red velvet, baby!

We arrived at the Melrose Hotel with plenty of time to spare before training, so we went strolling through Georgetown and stopped for lunch, where I categorically deny having any wine. We also happened by DC Cupcakes of reality show fame. Cute cupcakes, but honestly, I think they were from the day before. Apparently the sisters on the show (which I really don’t watch) only come in when they are filming. Oh, the lies of reality television. We all received matching shirts to wear on the Hill which is great for visibility, but bad for the amount of time I spent obsessing over what to wear before I left. I suffered a closet induced mental breakdown for nothing, but whatever. My Jackie O. dress is still a bit tight where my body mistakenly thinks there is still a baby inside. My ribs would have hurt by the end of the day anyway. We rose early to get through security and where I met my favorite government employee of all time. As we prepared to pass through security at the entrance of Cannon, there was a hysterical number of abandoned coffee cups just inside the door on a ledge. Had I had the time, I would have taken a picture. A female security guard walked over, took one look, and it was, “Oh Hell NO! This isn’t a trashcan! Tell those people outside to use the one out there!” Then she stormed off yelling, “This is bullshit!” I should apply for that job because I used to do that when I worked at Barnes & Noble and Starbucks, and I always got in trouble…

We Georgia volunteers managed to meet with the offices of all the representatives but three, Paul Broun and David Scott, as we never got a response to our requests from either office, and Sanford Bishop, who responded, but had no staff available to meet with us. The morning started off great as our very first meeting was in the office of  supporter Rep. John Lewis who promised IMG_2595continued support. We had other positive meetings, but this was the only straight up yes on the spot. Of course, given that we were there just before the sequester, these meetings were a little different from what they would usually be. What we should have been doing was asking for them to sign the FY2014 Dear Colleague letter to support tuberous sclerosis research. Problem is, as you probably know, Congress never got around to dealing with 2013. So we were trying to get that through, and let them know that eventually there will be a letter for 2014. You see, the House wrote a bill that funded the Tuberous Sclerosis Complex Research Program last summer, but things came to a stop at the Senate and here we are still awaiting a budget for a year that will probably be over before anything gets done. So thanks to the sequester that went down a couple days later ,there are more cuts…to everything. I could rant here about how this kind of performance in the private sector would lead to mass firing, but other people are far better at discussing politics.

With Georgia representative Tom Price.
With Georgia representative Tom Price.
Just after getting a promise of support.
Just after getting a promise of support.

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That evening the Alliance held the Volunteer Awards dinner, my final evening of being introduced to people and pretending not to know who a lot of them were already, as if I haven’t spent the last several months since Connor’s diagnosis stalking everyone online to see how others were faring with TSC. “Oh, hello, nice to meet you!” (In my head: So you’re the mom of so and so, who’s 10 years old, loves soccer, and went as a zombie for Halloween).

Dinner was steak, potatoes and asparagus. Why am I telling you this? It’s significant and will affect the next several days of my life.

Then there were drinks in the lobby, and a trip to a bar across the street.

With Wendi and Reiko, TSC moms and volunteers.
With Wendi and Reiko, TSC moms and volunteers.
With Wendi and Chris Hawkey of the band Rocket Club, emcee for the awards ceremony.
With Wendi and Chris Hawkey of the band Rocket Club, emcee for the awards ceremony.

It was a fun evening, but given the nature of the trip I didn’t get too crazy with the drinks. That turned out to be stupid. I might as well have danced on tables for all the good it did me because when I woke up the next morning, I was NOT well. Wendi had an early morning flight, and should be very grateful of it. I spent about an hour or so being “not well”. And then a miraculous recovery! That’s how I roll. I’m never sick for long. So I spent the next few hours before my flight checking out the monuments.

Just cuz I tried to hop the fence for a photo didn't necessitate a physical assault. Jerks.
Just cuz I tried to hop the fence for a photo didn’t necessitate a physical assault. Jerks.

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Don't I look healthy here?
Don’t I look healthy here?

I found myself feeling particularly tired after a couple hours, which I chalked up to the fact that I hadn’t gotten much sleep the last couple nights, so I headed to the airport early. This turned out to be the only reason I got home that day. I arrived at Reagan to learn that my flight was cancelled and I could either go standby for the next two (full) flights home, or I could take the shuttle to Baltimore and fly from there. Two other early arrivers were in the same boat. I’m quite grateful to one of them, who is a weekly business traveler and had beat me by only a few minutes. Despite the clear skies and the fact that they had another (full) flight departing 45 minutes after ours, AirTran tried to tell him it was weather related. He called BS on that one, and they finally admitted the plane had mechanical issues. So at least for my irritation I got a free shuttle ride and plane ticket (which will probably be so blacked out I can’t use it). While I appreciate the free ticket as compensation given that I still ended up on a flight that departed roughly the same time, I DO  NOT care for them lying. I don’t care if it’s typical of the industry…it’s crap. I also do not care for the fact that I had booked a 2:00 flight, and two weeks earlier I received an e-mail that my flight was cancelled and I was now on the 4:00. I accepted that change–it was fine. But now this, too. And he said, well we sent you an e-mail today. I said, “Yes, you did send me an e-mail today, and it contained my itinerary exactly as it still was. The reference to the cancellation, I thought, was reference to the 2:00.” And I’m not crazy because the business traveler got the same e-mail and didn’t understand the flight was cancelled either. His colleagues that hadn’t arrived yet would later receive e-mails that they could not fly out until the next morning.

At any rate, they paid for a shuttle in which we had to bully the driver into actually taking us. And then when he finally left, he turned around to go back and get someone else despite our protests that we would barely make it as it was. Nonetheless, we did make it. And I thought I was dying the whole way.

Turns out, I wasn’t better after all. But I can’t even claim nausea. It was soooooo much worse. More of a “stomach full of acid eating away at my insides” kind of thing. The TSA lines were thankfully short, just the perfect length in fact, for me to redress, run for the bathroom and retch loudly enough to horrify the entire row of stalls.

Oh my God, it’s Cambodia again. The only time I had ever thrown up on a plane before. Oh please, not again. I can still hear that mean French lady snapping, “Close ze bag! Eet smells!” I rode the wave of post-puke feeling better-ness into feeling hopeful all was well. Until I got on the plane and was seated next to two girls  with attitudes that had seemingly never flown before. I mean, I don’t care if you’ve never flown, but I care that you can’t comprehend that the flight attendant has told you three times to shut off your devices and that you refuse to put your purse under the seat because the floor is dirty. I know an omen when I see one. I was so miserable between the bathroom and my seat, that I actually started to cry. The flight attendant was really sweet and gave me a hug. But then I was terrified of letter her know I was sick because she’d think I’d contaminated her, even though I was certain it was food related. Yeah, the ride home in Chris’s car wasn’t much better. But at least he brought plastic bags.

In defense of the hotel, I have to say I don’t know of anyone else getting sick. I thought the hotel was otherwise fantastic.

The wall in my hotel room.
The wall in my hotel room.

I feel bad if I picked this up elsewhere and I’m blaming them, but timing wise, I just don’t know where else it happened. And they were a little lax with the food I thought, as far as taking a long time to bring things out and letting stuff get cold…so that’s my guess anyway. I would have the pleasure of battling my body all the way to Boston, where I had to fly two days after I returned. But that’s for another entry if you made it this far…if the mention of vomit hasn’t scared you away. Don’t worry. That’s as detailed as it’s getting.

DC footwear on the Metro.
DC footwear on the Metro.

Tavel Stories You Don’t Tell Your Mom

I don’t know what challenges lie ahead for Connor, but I hope that he will get to travel. This is a long post, but I think I almost died a couple times, which my friends will enjoy, even if they don’t care for my wordiness.

My obsession since college has been travel. I credit a few things for leading to this. One is that I’m an Air Force brat and we moved all over until I turned 12, including California and Japan. Another is my college friend Cecile who had dual citizenship because her mother is French. She was always traveling back and forth, and when we’d all converge back on the dorm, she’d dump out a suitcase of French gummy bears and chocolates, and share adventures from the Paris Metro. Meanwhile I tried to tell impressive stories of all the movies I’d seen at my local Regal cinema and frappucinos I’d downed at Starbucks. Most of my early overseas trips involved her. We went to Spain and Costa Rica, and I would later visit her in France, then Germany as she moved about abroad. (Warning: never move somewhere interesting and make one of those empty “come and visit anytime!” offers to me). I haven’t yet made it to Switzerland, where she currently lives.

In Rennes, France with Cecile in November 2002.
In Rennes, France with Cecile in November 2002. I finally got my own Paris metro adventure. Flashed by a man in a trenchcoat!
Spring Break Madrid March 2001 with Sara, Cecile, me and Asma. Home of the famous quote, "SHUT UP! SHUT UP! NOBODY TALK!"
Spring Break Madrid March 2001 with Sara, Cecile, me and Asma. Home of the famous quote, “SHUT UP! SHUT UP! NOBODY TALK!”
At Hofbrauhaus in Munich in May 2005. Cecile is farthest right, next to me.
At Hofbrauhaus in Munich in May 2005. Cecile is farthest right, next to me.

The third was my anxiety, which would landslide into depression at times, and left me with a feeling of being constantly restless. I always felt like I was looking for something, and I figured the best way to find whatever it was, was to hop on a plane. If that thing I was looking for was a fairy tattoo from Thailand, selected solely because I thought the silhouetted wings looked cool, I found it. On a side note, a few years after the dust settled on people thinking I was mental for getting stuck with a needle in Thailand, Hangover 2 got released and when it comes up, people look at me like I’m crazy again.Gathering the courage to get tatted.

tattooThis story I actually did tell my mom. Just not for a couple of months. You see, I’d threatened to get a tattoo all through college, but never followed through. So by the time I graduated, she thought she was safe. Whenever I’d bring it up, she’d mock me and say, “Oh are you? Well if you do, I’ll go get one, too. We can match.” I basically started this same conversation again, as if I didn’t already have one. When she pulled out her usual mocking threat, I said, “Really? You mean it? You’re gonna go get one?”

“Suuuure!” she replied.

I yanked up the shirt to reveal my lower stomach, and silence. Jaw drops. Finally, “Robert! Get in here! Your daughter got a tattoo!”

It was hilarious. It was also nine years ago. She has yet to follow through.

With Mieka at Phuket, Thailand drag show in February 2004.
With Mieka at Phuket, Thailand drag show in Tebruary 2004. Mieka was a teaching friend from Daegu. The first time we went to the tattoo parlor, she went through with it. I chickened out. We went back the next day.

The Thailand trip came on the heels of a six-month stint teaching English in Daegu, South Korea. South Korea is a very dangerous place to live, in that it feels so safe that your guard will be significantly lowered when you leave. As far as safety is concerned, I have never felt so free as I did there. Perhaps my inability to read and follow the news exaggerated that feeling, but a random murder in Seoul made such a splash that it actually seemed like murder was a big deal there, as if it didn’t happen every day. And so I felt free to wander down dark alleys I wouldn’t have otherwise. The biggest danger I faced there was an angry Ajumma (older, married woman) openly disapproving of my wardrobe. Man, they hated that red, strapless dress of mine. I couldn’t understand what they were shrieking, but nothing got the octaves up like that dress.I only remember being scared there once. Most of the time I was there I live in a dorm near downtown, but for a brief period I stayed in an apartment about 15 minutes out, near Kyungpook University, with a Canadian roommate. This was the setting of Travel Story You Don’t Tell Your Mom #1. In the middle of the night came a wild  knocking on the door. I came out of my bedroom just in time to see my roommate wrestling a Korean man back out of the door and slamming it shut. He continued to bang and yell while we looked at each other confused. At this point we realized we had no idea what the Korean 911 was. Instead we attempted to start calling the school headquarters, as it was approaching 6 am. One of the managers answered. But since he spoke no English, he just kept hanging up on us. Finally we were able to get one of the owner’s sons on the phone. He contacted the police for us. The banging had gone on for over an hour, but in the meantime, he had taken a fall back down the stairs and was passed out on the landing. The only way for us to get out was to step over him, which wasn’t going to happen. Eventually he awoke and was back to trying to gain entry. During this whole time, not one neighbor did anything. Finally the cops arrived and we opened the door, a thick Canadian girl armed with a bat (where the hell did that come from?) and me with a heavy, metal statue of the Hindu god Shiva. It turned out the man was so incredibly intoxicated, that even having two white girls open the door was not sufficient to convince him that he had the wrong apartment. He lived in the next building. I will say, on his behalf, that those apartment buildings do look like they rolled off a conveyor belt built by Paul Bunyan. The cops thought the whole thing was hilarious, and laughed as they dragged him away, still screaming, I presume, that it was his apartment.Beyond the insult of the cops finding our fear hilarious, the boss’s son never did check on us to see if we were okay. One of many reasons I had no guilt about breaking my contract halfway through. But my ridiculous job there is another entry to come.

Cambodia Angkor WatThe unsettled feeling had arisen once again, so I booked two months in Sevilla, Spain of language courses, but decided to go through Thailand (where I would obtain my tattoo) and Cambodia on my way out of Korea. Why Cambodia? Cambodia had garnered some recent attention due to Angelina Jolie’s adoption of baby Maddox. While in Korea, I took to reading about the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge when they took over from 1975-79 and destroyed the country, coating it in landmines and murdering much of the population. I selected it because in my mind, I would be wandering through jungles, maneuvering around land-mined areas to explore the ruins of Angkor. It turned out that the only thing I had to maneuver around were Australian backpackers. It was an early lesson in that if Lonely Planet has been there, so has everyone else. Land mines were well cleared and danger areas off limits. Bummer. But as I mentioned, Korea destroyed my sense of danger which is how Travel Story You Don’t Tell Your Mom #2 happened. I went alone, but had met another American on the flight into Cambodia and we were traveling together now. On our way into one of the temples, we encountered a couple of young local boys who wanted to give us a tour so they could practice their skills and eventually get jobs. Tourism is a lifeblood industry in this poverty stricken country, so we said no problem. Of course, we knew they would want a couple bucks at the end. Not an issue. So the four of us wandered around the temple and they described the temple friezes and what they meant. The area was drowning in tourists, so we had no reason to be concerned. But there was one part that was set apart from the rest, and before we realized it, we were headed for it via a woody path. Other tourists were fewer and farther between. I hadn’t realized that Cyrina and her tour guide had dropped back a bit, and suddenly my guide stopped. He informed me that he had to go to class and wanted money. His demeanor went from friendly and jovial to aggressive. I said, sure, no problem and started to reach for my Thai baht (even the Cambodians don’t want their own currency). Then he demanded 2,000 baht specifically. I just looked at him dumbfounded. That was over 50 bucks. Was he on crack? “You mean 50 baht? Right?”

“No! I have pay for school! Give me 2,000!”

I glanced back at Cyrina and could see she was having a similar conversation with her guide. I wasn’t scared of him. I couldn’t process more than that he had suddenly lost his

With Cyrina in Cambodia.
With Cyrina in Cambodia.

mind thinking I was going to give him that much money just because he demanded it. He was definitely getting creepier by the moment. And then I heard a magical Australian, “Hello, there!” It was an older gentleman we met in our hotel. “Oh, hello!” I exaggerated and ran to his side and we walked back to the main temple, grabbing Cyrina on the way. The guys just glared after us. Back at the main temple, another backpacker we had met previously expressed concern because she had seen us with the guys and she had heard it was a ploy to get tourists away from the crowd and rob them. I never even felt fear during this entire encounter as Korea had slowed my danger processing so much that I didn’t register what truly could have happened until it was over. I’m not normally this stupid…I even keep my keys between my fingers when I’m alone in dark parking lots, ready to gouge out the eyes of an attacker. Damn Korea’s low crime rate. It almost got me killed.

Coimbra, Portugal was location of my scariest encounter, Story #3, which was ironic because I had initially planned to travel to Honduras that summer. But my mother had to go and read the state department’s travel advisories, and man, you never saw someone so nervous about a few machete murders. Look, it’s a small country. You do what you gotta do to get a good spot on the beach. Since my mother took it so well the previous summer when I told her I would be traveling alone for five weeks through Thailand (again), Laos and Vietnam, I thought I’d cut her a break and alter my plans.I’m not sure when the Portugese encounter started. I do know when I first saw him. I had crossed a bridge over the river to see a monastery (I think…that’s kind of cloudy now). There was this dirty looking guy carrying only a camera bag. I’d been out of Korea for a few years now, so suspicious mode was back. He seemed weird and I caught him looking at me, but he could have just been some dirty backpacker. The camera bag mellowed me a bit, but it wouldn’t be long before I started to think there were scalpels rather than cameras inside. I started to walk back across the bridge, and knew he was behind me. He came closer and closer, so I stopped next to some tourists and let him pass. He breathed heavily behind me as he did so. I gave him a reasonable head start and continued. Then he stopped, as if looking at the water, but I could see he was checking my progress. So I hurried past him and made a right through a crowded park at the end of the bridge. I found a place to sit and relax and let Mr. Weirdo go about his day. Within a few minutes, he took a seat just a few yards from me. At this point, the prickles of annoyance turned to fear. There was no doubt about what he was doing now. I made my way through people to a riverside pizza place. My brilliant plan was to have dinner as he would surely lose interest in that amount time. My mistake was that the restaurant was almost entirely windows. I could see him pacing from one side to the other, watching me eat. Now I was entering panic mode. It was Sunday. Most things were closed. I was currently in the busy tourist area, but I would have to pass through some quiet streets to get back to my hotel. I desperately tried to communicate my problem to the waiter in my crappy Spanish, hoping it would be similar enough to the Portugese I needed. He seemed to get the basic idea of what I was telling him and pointed out a nearby police substation. I waited until Captain Creeper circled around the other side and made a run for the busy street. Somehow, magically the traffic cleared for me and I made it, the hole filling in quickly behind me. He spotted me too late. I continued to run and he couldn’t get across. I made the split second decision to head for my hotel because at this point there was no way he could catch up. Even for the few months I did 5ks I could never run like that again. I reached the hotel and locked myself into my room, and left town the next day. I will always wonder what his intentions were, especially considering he did this with so many people present. I also wonder if I should have gone to the police anyway. He probably would have melted into the crowd, but maybe, just maybe, they would have picked him up and discovered he was wanted for rape or murder or something.

In spite of these stories, I generally feel very safe when I travel. I generally try to follow the rule of not looking too much like a tourist. No fanny packs…both for safety and the massive offense to fashion. I quit the whole travel wallet strapped to the body thing years ago. I hate those and prefer to carry no more than I can afford to lose, but if you’re going to use them, carry just enough for basic purchases in a regular purse or wallet. It kind of defeats the purpose when you have to make a big show of practically undressing yourself at the cash register. Be cautious at ATMS, but it is not necessary to have your wife hold a jacket over you to shield the screen from prying eyes. That makes ME want to rob you out of spite, and probably signals thieves that you have a good amount of money in there to be that cautious. You also shouldn’t walk around with guide books and maps in your hand, but I freely admit to breaking that rule as my directional dyslexia won’t allow me to process and retain directions beyond a block.

Oh, and upon further review of these stories, Connor is not allowed to travel. He’s not even allowed to leave the house. Ever.

Sorry, Mom.

Do you like apples? Connor went to Boston! How do you like them apples!?

Connor's first airplane ride.
Connor’s first airplane ride.

We flew to Boston so Connor could take part in a TSC study through Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard. It helps us by potentially identifying areas in which he might be showing delays so we can intervene, and in exchange we are helping the study identify early markers of how TSC might progress. Since there is such a wide variation in how TSC presents, from people leading competely normal lives to round the clock care and everything in between, the earlier doctors can identify who might go down certain paths, the better.

I was worried about flying with a baby. Ever since 9/11, I have had a decidedly contentious relationship with TSA. Apparently I resemble p. 33 of The Big Book of Terrorists. It’s gotten better since right after 9/11 when I was one of the randomly chosen few for the arbitrary secondary search at the gate (every. single. time), I guess because I so perfectly fulfilled the role of “white girl” in a politically correct collection of humans to pat down. So I’d be chilling with Asian Dad, Black Grandmother, Hispanic Mom, and various other people wearing t-shirts that said “Just Do It: Blow up the Plane.” TSA relaxed with me after a few years and mostly only chose to arbitrarily search my bag even though I had cleared security, finally prompting me to remove my bomb-shaped luggage tag and collection of Middle East flag patches meticulously sewn all over.

Who knew a baby would make it easier?! First, we got to bypass the security line in Atlanta. When we returned our Hertz rental car at Boston Logan, they drove us to the terminal instead of making us catch the bus. Then I got to bypass the full body scanner since I was holding him (I’ve successfully avoided these ever since implementation! Score! knock on wood). We got to board early.  Rather than making us choose peanuts, pretzels, or cookies, the flight attendant gave us two of everything. And finally, getting to enjoy that intense look of fear in passengers’ eyes when they see you. Pure awesomeness.

It was Connor’s first flight, and generally, he’s not a fussy baby, so we weren’t too worried. Naturally, as soon as we sat down on the plane, he whined and shrieked, until we got him to sleep. From there it was smooth sailing. On the flight back, we had a standard rough Delta landing which he loved. As we bounced and jerked, he laughed and laughed.

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We arrived Sunday night (oh no, I’m sorry. It was only 4:30, it just happened to look like night already) and went to pick up our rental car from Hertz. We were upgraded to a Hyundai Elantra. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a cute sporty little car, but the key word is still little. Were we getting a moped before? No complaints though. We had a great experience with them (see above about how they drive people with kids to the terminal). I’d detail our adventures of trying to navigate the big dig and poorly lit Boston roads with tiny street signs to the Holiday Inn, but I try to keep the four letter words to a minimum in the blog.

We finally found it though, only to discover they didn’t have our reservation. Apparently, the hotel made the reservation for the day they received the request from the study, not the dates we would be there. So we were a couple months late for our reservation. Fortunately they had plenty of rooms, with windows into the interior lobby, not to the outside. Deep breath. I will not freak out that I’m going to suffocate and die in here. The study ladies were unthrilled to hear that this occurred (seemingly not the first time) and we are being reimbursed for this as well. So we enjoyed a “not bad” hotel dinner, followed by some extremely questionable eggs benedict in the morning, and to the study we went.

What are these tiny pillows on a king bed?!!
What are these tiny pillows on a king bed?!!

Unfortunately Connor had one of his eye rolling episodes during breakfast which meant he was gonna be a little bit on the tired side. They started with the EEG net on his head, a very expensive and newer version that delightfully didn’t require the glue of the standard EEG. The computer tracked his eyes while a screen flashed pictures of shapes, me and a random woman.

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Then he sat on my lap at a table and they watched how he interacted with certain toys. He was given particular tasks to complete with objects, but at that point he had more eye rolls and it was sleep time. We had to cut the cognitive test short and do it based on parent report. The final part was an examination by the neurologist, who noted his slightly low tone, but otherwise thought he looked good. She was impressed that despite his surgery on the right frontal lobe, he showed no weakness on either side, which can occur.

All this took place in just under 2.5 hours and we had several hours to fill before catching our flight home. We decided to tour the campuses of our backup schools, Harvard and MIT. As we both got into our first choices, Chris into Marquette, and myself into the University of Georgia, fortunately neither of us were forced to go to these second rate institutions. Harvard does have a beautiful campus, although that does little to negate their horrendous academic reputation.

This is a Harvard snowman. I rest my case.
This is a Harvard snowman. I rest my case.

We received the assessment results within a couple days. Areas of concern: visual reception (have to look into this more, I think it means he wasn’t paying much attention to the screen with flashing pics-we’re hoping a factor in this was that he was quite tired and not really wanting to keep his head up to look at the screen), expressive language (already looking into speech therapy, since he can certainly be noisy, but isn’t yet making consonant sounds), and gross motor (already getting PT). Not really major surprises. Receptive language was a slighter delay, meaning while he seems to recognize some words, he doesn’t consistently respond to them. I definitely notice that when he’s in a good mood, he’s pretty responsive. If he’s tired or disinterested, he’s pretty good at ignoring me. Interestingly, his fine motor skills were right on target, something I already thought to be the case.

His 12 month follow up looks like it will be the last week of March. We’re extending this trip into a little family vacay. I look forward to building my positive relationship further with TSA. If they stop feeling me up permanently, maybe we can even be friends…

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You want answers? I WANT THE TRUTH! Well, good luck with that.

December has been a tough month for blogging. I feel like I’ve been going, going, going. That’s even more than I usually feel like I’m going, going, going with a 9-month-old. It started with stressing over trying to get that confounded EEG appointment, then going down to Florida to see Chris’s parents, coming home and checking into the hospital the next day for the EEG, getting discharged in time to start all the family festivities with those that came to town, then Christmas. I was so exhausted I had to renege on plans to hang with some friends at a bar downtown. This after weeks of thinking, “man, I want to go out.” Not that I don’t go out, but I wanted to go out more like I went out pre-baby.

It didn’t help that we went from warm, sunny Florida where it was still summer, and we floated around in the backyard pool with beers in our hand, back to chilly Atlanta, where we immediately had to check in for the stay from hell at Scottish Rite.

Pics from Florida:

A snowman

A pool

A pier

A kiss

A flamingo Santa

A elf

A duck

A crane

A chris and me

So we got all nice and relaxed in time to check in for Connor’s EEG where we could promptly become stressed and agitated. We had no issues with our neurologist. He kept us informed and even let us out a day early as we’d caught several “episodes.” This is our second less than satisfactory in-patient experience. First time was after his brain surgery. The surgery part went great. We love our surgeon and we had a good experience with the surgery department. There were a few issues once we moved to his room though, the primary anger-inducing one being that the day after surgery when he started swelling, he was clearly in pain. His heart monitor kept going off because of it, but nobody ever came to check on him (or for any other alarm for that matter). Don’t get me wrong. I totally understand that every alarm is not an emergency, but as parents, when things go off repeatedly for an extended period of time, we might benefit from a little explanation of what warrants concern. Not to mention, it’s already stressful and then you’re sitting in a room with all this machinery beeping at you obnoxiously. It got to the point where in the middle of the night I just started silencing them myself (after it had been clearly established which ones were clearly unworthy of response). At any rate, we finally asked when his next round of pain meds would be. I stupidly assumed (as I am new to the medical world-my first hospital stay being Connor’s birth) that he was getting them because his skull had been drilled into and his brain resected. “Would you like him to receive pain meds?” was the response. “Ummm…yes. He’s in pain and crying.” The nurse responded, “Yes. I saw his heart rate kept going up on the monitor out there.”

Well, alrighty then. But this was before I read an article that advised to never have surgery on Fridays because weekends aren’t exactly the best staffed, so I chalked a lot of it up to that. Also, before I continue, I want to be clear that it’s not my intention to bash nurses. We’ve had great ones that were very proactive in pushing doctors that were taking their sweet time taking care of business, especially in the NICU, but it’s like any profession. Some are great, some are good, some suck. Because then there was the evening Aunt Donna watched him while we went to dinner and he pulled his IV out, spurting blood everywhere. The boy loves to yank his wires. She was left applying pressure to the bleeding spot until the nurse could return with a bandaid. Good thing it finally quit bleeding because nobody ever came back. We also couldn’t get his med schedule reestablished while we were there becaue every time shift changed, nobody had passed on that he takes them at 8 and 8, so they were coming at all crazy, inconsistent times.

So this time we were there mid-week. I do think he got more attention this time, which was funny because it was just a testing situation. But the meds were consistently late messing up his sleep schedule, sometimes more than an hour. And the most frustrating part is that I don’t want to yell at the wrong person. I don’t want to go off on the nurse, because if they are understaffed, that is not her fault. But with a lot of the stuff that doesn’t go smoothly, you just don’t know where the breakdown happened. I’m particularly uncomfortable in this area because I taught for seven years and I know what it is to have parents let you have it over things you have no control over.

But even midweek, we weren’t issue free. There was the EEG removal and shutdown I mentioned in my last entry. Then came the big one. The second night we were there I noticed Connor’s eye was red and irritated. I thought perhaps that in his rubbing and messing with his electrodes he may have gotten some glue in his eye, so I asked the nurse if there was something that could be done to soothe it. She was uncertain whether it was irritation or an infection so she wanted to check in with a doctor first. Thirteen hours later he finally got a saline flush. (And I had brought up the eye problem twice more). By then it had progressed to goopy, not opening, and him screaming like a bat out of hell when we pried it open. Sixteen hours later after more followups from me, a pediatrician checked him out. He’s still screaming and refusing to open his eyes. Seventeen hours later he got ointment and a swab to test for pinkeye. The swab would later come back negative, affirming that perhaps if he hadn’t had to wait 13 hours for an okay on a simple saline flush, that maybe he didn’t have to suffer the next few days, even after he came home, unable to see us or his toys. Here I thought being in a hospital was the optimal place to be if something like this happened. Who knew we’d have been better off at home and taking him for an emergency pediatrician appointment? Sixteen hours as a patient in a hospital. What happens if you contract MRSA? Does a limb have to fall off?

Headed home after his two-day EEG. Too bad he can't open his eyes to see his awesome hair.
Headed home after his two-day EEG. Too bad he can’t open his eyes to see his awesome hair.

I’ll end my diatribe there. But I will say that I’m the calm(er) one, always telling Chris not to burn bridges. God help any hospital that houses me should I ever lapse into a coma.

There was one thing that led me to feel grateful after this stressful stay. After we were home, a friend posted a link on Facebook  about the passing of a friend’s premie baby. I didn’t know the parents, but as I was downstairs bitching about Connor’s eye, there were parents above us in a NICU I know all too well losing their child after 77 days of life. Things can always be worse. I can’t even imagine.

As I mentioned, Connor’s eye-rolling “episodes” as I now call them did not show up on EEG as seizure activity. After another day of comparing video of his eye-rolling with simultaneous EEG activity, one correlation our neuro could find was that when Connor is awake, electrical activity from his left occipital lobe tuber spreads over the left side of the brain. When he’s sleeping it spreads all over the brain. However, when he has the eye-rolling episodes, the activity resembles what it does when he’s sleeping even though he’s awake. But it doesn’t build up into a seizure. It’s just a little quick burst of activity from the tuber (which if I understand correctly isn’t uncommon in TSC) that dies away before it builds into anything. So, for the neuro, it still doesn’t explain why his eyes move like that when he has these clusters. He is still looking into it because he’s never seen this before. I’m glad now that he didn’t okay the ambulatory EEG because the test would have been a wash without video.

Anyway, December has been so crazy I never got to do my post about decorating for Christmas, which I love. So here are some shots of our house:

B outside

B Santa

B soldiers

B train B tree

B room

And my new pride and joy: a Lego Christmas village! Put together, of course, by Chris. I don’t have the patience. Chris’s initial plan was to assemble and disassemble on an annual basis since he enjoys Legos. Several hours of construction later, that plan was out the window. I’ll explore the fake snow option next year, but after hours of work, Chris was opposed to anything that required the manhandling and moving of the parts. Very, very opposed. So Merry Christmas. I didn’t break the village!

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Shots of Connor’s first Christmas in the next blog entry!