Friday, August 11, 2017

The Thing Living Inside Frankie

Image Source
To preface, "The Thing" is not a baby.
One hundred percent NOT a baby.

Now that that's out of the way, we can move on.

For the sake of easier reading there will be times were the writing of this post is in first person, and times when we flip to us/we when it seems appropriate. This is one of the rare occasions in the many years of writing that there has been swapping, or even use of  "I".
If you don't know who "We" are, and are actually curious, there is an archive of writing available at your disposal right here on the blog (tip: click the hyperlink).
The reason for this, as stated, is ease of reading, because it's about a very important topic.

Some people may have noticed in the last couple of months references to a physical health issue in some of our Tweets, ranging to vague to specific. Until we had as much information as possible it seemed prudent to hold back on writing about it.
Part of the reason for writing about it is that when there first started to be issues we would Google them, find threads, forums, groups, where people would be describing the exact same symptoms we had. Some men, some women, people of all ages. Yet they never returned to say what happened when they [finally] went to the doctor. People would just add to their threads saying they had the same issues. It was frustrating. Not that the internet could have done a proper job of diagnosing the issue anyway. Still, when a person is at wits end trying to get a ballpark estimate on the possible health problem...forums seemed to offer no help.

The symptoms in question were really noticed, fully, at the end of January of this year. They included: extreme fatigue, dizziness, pain in the right abdomen just beneath the rib cage, and in the matter of about 4 weeks a 15 pound weight gain.
Aside from insurance issues, the other barrier to seeing a doctor immediately was that that's not really how we were raised. On the farm you generally didn't go to the doctor unless you were losing a serious amount of blood, or an appendage. The only times we really recall being in a doctors office are when we had allergy testing (at about the age of 6), when we ran our thumb through a table saw (at about 13. It was the cool thing to do.) and then after the car accident. So if you're not feeling well...well that's no reason to go to the doctor, sillypants. So we mostly dismissed it. Came up with other reasons for feeling the way we felt.

The first thing people should know is that I work hard to maintain what little healthy physique this body displays. Aside from [what some feel massive] steady/unchanging amount of alcohol consumption, the diet is stable. A lot of fresh fruits and vegetables (and in the summer garden fresh from our own garden), whole foods, fresh meat products, minimal junk food or processed foods, mostly home-cooked (gotta use that culinary arts degree for something), low-carb (no white bread, no pasta, minimal rice, etc). Lots of fucking apples, cabbages, tomatoes, and the like. Like everyday. I also regularly workout 4-5 times a week for 45-90 minutes at a time (depending on if it's a Kettlebell day). And as stated, no change in alcohol consumption.

So this 15 pounds was a concern, especially when paired with the other symptoms. Call it a perk of being obsessed with paying attention to one's body and how it functions.
Turns out it was a good thing.

We had inquired with a woman at the gym sometimes in April, who is there pretty often, as we are, about tips to kick that stubborn weight issue. This was before any doctor appointment.
One of the first things she asked was about age, and then immediately attributed it to that. "Yeah. I know. The metabolism slows down the older a woman gets. But 15 pounds in a matter of weeks?". She wasn't overly helpful, but it wasn't shocking. We were just sort of querying all manner of sources. Plus, in that early stage of the end of February/beginning of March we hadn't really put the other symptoms together with this issue. Even by April there was only a vague feeling that they may be connected. Truth be told they all did just seemed things that happen when you get old (aside from the pain). And most people backed up that theory with their perspective on it.

We knew we'd eventually have to go the doctor. The problem with the pain increased, the exhaustion made going to the gym a tortuous chore and in addition to it all we were feeling depressed (but, not in a way we recognized well. A new feeling of depression, somewhat linked to other personal issues, but it felt different). I would have went to the doctor sooner, but our household found ourselves without health insurance this year until May, so it was a waiting game.
June 2nd we posted to a select group of FB friends:
"We don't usually go hypochondriac...but...for the past 6 months (the earliest we can recall) we've been having intermittent pain in part of our abdomen (right where the kidneys and liver reside)..."

June 14th we finally made it to the doctor appointment we had scheduled shortly after that night.
They did a complete physical, blood work up and gynecological exam. Ran through all the usual questions. Inquired about different things in life (changes, stress in a relationship, etc). The doctor didn't bat an eye at the alcohol consumption reported; and yes, we are pathologically honest with our doctors about how much we drink. Nothing good comes from keeping stuff from your doctor, especially in cases like this. We gave the most complete details on our health, right down to bowel movements and other strange aches, because by this time we had done enough researching trying to figure out what was wrong it was determined that if could be nearly anything, and it might take one overlooked symptom to be the link to the diagnosis.

The physical went fine. Nothing found. The gynecological exam and pap came back clean. The blood work came back the same day and we passed with flying colors - except for a pretty giant Vitamin D deficiency that is common in places where half the year people don't expose their skin to the sun. Take Vitamin D, people. It has so many physical and mental health benefits. So many people experiencing depression and mood issues could benefit from Vitamin D over some pharmacrap. Look it up. Vitamins are important, especially ones hard come by. The weird depressed feeling we had improved pretty significantly after a few weeks of Vitamin D - plus they come in fun gummies. It's like having candy for breakfast!

But I digress.

The day after the doctor appointment we ran a local 10K feeling confident about our health - despite the lingering pain: the enzyme panel that measures kidney, pancreas, and more importantly, liver function, was all normal. A fact that anybody we told, who knows how much we drink, felt hard pressed to believe. They'd kind of cock their head to the side and exclaim "Realllyyy...??"
"Yes. Really.", we'd reply derisively.
The red and white blood count was "on fleek" (hahah. How dare you use that in your writing!).
No cholesterol issues, and to that point no high blood pressure. It really made us feel like going back to the doctor, who questioned our healthy lifestyle, and sticking our finger in his face.
It should be noted, also, that when I discussed that 15 pound weight gain with the doctor he said the same thing as everyone else: "Your metabolism slows down as you get older." To which I replied: "But 15 pounds in just a few weeks? By that measure I'll be 300 pounds by winter." He then agreed, yes, it is unlikely to be due to old age. Fucking doctors, man. The doubt about what you're saying, about your own body and lifestyle. Like they know more about the body and life you live in.

The blood work was excellent, so the doctor scheduled an ultrasound to try to get to the bottom of the symptoms, especially that pain.
June 28th we were getting our very first ultrasound.
They warm the jelly and it feels like some gently cumming on you, and then they play in it with their special wand. When done you're handed a washcloth to clean it all off with, like that charming young man you once met.
Not even gonna apologize for that graphic interpretation.

It was about a week before they got back with the results.

Did you know theses days you can see almost everything most health providers post to your chart, almost right away via an online app/portal? It's really cool. Unless you get those results at midnight in the middle of Fourth of July weekend.

There were all sorts of measurements for organs, and then just "gallbladder appears normal". It was midnight, we were at a campground, so we spent the rest of the evening looking up the normal measurements for organs: Liver, common bile duct, right kidney (no mention of the left; what is a renal pelvis?!), pancreas (wait, what does "focal hypoechoic area mean?!). Some of the measurements seemed an issue.
"Further evaluation is recommended. MR or CT would be helpful"

Great. We got this just after midnight on Saturday. There was no one to call until Tuesday.

When we finally got to talk to a nurse she relayed the doctor's message that he'd like to order a CT (or CAT) scan.

July 7th we were sitting in a waiting room full of old OLD people in the cancer center of one of the large local-ish clinics drinking measured amounts of oral contrast mixed with water. It was really a pretty quick procedure after the two hours of drinking the mixture, and of course we made jokes with the nurse the whole time.

"You're going to feel like you peed yourself when I inject the contrast into your veins", she said right before the final scan.
Seconds after it was injected we told her "Oh my god. I'm not entirely sure I HAVE'T peed myself". Laughs all around.

It wasn't too long before the results came in. One of the perks to living in a low-population area is the speedy response to medical testing, I guess.

This one dropped a few things off the search list. The liver was fine (again, people were shocked). Unremarkable, as a matter of fact. The spleen and adrenals. Everything...but the pancreas.
They wanted to double check the ultrasound with an MRI. We could hear the sounds of cash registers and emptying coffers.
But. What is this? At the bottom of the report. This is something new.

"In the left pelvis there is a complex primary cystic mass which measures 7.2 x 10.6 cm. This contains internal septations, which are partially calcified. A more solid component is present along the more anterior and inferior margin. This appears to originate from the right ovary. The left ovary is unremarkable." and then in the recap: "Complex right adnexal mass which appears to be ovarian in origin. This contains both cystic and solid components. GYN consult is recommended.


They scheduled the MRI for the pancreas issue.

Our favourite grandfather passed in December of 2009 of pancreatic cancer, so this put a little scare in some people. Father was going to be in the area, so he volunteered to be there for us the day of the MRI. We had had MRIs before for spinal issues, so it wasn't anything new. We knew pancreatic cancer to be a cruel, but swift, cancer. But the day came, it was mostly uneventful. A nice time to spend with Father, over cookies and coffee at a local cafe, catching up on life a little.

In the meantime the nurse called to schedule an appointment with a the gynecological specialist. It wouldn't be until August 1st because we were heading out of town for a 10 vacation in Canada soon, a yearly pilgrimage to the city we love so much (that so many people dislike) for the annual Fringe Fest and to spend time with Fabulous People (or at least the last remaining of the happy troupe from way back in the day). and to go to hot yoga, and day drink.

The MRI came back, for the first time we had to call and ask about why it hadn't been put in our chart yet. The nurse said that the MRI came back fine, nothing much of note (though when we looked at it it said there were two small lesions on the liver. Should probably keep an eye on that), but to be sure not to miss that appointment with the specialist next month. Later we got a call from the other nurse saying everything on the MRI was fine so there was no need to see the doctor. We pressed her, saying that's not what we were told that same morning by Nurse A. She looked further and said, oh, yes, absolutely go to that appointment.
How irritating. If I hadn't taken it upon myself to inquire about the results earlier that day all I would have had is this woman saying everything is fine, go about your life.
This is why you should ALWAYS be proactive in your healthcare. Make calls. Ask questions. All of the questions. Ask them twice. Just because they have the education and the degrees doesn't mean they are perfect. Don't be a statistic of negligence.

Fast forward to August 1st. The day after my 38th birthday.

The nurse takes me into the examination room and gets all of the particulars (she clearly has no idea why I'm there). When she gets to the alcohol consumption portion and I throw the number (in mL) her pen stops.
"Wow! That's a lot!" she exclaims.
"Yes. I know." I reply flatly.
" you think you have a problem?" She asks. She is the first doctor to ever ask that. And we do, in fact, have fairly regular doctor appointments. Every two years at least.  Little does she know, up until recently, the amount of alcohol she was struggling to understand was just from two to three nights of weekend drinking.
"No. I don't think I have a problem." I say.
"Can you face the day without a drink?" she asks, searching for an obvious sign of alcoholism.
"Absolutely. As a matter of fact I wake up every morning thinking 'I don't think I'll need a drink today'. And then life happens. A day happens."
I follow it up with pointing out the geographical region she shares in living with us, and saying it's not unusual given the specific coordinates.

She gets all the info she needs, leaves the room and the doctor comes in.

She asks some cursory questions before getting to the meat of it. Checks the vitals, asking about reported symptoms, asking about symptoms I hadn't mentioned because they have become such a part of my life. Backpain? Sure. I broke my back and have a degenerative spinal issue, I say. Though later I'll realize that, while I try to maintain the pain with exercise, diet, and alcohol, I had found myself reaching for the Ibuprofen the last few months, just thinking I'd been overdoing the Kettlebell workouts, or perhaps pulled something.
Digestive issues? She asks.
That's a hard one too. At a young age, before it was really a thing, Mother had us get allergy testing, for whatever reason, so we know have allergies to corn, wheat...pretty much every grain but rice. And a lot of other things to boot.
And because we've been fairly successful at maintaining weight after that one hundred pound weight loss, all thanks to a low-carb Atkins-type diet, which requires keen observation of your body's reaction to certain foods as you add them in, we know that the times when we splurge with a burger, or a bit of pasta, our digestive ain't pretty. But sometimes nothing happens. It's literally a crap shoot. But since we've had this issue forever, the slight increase of problems turned out to be a symptom.
Symptom after symptom, she kept asking questions. Do you find yourself feeling fuller faster than usual lately? Who knows? I don't eat much to begin with, not really. But I could always eat. (Being vigilant about diet, and having a historically poor relationship with food, means sometimes you don't know if you're actually hungry or not. But that's another issue, and is more nuanced that we have time for here).
She said that next she'd do a pelvic exam, and then we'd talk about "why you're here".
She was totally burying the lead.

She finished up the pelvic exam. "Everything appears to be normal", she says.
Duh. We just had an exam less than two months ago.

She sits at her little desk, while we sit on the examining table, naked from the waist down, a little paper sheet over our lap.

She turns to me and says "So, you're here today because they have found a sizable cyst on your ovary. About 10cm across." She forms her hand in an weird circle, shows me, and says "it's about the size of a babies head".

Now. I'm not sure why this was a surprise, other than, despite reading it in the CAT scan report we didn't really think about it the measurement/size.
First, it's in cm. And we are American. What is a cm, even? (Joking. Yes, we know what a cm is, even it's harder to visualize than an inch).
Second, the couple of times we thought about it we pictured some web-like structure. Not a fucking large grapefruit lodged in our pelvis.
So when she said "It's about the size of a babies head", my hand flew to my mouth and I shouted "Are you fucking kidding!?"
She thought that was funny. She probably doesn't have many cussing mouthy patients.
"Like, a baby-baby head, or like, a fetus-baby head?", we asked.
"Baby-baby." she replied.

Time and details kind of got weird and sometimes ffuzzy at that point. She started talking about it's complexities, that they were going to have to do surgery to take the cyst out (only 5-10% of cysts require removal [1]), and also take the ovary and the fallopian tube (1/3 of our reproductive system) and how they weren't necessarily sure what ovary it was attached to because when a female lies down the ovaries sort of tuck together towards the back.

"As long as you take the right one", we joked.
"I'll be sure to take the one with the baby head attached!", she joked back.
We were immensely happy that she had such a good sense of humor.
Good character and a sense of humor is what you want from the person who is going to slice into you with sharp instruments.

She immediately sent us for (more) blood work, this time to test for cancer markers (the CA125 marker, specifically, and one other we don't recall), and another ultrasound. This time with a focus on The Thing, because the The Thing wasn't a consideration in the first ultrasound. As an aside they did find two small fibroids, one measuring about 1cm in size. Which are just more small tumors, but completely normal. One thing I learned from research is that cysts in the reproductive organs are highly common, and the only time they become a problem is when they don't eventually pass through during a menstruation, in which case they turn into something like The Thing, and can become cancerous.

So that's that, essentially.

There will one of three surgical outcomes.
1) laparoscopy - that's the nice one. A couple of small cuts WITH LASERS (haha! fiber optic instruments, really, but still), and then they inflate the area so they can put a balloon around The Thing, and then extract it. This is the preferred method with the shortest amount of recovery time, and no overnight hospital stay.
2) laparotomy - this involves a larger linear cut. They'll "open us up", and extract it that way. Bigger cut. Overnight stay in the hospital. Bigger scar. Longer recovery. Less desired. (I'm only booking off ten days for recovery)
3) they make the first incision and see some crazy unexpected shit in there so they close it back up and reschedule the operation with a special specialist/surgeon.

We literally won't know which will happen until we wake up from surgery and see what happened. That sucks.

Aside from the general anxiety about going under for surgery, which was scheduled for the earliest date that fit both my work schedule, the recovery time required, and the surgeons schedule [September 7th]- it's our first time.
To cope with the uncertainty we've just been making jokes (it's our go-to mechanism) about how we never planned on using the ovaries anyway, and other such things. Sure, it's scary. But I have people to deal with that (see, that's a DID/MPD joke 😄)

To get a better idea of how big it is I took the dimensions provided by the last ultrasound and carved a model out of an overgrown zucchini because we had been having a difficult time envisioning it, like really putting context to The Thing.

Fun. Hey? That's roughly the size (it's a couple mm under, but you get the picture) illustrated in the photo. The coffee cup is to provide scale.

So, in addition to the unease about the surgery itself, there's also the risk of it being malignant (cancerous), which is more common with complex masses like The Thing. Guess we can't ever do anything the simple way.
When they handed us the pamphlet "So You Have An Ovarian Cyst" (just kidding, that's not what it's titled), we flipped through it on the back inside panel was the Warning Signs of Cancer of the Ovary.
Checking off the symptoms we have:
Check mark symbol bloating
Check mark symbol pelvic or abdominal pain
Check mark symbol back pain
Check mark symbol enlargement or swelling of the abdomen
Check mark symbol constipation
Check mark symbol feeling tired
         6 out of the 10. Not a great score, really.
13-21% of cysts that require surgical removal turn out to be cancerous [1]

The real concern at the moment is that that giant sack of crap will burst and flood our body will all sorts of madness. This has translated into augmenting our gym activities a bit, and taking a rest from running for while. Which is slightly miserable, but better than being poisoned by The Thing.

But here's where we buried the lead just a little.
This afternoon I called to inquire as to the status of the blood work they took back on August 1st and it came back clear! Which, in and of itself, isn't a definitive "No cancer" - that'll be determined  when the cut the bugger up - but it's a happy hurdle for sure. *releases the balloons*

At the end of it, this tale is meant to raise a little awareness of:
a) of how easy it is to miss a cyst in a routine pelvic exam. It was literally undetected in June during a the pelvic exam. The doctor thought the pain was going to be an issue with the gallbladder.
b) how easy it is to dismiss symptoms as something else, or not necessarily take a slight increase in severity seriously because you're just used to living with it.
c) how you should never let someone tell you the symptoms you are experiencing are because YOU'RE FUCKING OLD.
d) how you should pay attention to your body. Get to know it. Intimately.
That 15 pound weight loss didn't really translate into a big increase in clothing size. We never would have taken anything seriously if it wasn't for how much we pay attention to our body.

Get to know your body, because if you can catch an issue in time then you could save your own life.

Thanks for reading!
[1]  Office of Women's Health, US Department of Health and Human Services

As an aside. If you made it this far. Here's one thing. And this is not to pick on any one person. It's literally been loads of people doing it.
When someone tells you about such a situation, the last things they may want to hear is: how you had a friend who had one and she's okay now, or how much they're going to beat this, or any other such thing. It minimizes the seriousness. It's a lot like saying so-and-so has depression too, and they are fine. Other people experiencing the same thing is not always a comfort to the person experiencing the thing. In this case, you know who hasn't said anything? People who know people who have died from something like this, or in the case of people with mental health issues, all the very negative statistics.
People DIE from ovarian cancer.
According to the American Cancer Society it's the fifth most popular way to die of cancer.
While we are no way panicking about the situation, we have to be realistic, not foolishly optimistic. Because the best preparation for anything, is preparation for everything.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Brief Healthcare Rant

This will be brief. Promise.

This year will mark the first year we've had to face "modern day" insurance (much has changes over the last 13+ years).

And this is the first year since the ACA that we have moved from the Marketplace (Affordable Health Care system) to employer-based insurance. And just in time. Or so it seemed?

For those who are unfamiliar with having to use insurance for something other than a yearly physical (generally covered at no cost, in the case of many insurance plans), a deductible is a none-issue...until you have to get blood tests following that exam (to the tune of $500+, not covered by insurance unless you have already reached your deductible).

$500+. "No big deal".

But then, because you had some symptoms - in this case unexplainable abdominal pain, a sudden unexplainable weight gain of 15 pounds in a matter of a couple of weeks that persists for several months, even though you have changed nothing about your diet and exercise regimen, excessive unusual fatigue and dizziness...

Welcome to an ultra$ound. $$

And then the ultrasound results lead to a CAT $can. $$$

(still holding out on that it's nothing - this isn't about our health issues, today)

And then those three components lead to meeting your deductible.
The deductible is more than 10% of the net (post-tax, or take hoe pay) income of the employee who carries the plan (in this case, The Husband). It may even be more than 10% of the total household income.
[NEWSFLASH: not all households are two-income, and not all two-income households make a decent living wage despite the two income <- but this should not be shocking too you].

In this particular case it's the BEST plan the employer has to offer (and the employer is a multi-national company), and it still costs the household $480 a month just for the privilege of meeting the deductible.
It's likely that this is a standard situation. (Though, admittedly, there has been no personal research on the matter outside of discussions with friends and acquaintances, because this isn't a research piece as some of the posts and research papers on this blog are).

This household is fortunate in its financial position thanks to various situations, so while it may be an inconvenience at this point, it is in no way a disaster. No pity needed. Promise. 100%

However. Not being the types to be so narcissistic as to only think about personal plights...we can't help but be concerned....dumbfounded...astonished...that even in the case of a top plan, that any middle/middle-low/low class American can even manage sparing 10% of their income that is already stretched thin by all measures of modern life: people who have car loans, house payments, student debt, children. How the actual fuck are they managing any of it.

Yes. Once the deductible is met then the costs decrease...until the deductible resets. And then you're dropping that 10+% all over again. And endless pit.

The healthcare system in this country is ridiculous. Criminal. It is not a pro-life system, it is a pro-profit system. It is greedy and it is disgusting. And it makes us yearn for the years under the Canadian Healthcare system, as it does make The Husband yearn for his entire life under the NHS of the UK.

Profits before people.

Whatever happens with the Affordable Healthcare Act under the current administration is NOT going to alleviate the problem. By all honest reviews, both from accountable and responsible and trustworthy people on the left and right, it will exacerbate the problems that already exist, both within and outside of the marketplace. It will be worse than it was leading up to the ACA. It will be a disaster.

Not looking forward to that. And neither should be any reasonable and intelligent person.


We were actually brief!
Nailed it. 👊🏻

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Frankie Goes To Vegas: The Rockabilly Edition

This was the fourth trip to Las Vegas over the past just about 10 years, the second in just two, and marks the first that was for an actual event, and not just Vegas for the sake of Vegas.

The Official Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekend Cruiser
That event was Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekend, the longest running music festival in Vegas, where every cool cat - who loves to brandish a pompadour, or a greased doo, a fedora (or Trilby) [hat] or a porkpie [hat]; a wallet with a big chain and cuffed jeans with a white t-shirt, or big collared dress shirts, sports jackets with textured lapels and cuff-links, or bowling shirts (think Charlie Sheen in 'Two and a Half Men' with pinup ladies or tiki themed imagery); and pointed dress shoes, or saddle shoes, or suede loafers, even stylized cowboy boots - can just chill and hang loose. Viva is where gals who love anything decorated with skulls, little black sparrows, boat ankers, tiki themes, poodles, and don't forget the cherries...or the polka dots. Sweet Baby Jesus, the polka dots; from tight pinup dresses - pencil, wiggle, bell - with slits up to there; and then there's cardigans and big skirts, tight off the shoulder tops, corsets with hot pants, tiny shorts; and petticoats and garters (all manner of structural undergarments) with outrageous high heeled shoes, understated flats, or saddles for her...topping it all off with big hair, all colors, pin-curls, bouffants and victory rolls achieving impressive volume, Betty bangs, ponytails sitting high and proud, all coiffed to perfection with bows, or without, maybe spiked with giant flowers, sheer hair-scarfs (that also work as a neck adornment in a pinch, and also a ponytail adornment), perhaps a snood - and the makeup. Oh the makeup. Don't get us started (yet) on the makeup...all come together in one glorious show of fashion, and style.
It's Rockabilly, meets Psychobilly, meets Greaser, meets Pinup, meets "50s Housewife"...meets anything goes; it's Grease and Crybaby and Rebel Without A Cause, with a splash of Pleasantville, all coming to life under the hot April Vegas sun.
(Want to know more about the styles? Check out Vintage Dancer, What IS Rockabilly? Wiki It Here)

Not hip enough to dress up? Don't wanna be a hep cat? Squares are welcome too.
After all, everybody who has invested hundreds, even thousands, of dollars, not to mention massive amounts of time, need and want an audience.

This year marked the 20th anniversary of the event and It. Was. Massive.
Massive because not only has it has grown in popularity (people literally come from all over the world to attend), but also massive because, according to Tom Ingram, the diligent gentleman who started the event and keeps it thriving, along with a modest office staff, this year there was measurable wristband fraud. This means some group of assholes made counterfeit wristbands and attended events, events that are limited to a set number of attendees to prevent burdensome lines and overwhelming crowds. And the crowds were indeed overwhelming. And the lines, burdensome.

A little about wristbands. Wristbands are what those who purchase High-Roller Tickets wear, at $140 (US) a pop, in order to have unfettered access to all events, which includes, but is not limited to: all music acts - music acts that come from around the globe, first access to vendors - who also come from all corners, the car show, the burlesque shows - this year included much coveted tickets to see Dita Von Teese perform (some people started waiting for the tickets, which didn't become available on the day of access until 9am, as early as 4am), workshops and classes - such as hair and makeup, and dance, and the pool parties and swimsuit contests. You get the picture. High-Roller Tickets are the bees knees. And some utter tits went ahead and tainted the event. It definitely had an impact on us and the gentleman that accompanied us to the event. But it was still one of the best experiences, non-event activities included, in a long time.

Now a direction shift...
You can't talk Vegas without covering some basics.

Accommodations. The event takes place at The Orleans (just off strip). We didn't stay there because the rooms set aside for attendees booked fast and we didn't even plan on going to Viva until mid-September. The week Viva #20 started they opened up room booking for next year's Viva #21. While people were definitely able to snag rooms even the week of the event, it was more of a gamble than some would probably like. We opted for the Tropicana, it was not only retro, staying within the general 50s theme of the weekend, but also not that far away (though definitely not walk-able).

A word about the Tropicana. The weeks leading up to it meant obsessively reading reviews, both because of excitement and being weary of an older hotel in Vegas and wanting to see what people were saying about their stays. Previous Vegas trips had us staying at the MGM (twice) and the Aria, both generally solid quality establishments.
People seemed to be complaining a lot about the Tropicana, but personally it was better than last year at the MGM - we'd take this year's room over last year's MGM room in a dice roll. The room was spacious and looked true to the picture (A King bungalow room with a balcony). The view was great.
Evening view from the balcony of
a Tropicana bungalow room
It was clean and in better condition than one would expect, given that the room isn't in the part of the hotel that they have upgraded.
People just bitch too fucking much.
Look. If you go to Vegas and are shocked and upset that there is no coffee maker or refrigerator in the room, to the level you are going to complain in a review, you are not thinking logically about where you are. A Vegas hotel isn't like other hotels, first of all, they usually try to make themselves as self contained as possible and strive for profits. Of course they aren't going to have these items (unless you get a room at a higher price point) - they want you to use the coffee shop that pays them to be there, and the food courts and restaurants that also pay fees to be in their establishment. They want you down on the floor listening to the slots and the excitement, not hold up in your room drinking your disgusting self-brewed coffee (P.S. They don't clean those machines in hotels very often, if ever. Enjoy your moldy poor quality coffee, you fucking cheapskate) eating leftovers from Denny's. Because, look, if you're concerned about there not being a fridge and a coffee maker in your Vegas hotel room and feel the need to post a negative review because of it...let's be honest, you're probably the kind of person patronizing a fucking [international] chain restaurant like Denny's, on the Vegas Strip.

We digress.

The Tropicana was a solid pick. Yes, the halls smelled of stale cigarettes, but most everything does in Vegas unless it's a few years new or they are pumping perfume through the building (like at the Aria).

The Slut from Eggslut
Food. That being said. The Tropicana does not offer much, compared to other properties, in the way of food. Not that we tried anything, opting for coffee on the go.
We tried Eggslut at the Cosmopolitan. The Slut (a cage-free coddled egg on top of a smooth potato purée, poached in a glass jar, topped with gray salt and chives, served with slices of baguette) was delicious. Smooth, creamy, and full of what you need after a night (or day) of drinking: carbs, protein, and fat.
Croque Madam from Payard
We'll be honest, like with hydration (outside of the obvious alcohol), we failed to eat as much as we should (more about that soon). We did have breakfast another day, at Payard Patisserie & Bistro in Caesars Palace where we enjoyed Croque Madams (smoked ham, rich and creamy Béchamel sauce, Swiss cheese topped with a sunny-side up egg, and oven roasted tomato and mixed green salad) and shared a house smoked salmon plate. All very fresh and tasty.

Then of course there was brunch at Mandalay Bay's Bayside Buffet. Always a solid choice both when considering price and quality.

The Prime Rib Loft at The Orleans was surprisingly good for a restaurant that hadn't made the itinerary, or even showed up in any of the hours of reviews and lists that were poured over prior to the trip (try the Tempura Vegetables).
Also good at The Orleans was Big Al's Oyster Bar where we split a dozen delicious oysters on the half shell with our traveling companion and had an oyster shooter.
If you find yourself at The Orleans during meal time for whatever reason, both of these are worth a try.

The best meal, however, was at Wicked Spoon in the Cosmopolitan. True to fashion we arrived late. At 9:15 pm. A mere 45 minutes before they started pulling the food (more time is optimal when buffeting, don't you think?), so it was an plate-filling and eating bonanza. Not only that, but all parties involved realized that they had not eaten at all that day so as we piled food onto plates, hoofing them back to the table one by one, as the minutes counted down, the server pulled up another table on which we could place our bounty. Ultimately we got a little of everything we desired. Some dishes left us wanting more, and more time. Not a single thing was disappointing.
While the price tag is a little steep, this buffet is definitely worth it for true foodies. Forget the "famed" buffet at the Bellagio, while it is a very good choice for the meat and potatoes crowd, Wicked Spoon is a culinary adventure. And isn't that what you're in Vegas for? Adventure?
So Much Food at the Wicked Spoon
Okay, so now were down to the tips. <insert just the tip joke here>

6.5" Demonia PIXIE-17
Platform Spike Heart
Vegan Leather Heels
Tips. Our tips on Vegas in last year's blog post involved a lot of info about footwear choice. So obviously we didn't follow our own advice and instead, because of all the fabulous new this pair of Demonias, got creative with workarounds on how to wear uncomfortable virgin shoes.
While the pair pictured may look like hell. They were not as uncomfortable as the pair of 5" Pleaser SEDUCE-17 Peep Toe Ankle Wrap Sandal (black with red pipping). While sexy when standing and sitting (or, you know, on your back, probably) walking in them is akin to what a dying Savanna animal must look like, and feel like.

So we used a combination of gel inserts, Dr Scholl's Active Series Blister Defense Anti-Friction Stick (wicked product!), not wearing the same pair of heels twice in a row, wishing for a bone-saw, and at one point, for the second time in life, ending up barefoot on hot Vegas pavement.

Would we do it all again, footwear wise? You bet your sweet ass (though a cute pair of slides might make it into the mix for next time). Why? If you do it right you only end up with a few blisters by the end if that, unless you are used to this kind of footwear, and sore feet...and honestly your feet will be sore anyway. Plus, you'll look great (pack a pair of slides in your purse just in case).

Also, we broke our ride-share cherry and used Lyft everywhere possible, which was really a foot saver, and we loved it. The people were interesting and diverse, they were quick and friendly. After taking a cab a time or two, because the data connection in certain parts of The Orleans is complete crap and therefore the app has a difficult time connecting, it was clear that it's not all that much cheaper than the traditional cab - unless you get a promo deal like we did. More convenient? Definitely. Will we use Lyft for future vacations? Absolutely.

Always hydrate with water. Pure as fresh as you can get water. You're in the fucking desert.
We failed big time on this.
And eat.
You're not a super hero. You're not a camel. You can get sick and die.

Not only did we fail when it came to hydration and steady nutrition. We failed at taking OTC allergy mediation. How? Here is the equation:

Lack of Sleep + Alcohol + Dehydration + Malnutrition + 4 Claritins in less than 4 hours [apparently you're not supposed to take more than 1 in a 24 hour period and it actually says, when you Google Claritin, to "Avoid [alcohol]. Very serious interactions can occur" They are right] now mix all of that with sensory overload = will completely wreck you mentally.

Like brain melting, in a bad way.
Like an anxiety attack on crack.
Like you're crying uncontrollably, freaking our your (blessing of a) travel companion. And you are uncertain why this is happening.
And if you're dumb (*looks in mirror*), and don't realize that you are experiencing a twisted equation of doom and perhaps a mild overdose of OTC will be all the more terrified about what is happening.
Yeah. We should have read the package. But we were drunk and just on the cusp of an anxiety episode already (big crowds, too many people, lots of lights, noise, for too long of a time - we don't get out much).
Who wants to be all responsible and logical when dehydrated, starving, tired, drunk and overwhelmed. Pshaw.

OKAY. Enough of recounting that harrowing experience. Onward and upward!

Two final FUN things...maybe three: Fremont Experience, which in the past 10 years has transformed Fremont into...a lesser experience for someone who yearns for the days they could still find a smoke filled casino with old school Vegas slots. They have taken all the seedy out and have replaced it with more of what you're used to seeing on the Strip. Meh.
Still not terrible though, especially if you venture off and are lucky enough to get some photo shots of the old old old hotel properties turned  guerilla art installations that are soon to be no longer for this world. 

Oh Snap at Oak & Ivy
Fly Me To The Moon at Therapy
Bars to Try: 
Oak & Ivy, a craft whiskey and cocktail bar at the Container Park down the street from Fremont Experience
Therapy right off Fremont Experience (have a Fly Me to the Moon)
Park on Fremont, a gastopub across the street from Fremont Experience (their bathrooms/decor are very cool. Try a drink called Pillow Talk)

Cigar and Whiskey at Davidoff
Also worth a stop, back on the Strip, is Davidoff of Geneva for cigars and whiskey on a Vegas patio. If you're into that kind of thing.
Souvenir cup from
Frankie's Tiki Room

And don't forget about Frankie's Tiki Room, a quick Lyft ride from the strip and definitely the most authentic Tiki bar we've been to. Plus we got this wicked souvenir cup (which contained a drink called the Bearded Clam!

Now Back to VLV The Rockabilly Festival!

It was stellar.
There was so much to do and we only scratched the surface. It's clear why people come back year after year.
The music was great, we didn't catch as much as would have been preferred, but we did catch the sets of two of the important ones and got to listen to the sultry voice of Ms. Brenda Lee, and the rockin' stylings of Reverend Horton Heat (there was video, but Blogger is being a douche - needless to say, their performances were magical).

There were a handful of performers we caught a song or two from just by default of milling from room to room on the second floor of The Orleans, yet none of them were among the handful that was put into the itinerary...But there's always next year.

The pool party, while a brief visit, was a fun place to gaze upon the flesh of all assortments of people
while listening to yet more rockabilly music. This year they had a pool party each day, adding to the
big one they have always had on the last day (Sunday)...which the lines were too long for this year. We never did get to brandish our high waist two-piece with the bottoms that had little white skulls on black background, paired with a red bikini top. But there's always next year. 

Photo credit goes to travel companion,
Instagrams @synthesis
Being part of breaking the Guinness World Record for The Most People Jive Dancing on a Dance Floor at Once was an obvious highlight. However, a truly excruciating experience if you didn't eat and find yourself hungry, are a smoker, or have to pee. The first thing we heard as we walked through the door, after registering, and joining the growing crowd, was "If you have to pee you're screwed. Grab a garbage can if you have to"...because once you're in, you're in, as per official World Record Rules. But once the dance starts, and you get your rhythm (and you must, because you cannot stop, you
cannot improvise, it has to be pure jive for 5 straight minutes), it's amazing. And when you can finally stop and it's announced that it's official, you were just one of 520 people to become part of record breaking history, it's exciting.
It even gave pause to a hardcore smoker who had been trapped in that ballroom for hours itching for a smoke (that was not us!🙂)

Unfortunately we didn't get to go to any of the record hops (aka sock hops) and dance more, an activity we were very much looking forward to...But there's always next year.

Photo credit goes to travel companion,
Instagrams @synthesis
Then there's the car show, beautiful restored and maintained cars, shinny colors and chrome with fun hood ornaments and pin-stripping, just radiating under the hot sun. We managed to only see about 1/5th of the cars, if that, whole sections went unexplored (it was hot, shoes needed to be removed, bobby socks needed to found in vendor tents)...But there's always next year.

Do you see a theme yet?

And finally, we splurged and got our hair done up by Vegas' Heads Will Roll Beauty Salon on Saturday. Best money spent on hair ever. Highly recommend these ladies for any event. Will certainly be returning next year, maybe for two appointments...

So, that's the latest trip. And that's Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekend. There are probably some things missing.
We got the clothes and the shoes and the makeup...all ready to try it again next year.


This is all the way down here and out of the way because it's for a very select audience.
Okay ladies (and some gentlemen) here are some products we found useful in trying to create vintage makeup look, accessible, and at a low price for a starter. Things we never dreamt of purchasing and using, some are going to be incorporated into any day looks.

  • Rimmel London Scandal Eye Gel Eyeliner - good for a thick cat eye, or wing
  • e.l.f. Eyeliner pen (super inexpensive from Target) - good for a thin wing
  • Benefit Cosmetics Roller Lash Super Curling & Lifting Mascara (available in a mini travel size)
  • **Smashbox Photo Finish Foundation Primer - GAME CHANGER. Never used primer before. Love this product. It does unbelievable things.
  • **Ulta Matte Makeup Setting Spray - there are probably better products, but this is a first for this kind of product and it's pretty impressive if you need your makeup to get you through long days.
  • Ulta Contour Kit - also a first. It's pretty cool. And inexpensive if you want to play with contouring. 
If you're looking for clothes, Amazon. So inexpensive. Lots to choose from in everything from a Small to a 2-3XL. Use search words like pinup, rockabilly, and retro. Also there are loads of other retailers at your fingertips with the same words in a Google search, providers of lush dresses in the hundreds of dollars range. Totally worth looking at for the lust factor.
Same goes for shoes, especially for you larger footed ladies...they have a good selection for size 11-12. But also don't ignore merchants online who cater to cross-dressers and the transgender community!

Hopefully some of this has been useful. Feel free to leave comments, questions, suggestions.
If you see spelling or grammar errors please contact us directly on Twitter @JustCallMeFrank or Facebook: Frank E Ly

As always, harassing and rude comments will be removed at the discretion of this writer. So be an adult.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Briefly Deconstructing the Snowflake

Image Source Link
Looking back on the last year, there was definitely topics to write about, from mental health, to communication, to relationships, to politics (and everything beneath that umbrella)...but the topics never made it to ink and paper, virtual or otherwise.

Let's call it getting into the groove of self-employment post graduation (a year and a half in and loving it), and travel (shout out to all the great people we saw last year), and gardening (year three was a mild success), plus working on finishing up the Lady Cave (still not complete, more to come on that), and let's be honest...just too much election...too much bullshit...too much real shit...too much.

But it's 2017 now.

It's still too much. Too much too fast. Watching the very fabric of this county being ripped apart at the well-stitched seams; and if you have no idea what is going on because you only watch local news, read local papers and/or pay attention to very specific news outlets, then Google search: Trump with any number of the following key terms [and click the 'News' tab] - Mexico, Australia, Taiwan, China, UK, Exports Mexico, Exports Russia, Muslims, Travel Ban, Immigration, Johnson Amendment. Constitution, First Amendment, Press Suppression, Reproductive Rights, Education...the list could literally go on and on.
Note: do the search in an incognito [Google] Chrome search window (Ctrl+Shift+N) this way it will ensure it's giving you a more "pure" search not based on your search and user history. Also, none of these searches will impact your future searches via your Google account.

It's not even like when you have a shirt that has a loose thread that you constantly pull at, that you forget about every once and awhile, and eventually your procrastinating ass clips and double stitches the breach; this is full-on pull the seam ripper from the sewing box and dismantle the shirt stuff.
It makes a rational person shudder. Especially a rational person who has a clear understanding of history, and how abuses of power in the wrong hands can destroy countries. For more on that please see every superpower that crumbled in the entire history of recorded human history...

Anyway. On the the Snowflake.

This past week it became necessary to explain to one of our old political science professors (a professor we do occasional work for, and also go visit to hash out politics with every couple of months) what a Snowflake it. Trying to use all the words possible to get the point across, he finally got it when the words "sensitive libtard" tumbled from these lips - a detestable infantile word used by the Right when they are all out of constructive debate tactics, or they just want to be bullies. (For more on the horrors of being a libtard read this guest blog post: 'I'm a "Libtard", Apparently'.)

Having had to explain such a politically potent slur to a political science educator became just another weird teaching a teacher moment - shouldn't he know these things? - like when we brought him an argument, backed by data, about how 'Culture War? The Myth of a Polarized America' was outdated and incorrect, and he then decided to stop using it as a teaching tool, because it was indeed incorrect. This was almost exactly two years ago. Not a minute too late. Right?
People never stop learning, no matter who they are or how old they are.
Okay. Some people definitely stop learning. But that's a choice.

So what is a Snowflake, really?
There are plenty of variations of the definition, but it generally comes back to the "Libtard" paradigm.
A "Snowflake" is someone who is "easily" insulted, or takes offence.
[Older uses of the word have more to do with someone somehow insinuating that they are unique or special. This is not that kind of snowflake. This is the snowflake that has been appropriated by the Alt-Right/White Nationalists/White Supremacists/Neo-Nazis/Right/GOP/Republicans]
Delving further, a Snowflake is someone who is insulted, disgusted, offended, and angered (proponents of the word would say easily) by things such as racism, bigotry, sexism, bullying, "alternative facts", inequality, making fun of handicapped people, targeting people for abuse based on gender, sex, sexual orientation, *religious discrimination, (calm down Christians, you're never being unfairly targeted or discriminated against in the USA, your privilege is well in tact, check it), anti-intellectualism, the death of democracy, ruining/destroying the planet, this country becoming a crumbled mass of fallout debris, etc. You get the picture. They care about stuff, and people.
These people will usually be vocal, via social media outlets - though surely there have been snowflakes at protests, and on TV, and Radio, and in the newspapers.
Snowflakes will express their concerns about how they feel and what they think, which makes them a target of the Alt-Right/White Nationalists/White Supremacists/Neo-Nazis/Right/GOP/Republicans who, in turn, upon confrontation, or just in passing, will spew any manner of derogatory terms (in addition to "libtard", or calling someone "whinny", See Also: "cuck", though this one is usually directed at conservatives who the alt-right white supremacists find weak and ineffectual), either before, during, or after a digital debate in which they have lost footing and/or have nothing of factual value to offer. Need proof? You simply need to read the replies below Tweets and Facebook posts.

Essentially a Snowflake, in this definition then, is a person who cares about other people's freedom, other people's happiness, the environment, culture, education...usually from an educated standpoint, who generally wants to be respectful to people and their many differences.
What a terrible person, right? Like, who wants to care about those things?
Other people?
Be a good person?
Shit, man.
Money is all that matters. Money and controlling a woman's reproductive rights, amiright. Fuck the environment. Clean water? That's what filters are for. Fuck the future of the children. They'll live in glass domes or some shit some dumb scientist came up with. *snorts* Science dumb. Book learnin' is for pussies. *high fives grunting friend* Go God (but, like, only the Christian one).

This is not to say said Snowflakes are perfect, and never name call (or blatantly make fun of the lesser developed homo sapiens), but it usually takes some pressure to push them, despite their "delicate snowflake nature". They'll crack once in awhile. Melt? Shit. That analogy doesn't work so well.
In any case, it's pretty sad and pathetic that people have to deal with bullies because they are nice and caring, and want the best for the country, and it's pretty sad that this bullying is a national phenomenon in such a way that one of the bullies is ruining the country.
That wasn't a spelling error.

Just remember, all you active and would be bullies: One snowflake behind a screen may be an easy target. But the snowflakes of the USA are getting pretty agitated.
You know what happens though, when you have a bunch of snowflakes whipped into a frenzy?
A goddamn blizzard.
And take it from someone who lives in the American Midwest. Blizzards kill.

As an aside, there is nothing more "delicate" and "snowflake"-like about a man, or his followers, who attacks every person who criticizes them or their actions from a place of caring and concern, brandishing facts - you know, the real kind - or threatens those who don't do as they say.
That is authoritarianism, and fascism, and definitely not democracy.

So there you have it. A brief deconstruction of the Snowflake.

Thanks for reading. Hopefully this'll be the year of getting back into writing. :-)

Time for some whiskey.

[*Religion is a private matter, and a choice, and as such it should be practiced in the home, in ones private life, not forced upon other people, not used to discriminate in public businesses and services.
You don't have to let the person that is not living their life to your religious value into your home. You can even keep your kids from dating them. You certainly don't have to have sexual relations with them, or perform their abortions, or dress like them.
You can choose not to patron their businesses/services...those things are your private life.
When you negatively impact the way other people live their lives, by creating laws to prevent them from doing so, you are doing nothing more than enforcing a kind of "Sharia Law" - laws derived from religious "tradition" - on society.]

PLEASE NOTE: Comments of a harassing, ignorant, and bullying nature will be removed. Ain't nobody got time for your motherfucking hate.

For more political-type essays/writings from this blog:

Patriotism and Religion in Persisting Social Stratification: The Evolution of Knowledge - A University Essay