Monday, December 28, 2009

Kim's Time in America

In one of Kim's classes, she was instructed to create a presentation regarding a life-changing experience.  She chose to chronicle her time with us in America, living as a foreign exchange student.  She put the presentation on a DVD and gave it to us as a Christmas present.  We were so pleased with it, and wanted to share it with everyone.  (It has audio, so turn your speakers on!)  Enjoy!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Super Secret Gifts

Ever since Jeremiah and I got married, "super secret gifts" for birthdays, anniversaries, or Christmas have been pretty non-existent.  Call me boring, but we're both content with telling the other what we'd like, and then going out and buying it.  Usually it's hard to even think of ideas for gifts around holidays because we tend to buy the things we want at the time we first desire it.  (No, we don't have kids.  Yes, we have disposable income).  In addition, all of our financial accounts are intertwined, so there's really no such thing as a secret purchase.  I keep up with all the bills, balances, payments, etc, so I see all the activity that takes place.  If a charge came through to Zales a few days before my birthday, that would give me a heads-up of an upcoming jewelry receipt!  I'm perfectly fine with this arrangement, because I don't really need to be surprised.  My joy comes from giving and receiving gifts, with no regard for whether I or the other person knew it was coming.   

Jeremiah threw me for a loop this past year, however, when it came to my birthday.  He plays in a poker game every other week, which requires a regular cash withdrawal from our account.  He usually withdraws a little more than necessary for the buy-in, and uses the excess or any winnings to cover trivial expenses throughout the week.  Unbeknown to me, Jeremiah had been storing away the excess in a secret place for months leading up to my birthday.  On the day of, he handed me a wad of cash and said, "Happy birthday.  Go shopping."  That was cool because he had thought about my birthday far in advance, and found a way to sneak money for its purpose without alerting me.  Besides doing that, though, how do you keep gifts secret from a spouse?  I'm sure it's easier for wives to buy gifts for their husbands because more than likely they keep up with the finances.  What do husbands in this situation do?  (Or vice versa if the roles are reversed?)

This year, like all others, we discussed the top items we wanted to buy around Christmas.  Luggage, a Chi, a backpack, a suit, etc.  So over the past couple of weeks, we went together and bought - you guessed it - luggage, a Chi, a backpack, a suit etc.  No surprises there, and we both came out with the items we desired.  For some reason though, over the past week, I decided I wanted to do something a little different.  Jer's favorite football team is the 49ers, and I started thinking about how cool it would be to get him tickets to a game.  Living in Dallas, the 49ers are hardly ever televised here.  He's never specifically asked for tickets, but I knew he'd enjoy watching a game in person.  So I worked my magic and found awesome seats on the 3rd row on the 45 yard line for the game against St. Louis in a couple weeks.  I went on Southwest and booked us some cheap flights to Missouri.  Boom!  Super secret gift achieved!  Jer had no idea I was planning on doing this (heck, I had no idea until 5 minutes before I did it).  It's not a box on Christmas he gets to open with awe-filled surprise, but it was a phone call he received that started with, "Can I do something crazy, which would require us to take a day trip?"  Haha.  So there was an element of surprise, and there certainly was an element of joy on both of our parts.  I'm fine with going back to our normal routine next year, but this year I let my wild streak take hold for a few minutes.  :)       

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

California Trip 2009

This year for Thanksgiving we decided to take a vacation.  We thought it would be fun to take Kim on a tour of California before she heads back to Germany next month.  Jer had never been to California either, so we knew it would be a lot of fun for everybody!  My nephew David joined us as well. 

Our first stop was San Francisco.  We stayed at the Omni Hotel near Union Square.  The location was perfect and the hotel was beautiful.  We met up with our friends Brett and Lena and they graciously showed us around the city.  They were the best tour guides ever!  We were able to take some fantastic pictures of the skyline and the famous bridges from ideal spots, thanks to their insider knowledge.  We visited Union Square, Downtown, Chinatown, Coit Tower, Haight-Ashbury, Japantown, Castro, the Bay Bridge, and the Golden Gate Bridge.  Our second day there, we took a cruise out of Fisherman's Wharf to Alcatraz.  The boat ride there was foggy, but once we arrived on the island the fog lifted and we were exposed to some ridiculously beautiful scenery.  We spent a couple of hours touring the island and learning about the prison.  If you are ever in San Francisco, I recommend taking this tour.  It was well worth the money.  Here are a few highlights from that part of the trip:


After spending two days in San Francisco, we headed down south to Hollywood.  Right when we drove up, the valet guy pointed out that Reggie Miller was across the street at Saffore's luxury grooming salon.  I snapped a quick photo of him, paparazzi style.  We stayed in a really cool suite at the Andaz West Hollywood Hotel on Sunset Boulevard.  It faced the strip and had an additional sunroom sitting area complete with chaise lounge, loveseat sofa, mini flat screen television, and floor-to-ceiling windows creating an unobstructed view.  It was an awesome place to sit and relax.  While in Hollywood, we checked out Grauman's Chinese Theater, the Walk of Fame, the Kodak Theater, Rodeo Drive, Mulholland Drive, the Grove, Melrose Avenue, the Beverly Center, and of course the famous Hollywood sign.  One day for lunch we dined at The Little Next Door Cafe and it was awesome!  The atmosphere was really neat and the food was great too.  One afternoon we took a drive out to Santa Monica to get our beach fix.  We strolled along the pier and walked down by the water.  Right before we left, we noticed a film crew and realized they were from the show Criminal Minds.  That was really cool to see!  Some of the main actors from the show were there, and we got to watch them film a scene.  Here are some photos from that portion of our trip:


After we departed Hollywood, we made stops in Seal Beach and Laguna Beach.  It was a whole different world in LB!  The weather was beautiful and we were extremely jealous of the people playing sand volleyball on the beach in late November!

From Laguna Beach, we traveled further south to San Diego and Coronado Island.  Coronado was a really fun place, with a beautiful beach.  We experienced an amazing sunset there.

In San Diego, we stayed at the Omni Hotel, right across from Petco Park.  The view from our room was of the San Diego Bay and the naval base.  While there, we visited the famous San Diego Zoo.  I'm an animal-lover, so of course I enjoyed this experience!  They have more exotic animals than my local zoo, and more of each species.  It was cool to see the panda bears, the koala bears, and the polar bears.  There was a neat viewing area where you could watch the polar bears play underwater, and we were treated to a hilarious wrestling match from two of the playful bears.  On Thanksgiving, we found a restaurant serving a traditional turkey dinner so that Kim could still experience at least a little of an American Thanksgiving!  We ate at Suite & Tender and really enjoyed it.  It's a really fancy, schmancy restaurant, but it was worth it since it was a special occasion!  On our last day of vacation, we ventured into Tijuana, Mexico.  That was an interesting expedition!  We walked across the border with no trouble, and took a taxi into the heart of the city.  We were hounded by shop owners and restaurant owners, but it didn't bother us too much.  We tried a taco from a little road-side stand and it was probably the best one I've ever eaten!  We spent a couple hours there, and then decided to head back into the US to catch our flight home.  While we were waiting in the line to get through Customs, a guy walked along selling passports and driver's licenses.  Interesting.  We politely declined, and made our way across the border.  I think we all breathed a sigh of relief once we were back on American soil!  All in all, our trip to California was a blast and I'm so glad we went!


Friday, December 11, 2009

Bone Marrow Donation Update 2

I spoke with the NMDP today, and they informed me that the results of my physical were good.  That means the donation is happening!  We set the date for Friday, January 15th.  I should be checking into the hospital really early that morning, and then getting released that evening.  I believe they are telling the boy and his family very soon since we just got the all clear.  Up to this point, they had no idea the doctor even found a potential match in the registry.  Hopefully their Christmas is a little more joyful knowing he's about to receive a transplant.
Right before my donation, the boy will receive high doses of chemotherapy and possibly radiation therapy. It will destroy the diseased cells in his body, destroy the blood-forming cells in his bone marrow to make room for new cells and destroy his immune system so it cannot attack the donated cells after the transplant. The doses of chemotherapy and radiation therapy are much higher than would be used to treat the same disease in a patient who was not getting a transplant, and they may last four to ten days.  Upon completion of the preparatory treatment, he will receive my bone marrow within one to two days.
Keep him in your thoughts the few days before my donation, because I'm sure it will be a stressful experience for him and his family.  I am very much looking forward to January 15th, though, and I hope everything goes as planned.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Bone Marrow Donation Update

I spoke with the National Marrow Donor Program again, and was given a little more information. They test 6 antigens and I matched all 6 with a 10 year old boy with leukemia. They call this a "perfect" match. I went in last Thursday for a one hour information session, followed by a physical. They drew more blood, did an extensive health history, urinalysis, EKG, and chest Xray. (There was no cost to me for any of this). After evaluating the results of those, and assuming I'm healthy enough for the process, they'll schedule a donation date. Tentatively we are shooting for mid-January.

There are two ways to donate - a bone marrow donation or a PBSC donation. The patient's doctor has requested a bone marrow donation, but ultimately it is my decision. I've read their materials, watched a video, and asked a lot of questions, and I think the bone marrow donation is the route I will take. I will make the final decision after the results of my physical are known. The bone marrow donation involves anesthesia and it is a surgical procedure. It typically lasts less than 2 hours, and the donor can usually go home the same day. Soreness and fatigue will usually occur, and may last weeks. The PBSC donation requires that you get injections of a drug called filgrastim for five days preceding the donation date. Your blood is then removed through a needle in one arm and passed through a machine that separates out the blood-forming cells. The remaining blood is returned to you through the other arm. This process is similar to donating plasma. Depending on the amount they need to extract, it can take anywhere from 4 to 8 hours, and might be separated out into two days. There is no soreness, but you may experience headache or bone or muscle aches for several days before collection, a side effect of the filgrastim injections. These effects disappear shortly after collection.

With everything I know right now, I think the best and least scary/uncomfortable situation for me would actually be doing the anesthesia and getting it over with in less than 2 hours. I already fainted the first time I tried to give my blood samples, and started to feel a little queasy the second time I gave my samples, so I just think 4 - 8 hours hooked up to needles in my arms would be torture. I would hate to get hooked up and then faint and then not be able to complete the process (and possibly have it happen repeatedly). I'm a little scared about the actual donation, but I'm not wavering in my commitment to go through with it. Survival rates after getting a transplant range from 30 to 60%. Without a transplant, 0 to 15%.

More to come....