Live Tweeting the State of the Union from the White House

I’ve lived in DC for only 12 days and already I’ve been inside the White House compound to be selected as part of an elite group of social media members to take part in The White House State of the Union Social.

I was selected as one of the 100 social media members to watch an enhanced screening of President Obama’s State of the Union Address live from the White House. Following the screening, we participated in a panel discussion with Administration policy advisors about the visions and policies presented during the speech. Really, is there a better “Welcome to DC” experience than hanging out with the executive branch in the White House compound?

Security was more disorganized than I expected but a lot less invasive, too. Thank goodness it was a beautiful winter night because they had us wait outside for 45 minutes. Security took our ID’s twice at separate gates while we waited for security clearance and to get our badge. Me, being the girl who makes friends and talks to everyone everywhere I go, met two girls while we waited outside. Turns out, one of the girls was likely in my recruitment group Freshman year at Indiana. It’s such a small world, isn’t it?

Once we got clearance, they directed us to the Eisenhower Executive Office. While we were waiting for President Obama to begin, I took a picture with the White House sign.

Sara and I just wanted a photo together with the White House sign but what we got was my favorite photo of the night. It was a complete coincidence and just good timing that this happened:

Oh you know, just the President looking down over us
Oh you know, just POTUS looking down on us

Once the State of the Union Address began, we all whipped out our devices and the tweeting and social media frenzy commenced. The Enhanced Broadcast was streamed live on the website but actually physically being in the room was an awesome experience. Despite the wifi being ridiculously slow, the energy in the room was exciting and electric and I felt like I was somebody to be. People reacted, laughed and clapped in unison. And together, we shared our experience with our followers. While on a bit of a delay for online viewers, the Enhanced Broadcast really made watching the SOTU so much more interesting. I don’t think I’ll ever watch on CNN again. (I hear they had split screens for the shooting?) They had infographics and factoids and all kinds of cool images. We were encouraged to take pictures and get our followers involved (obviously, that is why we were there.)

When discussing equality and equal pay, the Enhanced Broadcast showed the meme of the President and Mckayla Maroney doing the “Not Impressed” face together. Clearly they aren’t impressed by unequal opportunities and believe in equal rights for all. Between hosting the White House Social and the simple act of including the meme in the broadcast, it showed me that the administration is embracing change and social media and is accepting of the fact that things are evolving. It shows me progress. It shows me that our country isn’t rigid and stubborn and set in our pre-historic ways. It shows me that we will advance, not regress. It shows me that they are tuned into what is going on in the world outside of the political agenda.

Social media offers a way for everyday citizens to interact with the Administration and policy advisors, with The First Lady or POTUS, with celebrities and peers. It puts us all on even playing ground and gives the silent a voice. To be able to interact in this way is what makes social media so unique and impactful. This Administration is utilizing social media and giving citizens a way to be heard through things like State of the Union Social and an initiative called Citizens Respond. With Citizens Respond, you can go online to read the SOTU speech, dissect it line by line and discuss it with the President. This isn’t the first presidential address to the nation online as Clinton first did it back in June 2000. But it is just the beginning of social media playing a role in such monumental national and international events.

While delivering the SOTU, the President showed he is one of the greatest public speakers of our time. He showed that he is personable, playful and lighthearted. I like that even though the President was discussing very serious matters, he was able to make light of some situations by cracking a few witty jokes and smiling. His casualness through comments like, “Good job, Joe” or “Germans are job ready by HS graduation. Let’s do that.” or regarding climate change “send me that bill, Why would we be against that?” or even pushing fathers to be more than a sperm donor but to actually care to raise the child, really make me like him more. He showed his personality and as a citizen, I appreciate that about him.

Sotu13

The panel afterwards wasn’t so much of us participating as it was us asking questions and having the policy advisors answer them. There were too many questions (from in the room and online via Facebook, Google +, Twitter etc) and not enough time. I had a couple of questions prepared but never got the opportunity to ask them aloud.

It was such an amazing and unique experience to be a part of. So, for those that follow my personal Twitter account, I am sorry I’m not sorry for infiltrating your feeds with #SOTU #WHSocial tweets. I am so grateful that I was selected to be apart of this special group. I won’t share all of them here, but here are some of my favorite or most ReTweeted tweets from last night:

climate change

Chris Hardball tweetPOTUS is a funny man

minimum wageto be a dad - potusdeserve a voteScreen shot 2013-02-13 at 12.42.20 PMmarriage equality

Side notes or factoids that the Enhanced Broadcast shared or :

  • We saw 645k tweets last year and 1.1 million today during #SOTU Way to make history!
  • There were 24,000 tweets per minute during the #guncontrol portion of the #SOTU
  • I applaud the notion that President Obama wants to put our nation’s interests before the party agenda. This got the evenings first standing ovation.
  • I’m impressed that cyber security got a mention in the speech.

And I’m famous! But I sure hope that wasn’t my 15 minutes of fame. I was caught live on camera during the online Enhanced Broadcast #WHchat after the speech. It is proof I was paying attention and not picking my nose, incessantly tweeting or doing anything embarrassing. See me?! I guess my, “I’m paying attention” face makes me look very serious. I’ve got to work on that one…I'm famous at SOTU

I am honored that I got selected to be apart of this social media event. I can’t help but feel like my efforts as a community manager and social media member have been successful at making an impact on others. Being at this event made me so extremely proud that we reelected @barackobama. America, you like some weird stuff and I don’t always agree, but man, you got this one right! I am optimistic that the next four years will bring great progress and change. I think we are going to see tremendous outcry over controversial things, but I believe we are advancing and evolving as a nation, and  we are finally heading in the right direction.

 
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Leave your first world expectations at home.

1) View of Mt. Kilimanjaro peeking over the clouds from our home-base balcony 2) Bunk beds & mosquito nets 3) Dining shelter and home-base 4) laundry

***

The whole flying time was about 22 hours from Chicago to  Tanzania. Somewhere during this time, I realized I enjoy flying alone. I enjoy the peaceful “me time” that I get. It is nice not having to answer to anyone, to get away from it all, to get lost in thought and just be disconnected for those hours of solitude. I even enjoy finding my way around a foreign airport or city on my own. To me, solo exploration is liberating and empowering and builds independence. Excuse me while I daydream about this now…

Okay, I’m back. So it finally hit me when I was landing in Kilimanjaro, Tanzania that I was actually about to step foot in Africa! I’m not going to lie, it was so exhilarating that I definitely shed a few tears of pure elation and joy knowing that 20 years of dreaming was over. Within seconds of stepping foot on the tarmac at Kilimanjaro International Airport and before I could enter the doors, the power went out. I knew my luggage hadn’t made the layover from Nairobi to Kilimanjaro, so when I arrived,  I gave my information and they recorded it manually by hand, not by computer.When I got to the home base that first night, like the airport, the power was out there too. I quickly realized I wasn’t in Kansas anymore and that I’d have to adjust to the power frequently going out. I learned to appreciate it (and the fan, too) when it was on.

It was two full days before I had clean clothes other than what I had in my carry-on. I knew my luggage was out of my control and I’d get it eventually. So why stress? Immediately, I embraced the Hakuna Matata mantra (Think Lion King – yes it really does mean no worries/problems) that the Tanzanians live by. Like the power, there were several things that I had to adjust to. Things you use daily and don’t think twice about at home, are luxuries or even foreign concepts in other places of the world. When you travel to a third world country, first world expectations need to be left at home. 

Luxuries & things we take for granted

  • CCS Home-base living accommodations: There were about 30 volunteers all living in one house together. We were extremely privileged with our accommodations. It was nothing like a 4 star hotel or anything, not even close, but compared to locals, we lived like kings.
  • Running water– while we had running water, we were instructed not to use the tap water for any reason other than showering and washing our hands because we could get sick from the un-purified water or catch a water-born illness. The home-base staff provided us with filtered water tanks to fill our water bottles and to brush our teeth.
  • Indoor plumbing – although I got really good at ‘popping a squat,’ especially on the mountain, we were lucky the home-base had toilets with actual toilet seats, rather than holes in the ground.
  • Clean water – Every time I saw Brenda, the little neighbor girl, squat down and drink directly from the stream, my heart would break a little. The kids would drink directly from the same dirt-filled stream that they washed their clothes in. Without clean water, it is easy to understand why the kids were always so dirty.
  • Being clean – even being clean was a luxury. Every day we would get filthy dirty. Most of the roads are rocky and covered in red dirt. It was nearly impossible to stay clean. Just from walking around, my feet would get so dirty that when I took my Keens off, I had deep dirt lines that looked like I was still wearing sandals. I constantly had hand prints on my shirt from my students.
  • Shower- yes, having running water and a shower was more than what some of the locals had. I’d see people cleaning their arms and feet in the nearby streams.
  • Hot water – we had to turn on the hot water heater with a switch before showering but that didn’t guarantee that the hot water (or power) wouldn’t run out before you were finished.
  • Laundry – My mom asked me when I returned if they had washing machines and I couldn’t help but laugh. No, there were no washing machines or dryers. We had to hand wash all of our clothes and put them out on the line to dry, just like the locals. At least we were lucky enough to have clean running water to rinse our clothes in. I would frequently see women washing their clothes in the dirt-filled streams. Once dry, we had to iron everything to kill any Mango Fly eggs that might be nested on our clothes. The heat from the iron kills the eggs. Some people said it wasn’t Mango Fly season and didn’t iron their stuff but having Mango Flies in my underwear and vajayjay was not a risk I was willing to take. My question remains, what do the locals do during season? I don’t think they all own irons.
  • Room situation-I shared a small room with 4 other volunteers and we each had our own bed with mosquito net. Each room even had its own shower, sink and toilet. See? We lived in luxury like kings. Guilty.
  • Electricity – As I learned early on, power was very sporadic. It frequently went out leaving us to write in our journals or shower by flashlight. The school had no electricity at all. The windows provided the lighting for the room.
  • Clothing- We take for granted that we have clothes that fit and options to choose from. The kids often had shoes that didn’t fit or safety pins where buttons should be to keep their pants up, and they wore the same thing every.single.day. The kids wore the same thing every single day, so rotating between 3 skirts for 3 weeks was totally acceptable.
  • Language- we take being able to communicate for granted. I give teachers credit. It’s hard work, especially when you can’t explain the directions because they don’t understand english or if a kid comes to you crying. You helpless when this happens because you don’t know what happened and you know that whatever you say to comfort the kid, doesn’t matter because to them you are speaking gibberish.
  • Air Conditioning –  It was usually about 90 degrees but it was a pleasant and comfortable heat. There was no A/C, only fans at the home-base. And that fan only worked when the power was on. The first time I felt A/C was at a hotel in Zanzibar. I was like, “What is this cold air!?!” I had forgotten what it felt like after 2 weeks without it.
  • Paved streets –Most of the main roads are paved but the side streets are not. They are so rocky, you are pretty much off-roading every time you get in the car. I considered seeing a chiropractor upon my return because of all the bouncing.
  • Sidewalks – There are none. Locals walk or ride their bike everywhere and they do so on the side of the street. This is by no means safe because cars don’t seem to abide by any traffic laws. Like London, they drive on the left but there were plenty of times where we drove on the right side of what would be presumed to be the shoulder, even with oncoming traffic heading right towards us.
  • School Resources – Or seriously lack thereof. You are probably imagining your elementary school with school supplies galore: chairs, art decorations, lights, paper, a whiteboard, toys, crayons, and a playground. The schools in Tanzania have none of that. I was lucky in that my school had more resources than others. I had pencils, desks and a barely functioning chalkboard. One of the volunteers said that his school of three to seven year olds used razor blades as pencil sharpeners. Razor blades! The chalk is so cheap it crumbles upon contact and the kids use sharp bottle caps to help them count for math.  People complained that they didn’t have enough supplies, but at the end of the day, You really just need to make do with what you have. That is what the community does, and they survive. So did we. Future CCS volunteers BRING SUPPLIES WITH YOU to Africa. They are not considered donations if you use it to help you teach and the school doesn’t become dependent on it. I will talk more about school in a later post.
  • Internet access To have internet at your fingertips is a first world luxury. We were lucky that the home-base had a wi-fi connection, although it was dodgy and only worked a handful of times. The lack of wi-fi turned out to be an interesting social experiment. When the internet was down, the volunteers actually held conversations and took an interest in each other at the dining tables. It was obvious when the wi-fi was working because people would be silently staring into their lap. We had wi-fi for a day before it went out and that was enough to make people complain and feel entitled to need have it. I think many volunteers forgot they were in Africa, a third world country, and would complain incessantly when the Internet went out. #Firstworldproblems I didn’t expect to have any Internet at the home-base so I had mentally prepared myself to do as the locals do, and only get Internet from the Internet Cafe’s in town, so to me, it was a privilege to have it at all (when it worked).

Why have we become so reliant and dependent on technology? Why is it so hard to detach? Have we become so untrusting that no one can do our job as well as we can, so we have to check in constantly?  Is it out of fear we are missing something that we are always “checking in”? News flash, being in Africa is way cooler than whatever it is your friend made for dinner back at home. Yet, people can’t seem to disconnect.

  • Food – For most of us in The States, we are lucky that food is plentiful, we can go to the store whenever we want and we have grocery stores filled with endless options. For some of the students in Tanzania, the only food they would get for the whole day was the porridge we served them. It is a cornmeal based drink that looked white and chalky and reminded me of an oatmeal paper mache. It didn’t look appetizing but the kids drank it and were always grateful saying, “Thank you TEACHA!” And here were some of the volunteers complaining that they wanted more variety or spices at the home-base. I was appalled that they couldn’t just be appreciative that we being served food at all, let alone three delicious meals a day.

While the volunteers were complaining, they weren’t appreciating the quality and freshness of the food. It was wonderful to have such fresh and natural food that hasn’t been genetically modified. In East Africa, if you want fruit like an avocado, banana, or mango, you pick it from your tree or get it from the local store. You want beef? You either kill your own cow or the butcher kills his. You want pork? Same thing, kill your pig. The cows are not given hormones or steroids to fatten them up. You can actually taste the freshness in the food. Most families keep animals for food, not as pets. It was common to see animals everywhere. Some are acquired from dowry’s; cows for meat and milk, chickens for meat and eggs; and pigs for pork. Dogs are not pets, they roam free and like the chickens, they have to fend for themselves to find their own food. I know we have “free-range” chickens in The States, but in East Africa there are no chicken farms or cages. They are literally free-range. Even the yolk is not as dark yellow as it is here because supposedly the chickens are healthier and not as fatty.We were told that they know where they live and even after a day of roaming, they will always return home. Why did the chicken cross the road? To find food.

Outside the home-base, the rule was if you can’t peel it, don’t eat it.The bananas were mini and the watermelons were loaded with seeds. In America, sadly, even our fruit isn’t completely all-natural. Everything is bigger and the manufacturers genetically alter the fruit to have fewer seeds. Personally, I’d rather have more seeds than have my fruit doped up. In Tanzania, I knew it was all-natural whereas in The States, I don’t trust where the meat is coming from, how it is raised (or killed), or what genetically modified and unnatural substance it was given. Even the meat with flies swarming around it in the street market, is safer to eat than what we are buying in stores. This opened my eyes to GMO’s and I have decided to stop eating red meat and chicken. I feel that all these hormones and GMO’s that we are giving our animals, and then ingesting ourselves, is a large reason why cancer is so prevalent here. That isn’t a problem in Tanzania. One man told me his neighbor died at 114 and his father at 102. I think everything we put into our bodies matters and if the FDA isn’t going to protect us, I want to do everything in my power to take care of myself the best way I can.

The world is bigger than just one person or one culture. There is a special magic that happens when you leave the safety of your own comforts, your own culture, and step away from the privileges of the Westernized World to learn from people who don’t share your language, lifestyle, beliefs or religion. You might not agree with the traditions, but while you cannot change what has been done for centuries, you can allow yourself to learn and grow while exchanging bits of your culture as they share theirs with you. Travel exposes us to new experiences, lifestyles and cultures, introduces us to new ways of doing things, expands our mind, and makes us grateful for the things we take for granted. Just as I did my first day when I took on the Hakuna Matata mantra, it is important to embrace the local culture, try the local cuisine and disconnect from home. Experiencing new cultures allows us to step outside of our bubble and grow but we have to be willing to be flexible and leave our first world expectations at home.
Girl collecting water from a stream; pretty but stupid bird; typical “toilet”; beautiful wild flowers; truck covered in dirt; meals

Let’s look at the world a little differently

I first saw this back in June so I am sure you have seen it already too, but it is just too good not to share.  

The news and media around us always focuses on the negative things going on around us. But Coca Cola reminds us that there is good in this world. It doesn’t matter if you prefer Pepsi or Coke; this isn’t about a corporation’s bottom line. This goes beyond advertising genius. These are not actors, they are people who were caught on hidden security cameras being funny, kind-hearted and selfless and doing amazing things.  It renews my faith in humanity.  This video makes you laugh, smile, cry, and tugs at your heart strings. And the song! Supertramp’s “Give A little Bit” is perfection. It is so touching, I tear up every time I watch it.

So Smile. Dance. Sing. Be weird. Help others. Give random hugs. Spread happiness. Thanks for the reminder to look at the world a little differently, Coca Cola.

Lessons Learned: The Magic that is #BiSC in Vegas (2.0)

I had been blogging for just over a month when I signed up for Bloggers in Sin City last year. What possessed me to think that I, an unknown virgin blogger, should fly to Vegas for a weekend to meet 50+ strangers from the Internet is still beyond me. But I did and it was literally life changing. So when it came to registering for BiSC ’12, there was absolutely no question in my mind that I would return.

I learned a lot last year about myself and life. I really thought the second year was going to be different – if I already gained so much previously, what more could I possibly learn this time? I already knew what to expect, what to pack, (fast flats and more casual dresses), I actually knew people this time, so I didn’t have to worry about being an outcast, and I was acutely aware of how my life had drastically changed already. I expected to treat this more as a reunion with old friends and an opportunity to meet new. I really thought there would be less personal growth this time. But was I wrong.

When you try to explain to friends that you’re heading to Vegas for a bloggers event, they just smile and silently assume you are an Internet dweeb going for the Hangover experience. But BiSC is so much more than that. Being as this is the un-conference with no lectures or panels, and just 59(!) Internet rock stars being awesome together in the city of sins, you wouldn’t think that there would be any actual eye-opening life-changing epiphanies that realign your entire view of the world. This concept of meeting long-lost friends that you never knew you were missing, having more fun than you thought was possible, and reconnecting and confirming who you are at your core, all in four days – mind you, seems impossible to the common person. But something happens from when you enter the registration suite Thursday to when you say goodbye at brunch on Sunday that just transforms you. Your perspective on who you are, your purpose, your job, your friendships, your outlook on life and what you want to do with it, shifts. No, I am not being dramatic. It is true.

BiSC is magical.

It is more than just four days in Vegas with blogger friends. It is the weekend I look forward to most out of the entire year because not only do I get to spend a few days having the time of my life with some of my favorite people on the planet, who happen to be the most hilarious, genuine, lovely, caring, quirky, inspiring, supportive, magnetic people in all of the Internets, but I also wind up walking away learning a lot, too.

28 things I learned this year (not all life changing):

1. Last year was not a fluke: BiSC really is amazeballs. Upon returning, I quickly pre-registered to go again next year because the thought of not going is just unbearable. I admit, last January, I was worried that the group dynamic would change and that it would not be as fun this year with different people. Well, you all rock my world. Nicole knows how to plan an epic weekend (thank you!) and everyone better sign up again. What up, BiSC 2013!

2. There are two cities: Vegas and BiSC’s Vegas. Vegas is not my favorite city. There I said it. I can’t spend more than 2-3 days at a time without itching to leave. While the shows are great, Vegas makes me feel dirty, the crowds shove, sadness and smoke fills the air, girls flash everything that can be flashed, there are sketchy creepos at every turn, you have to wait in line for everything and you come home broke. But when you are in BiSC’s Vegas you are surrounded by 60 instant-best friends in this magical land of VIP status, eternal happiness, epic experiences and shenanigans, tackle hugs, and an endless supply of smiles, love and support. All you need to flash is your BiSC badge and just like that you skip all the lines and have access to private parties because you are actually VIP. You have eye-opening revelations that confirm who you are and that you should follow your dreams. 4 days in BiSC’s Vegas is simply not enough. And with that, Vegas becomes the best and happiest place on earth. I enjoy Vegas every few years, but I can’t get back to BiSC’s Vegas fast enough. 

Our Twitter love handles

3. It resets intentions: It is easy to get wrapped up in the stress of day-to-day life, the work, the drama, your partner’s needs, etc. and forget what makes you happy and well, YOU. But BiSC manages to strip all that away and reminds you who you are at your heart’s center. It resets your intentions and puts you on an optimistic path of possibilities. It serves as an annual refresh button that gets you to refocus on your purpose, priorities and goals. BiSC somehow manages to serve as a reminder that you should pursue whatever it is that makes your heart sing. This year, I realized that I have some big changes ahead of me, but despite not knowing exactly what the future holds for me, I do know that I have a support system to help guide me in the right direction.

4. It boosts your confidence: Usually, dancing makes me self-conscious so when I was complimented on my skills, I nearly melted. While I doubt he even knows how much his words meant to me, it’s the little words of encouragement that boost your confidence. It’s the supportive words or the random comments, thoughtful texts or tweets that remind you that there are people who actually care about you. I left Vegas with a renewed sense of self-confidence and hope, and not just about the dancing, but in general. I felt on top of the world, as if I could do or be anything, talk to anyone, and as though I was meant for something bigger.

5. The Internet is one attractive bunch. The Internet is really ridiculously good-looking. Even by the pool with no makeup and wet hair, we are a good-looking bunch. But man, BiSCuits clean up well. Our theme party this year was Mad Men and I was really impressed with everyone’s creativity and style. We looked so good that even oblivious tourists on the strip noticed us and knew the theme of this hot group of well dressed Joans, Peggys and Dons. When strangers can tell your group theme, you’re doing something right.

6. Apparently Miss America contestants eat at buffets. They all looked really fake with their caked on makeup and perfect posture while eating at the Planet Hollywood dinner buffet. But to be fair, their plates were filled mostly with salad, shocking, I know.

7. Hey I just met you, and this is crazy. Here’s my life story, so call me maybe. If I’m being completely honest here, until BiSC last year, I never felt like I belonged. I wondered if I was ever going to have friends who I felt truly comfortable confiding it, who wanted to actually include me, and who would appreciate me for who I am. But BiSC changed that. I feel like I finally found my people. There is this magical instant connection that immediately makes BiSCuits feel like family. Within minutes of meeting, you feel this spark and bam! you find yourself comfortable enough to share personal secrets and stories. You don’t feel like you have to impress anyone because it feels like they already see the real you. You are so comfortable around each other that you don’t care if you are seen without makeup, if your hair is so frizzy it looks like you got stuck in an electric fence, or if you have to ask people you haven’t known for very long to wait for you to make a pit stop at CVS for deodorant before you go dancing because you don’t feel fresh enough. No? Just me, okay, moving on. Point is, we are more than just blogger friends, we are a family who loves each other as is, weird quirks and all. BiSC has brought so many amazing, tackle-huggable people into my life and has completely opened my eyes to true friendship. It is the most wonderful community of friends that I am proud to call my people.

8. BiSCuits bring out the most authentic version of me: In my everyday life, I am usually that serious friend you go to for advice, not the funny, wacky friend you go to for laughs. I can be the quiet, filtered, reserved, and introverted type who hides her quirky self from the world. But something happens when I enter that registration room and find myself surrounded by BiSCuits. This time, I instantly felt giddy. I felt a release of all the stress that had eaten me up over the past year and just let it all go. I was told that I was being “overly goofy and energetic and had let out all the crazy”; that it was a side of me that hadn’t been exposed before. While this temporarily lowered my spirits, I didn’t let it stop me from being me. Another person told me “sober Caryn is fun but drunk Caryn is fantastic.” I’ll let you in on a little secret- I never got wasted. Sure, I drank a lot. But was never drunkdrunk. It was just me being me, releasing my inhibitions, saying to-hell-with-the-bullshit, letting my authentic self shine through and enjoying the weekend for all that I could. Maybe it was all in my head and this was a false sense of security or maybe it was all the excitement of the weekend, but whatever it was, I wasn’t afraid of what people thought. I felt liberated and embraced my quirky self. I felt free to be the truest, most authentic version of myself.

9. BiSCuits give the best hugs: Saying goodbye on Sunday is the worst but that’s where you will find the best hugs. They are real, sincere hugs, the ones that have entire conversations without any words. The ones that say I care about you. You are special to me and I wish you would always be close by. This isn’t good-bye; this is until we meet again.

10. Friends should make you feel alive and happy.  They should inspire you to be the best version of yourself and make your day brighter. Friends should make you feel loved and wanted. I learned this last year, but being with people again who make you feel this way, really reminds you just how important it is. You know when you are driving in your car with the windows down, sun shining in, singing at the top of your lungs to the song on the radio and you feel as though you couldn’t possibly feel more alive than at this very moment and are completely as ease with yourself? You feel ALL THE HAPPINESS as people watch you rock out but you don’t care because you are totally content. BiSC is kind of like that, except you have a whole slew of people singing along with you.

11. The weekend is what you make it: If you want to have life changing epiphanies you have to be willing to let your guard down. If you want to make sure you meet everyone, make that effort to insert yourself into conversations. If you don’t want to partake in an activity because it isn’t for you that is OKAY, you don’t have to do everything just because it is on the itinerary. If you expected to hang out with someone 24/7 but that winds up not happening, don’t let it ruin your weekend. There are 58 other people all just as awesome who want to be with you, too. It is up to you to make the most of the weekend. You will get out of it what you put into it.

12. What happens in Vegas, DOES NOT stay in Vegas: After all, we are bloggers. We tweet, we blog, we instagram, we post on Facebook – if you don’t want your grandma or followers to know what you did in Vegas, don’t do it around this group.

13. IRL vs. Internet (where IRL wins): We often say IRL as if we feel a need to defend or justify this distinction between our online and offline lives. Somewhere that line has blurred for me, and the Internet has become my real life, my home, where my friends most accept me for who I am.

In order to put yourself in a situation like BiSC, you have to be some kind of awesome to begin with, so perhaps that is why we are such a special group. Yet, it still amazes me that of all the bloggers on the Internet, the select 60 that show up are the most cohesive, rad (and attractive!) bunch IRL. Nicole’s web of awesome really pulls in awesome people. We are all various ages and come from different walks of life, but when put together, none of that matters and it’s as if we had always been friends. I feel blessed that BiSC is happening at a time when I can actually be a part of it all. IRL FTW.

14. IRL vs. Internet (where Internet wins) I realized I have some friends who feel more comfortable opening up and sharing personal bits about their life when hiding behind a screen. While I wouldn’t trade those friendships for anything, it can be disheartening to learn that sometimes the relationship isn’t the same in both realities and that it is stronger online than it is IRL. On the contrary, some friendships need the Internet in order to develop those tight bonds. Regardless of if you met online first or met in person and then continued to build your friendship online –it is because of the Internet that these friendships have blossomed and that we even have BiSC at all.  Internet FTW.

15. I love pool time: The Flamingo has a beautiful pool and spending the day hanging out gives the group a chance to bond. Whether we are relaxing on day beds (yes, we are VIP), playing Never Have I Ever to win vibrators, cheering on Mikael in the booty-shaking contest, getting squirted in the eye the mouth with rum from a midget holding a super-soaker or just sitting and drinking on the pool’s edge soaking in the sun and the company, it is always one of the highlights of the weekend for me.

16. My new favorite drink is the Blueberry Bombshell: I asked our poolside waitress for a recommendation and she said she had the perfect drink for me. Since I don’t know the official name, I have renamed it the Blueberry Bombshell. It is Blueberry Stoli, 7 up, soda water and lime. It is a perfect summer drink that is deliciously refreshing. I’m a loser but I loved that I actually started a trend! Try it. You’ll thank me, too.

17. Dancing is actually fun even though I suck. If you know me even a little bit, then you know I DO NOT dance. Or sing. Ever. If you ask me to, I’ll probably say something like I need to drink a lot more before I can do that or just politely decline. But not in BiSC’s Vegas. Amber and I made up a fantastically fun dance where we looked like frogs on crack. We’re Frogger Bloggers! Even on Friday when I was ready to call it a night, Brad invited me to join the dance party at Diablos, and I couldn’t turn the dancing down. Me? Couldn’t turn down a dance party?  That’s a first! I danced in the middle of groups, I danced with people, I danced alone, and I even danced on the tabletops at Chateau. I didn’t care if you thought I looked stupid. I owned that I can’t dance and had blast looking like a fool.

18. Zumanity is hotter than any strip club. I actually did both this trip and I cannot even begin to explain the hotness that is Zumanity. Despite taking a limo to the strip club, and sneaking in for free, ($33? No, thanks!) I was left totally unimpressed by this one and managed to fall asleep on Kelly’s chest. Vegas clubs, being the Mecca of all strip clubs, should be all sorts of hot, girls should be climbing poles up to the ceiling, and the guys should be getting lap dances. Instead, this one was the actual worst and I walked out highly disappointed, carrying a half-full bottle of vodka in my blazer and I was ready for bed. But Zumanity? Not only was it a funny, sexually charged, erotic cirque show, (except for bendy contortionist man. I had to look away) it was everything that the strip club wished it was. I walked out wishing I had a man that night. Ooh, is it getting hot in here? Excuse me…

Stripper Vodka

On that note, I also learned that if you let the actors at Zumanity take your phone, be ready for them to take photos of their junk and lick your phone before returning it.

19. BiSCuits really like to talk about bird sex, like annually. Last year a group of us were curious about this and Googled it to discover the bird’s cloacae. This year it came up again but this time we got a demonstration at In-N-Out with the hats. I don’t think I’ll look at those hats the same way again.

20. Don’t expect the same experience each year. Last year, being the new kid on the block, I pushed myself to meet everyone and felt free to be my real self because I was starting on a clean slate. Everything was shiny and new and I had no expectations. I think my first time was all-the-exclamation-points-amazing because of this. However, this year I had expectations. It felt more like a reunion and having these friendships already, changed the dynamic of my experience. Since I didn’t have a clean slate this time, I found myself worrying that those who knew me before May 16, might not like me anymore once we arrived. I questioned if the friendships I made were viewed as strong on the other end, as it was on mine. I realized it is okay that this year wasn’t quite on the same level of ecstatic excitement as last, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t any less fun.

21. Asian snacks are delicious: Suki brought enough Asian snacks to feed an army and most of it wound up in my stomach. I don’t feel guilty a ton of seaweed.

22. BiSCuits are the some of the most supportive people I know: Between the encouraging “you can do it!” or caringI saw your tweet and was worried” – they are some of the most thoughtful, loving and supportive people I know. When we’re all in the same room, you can feel the love and warmth exploding from everyone. When I went through hell and back earlier this year, I could not have gotten through those dark days without the outpouring of love and support from my fellow BiSCuits.

23. We breathe ‘special air’: I mentioned the first day that there is ‘special air’ in the casinos that keeps you awake, but it goes beyond the casinos. When we are together, everything seems grandiose. The special air gives you such a high that everything all weekend is filled with ALL THE SMILES AND LAUGHS AND ALL THE AMAZING and none of the sads. You might swear you even saw unicorns covered in glitter with sunshine and rainbows. While I did continue the friendships throughout the last year, I thought the instant connections were so special because we met at BiSC in Vegas. I thought maybe it was the energy or adrenaline of the weekend. But the crazy thing, I realized this special air is not limited to just Vegas. Prior to BiSC, I went to DC and had the great fortune of meeting Brad and Berto beforehand. From the very millisecond we met, we greeted with bear hugs and they instantly felt like family. The magical BiSCuit instant connection isn’t because of the special air in Vegas. It is the love and energy that radiates from everyone who attends no matter where in the country they are.

24. At 27, I apparently can be 21 again, but only in BiSC’s Vegas. I pretty much drank all day and night and for four nights I stayed up chatting and dancing till about 330am and woke up really early every morning, hangover free and wide awake ready to take on the day. Yet, when I returned home, I went to bed at a reasonable hour and woke up around 8am wanting to DIE. Additionally, it wasn’t until I returned home that I began to sound like I ate a dog’s squeaky toy. I blame the special air.

25. Returning to real life blows. It is challenging and brings on all the sads. Saying goodbye on Sunday brings all the emotions. You’re still on a high from the amazingness of the weekend, but you know the inevitable goodbye is just around the corner. I wish there was a pause button on life to freeze frame this moment instead of watching my best friends head to the airport. I’ll admit, I had a really hard time writing this post because I kept going back and forth between the YAY! I LOVED IT; IT WAS AMAZING! Tackle hugs for everyone!! To the – I’m SAD AND LONELY and wondering what if all the close friendships, the lack of judging, the comfort I felt was just in my head? I just got done writing about all the ways BiSC is life changing and how the people are one of a kind, which is all true, but now that we’re home and back to reality, my mind has begun to wonder what if it was all just my imagination? Being so removed from everyone and everything. I sometimes feel out-of-sight-out-of-mind but then I’ll get a texts or tweet from BiSCuits and my day is made. I feel helpless that I am so far away and can’t be there to every time a friend is hurting. It is really hard to go back to your everyday routine and feel so unmotivated. I miss waking up and checking twitter to see what everyone is doing (and being able to join them). I know this is crazy talk but to go from the constant stimulus and being with so many people all the time, to being alone in your apartment, it just brings on all the questions and sad feelings. Please come visit! The special BiSC air makes you forget all your stress and troubles. It isn’t until you say goodbye and return home that you are reminded that reality really sucks.

26. You will not be BFF with all 60 people. Even though BiSC attracts amazing people, you are not going to be besties and bond with ALL OF THEM. Accept that.

27. Adding a day before and after is the only way to go. Not only are the flights cheaper, those extra nights make the trip seem that much more complete. Even though I desperately was ready to go home Sunday after brunch, I was finally able to relax and unwind by the pool both Sunday afternoon and Monday morning. A group of us got to enjoy the Bellagio Fountain show together and get in more bonding time. It is hard to spend time with everyone, so I was really happy that I finally got to spend quality one-on-one time with Almie as we waiting for our flights Monday afternoon.

28. Lastly, I learned that it is really hard to be brief and summarize everything I’ve learned. No matter how much you try, you can never really explain BiSC to someone who hasn’t lived it for themselves.

I am going to write a recap on the events of the weekend, but hopefully that won’t be as lengthy or take me as long to post. If you made it through and are still reading thank you.

I’m A Big Kid Now

Hi FRIENDS! READERS! AND FAMILY ( hi Mom & Dad!)  I am a big girl now! I have moved from Blogger to WordPress!

If you are reading this in a Reader – please click through to check it out.  Isn’t the picture in the header pretty? I took it while on a boat on Lake Michigan.

Welcome to my new and improved blog!

I cannot hear the title of this post without singing the Huggies jingle (circa 1993). Good luck not getting this one stuck in your head.