In case you haven’t followed along, I have the best friends in the world. Really (read more here).
About a month ago, I had the esteemed privilege of officiating as 2 of my friends joined in marriage. One of them is a geek, and one of them is a sprinkle. Or… she would be a sprinkle if she got to pick, but for now she’s settled for just being in love with sprinkles. Anyway – you can get to know them at geekandsprinkles.com.
This was my first chance to preside over a ceremony like this. I cannot put into words how momentous it is to be such an intimate part of a couple’s special day – being asked is an incredible honor. Here is an excerpt of words I shared on their wedding day:
What began as a surprise phone conversation when a phone was quite literally thrown at Jason, led to a Southerner moving to Minnesota, later kneeling in the snow on the Stone Arch Bridge in Minneapolis asking for a Chicago girl’s hand in marriage. I have known Coral long enough that I tend to forget she was not always part of my family. Once Jason moved and began to court her, I began to feel the same way about him. I have the privilege of seeing this love grow from the beginning and am excited to watch it blossom into a new era.
If you know Coral or Jason, you know how incredible their story and love for each other is. The setting atop a hill in Stillwater, MN on the steps of the historic courthouse was both appropriate and breathtaking. I hope you’ll join me in congratulating them!
You may have noticed I haven’t been here in a while (if not, scroll down). First, I got a new job, and was busy adjusting to a new world, then I started noticing some pain, which kept me from sitting to write as I usually would. A lot of people have asked about my back, so here’s the “short” story.
I began noticing pain in August. Nothing major, just a little twinging in my lower back and left hip if I walked for a while. If I pushed a cart in a store or sat down when I started feeling the pain, it went away. I could then walk just as far again before the pain started. It wasn’t in the way of my life.
As time went on things got worse, but I still didn’t worry. Then, in October and November, I started noticing I’d sit, and the pain didn’t budge. I still did nothing about it, except try to reduce my overall activity to reduce whatever strain I must have been putting on it.
Later in November, a day came where even in my office chair that had been my sole relief all this time left me in excruciating pain. By this time, the pain went all the way down my leg. For months I had been doing my best to hide a limp so people wouldn’t worry about me. I told myself I didn’t have time to worry about it. But this day, everyone knew how much pain I was in. I couldn’t hide it. My friend recommended an orthopedic clinic just down the road from work. I probably shouldn’t have driven, because I couldn’t pay attention to the road. But I went straight there from lunch.
I was seen right away. They suspected either a displacement of my sacroiliac joint or a bulging disc. They tried physical therapy first, since the SI joint problem would respond if that was the case, and would be a less expensive route. My primary physician also did an x-ray and saw my disc spaces seemed fine, but my pelvis was in fact out of place. By the second week in January, I was released by my therapist, had lost 30 pounds, and joined a gym. The pain was back to August levels, so it was once again not in the way of my life, even though I still had a limp. So my diagnosis seemed sound.
Time went on, and it didn’t get any better, but it didn’t get any worse. I continued a lot of physical activity, feeling lucky to dodge the bullet of a long drawn-out back problem. I lost 45 pounds (woohoo!) and went shopping without the motorized carts again (a bigger step than you might realize). But then in early April, as I was vacuuming the living room carpet, my back, leg, and foot hurt like never before. I stopped what I was doing, but the pain only got a tiny bit better. Back into the clinic I go.
This time, an MRI confirmed a ruptured disc – bad enough it wouldn’t respond to therapeutic or pharmaceutical therapy. Even with strong narcotics, steroids, and anti-inflamatories, I was in pain beyond any I’d felt before. I laid on the floor for 2 weeks, drugged and asleep. I didn’t leave the house except to see a spine specialist and back surgeon.
Surgery day changed my life. I woke up without any of the pain I went in for. Since then, I’ve only been dealing with the surgery pain, along with numbness and tingling left over from the nerve damage the disc did to my sciatic nerve root. But that I can live with, and it may go start to heal soon. I can sit and walk straight – and that is surreal. I’m still a month from being considered “recovered,” but I’m off pain medication and am returning to work tomorrow.
So next time you see me – take note that I’m not wearing the walking shoes, leaning to the side, or sitting on every bench in my path. I didn’t want surgery to be the answer, but I’m so relieved I took the step I needed.
If you want to see the fun conversations that happened online as a result of this ordeal, search for #HowChiChiGotHisBackBack (my recovery) and #ChiChiGoneCrazy (me, medicated). Hint: Chi Chi was the name I ended up with in Spanish Class in high school, and several of my classmates didn’t know my real name.
Last weekend, I was casually shopping around Uptown Minneapolis with a couple friends of mine when Crystina got a call from her brother. Through the one side of the conversation I was hearing, I gathered that he was in South Dakota and needed help of some kind. She got off the phone and explained a story that felt like it could have been the premise of quite the movie plot – her brother had driven two of his friends over 500 miles to Deadwood, South Dakota on a road trip bachelor party, and lost his keys. Since it was late afternoon on Saturday, the soonest he could hope to get a replacement key made was Monday morning. Of course, they had to work on Monday, and they needed to stop in North Dakota to pick up one of the guy’s kids.
It didn’t take much convincing for me to decide that Matthew and I could drive out to the rescue. I’d lived in Minnesota for 6 years, but still hadn’t seen any of Western Minnesota or the Dakotas. And – I admit – I have a low threshold for needing a reason for a road trip. With the help of Crystina, we gained entry into his house and located his spare key. I stopped at home, charged up devices, and Matthew and I set out for what was a bit of a longer journey than I had originally realized. We were headed for Deadwood, which is almost as far as going to Wyoming or Montana from here.
And in this weekend’s episode of Unplanned Roundtrip Adventures, South Dakota (and perhaps Wyoming, Montana, instagr.am/p/OfQhr3uacS/
— Jason (ツ) (@jayysenn) August 18, 2012
We finally started driving at about 7 PM. It didn’t take long before we were in that part of Minnesota where there aren’t all that many people all too often. I had never been to that part of Minnesota, actually, and thought it was awesome when I saw my very first red-and-white-highway-closing arm used for times when heavy snow forces the state to close the freeway. I’ve been here long enough to know that happened every now and then, but didn’t know there were permanently-installed mechanisms to help enforce the closures. And then, it got dark. Nothing very eventful, just a really gently setting sun. Not very long after that, we stopped at a gas station for a bathroom and some food not far from the border with South Dakota.
Sunset clouds instagr.am/p/OfZJL_OaUO/
— Jason (ツ) (@jayysenn) August 19, 2012
Since Matthew and I got the Jeep Liberty after his old car caught fire on I-494 (not kidding) we’ve consciously not eaten in it unless it was a non-messy food and we were parked. We decided before we left we would suspend that rule until we got back. Great idea. Matthew got a smoked sausage on a hot dog bun with barbecue sauce, and only ate part of the bun. He was driving, so he handed me the rest to throw out the window “for the birds” – you know – because birds just go CRAZY for barbecue sauce. Well – the bun decided it liked it better inside the Jeep, and came back in the window and wedged itself between the seat and my back, barbecue sauce and all.
Threw a hot dog bun out the window for the birds. It flew back in. Condiments ensued.
— Jason (ツ) (@jayysenn) August 19, 2012
Soon after, I noticed the font was different on the road signs, which was my clue we had crossed the border. We then drove through Soiux Falls, and knew the rest of South Dakota was likely to be a lot less fascinating, especially at night. It did not disappoint. We swapped positions, and I drove into the night with Matthew drifting in and out of sleep. It was so dark that I couldn’t tell what kind of land I was driving through. Since I’d never been to the state, I really had no idea what it was, and it was a little creepy. It could have been rolling hills, mountains, flat prairies, anything, and I was none the wiser. I could see about a foot on each side of the pavement, and there was one car at a time coming the other direction every five or ten minutes. The best comparison I could think of to this kind of driving was a treadmill. The road was definitely moving beneath me, but the rest of the world seemed to be standing still. I then opened the sunroof and was in pure awe and disbelief at the look of the night sky. There wasn’t a cloud anywhere, and I had never seen such a dense view of stars in my life. The night sky is one of the few things I don’t like about living in an urban area, but even growing up in a rural area, this was simply beyond what I had previously comprehended.
After quite a bit of driving, I saw a sign for an exit to a scenic overlook. My hip was hurting, so I thought a stretch could do some good. I pulled in, turned off the car, woke Matthew, and stepped out into the night. Being in such a dark place was even more amazing than just seeing it through the sunroof. It was so dark it almost felt tangible. While Matthew setup his DSLR to try taking a few photos of the stars, I used the LED on my phone to walk around until I found a path leading to a fence. Even shining the light over the fence, I couldn’t see a single thing – the darkness was just too heavy. I know only that I was in the Buffalo Gap National Grassland. I made my way back to where Matthew was, and then another amazing first experience happened – wolves. I heard wolves howling from far away in every direction. It was the kind of beautiful thing that comes completely unexpectedly and goose bumps just cover your body.
We finally got to Deadwood just after 5:00 in the morning, and the party trio were still awake, waiting on us. The lady working at the hotel (who seemed to be a receptionist, janitor, and hotelier all in one) called over “the Monkeys” and we were met with some giant appreciative hugs (Monkeys, you ask? They got in trouble the night before for jumping on the beds). We spent a while talking and laughing a little further into the morning, then all caught a nap for a couple hours. After that, our ways parted again. Matthew drove through the day, as we caught side trips into Mount Rushmore, Wall Drug, and the Badlands National Park. Later on, driving through the prairie, I noticed a lot of different ways that farmers stack their hay, as it’s that time of year. Yes, that was about the most exciting thing after we left the Badlands.
OH: “You can learn a lot about someone based on how they lay their hay.”
— KATrGEEK (@KATrGEEK) August 20, 2012
I picked up driving at dark again, and got us most of the way home before Matthew finished the trip. We got home at 5:00 in the morning, and successfully made it to work that day, and the whole week after. There’s of course a lot more to the trip than I can describe here (or that you’d have the attention span for) but I really cherish the time spent with Matthew, the awesome things we experienced, and being able to help a friend in need. I can’t wait to join up with the party trio soon to fill each other in on the details of the second half of our trips!
You can find more photos on my Twitter or Instagram.
Bonus: Video of Bison encounter by the party trio on their way toward Deadwood. Enjoy!
I was told by a friend how much I reminded her of her late uncle, the most selfless person she knew. The next morning, someone told me they thing they notice most about me is that I always think of others first. It made me think (for once about myself) and I realized how often people ask me how I’m always so happy, and that the answer lies greatly in my prioritization of others.
So – what is happiness, anyway? I’ve said before that the little things are what matter most. I’ve also told you about BFF Night, one night a week where my best friends gather at my house, I make dinner, and we eat and play games. I had a moment a few nights ago at dinner that reminded me of my idea of true happiness. Matthew and I went to our favorite Chinese restaurant, Kwan’s, run by the cutest couple you could ever possibly meet, hands down (By the way, I had no idea they had a website until I just looked, in case I could link you there. I’m suddenly very excited in a geeky kind of way just to know they’re online). In the corner, there were two middle-aged women eating dinner together. They were the kind of women you’d likely hear about from Garrison Keillor – very Minnesotan, and very full of stories that were hilarious – even if only to them. I couldn’t help but hear nearly every word they said, all the way until they parted ways and left the restaurant. Their conversation wasn’t itself anything worth writing about. They weren’t really that funny. They were just normal-lookin’ and slightly above average. What struck me though was their clear spiritual connection that showed signs of great strength that only comes from being close with someone for a long time. It reminded me of people I have in my life that mean so much to me – and how sometimes we’re pretty much in our own little world where everything is funny and life is good.
I realized what I want in life is to be able to go to a sparsely populated hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant when I’m 54 to meet someone I can laugh and smile with for an hour or two. Someone who’s there to listen to my life and tell me about theirs. I thought about my life right now, and couldn’t help but smile when I saw that I’ve been extraordinarily fortunate to have met people I believe will still be in my life decades from now, and that I can share those kinds of moments with. Although I live about 1,300 miles away from where I grew up, and just as far from all of my family (and I do miss them dearly every day), I’m surrounded by amazing people who ensure my happiness as much as I do theirs. Why? Because I think of them often. They’re top of mind every time I think of myself – because they’re part of me. That for me is true happiness. Your happiness may come from a different place, but for me, that’s all I need.
How do YOU define happiness?
I recently watched an episode of In the Life on PBS called “Orgullo Latino” (which you can read about here).
While I am not Latino (my family heritage is almost entirely German), the Latino culture plays a huge influential role in my life. My tastes in food, music, and art, among other things, often have as many or more roots in Latino culture than my Southern US upbringing. Don’t get me wrong – I love a good gravy biscuit as much as the next North Carolinian, but pastelón? Mofongo? No contest.
I digress (record scratch).
The episode mentioned the recent Time cover story “Yo Decido.” Seeing it presented by this episode about the unique struggles of the LGBT Latino community spoke to me in a way it hadn’t before when I first saw the article. Before, it had been about the power of the Latino vote in the upcoming presidential election. This context, however, reminded me how important it is that people in Minnesota know what they are voting for with the marriage amendment on the ballot.
Of course I will make my voice known by voting, but that’s only the price of admission. What’s most important is making sure people know who I am, and who my family is. When people don’t have context to know what effect this will have on real people they know, it’s unlikely they’ll find the motivation to vote, or to make the right choice when they do. So I believe my real power is in telling my story. By doing so, I will influence others, and then, truly, Yo Decido.