Category Archives: Me Being Awesome

The bitties of the barn

Waiting in line at Itty Bitty Burger Barn is a given. And with the cramped space, you can’t help but overhear what other patrons are gabbing about. Seeing that this is Texas, there’s also that auto-invite to chime in, make friendly with other locals, and leave a locale with new best friends for life.

Next to the front door hung a posterboard signed with well wishes, requesting donations. The kid’s face and the dates of his life were displayed prominently. Quick math tells me this death is considered more tragic than others.

No matter the reason, this is a loss of life. We’re all humans — young, old, black, white, American, Japanese, Australian, whatever. Any loss of life is a loss of that one’s potential. His or her output. His or her contributions. His or her being.

So when the people around me started talking about his accident — a single-car incident where he smashed into a tree so hard that it split his vehicle in two — I had to listen in.

“Yes, so terrible.”

“Saw that on the news last night.”

“I think it was right where the road curves over there.”

“I saw balloons at the site.”

And then I knew it was coming. I already pre-judged the man to my left as the curmudgeonly sort. And although I revel in being oh-so-right pretty much all of the time, I held my breath and waited for his crabby comment to be surprise sympathy — if not for the driver who lost his life, then at least for the family he left behind.

Alas, no. Ol’ Grandpa McCrankypants went full in with the criticisms on children today, and I knew it wasn’t going to be my place to sit quietly and let him bask in his false sense of superiority.

“Well, maybe if he wasn’t driving so fast,” he started.

“Sir, do you remember being 20?” I started with. “I know I drove like an absolute jackass.”

I expected a condescending, “You wouldn’t know what I’m talking about, little lady,” but he instead decided to talk about his own driving skills as a teen. After all, talking about one’s specific experiences can’t be refuted with generalizations, no matter how much of a liar you are.

“I chose to drive fast on roads that were flat and open,” he began.

I continued, “Nah, man. You know you drove like a jackass.”

Then the old lady behind me, “Yeah, I drove like a jackass too!”

And then ALL the old bitties in the Itty Bitty chimed in and made sure to proudly use the word JACKASS in their retelling of youthful vehicular mishaps.

He stammered. He hemmed. He hawed. Then in a spectacular bob-and-weave, pick-and-roll maneuver, he changed courses and tried to get the bitties back on his side.

“Well, the drugs these kids do today…”

And — OH NO! — the bitty behind me wasn’t gonna let that stand.

“I’ve been around since the early 40s, and there was a lot of alcohol back then! There might be a lot more choices in drugs today, but we were plenty hopped up too!”

Then the bitties all started nodding and retelling their youthful drunken mishaps. Some even admitted to — GASP! — taking a nip or two these days.

And that, my friends, is how I riled up a burger barn full of bitties.

A year ago

This story begins like several others from my early 20s:

A year ago last night, I was hanging from a light post in front of Wrigley Field.


Alas, instead of a Bud Light-induced fit of euphoria where I exclaimed my love for late-night bars that serve taquitos, or a similarly-caused clinging to make the world stop spinning, I gripped the post while grabbing my neck and screaming.


It was 11 p.m. on a Monday, and no one was in front of The Friendly Confines to lend assistance.


I had just spent the evening with a friend, parked on the couch, cheering for those on Intervention to relapse, and eating order-in Lou Malnattis. Discomfort crawled around my neck all night, and I remember touching the hardening spot for the past few hours, wondering what that unfamiliar twinge could be.


I don’t remember getting home that night, but I somehow I did. I parked myself on what I deemed the ‘death couch’ (I vastly prefer the couch to my bed while sick), applied a hot compress that failed its purpose the minute it was no longer hot enough to distract me from the pain, and tried to rest and prep for what I was sure my lymph node indicating that I was about to have a hellaciously sore throat.


The next morning, hand-to-neck and tear-streaked, I made my way to the minor emergency clinic for a walk-in appointment. The doctor there prodded my sore spot, exclaimed, “You either have mono or AIDs,” and walked out to grab a mono test and his prescription pad. As a long-time blood donor, his latter proclamation didn’t scare me — though it did clue me into what sort of medical professional I was seeing. (That being, one with an exceptionally shitty bedside manner.) As for mono, I shrugged, thought, “Man, that would suck,” and waited in that cold room for the pharmacy scripts.


I picked up my antibiotics and liquid pain relief from CVS, then headed back to the death couch.


Things get a little hazy at this point due to the pain which was proving the hydrocodone suspension to be ineffective. Fingering at the hump, I realized it exceeded the size of my entire extended hand.


Now, I’m not one to overreact to illness. But having a hump in one’s neck is cause for concern. I called my insurance company-deemed GP, urgently requested an appointment RIGHT NOW, and was in the office as soon as I put on pants and crossed the street to the offices.


I again got another prodding as I sobbed through the pain, then she held my face and asked, “Do you have $20? I want you immediately in a taxi to Northwestern’s ER. I’ll call to let them know you’re on your way.”


You know how a child scrapes a knee and you immediately start into the, “Oh wow. I’m soooo glad you’re okay,” routine to distract him or her from having a meltdown to what is probably temporary pain? Well, no one was there to tell me I was going to be okay, the doctor was urgent in her insistence that I get over there pronto, and this hump in my neck had been throbbing for two days now.


I entered the ER in such sobs that another patient’s mom sat next to me, handed me tissues, and kept me upright until my name was called.


The ER physicians were prepped by my doctor already, inserted an IV into my hand, pushed Dilaudid, and then started asking questions to see what the problem could be. With the fast-acting morphine providing relief, I could once again speak English, relay the issue, tolerate the doctor and three interns touching my sore spot, and not overreact when they took me in for an MRI ‘just to be sure’.


I napped, got another shot of the miracle pain relief, and waited for the doctor and his young followers to come back and tell me whatever it was that they were going to tell me.


“Ms. Keena, you’ve got a clean bill of health. Here are some better pain meds, keep a hot compress on it, and it should go away in a few days.”


Some people pray for this sort of thing. However, when in pain like that, I’d rather be told that I’ve got a Siamese twin growing from my neck that I’ll have to raise as my own child than hear that all’s clear, there’s no known cause, and that I need to sit and wait it out.


I took my improved pain script, again planted myself on the death couch, and settled in for the night. I awoke the next day to massive pain and a phone call from one of the interns from the day before, “Do you have $20 for a taxi?”


I stumbled myself to the ER again, and checked into the front desk, where the man’s ears perked at my name, and my doctor from yesterday was immediately summoned to usher me in.


My thoughts: I AM SO SCREWED.


I put on the flimsy gown, accepted another IV, had the Dilaudid pushed again, and then took the news. Upon hearing the doctor’s proclamation that, wow, he’d never gotten to see a case of this, I made the executive decision to not Google the disease I was just told. I passed the news along to my brother and one trusted friend to let them guide me to what was going on yet let me not stress about things unnecessarily.


Smartest. Decision. Ever.


Before the first dose of Dilaudid wore off, I found myself settled into a hospital room that would be my home for the next two weeks.


My room was a steady stream of teams of doctors, and as word spread, the few friends that I let know what was going on. With frequent check-ins from the graven Infectious Disease team, I kept that list of friends pretty small. Unlike the butt rock incident in the following January (which was shared with everyone due to my perceived notion that I wasn’t actually in harm of dying), I didn’t want that impending cloud of doom out there, spreading and growing.


Two weeks in the hospital. A bit of slicing to my neck. A month at home with an IV and a self-administered sacks of drugs. Weeks of therapy to regain mobility on my entire upper left side. Months of pills that gave my tongue a mossy coat and my mouth a metallic taste.


A year later, things are mostly good. I have a scar that’s pretty boss, though it’s fading into my neck’s crease as more time goes on. Checking my blind spot while driving takes more than the split second it used to. I can lift my arm over my head now, but the muscles in that area are sometimes angry at the things I do. My physical fitness feels like it’s at about 90%, which frustrates me but reminds me of the gravity of what happened last September (and then of January’s butt rock events).


It’s hard to look back and think ‘what might have been’ thoughts about my own mortality over the past year, but I can boil it all down to a single statement:


TL;DR: I am hard to kill.

Why Groupon is awesome

I have always heard that Groupon is the greatest when it comes to refunds. If you come up with a reason, they credit your account. The end. No questions asked. That’s it.

I decided to try to get out of my recent purchase of bootcamp classes, writing the Groupon support people the following email:

I purchased the bootcamp deal a few months ago, and I got around to checking things out today.

Although I live firmly in the bible belt, I’m one of those heathens who get pretty squicked out by companies that have things to do with Jesus.

Is there any way to get a refund on this one Groupon since all of their workouts are held at churches?

Pretty please? I promise to continue to patronize the good heathen Groupon activities like drinking for 50% off, participating in sports with members of the opposite sex, and getting my crotch lasered at super-low prices.

Many thanks,
ChicagoJo

Shortly thereafter, I received an email saying that email made her day, and she added a super-awesome video and refunded my money.

Keep kicking ass, Groupon!

The alarm goes off soon

When I moved to Chicago in 2003, I was repeatedly asked why I was heading there. I merely replied, “I’m going to rollerblade and play beach volleyball.” I couldn’t really come up with a better explanation to why I’d leave my comfortable life for something completely unknown, so that two-item checklist had to suffice as an answer.


My subsequent years in Chicago were mostly good ones. I may have spent my first 22 years in Texas, but Chicago is truly my home. All the A+ greatness of that city aside, there came a point when it was time for me to leave.


Over the past two years I have moved to Houston to rebuild my parents’ house and get to know my niece and nephew better, Austin to reconnect with a dear friend and to meet her family, Chicago for l-o-v-e, then Phoenix to escape the aftermath of that heartbreak.


I’ve spent the past few months in Chicago, reconnecting with that former life of mine and recovering from a major illness. Winter blew in at about the time my strength returned, so I toughed it out and hit a few of the city’s many highlights before I headed back to Texas for the holidays.


Now that the holidays have wrapped up, I’m off for my next great adventure. In 30 minutes my alarm rings, my dad tosses my suitcase into the trunk, and I tuck and roll at the airport terminal. I have a brief yawn and a stretch in Atlanta before hopping another flight to my new home.

Mid-year resolutions

New Year’s Eve is hands-down my favorite day of the year. There’s something magical about the calendar clicking over, and immediately starting anew. It’s like a cosmic birthday that everyone celebrates, anticipates, and absolutely revels in.


Not only do you get to wipe away the muck from the previous 365 days, you set the tenor for how you want your year to go.

Fitness-oriented? Hit the gym!


Romance-seeking? Go for it!


Breaking a bad habit? Out it goes!


All that being said, my second-favorite time of the year is mid-year. It’s not a commonly-celebrated timestamp, but it’s worth noting when it comes to self-improvement. If you’ve fallen off the wagon on your New Year’s goals, this is your second chance to get things right before the champagne is chilled and confetti dropped on the next December 31st.


This year has definitely been fitness-oriented. After spending a few months in a boot due to a bum foot and subsequently drinking a bunch of wine and eating a bunch of pizza, I took action once the boot came off. I’ve always been above-averagely active, but this time that knob got turned to blow-your-neighbors-away proportions.


My already-tiny frame has seen ten pounds of fat disappear. Those awesome back muscles are popped out nicely. A six pack is mere weeks from making an appearance. All this, and my hair and nails are growing like mad, I literally heal after a day of rest, and I effortlessly get out of bed at 6 each morning.


In a few short weeks I’ll be taking the stage for a figure competition (a division of bodybuilding where contenders still look like girls). That alone is a crazy athletic accomplishment, but I want more, more, more!


My brother, a new friend, and I set mid-year goals with an end date of the summer’s end. We maxed out on a few super-strength gym moves: pull-ups, chin-ups, dips, and bench press. Then we decided what the other person could achieve based on that number.


My by-mid-August goals are to do 12 chin-ups, 25 dips, 8 pull-ups, and my body weight on bench.


I’m looking forward to cranking these out each week, seeing consistent improvement, and knowing that I’m continuing what I started a few months back.


What can you achieve in the next six months?

Operation: Six Pack continues

Back when I lived in Chicago, you would frequently see me in my ‘work uniform’: a nicely-fitted shirt with my black pencil skirt and a pair of black heels. In the winter, substitute knee-high boots for the sling-backs. When headed for an evening out, I might exchange the skirt for a pair of designer jeans. But really, things stayed about the same. I had that whole sexy librarian thing going on.


To put it mildly, my lifestyle there was a bit more glam than it is now.


My social activities here are more home-oriented: dinner at a friend’s house, BBQs by my pool, lots of time near the lake. With Mission: Six Pack, things have changed there too: minimal booze drinking, plenty of fresh eating, lots of time spent lifting heavy things and running near the above-mentioned lake.


I live a much more settled life, and it’s a good thing for who I am now and what I enjoy doing. Add to it that HOLY CRAP! I’M WEARING THE JEANS I WORE WHEN I WAS SUPER SKINNY AND TWENTY-FOUR YEARS OLD!!!!


There I was, cleaning out my closet, when I rearranged some purses and caught a glimpse of my skinny jeans. My first pair of designer jeans, these are the ones used as a benchmark to make me feel like crap for no longer looking like I looked when I was in my younger years.


Every so often I shimmy my way into the denim, stand in front of a mirror, look at my squeezed-in thighs, and wonder how the heck I’m going to de-sardine myself out of them.


But no more!


With my meanest cowboy face (oh man, my months of blog neglect make that joke so not work…), I reached for the jeans, took a deep breath, and slid them on as I exhaled.


Lo and behold, not only did I not have to hold my breath for fear that I’d pop the button, I also turned around and checked out my butt in a mirror without recoiling in near-30-year-old terror.


There’s no better feeling, even if it involves giving up booze, eating carbs after 5 p.m., and running miles and miles in the Texas evening heat.

The older, wiser 101 in 1001

Remember back in the day when 101 in 1001 lists were all that? I tabled mine long ago because I found about a year and a half into it that I wasn’t quite the ding-dong I was when I wrote the list. I found myself older, wiser, and completely unwilling to even attempt throwing a back handspring.


Even though I abandoned the list, it’s not like I haven’t been goal-centric or open to trying new things. Not in the least! Heck, my past six months have shown that to not be the case. But now I figure with my life all a-changin’, there’s no time like the present to think of some things I want to knock out in the next few years.


Even if 31-year-old Jo thinks that 29-year-old Jo is a ding-dong, there’s no back handspring anywhere on this list.


In alphabetical order, now:


(001) Fall in love.
(002) File my 2007 taxes. Whoops. Now to catch up and do 2008, 2009, and 2010!

(003) File my 2008 taxes. Whoops, again.
(004) Find a local cause to become involved with.
(005) Finish a crossword puzzle. 06/18/2009 — It was one of those really easy celeb-based ones in a magazine, but it still counts. Done and done!
(006) Finish a NaNoWriMo.
(007) Finish writing one of the books I’ve started writing.
(008) Fly in for Chicago’s Pride weekend (2009). 06/28/2009 — Yay! My boys!
(009) Frame Bit’s cowboy boots photo.
(010) Get and keep a tan. Seriously. Summer 2009 — I kept it up. We’ll see how long it lasts…
(011) Get my hair cut in an actual style. (Bangs don’t count.) 06/02/2009 — Mel at Cut and Co. in Kingwood does good work on those inverted bobs.

(012) Get prescription sunglasses. 05/21/2010 — They’ll be here in a week. Whee!
(013) Give a shampoo mohawk.
(014) Give advice to myself in the past.
(015) Give blood. (05/2010) Done. I’m also now signed up to be a bone marrow donor.
(016) Go ahead and cancel that stupid MySpace account.
(017) Go on a dress-up date.
(018) Go skinny dipping.
(019) Go snorkeling.
(020) Help a stranger. 09/15/2009 — I gave directions to some Chicago tourists on places to shop and eat in the area.
(021) Help someone else make fitness a priority. 05/2010 — A friend has embarked on this for six weeks now, and there’s no sign of shopping. She’s even just started training for a 5k! Yahoo!
(022) Host a swap.
(023) Kiss someone under mistletoe.
(024) Learn how to surf.
(025) Learn how to swim for real.
(026) Learn to drive a motorcycle. 05/2010 — And I was good at it, too!
(027) Learn to drive a stick shift with some proficiency. 12/2010 — Deb forced the issue. It worked!
(028) Learn to play golf.
(029) Live out of the country for at least a month. 01/2011 — I gave it a try and almost friggin’ died. I’m counting it because I know I won’t have medical clearance (or the cajones) to leave the country for a good, long while.
(030) Mail a secret to Post Secret.
(031) Make a career change.
(032) Make it into the news. (Nothing scandalous.)
(033) Make my maa accept her birthday present.
(034) Make S’mores.
(035) Move into non-temporary housing/do something to not feel so displaced. — 11/01/2009 — I have a new place, new furniture, and matching hangers.
(036) Move my homes into a trust, and do some legit estate planning.
(037) Move my parents’ homes into a trust also.
(038) Muscle up: 10 unassisted dips. 06/2010 — Without training, I did more than this the other day.
(039) Muscle up: 10 unassisted pullups/chinups.
(040) Muscle up: 100 pounds bench press. 08/2010 — *flex*
(041) Muscle up: 100 pushups.
(042) Order a singing telegram for a friend.
(043) Organize my childhood photos.
(044) Overdose on blackberries.
(045) Own a car I actually like. 10/08/2009 — I bought a super-cute Honda CRV, and it’s BLUE!
(046) Paint a room purple.
(047) Pet a friendly dog, and make a real effort to not be afraid of him or her. 06/08/2009 — Ollie and I stopped to pet puppies outside PetSmart.
(048) Purchase myself some real jewelry. — 11/21/2009 — I’ve been eyeing/stalking a pair of earrings and a necklace, and I finally spent the cash on it.
(049) Purchase one of those hammered silver Mexican art pieces.
(050) Query Oxygen, Fitness, and Shape magazines for freelance work.
(051) Read 10,000 pages in one year. 10/10/2009 — Done pretty easily, even considering my reading hiatus all summer long.
(052) Read a book on US history.
(053) Refinance my Chicago condo. 01/2011 — I sold it instead!
(054) Remain a CGMC donor. 07/16/2009 — They ask, and I send money.
(055) Remove people from my phone and address book who no longer need to be there.
(056) Restart my science blog.
(057) Ride a helicopter.
(058) Ride a zipline.
(059) Run an 8-minute mile.
(060) Run another race with Catie.
(061) Run another half marathon.
(062) Run with the Olympic torch.
(063) Scare the crap out of myself. 07/28/2009 — I sent an email saying exactly what I thought and felt about a situation. This quite possibly changed the rest of my life. UPDATE: 08/2009 — Ha ha ha ha. Le sigh.
(064) See a volcano.
(065) Send a friend a gift for no reason. 05/2010 — Carla got a box of Chicago goodies.
(066) Send a package to a soldier. 06/2009 — I sent my cousin a package to Iraq. Be safe, Richie!
(067) Send someone flowers. 06/05/2009 — Catie got some ‘Happy Friday’ flowers.
(068) Serve on the board of directors somewhere.
(069) Shoot a gun. 07/31/2009 — Yeah, it was a BB gun. It still counts.
(070) Spend New Year’s Eve somewhere exotic. 01/2011 — I did this, then promptly got so injurred that I took an emergency flight home for a real hospital.
(071) Spend the day at the lake. 07/22/2009 — I met Jenna and the kids at Canyon Lake for the afternoon.
(072) Stand under a waterfall. 01/2011 — The wave counts. I want no part in water for a long time.
(073) Start a book club. (It’s really a drinking club. Just don’t tell anyone’s husbands!)
(074) Straighten my teeth. 06/10/2009 — I got a retainer to straighten up my front four teeth. And insurance covered 80% of it! Yahoo!
(075) Take a last-minute vacation. I do this all the time.
(076) Take a photo in front of the Alamo. 06/06/2009 — Amber, Martin, Grace, Ollie, and I trekked out there.
(077) Take a really tourist-heavy tour in my own city.
(078) Take a self-defense class.
(079) Take a writing workshop.
(080) Take an ASL class.
(081) Take my nephew on vacation. 06/25/2009 — Branden and I flew to Chicago, and we had a great time!
(082) Take my niece on vacation.
(083) Take my niece and nephew somewhere they want to go that I have no interest in. 08/02/2009 — I took the kids to see the second Night at the Museum movie. Meh.
(084) Take photos in a photo booth. 06/09/2009 — I took the kids to Amy’s for ice cream, and they had a booth. We made scary faces, Boy got too close to the camera, I squished their heads together, and we smiled.
(085) Teach GED math classes again. 10/2009 — I tutored someone privately. She was mere points away from passing, which was a 30-point improvement!
(086) Teach gymnastics again.
(087) Throw a kick-ass backyard BBQ.
(088) Throw/give away 101 things that are taking up space. 07/30/2009 — I didn’t count the items, but there was A LOT that I gave and threw away.
(089) Try out for a dance team/company.
(090) Try rock climbing.
(091) Vacation with Uncle Pete and Aunt April.
(092) Visit a winery. 08/2010 — I toured MANY wineries… and got kicked out of one. Whoops!
(093) Visit Catalina Island.
(094) Visit San Francisco. 08/2010 — LOVED!!!
(095) Visit the Caribbean again. 01/2011 — That didn’t go well…
(096) Visit the Grand Canyon. 04/2010 — I took my parents there for their birthdays.
(097) Visit Washington DC.
(098) Watch Kyle play baseball. 06/2011 — Boy played ball in a summer league in my former city.
(099) Wear jeans one size smaller than what I’m in now. 07/2009 — I bought a pair of khaki shorts, wore them a few weeks, then had to buy a size smaller. They aren’t jeans, but they count. UPDATE: 05/2010 — I wear stupidly small jeans these days.
(100) Write a fan letter.
(101) Write a letter to a teacher from before college.

Start date: Friday, June 5, 2009
End date: Thursday, March 2, 2012