Stranger Dinner: September 2016. (& The Flanagan Wedding)

One of the most important goals for me during rehab last month was to get out in time to make it to a wedding. This was the 3rd wedding I’ve attended this summer alone, and each time it was the result of me working my butt off in a hospice-recovery setting to try and make it to spend such an important day with friends that mean the world to me. And it seems like the 3rd time was the charm.

A gif from the awesome photo booth - with Zack, his dad, and his wife Michelle!
A gif from the awesome photo booth – with Zack, his dad, and his wife Michelle!

I spent the weekend in Charlotte, North Carolina to celebrate the wedding of my good friend Zack F. and his wife Michelle F. It was one of the best experiences of my summer – it’s just amazing how much they make each other laugh and how good they are for each other. Their humor plays off of each other beautifully and they are just a joy to share the same room with. I met Zack only shortly before he met Michelle, but even still – it’s palpable how much better they make each other. I’m inspired by their love, to say the least.

I was a part of the wedding party, and although many of us had not met before, we each know Zack well. It was great to see how their are definitely similar characteristics in the folks Zack invites into his life: they all have a very free and willing sense of humor, and they don’t take themselves too seriously. That is definitely something I immediately realized that we each had in common.

So on my way back to D.C. from Charlotte, I spontaneously decided to take a stop in good ol’ Blacksburg, Virginia. I’m sure you know by now that it’s my alma mater, both graduate school and undergrad, and it’s definitely still a place that I still call home. It has my heart, and they always say: home is where the heart is.

I’m fortunate to have many friends who still live in town, from graduate school, to university employees, to undergraduate students, to community members. That is, by far, one of the reasons that stranger dinners are so great in this little town.

Those of you who are Hokies definitely know that Blacksburg is a small place with a small town feel … with a LOT of people! With more than 30,000 students and thousands more in the town of Blacksburg, the population of our town swells when students come, and even though Blacksburg summers are fantastic, there’s nothing like the opportunity to connect with people from around the world when Blacksburg is at its most populous.

Although I missed the football game on Saturday because I was too busy having a blast at the wedding, on Monday night (a holiday) I decided to get together friends from several different Blacksburg walks of life for a Stranger Dinner.

One of the greatest things is that my friend, Alex G., was sitting right next to me. We’ve only met a few times but he is a charming, genuine, and charismatic guy who immediately showed an interest in stranger dinners and even asked me if he could continue them in Blacksburg after I graduated. Of course, the answer was yes! Fate made it happen because I texted Alex on my way to Blacksburg about this idea … which was about 6 hours after he landed back in the states from a summer spent doing research in Africa!

Alex has since hosted many and this was the first that we were able to convene together. Naturally, that made it one of the best stranger dinners yet.

The photo below doesn’t even truly capture it all – because the refreshing, engaging, and discovering conversations everyone had made a longer road trip so very worth it.

 

A Stranger Dinner at The Cellar in Blacksburg, Virginia on 9/5/16.

As with all stranger dinners, I’m hopeful that these new friends who walked into the room not knowing each other left the room with the encouragement to get to know each other even better.

I think my friend Danielle J. said it best when, on her Facebook page, she wrote: “This was an opportunity to meet people who currently study, work, or are affiliated with Virginia Tech. Some people knew each other before dinner, but by the time dinner was over, we all knew each other.”

The [Blacksburg] Stranger Dinners live on! :)

New VT Football Uni’s for the Battle in Bristol.

I’ve always been a big fan of creative, out of the box, sexy college football uniforms. We all know the impact they can have on recruiting, they are a gem to look at (usually), and it generally just makes everyone a bit more excited!

When it comes to Tech’s football uniforms, I get especially giddy when they incorporate any of our university’s storied history. I also love whenever we go with black uniforms, especially because one of my favorite VT facts is that our team colors, back in the day, used to be black and gray!

Kind of like these from the 2010 match up against Boise State. I even bought Tyrod’s jersey (I NEVER buy jerseys!) because I loved the attention to detail. Even though we lost that game, those have been my favorite so far, since I’ve been following Tech football in 2008.

But, now, we do have a close second.

That being said … I’m just gonna leave this here. Only 3 weeks left until college football’s bigger game…ever: The Battle at Bristol. Go Hokies!

The Grillfield.

When it comes to university dining, if this isn’t awesome then I just don’t know what is!

Congratulations to Virginia Tech’s Dining Services (and especially their fearless leader and good friend Ted F.) for accomplishing yet another awesome innovation. I can’t wait to see how these on-campus, university-funded food trucks perform once the students are back in just a few short days!

Learn more about Virginia Tech’s new food trucks by clicking through on the image below.

I’m even more eager to check out how the food is when I get a chance to make it home this fall!

 

Caliendo vs. Barkley.

So I’m a big sports fan and this time of year is golden. Especially with the Olympics going on, a great NBA season and finals  having just concluded, and the NFL season starting up, that really means just one thing…

College football season is upon us.

Well, that means that it actually means 3 things: NFL AND Fantasy Football is upon us!

Tonight, ESPN is airing 28 hours straight of Fantasy Football coverage to compete with the coverage of the Olympics, and they had comedian Frank Caliendo on to do some impressions to get us through the day and a sixth of fantasy football coverage. I had no idea he did such an amazing Charles Barkley from the NBA – check out the video below!

Coming Out: Painting Leah.

As I continue my journey toward being the best possible advocate for anyone with a marginalized identity, I’ve been more and more intrigued by the journey travelled by those who are transgender. The T in LGBTQ (I, A, etc.) stands for transgender and the generally accepted definition of that term is anyone who may have an internal self-identity that doesn’t necessarily correlate with the gender they were assigned at birth.

Folks who are transgender, I’ve learned, often experience constant confusion about why they feel this way and once they come to accept their personally-defined gender role, they can develop means of trying to live a more authentic life, not conforming necessarily to what society has defined them as. It’s the definition of a struggle.

I relate to that struggle in (what I think is) a strange way, as my I’ve had conflicts all my life with my body not necessarily always performing or doing what I would prefer it to do as a person with a physical disability (paraplegia).

As an advocate, I’ve learned over the years that the best thing you can do for someone is simply be present as a support system for them. That’s why I’ve spent time reading more and more and therefore learning more and more about the challenges that people who are transgender face, so that I can be a better advocate and support in those situations for people that I know and love.

One of the most direct influences and exposures I’ve had through this journey is easily Jazz Jennings, a young girl who is a well-known trans activist, too. I’ve watched both seasons of her show that comes on TLC (I Am Jazz), which chronicles her successes, struggles, and interactions with everyday life as a growing teenager who also happens to be trans. I ended up on her YouTube channel and discovered the video below, and wanted to share it with you all. The narrative is inspiring.

Painting Leah: A Short Film by Jazz Jennings” depicts a young artist who comes out to his mother using his passion and talents as a painter. It’s moving to watch. From the creation of the painting, to the dramatic journey down the stairs to where he knows his mother is waiting, he eventually comes out to her as trans, with his trans name being “Leah,” hence the title.

Take 3 or 4 minutes to check out the video. If you understand the narrative behind it and have compassion for those who are a part of the trans community, I can almost guarantee that you won’t be disappointed.