Wedding Misc Post

I’ve been meaning to write a blog post for a few months now, but things have been a little crazy. So I’m starting small. 

Katie Ben 47

We are a sandals sort of people. 

Katie Ben 216


Katie Ben 828

This has to be one of my favorite pictures ever of my mom and me. 

In Memoriam

I wrote this a week ago as a tribute to John Riedl who was barely hanging on after a severe stroke. And yet, even then I didn’t post this. I think that I felt like posting this was too final. John died earlier today and I’m posting this now, but I’m not changing the tense. John will be missed by many.


In the spring of 2007, I made one of the best decisions of my life. Reid Priedhorsky asked if I’d be interested in working on a research project (and subsequent paper) with him and a group of others and I said yes. The group was Reid, Jilin Chen, Tony Lam, and myself with professors Loren Terveen and John Riedl. At the time, I was trying to figure out how (and if) I fit in GroupLens. I wasn’t interested in recommender systems, so GroupLens wasn’t a perfect fit for me. I wasn’t working on research projects outside of class and I was still thinking of research as the means to the end. Where the end was a Ph.D. and a professorship at a liberal arts college. My path changed course while I was in grad school and I think that this project played a big role in that.

The project was to try to get a better, quantitative, understanding of value on Wikipedia. During the month of May, we met, all of us, every day for one hour. Some days we’d have two of these meetings. We worked as a team. Reid was the leader and the rest of us did what was needed, with the professors guiding as needed, but mostly working as team members for Reid. Before this, I’d only worked independently from professors or under the direct instruction of professors.

While our daily meetings could have been a grind, I remember them fondly. Even in tense times, the meetings never felt like a burden. They were a time of mind melding and group brainstorming. They were a way for us to learn from others and bring everything up to the next level. The paper we had at the end of the month was completely different from the one we started working on at the beginning of the month.

We all showed up on Memorial Day, to work until the evening deadline. Even the professors. And this sticks in my mind. The project was a collaboration of the best kind, allowing professors and students to work as peers and learn from each other.

I’ve been thinking about this because John has cancer. Melanoma. He fought it in 2010 and won. But in spring 2012, it came back. He’s fought it as hard as he could, with as much knowledge as he could seek. He consulted with a number of doctors and chose the most effective treatments as possible. Except a few weeks ago they discovered that he had 18 brain tumors. And yesterday morning he had a stroke. Things are not looking good. He’s now lost consciousness and is unlikely to regain it. There’s a gathering next week in MN to celebrate his life that I’m not able to make it too. But I wanted to celebrate him somehow, hence this post.

He’s got a wife and three kids a little younger than me. He’s an avid windsurfer, squash player, and cyclist. He’s the only professor I know who loves coding AND still makes an effort to code. I’m fairly integrated into the Facebook culture now, and I think that John would fit in brilliantly. He is, in many ways, the epitome of a hacker, always interested in new tools and figuring out the optimal path. His face lights up when tricky problems are discussed and he’s always interested in debate. He’s constantly taking care of others. In a recent update he let people know that his two priorities (other than cancer treatment) were his family and his Ph.D. students. Most people I know wouldn’t have the ability to make that commitment, let alone keep it. And yet I’m sure that all of his students have a plan and a support system set up so that they will be able to continue their lines of research and graduate.

I feel, in some ways, like I missed out because I only took one course with John, only wrote one paper with him, and he isn’t on my committee. Reading the stories on his Caringbridge guestbook, it’s amazing to see how many people have been impacted by him and what a power he was in the field of HCI. And his net is wider than that, because his students are out in the world, teaching, conducting research, and spreading the infectious joy for learning that John conveyed.

If you’re interested in reading the paper, check it out here:

Opera Chorister for a week

Almost everyday I’m grateful for my choir. It is so unique and has given me so many opportunities and exposed me to so much unique music. And last week was no exception. Last week, when we premiered an opera. Yeah, it was a church opera, but we had professional soloists, a professional orchestra, and a professional director.

PCC Paulus opera 162

Final Scene from Saturday performance (by Mark Christman)

The opera was called The Shoemaker and was written by local composer Stephen Paulus and local librettist Michael Dennis Browne. It was comissioned by a local church and based on a short story by Tolstoy, What Men Live By. Paulus and Browne had written a church opera, about fifteen years ago called Three Hermits, and this is to be a partner piece to that one. Unlike Three Hermits, Philip Brunelle and the Plymouth Congregational Church choir were given the opportunity to premiere this opera. And so, we did.

I’ve never been involved in anything in the theater. At least not since about third grade when I proudly played a Christmas Tree in a school pageant. And I guess I was one of the leads in a set of five Vacation Bible School plays in late elementary school or middle school, but the point is that I’d never been involved with anything involving a director. Or an assistant director. Oh yeah, and a professional orchestra. This was far outside my comfort zone.

That said, I did it. There were numerous rehearsals, dress rehearsals, etc. We had rehearsals with the soloists, without the soloists, and with a subset of soloists. We had rehearsals with Philip at the piano, Sonja at the piano (Philip directing), and full orchestra. Our last dress rehearsal started 4.5 hours before the first performance. Our costumes/choir robes are sweaty.

PCC Paulus opera 049

Final Dress Rehearsal (by Mark Christman)

But despite the rough “tech” week and the bigger commitment needed to participate, I did it. And I’m exceedingly proud of being involved. But the cool thing is, I’m not the only one. The composer and librettist were at almost every single staged rehearsal. We were working with director Gary Gisselman who is a professional theater director and teaches at St. Olaf College. The soloists were mainly our church section leaders (and superb musicians) but they seemed to greatly enjoy this experience as well. And the soloists that Philip hired from outside the church also seemed like they felt blessed to be involved.

PCC Paulus opera 096

Leads L-R: Simon the Shoemaker (Jim Bohn), Michael the Angel (Dan Dressen),

and Matryona the Shoemaker’s Wife (Krista Palmquist) (by Mark Christman)

The more we got into the music, the more deeply it became a part of us, floating around in our heads day in and out, even once the opera was finished. The music and lyrics are unbelievably gorgeous. (Luckily both performances were recorded by a professional choral sound engineer.) To see for yourself, check out the sound clip attached to this MPR article. (There are three songs in the piece, the second and third are sung by my choir.)

PCC Paulus opera 011

Opening Chorus (by Mark Christman)

At first it was just bizarre. Goofy the way I stood up at one point to talk to the female lead. Awkward to hand out the props. (I handed off about half the props in the whole, minimalist show.) Frustrating trying to figure out when we were supposed to come in. Nerve-wracking doing anything (even a portion of the show) from memory. But by the second performance, during the Sunday service, in scene three, I had to avoid looking in areas of the congregation. Because people had tears running down their faces and I was desperately trying to keep it together and keep singing. At least one of the male leads was also crying, causing the nine year old girls to cry as well. And while part of the crying feeling for me was relief that this immense effort was over, another part was definitely sad. We were just getting into our groove! We were just getting to the point where we all had the lyrics to the final chorus memorized. It was just starting to gel. And then it was over. And we said goodbye to Stephen, Michael, Gary, Scotty (the AD), and the external leads. Then we turned in our music. Tomorrow will not be a better or a worse Sunday. Just very, very different. And less stressful on the voice. (And I go back to my place hiding behind the organ, not seeing anyone.)

For more:

The Star Tribune Article. (Missing some critical facts, btw).

The program (PDF).

More photos on Flickr.

Accessibility fail

New signs appeared in our building for the restrooms last week. I was pleased that they were accessible and had Braille on them. Then I looked closer and ran my hand across the Braille. It wasn’t 3D. You could see it but couldn’t feel anything. A noble but horribly failed effort.



It was quite fitting that the night before we told my parents we were engaged, I’d been scanning my parents old wedding negatives. I also recently bought a copy of Adobe CS 5.5 Design Premium, so, empowered with the force of photoshop and some actions (occasionally) from the Pioneer Woman, I’ve fixed up some of the photos and will show them to you here. Captions will be above the photo.

I’ve grown up looking at these photos in an album that is made with the same fabric as mom’s dress. And yet, it surprises me when I talk to my parents, or look at these details and see how things were different than I have imagined them.

I don’t know how long my parents were officially engaged, but I think it was less than a year. Instead of an engagement ring, after the mutual decision that they would get married, dad gave mom a carved wooden bird. Thus explaining why the bird lives in her dresser. (That puzzled me as a kid.) My parents wanted matching PLAIN wedding bands, which at the time involved going to a jeweler in Toronto. Which I kindof think of as being similar to going to Cleveland for a jeweler because the jewelers in Columbus and Toledo don’t have plain wedding bands. Which these days, is a crazy thought.

Mom and her family.

IMAG0028 soft

Closeups of mom with her family.

IMAG0029 vintage

My parents with my dad’s parents. Sadly this negative was a little scratched on Noni and Nono’s faces. I tried to save it, but there’s still some scratch visible… I have very few pictures of my grandfather (Nono) and this one makes me smile.

IMAG0020 fix

Dad with his family. My uncle Dave is looking surprisingly serious, given his usual jovial state.

IMAG0027 fix

Mom and dad talking in the background while relatives (including my paternal grandparents) sit in the background and mom’s parents talk in the foreground.

IMAG0014 fix

These pictures (including the next three) were all taken in the yard of the house where my mom grew up. The house where my grandparents lived until the mid-nineties. I’m guessing they were taken before the service, but I don’t know. My mom’s brother and a next-door neighbor/family friend were the photographers. While not all the pictures are great, there are enough that are exactly what you want from wedding photos.


One of my favorite photos. My dad’s brother (best man), mom’s sister (maid of honor) and my parents. Everyone looks so happy.

IMAG0031 fix

I guess this picture is probably when I noticed my mom’s distinct lack of flowers. Which is amusing to me because everyone else has flowers. Mom’s not a flower type of person (I don’t know that we’ve ever had florist-flowers in our house, just wildflowers or garden flowers. In fact the one time I can remember my dad giving my mom something flower related was when he got her a lilac tree one year in Alaska.

Formal portrait.

IMAG0034 fix

Dad looking the same, with mom giggling.

IMAG0035 fix copy

Mom made her wedding dress, with the help of, I believe, my grandma. According to my grandma, there was some serious procrastination and the dress was finished less than 48 hours before the wedding. Unlike many wedding dresses, which sit preserved on a shelf, mom’s dress lived in our dress up box. It was next to the Japanese kimono and the Egyptian slippers. I think the shoes may have been in there too. For those of you missing the obvious, no, I will not be wearing my mother’s dress. I outgrew it when I was about 11.

I have never heard of a wedding with a bassoon & clarinet duet. I am intrigued. Luckily my parents have an audiocassette of the wedding, so I could listen (or share it with you all!) if I wanted. Apparently I am the only person in our house to ever have listened to the tape. I found it when I was about 12 and listened to it until it got boring. (Poor quality didn’t help relieve the boring factor.)

IMAG0039 fix

My parents were apparently trendy before the trend. They basically had a cocktail hour between the service and reception. Only the cocktail hour involved no cocktails or any sorts of alcohol (unless you brought a flask) and there were no appetizers. So a more correct term would be mingling hour. But that sounds less trendy.

IMAG0062 fix

I assume that the mingling was prior to going in the church hall for the reception. But I can’t tell you because I haven’t checked with my mother.

I had it in my head that my parents had a cookies and punch reception. People made cookies and there was a fantastic orange and cranberry punch. (I know it’s fantastic because I have the recipe and I keep thinking I should make it more often.) So you can imagine my surprise when I came across this picture this morning. Apparently there were salads, deli meats, cheeses, and bread as well as veggies. (And, presumably elsewhere, punch and cookies,)

IMAG0079 fix

My parents reception had no dancing. There was a group singing of “Consider Yourself at Home” from Oliver (performed by mom’s side of the family, as per tradition.) But I believe most of the reception was people giving speeches and involving gifts somehow. Including, for some reason, hiking boots. (Sadly there is no audio of the reception.)

IMAG0143 fix

Oh look! They’re getting a colander.

IMAG0144 fix

And the colander is on dad’s head.

IMAG0083 fix

(I sent this post to my mom for her to verify facts. She adds, “There are a few corrections to be made (for example, I believe that my mom made all the cookies over several months, and froze them until the wedding). It was a HOT day.”)

UX Issue of the Day

I’m at CHI all week (a 2500 person conference about Human-Computer Interaction). So many of my friends are at CHI and so many people are tweeting, that my method of coping (while still getting the good information) is to create a list of people I follow who are also at CHI. So gradually, throughout the course of the day, I’ve been adding people to my list. And I’ve been making the same mistake every single time. 

I use tweetdeck on my laptop, and this is the interface I see.


Screen Shot 2012 05 07 at 5 25 12 PM


Every time, I check the list I want to add the person to and then I click the button. The button that says create list. A list that I do not want to create. I really should be clicking the x. But clicking a save button is an instinct for me (except in Google Docs and a couple other unique cases). Maybe by tomorrow I’ll have it wired in my brain…

Walk around the Neighborhood

In order to take a break from my thesis proposal writing this afternoon, I went on a walk. It wasn’t going to be a long walk, but it was nice out (a far cry from the thunderstorms that had been predicted). So I walked further than planned. 

IMG 0530

Flowers in the woods which go by many names. Lamprocapnos spectabilis (formerly Dicentra spectabilis); also known as old-fashioned bleeding-heartVenus’s carLady in a bath,Dutchman’s trousers, or Lyre-flower. (Wikipedia)

IMG 0533

 Hard to tell that this isn’t just a forest, but an urban forest. 

IMG 0538

The lilacs were out along the graveyard fence. Light pink, fuschia, and white. 

IMG 0540

One of the houses down the road has a Little Free Library. Sadly there aren’t any books I’m interested in reading right now, but I keep checking.  

IMG 0541

My favorite local house. It’s on two lots and one lot is building-free with a pond and gorgeous landscaping.  

Letter to a Friend recently diagnosed with migraines

First off, I’m sorry. This sucks. Pain is never fun. That said, I’m here, in part to help you fight your brain. And the system.

Now…what do you need to know?

1. Get a neurologist. Talk to your family doctor and see who she recommends. Look up docs in your area on and other headache organization websites. (Note I use migraine and headache interchangeably in this post because I have both. And most docs who are interested in one are also in the other, etc.) Look these doctors and clinics up on the web to find out what their reputations are. Make sure that the neurologist you see is interested in headaches. Headaches are a frustrating type of illness and one that can be frustrating to treat because it’s easy to get discouraged because there’s no progress. A good doctor will see your brain as a puzzle that needs to be solved and will keep seeking solutions beyond the obvious.

2. Buy and read The Migraine Brain. I’ve read a lot of books about migraines and headaches in the past 6 years and this is by far the best. The author made me want to move to Boston so I could be a patient of hers. (And I have a pretty awesome treatment team here.)

3. Keep a migraine diary. These are a simple tool that can help doctors learn more about your symptoms, help you track things like medications and events, and just generally provide more data. (I’m a big fan of having data.) My neurology clinic provides checkbook sized booklets that hold 12 months of data in a calendar form.

Here’s a random month of mine. (The extensive circling is by my neurologist.)

Every day I’ve written a number, my pain level for that day. If it shifts dramatically, I draw an arrow to the new pain level. I record any non-standard meds I took, any procedures I had, and if the headache was odd, I’ll record what was different about it. This has been a wonderful tool, especially when working with two medical teams that have access to different slices of my data. (So this morning when my dentist wanted to know if a drug that I was taking was a culprit in my recent teeth grinding, we could look at dates, not guesstimate.)

4. Talk to people about it. Your migraines can’t be a copout for everything, but my coworkers no longer look at me strangely if I’m wearing sunglasses at my computer or lying under my desk in darkness.

5. Make use of your network. If you know people who have (or might have) been on the meds you are taking, ask them what they thought. Ask them about surprises. (My big one was the numbness in my legs when I took Topamax.) If your doctor is awesome, as mine are, they may be able to help you avoid nasty side effects or at least warn you about them. (Turns out increasing potassium via food, while on Topamax, helps reduce the numbness.)

6. Be patient. Again, it sucks, but most of the meds will take at least 1 month to kick in, and perhaps another 3 months to be able to evaluate. And don’t try to cheat the system by starting multiple medications at the same time, that just confuses things.

7. Recognize that there may be days when you just need to sleep it off. To lie in bed all day and wake up only to eat some food. Preferably ice cream and cookies.

8. Become a detective. Got a migraine today? What did you do differently yesterday? (And then either don’t do it or know the consequences.) I got migraines after several events with strobe lights. Putting it together I could track my migraines way back to middle school, not just prevent future ones. This has changed how I watch movies and means that sometimes I know I just have to cover my eyes and wait for the scene to be over. If I drink caffeine, I’ll pay tomorrow. And the next day. And maybe the next day. It takes a while to figure out these triggers, but paying attention to them helps.

9. Finally (for now at least) and most importantly, realize that you are in charge. Not that this is in your head. (Well, I guess it is, but it’s physiological, not psychological.) But that you are your own advocate. If you don’t like your doctor’s advice, talk to another doctor. If the side effects from the medication have you feeling like your brain is full of cotton balls, tell someone! My team has been more than willing to help me, but I have to ask for the help. And sometimes to demand it.

Here’s to hoping you don’t need anymore advice because your migraines vanish forever. And until then, hugs!


The Emergency Room

Sometimes my migraines get really bad. I know they’re bad because I start screaming and sobbing and trying to convince Ben that it would be a good idea for me to run into a wall, full speed, with my head.

In mid-January, I realized I had a horrible, nothing-will-fix-this migraine. At 9pm. Urgent care had closed, so I decided that I would just give myself an imitrex shot. 99% of the time, the imitrex shot makes me pass out. I have to inject myself while lying in bed. I need to have water next to me and I need to have gone to the bathroom. I cannot walk, I have a hard time talking, and breathing is difficult. Except this time. This was the 1%. The imitrex shot did nothing. 45 minutes later and the pain was worse and I was still awake. Usually I have narcotics for times like this. But I was out.

So after sobbing and having Ben distract me by telling me about his new motherboard and graphics card, I decided I had to go to the ER. Last time I’d gone was over 15 months earlier. I had spent over 3 hours waiting and then another 3+ hours being treated.

We went to the same ER. I was worried because it was sleeting and I figured there would be lots of car crashes. But we got there and were taken back within 45 minutes. Within 15 minutes after that I’d seen a nurse AND the doctor. The doctor listened carefully to my request (PLEASE DON’T GIVE ME Benedryl and Compazine in the IV. They give me the creepy crawlies). Then he ordered three drugs (including not compazine) and wanted to try putting me on high-flow oxygen. He’d read about this treatment recently and it wasn’t a hardship for me, so I didn’t complain.

The nurse tried to put in my IV and failed. Twice. So she called a tech, and the doctor asked her to start my oxygen ASAP before the IV went in. Then the doc came into check on me about every 10-15 minutes. Usually the doc gives orders and doesn’t appear again until well after the bag of saline has flowed into my veins. At one of the checks, I mentioned I needed to go to the bathroom and he had someone help me and also asked about my pain. Since it had drastically reduced, he said he’d discharge me. Immediately. Even though I was only 1/3 of the way through the saline drip.

I rejoiced. Door to door the trip took under 2.5 hours. And I could sleep afterwards. Three cheers for Dr. Robert B. Jones of Southdale ER! Thanks for making the usually unpleasant experience so much nicer.


Most of you know by now that Ben and I are engaged. But most of you haven’t heard the story. I won’t say much, but I thought it would be good to show my four rings.

We got engaged on a walk by the lake with an insanely cold wind. Apparently, we were supposed to go on the walk a few nights earlier, when it was clear and warm, but I was stubborn and didn’t go. So it was cold and windy.

Ben proposed using a ring that I’d bought for $10 at Claire’s a few years ago. I bought it in order to have a ring when I went out dancing or traveling. Basically then I could pretend I was engaged and ward off loser dudes. My hand looks weird in this picture. Basically it was a ginormous fake diamond surrounded by little diamonds.

The next night we were watching a movie. Ben took a Lindt Dark Chocolate Truffle and peeled the tin foil off of the plastic. Then he made me another ring from the truffle wrapper.

During this time, we were looking at rings online, but had trouble finding things we liked. Then I saw Ben at his desk with a hot glue gun. He was making a ring out of a paper clip, blue bead, fishing line, and hot glue. When this picture was taken the fishing line had broken and the hot glue was peeling.

Then we went to our local jeweler and found out that you can color diamonds with magic markers. At the jewelers, since we were looking at sapphires, the lady whipped out a blue sharpie and started coloring diamonds. This was a radical notion to us. My Claire’s ring, it turns out, was much more palatable as a “sapphire.” But I didn’t take pictures of that. Every few days it needed touching up, so one day we just made it an emerald.

But none of these rings were supposed to be permanent. And, as much as I liked the rings from Knox Jewelers, I couldn’t see paying that much for a ring. And it seemed like even half that much (for a compromise ring) wasn’t that great an idea. So we got creative. Ben was sad that my finger wan’t size 5. There were size 5 rings on sale at Sears for $20. But alas, my finger was bigger than that.

Then we went to Etsy. Ah, etsy! Etsy had a perfect ring. Perfect size, perfect stone, perfect price (and sparkly!!). Yay for CavalierCreations!

And so that is the ring that I wear every day.

The end.