Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Taking Down The Tree

Without being asked, I began the process of taking down the tree this afternoon. Taking our Christmas tree down is a huge undertaking. You don't believe me? Take a gander at this photo of it fully loaded....


I spent at least an hour on it already and made great progress. HOWEVER, there are still at least thirty ornaments that need to be removed. And...I didn't even put up all the ornaments this year. The truth is, there was another project I wanted to do more but I decided to be responsible and take down the tree first. It's never as much fun as putting it up but it's still worth it because I get to anticipate all the fun I'll have next year when it goes up again.

Oh, in case you're wondering who the person is behind the chair, that's my son - working on his Lego Hogwart's Castle, with very Harry Potter-ish hair. He really needs a haircut, but I can't bring myself to ruin his Christmas holiday by forcing him to get one. Plus, I've never been very concerned about sloppy hair. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black....I try to avoid hypocrisy whenever I can.

I've had a few bouts of melancholy during the post-Christmas ride, but not as many as I would normally expect. Whenever I start to feel a little bit blue, I just pull out the flour and yeast. And here's the really crazy thing...although I'm loving this time with David and the kids...I'm also really looking forward to going back to work. What a concept, right?

Of course, I'm probably just looking forward to finding more victims for my baking experiments.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Home Again

When I was a kid, and we'd arrive back home, my dad would always say: "Home again, home again, jiggety jog." So...whenever I arrive home or think about being back home, that phrase pops into my head. I just looked it up because I couldn't remember the origin - apparently it's a Mother Goose rhyme. I probably knew that at one time, but proceeded to forget it.

Possibly because I've never actually left my house to buy a fat hog.

At any rate, I'm home now - eating leftover tamales and drinking St. Arnold's Christmas Ale while I blog. Could it be any better than that?

I think not.

Once we got home this afternoon, my son immediately found a corner in our living room so that he could put together his Lego's Hogwart's Castle and my daughter went upstairs to listen to music and put away her new Little Miss Mismatched socks and other assorted accessories. I, of course, got straight to baking. My husband was right to be proud of the gifts he'd bought for me - ALL baking-related. I'll be baking bread constantly until I head back to work, I'm sure. Thank heaven none of us has a gluten intolerance.

And I'm hoping my co-workers enjoy bread, because they'll be seeing a lot of it over the next few months.

The best thing about Christmas gifts, in my opinion, is when you get just the right gift from someone you love. It shows you that they understand who you are and value your idiosyncratic qualities. 

I've now got a couple of expensive Williams-Sonoma bread pans and a fabulous new bread-baking cookbook. I'm in heaven.

My husband has a new green laser-pointer (which is awesome because it appears to point through the night sky so that you can easily point to stars and constellations).

Even my dad did well this year. He paid a local leather-smith to make my mom a one-of-a-kind purse.

Good Christmas vibes must have been in the air. I hope all of you had just as joyous a season.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

How My Family Does Gifts

Crazy.

That's all there is to it. It's great, but crazy.  Well, if you want to be sure and actually watch someone open the gift you got them on Christmas morning, it's not necessarily that great - because the chances of you getting to see it are slim to none. It turns into a sort of free-for-all. Compared to how it was when I ws a kid, it's actually sort of calm now.

My husband's family opens gifts slowly - one at a time - so everyone can see what you got. At first I didn't understand that concept, but now I have to say that I appreciate it.

My family has this approach for present exchanges:
1. fill the tree with a completely insane number of gifts
2. start handing gifts out to everyone so that they end up with a crazy-huge pile in front of them
3. tear into gifts
4. if you're a parent, try to carefully pick up gift wrapping trash from the floor in a fruitless attempt to avoid the loss of small gifts among the debris
5. after the gift opening frenzy is complete, spend the next three hours looking for the gift that you didn't even know you got until your mom mentions it in passing and you realize it got into someone else's pile, or is accidentally buried in tissue paper

When my kid brother was just a baby, and still in his infant seat, we lost him one Christmas. I kid you not. Paper went flying (that was the Christmas I got my dollhouse from my grandparents - handmade and decorated by them) and all of a sudden my mom said: "Wait! Where's the baby??" After a few frantic minutes, someone found him buried under wrapping paper, just playing with the colored beams of light that were coming through to him.

Now he offers the strongest resistance to my attempts to SLOW IT DOWN so that we can watch each other open gifts. He's not having any of that nonsense. He spent the whole morning tossing gift after gift to everyone. In the meantime, I leapt over my nephew in a single bound so I could be there to watch my son open his mountain of Legos.

I'm still looking for a gold bracelet my mom gave me. My husband saw it, but I didn't. I know it's GREAT because I saw the identical one that my daughter and the other female relatives received.

I love my family. We're wild, though. We can't give enough gifts to each other, we can't cook enough food (as evidenced by my three pies, and two "other deserts") and we can't tell enough loud stories to each other. It takes a certain kind of patience to tolerate our approach to life. If you know me at all, then I guess you could sort of just multiply me by about 10 and that would give you the idea of what it's like to be around us at Christmas. Thank goodness for David. Somehow he's able to walk through our loud, tissue-filled living rooms with a smile and a great attitude.

At least he gets all the pumpkin pie, spicy pecans, eggnog bread, and hot apple caramel topping that he can eat for his trouble. Maybe that makes it all worth it.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

My Favorite Ornament

 

This is one of my very first ornaments. As you can tell from the flattened spout, I used it as a teething toy. My memories of this one are so strong that I can ALMOST remember what it felt like to chew on that spout. The ubiquitous masking tape on the bottom of this ornament indicates that I received it in Christmas of 1972, which means I would have been about 15 months old. Prime teething age.

I remember having tea parties for my dolls with this little tea kettle. If I ever have a bigger kitchen and am able to have a smaller kitchen-themed Christmas tree (one of the few decorating ideas I have) - this will be featured on that tree.

Every year, this kettle shines perfectly when I set it against a lit tree branch. Every January, I wrap it carefully in tissue paper and pack it away with all my other cherished childhood memories.

Tomorrow I leave town so I can spend Christmas with my parents, where I hope I will be creating wonderful Christmas memories for my own children.

And so it goes.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Corn Cob Cinderella? Maybe not...



Ok, I'm sure you can tell by now that I tended to think just about every female ornament (that wasn't clearly an angel) was Cinderella. I thought she was because she had a broom and a smile. Who else would be smiling as she swept? June Cleaver, maybe? Again, this Cinderella designation doesn't make much sense since she's wearing a bandanna print.

I took a picture of the back so you can see the identifying masking tape, which tells you that "Jenny" (that would be me) received this ornament during the Christmas of 1975. I was born in September of 1971, so she's clearly pretty old. I'm not sure how much longer the corn cob husk will hold up.

Notice how she has that simple little sweet smile and tiny little dots for eyes? I think there was something about those old-fashioned doll faces that just appealed to me when I was a kid. I've read enough about child development to know that simple faces like that are often the best for young children because then their imaginations can fill in the gaps.

I promise you that was the case for me. I had a very active imagination and played with my Christmas ornaments as if they were dolls.

That could explain the ragged appearance of this one. At least she's well-loved...perhaps even "real."

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Peace On Earth, Good Will Toward Men

 

This is another one of Mimi's gifts to me. I would have guessed second grade, but it's become a recurring theme for me to associate most of these meaningful ornaments with second grade. Whenever I do that, I've learned it's best to assume the association is faulty. Clearly, the majority of my ornament collection did not come into being the year I was seven years old. I bet I could date it online, but that sounds like more effort than I want to take on.

There are quite a few things about this ornament that I find tremendously appealing:

  • the ancient-rune-looking decorations along the top of the circle and the fact that it was made to look as if it was old wood (when, in fact, it's Hallmark plastic)
  • the circular shape itself (and how the angel is flying through it)
  • the front/back continuation of the decoration and words
  • the blue of the angel's gown and the fact that she's sporting the EXACT same muffin-top haircut I wore for more years than I care to remember
  • the angel's cute little bare feet
Christmas is right around the corner and I'm down to just two more ornaments I've chosen for this little exercise in self-exploration. Just the other day, I almost pulled another one off the tree...but refrained. 

See? I have empathy for my readers.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Cinderella?

I always thought this lady was Cinderella. I can't remember if it's because my Mimi told me she was or if it was just my own thought process. I'm not actually sure why Cinderella would be carrying a calico purse and have a lace collar. Maybe she's supposed to be someone from the 1860's since she has those big bustles on the side of her dress?

It's the strangest thing to be looking at all these ornaments more closely. I hope I'm not losing all the magic with this analysis.

At any rate, she (let's call her Cinderella just for the sake of this posting...) was always one of my favorites. I loved the sweet face and reddish hair. The funny thing is that she sort of has my daughter's features. My girl has light blue eyes and thick, reddish-brown hair.

My daughter doesn't have little pink circles drawn on her face, but this ornament is enough like her that it almost makes me want to rename it in my mind from Cinderella to my daughter's name.

Have I ever told you that I briefly caught a glimpse of my daughter before she was born? I was just in one of those half-awake moments and I saw her clear as day as an older kid. I was surprised to see that she had red hair. Sure enough, when she came out a few months later - there it was. Lucky girl.

Back to this ornament...she's stayed in much nicer condition than most of my other childhood ornaments. Presumably because she's made of wood and yarn. And because I got her after I was past my teething stage. (More on that in the final posting.) I wish I knew where she originated. But... like many other pieces of my childhood, she just sort of showed up and I have no idea what she represents.

Luckily, I like her and enjoy her company. We can't always say that about all of the "ornamentation" from our childhood, can we?

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Bright Angel

I keep thinking that I made this angel in second grade...but I'm not sure that's right if I also made my Corncob Doll in second grade. This one could have been a church ornament. I definitely remember painting her and I remember that I wanted her to have dark hair (like me). As you can tell, I branded her with a large "J" so that no one would steal her. Because I'm sure she would have fetched a pretty penny on the black market.

Each year, when I put her on the tree, I was always very proud of her. I almost always chose bright colors for my artwork as a child. Clearly, this angel is no exception. 

Interestingly, my son just told me that she looks Chinese. I guess the outfit resembles a kimono and of course there's a certain geisha quality to the white skin and red lips, I suppose. In truth, I was just trying to create an angel that looked like me. 

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Fat Devil-Child


Every year my Mimi gave me an ornament around Christmas. Her ornaments are the base upon which my entire ornament collection is built. That yearly gift is probably a big part of the reason I give each of my kids and my husband an ornament every Thanksgiving Day. (I started that tradition long before I had kids, by the way – my husband has a bunch of ornaments from me. Twenty, I guess.)

She gave me this ornament in 1983. So, if the engraver accurately recorded the year I was 12 years old. (My daughter is almost 12…that’s a little freaky.) I remember when getting items engraved was all the rage.

Check it out – the engraving was done freehand. Nowadays I think it’s the case that computers and machines do the engraving so it’s all perfect. But this brings back memories of watching the engravers at work in those little kiosks in the mall. I used to be SO impressed with them – my handwriting wasn’t so hot as a pre-teen and I imagined that the pressure to write well must have been intense. I also wondered what happened if they messed one up – did they have to pay for it themselves?

Okay, okay. So I tended to over think things just a bit. Thank goodness I’ve outgrown that tendency, right?

I simply must point out a couple of odd things about this ornament which never occurred to me until tonight, when I really examined it. First of all, the kid putting the letter into the mailbox has a rather big butt. It's hard to tell with this picture, but when you see it in person, you can tell they included a butt crack on the outside of his/her pants. So the kid is either fat or is wearing tight pants. Or maybe both.  At any rate, I don’t think those pants are doing him/her any favors in the fashion department.

In addition, I guess this kid is supposed to be an angel because he/she has wings. But the wings don’t strike me as very angelic. They have sharp points. Isn’t that a devilish look? Makes me wonder if there are horns under his/her hat.

I’m kind of regretting taking a closer look at this ornament because now it looks to me as if an unfashionable devil-child with a really big butt is mailing a letter. Guess that’s what I get for over thinking…

I’ll end with a funny story about this ornament. My husband kept trying to steal it from me during our first two or three years of marriage. You see, his sister’s name is Jennifer (she’s just a month younger than me…yet another 1971 Jennifer) and she had an ornament EXACTLY like this. Every time I’d pull it out, he’d say: “Hey, that’s my sister’s. We need to give it back to her.”

Um. No we don’t. Hands off my fat devil-child, dude!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Baby Mouse

As I understand the story, my mom made this ornament (and the rest of the matching set) for my first Christmas (or maybe it was just the first Christmas when I was scooting around - which technically would've been my second Christmas...). She wanted ornaments that wouldn't crash when they inevitably ended up on the floor.

This set didn't mean a whole lot to me until I inherited it at the age of 28, when I was expecting my first baby. They've been part of my tree ever since, which probably isn't fair - since I had the first grandchild. I suppose I should have passed them on to my brother at some point since he had babies after I did.

Oh, well.

Knowing my mom, she probably had a set for him also. She's actually really great about that kind of stuff. She was born to be a grandmother and I've never seen anyone get so excited about babies.

I love the way this baby mouse was on my tree when I was in diapers and then popped back into my life when I was getting ready to become a mom. He's stayed in great shape, when you consider how insanely old he is. I guess if I was carefully wrapped in tissue paper and stored in the attic every January, I might be in pretty good shape too.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Kwanzaa Angel

This is the most modern of my favorite ornaments that you'll be seeing over the next week. She's a Hallmark ornament I bought for myself after I was all grown up, but before I was married. I was dating David at the time so chances are I was of drinking age (although that's not certain - for two and a half years I wasn't...).

I remember seeing her and thinking she was the prettiest angel ever. I loved her sweet face and simply had to have her for my tree. I kept thinking about her for days after first seeing her, and eventually went back to the store and bought her.

At the time, it didn't even register with me that she was a Kwanzaa angel. To tell you the truth, I'm not sure I was familiar with Kwanzaa at the time. All I knew was that I thought she was beautiful and peaceful.

This ornament represents the beginning stages of me creating my own home and creating my own kind of Jenn Christmas. And a Jenn Christmas is, admittedly, a somewhat unique creation. We have interesting holiday traditions at our house. For example, just two nights ago my husband pulled out our menorah (which was a Christmas gift he gave me about three or four years ago - no, he's not Jewish in case you're wondering...), lit the candles, and explained the importance of Hanukkah to our kids. He also explained that he was the one who should light the candles because traditionally the head of the household was the one who should do this. (I had to shut down my daughter's lecture at that point or the candles would have been puddles of wax before he finished the story.)  

Anyway - the Jenn (and David) kind of Christmas might seem a little odd to others, but our approach makes my heart sing every year. This little angel reminds me that I can create my own home and my own traditions.

 I can't wait to see what my kids create in their own homes one day.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Handmade Corncob Doll

I made this doll when I was a child and was terribly proud of her. I still am, to be honest. 

I believe (although I'm not entirely sure) that I made her in second grade as part of our unit on pioneers. We were given scraps of material and I fashioned this dress and cape out of the scraps. (Yes, that is a dress and a cape.) Bizarrely, that's the original scotch tape holding the cape together. If you were to open the cape (please don't), you'd see that the dress is held together by staples. The kerchief is, of course, Elmer-glued to the top of her head.

I remember coming home with her and proudly placing her on our tree. I'm 39 now. That means I've been putting her on my tree every year for about 22 years. Each year, I'm just as proud (almost) as I was when I was in second grade. 

I remember MANY details about second grade. Out of curiosity, I googled my second grade elementary school (I only attended it that one year) and instantly knew I'd remembered the name correctly from the double sidewalk leading into the building. One morning, when my parents were dropping me off and I was just about to step onto that sidewalk, my dad taught me his trick for remembering how to spell friend. "It ends in 'end'." And another day, during the carpool home, one of my more mature carpool-mates blurted out the truth about Santa. I cried. My mom was mad.

Second grade was rough. I really didn't like that year very much. But... this doll brings a smile to my face every Christmas. I'm glad to have something tangible from my seventh year of life that makes me feel successful.

And really, the whole point of a Christmas tree (in my opinion) is to relive memories from your life. Christmas ornaments are time machines that zoom you back to your childhood, or your wedding, or the first year you left home for college.

This explains why I don't believe in having fashionable, coordinated Christmas trees. You see expensive crystal ornaments right next to a Baby Jesus made out of a toilet roll holder, with yarn for his hair. It's a great look for a tree and, because I'm Jenn, I love putting my history up on the branches for the world to see.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Christmas Tree Ornament Countdown

These two houses don't look like much in this snapshot. They look like even less in real life, trust me. These somewhat flimsy houses are cardboard and you might notice that the eave of the red house looks chewed upon. 

And yet, they are two of the most important ornaments I own. Technically, I suppose they aren't "Christmas tree ornaments" because there's no tree-hangin' loop attached to them. As I remember it, they (and possibly some other houses) sat under our Christmas tree when I was a wee girl. I distinctly remember lying under the tree (I used to love it under the tree as a toddler, looking up into the branches) and disappearing into these houses in my imagination. 

I think Momma had more than just these two cardboard houses, but these are the ones that ended up in my home. I don't have a clue where they originated - or where she bought them, but if they weren't under my tree, I wouldn't think it was really December.

I decided to write about my favorite ten Christmas tree ornaments - in part because I've been lax when it comes to including photography in my blog. The truth is that this top ten list won't really be in any particular order. I love Christmas and Christmas ornaments so picking a "favorite ten" feels a bit disloyal - really, you'll be reading about the ten which inspire the strongest memories for me - or which feel important to me.

These houses bring back memories of me as a tiny thing, lying under the Christmas tree, feeling as if I was in a magical village. Whenever I pull these out of the storage box, I remember how safe I felt whenever I was under our tree.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Rockin' at Work

I had one of those really, really productive weeks at work. I LOVE it when that happens. Wednesday afternoon I had a meeting with my boss and filled up an entire page with things I needed to do, preferably before Monday morning. Since I work part-time Monday through Thursday, I felt a wee bit anxious about my ability to get it all done.

The truth is, my boss is fabulous and would have no problem if I needed to postpone something. But...I guess I was up for the challenge and decided to jump in and work like a crazy woman on Thursday. Lo and behold, I managed to tackle just about everything that needed to be tackled. I think I'm down to just one webpage that needs updates but I pretty much have the information ready - I just need final confirmation from someone else on an issue.

I've only been back at what I consider my "home" for about four months but I've learned a tremendous amount about what I need professionally. Or, truth be told, I suppose I've accepted the truth of what I need.

  • I need to believe that I matter to others and that they care about me. (No need to point out that I shouldn't need that. It may or may not be true, but it's who I am and there's not a darn thing I can do about it. I spend most of my waking hours at work and I'm all about connecting to other people. If I spend that time in isolation, it's quite miserable for me.)
  • I need an opportunity to be creative and offer up my ideas. (I'm looking for every opportunity to write, for example, but I'm even excited when I find just the right clip-art for my presentations. I've also had fun being the "process queen" about things that have been done that way forever and am excited when others are willing to consider my new way of looking at things. That doesn't always work, but boy I love it when it does!)
  • I need consistency. I know - who doesn't, right? But when someone in authority gives conflicting messages or I never know when I might be attacked, I shut down completely. I can't ignore it and I really have a hard time living with it.
  • I love having a short commute. Maybe I could live without it, but it sure feels like a need to me now that I have it again!
Happiness is being pumped up while you check stuff off your to-do list. 

Happiness is picking your kid up after school (I may never be able to do that again after this year, so I'm enjoying it while I can!).

Happiness is realizing you just accomplished something that (perhaps...) no one else could have accomplished.

So...I'm happy. Am I still discontent? Well, sure - I guess. But I'm discontent in a happy way because I believe I'm moving towards great things. 

And, yes - I realize I'm probably the only human on Earth who would say that she's "discontent in a happy way. " Deal with it. It's part of my charm.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Speaking of Quirks in My Personality...

...and I'm only writing this because I know all three of you who read this on a regular basis....

I just have to share (as I did with one of you at dinner tonight) that I recently started exploring the concept of chakras (note: this link is just the pure definition - which doesn't give you much to go on, but...oh, well...). I'm trying to figure out which of mine might be particularly blocked. Or spinning in the wrong direction. Or whatever it is that chakras do when they're not really in sync with you.

I know. Completely new-agey, right?

You would have been amused last night to see me half asleep with a brown stone clutched in my hand, my husband asking gently probing questions to try to figure out what was up:

David: What do you have in your hand?

[a pregnant pause...]

Me: A stone.

David: Why do you have it?

[another pregnant pause, followed by an evasive non-answer which I can't remember at the moment]

David: Ok. I hope it does what you need it to do.

Me: [falls asleep, appreciates the fact that he didn't laugh at me]

Tonight, before I wrote this blog, I was searching Google for information on the particular chakra at issue, when I noticed that he was reading the computer over my shoulder. He didn't say much of anything, and I didn't change websites.

I'm actually thinking that this is a sign of health in our marriage...that he can tolerate my amateurishly-mystic spiritual explorations. Really, you've got to be impressed - right? How many guys would put up with stones in the bed?

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to dance counterclockwise around a bonfire. Ok. That was a joke. I'm actually WAY too tired to do that tonight.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Sugar

I've given up sugar. Again.

For years (I'm quite serious...years and years...) I'd refrained from eating sugar. About six months ago I decided to allow myself a little sugar every now and then. (What's the harm, right?) It started with a piece of dark chocolate in the evening. That was the beginning of the end. The "slippery slope" argument doesn't hold much water when it comes to constitutional law, but it's certainly true when it comes to me and sugar.

I simply cannot touch the stuff.

Well, technically I suppose I can touch it because I cook with it. Rather excessively this time of year, to tell you the truth. Let's just say that my tongue can't touch the stuff.

It's pretty tough to be in this initial abstinence phase, but I'm reminding myself that it was a LOT tougher the first time around. I get a little bummed when I refrain from pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving or a bite-sized Snickers on Black Friday, but years ago - when I first did this - I practically had to handcuff myself to my desk to prevent myself from buying peanut M&M's at 3:00 p.m.

Oh....those peanut M&M's....

I guess I need to find some great fruit recipes - if you've never given up sugar cold turkey, you've got no idea how fabulous fruit tastes. And if you're thinking you can't do it, I'm here to tell you that it's definately do-able. I'm more passionate about chocolate than I am about anything or anyone on Earth...and I did it. Even with my addictive personality.

Of course, if you're one of those freaks who can eat one cookie a week and feel all satisfied from it then never mind. And...you totally suck.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

My Approach to Pies

I love to bake. Even when I'm in one of my cold turkey "absolutely no sugar at all going into my body" periods (as I am now) - I'm the dessert queen. I particularly love to bake pies - as anyone whose spent a holiday with me will attest. My pies are moderately well-known in our family circle, but here's the strange thing about my approach:

Every year I use slighly different recipes.

You'd think I'd take a consistent approach to baking...you know, if a recipe is really good then it might make sense to keep it and re-use it the next year. But no - that approach doesn't appeal to me for some strange reason.

Part of the reason for my "new recipe every year" attitude is pure disorganization. (Keeping up with a particular piece of paper for 365 days would take an enormous amount of effort on my part.) Part of the reason is that I enjoy experimentation (thereby subjecting my family to experimentation). And...well, probably part of the reason is that I forget exactly what I did a year before so I just start all over.

Each year, around this time, I search the web for chocolate whiskey pecan pie recipes. I always use a slightly different recipe. The downside of this approach is that I'm always very nervous before folks eat my pies. Today is no exception - especially because this year I was a crazy woman and made homemade pie crust. Yikes.

I'm pondering whether I should create a Thanksgiving/Christmas recipe folder on my computer so that I could keep up with recipes. I could even include notes about the best recipes. I can't explain it but for some reason that does NOT sound like fun to me. Maybe I enjoy experiencing the unexpected every year.

Or...since I'm not eating sugar...watching my loved ones experience the unexpected.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Jenn and Julie...and Julia

As I write this, I'm in the process of watching Julie and Julia and again. Again. Which wouldn't really be significant except for the fact that I don't necessarily re-watch movies (or re-read books) unless they are EXTREMELY significant to me.

I knew that there was something to Julie and Julia because I've been obsessing over the movie ever since I watched it last week. Constantly. I've wanted to re-watch it every day.

So...here's the question for me and my (quite silent) six readers. Why is that? Why am I so drawn to this story? Have you seen the movie? If not, you really should because I promise you that this post will mean absolutely nothing to you unless you have. For the sake of this post, which is really just for my own therapeutic purposes anyway, I'm going to assume that you've watched Julie and Julia at least once and, in the process, you managed to memorize a surprising number of lines and details. If you didn't - you don't need to tell me. Really. I'll be fine without that knowledge.

The OBVIOUS connection to me is, of course, the blog angst. I know...that's what you think the connection is. Julie has my angst about the fact that no one is reading her blog. The difference (again...OBVIOUSLY...) is that in her case people began to read her blog and in my case...well, maybe not so much. But I think you're wrong. That's NOT why I'm so taken by the movie.

I don't think that's what speaks to me at all. Blogs are blogs. And 2010 is a TOTALLY different reality than 2002. I know that M, M, J and R (and sometimes even my husband) read my blog. That's enough. It's cheaper than therapy and I've yet to find a therapist who truly understands me anyway. You guys do. Writing is good for me.

I think the real connection I have to J & J is Julie's early statement to her husband that she just wants something in her life she can finish from beginning to end and that it's her ADHD that prevents her from being a good housekeeper. And... you know, for some of us it is quite, quite difficult to find a project that we will complete. Was it only me who saw the absolute truth in that statement?

Maybe so.

Or maybe the connection is just that I think food is fabulous. And I've had such an off-and-on relationship with it. Like it's some mysterious lover that dips in and out of my life at the most unexpected moments.

Or....It could be that I've been obsessed with Paris and the imagined life of An American in Paris since I was 14 years old.

Then again...

It could be the absolute truth of a husband who supports his wife and her dreams, regardless of how nonsensical or unorganized they are. The idea that someone would say - "Ok. So we live in an itty bitty, teeny tiny place and have no money...we get home from work late every night...but if you want to cook every single complex Fench recipe in Julia Child's cookbook and yell at me in between boeuf bourguinon and chocolate mousse as you crater emotionally...then, well, I guess I'll keep loving you through that adventure."

And, yes...I've heard that maybe they didn't make it...but we're talking about the movie here. NOT reality. So cut me some slack - ok?

I'm thinking there's a lot of truth in the idea that it takes a certain type of guy to put up with my tendency to obsess over odd issues. At least Julie's husband got to eat well. Mine is lucky to get HEB pre-cooked brisket that is baked in the oven instead of micro-waved.

And yet, we all have our gifts. Thank goodness for loved ones who patiently wait for mine to emerge.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Contentment

Have you ever felt as if contentment was one of those outfits you see in a store window and you just have to have it....so you fork over the credit card and you're so excited as the fashionable salesboy wraps it in tissue paper and puts it into a swanky shopping bag with fabulous handles made of ribbon?

You haven't? Maybe it's just me.

Anyway - once I get it (contentment) home, I hang it in my closet for a few days before wearing it. The problem is that it doesn't fit me as well as I thought it would. As a matter of fact, I realize it's terribly uncomfortable. Ironically, contenment makes me very discontent.

I used to buy into the notion that my discontent was depression or sadness - I no longer think that's the case. I think I'm actually reasonably happy most of the time but I'm not content. I can't (or don't want to) sit still and soak things in. I need to analyze and question and push. As soon as I think I've found where I need to be - as soon as I think I've found my comfort zone - everything starts to itch. The outfit doesn't fit anymore.

Writing about this makes me feel a little more at peace - when I started writing this post it was titled "Happiness" and I thought I was going to be all angsty about how I struggle with happiness. After reading the first paragraph, I realized that wasn't right - I'm just not content. Maybe I never will be.

Maybe that's ok.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Action for Action's Sake

On Wednesday, I checked a translation of the Bhagavad Gita out of my church library, thinking that it might serve as a useful focus for morning meditations.

That assumes, of course, that I arise and meditate on a regular basis. Which I don't. Not by a long shot. But that's a topic for another post.

Anyway - back to the BG...there's a concept in one of the very early chapters that I'm playing with in my mind. I believe it's true from a spiritual perspective but I keep thinking of all the times I struggle with this truth as compared to the very few times in my life when I seem to get it.

Here's the verse:

You have a right to your actions,
but never to your actions' fruits.
Act for the action's sake.
And do not be attached to inaction.

Leaving aside the fact that I wish there was a comma after the word "sake" and the first word of the last line was lower case like the first word in the second line, I really love this verse. As a mom, I've recently felt a shift in how I want to relate to my kids. I attribute a lot of this shift to an article I read, which inspired me to (begin to) let go of the idea that I can mold my kids to become a particular type of person. I started to really look at my kids, realized how awesome they are, and decided to just try to enjoy my time with them and support them as much as I could in the process.

So...I suppose the motherhood thing was one reason this verse spoke to me, but that's not the only reason. It's a pretty radical notion when you think about it. Pretty much every career expert out there tells us that we need to network and "build our brand" so that we can grab control of our future and of course we need to eat healthy and exercise so that we can all look like _____ [insert your concept of most beautiful man or woman here]. Cause and effect is something that we're brought up to respect - and, in my humble opinion, it matters. I want my kids to know that their actions have consequences. Otherwise they could grow up to become insensitive dolts who think the world revolves around them. Oops. There I go - trying to mold them again.

Sigh.

My point, and I do have one, is that it's rather interesting to play with the idea of not allowing yourself to be attached to the results of your action. In other words: you raise and nourish and love your children because those actions are what you value. You might hope that they grow up healthy and strong, and provide you with precious grandchildren in your old age - but you shouldn't be attached to that hope. One never knows what will happen.

I think I kind of get it when it comes to my writing: I'd like it if a lot of people read my blog and my words were inspiring to others - but the truth is that the act of writing and re-writing my buzzing thoughts gives me immense satisfaction. Few things make me this happy.

Here's where I really struggle with the presumed truth of the verse - dog training. The whole reason we try to teach our dogs to sit or heel or stop barking like an idiot everytime someone rides by on a bicycle is so that we can change their future actions. I guess the anonymous author of the BG might argue that we're supposed to just enjoy that time with our dog for what it is and let go of any future expectations...but I'm just not seeing it.

In other words, I'm beginning to have a somewhat yoga attitude about my kids, my writing, and even my career - but not when it comes to my dog.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Jenn Joins a Horde

I just returned from Washington D.C., where I joined tons of people at the Rally to Restore Sanity. Truthfully "tons of people" doesn't even come close to the description. It was throngs of people. Legions of people. The mall was abundant with humanity.

We got there about an hour early and the crowd was already way back at 7th street and the sculpture garden, which was (as I understand it) the outer limits of what had been reserved for the Rally.

Hah!

People continued to pile in behind us and the very-cool-young-men-in-a-tree behind us informed me that they couldn't even see the end of the crowd. Once I took a look at some of the aerial photos of the event, it was obvious that the crowd spilled out from the mall into the streets on the side and  way back to the end of the National Mall.

Rally for

I think I'm in this picture, but if I am - it's near the front of this crowd (the part furthest away from the reflecting pool) - which is still very far away from the actual stage. This is just the back half of the crowd.

At any rate - I was surprisingly pleased to be part of a horde for the first time in my life. After the rally, we all left slowly, tightly, with me holding on to my husband's back pocket the whole time so he wouldn't lose me in the mass of humanity. Along the way, I kept pointing out posters so he could get pictures of the great ones.

Once clear of the National Mall, all the rally-goers were marching down the surrounding streets, holding our signs and smiling at each other. It somehow felt historical and really, really great - like I was speaking up for something - even if it was something as mundane as just treating each other with decency. You know...using manners, not making assumptions about others, and appreciating the fact that Americans can disagree and not think it's the end of the world as we know it.

So...ok, it wasn't exactly the civil rights or women's rights marches my mom participated in during the 60's (I consider myself blessed that she and others fought those battles for us) but it was a semi-spontaneous march that mattered to me in 2010. I'd say it was a march for my generation, but that wouldn't be fair or even accurate. I was surrounded by people my parents age (and older) as well as people much younger than my 39 years. (The guys in the tree were clearly not only in great shape but most of them were almost certainly in their twenties..except for one really old dude who was rather overweight. I seriously think he might have teleported himself into the tree. But...I digress.)

I loved the trip to D.C. for a bunch of reasons. Saturday was the ultimate experience of going with the flow. I'd asked some friends for restaurant recommendations. That turned out to be quite laughable...as we quickly realized we were walking down Independence Avenue with 215,000 other people. We crowded into the Metro - which was packed like a Tokyo subway - and departed near GWU. We beat most of the rest of the crowd to that part of town by about 15 minutes, which meant we only had to wait 45 minutes for a table at a surprisingly good Italian restaurant. It wasn't on any of the lists I'd collected, but I enjoyed a glass of their house sangiovese, ate roasted garlic with spinach, and enjoyed the fact that I wasn't standing up anymore.

I loved looking at everyone's signs and I thought Jon Stewart's final statement was fabulous. I can't BELIEVE I got to hear Yusef (a.k.a. Cat Stevens) sing live. I was in pure heaven singing "Peace Train" and swaying. (Maybe I was channeling the 60's just a bit...)

I clung to my husband as if it was 1963 (or...really...1973, since I should at least reference a year in which I was alive...) because so many people were using cell phones that the system was pretty much down. My cell phone was about as useful as a paperweight. I couldn't get texts or calls to go through until I hit Foggy Bottom. I was holding onto his back pocket like it was my lifeline because I knew if we got separated, it would be a while before we'd reach each other on the phone.

When all was said and done, we made it back to the hotel where we purchased exorbitantly expensive glasses of Jameson's and worked on this slideshow of all the great signs we'd seen. (Mine is the one that says "Chill!" in case you're wondering.)

I learned a few things this weekend.
1. It's great to spend a few hundred bucks to take an irrational trip every now and then.
2. There's a totally cool couple from Iowa (about my parents' age) who are the only people in their social circle to watch The Daily Show. (You go, cool Boomers!!)
3. There's a really, really bad Tex-Mex knock off restaurant in the Charlotte, N.C. airport that charges WAY too much for watery margaritas and nauseating nachos.
4. I may vote Democratic in many, many elections - but I'm not "a Democrat" - I'm an American. And a mom. I appreciate artistic outlandishness and conservative stability. Oddly - that doesn't strike me as contradictory.
5. My husband is the same stable and reliable guy that he was when he led me around D.C. on our honeymoon in 1993. Thank goodness I'm with someone whom I can trust to consistently point me in the right direction. And...you know...find me a good red wine at the end of the day.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Praying for Dwayne

There's a guy who hangs out near my Walgreens and whenever I have a dollar I give it to him. For some reason I started thinking about him a lot, worrying about him you might say and I wanted to meet him. I don't know why - I know that in the lingo of the church where I was raised, one would say that "the Spirit was speaking to me" - but I don't use that lingo anymore so I don't really know how to describe how I felt.

I just know I wanted to meet him.

Yesterday I was lucky enough to be stopped at the red light so we had more than a second to visit. I asked him if he needed anything else - he indicated anything was welcome. I clarified that I was wondering if he had the phone numbers to call for places in town that helped people who didn't have a home. He said he didn't, I offered to bring them and he said that would be great.

Last night I pulled together some numbers - it's not as easy as you might think - even with a semi-decent internet connection. I grabbed some quarters and a water bottle, then my son insisted that I include a bag of Chips Ahoy. He wasn't around yesterday evening and I was oddly worried. I saw someone else's sign by the side of the road - abandoned - and I started thinking about all the rough things that could happen to him. And of course - how many others were out last night? It wasn't just my friend in danger.

Today he was back at his corner so I walked over to him. Two other guys were with him so it was kind of crummy that I didn't have a bag for everyone, but I at least introduced myself and got into a mini-discussion about the proper pronunciation of Caritas. (Now I'm really wondering....)

Here's what I learned: my friend's name is Dwayne. I'd always noticed that he had a wolf t-shirt that he hung over his backpack and I told him how much I loved it. He pointed out that the reason he liked it is that the wolf has green eyes with dark fur and he told me to look at his eyes - they were blue. Blue, blue eyes against his dark skin - very cool.

Anyway, we talked for a while about how some people can treat you like you're nothing - I told him it happened to me too but that he just needed to remember he was a blessing. (Because he is.)

The reason I'm telling you this is that "Homelessness" is so big and overwhelming - it seems hopeless. The big huge social issue of homelessness and all the other social issues that are intrinsically tied into it ARE huge and I can't do a darn thing about them by myself.

But now we all know Dwayne's name. If you ever pray or even if you just think about people and hope for the best, then you can think about Dwayne by name. I gave him the numbers for a bunch of places here in town - including Caritas and Front Steps. I gave him cookies and water, and three quarters. It's just a start, but love will take him further.

So maybe tonight, just tonight - if we all pray for Dwayne - he'll see a new direction and a new hope.  My son asked me last month why I pray so often. I told him that it's because there are so many things in life over which I have no control. When I pray, I send my love out - sometimes that's all I can do. I guess I'm still Baptist enough (deep down) to believe it makes a difference in the world. I know it makes a difference in my heart.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Top Ten Funny/Crazy/Goofy Things

Top Ten Funny/Crazy/Goofy Things That Happened in the Last Year:

10. I turned 39.

9.  My son beat me in arm wrestling, which means that I now officially have the wimpiest arms in our family.

8.  I started cleaning the house...sort of....and realized that I enjoyed it....kind of...sometimes.

7.  I sewed myself a skirt. Which is, now that I think about it, a blog topic in and of itself. It's the ultimate proof that mothering soaks into your system, even if it takes decades to reapper. (My mom was always an incredible seamstress - apparently I learned some things after all.)

6.  I tried to organize my life by creating daily lists. I'm still finding old lists in odd cubbyholes and nooks in my purse, car and linen closet (don't ask).

5.  I found that the lost lists weren't really helping me....so, in my stubborness, I just made more lists. I realized that if I wrote something down enough, I'd eventually do it.

4. Ramona and Beezus became one of my favorite movies of all time. I cried like a baby both times I saw it and appreciated the fact that my family didn't make me walk five steps behind them when we left the theater and I was still making those weird little hiccup noises and wiping my nose on my sleeve.

3. I became the mom of a middle school girl and was initiated into that head spinning feeling you get when your pre-teen looks at you the same way you used to look at your own mom. (You know, like when she would try to talk to you about s-e-x...awkward.....)

2.  I went to work half-time and filled all my "free" time with kids' activities as if volunteering for school, scouting, and church was some kind of Olympic event and I'm in the final push before the trials. That would all be fine if it wasn't for the fact that I tend to inadvertently promise that I'll be in two places at one time. I still haven't figured out how to accomplish teleportation so that's been a minor issue - especially since I dumped my Blackberry, which used to keep me on schedule back in the day...

1. Number one is a placeholder for all the things I've forgotten, but will jump back into my mind when I'm driving my daughter to theater rehearsal, reading Harry Potter to my son, or washing my hair with hotel shampoo and wondering when I'm going to get the guts up to buy the $90 shampoo/conditioner set I want from Sephora.

Thanks, M, for pointing out that my posts have been focused on my angst. I'll always have it - it's part of me - but it was a lot of fun to remind myself about the goofiness.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Thirty-Nine

On Tuesday, I turned 39. Interestingly, I found myself wishing it was my 40th - but that's because I'm secretly convinced that I'll have it all figured out personally, professionally and physically by this time next year.

It's a rather tall order but I'm determined to do it - and here's my plan...

Instead of changing a bunch of stuff about me, I'm going to begin accepting as much as I possibly can. Only if I find something completely unacceptable will I attempt to change it.

For example, instead of thinking that I'm only going to accept a crazy-skinny size for my body, I'm going to ACCEPT the fact that I'm probably meant to be a size 6/8 and I should just be focusing on finding some kind of movement I can enjoy every day.

Easier said than done, but I've got a year. I'm thinking I'll have more energy for the important things in life if I stop expending it on self-critical behavior and ask: "Can I accept this about myself? Or do I really want to change it?"

Most of the acceptance needs to come in the personal area of my life. My personality isn't going to change. I'm always going to be very sensitive, very emotional, and I'm also going to need a WHOLE lot of love and tenderness. There you go. Not a whole lot I can do about it so I might as well stop wishing that I could be a tough-as-nails woman who needs nothin' from no-one because it ain't gonna happen.

Funny. I'm smiling as I write this - this radical "self-acceptance" concept is incredibly liberating. I think it's going to be a good thing.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Letting Go

It's been SUCH a long time since I've posted. I know. I'd claim that I was trying to be coy and unattainable...but that would imply that I actually had readers.

Hee, hee.

It's ok. I'm self-absorbed enough to re-read my postings three times before hitting the "Publish Post" button...so I figure that counts as at least two additional followers.

I'm sure you're on the edge of your seat, wondering what profoundly intense and dynamic event inspired me to post. (Other than the obvious combination of 63% dark chocolate and Tullamore Irish Whiskey...) Get this - it was a presentation by the CFO of my school district.

Wild, right?

She was actually pretty darn good and for some reason, I was - for the first time - VERY drawn into the whole school finance issue. I'm still trying to figure out if it was a generational connection or if I finally passed some intellectual marker which allowed me to make conceptual leaps which previously alluded my emotion-addled brain.

Regardless...

Her point (which is obvious but is one most of us spend our lives trying to avoid) is that everything in life requires choices. These choices are never easy if what you seek is worth anything at all.

To put it in terms a second grade boy might understand: If you REALLY want to have enough money to buy the $100 Millennium Falcon Lego set, then you will have to pass on a lot of $20 semi-o.k. Lego sets.

To put it in terms of a sixth grade girl: If you REALLY want to be popular, you'll have to treat some people like crap and pretend to be someone you're not.

And...to put it in terms their mom might understand: If you REALLY want to follow your heart, then you might actually have to listen to it instead of drowning it out with the buzz of your busy life.

Of course, she didn't use those examples. She focused on practical examples relating to facilities, extra-curricular programs, and social security. And yet, in spite of the numerical emphasis of the presentation - the message resonated with me. I can't do it all and I can't give it all. 

It all begs the question: what will I give to others and what will I release from my expectations?

Try this question on for size - what will I give up? What will I NOT give up?

Once you hear your own honest answer, your future begins to take focus - and I'll bet money on the prediction that you'll also hug your family just a little bit tighter.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Let the rain come down....make a brand new ground

Tropical Storm Hermine is drenching us today and the rain matched my morning mood. To be fair, I don't think the mood will be leaving me anytime soon because it hasn't had it's way with me yet. Do you ever have those days when you realize something about yourself and it's not enlightening, it's just exhausting?

Because after the big realization, you've got to deal with the truth about yourself.

Especially on a rainy day, it can just make a girl so tired. I'm at the end of my lunch break right now, listening to Sara B's new album - specifically the song "Let The Rain." The first few lines sort of sum it up for me (so thank goodness I could finally buy it today)...

I wish I were pretty, I wish I were brave. If I owned this city, then I'd make it behave. And if I were fearless then I'd speak my truth and the world would hear this. That's what I wish I'd do.

The truth. Sometimes it's just too much.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Best Day

The mountains were wonderful (it's moderately difficult to be back in the Texas heat, but great to be home) and one day up in Crested Butte - I found myself thinking that it was, quite possibly, one of the best days of my life. Sitting here at home, with the smell of freshly baked Reeses Pieces cookies in the background, waiting for my son to return from a laser tag birthday party, I'm not sure if all of my best vacation memories are from just one day (I doubt they are) but they blur together happily and I realize they all have one thing in common - the four of us were together, laughing or enjoying a new experience.

We took a trail ride- just the four of us, through the Gunnison national forest. I've honestly never seen anything so beautiful in my life and as I rode through the aspen, I felt closer to God than I had in a long time. I admitted that to my daughter later. She raised her eyebrows at me, agreed that it sounded kind of corny, but then told me she knew exactly how I felt.

We wondered around a farmer's market on a beautiful sunny day. The kids and I got henna tattoos as I wore a daisy in my hair. Later that day, I listed to John Denver as I drank in the mountain air. (Nothing takes me back to the happy days of my childhood like John Denver. I must admit, however, that I still sometimes picture him with the Muppets when I hear him sing. He was my favorite guest star.)

We took our horse guide's advice, and ate pizza at The Secret Stash. The food was fabulous (pizza with figs, prosciutto and truffle oil) but the ambiance was even better. We sat on cushions in an attic decorated like something out of Tibet, complete with tapestries of Ganesh and Shiva (I think those were the devas and devis I recognized...but I'm no expert) and listed to the best ever hippie music playing over the speakers. We had so much fun -  it was truly one of those hours I want to remember forever.

The four corners of our family connected at each of these moments. We have seven more years under the same roof and I want more hilarity, more beauty, more connection. More "best days."

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Mountain Mist

When the mist rolls in, it covers your mountain so completely that you can hardly believe it still exists. It feels as if this beautiful, verdant, enormous entity has been wiped from the face of the Earth.

The stability of the mountain, which seemed so certain when it was obvious from your window, is suddenly in question. Everything disappears into a gloomy greyish soup.

Wiser souls assure you that the sun will return and burn off the mist. You watch and wait, then try to distract yourself with other activities so that you don't have to look at the grey.

Eventually, the sky is blue and the last pieces of fog are releasing their hold on the mountain.

You're filled with gratitude for those who went before you and assured you that mist evaporates. The mountain brings you even more joy than it did before -- because you know it never left your side. You love the sun, which cleared the mist and  allowed you to see the truth. And yet, you accept the mist. You know it will return and hide your mountain.

But - when it happens again, you'll be the wise soul. You'll know that your truth is the mountain, not the mist.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Happiness

I've received some good advice this week from a few friends and strangers. It's the kind of advice that I already knew in my head but my heart wasn't really there yet. The truth of the advice is beginning to penetrate my heart and it took everybody's advice to get me here.

The week began at church. It was Youth Sunday, which I remember with great fondness from my own teenage years (oh-so-many years ago). Two brilliant young women gave homilies to the congregation. (I gave the sermon one year when I was a teenager, which was quite the radical activity in my Southern Baptist Church.) One of them spoke about how happiness isn't supposed to be a destination, rather it's a choice we can make about how to live our lives. I suppose you could say the same thing about anything - peace, joy, contentment, even LOVE....

I really am an upbeat and happy person for the most part, although my husband doesn't always believe it about me because I also have a tendency to think about EVERYTHING and I might sometimes be just a wee bit hard on myself. I have to point out to him that just because I have a multitude of emotions, perhaps even many within a single afternoon, that doesn't negate my overall happiness. I'm certainly not gloomy. As a matter of fact, the adjective "perky" is used to describe me (to my FACE) much more than I would like, as an almost-39-year-old woman who is attempting to develop a poised, professional reputation.

And yet...

I will admit that I have a tendency to focus on the shadow instead of the sunshine. If I could burn calories with angst, I'd be slim as a rail.

I intend to remind myself each day to stop thinking about my destination and instead focus on each day's journey. As one of my friends pointed out this week, none of us really know where we'll be in a year. It's not a stretch for me to be happy about where I am right now - because I truly believe I'm in exactly the right place. I don't know where I'm going, but I'm clearly on a path.

Just remind me, when you see me, that if I'm living for tomorrow then I'm not living at all. (Another great quote from Sunday.) I might glare at you if I'm in one of my moods, but deep down I'll know you're right.

Friday, August 6, 2010

R2D2 and Me

Today I was at Target, hunting for a Star Wars backpack for my son. I'd already struck out at Walgreens and HEB so my fingers were crossed that Target wasn't going to let me down. Well, the gods of back-to-school were looking upon me with favor because I found a great one - complete with multiple laser blasts AND my son liked it. A lot.

Whew. Score one for mom.

Actually - score TWO for mom...check out this folder that is IDENTICAL to one I had in first grade. I got so excited about it that I spent a good five minutes hunting for the Princess Leia folder  - it was my favorite... the one where she's holding her blaster and looking around the corner with that oh-so-1976 Bonnie Bell lipgloss. I adored that folder. It was my pride and joy when I was sitting in Mrs. Mall's first grade class. Too bad I couldn't find it today at Target.

I told my son he could have the folder as soon as I'd taken the picture for my blog. If I'd found the Princess Leia one, I don't think he would have fought me over it.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Another Dirty Window

I did something new today - I cleaned some windows inside and out. For the most part, it was a reasonably satisfying experience (other than the fact that I murdered some mother spiders and their young, causing me MAJOR Charlotte's Web angst...but that's a topic for another post). The cleaned windows look lovely - which one would expect since (as mentioned above) I've never done them before.

But...and here's the rub... the undone windows suddenly look crummy. They stick out like sore thumbs against the shiny, sparkly windows. So was it worth it for me to do all that work if the improvements made the faults all the more obvious?

That's a question for the ages, ain't it?

It applies to more in my life than just windows, by the way. I've been doing a lot better as a mom and wife lately but the new, more positive attitude simply emphasizes (in my mind) the prior years when my attitude just plain sucked. Ditto for my new running regimen. I'm building myself up (slowly but surely) for my first 5K in September. Although my "running" is really a rather ungraceful jog, it's a lot more than I've ever accomplished before and I'm starting to believe it's entirely possible that I'll pull off a 5K without walking. I'm already eyeing a 10K and half marathon a year from now. For anyone who is reasonably familiar with me - you know that's just crazy talk.

I suppose that's why a lot of us avoid self-improvement of any kind. We sometimes fear really going after our goals, because if we're able to do it (whatever "it" is) without too much strain, we've proven we could have been doing it all along.

And don't we hate it when our convenient excuses fly out the window like birds from a....well...I've got nothin'. I was hunting for an artistic and apropos metaphor but it wasn't meant to be.

Even without the perfect metaphor, I've decided that it was TOTALLY worth it for me to tackle some, but not all, of my windows.  If I don't start somewhere, I'll never get anywhere. And...truth be told...I'm rather proud of my small but significant steps. Granted, I was compelled to get credit for the darn windows. (Not only did I blog about it and post it as my Facebook status, but I made a point to tell my husband I washed them. News flash: I'm overly needy.)

It's probably the same analysis when it comes to me as a wife and mom. Do I wish I'd had my act together before now? Yes. But my past history of wandering aimlessly in circles doesn't negate the fact that I'm on the right path now.

Ah. There's my metaphor. I knew I'd find it.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Sweet Hugs to Remember

Tonight my daughter had a kickball game and my husband captured this sweet picture when my son came up behind me to give me a hug. Whenever he's 16 years old, someone needs to remind me to come back and look at this picture.
Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Understanding Family Dynamics Through Pottery

One Saturday in May, all four of us went to a local pottery studio for a family class. It dawned on me yesterday evening that each of our creations says a lot about the family member whose hands shaped the piece.

My seven-year-old son crafted this toad house. You don't get the full effect of the details from this snapshot. The back is covered in extra layers and various appendages which are, I strongly suspect, machine gun turrets. Because, of course, one never knows when a toad might be attacked in his or her own home.

This is my daughter's toad house. I think the big open doorway and skylight reflect her open personality (ok, ok - maybe I'm projecting) and it's hard to tell but there are these cute little traditional four-pane windows on the side. She also wrote "occupied" on the door frame.
I could go on and on with the psychoanalysis of my husband's bowl, but I'll try to control myself. He spent a lot of time cutting perfect strips of clay - all of them exactly the same width. I love the way it's perfectly straight on the outside but the inside seems to flow like water. Note that the stronger statement is on the outside and the softer statement is on the inside of the piece...hmmm....shall we take a look at mine now?

You're going to have to take my word on this (because it's not obvious from the picture) but my pottery is sort of inside out. The studio had these nifty stamps and I was drawn to one resembling a Native American sunburst design. I originally planned to stamp all around the outside of my planter but I couldn't get enough pressure. My stamp marks looked weak and unimpressive on the outside. So....I started stamping on the inside. That worked a lot better because I was able to get more pressure that way. The stronger statement of my piece is, therefore, on the INSIDE - the outside needs more strength and definition. (I won't even discuss the notable distinction that my creation is all white. That's one for the philosophers. Or not.)

 Perhaps I'm over-thinking our pottery just a wee bit...but then again, maybe not.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Will The Real Jenn Please Stand Up?

Something pretty cool happened about 24 hours ago, right after I finally got to see Sex and the City 2 (although I can't imagine it had anything to do with the film - I really think it was the talk I had with my friend on the way back home). I've got some really great opportunities in front of me right now and am surrounded by a great cheering squad, but I'd been plagued with my very typical self-doubt for days.

I've got the kind of support most people crave and if I allow myself, I could really blossom. The only problem, and it's been a big one, is my own psyche. I've got the old tapes playing about how I'm not really smart enough or good enough...and if anyone knew the truth about me, they wouldn't like me anymore. Yet...at some point late yesterday evening, I realized that the voice I've been hearing in my head isn't really me. I'm not sure why it happened, but I felt the "real" Jennifer come out of the shadows and she was strong and determined and even (dare I say it??) ambitious. I literally felt as if she was looking at me with raised eyebrows, waiting to see if I was going to take a chance on a new and better life.

The old, familiar personality (too sweet for her own good, self-deprecating, not wanting to look better than anyone else) tried to push Real Jennifer back down - but for once I made a conscious decision to keep the stronger one out in the open. I figured, what the heck? I'll live with her for a while and see how it goes.

Here's an interesting fact...it takes A LOT of effort to keep Real Jennifer around because habits are comfortable and comforting - but it's worth it. I worked so hard at letting her take the lead today that I felt as if I'd run a marathon by the end of the day. I could barely stay awake and crashed on the couch for an hour once I got home from work. And yet, I can already tell that it's a new habit I want to keep. When she's out, I focus on what I'm thinking and what I want instead of what other people (presumably) want. That is just crazy talk (according to my traditional modus operandi) but it feels wonderful and I want to stick with it.

So I guess I've seen the person, the Real Jennifer, who can do some great things. That's the person I want to get to know over the next year.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Lemme Hold Your Crown, Babe

My favorite singer...and I do mean my FAVORITE singer...is Sara Bareilles. Don't get me wrong, I love all kinds of music and like all kinds of singers but I don't have the entire repertoire of anyone else completely memorized, backwards and forwards. Objectively speaking, I think that qualifies as "favorite."

I suppose what's cool about singers who "click" is that you feel like they're reading your mind, then you find out about all these other people who feel exactly the same way. Seems to me it's proof that the human experience is pretty universal. In other words, I'm not as big of a freak as I originally thought.

Maybe it's the fact that so many of her songs have the perfect combination of anger and angst, and she directs them at someone. So...all you have to do is picture your personal nemesis and sing "Who died and made you king of anything?"

Plus, she throws in just enough cuss words to make me LOVE it. They're like seasoning, in my opinion....too many of them can ruin the dish but you've got to have a few in life or...really...what's the *^%*-ing point?

I still think she's got some secret hidden camera pointed at me so I'll go hunt for it. In the meantime, click below to enjoy her latest video...King of Anything. No cussing in this one, but you've gotta love the funky fashion evolution which illustrates (I can only assume) a transition from weak pushover to strong, happy, dancing woman. 

Friday, July 9, 2010

Top 5 Odd Things I've Learned About Myself

The last few weeks have been the beginning of a new type of life. I'm not exactly sure where this life will take me, but I'm enjoying the ride and discovering new things about Jenn. In the spirit of Letterman's Top 10 lists, I created my own list of odd things I've learned about myself recently. It's just a "Top 5" list because, to be honest, the other five odd things weren't things I wanted to share in a public blog.

5. I'm literally incapable of working in the kitchen unless I'm wearing an apron and I've pulled my hair back into a ponytail. It occurred to me yesterday that this means there's a whole "cafeteria lady" aspect to my personality which I have yet to explore. Not sure I want to explore it.

4.  I'm beginning to fantasize about ways that I can drop funny Liz Lemon sayings into conversations and am trying to figure out who at work might be a 30 Rock fan so I can impress them with my Tina Fey impressions.

3. Cleaning the bathrooms really isn't too bad. I don't mind it. Trying to create a system to organize our ENORMOUS collection of children's books, on the other hand, positively gives me hives. (Shudder...)

2. It's more difficult to find time to get to an exercise class than I would have expected, even when I'm working part-time. Turns out the best way to exercise, no matter when you work, is to get your butt out of bed early in the morning and take care of it.

1. I look a lot better when I'm happy, extra 10 pounds notwithstanding. Apparently a "happy aura" is a good fashion accessory.

So there you go. Nothing beats self-discovery, even if the process reveals that a girl's got even more odd quirks than she originally suspected.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Today I Slept

During my drive home from work today (which is now, blessedly, three minutes long - five if I hit a light or two), I pondered what my exercise regimen would be today. I exercised 19 days during June and, although I'm rather proud of myself about that, I'd like to do even better in July. Once I got home, I decided that tonight I'd be best served with an old school workout on the treadmill so I suited up and hit the "exercise room." (A loose term...it could just as easily be called the "junk-waiting-for-the-garage-sale-that-will-never-come room.")

My plans were all for naught, however, because the treadmill was covered in some of that JWFTGSTWNC. We had overnight guests, which necessitated the temporary rearranging of the room. In the back of my mind, my "you should" voice pointed out that there were a couple of loads of laundry to be folded, but I decided to lie on the couch and read my book. Pretty quickly I found myself getting sleepy. That voice started to tell me that I "shouldn't" be sleepy but my body insisted that sleep was the order of the day.

It was that funny half-sleep you end up in when your son is playing XBox360 in the same room and your daughter is wondering around until she decides sleep sounds lovely and crashes in the oversized armchair. I barely squinted at my husband with one eye when he came home and muttered to him that it would be great if he'd wake me up in time to meet my friends for dinner. Then I continued with my half-dozing while he and my son played their first game of Risk (the old-fashioned board game, not an electronic version).

I'm about to leave for my girlfriends' dinner. Not only do I feel quite rested, but I also feel as if I accomplished something significant by ignoring my "should" voice for just an hour or two.

I can't ignore it forever, though. I really should get that laundry folded.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Jenn's First Handwritten Post

This is, in a way, my first handwritten blog posting. Of course, it's not handwritten for you - but it was handwritten before it was typed. I've taken to carrying around a small notebook in my purse (two, actually - a practical one and an "artistic" one). It's been necessary for me to resort to such measures because I no longer have a phone with data access. There is, therefore, no checking my Yahoo or Facebook during my down time (which consists of 10 minutes at the doctor's office, if I'm LUCKY) and no checking work email (which was the original, intended result of no data access on my cell phone).

That actually makes me rather a freak-a-zoid in my current social circles. I'm actually ok with that fact, but sometimes (ok, almost ALWAYS) my ADHD kicks in and I get a little freaked out if I'm just sitting there with nothing to click or surf. I'm only halfway through the "India" part of Eat, Pray, Love - so you can hardly blame me that I'm only occasionally able to access my Perfect Inner Self who is at peace with the world.

At any rate - I decided that a small notebook could serve as a substitute Bberry, in a way. It's really a bit quaint and I like to imagine that I look rather Bronte-ish (don't know how to put the umlaut over an e in Blogger - sorry) when I pull out the ol' miniature notebook in public.

Oh - did I mention that none of the above constitutes my first handwritten blog posting? That was just the introduction - here's the real post (written as I sat idle - dead car - at an Exxon station not too far from my house after filling up the tank):

It WOULD happen that my car would start dying on me PRECISELY at the moment that I leave my $_____ a year job [you didn't think I'd really type exactly what I wrote in my Bronte journal, did you???] for a $____ a year job. Because, really, why die on me at a time when I have extra money? I have to admit, however, that it's great to have my husband right around the corner and able to rescue me. Whew. Knights on white horses ROCK.

Just checked the car again (because it's getting seriously muggy in here). Nope. Still quite dead.

Perhaps I should use this as inspiration to learn more about the workings of my car? Hmmm. Perhaps not. I'd rather just go with my current theory - BAD VIBES.

I have rather a lot of evidence to back up my theory that my vibes suck. You see -  yesterday was my first day back at my new/old (nold??) job and my computer disliked me so much that they had to take it away from me and re-install Windows.

Now my car keeps dying. (This is the second time in as many days.)

If that's not an indication of bad technology karma, I don't know what is.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Accomplishments

Life is full of potential accomplishments. One person's accomplishments might be drudgery, or even failure, for another person. Even more notable, from my perspective, is that a personal accomplishment at one point in my life might not be the accomplishment I want at another point in my life.

Case in point: two years ago, the accomplishment I wanted and needed was to challenge myself with a new job. I tackled that and succeeded in proving that I can handle tough situations. I also proved to myself that gaining power in the business world and making six figures wasn't really going to cut it for me. I began to crave some accomplishments which used to seem like chores.

Today, I feel as if I've accomplished more than I have in a long time. I planned a museum morning for our family at the Bob Bullock Museum (where we watched a 3D movie about Arabia) and the Blanton Museum of Art (because Groupon just had a great deal on family memberships). At the Blanton, I was so happy to just sit back and quietly watch my kids take in art. My son spent a long time looking at every detail of some of the frontier/cowboy paintings and my daughter couldn't wait to get to the modern art gallery. It was a great morning because I refrained from rushing or insisting that we follow my own agenda. I let the kids lead. That was a huge accomplishment for me.

Once we got home, I did a grocery run where I saved buckets of money with coupons (always a fun accomplishment), then came home and cooked/prepared food for a freaky-long time. I considered the women in generations before me who had to cook for hours at a time and figured I wouldn't have loved it so much if it was expected of me or if I didn't have any other options. But I was really in kitchen heaven from about 2 - 7 p.m. this afternoon - because it was my choice.

It's a great life lesson. Accomplishments are only satisfying if they are the ones we choose for ourselves. Public acclaim is great - and Lord knows I'm a sucker for it - but if my heart is really into the idea of baking the perfect loaf of bread one Saturday, then I might as well focus on that because nothing else is going to make me as happy. Since accomplishments and life callings tend to morph, maybe a few months later I'll be called to lead a board meeting. If so, I'll just go at it with the same gusto and that accomplishment will as satisfying as today's cooking...

Although there's no way it will smell as delicious.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Anglification of Jenn

I have no idea if "anglification" is an actual word. Probably not, since Blogger adds red squiggly lines under the word. That is rarely a good sign, grammatically speaking. For the purposes of this posting, however, could we all agree to accept its existence?

Okay. Good. I will assume that you are in agreement if you've continued to read this far.

As background, you should understand that I was raised by a mother who was very proud of her Irish and Cherokee heritage. I knew about the Irish struggle for independence at a rather young age for a girl raised in the American South. As a matter of fact, I suspect that by the time I was 8 or 9, I could tell passersby about Bloody Sunday, the Great Hunger and the Trail of Tears. (After tonight, my son can now do the same in regards to the Irish pieces of our past...but more about that in just a bit.)

At any rate, my small forays into genealogy never revealed English blood in my heritage and I've stood by that claim, although it's notable to point out that I also never dug any deeper into my bloodlines. (Yes, I'm part Welsh on my father's side but I never considered that to be "English," especially after watching the movie The Englishman Who Walked Up a Hill and Came Down A Mountain. Grand piece of cinema, that.)

My daughter (my red-haired, freckled, passionate daughter) spent the last week at soccer camp where she was assigned to the "English" team. Because of that, she now wants an English soccer jersey and wants to cheer for England all the time. As we sat in a pub tonight (well, the American version of a pub - the Lion and Rose), eating English food for the first time ever - she went on about how much she loved England and I tried to shut it down before coming to my senses and remembering that we are, in fact, living in 2010. And the English government just this week apologized for Bloody Sunday.

Between the scrumptious fish and chips my daughter ordered, the rather tasty pastie I simply had to try after reading so much about them in Harry Potter, and - OF COURSE - the apology, I decided that the time has come for me to bury the hatchet...so to speak. I suppose our children really do teach us how to let go. If my daughter is in love with England for the time being, who am I to disagree with her? So, I found a way to embrace my new acceptance of the English as I scarfed down half a pastie and half a bubble & squeak (sort of a latke made of mashed potatoes).

That didn't stop me from giving my son a succinct history lesson about the Great Hunger during our drive home. It is, after all, the reason the McCourts (my maternal line) came to America and I think he should know of it.

Knowing my daughter and her ability to introduce the unexpected into my life, she'll probably end up marrying an Englishman. With my luck, it will be a member of the aristocracy. Yikes. I suppose that will be fine as long as he brings a wicked bread pudding recipe to the family.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

David's Photography

I just uploaded some great photographs (taken by my husband) on a new page. Look on the left-hand side of this page and you'll see a link to a page entitled "David's Photography." Check it out. One of the red-tailed hawk photographs was taken by a 40-year-old Nikon zoom lens attached to his D300. Kudos to anyone who can guess which picture it is!

Red Shoes

Those of you who follow me on Facebook know that I spent my first day of freedom cleaning/organizing my closet. I even posted "before" pictures, which elicited some pretty hilarious comments. ("For the love of all that is holy, we must SAVE THE SHOES!!")

As you know, the shoes have been rescued from the horrifying mess that was the floor of my closet (but is now perfectly clean) and are neatly set upon shelves. My favorite shelf is my shelf-o-red-shoes. As a matter of fact, I love this particular shelf SO MUCH that I simply had to request that my personal photographer take a snapshot of it so I could blog about it.

These wonderful red shoes sit at about eye level - and when I walk into my newly organized closet, they are sitting there, smiling at me (so to speak). Every single time - I smile right back at 'em. The red flats are a wee bit big and tend to fall off my feet, the bright red heels on the right hurt (sometimes awfully) after a few hours, but the ones in the middle are my Goldilocks shoes. They feel just right. I love all these shoes - even if they hurt my feet or stay behind when I take a step.

Now...if you'll excuse me, I'm supposed to go Fandango some Toy Story 3 tickets and then I'll go up and smile at my shoes for a little bit longer.