Thursday, December 22, 2011

Refusing to Take My Own Advice

I lectured my son for quite a while yesterday evening about math. It was actually just a repeat of the same old lecture he's heard from me before. (It's amazing how parents always think that if we say something over and over at a higher decibel every time, then our kids will finally get it...)

Here's the lecture, in all it's glory:
"You have to take the time to write every single step of a math problem, even if you can do it in your head. For one thing, your teachers need to see your work - but more importantly, if you take the time to carefully write every step in the process, you won't be wasting your time and you are much more likely to get the right answer than if you just do the work in your head."

Nice lecture, right? You see - my son is rather gifted at math but he doesn't enjoy it. As a consequence, he's always trying to rush through his work and skip steps because he's able to do a LOT in his head. But that's a bad long-term plan because he sometimes makes silly mistakes when he does that and has to re-do everything. Plus, he often KNOWS how to do a math problem but doesn't know how he knows it. It's as if he can just look at some math problems and know the answer. But someday he'll be doing calculus and he needs to understand the process. (Or so I've heard. I have no personal knowledge to confirm that claim because I never got past algebra.)

To sum up, I'm telling him: take your time, be patient, make sure you carefully document each step and just generally do your best work.

In the meantime, I'm whining internally to myself about how I want to be a successful author but I'm not taking the time to write every day and do all the other little steps it will take for me to create success. It's as if I just want it to fall into my lap - not unlike my third grader who just wants the math to go away quickly without taking the effort to learn it.

It shouldn't be that hard for me. When I do write every day, I am happy and fulfilled. So why wouldn't I be writing?

I don't want to spend the rest of my life in an office, putting up with people who are nice but insanely power-hungry or completely apathetic to the point where I have to do their jobs for them if I have any hope at all of making a difference in my tiny little niche. So...why wouldn't I be working hard every day to create a career for myself that will free me from this?

It's time for me to take my own advice: take every single step that is required to accomplish my goals, do my best work, stop wasting my time with whining and make sure I avoid the people who are bad influences in my life.

I'm full of wise, motherly advice. My kids may or may not follow it, but I will.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Talking Through My Panic

You know how sometimes your kids will scare you? I mean, really scare you - not just shake you up a bit? Today, I took my youngest in for allergy shots just as I've been doing approximately three times a week for the last few months. Nothing notable happened while we were at the doctor's office other than his statement that these shots hurt more than the other ones. (We had just moved up into a higher concentration of medicine, the last step before hitting the 'real' allergy shot dose.) But all during the 30 minute observation period at the doctor's office, there were no signs of a bad reaction.

No. Why have a dangerous reaction at the doctor's office if you can have it at home later on? His body decided to go into an allergic asthma attack during the 15 minutes I left him at home while I ran to the grocery store to pick up four items for dinner. Picture this: the second I walk back into the house, he meets me at the door begging for his asthma inhaler. I was surprised I couldn't hear the wheezing from the front yard. It was THAT BAD. And yes, I felt like the worst mother on the planet.

Within 10 minutes the asthma inhaler and Benadryl seemed to have things under control, but he's still not completely cured - even at this late hour. I honestly think his arm will be bruised tomorrow from the swelling where he received one of his injections. All of this started at about 4:15 this afternoon and it seems to me that I have been talking constantly for the last five hours. Whenever I stop talking, panic starts to set in and I really, really don't like that feeling.

I've spoken to the after hours nurse twice (once when I thought things were going to be ok and then again 10 minutes after that when I realized his injection site had quadrupled in size), spoken with my husband CONSTANTLY, and finally been coached by my mom who went through the exact same thing with my own baby brother back in the 1970's.

Talk, talk, talk. I talk because I need a bit of reassurance but I honestly think that I also just sometimes need to hear the sound of my own voice. It keeps the demons away to a certain extent. I don't want to hear those voices reminding me that although I chose to have this child and I can do my very best to protect him, he has his own demons to fight during his life and I am not in control of the outcome. Asthma is a demon that is very real in my family. I'm grateful for modern medicine and beyond grateful that we have access to health care, unlike so many Americans, but that damn asthma demon doesn't seem to be going anywhere in the near future.

So to keep my fears at bay, I talk, talk, talk. And write in my blog. And at the end of the evening I do remember to pray. The first prayer that comes to mind is, shockingly, one of gratitude. For my family (especially my husband who listens to all the talk), for the fact that I could relatively easily pay $72 for a new asthma inhaler and epi-pens tonight, and simply for every single breath that we are able to take.

I guess Mary had some health scares with her little boy a couple of thousand years ago. Every mother does. Who knew that being forced to learn about epi-pen use for the first time in my life would make me look at Christmas in a whole new light? We bring life into the world and do the best we can...but I guess it always comes down to faith in the long run.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Accomplishments

Up at 8-ish (or maybe 9-ish) to bake a double batch of my kids' favorite cookies (cane-sugar free of course) and make the grocery list for the nice Sunday lunch planned for tomorrow. Then...off to Whole Foods.

Back home before going with entire family to Target to stock up on cousin and babysitter Christmas gifts and then heading to eye doctor where we find out that the bad eye genes CLEARLY run on only the female line of our family. Good to know...

Oh - also took a trip to the fabulous bulk spice shop to stock up on cinnamon, allspice, anise and cloves so that we would have all of our supplies for the homemade Christmas gifts we are making this year.

Then home again to bake rosemary foccaccia bread which tastes great but looks bizarre. Prepped food for Sunday lunch so David will be able to get it together for me while I'm singing in second service.

FINALLY- tonight...I edit Chapters 1 - 5 of my novel and email them off to my daughter so she will be able to read them after she finishes her science project (probably tomorrow evening).

It's nice to get to the end of the day and say...I did that! Plus...it's way cool to feel how heavy 50,000 words are all printed out on actual paper! (I'm old fashioned and like to edit with paper and pencil.)

Friday, December 2, 2011

Goal for this weekend...

I need to read my NaNoWriMo creation this week, with pen in hand, to make notes about directions I want to take it in the long term. My feelings are a combination of terrified anticipation and excitement. (Terranticment?)

I suspect I will find quite a bit of crap. I'm also hoping to find a few jewels buried in the morass.

Wish me luck.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Instead of Cowboy Boots....

It's funny how things are meant to be...or so it seems.

About 18 months ago I was working hard on THIS BLOG while waiting for my daughter at choir rehearsal. A fellow mom (whom I did not know well at the time but has since become like a sister to me) asked if I wrote. I answered honestly, as I am prone to do even when it is inappropriate. In this case, it was a good thing. I said I was supposed to write but doubted myself.

[In a seemingly unrelated sidenote, I decide about that time that what I really want for my 40th birthday is a pair of cowboy boots, so I resolve to ask for money for said boots. I imagine looking all sexy in a dress and boots.]

A few months later the choir mom told me about an Artist's Way group she had just begun. I said it sounded great and that I should find one. She said "No, join ours." I took a risk and did that. It changed me for the better and I found my inner power in a new way. (Sounds dramatic but it is shockingly accurate.)

Then, sister-in-law (a Jennifer) tells me about NaNoWriMo last spring (or round about then) after I tell her how much I am getting out of my Artist's Way group and the NaNo seed is planted. It sounds crazy but I can't let go of the idea.

Artist's Way group ends. A dear friend, yet another Jennifer, tells me about a book that she thought would really speak to me. Stephen King's On Writing, in which he tells the story about how he became a writer and offers advice about finding your true voice. I read it right before jumping into the NaNo adventure. I love the book but don't really GET IT until I've been writing every day for two weeks.

November 1, 2011 - I am finally more confident and sure of myself than ever before. I am ready to "do this thing" as they say. And...I do it.

Today, I bought Danielle LaPorte's Big Beautiful Book Plan. Danielle is a blogger I follow only because another dear work friend (one of the few non-Jennifers in this timeline) encouraged me to read her work for inspiration. The BBBP just came out today, right after I finished NaNoWriMo, right when I feel certain there is another (bigger, better) path for me, and right when I became ready to work for what I want in life.

Take it all the way back...if I hadn't been working so hard on this blog (I concentrate very hard on most of my posts), if friends had not reached out to me to tell me about books/groups/blogs/crazy-efforts-to-write-50,000-words-in-30-days then none of this would have happened and I would be buying cowboy boots with my birthday money.

Which would, admittedly, be quite stylish and cute....but not nearly as satisfying as completing my very own book.

The cowboy boots will come and I'll probably be wearing them at a book signing in your hometown in the near future. (I can write like a confident diva in my blog because only about five people read it. Plus, you remember that issue I have about being completely honest even when it's not appropriate? Yeah. That issue ain't ending in the near future.) In the meantime, I'll be doing exactly what another sister of my heart recently advised:

"Get over yourself and go out there and save the world. Or write the Great American Novel. Or whatever. I believe in you."

I believe in me too.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

VICTORY!!

I did it! At precisely 6:01 p.m. central standard time (or round about that time) - I hit 50,006 words on my NaNoWriMo novel!! Thanks to my blog friends for pulling me through this. The novel is about as stream-of-consciousness as it is possible for a novel to be. Much, much work lies ahead of me before anyone will be able to read it (I haven't even finished the story yet!) - but I'll be taking a writing break from this novel for a bit before I come back to it. My plan is to read it in a week and see where it takes me....

Anyway - what matters to me right now is that I did it, I did it, I did it - and now it's time to celebrate!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

46,220

I have now passed the last status bar on the NaNoWriMo website that remains between me and victory at 50,000 words. I'll try to tackle a little bit more later tonight but right now it's raining and I feel like sleeping for a bit before I get behind the wheel of my car to drive out to my in-laws' house.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

42,754

Yes. I rock. I know.
Cooked an entire Thanksgiving meal (including pies because that's how you show your family you love them...baking fattening food for them) and managed to write just over 1,000 words today.
Now...the plot is going in about a thousand different directions and makes absolutely NO SENSE whatsoever...but the stuffing was fabulous.

I can fix the plot later. I can almost taste victory now...I'll be buying myself a NaNoWriMo winner's t-shirt within the week.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

41,128

Tomorrow will be a day of cooking, of course. But I am determined to squeeze in both a walk and at least 850 words before I crash at the end of the day. Don't ask me why I am saying it needs to be 850 words because that number just popped into my B12-deprived brain. I'm off to bed so that I'll be fresh enough to make some seriously kick-A stuffing tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

39,149

Squeezed in about 200 words this morning before I took the kids to school. Alllllmooooost there........

Monday, November 21, 2011

38,909

...and I REALLY want to break 40k tomorrow. Now I wish I didn't have that church choir gig.

Damn. (Not very church-y of me to say that, is it?)

Sunday, November 20, 2011

37,823

I'm rocking along. Well, technically - I'm scootching along but it works just fine because I was totally rocking early on so I'm still ahead of schedule. I just found out that one of my characters is knocked up and she isn't married. Of course, she lives on a totally different planet and I'm not even sure there is such a thing as marriage there (although probably there is...it is sort of old-fashioned). So this has been a fun adventure of hearing the voices in my head begin to criticize me and tell me that parents will disapprove of my book once it's published.

When, really, it's totally not my fault. I am so not in control of my characters. And I guess plenty of parents hated J.K. Rowling's books too. And Madeleine L'Engle's amazing work. So I suppose if they hate me too I'm in perfectly good company.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

30,754

I failed to provide an end-of-day update yesterday, didn't I? But when I checked my blog today and saw two comments, my heart was all full of happiness...merci beaucoup, mes amis! I blew past that 30,000 stat line on the NaNoWriMo website and am now feeling a bit antsy since I have yet to write anything today...which just goes to show that this NaNoWriMo exercise is doing exactly what it's meant to do - force me into a habit (*obsession??*) of writing each and every day, at every spare moment.

Had a work-related nightmare over the weekend (horrible, horrible), then spent the morning realizing exactly how UN-empowered I am there. Less than stellar morning, to be honest. At home: I just got off the phone with my mom, planning holiday stuff which is mostly fine but maybe just a wee bit stressful and I had my first weigh in for Weight Watchers - did not lose an ounce. Needless to say, I'm not feeling too great about myself EXCEPT for my glorious 30,754 words. In that regard, I know I rock - so I'll just keep coming back to those words whenever I sink a bit.


Sunday, November 13, 2011

26,097

I made my goal for the weekend - I'll be doing a little work from home tomorrow but mostly taking a vacation day. I think the public library is probably the best place for me...I would go to a delicious coffee house of some sort but that would cost money and calories - neither of which I can afford to waste.

The biggest thing that has changed for me in the past 13 days is that I've stopped saying "If I write this book" and I'm now saying "When I'm finished with it and published..."

In a short 13 days, I've begun to believe in myself in a completely new way.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

24,763

Also known as 237 words away from the halfway point. That was my goal for Sunday night. Perhaps I already mentioned it. Feel free to let me know how amazing you think I am.

Oh, and I've stuck with Weight Watchers this week. So far, so good but of course I haven't been back on the scale yet.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

19, 546

New NaNoWriMo goal = 25,000 words by Sunday evening. I'm taking a day off of work on Monday to just write, write, write. I'm inspired and figure that if I can make it halfway there before I even get to my writing vacation day, then I'm in for all kinds of great success.

Tonight my daughter is spending the night with a friend and my son is having someone over. My husband will be at a Scout leader meeting until about 9:30.

Alana-Kyn (my new FABULOUS main character in the prequel - who seems to be dealing with a certain amount of Asberger's Syndrome as it turns out - not that I planned it or anything, it's just one of those things she showed me) and I will have a grand ol' time getting to know each other better for a couple of hours tonight.

Who am I kidding? She doesn't even know I exist. And if she did she'd say "...Whatever" and get back to her math.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Eureka!!

Life works in mysterious ways. (Or maybe not, God is probably sitting in heaven right now saying: "Duh. This is how I work, girl.")

I had a great lunch today with my two artist friends who also happen to be recovering attorneys. Afterwards, as I was driving to HEB to buy laundry detergent and bananas, I was struck with a sudden inspiration that I needed to go back to the very beginning of my novel and write a prequel or Book One - which would give the historical perspective of why the planet is in the state it is right now. I've been frustrated because when I try to get my characters to explain things, it sounds stupid - I need to tell the story in REAL time - what happened before these characters came along.

Now the words are pouring out of me again. I'll update my word count in the comments to this post before I pick my son up from school...but I think it will be awesome.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

16,177

I started Weight Watchers today. And I'm worried about whether my kids are going to have enough self-esteem as they grow up. And also...even though I'm trying my best to keep our lives from being too busy - they just ARE.

But....did I mention I'm at 16,177 words as of 6:09 p.m. on November 8th? So even if I'm overweight, a mediocre mom, and profoundly exhausted - at least my stat bar made it over that illusive 15,000 line on the NaNoWriMo chart that shows how far along I've come.

Now...if I could just figure out where on earth I'm heading with this story...

14,734

I am sooooo tired. Perhaps I'm dreaming about my novel? I'm a little discouraged because I can't imagine what I'm going to have my characters do for that many more words...

I have a vacation day planned. Next Monday. All I plan to do is write.

Monday, November 7, 2011

13,193 Words

This sounds impressive but it is, in fact, just barely ahead of where I should be anyway with my novel. (On day 7 of NaNoWriMo, you should have at least 11,669 words.) I fear my writing is not as polished as I would prefer and I need to think of a few fascinating things to describe in great detail. I've had the explosion, and presumably killed off at least 40 people (although this has neither been confirmed nor denied) but it didn't take nearly as many words as you might at first presume.

Truthfully, I might have to create a love triangle. It wasn't what I wanted for my characters, but damn if that won't get some dialog and thought bubbles happening all over the place. I can pretty much guarantee that I could stretch "You kissed her?????" into at least 1000 words.

At 36,807 more words to go...I guess I need to build towards and include some smoochy face in this novel somewhere. My Tom Clancy skills are too sorely lacking to depend on action/adventure to pull me into the 50,000 word territory.

And I've got to find a way to pull the rich spoiled brat back into the story. She just doesn't fit yet - or else she's refusing to participate.

My characters are unruly children. Doing their own thing (in far fewer than 50,000 words) and snubbing their noses at me. 

Friday, November 4, 2011

11,097 Words

The number is now so big that it requires a comma. I've begun to dream about numerals...sort of mixed in with this character who I thought would be my main character but has refused to re-enter the story since I first wrote about her in Chapter 2. I think she's dissing me. But she's sort of a rich b**ch so that might be unsurprising when it gets right down to it.

I'm driving from Waco to Dallas tomorrow so I'm off to sleep for the moment. Who knew that writing 50,000 words in 30 days would inspire so many new blog posts?

Thursday, November 3, 2011

9762

And...I'm now at 9762 words. That's 240 words away from my goal to hit 10,000 words before Sunday evening. I promised myself that if I did that, I'd let myself take a vacation day to write later in the month. It's a good thing I'm on a roll. My husband was teasing me earlier and telling me that I needed to get going with this writing business and stop messing around because he was ready to be obscenely wealthy. "Alrighty then" I said, "I'll get right on it."

If all of you promise to buy my Kindle book for $2.99 then I should be able to clear at least $12 before next Christmas.

So, here's the thing....

There's this guy at work who I thought liked my work but he's started to maybe turn on me because he sent a really snarky email today....or maybe I'm just too sensitive (imagine that). At any rate - when I felt attacked today all I thought of was "I've written 7,765 words in the past three days. What, exactly, have you accomplished?"

Hah.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

6292 Words, Ladies and Gentlemen

Or maybe just ladies. Not sure I have many guy readers although my husband and his friend used to read it every once in a while.

And yet, I digress.

6292 words - only two days into Nanowrimo!!!


I'm at La Madeline's, I just finished my first Nano Write-In, and the cold front just this second arrived. It's my cue to head home and celebrate my brilliance with a bubble bath and flannel PJs, don't you think?

4,586 words

It's November 2nd and I'm 4,586 words into my 50,000 word novel. I'm following Stephen King's suggestion to just put the characters out there and see what they do. They are certainly surprising me at every turn. Spending too much time in the Nano forums and am now obsessively worried that my computer isn't counting my words accurately and I'll have a nasty surprise when the Nano-bots count my novel at the end of the month. It's always something, isn't it?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Nano What-O?

Participant2_120_200_white Nanowrimo: the the latest Jenn-venture. For those of you who know me (and you wouldn't be reading this blog unless you knew me) - you've probably lived through a few Jenn-ventures in the past. There was the 6-year no-sugar, no-meat (and sometimes no eating at all) period of my life, for example. A more recent Jenn-venture entailed a campout (on my own) over a long weekend so that I could become a Boy Scout chaplain. And who could forget the time I got headshots and decided to pursue a career in acting before deciding to give up on that dream for a while so that I could make a lot more money at a job that made me miserable? Classic Jenn-logic.

Nanowrimo stands for National Novel Writing Month. Participants in Nanowrimo attempt to write a 50,000 word novel in one month. (Really, it's just a 50,000 word first draft because at 1,667 words per day - editing is verboten.) I've already promised myself that if I knock out 10,000 words in my first week then I will reward myself with a vacation day at some point during November so that I can write like a woman possessed for 12 straight hours. But FIRST I must prove to myself that I'm serious about this business.

If you're willing to tolerate short blog posts with poor grammar I'll keep you updated on my progress. I decided to take Stephen King's advice and pursue a genre that I enjoy reading instead of writing about what I know (there are too many legal thrillers anyway). So, dear readers (all 3 of you)...which genre do you think I'll be diving into on Tuesday morning?

a. lusty, frothy romance
b. horror
c. science fiction
d. chic-lit

Post your guess. Your enthusiastic support might be the difference between me successfully drafting the next best-seller and me wasting time with 30 Rock reruns.

No pressure, of course.

Monday, October 17, 2011

How To Get Over Yourself

Today I listened to Danielle LaPorte's interview for the World Changing Writing Workshop. She asked: "What would someone pay $100 an hour to learn from you?"

[Crickets chirped in the background as I considered my options...this wasn't an uplifting query.]

Technically, I am a lawyer - and a pretty good one at that. I could certainly get paid to practice law. Come to think of it - that's exactly what people pay me to do now. The problem is that it doesn't really float my boat. So...what other skills do I have that are potential gold mines?

Cooking? Not really. My food is completely un-photogenic.
Wine tasting? HAH! Um. Nope. I like to drink it but think it's stupid when people say they taste cayenne and grass in chardonnay. If I ever really tasted grass in my wine, I'd think the wine store screwed me over big time.
Starting my own business? I wish I was an expert in that, but that would be another big fat NO.

Around the time I was looking for my wig in the Halloween store, it dawned on me that I could write a "how to" article about getting over yourself because, as it turns out, I've had to do that in spades over the last few years. Repetitively. I'd be falsely modest and state that maybe I'm the only one who needs to get over myself but we both know that's not true, don't we? To be clear, in my mind "getting over myself" means that I roll with the punches when someone treats me disrespectfully, refuses to do their job, or acts like a complete jerk. (The aforementioned disrespectful, lazy and/or jerky individuals are hereinafter referred to collectively as "Apparent Loser" or "AL.")

A step-by-step guide to getting over yourself:


1. Acknowledge that, in your opinion (and maybe in the opinion of most right-minded people), AL is a worthless excuse for a co-worker/teacher/relative/__________ (feel free to fill in the blank as you see fit). Seems counter intuitive, I know. But the truth is that none of us have a prayer of getting over the misdeeds of another unless we first admit that we are completely pissed off at them.

2. Consider whether it is critical that you confront AL about his/her behavior. This is the tricky part, boys and girls. You see, I know you think AL should stop being a jerk/lazy/worthless because it causes you unnecessary misery/work/stress, but is it really essential that it turn into a battle between the two of you? This is honestly the most difficult step for me because I am the princess of the "it's not fair" argument. As many times as Momma told me "Life ain't fair" growing up, you'd think I'd get it by now but ...that's a tough truth to accept. So here's what you do. You ask yourself - What's the worst that can happen to me (or someone I love) if this behavior continues indefinitely?  In a few cases (such as a teacher who is treating your kid horribly or a spouse whose actions are leading to marriage deterioration) the end results could be very detrimental. However, in most cases it's obvious that nothing bad will happen other than the fact that your stress level increases exponentially. The worst damage caused by most ALs is high blood pressure for the recipient. And guess what? The recipients (you and I, dear readers) are really the ones in control of that situation.

3. If it turns out to be critical that you confront AL, then do so in an upfront (i.e. NON-passive-aggressive) manner and expect change to happen because of the conversation. If you approach the conversation with an open mind, you might actually learn about some adjustments that you could make in your behavior that would help the situation. If such adjustments would be helpful - make them.

4. If it's not critical that you confront AL (and this will usually be the case) - that's when you've got to get over yourself. Which is so much easier said than done. Lucky for you, I'm here to walk you through the process.
  • Start by being honest with yourself about the last time you were lazy or rude or useless. If you're like me you'll try saying: "Well, sure, but I never act that way at work!" or "Well, sure, but he deserved it!" DON'T do that.
  • Next, try to remember the last time that you had a truly terrible day and you treated someone else like poo or just plain forgot to do something. Remember it? Well, maybe AL's day was worse.
  • If all else fails, ask yourself whether you can you walk away from the situation. Maybe it's no fair that you have to leave your job because someone else is mean or lazy - but nobody ever said life was fair. If you have another option that will make you happy why not take it? Maybe your child needs another teacher. Maybe you need a different friend. You can't fix some meanies and those are the ones you sure don't need in your life.
  • Finally, it's just like your mom used to tell you (or maybe she didn't - maybe it was just mine): you can be mad at that person all you want, but the only person you're hurting is yourself. Do you feel that stress headache coming on? Did you notice how you ran straight to the candy machine at work? Uh-huh. Momma's right. Don't let AL win in the long run by making you sick, sugar.
For most things, we just need to let it go. That bears repeating... and I will do so.
Let. It. Go.

Do I follow these steps all the time? Heck no. I'm lucky if I follow them 25% of the time. Not only that, I'm fully aware that God has a sense of humor so I expect that she'll send me a doozy of an AL within 48 hours of me hitting that bright orange "Publish Post" button at the bottom of my screen. As a matter of fact, I'm really writing this so that I'll be accountable to my tribe. The next time you hear me complaining about someone (and I will) you now have this handy reference so that I can be reminded of how to get over myself.

Or you could just keep your advice to me short and sweet.

Let it go, Jenn. Let. It. Go.

Monday, October 10, 2011

40-Year-Old Jennifers and the Conspiracy to Conquer Life, Art and Happiness

You may or may not be aware of this fact, but a significant number of Jennifers are turning 40 right now. That's because, for some bizarre reason, every second mother in 1971 named her daughter Jennifer. The best explanation I've heard for this is that the heroine in  Love Story - the one with the really screwed up idea about what love "means" - brought the name Jennifer to the attention of America. My mom swears up and down that's not where I got my name. Maybe it was some huge cosmic coincidence. Who knows? We're here now. We were all born together, we all went to kindergarten together (many of us singing happily along to Free to be You and Me), we all watched M.A.S.H. reruns with our parents when we got home from our dates in high school (we never could get past the fact that Alan Alda was supposed to be narrating Free to Be, not acting like a drunk doctor), and then we went to college BEFORE everyone started taking notes on laptops. (Then we felt very old five years later when we found out those graduates didn't even buy spirals for their classes. It was as if we were the last vanguard of traditional note-taking students.)

Now we're 40. Some are married, some are divorced, and some stayed single. Some are moms, some of us didn't go there. Some are straight, some are gay. But we're all at that point in life when a woman looks around at her life and, if she's lucky, decides that it's time to write that book, or paint that watercolor, or  take that trip that's been niggling at the back of her mind since she was twenty. I'm there and have been slowly building my support group around me as I take baby steps into my artistic future.

As it turns out, I require a tremendous amount of support. Thankfully, I'm surrounded by fabulous friends and family. They've been on the "Jennifer-can-do-it" train for a while now, encouraging me to jump on the bandwagon. I finally decided it might be a good idea to hop on board. I've been building up my courage and support before taking that big leap.

My support system is not primarily made of Jennifers. As a matter of fact, a few of my strongest supporters are men (I've yet to meet a male Jennifer...guess I'll add that to my bucket list). But two of the people who've given me the most to think about in the writing department also happen to be named Jennifer. And both of them were born in 1971. I like the idea that we were all going through our 1970s childhoods (subjected to corduroy pants, the Muppets, and really horrendous pop music) at the same time and found each other on the other side.

I'm beginning to think of this web-o-support as "The Jennifer Club" - but you don't have to be named Jennifer to be a part of it. (Megan was my first and best non-family cheerleader, so she's really the inaugural member of the club.)

In twenty more years, we'll all be 60 years old. As long as The Jennifer Club sticks together and continues to support each other, each decade will improve. So watch out world...I wasn't joking when I said I was going to be conquering you during my forties. It took a few decades, but I think I finally believe that Free to Be message. Thanks, Marlo! 

Sunday, September 11, 2011

New Beginnings

I didn't plan to write this post on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, but when it comes right down to it - it's rather a good day to be thinking about new beginnings. Clearly, I haven't written in ages and I suppose I feel a certain safety in the idea that I'm really just writing for myself at this point. For some reason, I was finally willing to finish a post and hit the "publish" button tonight.

I'm in the somewhat confusing position of being aware that I've changed rather significantly over the last 5-6 months but not being able to find the words to describe the changes. I think this posting is my attempt to categorize the changes.

It all began when I worked my way through the book The Artist's Way with a group of friends. Honestly, we weren't very close at the beginning of the process but we're now as close as brothers and sisters. The book forces you to look pretty honestly at your past, your hangups, and what you want from your life. It then gives you powerful tools to pursue your art every day. Things rapidly began to change for me and then...as happens to many people who work with the book...I started to retreat from my art again. I'm in the midst of that retreat right now. Here's an interesting fact: once you start to pursue your dream and prove that it's possible, it can be a little bit too much to handle. You wonder why you didn't try before, you wonder whether you'll give into the temptation to fade into the background again, but you can never really completely go back to the stagnation you were in before you got a taste of what it felt like to really pursue your art.

I suppose I won't write about the multiple injuries and emotional tragedies that seem to be filling each of few weeks remaining in my 39th year. They feel quite significant to me, as if I'm clearly supposed to be understanding a deeper message from the pattern, but it escapes me at the moment. Even with all of that, I feel at peace. I'm not always happy, but I have more certainty than ever before. I'm almost defiant. Perhaps that's the message I'm taking from these past 6 months....each day I must remind myself of what I want in life and go about taking a defiant and determined step in that direction.

Here's what I want:
- a healthy, strong body
- a sense of self-love that is strong enough to withstand the judgments of those around me
- to earn money for my writing
- to draw beautiful pictures
- to make it through these busy, busy parent years with a rekindled passion in my marriage

I've been surrounded this week by reminders that life is terribly uncertain and mine is a life overflowing with blessings. Each day, all I can do is take those defiant and determined steps towards love, art and truth as I shuttle the kids to tutoring, scouts, baseball and theater.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Permanent Peace for Dependable Joy

Peace arrives at unexpected moments.
Peace comes in the midst of chaos.
Grasping for peace brings pain, but accepting pain allows peace to find a place in your heart.

Once peace opens the door, joy floats in - a lovely balloon in the most unexpected color. You remind yourself that it will float in and out of your life but will never completely disappear as long as peace is the guardian, holding open the door to your heart.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

My Blog Wordle

Wordle: Jenn's Blog

Today's earthquake wordle inspired me to create one for my blog. As it turns out, I blog about food more than I would have expected. The randomness of the words is rather on par for my attitude in the kitchen and everywhere else. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

On April 9, 2011, the Rockhouse wildfire began west of Marfa, Texas and rushed towards Fort Davis. Hundreds of thousands of acres went from grass to ash in the blink of an eye.

The landscape remained black until the rains came. The rains always come, you know. Even the most aggressive drought must end at some point. Water pours into the parched earth and, because it's been so burned, the ground celebrates with the most florid green you can imagine once it soaks the raindrops into the burnt crevasses.

We're in Fort Davis and I'm taking an unusual amount of time to do nothing. When my normal chattering critical voice begins to nip away at my mind, telling me that I won't finish my novel, or save the world's children, or even be much of a cub scout mom for that matter...I just take a nap. Or I drive out to the Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center  to sit in the botanical garden and write for an hour. Or....I take a picture like the one on the left.

As soon as we drove into Fort Davis, I was struck by the new green grass and beautiful white flowers set against the burnt remains of cacti and trees. Beauty springing from ashes. Creativity growing out of exhaustion. Love thumbing its nose at pain. Sometimes spiritual messages are subtle and take years to work out. Sometimes they hit you upside the head like a two by four.

Or like a desert flower blooming out of the ashes. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Born This Way

Just hold your head up girl, and you'll go far
Listen to me when I say...


Overscheduling. Overeating. Undereating. Overworking. Overexercising. Underexercising.


"There's nothing wrong with loving who you are...
'cause He made you perfect, babe!"

Learning. Writing. Growing. Loving.

I'm beautiful in my way
'Cause God makes no mistakes
I'm on the right track baby
I was born this way.

Ready to win. Answering only to myself. Breaking free of it all.

I haven't posted much, but I've been thinking and pondering more than ever. Gaga inspired me to share just a bit, albeit cryptically. Who knew the queen of freakified videos would speak to my soul?

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Soup for Sick Tummies

Tonight I invented a soup that I wanted because my stomach didn't feel well and my son's been feeling poorly all day. I decided to get on my blog really fast to write down what I did because otherwise I'll never be able to create it again and I think I'll want to do so. I'm eating a bowl as I write this - it's quite soothing and delicious.

2 c red lentils (I bought mine from the bulk section at Sprouts...I love Sprouts)
1/2 an onion - diced
1 teaspoon minced garlic (maybe it was a little more than this....maybe 2 teaspoons??)
2 Tablespoons grape seed oil (more or less 2T - just toss some in - mine was garlic/basil flavored)
2 small red potatoes - chopped into small pieces
2 long sticks of celery - chopped into small pieces
1 fresh tomato (from my neighbor's garden...Holly is the best - we traded tomatoes for cucumbers the other day) - Next time I might use a can of diced tomatoes so I get the pieces even smaller and keep the nice fresh tomatoes saved for salads.
3/4 can of coconut milk (It was the part without the cream, for the most part, after it had been in the fridge for a while. I'd used the cream to attempt to make some sugar free, dairy free, gluten free icing for cupcakes. Epic fail - but that's another story...)
3 cans of water - according to my math, that worked out to about 4 1/2 cups of water
cardamom - this is my new favorite flavor. I think I put in about a tablespoon but I wouldn't swear to it - you can also buy this in bulk at Sprouts, which is good because it is an expensive spice.
sea salt - probably a teaspoon??? (I know, I know...this recipe isn't very helpful, is it?)
fresh ground pepper - I just held it over the pan and ground for a while. Your guess is as good as mine on the amount but it wasn't a whole bunch.

Heat the grape seed oil. Add the onions and garlic, saute for a few minutes.
Toss in everything else.
Bring to a boil then simmer for about 10-12 minutes. (Red lentils cook really fast. They're pink when they're dry, then they're yellow-ish after they've cooked so "red lentils" is a bit of a misnomer but who am I to judge?)

Ok, so it doesn't look like much but I swear it's wonderful and I did the whole thing (including kitchen clean-up) in half an hour. The cupcakes in the background are the sugar free, gluten free cupcakes that my son loved - this time I used eggs and he liked them less. Hmmm. Guess I'll go back to the less puffy, flax-seed substitute cupcakes next time. To each his own, I always say.

Now if I could only get the icing figured out, I'd cry with joy. I didn't post a picture of my latest icing fail because I don't want to gross you out. Let's just say that it's sitting right next to my husband at our kitchen bar as he works on his model and it could clearly substitute as model glue. For all I know, he's already used some for that purpose.

Come to think of it, the icing ingredients were quite expensive. I hope he does use some as glue because at least then it won't be a total waste.

Friday, May 27, 2011

My Manic Kitchen

If I had a cooking blog, this is what I'd call it. Of course, I don't have a cooking blog (I have what one might refer to as a "Rambling Blog") and there are plenty of other people (like my talented friend Mandy) who have excellent and inspiring cooking blogs. I follow in the footsteps of giants when it comes to cooking - I typically take someone else's excellent recipe and revise it as necessary for my household (right now that involves taking out the dairy, eggs, gluten, and sugar - you'd be surprised how good most recipes still taste).

I don't have a lot to offer in terms of innovative cooking techniques or recipes. What I can teach you, however, is how to maximize your ADHD in the kitchen so that you can knock out a stunning number of dishes in a short amount of time while simultaneously working through legal issues for  your family business. My style doesn't lend itself to beautiful pictures (unless you find flour fluff spread all over a kitchen visually stunning) but I did take some snapshots of the finished products so you can see what I'm talking about as I give you my timeline.

The mania began yesterday afternoon - I rushed to make my second batch of these awesome chocolate cupcakes posted on My Real Food Life . Both kids loved them and I wanted to make sure and have a supply before we went out to the grandparents for the weekend so that my son would have sweets available to him. I made more than just a dozen but they disappear quickly.


This morning, I got the kids to school at 7:30, then dashed up north to the Williamson County Humane Society to return the three bottle-fed puppies we'd been fostering for the last week. After that, I rushed to Whole Foods to stock up on groceries and baking supplies. I was back at home by 9-ish and the true cooking mania began. 

First on the agenda were buckwheat waffles. I mixed up a double recipe (inspired and closely following a recipe found in this book) and as I slowly made a huge stack-o-waffles (to be frozen for future breakfasts), I got on the phone with my dad to work through next steps for his business. 


I made a double recipe of these waffles because my son has already told me he simply loves them, so I felt confident in making tons for breakfast over the next week or two.

Once I finished my call with dad, the waffles were still going (it takes a while when you can only make two at a time) so I started on my homemade hummus. My Artist's Way group is coming to my house tonight and I wanted to have at least one option that was homemade.


Man....I hit it out of the park with this hummus. As a matter of fact, it is SO GOOD that I'm compelled to write the recipe down here - not because I think my six readers are dying to try it, but because I want to remember how I made it! I kid you not - this is the best hummus ever created in the history of the planet. Or at least in the history of Austin, Texas.

Jenn's Hummus

Ingredients:
2 cans organic garbanzo beans (drained and rinsed)
1 fresh red pepper
juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup Tahini
1 - 2 Tablespoons Harissa extra virgin olive oil (I get my flavored OO's from Con Olio here in Austin)
1/4 cup Lemon extra virgin olive oil
salt to taste
pepper to taste

Cut red pepper in half, smear with Harissa EVOO, and roast in oven - watch closely - it just takes a few minutes.

Add all the ingredients in a blender and blend away. Enjoy the view as the hummus turns slightly pink.

After the waffles were cooling and the hummus blended, I started on the Sorghum Banana Bread from that same rice-free gluten cookbook I used for the waffles. Again - this has been a recipe staple for us over the last month although this time around I think I got carried away with the amount of smooshed banana I put into the mix. You wouldn't think of that as a problem, but it doesn't seem to be cooking as quickly as normal. As I write this part of the post, I'm waiting for it to come out of the oven and I need it to hurry up because I'm trying to make it into work today for a few hours! Here's a picture of it right before I put it in the oven for six more minutes....



Once I popped the banana bread in the oven, I started chopping veggies to go with the hummus because I want everything to be all ready for my friends tonight. Now I've finished my blog post and am about to run into work for two hours before I pick my son up after school. I've cooked quite a few things, chopped veggies without injury to myself or others, cleaned the kitchen, and blogged in three and a half hours.

Move fast and cook with gusto. That's my motto!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

I'm still here

Yeah. I know.

It only affects about six people, tops, but I've been avoiding my blog again. It's all good though, and I'm compelled to at least give you guys a brief update.

1. I'm happier than ever before in my life. Truly. It's somewhat stunning, to tell you the truth. I almost don't know what to do with myself.
2. I'm writing. Not every day, but it's happening. Better yet, it's happening in conjunction with my daughter.
3. I harvested two cucumbers and they were both de...li....cious. That's my biggest regret, that I haven't posted a picture of my funky-looking but quite tasty cukes.
4. I realized that what I really want in life right now, more than anything else, is to be a mom. Lucky for me, I just so happen to have two kids hanging around my house all the time. They even call me mom and tell me they love me. What a stroke of good fortune!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Kitchen Massacre

So it turns out that when your 8-year-old can't eat sugar, you are more than happy to buy him pomegranates and spend a while getting the seeds out so he'll be able to much on them over the next few days. (Strangest fruit EVER.)

And...if you're not used to dealing with pomegranates, then you might end up splattering pomegranate juice all over the world. Before I was wearing this tank top, I'd been wearing a very nice white shirt (don't ask...my mind just doesn't follow typical kitchen logic), so by the time this picture was taken, my white shirt was already soaking in the washing machine. (I'd like to think I at least get credit for that fact.

By the time I'd gotten all of those crazy seeds out of the fruit, it looked like I'd committed a murder. Next time I drink a pomegranate martini, I'll appreciate it much more.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

My Wedding History

I've been thinking about my wedding history this week - a history which really doesn't match my social status at all. My marriage history, on the other hand, is rather strait-forward and basic (met my husband at 18, married at 21, 2 kids and a dog). As any woman over the age of 32 who's been married for at least four years can tell you, weddings and marriages are two entirely different things. (It takes women a bit of time to learn it, but I suspect any man of any age is aware of that fact.)

When it comes to weddings, my first exposure to a wedding (and, thus, my concept of a "normal" wedding) was my uncle's wedding. It was the summer after my first grade year, so I was 5 years old (I started first grade young) and my uncle married this absolutely wonderful, lovely woman from high Dallas society. If I told you her name, you'd recognize it because her family is that well-known - so I won't - but I will tell you that the wedding was at a very large, very nice church downtown and the reception was at the Dallas Country Club.

My cousins and I were bridesmaids, dressed in gorgeous, floor-length white dresses with flower wreaths in our hair, and the men all wore tails. The rehearsal dinner was at the very top of some building in downtown Dallas in a very nice restaurant which I did not even come close to appreciating at that age, but looking back now I suspect I'll never set foot in it again so it's a pity I spent the entire night looking out the window and marveling at how tiny everything looked from that high up.

Needless to say, the wedding was exceptional and I thought: "So this is a wedding? How lovely! I can't wait to do this myself someday!" I think my parents realized a dangerous precedent was set, but what could they do?

A few short years later (I was 9 or 10 at the time), I was up at 3 a.m. to watch Diana's wedding. I'd been following the engagement obsessively and for years afterwards, at every birthday and Christmas I asked for more coffee-table books with photographs of Diana and her wedding. I couldn't get enough of it. Clearly, I'd developed a dangerous perception of what a wedding entailed. I can honestly say that I spent hours poring over every photograph of Diana that came within arms reach of my small hands. Even my obsession with Garfield cartoon books didn't come close to my obsession with my royal wedding books.

By the time I was engaged (aged 20) there was no question in my mind that I'd be married in the evening, the men would wear tails, and I'd have a cathedral length train on my wedding dress. It seemed rather obvious to me at the time. Looking back, I'm stunned and grateful that my parents pulled it off in grand fashion without putting our family into debt. My dad was just starting his business at the time, my kid brother was about to attend college, and we were not wealthy. Not at all.

And yet, I had exactly the wedding I wanted at 21 years old - tons of roses, bridesmaids in white dresses, men in tails, and a brocade wedding dress with a train so long that it probably weighed one-third of what I weighed in my birthday suit. I had fun shopping with my mom for bargains and loved the challenge of getting exactly what I wanted at the lower-cost options in town. Who cared if the flowers came from a bright fuchsia building on the "bad" side of town if the customer service was amazing and the roses were perfect? Those snotty society florists weren't listening to what I wanted anyway. (No baby's breath. Get that stuff out of my bouquet immediately.)

So that's my wedding history. If I'd married later in life, the wedding would take place on a beach and my feet would be bare. But as I watched William and Kate tie the knot yesterday morning (at 3 a.m. with my own daughter by my side), I teared up and smiled as I remembered how I felt watching Diana and what an impact she had on me and my own wedding.

There's something to be said for celebrating the beginning of a marriage in grand style and dressing like a princess for one day in your life. I'm really glad I had that experience, but I think I appreciate it only because it was the prelude to a marriage that's been tough at times but has been 100% worth it because I'm married to someone who treats me royally on a regular basis. 

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Controlling Basil and Defeating Wheat

This is my new garden. Not bad, right? Of course, I haven't actually eaten anything out of it yet...but that's a minor detail. I'm sure baby tomatoes, green onions, and a lovely mesclun mix is in my future.

I've realized I'm not in control of cancer, I'm not in control of how other people treat me (or what they think of me), and I'm not really even in control of my career (although I still believe there's hope for a certain amount of career-control after I've racked up a few more grey hairs). Although I know Mother Nature probably has her own ideas about my tiny little garden, I can at least water it every day and plant radishes (a vegetable which adds no discernible value to a plate other than its lovely red color). There's something to be said about grabbing control wherever you can get it.

We just found out that we're going to have to make some dramatic changes to my son's diet (no cane sugar, no high fructose corn syrup, no wheat, no rice, no milk, no eggs, no carrots, no MSG, no benzoic acid....etc....etc....). After a few weeks of feeling out of control about my mom's diagnosis (and other issues), I have to admit that even though I ache for my 8-year-old boy who won't be snacking on treats the way he wants to snack, I was thrilled to be given this challenge. It feels like a gift from heaven to be able to approach a problem academically and actually make some headway against it.

So....the regular gluten-free diet won't work for us because we're also dealing with a rice intolerance? No problem, I found rice-free, dairy-free, egg-free, gluten-free recipes. (I know, I know -you think I'm talking about water and bananas when I say that...but there is a little more variation available to us.)

In a way, my garden and our new diet adventure work hand-in-hand. I'm suddenly a lot more interested in knowing exactly what is going into my children's mouths. Here's an interesting fact: did you know that every single can of chicken broth on the market seems to contain carrots? Carrots are one of the foods that cause the most severe reactions for my little man. As a result, this former vegetarian mom chopped up a dead chicken and tossed it in the crock pot today so I could make my own chicken broth. Broth that doesn't contain anything other than chicken, onion, celery, salt, pepper and water.

Bang. Problem solved.

Hand me another one, world. I'm up for it.


Thursday, April 14, 2011

Just Watch

I tried to think of what I wanted to write to convince you to watch this video but all I can say is watch it. My dear friend K shared it with me today. Just what I needed - but a mere 20 minutes long. All the emails I received from you guys after my last post were great and helpful. I was trying to find the "Truth" - and it really does come down to vulnerability. Once I'm willing to go there, the world will open.

 So....watch.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Avoiding What I Want. Or What I Think I Want.

So, now I'm avoiding writing. I'm also avoiding playing the piano. And I still haven't joined a choir even though I know that's what I want to do more than almost anything else in the world and that once I do it the heavens will align and my life will be complete.

Ok. I don't really think that. But I do want to join a choir and stuff. And I'm not doing it.

I'm not too busy. Don't get me wrong. I'm very busy. Insanely busy. But that's nothing new for me and, really, in the big scheme of things I've been busier at other points in my life. I'm only working 25 hours a week (supposedly) for goodness sake. We have plenty of busy evenings, but we have a lot of nice, quiet family evenings and it's wonderful.

The truly odd thing is that for about a month I was playing the piano every single night. I spent a good 30-45 minutes practicing and even started every practice session with scale-type hand exercises. It was very disciplined and systematic. I got good at it very quickly and was playing easy versions of Beethoven within a week - feeling very proud and fulfilled.

So, let's review. I was happy about what I was doing and (significantly) I felt very successful about it. My family was proud of me and it calmed me down better than wine. It was 100% good for me. It enriched me on a very deep level.

Then, out of nowhere, I started avoiding the piano like the plague. I know that about six of you read this on a regular basis because you email me comments and sometimes you post. You guys know me - so I ask you...what's up with me? I have some theories but I don't even want to post them at this point because I'd prefer to hear your ideas.

Once we get the piano question figured out, I guess I can tackle the writing and choir issues - but I suspect they are strongly related to each other.


Friday, April 1, 2011

Today

There's writing inside of me today, pushing to get out.

At first I figured I needed to write about how my mom was officially diagnosed with melanoma yesterday and how I've realized it's a good thing I went on a massive chore-orgy in the days leading up to it because I've now got nothing left to give. To anyone. I just need to get by for a few days and the loaf of bread baking in the oven will probably be my stellar accomplishment of the month at this point.

But that's not what I wanted to write.

Maybe, I thought, I'm supposed to be writing about how I'll be spending this weekend camping out with other Boy Scout leaders as I earn my chaplain certificate. And how all I can think about is that I've got to put a tent up all by myself and wondering how far back I'll set the feminist movement if I have to ask a guy for help.

No - that's not it either. All my words today are about my plants. 

As you can see, they're humming along rather nicely. So nicely, in fact, that I was inspired to plant some more seeds. What followed is so classic-Jenn that I suspect any one of you could have predicted the outcome. 

I tend to do things in a hurry, although my mini-gardens are slowing me down just a bit. Last weekend I was all excited about getting some more stuff going, so I grabbed some small pots (you can't see them in this picture) and planted seeds. As I was planting the seeds, it occurred to me that it would probably be WISE to mark what plant was in each pot. You know. For future reference.

Since I was squeezing this chore in between items #217 and #219 on my to-do list, I decided not to worry about that detail. I figured if I ever wasn't sure what something was, I'd just pull off a leaf and eat it. 

(What??? I know. I'm not proud of my thought process, just sharing it here for your amusement.)

At any rate, I now have some cute little plants coming up in my smaller pots, but heck if I have any idea what they are. I'm pretty sure I planted the green onions in the white ceramic pot that I made a while back. But I could be wrong - the cilantro might be in that one. 

As I was laughing at myself earlier today, it dawned on me that I SHOULD HAVE grabbed some popsicle sticks from our massive closet-o-art-supplies, identified the plants, and popped those pop-sticks in dirt. Assuming, that is, that I could actually FIND the popsicle sticks in my closet. Yeah. That would've been a good idea. Maybe next time. 

In the meantime, I'll try to be more aware of situations like this in other areas of my life. You never know when that "identify things with labels" idea might come in handy again.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Outside

As I type this, I'm sitting on my front porch (not on a chair but actually on the concrete) - soaking up the twilight and staring proudly at my vegetables. (Yes, I'm that good of a typist that I can actually stare at plants while I type. Remind me to tell you someday about my Junior year in high school when typing was the one class that kept me from a straight A average. Needless to say, I was sufficiently annoyed to master that skill before the end of the next six weeks.)

I have FINALLY planted vegetables in some containers. For years I've wished I could have a garden but I have a very shady yard. I know I've blogged about it before - so really this urge to get my hands dirty and grow food for my family is nothing new. This time around, I already have a few baby green beans, some fabulous basil, baby cilantro and arugula and a nice little bunch of lettuce. I'm beginning to think it might really happen. Everything is in containers, and I keep them in my front yard because that's the best bet for some sunshine.

As I sit out here, I'm closer to being "Jennifer" than at almost any other time. I know I'm "supposed" to exercise or check things off of my to-do list, but nothing seems to matter as much as being out here and listening. It's corny, and I never thought I'd look at it this way, but I almost feel connected to my plants. It's bizarre.

Of course - if they let me down and croak then I'll probably take it personally and hold a grudge. It's a double-edged sword, I suppose.

Next weekend I'll be camping in a tent all by myself for two nights out in Bastrop (Boy Scout chaplain training...). As I sit here on my porch, listening to the wind in the trees, I'm excited about the idea and looking forward to sneaking away into the woods for a few hours with no one else around so that I can just exist.

I do love shopping and a great happy hour, but my home-grown baby vegetables beat out a top shelf margarita and a pair of expensive shoes any day of the week. Even if said shoes are red - and that's saying something.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Changing the World, Or At Least the State of Texas

Today I took my kids to the Save Texas Schools rally because...
- what's the point of living in Austin, Texas if you don't sometimes get involved and let the Legislature know how you feel about important issues?
- what's the point of those cheap wire clothes hangers except to make political sign holders?
and
- what's the point of being a mom if you don't encourage your children to stand up and make a difference in the world?

We all worked individually on our signs.
Mine said: "Think beyond your next election! Save our schools!"
My daughter's said: "Stop stealing our future"
My son's said: "Give $ back to schools!!!!"

Idealistic? Yes.
And proud of it.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Contemplating Ascetiscism

This guy who used to work with me once told me that I was an ascetic. Fortunately, since I'm the only member of my immediate family of origin who did NOT attend seminary, I knew he wasn't calling me a bad name. I have had a tendency to give things up (sugar, meat, caffeine...) but - in all honesty - it's not always because I'm pursuing higher spirituality. It's typically because I tend to see my actions in black and white terms. I'm good or bad. Pure or stained.

If I eat too much sugar, then the best solution (in my mind) is to go cold turkey. Actually, that's the EASIEST solution once you get over the initial hump. It's much more difficult to practice a life of true moderation than it is to live your life in either extreme.

I'm contemplating asceticism today because Lent is right around the corner and I've yet to hear a distinct calling for this year's observation (perhaps because I haven't been listening very closely). I've tried it all - I've given up almost anything you can imagine and I've also tried waking up early to meditate or read the Bible every morning. True to form, I'm generally more successful at the "giving up" than I am at creating new (good) habits.

Do any of you observe Lent or any other ascetic spiritual tradition, such as Ramadan? If so - what did you do and how did it work for you? (Remember...I allow anonymous posting so you can be honest!) This year I'm drawn more towards the commitment of a daily meditation, but I really want to hear about your experience before I decide.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Creating Space, Part Two

For a good 48 hours after that amazing yoga class, I was sore. Sore in a good way, but sore all the same. I was literally feeling muscles in my back that I don't think I've ever used before. I knew at the time that it was taking a lot of effort for me to create that space - I mean, I was sweating and breathing hard just from going into a forward bend! The effort was even more obvious the next day. I decided the most effective way for me to combat my discomfort was to do it again. So that's exactly what I did. 

It's a bit uncomfortable to create space. As the normal habits get pushed aside, part of me gets a little whiny and questions whether I'm truly capable of change in my life. I think that if I keep pushing myself a little bit every day to create space in my heart, mind and body, I'll begin to see it as a fun challenge instead of succumbing to the annoying "I can't" messages.

The tag-line for my Myers-Briggs personality is "Anything's Possible." That's what I'm hoping!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Creating Space, Part One

Today, during my lunch break, I used a gym pass to hit a yoga class. The dude teaching the class was awesome. He took his time and really had us focus on the details of one pose. We probably spent ten or fifteen minutes slowly going into a forward bend, stopping every few inches to create more space in our spines so that we could really access the pose and do the work. It was simply yoga-licious.
The entire lesson was really about creating space and how the yoga practitioners who work on creating space in their core are able to do amazing things. I've felt that idea spinning around in my heart and mind for the rest of the day and there's a lot more I want to explore about it.
By taking the time to create space in my body, I found a whole new experience with the asana. I believe there are other aspects of my life that would blossom if I created space for them.
Creating space in my home gives me a sense of peace and comfort.
Creating space in my mind allows me to be open to new ideas.
Creating space in my heart opens me to forgiveness and love for myself and for others who've hurt me.
Creating space in my habits enables me to let go of the destructive ones and accept healthy new ones.
Creating space in my daily schedule gives me time to accomplish what I envision for myself.
Creating space for mistakes allows me to learn. (This little gem popped into my head when I was about to berate myself for "messing up" part of tonight's dinner. I made space for the mistake and ended up with a meal that was even better once the recipe was Jenn-ified.)
Creating space for faith and spirituality is probably the best idea of all. I believe space is all it takes because what we need is right here - right in front of all of us. When I create the space for God in my life, all the love and joy rushes in and I don't miss what I moved aside so I'd have room for Her peace.
Uttanasa and Virabhadrasana III first opened my (rather sore) hips. A few hours later I realized they'd also opened my mind to a whole new way of looking at the possibilities around me.

Where do you want to create space? Tomorrow I plan to write about how much effort it takes to truly create space. After today's yoga class, I was sweating and exhausted even though I barely moved sixteen inches in any direction during the entire hour. I focused all my energy on new movements and tiny muscles so that I could find incremental space. I had to shut down the part of my brain that wanted to question whether it was "working" and whether I was "able" to create the space. It was an enormous amount of work but so worth it that I can't wait to do it again.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Men and Emotions

Last night, around 9 p.m., we made it safely back home after laying my husband's grandmother to rest in Borger, Texas. As we drove into our neighborhood, my husband informed us that we'd been away from home for 37 hours and 45 minutes. During that time, we'd driven about 1100 miles.

Needless to say, the trip took a significant amount of stamina.

I mentioned the other day how much I grieved when I realized the end was near. Once we were at the actual internment, the reality of what we were facing seemed to hit my son as well. He turned away from the service and buried  his face in my chest, wrapping my coat around the sides of his face. It took me a few minutes to realize that he wasn't just escaping from all the people (sometimes crowds of adults are a bit much for him) but that he was actually crying and didn't want anyone other than me to know how he was feeling.

His grief had real staying power. I know relatives were wondering why he was being unsocial, but he couldn't bring himself to look at anyone. He continued to cry quietly for about 30 minutes after the service, even when we went to some friends' house so that I could change into jeans (he wouldn't change his clothes, nor would he let go of the program from the service). By the time we made it to the Palo Duro Canyon, and once he saw the amazing view, he seemed to recover and had a great time seeing if he could make an echo.

I ached for his pain but I was also very glad that he let himself cry and that he trusted me enough to share his grief. Too often we pressure men to swallow their pain and be the "strong ones." Little boys and young men take those messages to heart. Lately I've been thinking about the kind of love I hope my children find when they are grown. I want them to find a love which allows them to be completely true to themselves - even when they are in pain and want to run away from the world. As I stood on the rim of the canyon with my son, I was thinking about how proud I was of him for crying and how I know my job right now is to let him be the person he's supposed to be. Some day it will be up to him to remain true to himself.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Peaceful Kitchen

I'm not sure this picture adequately captures what my kitchen looked like earlier this afternoon, but I was so happy as I looked at the sunlight falling on the strawberries in the white dish that I was inspired to take a picture. I guess I just wanted to write about why I'm so happy in my kitchen on a day like this, when the sun is shining and I've got good smells coming from the oven.

 Most weeks I bake bread at least once and you can see one of the very nice bread pans my husband gave me for Christmas in front of the toaster (which is not so nice but perfectly adequate for how I use it). I've also become something of an olive oil and balsamic vinegar connoisseur (or snob, if you prefer) because there's an awesome olive oil specialty store not too far from my house. The people at Con Olio know me pretty well and you can see why - there are almost a dozen bottles to the left of the Kitchen Aid. That mixer was another fabulous Christmas gift - but it's pretty old now - I think I received it before my eldest was born, if memory serves - and I've been giving it a run for its money, especially during the last few years - since I started baking my own bread at home. You might be wondering why there are eggs in water. Technically, they are egg shells. I recently read that if you leave eggshells in water overnight, the water becomes enriched with calcium, which is good for your plants. My plants need all the help they can get, so whenever the shells are too cracked to save for cascarones, I plop them into water.

So this is my idea of heaven. Everyone at home, sunshine coming in the open window, bread in the oven and strawberries ready for a snack. 

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Accepting Grief

Today we found out that a dear one, my husband's grandmother, is probably close to the end of her life. As I write this, I'm waiting for David to come home so that we can see her one more time. I've learned a lot about how I grieve over the last few hours.

I grieve openly. The second my son got into the car, he immediately told me I didn't sound very good and wanted to know what was wrong. When my daughter came into the house an hour and a half later, the first words out of her mouth were: "Mom, what's wrong?" I wasn't crying openly but I was clearly carrying sadness and grief. Even as I waited in the pickup line for my son, I could feel the grief in the air around me - as if it was a tangible fog. A few years ago I would have tried to pretend everything was ok, but I'm now mature enough to realize that it wouldn't work anyway and - at worst - it might make my children think I didn't care about what's going on right now. I wear my emotions openly and I probably always will.

I also need to be accomplishing something tangible as I grieve. We're fortunate in that we already have a babysitter scheduled for tonight - it was supposed to be date night. That gives us the opportunity to head out to the nursing home so David can say goodbye.Our babysitter is wonderful and the kids love her - she'll be a real support to them. I've been digging through the pantry, preparing dinner for the three of them because it's very, very important to me that I have a hot dinner on the table for my kids and their caretaker before I leave the house. I really wanted to get a fresh loaf of bread in the oven but the timing won't work out. Instead - it's a pretty kid-centric meal of frozen fish fillets (in the oven now), organic macaroni and cheese, and pineapple. Lemon Jello will be their dessert if it sets in time.

Obviously - I also feel the need to write about my grief - even before it's really begun. Our dear grandmother is still with us and plenty of people would be able to put it all aside for a while. I need to start processing now and today I accept that about myself. Most importantly - I want to be a support to David and the kids as they face their own grief. I believe that when we're open with each other about our grief, we are able to love more deeply.

This is my way. Open, tangible, honest. Because I don't want to go through life alone.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Snow Days, Banana Bread, and Bach

The weather guys (the same ones who've let me down in the past) predicted snow and it actually blanked out town last night as we were asleep. So today we had a Snow Day. As you can see, my daughter announced it in all caps outside of our house.

My day started at 4:30 a.m., not because of my kids, but because of my own exuberance. Once I saw the snow I couldn't go back to sleep - it seemed like forever before I could go outside to play and take pictures. As usual, my husband took the top snapshots - like this one of a squirrel - but I had fun adding the artistic sepia touch.
It's an artistic sort of day. I baked banana bread (baking is the ultimate artistic expression, in my opinion) and practiced the piano. Maybe later I'll write a poem.


Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Sixth Grade Definition of "Optional"

So, the first thing you should know is that it's freakishly cold right now. It's been hovering in the 20's all day. If you lived in Minnesota I guess it might be a bit chilly - but for Austin, Texas - there are simply no words to describe our discomfort.

Because it's a dry cold, we're supposed to go through our days as if nothing unusual was happening. There's no ice on the roads, you know. In the meantime, there were "rolling" blackouts to protect the power grid. Let's just not ask why, if they were rolling blackouts, my house and workplace never lost power but my daughter's school rarely had power this morning.

We'll leave that question to the philosophers, shall we?

Where was I? Oh, yes. It's cold. Bone chillingly, wear-sweatshirt-and-socks-to-bed, remind-me-never-to-move-north-of-Dallas COLD.

Around lunchtime, I got a text from my daughter - which took me aback because there is a VERY strict no cell phone usage rule at her school. She knows it backwards and forwards and that if a phone is seen it will be confiscated and I think there is money involved to get it back...I don't know. It sounds intimidating. She clearly doesn't mess around with it because even when I try to call her on the bus (which is a cell phone approved location) she doesn't answer.

Texts are, by their very nature, somewhat ambiguous. Texts from your middle school child can be exceptionally vague. This lunchtime text read: "Mom, can you please come pick me up?"

Now, call me picky but I need a little bit more context - especially when I receive a text like that in the middle of the school day. I immediately start to worry that some horrible bullying incident has occurred and she sneaked off to ask for help. I text back and tell her that I need her to call me but then say "Of course I will - just call and tell me why." She calls right away (Why did she not call me in the first place? Ponder not the mysteries of a pre-teen's mind, dear readers.). It turns out that the school had no electricity so the principal finally got on the intercom and told the kids that if they were cold, and if they could get ahold of their parents, and if they wanted to do so - they could go home.

Yeah. So. I'll give you one guess as to how many middle school kids decided that they WANTED to stay at school. I mean, I was a total teacher's pet but even I would've jumped at the chance to call my mom for a ride home when I was 11.

Anyway - she warns me that the line to pick up kids was really long but that hopefully it would be better by the time I got there. She wasn't kidding. Parents in line are asking questions about what's going on and one of the security officers rolls her eyes and said that the kids just want to go home. And leaves it at that.

I'm thinking....really? That's the answer? Isn't it true that our kids want to go home every single day of their lives - but you don't normally see three hundred 40-somethings in a middle school, do you? I'm thinking there's more to this story.

I didn't say that. Instead, I said: "Well, wasn't there an announcement? A reason our kids called us?"

She rolled her eyes again (not at me, she seemed nice enough) and responded: "Sure...but it was OPTIONAL as to whether the kids wanted to go home if they were cold. They should have told their parents that - instead they just said they wanted to get picked up."

Because, of course, making it "optional" should have really cut down on the number of calls home and/or ambiguous texts sent to cell phones across North Austin.

I didn't offer a verbal response but perhaps I inadvertently displayed incredulity on my face because she followed that up with: "There's no reason for them to go home, you don't have to get them at all. School's going on as normal and the heat is back on. There's really no reason for all of you to be here."

Again - I didn't have a response to that insight. I did, however, text my daughter, and tell her they told me the heat was back on and that the line to get her out of school was REALLY long. She texts back immediately and said something along the lines of: "They said the heat was working the last two times it broke." Ah. The pieces begin to fall into place.

The good news is that I finally located her, thanks to the hilarious and goofy green hat that she loves to wear, was able to find a kindhearted teacher who was taking names of kids checking out (or else she was just some random woman writing our names onto a piece of paper - either way works for me) so that I didn't have to keep waiting in line. The other good news was that my kid only missed one academic class.

The FUNNY thing is that by the time I got back to the office, I had an email from the school announcing that school was NOT cancelled. (Which cracked me up - as if hundreds of parents just spontaneously decided to descend upon the school en-masse and collect our children.) By the time we got home, we had a message from the district telling us that schools wouldn't be cancelled if they didn't have electricity tomorrow and that kids should just plan to come to school with extra clothes and teachers would be prepared to teach without electricity.

I'm having flashbacks of Little House on the Prairie as I write this. Maybe I'll braid her hair tomorrow. Hee, hee. Easy for me to say, right? Just for that cheek, the gods of electricity might smite me.

It just strikes me as a particularly amusing day in which, perhaps, some people gained a new appreciation of what an "optional" release from school means to kids. I'm hoping tomorrow brings ice and less ambiguity in my life.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Shoes...why hast thou forsaken me?



When it gets right down to it, I have defective feet. To add insult to injury, I've also got really bad luck. 

Plus I'm cheap.

When you add all those factors together, I often end up wishing I could afford a live-in foot masseuse. 

I have one pair of dress shoes (purchased right before Christmas) which created blisters so severe that I had open sores on my feet for a week and a half. (This happened BOTH times I wore them. Yes, I believe in giving shoes a second chance even if it's clear that it's an abusive relationship from the get go.)

Although the dress shoes were a bit of a bummer, I can live with the loss. But when it comes to my new hot pink Converses (is it legitimate to make the word "Converse" plural?) - I'm devastated.

Here's the problem. They don't come in half sizes - at least not at Academy. I was about to get the size 8, when David looked at them in my hand and said: "Is that really your shoe size??" Well, no - the truth is that my shoe size doesn't exist. (That's why almost nothing fits.) I'm actually between size 7 and size 7.5 and between a narrow and medium width. Typically I get a 7.5 M because I hate tight shoes (who doesn't, right?). I have to admit that the size 8 sneakers did look a bit odd although they were cooooommmmfy. 

Long story short...I went for the size 7's. The second I took them off this evening I felt my feet breathe a sigh of relief and realized that - YET AGAIN - I've purchased a pair of shoes that doesn't fit correctly. 

And of course, I discover this after walking in them for 2 miles outside. Because it would have made WAY too much sense for me to realize this in the store. Before I paid for them. 

Here's the bright side - they were on clearance for $14.88. Have I mentioned that I usually make my worse shoe decisions when I'm buying them on sale? 

I'm keeping these in my wardrobe rotation - they're too great for me to hide them away. If I'm especially fussy one day, just look at my feet. If you see me wearing these shoes, you'll know why.