Friday, November 21, 2014

The Hippie Wanna-Be Chronicles: Bone Broth

It's the weekend before Thanksgiving, otherwise known as "buy all the food ever" weekend. Everyone is picking out their birds, deciding on who's bringing what side dish, and finalizing drink and dessert offerings. The excitement is climbing - everyone is looking forward to food, family, and a mid-week day to just chill on the couch.

And me? What am I doing to prep for the big day? Oh I'm just cleanin' up some puke and wipin' noses. My little one, 2 years old, has been sick since SATURDAY. That's almost 7 days of nonstop sniffling, choking, sobbing, coughing, and gagging, combined with random fevers and fits of rage. When my little one gets a cold she gets a cold.

Funny, though, the rest of us are pretty much ok. 

How is it, I wonder, that my youngest can be horribly, terribly ill, but the rest of us are good?

Well for starters, she is younger and is building up her immunity. She is naturally going to be hit harder because she is a small, small person with only 2 years under her belt. She's what I like to call an "immunity lightweight."

But there's something else...something a bit more hippie going on here. 

You see, my other kid, the big one, who has a substantial 6 year lead over her younger sister, always, always gets sick. This kid never catches a break....instead she catches illnesses. She is constantly bringing home what other parents drop off at school and has never escaped a family cold or stomach flu. Ever. 

Except this time.

Now don't get me wrong, she got something. She was sleeping longer, draggin' butt earlier in the week, but after taking a day off to recuperate, she went back to school with no problems. She missed one day, compared to the 3-4 days she's normally down for the count.

The difference? 

Bone, Broth.

Now some of you probably know, I am huge on meat raised by farmers you know. I believe in voting with your dollars and food is probably the most important ballot out there. It's a horribly deceitful market in the US and we should care about it because food can save lives. Food can make you a better person. Food can make sick people well. It's a fact, people. 

When I realized my big girl was ill, I whipped up a huge green smoothie (they aren't disgusting jars of scum after all) and she chugged it down with a smile. Then I tossed some navy beans in a crock pot with some of the best stuff on earth - homemade broth.

I love perusing the meat menu at Wallace Farms. Each time I look, though, I see these chicken backs jumping out at me. They are so, so cheap. I needed to find a way to use them, so I started googling the crap out of them. 

Turns out chicken backs aren't good for anything other than - you guessed it - broth (also called stock, which confuses me, so I'll just keep calling it broth).

I found a couple great recipes online and sort of blended them together to work for me. I'm not going to lie to you and say this was a fast process. This was perhaps the longest cooking session I've ever had. But you know what else is long? Sleepless nights when the whole family is sick. Losing a weekend to broth-making was well worth it to me.

Lemmie show ya what I did.

Pick a bone. Hahaha I've got a bone to pick with but really. You can get beef bones (knuckle and marrow bones) or chicken bones. Obviously, the beef bones will result in beef broth, the chicken bones will result in chicken broth. All 3 types of bones have glorious, beautiful, luscious gelatin and minerals. You can read an awesome post about the benefits of drinking broth by checking out this post by Katie from Kitchen Stewardship. She links to a ton of resources explaining the immense nutritional value of bone broth. 

Bottom line, it's the shizz.

So I started my bone broth session by buying 3 packages of chicken backs. Three come in each package - more than enough. Be sure to buy your meat and/or bones from someone you know or from a local farm that can vouch not only for how the animals lived but how they were butchered. This makes a difference in both the quality of your broth and the quality of our agriculture system!

Next I filled two huge pots with water. I didn't use filtered water, or distilled water, or whatever. I used tap water, my well tap water, all full of iron and whatever else is down there. I didn't measure it out, either, I just filled them up 3/4 of the way full. 

I didn't saute/brown the backs beforehand because I hate dishes (we don't own a dishwasher....unless my husband's hands which case....yay! I own a dishwasher!). You can always saute everything, including the veggies in the next step, before adding it to the pot. I's broth, sooo....I didn't see the need....but whatever tugs your tag!

After splashing the slippery suckas gently placing the chicken backs in the pot I added some leftover onion tops, leftover carrot tops, scraps of garlic skin, and some roughly chopped/cracked garlic cloves. I didn't add celery because I hate the stuff, but that's another great vegetable to add to stock. Remember, these don't need to be the "pretty parts" of the veggie. Kitchen scraps destined for the compost or garbage work really, really well just the way they are. 

I brought it all up to a boil and then lowered the heat to a gentle simmer. I cooked the chicken in there like that for an hour - then I took the backs out, plucked the meat off of 'em, and stuck the bare bones back in the pots. 

I got a good batch of meat off my backs. You can call me the Bone Plucker. I froze the meat and used it later for tacos and soup. 

Then came the fun part. I let that stuff chill, on a low simmer, for 20 hours. That's twenty hours. I felt like a witch at her cauldron, checking throughout the day and skimming some of the foam off the top (it'll happen, that foam - it's not dangerous. It's foam.). **Side note, if you have a gas stove, be sure to put your exhaust fan on (lowest setting is fine). I did not do that, because ya know, I'm into gassing myself and my whole family,like a boss. The carbon monoxide detector went off at one point and we spent a good hour freezing our butts off as I aired the place out. Safety first, people! Learn from my mistakes!!

Once 20 hours was up, I strained the two pots into bowls. I was sad to see the bones go, but I knew I'd gotten some good stuff out of 'em. I dumped them and the veggies in the trash and got to work on the next phase of my bone broth adventure - storage.

Everywhere I went (you know....on Google and Pinterest...) people were saying it's best to let the broth sit in the fridge overnight and then skim the fat off in the morning. So I went ahead and poured the stuff into jars, left it in the fridge, and skimmed the fat off the next morning. I'm tellin ya, it didn't make that much of a difference and next time, I will totally skip this step. 

Now there was no way I could eat all this broth before it went bad. I ended up with 18 pints and 3 quarts of the stuff -  a truly incredible yield for $9.51 worth of chicken and as you can see, the broth was oh-so-golden and nutra-packed. Nomnomnom. But what to do with it all?

I decided I would take a line from The Brady Bunch and can it (*whine whine whine* "Can it, Cindy!"). Now, for those of you who don't know, which included me before this bone broth adventure, you need a special canner to can bone broth. Only acidic foods, like fruits and jams and stuff with vinegar, can be canned the old fashioned way with a big pot and some boiling water. Non-acidic foods, including broth, need to be canned with a pressure canner.

Luckily, I found one for sale by a sweet old lady at an autumn festival near my town. She sold it to me for $32 - and gave me a quick instruction run-down before I hauled it away. (Be careful and don't buy dangerous stuff from weirdos yaddah yaddha yaddah...I later downloaded the manual because I didn't really understand a thing she said. Gasket what?)

The first step is to reheat your broth. Awesome. I hauled the pots back out and emptied my jars. While the broth heats back up, you need to prep your jars by making sure they're clean and warm. I washed mine out and let them sit in a hot water bath. ***For a more in-depth post about the specifics of pressure canning, check this post out by Simply Canning).

Then I poured my hot broth into my hot jars and burned my hot hands. Carefully, and following my pressure canner's instructions, I stacked my jars, added water like I was supposed to, sealed the lid on the canner, and watched that pressure rise. 

I was such a freak about it. I checked it constantly. 

Ding! Fries are done!

I now have a shelf full of canned, golden broth and let me tell you, it's dang delicious. I made some crockpot soup with it mid-week, on the day my older kiddo stayed home, and we ate it for dinner.

I kid you not, the very next day, she was ten times better...well enough to go to school and the family reading night they hosted until 8PM. She woke up today with a smile and not a smidge of sickness in her eyes. 

Guess which little person didn't want to eat my soup...and is still sick as a dog? I rest my case.

Have you ever tried cooking your own broth? Would you try it? I promise, if I can do it, you can do it. Nature's medicine! Peace and love and waving my arms in the wind like a tree....thank you so much for reading :)

*Disclaimer: Wallace Farms has never given me a dime for my opinion or the repeated mentioning of their high-quality, responsibly raised and butchered meats. This is not a sponsored post! They really are that good - check them out!!

Friday, November 14, 2014

How to Not Be a B*&#% during the Holidays

I figured after last week's laundry horror story, I needed to shift gears, focus on the spirit of the season, and write something a bit more helpful. You gotta forgive the randomness of the topics lately, people. I am a dirty, zombie-eyed woman who is swiping prompts directly from life....and sometimes that life seems to consist only of laundry...ass-kickin' laundry.

But not this week. This week my blog prompt was practically hand-delivered to me in a neat little package by a shirtless man with huge pecs and a bottle of wine hanging off his belt loop like a hammer from heaven. Ok maybe not that perfect. But pretty close.

So I go to these meetings every 2-3 weeks. No, they're not AA meetings...although seeing as how my fantasy delivery man literally has a wine bottle hanging off his belt....

But no, no, these are MOPS meetings. MOPS = Mothers of PreSchoolers. They apparently have chapters all over the world. The hook for me? Free breakfast.

*In all seriousness, my MOPS group provides childcare for 2.5 hours every 2-3 weeks so I can sit and eat, listen to awesome guest speakers (professional organizers, yoga instructors, and female badasses). We make things (necklaces, holiday plates, blankets for the homeless) and I get to talk with other women who are just as under-dressed and tired, all while drinking orange juice without having someone yank on my hand and demand a sip that will inevitably result in backwash. There is a yearly fee that comes out to $7 a month - they do offer financial assistance. If you're a mom (your kid does NOT, as the acronym suggests, need to be in preschool) and you're looking for people to talk to, find a MOPS chapter near you.

The theme for the group this year is to "be you, bravely." At our last meeting, the group leader queued up a video and told us it was all about being generous and giving - of course to correspond to the Thanksgiving holiday, which is supposed to, apparently, be all about giving. 

Here's a little secret about me, in case you didn't already know... I am not naturally all that generous. I mean, I give to charities, and I donate everything I don't keep, but when it comes to my time, my food, and my heart, I am a greedy old Scrooge. I cling to them all with a fierceness unmatched.

Thanksgiving was once my favorite holiday. I love food. I love eating. I love the excuse to sit around. As I've gotten older, had kids, and gotten married, Thanksgiving has kinda lost it's jazz. Don't get me wrong, I love seeing my family and I still love eating, but the joy has kinda been muffled by the intense pressure to be everywhere, do everything, help with as much as possible, and make everything Pinterest-perfect, all while maintaining my older, slightly-less-than-girlish figure. Growing up sucks sometimes, man.

So I, like many American women, end up acting like a total B*&#%. I stress myself out to the point of treating the people I love like garbage.

Real-Life Example from Chronicles of Jen, Circa 2006: 
I wanted to bring dessert to Thanksgiving dinner. I was dead-set on impressing my husband's family, particularly his grandmother, and had concocted this plan to bake a pie. Not just one pie, actually, two pies. Pumpkin. So I went out and blew all this money I didn't have on ingredients I'd never used before. Naturally, I messed up the recipe (who knew confectioner's sugar wasn't called that because it was perfect for baking??) The pies were absolutely awful. And the worst part? The entire time I was baking these pies, I was ignoring the baby, screaming at her to stay out of the kitchen, crying and yelling at my husband, telling him I was doomed, doomed. Life was over. That's it.

Total B*&#%. For what? For PIES. Pies, people. I yelled at my baby and husband because of pies. How is it possible that an intelligent, young, relatively happy young woman could be reduced to tears the day before her favorite holiday because of pies? I'll tell you how. Because I allowed the disgusting, comparison-centric culture of my surroundings to infiltrate my ability to see things clearly. I wanted to impress. I wanted to be like the ladies in the magazines. I wanted to be accepted.

Now, 8 years later, I am worn and weathered by the various problems that pop up during the holidays. I anticipate the pressure to do more, be more, and it's made me bitter....mean, even. A real B*&#%.

So when the MOPS leader told me we'd be watching a movie on how to be more generous, I almost got up and left. I don't need anyone telling me to do more or be more - I tell myself enough of that throughout the day. I'd just gotten my boundaries all laid out for the season and now I was going to be guilt-tripped into more obligations? Obligations that will make me "generous," yet crazy as hell? No thanks.

But then the lady on the video started talking...and I found myself wanting to listen. If you're a sensitive person like I am, you'll want to read this next part....

You see, instead of enacting various quotes and images designed to make me realize how much I have to be grateful for and how crappy I am if I can't be happy in the lovely life I have, the video centered around one, non-offensive idea:

Operate out of abundance, not scarcity.

See? Totally doesn't send my hackles up, that sentence. It doesn't make me feel bad about myself for not being a giddy, happy person. It doesn't make me feel like I need to do a hundred different things to prove I am grateful for everyone and everything I have. It simply tells me to live a life of abundance, not scarcity.

Well that's great, Jen. Abundance, right. Awesome. Thanks....but what exactly does that mean? 

For me, it means I need to stop looking at my time as scarce. I have just as many hours in my day as Gandhi had in his. Or Martin Luther King. Or Jesus. Yet, here I sit, feeling the need to protect my time with everything I have. I don't want to do anything, plan anything, or be anywhere, because I see my time as scarce. I'm terrified of my own anxiety - and controlling time is my way of self-soothing.

When I change that mindset and think of my time as abundant, magic happens. I have 24 hours in each day! Can you imagine? What would you do with 24 hours? That's a TON of time I can use however I want. I can knock out some push-ups. I can clean some dishes. I can write a book. I can dance with my kids. I have all the time in the world - I am abundantly blessed with time. 

When I operate out of scarcity I always have an excuse....but when I operate out of abundance, with the mindframe that I've got all the time in the world, doors open. Not every door, obviously - it's still important to have boundaries and plans. But some doors. One or two more doors than usual. I give myself permission to sit and read for as long as I want. I give myself permission to randomly stop by a friend's house to say hello. I give myself permission to take as much time as I want to sleep or write or design holiday cards if I want because I am not on death row or suffering in a third-world country - no, I am blessed with an abundant amount of time. 

Another area of generosity the lady in the video touched on was money. Thinking of income as abundant can be hard, especially when we all think we need to buy, buy, buy and be perfect, perfect, perfect this time of year. Luckily, as much as Pinterest can push you into comparison hell, it can also shoot you into handmade heaven. We're short on funds this year, but have rekindled our love for Goodwill. I learned how to make cookies plates with ModPodge and fabric scraps. I've designed a choose-your-own adventure gift - the recipient chooses from three "we-will-come-do-this-for-you" options...and they ain't no joke, these tasks. These are serious a grown-up coupon book of awesomeness. 

Think about where your fear of scarcity exists the most. Are you afraid to share your passions? Are you afraid to share your favorite objects, like grandma's china or baby items your kids have outgrown? Do you really want to keep objects in your home that you're deathly afraid of losing? Are you afraid to spend money? Maybe you can't buy a new scarf, but can you afford yarn? Grab a pair of knitting needles? Checkout a book on knitting for beginners? That isn't scarcity, people. That is abundance. We have dollar stores and knowledge at our fingertips - what a beautiful thing. 

So my plan on how to not be a B*&#% during the holidays? Instead of focusing on clean baseboards that nobody even looks at, or screaming at the kids because I don't have enough time to peel the potatoes, I'm going to try real, real hard to soak up the abundance in my life, moment by moment. 

And you? What do you find yourself stressing about as the holiday season swings into gear? Can the principle of abundance work in your scenario? I'd love to hear about it in the comments down below and as always, thank you for reading :)

Friday, November 7, 2014

When Doing Laundry Kicks Your Ass

Ahhh laundry day. I do the laundry every Tuesday and Friday. Sometimes, when I'm feeling especially cheeky, I will do the bedding. Today was one of those days.

Now some of you may remember, I am exactly 1-week in to writing my very first novel. What you may not know, however, is that I've set a personal goal to write double the amount of words the NaNoWriMo initiaitive is all about.

The normal sane still really hard standard number of words you're expected to write to "win" NaNo is 50k. I am shooting for 100k. I read publishers (who are obsessed with word count and not pages - who knew?) typically expect an adult fiction novel to be between 70k - 125k words.

This rocked my world. I thought for sure 50k was the standard and would give me a good book to edit. Nope - not even close. So my goal went up, and my sleep went down. I get up around 4 and write for 2 hours, and then write for another 2 hours at night when the little one goes to bed. I don't go above 2 hours a session because I've found 2 hours is my magic moment where the brain goes "smoosh" and all inspiration goes right out the window.

Carving out an additional 4 hours of writing a day has kinda killed my "do it all" abilities. Even the simplest tasks are stupidly difficult these days.

Like the laundry.

So I ripped all the sheets off the bed this morning, grabbed my blankets and pillowcases, and headed downstairs. I chucked the pile on the floor, realizing as the pile was mid-air that there was a huge, and I mean HUGE cat poop right in the middle of the floor. Fresh, too. Oh yea, it was awesome. Naturally, my grown-woman, purple cuddle blanket landed right on top of the poo. It was actually stuck to it. So gross.

I tossed that load in first. I made the load a bit lighter so the blanket had plenty of room to spread out in there. Yuck. I promise my cat IS supposed to be litter box trained.

About an hour later, I moved the first load to the dryer and tossed the second load in the washer. My blanket look good, thankfully. But then, when I went to remove it from the dryer, I saw it had morphed into a lint-creating psycho blanket. There were fuzz balls on every piece of clothing in there. The lint thing was filled to max capacity - it was overflowing. I took the stupid blanket out and took the clothes upstairs to shake them out and fold them.

Bad idea.

Now, I'm not naturally one to rant and rave about lint - #firstworldproblems and all that. But can I please tell you. This was so insane, so stupidly crazy, I just had to take a picture of it. Who has seventeen pounds of lint fall out of their clothes when they try and fold them? WHO?

No worries. Just a little hiccup. I got this. I moved the second load to the dryer and tossed my third load in. Three loads rockin, two left to go. I waited for the dryer to finish, went down, took out the second load (which had only a little bit of the insano lint on it) and opened the washer to transfer my third load to the dryer.

Hmmm. The clothes still had soap all over em. Hmm. The water is pretty low. Hmm, it smells like garbage in here.

I turned the dial and pulled it up to get the water running again. It started flowing. I set the lid down. It stopped flowing.I opened it. Nothing. Pulled the dials. Nothing. I looked at the sad, sad pile of clothes sitting in there, all wet and soapy. I jammed a canning knife into the door latch, hoping it was that easy. Nothing.

Huh. Time to go all Laura-Ingalls on this shit.

The sheets will need to wait, though. Possibly forever.

My name is Jen and today, laundry absolutely kicked my ass. K.O.

Pretty sure I would give a pioneer chick a run for her money in the washing department, tho.

Hope you all get your chores out of the way so you can have an awesome weekend! As always, thanks for reading :)

Friday, October 31, 2014

Home Office Makeover: A Real Classy Jerk Space

So how's this for procrastinating:

I've had my own little business since October 2013.

I quit my corporate job to focus on my freelancing in August 2014.

I decided I am going "off the grid" to write a book starting tomorrow and desperately need a place to work.

So over a year later.....the office is finally done! Classic jerk behavior. 

Oh, hey Jen, some people take years to finish their remodels! Nothing wrong with taking your time! 

Except I didn't remodel a dang thing. I moved boxes around, poked holes in the wall, and vacuumed. The boxes reproduced like bunnies on Viagra. It was impossible to get rid of them all. 

But let's focus on the positive here. My office is done :)

It was once a holding area for various pieces of garbage important things. I kept it well organized. Knew where everything was.

I've always wanted a really quiet, warm place to read and was inspired by those under-the-steps nooks all over Pinterest. I did my own version, of course. 

Under that poofy white blanket? Cat pee stain. True story. It's cool. Can't smell it anymore. The Egyptians thought cats were gods so.... guess my chaise is blessed like CleoCATra! Oooooh! See what I did there? Million. Dollar. Writer.

I have a ton of art by my big girl down here and a few pieces from friends and family. My mama did the horse drawing :)

My husband put up this bomb-ass pegboard. 

The baskets are from Target ($3 each!!). They hold push pins, paper clips, ribbon, essential oils for my crazy awesome USB diffuser, some post-its, and a Tyrion Lannister figurine. Clearly the most important object in the entire office is Tyrion. He reminds me not to take everything so seriously and to accept things for what they are. The clock is not set on the right time (jerk element). I love the sparkles.

You'll notice I don't have a single picture of a person down here. I am going to write stories about people fighting and doin' it and killing each other, and something about having other people's faces staring at me while I write those things really creeps me out. So my loves are present instead in art form. My name is Jen and I like indirect hugs!

Sometimes I need a swift kick in the brain to remember:
I already have all the happiness I could ever want...I just gotta quit being a moron and make the effort to pull it out of myself.

Tea station! That Keurig was free from an old coworker. The box is cedar, my favorite smell of all time, unless of course I'm feeling fruity, in which case my Sun Valley candle does the trick. I am huge on smells, ok people? I have a ton of random candles, oils, and plug-ins, and I like them all. It smells like a real whorehouse down here. A real unsexy, cat-friendly whorehouse.

I think one of my favorite parts of the office is this new art corner for me and my big girl. It houses my scrapbook crap, stickers, all that jive. She can sit down here while I write and draw, color, glue, and cut....until she starts talking to me and I scream at her like a maniac gently ask her to go back upstairs.

I still have a few things I'd love to get done, including painting that horrendous-looking green-topped chest of drawers...but it's safe to say I love it down here. It's clean. It's filled with things I love. It makes me want to write. 

One last before and after!

Happy Halloween everyone :) Thanks for reading :)

Friday, October 24, 2014

Tales from a Chick with Daddy Issues or Fiction?

Alright, readers, this is going to be the last normal post you're going to get from me for a while. Not to say I won't be posting. Oh, I'll be posting. But considering next Friday is Halloween and the following day is NOVEMBER 1ST, I'd say you're in for some real spooky reading.

Because yes. Yes, I am doing it - National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for those of us who prefer nerdspeak. NaNoWriMo happens every November. The goal is very simple: write 50,000 words, the average length of a novel, in 30 days.

To break it down by day, you need to write 1,667 words every day to be a winner. I'm going to keep posting here every Friday, like I normally do, but it may be gibberish, I may have an English accent, I may be a bit whacked out.

The crazy, crazy readers who've been with me a while know I am a tad bit crazy about writing a novel. It's a dream, something I know absolutely nothing about. It terrifies me and calms me at the same time - I hate the risk, the vulnerability, it scares me to death. But then I also feel a little if to say finally. This is my reason, my chance, my opportunity - I can say no with no guilt. I can wrap myself in my head and my world for hours, days, and have a legit excuse...because, my lovely readers, I kinda think the page is where my anxiety has belonged all along. I think my intense, dramatic stress always needed to be shoved behind the characters in my head, the scenes I dream up with so much texture and realism I can feel the chill in the air, the warmth of the blankets, the uncurling comfort of the red wine.

I always thought hey, I'll quit my job, freelance on the side, and write my book at night. I will take this unquenchable thirst and I will feed it, every night, in a quiet place, a zen place, with tea and good smells and all the lovely things.

And then life happened. I am tired, oh so tired. By 9PM I am dragging my feet, falling into bed wearing whatever I have on, thinking about how I need to do it all over again tomorrow. I don't write. I don't make it a priority over sleep, or time with family and frends, or anything, really. I am a lazy bones who lets everything else come first.

That's what's different about NaNo. I've told my family. I've explained it to those I love. And I mean it. I've declined invitations and will continue to do so. Thanksgiving, a long school break, my husband's b-day, these are important, yes. But I am not going to go nuts trying to bend over backwards for anyone this year. Bare minimum is what you will get from me - because for once I. Need. This.

It could amount to nothing. I could decide I hate writing and never do it again. It's a very real possibility, people. But I'm hoping that's not the case. I'm hoping I love it, and it fills that hole in my heart that sometimes screams "FAILURE!" I hope writing provides me with the outlet I need to keep my fingers from itching and my relationships from becoming cluttered with all the messy components of my mind.

And see, that's where you come in.

I wish I could explain how happy it makes me when you comment, or like my posts, or mention in person how much you enjoy my blog. I wish there was a way for me to express how much that means to how 'bout this. Sit back. Think about your celebrity crush. Got their face in your head? Picturing all that hottness swirling around? Ok now imagine yourself walking to your front door, opening it, and having that person swoop in, grab you with both hands, kiss you like it was their last day on earth, smile while looking right into your stunned little eyes, and then walk away...looking back once, flashing that smile, then gone.

It's like that. My heart races, I get an immediate jolt of surprise, thrill, excitement, and then a slight feeling of embarrassment, followed by pride and the biggest ego boost anyone's ever had, ever. And that feeling stays with me for a little while. It follows me around throughout the day. It's that good.

So I want to include you in this NaNo thing. You, my happy-makers. I have a few book ideas...some are considered NaNo "rebel" projects because they are memoirs. Technically a novel needs to be a work of fiction so a memoir project would make me a rebel. I'm ok with that. Obvs.

So here we go. Here are the ideas I came up with.

1. "7 Years, 14 Boys, and Still No Clue" - Memoir detailing the men. All of 'em. Oh yes, I went there. Are you really that surprised?

2. "Just as Sweet" - A fiction novel about a suburban woman who has an affair with another woman outside of her male-female marriage. This book centers around the common misconception that life is greener on the other side. I lean pretty heavily on the belief that what you've often wanted, you've never really needed and what you've always needed, you've had all along. You'll follow along with Avery as she journeys towards self-acceptance and reliance on her own approval and internal sources of happiness.

3. "An Egg on Toast" - Another memoir, this one detailing my experience with infidelity. This book would be written with the intention of proving hope to others.

4. "Temper Like Rain" - Another fiction novel. In this book you'll see life through the eyes of Caroline, a young girl who grew up in the south in a semi-abusive home that resulted in a series of bad relationships throughout her youth. She stumbles upon the opportunity to move north, into a rather haunted old home passed down from her grandmother and best friend, Gramma Cara. Spooky!

5. "Places, Places Everywhere but Not a Home to Spare" - Another memoir. I will take you with me on my various travels and introduce you to the five states, two countries, and nine different living quarters I encountered in the eight years following high school graduation.

Keep in mind my writing style is slightly sarcastic when I'm talking about myself and a little more dreamy/descriptive when I'm describing a story or idea. I hate to think my fiction ideas are "romance" novels because I won't be talking about pant-bulges and ripping corsets, but I will delve into relationships, specifically love relationships, so I guess "romance" is the accurate category.

What do you think? A tale from a girl with daddy issues or a fiction novel? Which one would you be more likely to pick up at a bookstore or from the library? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments down below and as always, thank you very, very much for reading :)


Friday, October 17, 2014

Sometimes You Need to Just Say F#@* It

Oh my! Wow, I can't believe it! I am sorry this post is coming out so, so late, dear readers. Time absolutely flies when you are engrossed in amazing things and I was completely up-to-my-ears in Hallmark worthy fun today, oh yes I sure was. What? It's not that late and you wouldn't really notice anyways because nobody reads blog posts immediately after they are posted unless they're written by Ree Drummond? Ha! Nice try...but I'm still going to tell you what I was sooooo busy doing today!

You see, it's been another one of those weeks, friends. One meltdown after another, my week has slowly crumpled into a pile of goo....and not even the fun kind of goo, like Floam (remember that stuff??). 

It started out alright, I suppose. Celebrated some good ol' Ignore the Bastard Christopher Columbus and Instead Have Fun Doing Whatever Day. By 3PM, however, Two Kids, One House was starting to play on repeat and let me tell you, it is not a catchy tune. I don't know how moms of multiples do it. I don't know how moms of three do it. I don't know how moms do it, period, because let's get real, I'm not really doing it at all this week. Not well, anyways. 

At one point I had a beef-covered spatula in one hand, a sobbing 8-year old in the other, coffee grounds and compost covering my staircase, a dog trampling the toddler to try and eat said compost, and my phone going off again.

It's been a seemingly-endless series of: wake up, stub a toe, lose a sock, run out of milk, have printer problems, clean muddy paws, yell at yelling toddler, sign referrals from school, argue with husband, and fall into bed wondering how to make it better tomorrow, knowing dang right nothing is going to be better.

I tried forcing myself into a positive place. I thought of how much I have in my life. How lucky I am. How blessed I am. How happy I should be that I'm not sick, or have sick kids, or am homeless, or am living in a war zone.

Didn't work. Made me feel worse about myself for being ungrateful and narrow-minded. Now before someone goes blasting me in the comments about how this entire post is about first-world problems created by an ignorant, middle-class woman with too much time on her hands, just know that I know all that already, k? Won't be shedding any lights around here with that noise. I'll be the first to agree with you. But I also know there's a ton of people out there who, like me, can't keep perspective like that all the time. Flaws Forgiven, world. Flaws, Forgiven.

So the days and hits kept on comin'. Night after night, I went to sleep feeling exhausted, but unaccomplished. Consumed with guilt, but unable to stop doing the things that made me feel guilty. I was, in no uncertain terms, a hot mess.

But today? Today, I made it better.

I'd had it, man. I mean it. This morning, I opened my calender, deleted every single task, appointment, and reservation....something that is unheard of in JenLand. And then.....well then I filled the entire day with one huge block that read these four words:

Just say F#@* it.

I was tired of having things go wrong and feeling like every single thing was all my fault. It's not all about me, you know. I know, I know, it shocked me too. As someone who takes everything personally - including the world's perception - it absolutely stunned me into stupid-girl giggles when I woke up this morning and thought, "This stubbed toe? This isn't your fault. You're not the one to blame. You can't fix it. So f#@* it. Just say f#@* it."

And, right or wrong, I took that perception with me into every single one of my problem scenarios today....even the ones that were absolutely all my fault. I decided I wasn't going to take responsibility for any of 'em. 

My big kid came home and burst into tears because I didn't have enough butter to make homemade biscuits. F#@* it.

My little kid decided the grocery store would be an awesome place to try out some of those screaming techniques she's been practicing. Glares all around! F#@* it.

My husband came home, ignored me, and continued being an overall punk because of the argument we had last night. F#@* it.

Can I please tell you...since I've started refusing responsibility for anything, everything has been awesome.

I did exactly what I wanted to do today. At one point it meant doing laundry - and it was awesome because now my favorite flannel shirts are so fresh and so clean clean. At another point it meant eating obscene amounts of feta cheese while watching The View - and it was awesome because feta. I decided to try my hand at being Little Miss JenJen Homemaker and bake something for the bake sale - and it was awesome because look:

I made those cute little, the woman who 24-hours ago couldn't do anything right, couldn't make anyone happy, and wasn't worth the trouble....she just kicked Martha Stewart's ass in the kitchen.

I'm not going to lie, this whole way of thinking is way more fun. I got plenty done today and even though I'm typing this later than my Friday schedule dictates, I'm pretty dang happy, perched in my half-done, garbage pile of a makeshift office, typing away on a laptop I'm fairly certain I will break at some point in the near future. But you know what? If and when the laptop breaks.....f#@* it. 

Nothing is worth making yourself miserable. Can't control everything. Can't change everything. Give it your best shot, and then move along.

You may even end up with some of these bad boys...

Just look at that happy punkin. Doesn't stop grinnin even though his kin is all pureed up and about to be in meh belleh.

Anyone else have a week like I did? What's your favorite way of letting go? I'd love to hear about it in the comments down below. And of course, as always, thank you very much for reading :)

Friday, October 10, 2014

Be in the Moment, or Be Responsible?

It's been one hell of a week, hasn't it? I'm sure I'm not alone in feeling a bit "fall'd out"...every weekend from now until Thanksgiving is booked like a library and each Sunday night I sit there going, "Whew! Now, what the heck did I do all weekend??"

I've been contemplating this lifestyle - the one where you hit the orchards and punkin farms, volunteer for at least two or three charity events, participate in all the festivals - downtown, all the neighboring towns, work, school, church, extracurricular groups, social circles, and family circles, do bonfires and hayrides, and do all the things on the stressmeoutihateyoubucketlist Fun Fall Bucket List. My conclusion? It's a tad bit insane. Crazy - in a panicked, not-so-enjoyable way.

I think to myself, "What about the stuff I need to get done? The grocery lists? That new money-saving-canning-thing I wanted to try? Cleaning up the yard before the snow comes? Marketing my business? Playing with my kids? Flossing my teeth? When do I do those things?"

"Maybe," I always think, "I'll have time to do those things when life slows down a bit." Oh yea. For a while, it was, "...when I can finally quit my corporate job." Now it's, "...when both the kiddos are in school." Soon it will be, "...when the kids are grown." I imagine I will even be saying, "...once we're retired." Always waiting for the next step. Hustling, hustling, hustling, but never making cash like TuPac.

Some say screw the responsibility stuff. Live life now, in the moment, because you never know when it's all going to end. Others say happiness comes from action, not dreaming. Work hard and you will achieve your dreams. I feel like I've got one giant Jen foot in one theory and another giant Jen foot in the other.

By nature I am a worker bee. If I commit myself to something, I will never give up, ever. It will consume me until I've extinguished any flame of doubt with cold, refreshing, hard-earned knowledge. Some call it "dramatic," others call it "passionate." I like to think I'm just absolutely my own kind of nuts. "Letting go" isn't natural for me. I don't like to start stuff and not finish it. I will stop mid-project if I have to, I do all the time (helloooo, baby books!), but I can't stand it. I don't forget about them. Those unfinished things haunt me and drag me down like anchors.

I also have this thing for cleanliness. I feel most relaxed at the end of the night when I know the dishes are done, the sink is clean, and there's no clutter sitting out in the living room. Even if that means just shoving stuff into a box and putting it in the closet, that's fine. The clutter is gone. Now I can breathe.

Plus, to be honest, I feel better about myself when I've done responsible things throughout my day. I feel, whoa! You did seven loads of laundry and included all the bedding - nice work! Or, hey! You literally just made a pie from scratch - and it's delicious! And gadzooks! Your blog post is written, your freelancing work completed, and it's only Wednesday!

Those types of things, those exercises in responsibility, make me feel good. They make me feel like I've done good things with my day. I once thought, "Hey, maybe that's the problem? You allow cleaning to make you feel accomplished?" but then I thought, "No, man. Feelings are feelings and cleaning makes me feel good. Nothing wrong with that."

Except the whole "live in the moment" thing. I have a cleaning schedule and sometimes, people want to hang out, or I need to run to the store, or it's randomly gorgeous and I want to take the kiddo to the park. I ditch the cleaning, of course, knowing it is good to "get out" and "live in the moment," but I'm not gonna lie, I have a hard time coming home and looking at the dirty floor, knowing I didn't do what I was "supposed to do."

I am awesome at going out there and living in the moment, but completely suck at returning to reality. Clothes do need to be washed. Dogs really do track footprints all over the floor. Kids really do get sick. Friends really do need help. I adjust like a pro - but always end up feeling like a failure.

So how do we do it? Just say screw it? Responsibilities suck, I love my dirty house, we love chowing down unhealthy food, no I don't have a life-sucking business, I love to play all day, and do things, and spend money, and see people all the time! This is living like I'm dying, Tim McGraw!

I don't think so.

What if instead of "be in the moment or be responsible," we change it to "be responsible by being in the moment?"

I mean think about it - I have a responsibility to be a good mom, a good wife, a good business owner, a good friend, and a good sister and daughter. These are the pillars of my life - family, friends, and writing. So it makes sense, doesn't it, that being responsible in those relationships means ensuring I am happy, content, and enjoying this life I am in?

So if that means cleaning my floors, and structuring my day in a way that works for me, so be it. If I can't handle missing a cleaning day, I either need to clean faster or back off from mid-week social events. This is my job, staying home and getting this stuff done. Nobody bats an eye when someone says, "Sorry, I can't make it, I'm working that day," but when a stay-at-home, work-from-home mom says, "Sorry, I can't make it, I've got things going on that day," there's a problem, yes? 

Here's the deal - I want to be in the moment. I want to live with my hand out the window...but I want the other on the wheel. When I spend time with my friends, my family, and my writing, I want to give them my full attention - 100% rested, happy, non-stressed Jen. It's become an argument of quantity over quality - how can I be "in the moment" when I'm rushing out the door, yelling at the kids, cursing myself for forgetting coupons or my I'm-not-an-old-washed-up-mom lip gloss, consumed with worry about getting everything done?

Too much, even when planned and executed with the best intentions, is too much.

My man RJ Hastings says it better than I ever could:


By Robert J. Hastings

TUCKED AWAY in our subconscious minds is an idyllic vision in which we see ourselves on a long journey that spans an entire continent. We’re traveling by train and, from the windows, we drink in the passing scenes of cars on nearby highways, of children waving at crossings, of cattle grazing in distant pastures, of smoke pouring from power plants, of row upon row upon row of cotton and corn and wheat, of flatlands and valleys, of city skylines and village halls.

But uppermost in our conscious minds is our final destination–for at a certain hour and on a given day, our train will finally pull into the Station with bells ringing, flags waving, and bands playing. And once that day comes, so many wonderful dreams will come true. So restlessly, we pace the aisles and count the miles, peering ahead, waiting, waiting, waiting for the Station.

“Yes, when we reach the Station, that will be it!” we promise ourselves. “When we’re eighteen. . . win that promotion. . . put the last kid through college. . . buy that 450SL Mercedes-Benz. . . have a nest egg for retirement!” From that day on we will all live happily ever after.

Sooner or later, however, we must realize there is no Station in this life, no one earthly place to arrive at once and for all. The journey is the joy. The Station is an illusion–it constantly outdistances us. Yesterday’s a memory, tomorrow’s a dream. Yesterday belongs to a history, tomorrow belongs to God. Yesterday’s a fading sunset, tomorrow’s a faint sunrise. Only today is there light enough to love and live.

So, gently close the door on yesterday and throw the key away. It isn’t the burdens of today that drive men mad, but rather the regret over yesterday and the fear of tomorrow. Regret and fear are twin thieves who would rob us of today.

“Relish the moment” is a good motto, especially when coupled with Psalm 118:24, “This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.”

So stop pacing the aisles and counting the miles. Instead, swim more rivers, climb more mountains, kiss more babies, count more stars. Laugh more and cry less. Go barefoot oftener. Eat more ice cream. Ride more merry-go-rounds. Watch more sunsets. Life must be lived as we go along. The Station will come soon enough.

As the weeks pass by faster than I can count, I'm realizing I am willing to sacrifice the amount of time I spend outside of my responsibilities to make room for quality, honest, courageous, meaningful interactions with those I love.

But wait, Jen...isn't that the opposite of what Mr. Hastings is saying? Shouldn't you spend more time barefoot and eating ice cream and such?

No - see, to me, one of the most important lines in that passage is, "Laugh more and cry less." Why that line, out of all of 'em?

A few weeks ago we had my best-good friends over for some games. I'd had a goal that day to get all the taping done in my living room (How to Paint your Living Room Like a Jerk - coming soon). Of course, life didn't give a crap what my goals were and as my friends arrived, I still wasn't done. I was embarrassed, and felt terrible, especially since nobody really likes to just sit around and watch people tape. Thankfully, it went fast, and we chatted and caught up a little, and my friends didn't walk out in a huff of offense. My goal was met for the day and I found myself slowly slipping into a warm little tub of relaxation. The kids were in bed, the chores done, and we'd completed what we said we were going to complete.

Can I please tell you, the next day, as I woke up feeling tired, but happy, my husband greeted me and said, "I have never heard you laugh so much in my life. Seriously, Jen, I have never heard you laugh so hard, so much. You were so happy."

We've been married more than 7 years. It broke my heart.

I want to live in the moment. I want to laugh like that all the time. And that is why I choose to maintain my structure, my schedule, and my limits. These are the things that allow me to relax, unwind, and be responsible by living in the moment. Robert Hastings may cite ice cream and stars, but that is not the intended message of his prose. His message is to live, fully, in the moment and be happy. His happy is swimming in rivers. My happy is getting things done like laundry and scrubbing the tub, trying new recipes, learning how to can, and having scheduled time to sit and do nothing - it's my way of swimming the anxiety-free lane. Not the same as Hastings, but both our methods lead to the same place - happily living in the moment. 

How do you define "living in the moment," dear readers? Are any of you like me - happy only when you've completed your tasks for the day? Or do you find your happiness by packing your calender and leaving the laundry for another day? Have you found your combination of responsible and free? What is it? I'd love to hear about it in the comments down below and as always, thank you so, so much for reading :)