Friday, July 18, 2014

What's with Those DOG People?

Ahhhh pet ownership. Cute little fur babies. Snuggle buddies for life. A limitless supply of memes and funny pictures. A jogging buddy. Someone who will stick around during an ugly cry. Yes, the benefits are truly endless when you've got good ol' Fido by your side. Or Boots. Or Snickers.

Except when the "cute" wears off.....the "snuggling" turns into total bed takeover....and humor falls victim to the simple desire to once, just once, get a nice, peaceful night of rest during a thunderstorm.

These harsh pet realities are present in all species, but in my humble opinion, there is no greater assault to the senses, no larger clan of defensive owners, no greater misuse of sparkly pink travel carriers, than that of a dog.

Yes folks, this is where it starts to get ugly. I have a feeling I won't get the best reaction out of this post, but hey hey! Nothin' I've never seen before, right? ;)

Cuz you see, I am that person.....the one who doesn't fully understand "dog people."

Hear me out.

I've owned dogs on and off throughout my life. My mother is crazy about dogs and had we not lived in apartments for the majority of my youth, she would've had a dog in the home at all times. At one point I would run around the neighborhood, picking up "strays" to bring home with me. These dogs may or may not have been in people's yards when I "found" them, but hey I was 17  young and my mother's love of animals understandably spread to my heart.

The very first dog I ever owned was a Pit Bull I cleverly named Dasani (yes, after the water bottle). She was sweet and in need of a good home. She ate my underwear (weird) and had an issue with humping the other dog in the house (weirder), but hey! She was pretty and I loved her. I had her for about 6 months before I got pregnant.

Now anyone that's had a Pitt will tell ya - they will die for their owners. They will do whatever they think will make their owners happy - it is an inherent quality in their genes. But this dog didn't see me as her owner yet. She saw me as a friend.

This is pretty bad news for anyone expecting a little one.

I knew I couldn't keep her...knew I wouldn't have the time/energy to dedicate to her training. She ended up back with her previous owner and I later found out she was given to another family who loved her very much. Happy ending for everyone, right?

Nope. You see, I didn't know it at the time, but me giving my dog away because I wanted to do what was best for my future child? That was Phase I of the Destruction of Jen the Dog Person. Phase II revealed itself not long after my first little angel was born.

Picture this: Me and New Baby are playing outside in the grass on a nice summer day. My neighbor brings over her friendly pug, a dog I always got along with and was happy to introduce to my little one.

"Oh hi sweet puppy :) :) :) So glad to see y.....wait...wait, puppy we don't climb on the baby.....uh, wait, what's all over your paws? NO, puppy. NO PUPPY! OMG stop! HEY! GET AWAY DOG! GET AWAY YOU HORRENDOUS THING! CURSES UPON YOU, SPAWN OF SATAN!!! GET AWAAAAAAY!"


Phase II of the Destruction of Jen the Dog Person: Pet nasty ain't cool no mo'. Don't bring your slime my way...I have viruses to worry about. If this baby gets sick again I'm going to commit myself.

Flash forward a few years. I'm broke as a joke, trying to make ends meet for me and the wee one. I'm working all the time, sleeping about an hour or two a night because my baby has colic and I'm alone. So. So. Alone. I finally pass out sitting against a wall when *BARK* *BARK BARK BARK* *BARK*......

Phase III of the Destruction of Jen the Dog Person: I hate your dog's noise. I hate it. Stop making noise, dog. Don't wake me up. Never wake me up.

Flash forward a few more years. I'm "folding laundry in the living room" (read backstory here) and I hear my big girl, now 6, screaming. I race to the window to see her barreling up the driveway, an unknown dog at her heels. I vow to punch the dog in the skull with the power of a thousand doom fists.

Phase IV of the Destruction of Jen the Dog Person: Your dog's an a-hole. Your dog is not as important as the life and safety of my child. I know at least one of you doesn't agree....which is why I don't get you, dog person.

And then let's come full circle to present-day. I adopted my second dog, Zeus, about three years ago. He is sweet, so good with the kids, and most importantly, scary looking. I didn't adopt him for companionship. I didn't adopt him for his pedigree or temperament or to teach my kids how to be responsible. I adopted Zeus for one reason and one reason only: home protection.

Phase V of the Destruction of Jen the Dog Person: My dog's greatest benefit to me is his utilitarianism.

I love my dog because he protects my home. Once he ceases to protect my home, he will cease to be of any use to me. Harsh, right? Are some of you crying right now? Don't - I assure you, I am not a coldhearted witch.

I love my dog. He stinks, he keeps my entire family up at night when there's lightening and thunder, he gets diarrhea, has Doberman skin problems, is terrible on a leash, and is dumber than a box of rocks, but I love him. I feed him. I wrap his blanket around him at night. I brush him. If he cries out in pain because his terrible Dobe hips are killing him, I go to him.

But hear me clearly: he is my dog....."dog" being the keyword there.

We had a tornado touch down in our area last month. I woke to the sound of Zeus scuttling around my bed...and when I checked my phone I realized I'd unknowingly received an alert telling us to seek shelter immediately. I woke my husband and we went to get my two girls. My husband took my 8 year old, I took the 2 year old - both sleepy, heavy dead weight in our arms, and we headed quickly to the basement.

Arms full of kids, stairs steep, we left Zeus standing on the landing. He couldn't come down the stairs with his bad hips. He cried after us. My heart broke a little...."What if this is real?" I remember thinking. "What if that's the last time I see my dog?" But then the little chubbo in my arms stirred and said, "G'morning Mama! How's sleep?" Might as well have screamed, "PRIORITIES" in my face.

My love for my dog stems from an appreciation for his animal self....his instincts, the way his brow furrows when I make weird noises, how his eyes say "owwie" when his mouth can't. But I have no delusions about the fact that he is, in all reality, an animal. He will forever be prioritized behind my children, my marriage, my job, my money, and anything else I need to keep my family safe and secure.

True dog people would never say that. Nope. Their dogs are their family. They are better than family, even. They are better than humans. I can empathize with this mentality...remember, I was a dog-lover once. Perhaps one day I will be again, once my kids are grown and I'm looking to fill that caretaker space in my heart....but until then, I have to admit, I have a hard time fully relating to a true, gung-ho dog person.

So, Doggie Lovers, what's with you? I realize my perspective is only one of millions so please, take the floor. I want to know what you love about your dog and how you balance your doggie love with the day-to-day demands of life.

And you too, fellow non-dog-lovers. Am I alone in my thoughts and priorities? Has anyone else experienced Dog Lover to Non-Dog Lover transformation like I did? What caused it? Think you'll get that Dog Lover mentality back?

I'd love to hear both sides in the comments down below! And as always, my lovely readers, thank you so much for reading :)

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Every Rose Does NOT Have Thorns, Bret

I was chillin outside the other day, checkin out my backyard flora, when I noticed these black thorns all over my Redbud tree. Now if any of you've ever owned a Redbud tree, you know these trees are the gems of spring. They sprout these gorgeous, bright-pink buds every spring....makes the whole tree look pink. A truly pink tree. 

In the summer the tree grows heart-shaped leaves. I kid you not - heart-shaped. In the fall it forms seed pods. They rustle in the wind all through the winter, dropping off one by one, making the coolest rattling noise I've ever heard. If I'd been a pioneer on the Midwestern prairie I would've used those pods to keep my babies happy. 

So you get it. I freakin love these trees. Some ladies love rosebushes. I love Redbuds...ahhhhh Cercis form of roses. 

Naturally, when I saw these thorns all over my Redbud, I wigged the frick out. I didn't want thorns all over my tree...what was this crap? Did some crazy vine start growing on it? Was it sick? Did I do something to the soil on accident? Was I overzealous or neglectful with my spring cleaning? Maybe I got the roots? How could my beautiful, most favorite tree become coated in thorns? I was on the brink of pure plant hysteria, people.

I decided to woman up and investigate. I reached out, tugged on a precious heart-shaped leaf,  and pulled a branch down toward me, gently, trying to get a better look at the thorns. They grew funny - not in a row or pattern, but more like clusters? No green under them....that's weird. So not some crazy creeping thorny vine. I slowly stuck out my index finger and floated it toward the thorns, wanting to test out the prick factor. Maybe they were those soft thorns ... there's such thing as soft thorns, right? Absolutely. So yes. Let's see if these are the soft variety.


Huh. I checked out my finger. Nothing. No mark, didn't hurt at all. In fact, everything was hunky-dory until I turned my attention back to the tree. I looked for the thorn...and it wasn't in the same place anymore. It'd moved. The thorn moved. Ah, there it is. I poked it again. It moved away from my finger. The thorn was walking.

For the record, I do not drop acid.

I stood there, gaping at the tree for a minute, seeing the thorns now not only on branches but also leaves. I'd lived here for 3 entire years, how could I have not noticed the trippy moving thorns all over my favorite tree? And I realized....all those thorns? The clusters of them? The random appearance? All characteristics of not a tree illness, not an invasive plant, not some caretaking mistake on my part.....but an innocent little bug, cleverly disguised as a thorn to fool predators and Jens across the world.

It was my perception that was off....a perception developed over time, using my senses and past experiences. The thorns I've met in the past have all been huge a-holes, snaggin my clothes, scratching my skin, and generally just being evil. I saw these cute lil bugs and immediately assumed the worst. I immediately thought I'd done something to cause them. I immediately registered loss. How sad, don't you think, that I couldn't even find it in my heart to investigate before I allowed myself to be consumed with these negative thoughts?

A number of people I love have experienced life-changing events as of late. Some of these events centered around relationships, others around jobs, some around health, and still others around family and friendships. Each struggle is different, but I noticed a common thread: in each situation, the person I love felt devastated and bad about themselves. They blamed themselves in one form or another...wondered what they could've done better, what they could've said differently, how they could've made themselves more desired, more healthy, more loved. They wondered how they would recover as days ticked by, blind anger wore off, and reality set in.

We've all been there.

The first thing I do when something goes wrong is get super pissed and reactive (omg THORNS on my TREE?? not my tree!!). The second thing I do is blame myself.

Now in some circumstances, I really do mess up and self-chastising is warranted. Sometimes I'm a real B and I say and do things that aren't right. But more often than not, after sitting down and  poking cute little bugs analyzing my situation, I realize some issues have nothing to do with me. Yes, I'm involved. Yes, they affect me. But they're not always my fault. They're not always avoidable. They're not always my problem to fix. Sometimes the other person is the problem. Sometimes a whacky little thorn bug perception is the problem. Sometimes a terrible job is the problem. Sometimes life is the problem.

Ain't nuthin' any one of us can do 'bout life. 

Sometimes things don't turn out the way we expect them to. In all my adventures and heartaches, I've found the most painful experiences are actually blessings in disguise. They test my strength. They force me to define my spirit. They humble me. 

And sometimes, while I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop and for life as I know it to just end, I realize there is no grand finale of viciousness. The brutality is all in my head, imagined up by fear and the past and stale resentment. Look at the spoon, Neo. There is no spoon. Look at the thorns, Jen. There are no thorns. Bret Michaels was wrong. 

Mathematical Proof:
Redbud trees = Jen's roses 
Redbud's thorns = not real thorns

EVERY rose ≠ thorns

Life has a funny way of surprising you. Who knew I'd one day never be able to trust an old rocker dude with a bandanna permanently glued to his head?

These surprises contribute to the flavor of life...that delicious combination of diversity and balance, good with bad, blessings with heartache. I love that each of our stories twist and turn like the well-worn pages of an old paperback. I could do without the pain, of course. And the fear. But you know, on this, the eve of my nation's independence, I find myself acknowledging a powerful trait we all-too-often take for granted....freedom. We are to be ourselves. Free to change our thoughts and perspective. Free to choose ourselves, our happiness, our joy. Free from the restraints of whatever sorrows we're experiencing. We're, tomorrow, any day we want. We may not have the power to change life's surprises...but we do have the power to draw life from them. Gulp the liquid of life down, swallow your bitter pills, and take another sip. Be thirsty for more. 

To the readers and loves in my life who are struggling with bitter's too short. Swallow it. Wallow in the taste for a bit if you want. It's ok if you don't like it. Make a weird face. Then take another sip. Your life flows freely. Pursue whatever current you want. Choose whatever flow suits you. Soak it up.

And as always, thank you so much for reading. 

Friday, June 27, 2014 Go or Not to Go?

Hey readers! I'm flipping the script this week and posing a question to you:

Church: Yay or nay?

Let's backup a bit. I was raised Lutheran. Lutherans are Christian, meaning they believe Jesus is the Son of God and died for our sins on the cross. I like to say we are similar to Catholics only we get to wear jeans and sing shorter songs. I remember tracing the outline of the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible with my finger over and over again. I could prolly do it right now on a piece of paper....which is kinda amazing because....

I haven't been to church in years.

I can't exactly pinpoint the moment I stopped going. I'm pretty sure I went every Sunday all the way through Jr. High and maybe a year or two into high school...but then, college years, nothing. I was married in the church and attended services at a little chapel in Germany while he was deployed. I remember feeling pretty religious for a while there...even picking up some Christian novels and daily quotes to read each morning. When we returned stateside, however, we didn't make church a priority. And then my marriage took a serious, serious turn for the worst...and I decided I didn't ever want to go back.

Now, almost four years later, the wounds of my past are healing. My marriage is renewing itself...very, very slowly, and with substantial setbacks......but it's getting better each day. My faith, however, has not yet healed - I hold grudges like a muther trucker. But I'm a mom....and if there's one thing I'm pretty decent at, it's considering my children when making decisions.

See, I have really good memories from church. We had this pie fest thing around Thanksgiving. Everyone would bring a pie, we'd do a short service, and then we'd stuff our faces with pie until we about died. I think my love of pie came from church. True story.

And then Advent....Christmastime decorations, crafts, the music, and a month-long message of grace and gifts and good things. I remember coloring pictures, making a bird-feeder pinecone with peanut butter, and decorating gingerbread ornaments with my baby sister.

There was this picture of Jesus in the church hallway. I would stare at it every Sunday. I thought he looked beautiful...dark-skinned, long-haired, peaceful. I loved that painting. No uber-creepy, bloody head of thorns I would see sometimes in other nails and crosses, sacrifice, or blood. Just peace.

My church had a kickass youth group. We'd camp and go on scavenger hunts and take trips to the Ozarks and cliff jump into bright blue water. I went to my first concert (Supertones) with my church youth group. The concert was, in all honesty, way more trippy than you'd think a stone-cold soberfest filled with Christian ska bands would be. I remember standing there, under a dusky sky, staring up at a brightly-lit stage, surrounded by hundreds of almost-adults, all screaming the lyrics to every song, and dancing like we were alone in our bedrooms, feeling completely accepted as we were, flawed, gawky, most of us never-been-kissed. We hummed with potential, like an untapped spring, filled with raw, crystal-clear faith. It felt joined to everyone else - completely included, like one collective spirit, hundreds of voices and bodies moving with youth and joy - and it was all our own, pure and untouched by drugs, alcohol, or fear. I was a foot off the ground, floating on the buzz of life. Coulda been dehydration, coulda been Jesus, but either way, it was a memory I'll never forget.

I loved singing. Man do I miss the singing. Did you know that about me? I love to sing. I had a few solos in church - botched them, for the most part. I am a very nervous, shy singer. I can belch like the best of 'em but ask me to sing by myself and I turn bright red and want to run. Singing in church was different. So many other voices. Sometimes my pastor would walk down the aisle and stand right next to me, loudly singing the hymn, bolstering my strength to sing louder, not be afraid.

My pastor was like a second father to me. He helped me through my parent's divorce. He taught me how to train a hunting dog. He took me ice fishing. He gave me my first sip of beer (that's the Lutheran way! haha!). He took care of me and my sister when my mom was sick. He was the only positive male influence in my life for many years. He officiated my wedding....and then retired. He did not baptize my kids. They'll never have the chance to hear one of his sermons. Makes me sad...but also a bit motivated.

I want my kids to have the opportunity to make memories like these. I want them to have a foundation of faith - something they can choose to build on, or not. I want to give them the option of knowing God, knowing a Higher Being is all about. I needed my faith quite a bit when Aaron was deployed. Regardless of how much I waver in my faith now, it was strong and held me up back then. Maybe it could do the same for my girls? Maybe they will one day need it like I did?

But then there's some stuff about the whole church-going thing that doesn't agree with me. Like the giving stuff. Church always made me feel this intense amount of pressure to give more....more money, more time, more than I can. It became more about doing for the church than doing for God, in some instances...and that bothers me intensely. I'm happy singing songs in a open field or wooden hut...why do we have to spend millions of dollars creating McChurchMansion? And why are those who give the most money considered the "Committee on High?" The only thing worse than governmental politics is church politics. Puke.

I also take issue with some of the Bible-bound laws and regulations. I believe in the ideas behind most of good to your neighbor, don't cheat, don't lie....but the God I believe in doesn't send a sick, sick person who committed suicide to hell. And I know with ever fiber of my being that love is love. The God I know would never condemn a man for loving another. And I think respecting nature and celebrating the seasons of the moon and sun is good, not evil or "devil worship wiccan" stuff. The Harry Potter VS Narnia debate makes me shake my head. I do not believe in a Fire and Brimstone Lord. I think Jesus was a cool cat, but I have problems with the literal translations of the stories and miracles most Christians covet as 100% fact. Science fascinates me and I think all things, even humans, evolve.

So you see, putting me in church is like flicking water onto a frying pan. When the congregation is cool, I can hang out and enjoy myself. Turn up the fire and brimstone, however, and I evaporate real fast. My relationship with God is MY relationship with God. Man shouldn't be defining any part of it.

And then there's my husband. He was raised by the daughter of a Presbyterian Minister. He had a good foundation of faith growing up but lost most of his faith during his deployments. His disgust with the hypocrisy and extreme actions of "religious people" reaches so far, he wants nothing to do with a church. He, too, wants to do right by our kids, but he doesn't have the same memories I have.....and in his mind, doing right by the kids doesn't mean taking them to church. As a matter of fact, he suggested once maybe keeping them OUT of church might actually be more beneficial.

And can we please just talk for a minute about the early-morning Sunday thing. I am a selfish, selfish woman. I crave time with my family to the point of tears. I will never, ever be an every-Sunday type of gal. I kinda feel like God is smiling at me when I tickle my kids and eat muffins in bed instead of yelling at them to hurry up so we can get to church on time.. and then being crabby and resentful for the rest of the day. The early-morning Sunday commitment frightens me not because I'm worried about what God will think, but because I'm worried about the judgement of everyone else at the church.

I'm at a crossroads. Church or no church....teach Jesus at home or try something new. I think it would be best for my kiddos to at least try it out....but what about the united parental front? If mom goes and dad doesn't? What kind of message will that send to the kids?

Come at me, readers. Tell me about your experiences. Do you go to church? Do you not go to church? Why or why not? I realize religion is a very personal subject - but I can't help but feel somewhere out there, someone is sitting there asking the same questions I am. So let me have it, Bible-lovers! Tell me all about it, Amazing Agnostics! Lazy Sunday Morning People - I want to hear from you!

Full disclosure: I like having a globe full of Buddhist, Hindus, Jews, Atheists, Christians, and Islamic followers. I think diversity makes our world go 'round. All opinions are welcome here, assuming they are not outwardly offensive to others...which they obviously won't be because let's face it, I obviously have the best readers ever. Don't even know why I typed this. Stupid disclosure. 

And as always, thank you so, so much for reading :) Have a happy weekend!

Friday, June 20, 2014

How Two Norwegian Africans Became My Talisman

So you may or may not have heard the song, "Am I Wrong" by Nico and Vinz. No? Haven't heard it? Here you go. I've even imported the video here for you - but you can only see it, I think, if you're on a 'puter.

I can honestly say I am grateful to pop culture for once. How is this possible? Well....because it led me to this song.

My husband has been searching for a job for a few months. He graduated with his degree just a few weeks ago and, being prior-service military, is ready to start his civilian career. Now this isn't just any career we're talking about here....this is his chance to do whatever he wants, wherever he wants, and with whichever company he pleases. There is no other time in his entire life where he will have the opportunity to literally choose his job as easily as he can now. He's fresh-faced, devout in his learned skills, and dedicated to doing what's best for his family. It is such a beautiful time in his life - in my life.

Except there's one minor problem. Me.

You see, I currently work full time out of the home. I started my own little freelancing business from my home last year, but that little business is, well, little. And it has no benefits. So I continue to work my full-time corporate job. Now I enjoy my job, for the most part. I like the adult interaction and I draw a ton of inspiration from the crazy things that happen at work every day. But all this time I spend in the office leaves me with very little time for the one thing I want to do more than anything in the engaged in my kids' lives.

Now before you other working moms blow a gasket, hear me out - I understand a woman can be engaged in her childrens' lives while working. I understand for some people, a perfect work-life balance is achievable. I, however, was spoiled.

I had the opportunity to be a stay-at-home mom with my oldest for a few years while my husband was deployed. It was the most challenging, exhausting, enriching time of my life. I will never forget how close she and I were - like little partners in crime, fighting evil dust bunnies together, taking long walks around the hills of Germany, and going to every community event ever.

She was my only companion to the store, the library, the gym, even the Eiffel Tower.

I woke to her voice every morning, picked her up and hugged her whenever I wanted, and made cupcakes with "pretty pretty" sprinkles on them.

I heard her the moment she read her first words. I was sitting on a cold tile floor the day she used the potty for the first time. I made mistakes. I lost my temper. I did things that to this day fill me with such a deep regret I can barely think about them without tearing up. But this is what being a stay-at-home mom is all about. It is a beautiful cycle of joy, struggle, but most importantly, love. I loved being with her. I loved watching her grow. I loved it.

Those precious years absolutely ruined my work-life balance perception...they consistently draw me into memories and comparisons between my relationships with my kids now and my relationship with my kid then. It's not the same. The resulting feeling of loss and sorrow is suffocating.

When I sit back and think, "what is life?" I don't see a corporate career, or professional success, or plaques filled with degrees and years of education. I see my kids, I see my man making a bonfire in the backyard, I see myself writing a book. Life, for me, is my children, my home, and my passions. Every day that passes feels like another day of missed moments I can never get back....for a paycheck. And I get it, I pay for the roof and the food and the school and blah blah blah those justifications don't ease my conscious anymore. I've repeated them to myself for so long with such force, such falseness, that they've worn out their welcome in my heart. I've found what I'm passionate about...and it lies at home.

So you see where this is going.

I cannot get home and fulfill those very deeply-rooted parts of me until my partner finds a job. No pressure, honey!

Stuck between self-centered motivations and being a supportive spouse, I often find myself feeling frustrated, guilty, and doubtful.

What if I never get this freelancing thing off the ground. What if I put too much pressure on him. What if I end up missing another year of my kids' lives. What if he finds a job and they lay him off. The what-if syndrome is coming out in full force these days. It's so easy for me to get down...much harder for me to sustain a positive attitude. That ain't good when you've got a partner looking for a job. My worries rub off on him and we both end up exhausted and feeling terrible about ourselves. There's gotta be a better way.

Which brings me back to that song at the beginning of this post.

The artists, Nico Sereba and Vincent Dery, are from Norway. They drew upon their African roots to create "Am I Wrong," an internationally-acclaimed single that rose to the top of European charts in a matter of days. Their song infuses African drumbeats and tempos with an addictive chorus that speaks to dreams, reaching for the sky, and living the way you want to. The music video (WATCH IT) offers a rare glimpse into the beauty and joy of Botswana, a South African country often depicted as war-torn and sick. They chose to film the video there because they wanted people to see the good in a place normally associated with bad. The song is by far the most positive, uplifting thing I've heard in years.

But the best part?

They released the song over a year ago, from Norway. The hit won over millions of fans in countries like Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Germany, Austria, and of course, Norway...yet it took the two artists over a year to break into the American market. They even underwent a name change - went from Envy to Nico and Vinz (because let's face it, Envy sounds dumb as hell). But the point is this: it didn't matter how many millions of people loved their music and bought their albums. They still had to line up with the other musical hopefuls and be patient. They had to drive on and endure to keep their dream alive.

And for this Momma, who's ambitions are little less radical, although just as passionate, finding this out was a huge wake up call.

My timeline needs to disappear and my positivity needs to reappear.

If these two dudes can do it, a couple of African-Norwegian singers who had to start from the ground up multiple times to build their dreams and become what they wanted to be, then heck...I can do it, right? I can be a bit more resilient. I can be a bit more patient, more supportive, and less influenced by those who bring me down. I can keep the dream alive - hold fast to it and work each day to make it real. I can do those things. Anybody can. You can.

I know it's hard to keep the faith. I lose the faith on a regular basis, despite the fact I believe in a Higher Being and know I'm not "supposed" to doubt. I'm a worrying, flaw-filled doubter. Like that kid on the Polar Express. I'm a doubbbbtteerrr!

But everyone has something they draw inspiration, luck, happiness, and magic from. Some people go to the Bible. Others rub rocks. Still others seek out the love of a spouse or friend. My inspirational device changes. This week, it came in the form of two Norwegian Africans.

I try to find a positive song, a positive book, a positive smell for crying out loud.....ANYthing that will remind me of my strength....and I grab it with both hands. I bear hug that shit. I lean on it and remember the abilities of those who have gone before me - and when my talisman of motivation ceases to bring those feeling of joy and renewal, I find another one. This song will prolly annoy the piss out of me in a few months. But until then, I'm gonna hold fast to the message and let it wash over me and convert my impatience into faith and hope again.

Any of you have strength talismans? A certain quote, picture, or movie that pumps you up? I'd love to hear about it in the comments down below!

I hope you each have a beautiful weekend and as always, thank you so, so much for reading :)


Friday, June 13, 2014

My Raised Garden Bed of Doom

Ahhh nature. The sound of birds chirping, the smell of blooming hydrangeas, a basket of hand-harvested vegetables all washed and ready for display on a perfectly Pinnable summertime tablescape......and then of course, there's real life.

That monstrosity is - you guessed it - my raised garden bed of doom. 

It started simple enough. My whole family (including the manly husband) is now hooked on smoothies (they aren't disgusting jars of green scum after all) and we were spending a ton of money on produce. I wanted my greens to be organic and fresh. What better way, I thought, than to grow them outside in our own back yard! Brilliant and beautiful, I am.

Now they sell these awesome raised bed kits at Home Depot and on Amazon. They're beautiful, easy, and about $200 for a small one. No way, I thought. We can make one way cheaper. 

I grabbed my handy-dandy Pinterest feed and scoured blogs, websites, and DIY videos for tips and tricks to building your own raised garden bed. I wanted something durable, high off the ground (we have weed problems - and not your typical weed problems. These are mega-weed problems), and cheap.

We settled on cedar fence pickets. They were cheap and smelled lovely.

Aaron put the bed together pretty quickly. We stacked each plank one on top the other until the bed was four planks high. We chose the "u" shape because it allowed us to reach every inch of the bed without needing to bend or step on the bed. He later reinforced the edges with corner brackets because I was afraid the dirt was going to spill out everywhere. And yes, I am apparently 90 years old *wringing hands*. 

The ground isn't level and therefore the bed isn't level, but we didn't care. The object was not perfection as much as "get this done so we can plant."

I bought some discounted weed barrier for a song - it was faded and from last season - read: super-super cheap. Weed barrier went all around everything. I must've put like 7 layers of weed barrier down. It extended close to two feet out from the bed. The idea is that we will someday put down some sand, bricks, and pea gravel to make it look real classy. As of right now it's just some weed barrier and a couple bricks strewn about. We also laid down hardware cloth inside the bed to keep chipmunks and other critters out. 

And then we started buying dirt. And more dirt. And more dirt. We made about five trips to get dirt - it was ultimately cheaper for us to go and haul individual bags than pay someone to come drop a load of dirt in our backyard. I'm a dirt master. We used seven bags of dirt for every one bag of mushroom compost and every one bag of manure. Blended all together it's created a super nutrient-dense pile of growin' goodness. 

Now a smarter person would've filled the bottom of the beds with large stones and gravel. I put like three big rocks down there and then just started pouring dirt like a madwoman. The result? I have a four-foot-high raised bed completely filled with dirt, but am growing plants have, at most, 12-inch-long root structures. Insane Jen, blastoff!

The planting was the fun part. I knew what I wanted to grow like seven years ago. I wanted spinach and kale for the smoothies, cucumbers and carrots for hummus snacks, lettuce for tacos and burgers and salads, and then punkins. I had to have some punkins. I don't know what my deal is with those little orange orbs of goodness, but I am obsessed.

So we grabbed some seeds, mainly organic seeds, none of them heirloom. I found a really cool website right after I planted, though, that sells heirloom seeds for super cheap. Next year!

We also grabbed some marigold seeds. I read they help keep the bugs away and if there's one thing I hate more than weeds, it's aphids. I can't stand squash bugs/stink bugs/aphids/whatever you want to call them. They are terrible. I tried growing punkins (surprise surprise) in the plain old ground a few years back and the squash bugs invaded. The only way to kill them (organically) is to pick them up and literally squash them or put them in a bucket of soapy water. It was terrifying. They smelled. They had bug juices. GAH so gross. So about those marigolds!

After a few weeks of getting everything ready, we were good to go. The dirt was in, the temperature was right, and we were ready to start reaping the bountiful rewards of my husband's our hard work. I was going to look just like those farmer chicks on TV. I was going to be the epitome of the homesteading woman. I was going to be featured in a magazine and a self-sustaining how-to book. All the glory would be mine!!

Except I'm not so good with measurements. Those stupid seed packets talked about hills and spacing and clumps and inches. Not my thing. I went out there with the husband and he made the holes, pointed, and told me exactly where to plant. I may or may not have dropped 2-3 times the "recommended" number of seeds in each hole. Hey, not all the seeds were gonna catch, right?

A few weeks in we got some sprouts.

And then they took the next couple weeks to get to a nice, pretty, manageable size.

And then a few weeks later -  HULK!

Remember how I thought all the seeds wouldn't take? Remember that? Me too.

Here's the crazy part - I've harvested kale, lettuce, and spinach already.

I've harvested three times. It doesn't help - the plants just get more and more funky-looking and HUGE.

We almost lost the cucumbers to what I like to call "sunburn." I'm sure there's a real name for what happened when their leaves got all singed but am not a gardener, I just play one in my backyard. 

Turns out my spinach is "going to seed," which apparently means it will turn bitter and should be removed and composted. I guess I get to plant something else...maybe some squash? Not gonna lie, I didn't even know spinach went to seed.

And then there's the punkins. I mean just look at 'em.

What the heck is going on. They are out of control. I'm fairly certain they are trying to creep into my house and scratch me in my sleep. The leaves and stems are spikey and poke my fingers right in the soul. So far, no aphids...but I think I owe it to these little daddy-long-legs spiders:

They are all over my punkins. I don't mind them. They don't bite me or eat the plants, just chill underneath the leaves and do whatever they do. No damage yet and like I said, no aphids. Maybe the aphids are afraid to get Frodo'd by a huge friggen spider. 

But what now? What the heck am I supposed to do now? Plant new stuff? Can I even do that? The carrots are still going strong and the cucumbers have just started to develop their little leaves again. Is it bye-bye spinach, hello punkin room? And what the heck are these little guys??

Help me out here, all you garden-loving bloggers. What kind of veggies do you grow? What do you do after harvesting your spring veggies?

I'll tell you one thing - if I do plant again, it's going to be a single seed here, a single seed there. Time to reign in the doom!

So glad you stopped by today, lovely readers, and as always, thank you so much for reading!

Friday, June 6, 2014

Time Management from a Dummy

So there I was, lying in bed, scrolling through my Facebook News Feed last night, when all of a sudden, up rolled the most joyous, treasured, magical post ever.

The Witcher III: The Wild Hunt…new trailer….and pre-order is now open.

**This is the part where Jen goes ballistic.

For those who haven’t read my Video Games for Hott Chicks post, please allow me to explain....

To say I’m enthusiastic about playing The Witcher is like saying Mother Teresa was just another nun. The Witcher is an incredible, fully-immersive, all-encompassing experience. You don’t just play the game. For those minutes or hours you’re at the computer, you’re actually living the game. It’s like reading a really, really good book….except you are living and breathing with the characters in a completely realistic environment from the safety of your own pajama pants.

I am not just a little excited about the release of this game. Watching the trailer brings me to a sense of overwhelming glory and light. It's like having an out-of-body experience. 

Now some might scoff at my intensity. “Who has time for that?”

Well, not me. Lemmie give you a little taste of a normal day in the life of Jen. Ready? Here we go.

0430: Wake up
0530: Get in the car
0630: Start day job
1500: Leave day job
1600: Arrive home
1630: Start 40-minute exercise
1710: Eat dinner, talk to family, work on homework, make smoothies
1745: Go on a walk with family
1815: Get small one in tub
1845: Put small one in bed
1846: Start writing job
2000: Put big one in bed
2001: Go back to writing job
2200: Get tired
2201: Eat/drink something to try and stay up
2300: Fall asleep

…..and then repeat.

Now I want to pause here for a sec and give some credit where credit is due. I’m sure many of you have similar schedules, only without the husband at home to help with the cleaning and cooking. My heart goes out to you – I had to live without that kind of help for years while Aaron was deployed. Each and every one of you is an angel from heaven and I cannot say enough how much I respect your strength. 

That being said, I’m not happy with my current schedule, help or no help. My soul craves my children. I think about them all day, every day. I want nothing more than to be by their side. I promise I am not deranged. I was blessed to stay home with my first, so I know exactly what I'm missing. I want it back. I am also huge on sleeping a little more than 5-6 hours a night. I kinda feel like I gotta have 8 hours to be a real person. I’ve been a fake person for a while now. In a few months, I hope to drastically change this terrible schedule so I may get back to being a real person.

But until then…gaming? Who’s got time for gaming?

Like I said….not me. Guess I could write less, but that would mean moving away from the dream of sustaining my family on my writing. Guess I could try and spend less time with the fam, but that time is what keeps me afloat when I’m working all day. Guess I could stop sleeping……..HAHAHAH what a funny joke!

Bottom line, there is no “good” time to do stuff for myself. If I want to game, or read, or relax at all, I need to forcibly make it happen. In my current, hopelessly-flawed situation, that means I need to either get faster at executing the tasks I have or choose to take on less tasks. This is not as easy as it sounds…but yet, I do find the time to open some wine, curl up with a blanket, and meet Geralt in Witcherland.

Wanna know how I do it?

Get fast.
I can work very, very fast when I want to. Seriously. If I really want to, I can close myself off with a set of earbuds, Pandora, and my computer. The kids are in bed, I completely turn off my phone, and I plug into my work. End of story. I’ve found the more passionate I am about something, the faster I can execute any related tasks. Take gardening, for example. When I’m not feeling it, weeding takes hours upon hours to complete. When I’ve got my garden hat on and am feeling my groove, the shit gets done in like 30 minutes. It’s easy to crank out because I’m passionate about it. My mind flies and doesn’t get caught up on “UHHH I DON’T WANT TO DO THIS.”

One might venture to hypothesize….if you can’t do it with passion, with energy…then perhaps you shouldn’t be doing it at all. This doesn’t work for laundry…but more on laundry later.

Make a kinda-schedule.
My small one now answers almost every question with, “um, kinda!” It’s her phrase of the month. I like “kinda.” The word itself isn't too rigid, yet also provides a little structure….a bit of positivity and commitment. Observe:

You like meatballs? Um, kinda!

You want to go for a walk? Um, kinda!

Tired? Um, kinda!

I like the flexible, open-ended, semi-commitment. It allows me to come to my own conclusions.

Ok great, I don’t like meatballs either.

Yes! We are so going for a walk!

Yea I’m tired, too…let’s go to bed.

See what I mean? Flexible. I try to apply the “um, kinda!” principle to my schedule. Too rigid, and I'm bound to break the schedule, fly off-track, and consider myself a failure. Too flexible, and I won’t get anything done. Have an unexpected day off? Knock out a couple items early. Feel like total garbage? Skip your run and go to bed early. Friends wanting to hang out? Work 30 minutes more each day of the week so you can take a night off and go out. Set guidelines for yourself, but practice flexibility. Life will always get in the way; you can plan on it!

Think of time as an investment.
You don’t want to devote yourself to something that will not give back to your life. Hear me clearly…this is not Jen being selfish – more like Jen giving you a gentle nudge to consider your own needs and goals before committing to someone else’s.

So you were asked to plan a charity event…will you miss dinner with your family? Be forced to skip your exercise time? Need to take holiday time off from work? How do these losses compare to the satisfaction you feel doing charity work? It’s a delicate challenge, balancing happiness….a depleted happiness account means a depleted soul. Try really, really hard to only dedicate time to things that will give you (at the very least) an even return on your investment.

Learn to say no.
Every single time management post you will ever read will tell you this. You’ve gotta say no. Yes, it would be lovely to have 4,000 hours each day so you can see everyone, work for everyone, and be the perfect everything to everyone…but that ain’t real life.

If planning a wedding shower takes a significant portion of your happiness away, find another way to give back to the bride. If your potential client only wants someone who will work during bath and story time, politely decline. If an opportunity comes along for you to write something that barely resembles your original vision, turn it down.  

This is your life – you only get oneIf you start to feel guilty, think of good ‘ol Gaskins…

Time yourself.
I literally need to set an alarm so I don’t work longer on a client’s work than I should. I set my phone for 60 minutes and then when it goes off, I get up, drink water, reevaluate where I'm at in my work, and if I need another hour, I start the timer over again. I don’t check my Facebook. I don’t answer texts. I don’t check on my family. I don’t look at my bed or the couch or anything that could potentially suck me down into “no more for now” land. I just get up, take care of the necessities, and then start on the next section. One hour at a time. Timed. No exceptions, unless the house is on fire or the kids are sick or I am sick....or Shark Tank is on.

Rotate your working days.
I will write nonstop for three houron Monday so I can write for only one hour on Tuesday. I will take the entire night on Friday to hammer through content and client work so I don’t need to worry about it on Saturday and Sunday. Remember that “kinda” schedule we talked about? Rotating work is a huge part of that – you want to distribute your work so it doesn’t take up every waking second of your life. I hate writing on Wednesdays, for example (Modern Family), so I will purposely put in extra time on Tuesdays and Thursdays to make up for it.

You can do the same thing with the more mundane task of your life. Let’s revisit that laundry topic from earlier - I know I’m much more likely to fold clothes with *pep* (read - speed) when the breeze is coming in the windows just right and my small one is helping me match socks. So let’s say it’s raining on your normally-scheduled laundry day… terrible would it be to skip it? Wait for the sun to come back out? Dedicate the day to rainy-day activities instead? Does skipping the laundry mean you're procrastinating? Maybe. Does skipping the laundry that day mean you're making your happiness a priority? Absolutely. Like we explored earlier, the more you enjoy it, the faster it will get done. This is your life we’re talking about here. Be realistic, not everything is sunshine and rainbows. you still gotta fold laundry for cryin out loud. But consider timing it at the best time for you. Saving must-do tasks for the right moment makes all the difference.

So take little bit of planning, add a little bit of flexibility and a smidge of procrastination….and you’ve got some gamer time. By adjusting my schedule a little bit, eliminating unnecessary obligations, and learning to do what I need to do quickly and efficiently, I’m able to carve out an hour to myself at least two nights a week.

Now you might find it's harder to decide what to do once you have that free time. Rest? Read? Play games? Watch TV? Spend time with the husband? Take a bath? Phew. This is where the real trouble starts for me. I got nuthin' for you, readers. I am always struggling to decide which non-work-related task I should dip into. 

What about you, loves? Any of you have some time-management tips you swear by? How do you decide what to do once you’ve made the time to “be free?” I'd love to hear about it in the comments down below!

As always, thank you so, so much for reading :)


Friday, May 30, 2014

I've Become an Average Blogger in Just Twelve Months!

Tomorrow is a big day for Flaws, Forgiven.

Tomorrow, the 31st of May, my blog…………………………….turns 1 :) 

I'm pretty pumped. 60 posts in 365 days. Not too shabby!

Now it's only fair on this, the one year anniversary of my blog, that we sit down and judge the crap out of what I've done. I'm serious. If there was ever an OK time to pass judgement, now is that time. When I started my blog I, like most bloggers, had a pretty specific list of goals in mind. I think tonight is the perfect night to revisit those goals and see how well I've stuck to them.

So let's get right into it, shall we?

Write to feel better
Jen Grade: A
I jack things up a lot. I make mistakes when I attempt DIY projects. I make mistakes when I work. I make mistakes in my relationships. Writing acts like a mindmap for me, a visual representation of what I’m thinking, a way of organizing my thoughts into cute, tidy little paths I can skip along in a yellow sundress with flowers in my hair and birds in the blue sky and deer leaping and bounding with me on my way to Resolutionville.

So basically, writing is my #1 problem solving tool.

Solved problems = happy Jen.....but I need to walk myself through the resolution process to feel the full effects. I can't just be all like "oh great, I'll just stop caring about that. Done. Gone. Poof." My mind doesn't work that way. I need to immerse myself in the problem and spew out my thoughts, reactions, feelings. 

Once all the words get out of my system, I know exactly where I stand. I know what needs to be done. I know why I’m feeling the way I’m feeling. It’s pretty damn glorious. It’s working well for me. The added bonus? Sometimes my writing makes other people feel better, too. Sometimes walking myself through my problems helps strangers walk through theirs. It’s nice. It’s better than nice….it’s perfect. A++++++, Ralphie!

Write to practice
Jen Grade: D
I started this blog because I wanted to devote a portion of my life to writing. Therapy aside, I write because I enjoy telling stories….so much so, I’ve made it a life goal to write a book. I want to be a writer – a real writer. Someone with pages filled with her imagination and volumes of her deepest, most intimate ideas. Someone who has a weird picture of herself in a flowy skirt on the back cover. Someone who pushes herself to madness to get her book published and into the hands of readers. Someone who breaks through to someone, somewhere, who really needs to read her words. Someone who changes her name to Grace Skymist so nobody knows her true identity. heheheh

I picture my life twenty years from now and I picture myself surrounded by those side tables made out of books, huge white pillows, and blue blankets. I picture a laptop, my legs tucked under me, Aaron’s kisses on my forehead as he heads to bed without me for the fourth night in a row. I picture my mind rushing out onto the page…little ribbons of stories, colorful characters, and an undertone of personal experience. I see it, I can see it right there in my head.

But to get there, I need to practice. I was hoping this blog would help me do just that. I wanted to practice writing well, concisely, professionally. 

I’m not doing so well. Not happenin’. I’ve realized I’m happiest when I’m freewriting….expressing myself with little restraint, little planning, and absolutely no punctuation control. This makes me happy. I can’t say I’m disappointed with myself for suckin' with this goal…my blog has turned into a different kind of resource for me.

And you know, the more I read about writing, the more I’m told the most important part of writing a novel is to simply write. Just write.

So I’ll take that D and treat it just like I did when I got a D in calculus……*shoulder shrug* “Eh.”

Never try to make big money with your blog
Jen Grade: A
I’m going to say this with the least judgment possible because I know a great many wonderful bloggers who love to make money with their blog – I never want to take reader focus off my writing and put it on advertising. I’ve had people approach me to do sponsored posts and I gotta tell ya, it ain’t for me. Everyone loves money, including me, but my posts are mine. I will sometimes write a non-compensated post or two for people who have very real and helpful stories, stories that I think resonate with my readers and fit the tone of my blog...but you will not find me posting about razors or free tickets to Disneyland. I’m not big on selling stuff and honestly, I am kinda turned off by blogs that pitch product after product after product. I want to read, people. I want to read good, funny, heartfelt crap.

This isn’t to say I will never make any money off this blog. I think someday I might get an ad or two in the sidebar… and if someone asks me to review their incredibly awesome (read = not razors) product or book, I'd be all over that....but that’s where the buck stops for me. I don’t want anything interfering with the true purpose behind this blog. Ads and spam just don't jive with the overall feeling of Flaws, Forgiven. I try to avoid them. So far, so good!

Stay positive
Jen Grade C+
This goal doesn’t pertain to the first few paragraphs of every post. My blog is all about disclosing my flaws and figuring out how to love them, so naturally the first few paragraphs can be very negative as I am literally describing my awful, insane flaws. 

No, when I thought up this goal I was referring instead to my natural tendency to whine. I am a HUGE whiner. I could whine all day. Yes, I can do it in a really funny way….but it’s still whining. My post last week was one giant whine fest. I can sometimes have a very sarcastic, dark sense of humor. This interferes with Goal #1. I learn nothing from whining. It can still be fun sometimes, though. Hence the C+ :)

Don’t be scared
Jen Grade: B-
This one is probably the hardest for me. I write purely and completely from the heart. It causes problems sometimes. I get sensitive. Others get sensitive. People have taken offense. Conflict makes me second guess myself. Sometimes I think I should stop. 

Then I smack the shit out of myself and stop being a wussy. This here is my space. I share it with the world, but I don't force it down anyone's throat. I write for whoever wants to read it, hoping someone who feels as crappy as I sometimes do will maybe somehow feel better. 

I'm getting better and better at smacking myself when I feel afraid to be myself. I'm getting there. When it comes to blogging topics, I am caring less about other people and more about myself. I'm at about 80% don't care. Progress!

So there we have it. My top five blogging goals. Now we all know I’m not good with math and crap but that seems like a high-C-ish average to me. Baddah-bing! I'll take it! Heck, no complaints about a high C - that's average-like! That's how it's done!

I’ve learned a ton about my writing style (erratic and wordy), picture-editing capabilities (thanks PicMonkey!), and time management skills (hel-lllllo multitasking). I’ve learned I truly do love writing…very, very much. It isn’t just some random idea I came up with in the shower. I physically get a surge of adrenaline when I see something and think, "Oh MAN I could totally write about that!" Everything is my next blog post. I feel so relaxed after I've written, but also here you go world. Have at it. I honestly cannot explain how I feel when someone walks up to me and says, “I read your blog, Jen. I totally read it.” If I wasn’t such a badass, I would cry all over the place.

All I keep thinking as I celebrate a year of consistently writing is: maybe I can write my dream book one day. Maybe I might actually be able to pull it off. That would be pretty damn awesome.

Until that day comes, I am going to sit back, read some old posts, continue writing new ones, and keep the content stream flowin’ by coming up with ways to forgive myself for my nonstop, insane flaws.

A few of my favorite posts:

As always, thank you for reading. It wouldn’t be nearly as fun and exciting without you, dear readers. Thank you so much for supporting me, reading with me, and sharing your experiences and opinions with me. They mean more to me than you could possibly imagine.