Friday, August 22, 2014

10 Surprising Facts about Working from Home

Here we are, exactly one week after I quit my corporate job.

Now I wanna preface by saying what follows is a list of legitimate surprises...according to me. Call me naive, call me out-of-touch, call me just plain stupid, these things completely knocked me on my ass this week. You may shake your head multiple times and think, "really, Jen?" Don't worry. I'm right there with you. We're in this together.

So here they are, dear readers, my 10 most surprising facts about working from home:

1. You don't get more time to do anything.
It's simple math. I spent two hours driving each day, and eight/nine hours at work each day, so that means I should have at least ten hours of time to fill with writing and spending time with my kids....right?

That's not happening. See, when I signed up for this stay-at-home gig, I agreed to do all the cleaning, cooking, and daytime child addition to my freelancing. Now, my freelancing isn't the problem. I control exactly how many hours I spend each day on my's the other stuff that trips me up.

I sat down Sunday night, the night before my first day as a stay-at-home woman, and I made a schedule. I scoured Pinterest for cleaning lists, dinner ideas, and basic home management schedules. After downloading 27 a few, I compiled my data, color coded each calender block (green = freelancing, pink = kids, purple = cleaning, blue = meals, bright blue = exercising, gray = social events), I set reminders at 30 and 5-minute increments, synced everything with my phone, and sat back, feeling accomplished. I had the good ol' husband look it over and tell me if I was missing anything. His eyes got a little wide, he slowly glanced over to me, and very carefully said, "looks like you've got EVERYthing covered."

He knew. He knew the whole time and wasn't about to be the one to tell me.

Those ten hours mean nothing when you're at home. Nothing. They fly by in a blink. I swear to you, I barely shower. I haven't done one craft. I haven't watched a single soap opera. I considered writing this post from the toilet. Multitasking, people. Multitasking is the only way I am alive right now.

2. Down time is pretty much guilt time.
The gaps in my calender are like little pressure-filled pockets of explosive material....if I don't use them wisely, carefully, and for the right purpose....KABLAMMO.

Should you shower? Maybe even try and shave an armpit? about finishing that pitch you started? Some promotional development for Concentrated Creativity, perhaps? No no wait, what about that clogged drain in the basement you've been pissed about for like six months? The dog sure needs his nails clipped. Oh look! The bird feeder is empty again...wait are those flowers wilting?? Is it that hot out? Maybe I should turn on the hose....but last time I did that I left it on and it woke me up and speaking of waking up....did I ever get around to changing the sheets?

People talk about "taking time for you," and "don't go overboard," but I'm telling you, that paragraph up there is a typical minute in my mind anytime I don't have something scheduled or in front of me. I'm not at the point where I can "wing it" yet and still feel like I've done a good job. So any down time I get immediately results in me thinking, "I could be doing A, B, C, or D right now...."

3. Weird stuff happens around the hood during the workday.
This place turns into the freaking Amazon jungle when everyone leaves for work. I see crazy amounts of birds and bugs swooping, swirling, smacking into my front room window. It's like nature on steroids. The only thing that tops the entertainment value of insects pepper spraying themselves at birds is catching glimpses of my fellow at-homers throughout the day.

I had no idea the dude across the street even existed. I knew a chick lived there, but a guy? With a huge round belly and an affinity for those little race cars? No clue. And the guy on the corner, he loves beer all day. Walks around with beer. All day. My other neighbor only works until maybe 1:30 or 2PM. He likes to yell, but not in the scary way. In the Italian way. His ringtone is the Godfather theme. Their dog's name is Fonzie. This is real life, dentist boy.

Twice now I've seen this old flatbed truck drive by with a gaggle of random people in the back, some old, some young, each wearing wide-brimmed hats and hanging their bare feet off like they just got done mushing grapes at Old McGowen's Farm. Yesterday I went for a walk with the little one (outside/walk time, pink, 2PM on M, W, F) and saw this chick standing in a driveway, struggling to get a cap off a Mountain Dew. I remember thinking it was weird because I'd walked past that house hundreds of times and never seen anyone in it or around it. My husband had a theory it was a vacation home. As I casually looked closer (thank gosh for sunglasses), I noticed this chick was accompanied by two other dudes, both of which were hidden in the shadows of a very crowded, junk-filled garage. They were cussing and throwing stuff and weeding through piles and piles of boxes, wrappers, garbage bags - it looked like a landfill, no joke. I just kept on staring, I didn't even care at this point, and that's when I noticed the van they somehow must've arrived in was filled with trash. When I say this late-90's, rusted teal Dodge Caravan was filled to the brim with stuff I literally mean stuff was coming out the sides and windows. They had the sliding side door open and I could make out an indentation in the pile where someone apparently sat. Totally weird.

4. Driving during the day can actually be worse than driving in rush hour traffic.
Minivans. Dear gosh in heaven the minivans. Or the Suburbans. These are the parents who never get a minute alone, who are driving to their fifth game or meet of the week, and are undoubtedly texting while driving, trying to capitalize on that multitasking I mentioned earlier. These are the drivers who brake hard because they just want to finish typing out this gosh dang sentence and leave you bumper-to-bumper, staring through the shaded rear window of their kid-mobile. You look past the gymnast silhouette with the name "Chloe" underneath it and two football helmets, one for Gabe, the other Ethan....someone is flailing around in there like they're getting bit and another small person is literally walking around, as if on a party bus. Someone's shoe smacks the back window and you almost pee your pants and before you know it, a granola bar is flying out the window, headed your way.

No where to go. No way out. You're going to have to take it, chocolate chips and all.

It's insane how many moms and dads I see texting, talking, messing with their phones with their kids in the car. It's bad enough when you're in traffic on the highway and you're surrounded with mean-muggin corporate types who want nothing more than to ram you out of the way. There are kids in there, man. Little people who have no choice but to trust their lives in the hands of their drivers. Don't even get me started on the smokers. If there's one group of people I would gladly run up to and punch right in the face, it's the parents who smoke with kids in their car.

But I digress. Daytime drivers also include construction machinery. Semis. And the worst of all worst....the landscapers. These guys are hauling lawnmowers and rakes that are haphazardly strewn across a flatbed trailer, ropes dangling, equipment clanging and mud flying off everywhere. It's a jungle out there. At least in rush hour traffic I'm expecting to drive assertively. I didn't think that would be the case for a 1PM library trip five miles down the road.

5. If you have kids they literally need to come with you for everything. 
I was all like, "Oh wow! No work schedule! I can go to any doctor's appointment, ever! Talk about open access! Regular business hours...lemmie at 'em!"

Except I forgot about one small kid. I turn around and *yep* she's still there. I have a small child I need to attend to. My dental office is an open bay of chairs. There's no babysitter. No "supervised play area." No cage.

I forgot how crazy it can be, having a toddler at doctor's appointments and needing to keep them busy while you do things like get your teeth cleaned and get your big kid's glasses fixed. Here I was thinking I was going to have all this opportunity to get my biz handled. Silly Jen.

6. Social media, social schmedia. 
When I was working I was totally into social media. I knew everything about my feeds...Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, you name it. I was always one of the first people to "like" something or post that perfectly-captured cloud pic before everyone else could. Now I'm lucky if I can even find my phone. I don't need it as much, you see, because I'm not a personal assistant anymore. I can do things way better when I don't have my vacuum and change butts and stir tortellini. seriously I made tortellini. Where's my medal?

When I was at the office, my phone was right there. It had to be - it was my boss' primary form of commo. I was always connected. Now, not so much. I think I've been invited to participate in like 10 challenges. I'm always the last to see a pic or hear about some event I was invited to. As a matter of fact, I've gotten super pissed about not getting invited to something, just to find out I was invited, I just didn't check my stupid Facebook. Don't get me wrong, I still check it, but you would think working from home would mean more computer time and therefore, more social media. Not the case for me at all.

7. Garbage and mail people aren't up with the sun after all.
I always pictured the garbage man coming in the early morning, the hiss of his rig waking me a little, my mail waiting for me by lunchtime. I know this is, honestly, a ridiculous expectation. But in my mind, the Norman Rockwell garbage man arrives right after the milkman and paperboy and the mailman follows mid-morning tea.

I swear it was like 3:30 by the time my mailman came yesterday. And the garbage? Let's just say I went down to the end of the driveway to haul the cans back up because I thought there was no way in hell they weren't empty yet.

Think again, Jen! This world is all kinds of crazy!

8. Everybody wants something for nothing.
I'm a Girl Scout leader now! It's very exciting. I told my big girl and she giggled and laughed like an angel. She's missed her mama and I'm happy to be involved.

That being said, I can't even tell you how many volunteer opportunities I've been invited to since quitting my corporate job. Food co-op needs event planners. Library needs readers. School needs PTA members. School needs room moms. School needs artist of the month curators. School needs fundraiser helpers and book sale helpers and Market Day helpers and holiday helpers. Church needs corn pickers. Church needs childcare helpers and readers and ushers and communion givers.

Now I'm all about giving back to the community and doing nice things for others and the self-fulfillment you get in return from all that jive. But let's just call a spade a spade here, people. These groups want you to work for no money. Volunteering is hard work and is made up entirely of goodwill and time. I honestly cannot even wrap my head around how many things I could be doing for others, for no pay. I could spend 80 hours a week simply volunteering, if I wanted to. And it's not easy to choose which ones to do and which ones to decline. Right now I'm about one obligation away from a complete internal short-circuit, so I'm just gonna stick with Girl Scouts for a bit. Whew.

9. Banks still live in the 1950's.
Speaking of Girl Scouts, I went to the bank to get added on the troop account (glue sticks here I come!). The personal bank assistant lady asked me a few questions, my name, my birthdate, my social. Then she said, "Now, just because of the way our form is, I have to ask you, do you work outside of the home?" I smiled so big I thought my face was going to fall off and excitedly told her, "NOPE!"

But my smile quickly faded, because no sooner had I announced this huge accomplishment of mine, that she scribbled the word "HOMEMAKER" on the form she was filling out. On the line next to my name. The line that said, "Occupation."

I just sat there. No big deal, I thought. Who gives a shizza what this dumb bank thinks about me.

But then she said, "...and what was your employment prior to leaving the job industry?"

I remember biting back my words...oh I had so many I wanted to say.....tight-skirted secretary? Brunette bimbo with a clipboard? Coffee-bringer with a butt ready for pinchin'? No way was I going to tell this assumptive woman I was an administrative assistant. So I spoke up, told her I was still kinda working, for actual real-life dollars, as a freelance copywriter and virtual assistant. She nervously chuckled and said, "Oh, of course you are! That's so nice!" The "HOMEMAKER" remained.

I can't help but wonder....if a stay-at-home dad were to walk in there, would they write "HOMEMAKER" on his application? Vewwwwwy intewwwesting....and perhaps for another blog post. Let's move on to the last surprising fact about working from home.

10. You wait around .... a lot. 
You wait for the kids to wake up. You wait for breakfast time. You wait for your kid to get on the bus. You wait for naptime. You wait for laundry to get done. You wait for lunchtime. You wait for good weather. You wait for the garbage man...and mail man. You wait for your kid to get home from school. You wait for your partner to get home from work. It's a whole lotta waiting. I am not a huge fan of waiting. I'm a huge fan of getting it done, now, as quickly as possible. I don't hold on to my to-do lists very long. I am huge on reading all my emails right away so I don't have those stupid icons showing (11) new emails. Makes me nuts. I kinda feel like Samantha sometimes, my fellow SitC fans....when she throws sushi at Smith and screams, "I am not the kinda woman who sits home all day waiting for a man!"

Except I never actually throw the food I cook because seriously, that stuff's expensive.

So yes, I suppose I went into this situation with a pretty skewed perspective, which is interesting because I have done this before. Many years ago. Many many years ago. I feel like I found a picture of myself from school and want to go back in time and take that stupid crimper and throw it right out the window. Some things make so much sense until you're living and breathing the reality of your choices. Granted, I wouldn't change a thing because I get to stay home with my littles as they get not-so-little....but I've still had some major wake-up calls this week.

I'm really hoping it is all part of the learning curve and I'll eventually find my rhythm, but until then, I am dying to know....for any of you who work from home (work, as in, for money or for hugs) do you do it?? What are your tricks? Help a Jen out here.

And as always, thank you for reading :)

Friday, August 15, 2014

Great Expectations of a New SAHM

So I quit my job today. That's right. As of today, I am no longer an assistant to a very large (ex pro-basketball player) Vice President. As of today, I am a Stay at Home Mom (SAHM) with a little freelancing biz on the side. Bye bye, corporate job. Hello, freedom!

I left for work this morning a few minutes late. I'd taken extra time getting ready...picked a non-mumu outfit, actually DID my hair instead of throwing it on the top of my head like a raven's nest, and even applied some makeup. Baller status. By the time I got in the car I was at least 20 minutes behind schedule, but I didn't care. Today was my last day of work. I would never need to make the commute again. Ever.

I sang with the radio the whole way there. I'm sure my fellow 5AM commuters were disgusted with me. My face was lit up like a Christmas tree. It was glorious.

Got to work and took care of a few last-minute items....and then my fellow coworkers started arriving.

This, my dear readers, is when the party began.



The glory of all glories.

I ate, I laughed, and I cried. I felt the love so strongly I thought I might burst. It was, to say the least, incredible.

And then I came home. I practically flew out of the car, eager to show my husband all the wonderful food I brought home and hilarious, thoughtful gifts I received. I couldn't wait to grab my baby, lift her up, and say "I'm with you now, my love. Mommy's with you now." I knew my big girl would run up and give me a huge hug, my husband would kiss my nose, it was gonna be like heaven.

I opened the door and was greeted with the same pile of shoes (how long have those been there now?), the same dog freaking out and stepping on my toes, the same little one scrambling to dodge said dog, who scrambled around like a crazy beast and bumped into her seventeen times, making her head smack on the corner of the table. Chairs were randomly everywhere, the countertop covered in clutter, the husband calling to me from over a stove, and my big girl nowhere to be found.

"Where's Anya?" I asked.

"Outside playing with the neighbors."

"But I didn't see her....and the neighbor's garage is shut...." I replied, shuffling my feet and trying not to drop an immense amount of stuff on the dog/cat/kid.


After a freaking lifetime few minutes of screaming her name, Anya pops out of the backyard of some kid we don't know. My heart was still racing as I grounded her for life, explaining she needs to tell us where she is if she wants the freedom to play outside without her parents....and by "explaining to her" I mean I basically just screamed jibberish like the tasmanian devil.....RAHHAWNNNBABAHHAHAB! Earned myself a sad, mopey face from my big girl.

The little one didn't want her dinner. Pasta. It was her hair, all over the table, and because I'd just brought my new stuff in the house and didn't have room to put it on the counter, all over my stuff, too.

"NO, Annabelle!" Sad, mopey face from my little girl.

Ok, no kid love. Whatevs. I start to show the husband my stuff. He says he likes it, tells me it's so awesome and he is so glad I had a good day. Then he got up to clear the table and started talking about how he needs to mow the lawn in the back. Well that was quick, I thought. Great Jen, awesome story! Now about that lawn....

No. No, I tell myself I'm being crazy, he's not dismissing how awesome I feel right now. How about I suggest doing something fun together, move past those negative feelings!

"Let's go for a walk together, want to?" I say.

"Whatever you want," says the man.

"Uggggh I don't feel like it," says the big girl.

"Go for walk go for walk???" repeats the little one. Then she starts crying immediately because we aren't instantaneously, at that very second, on a walk.

I get her down from her high chair and sigh, loudly. Well geeze, I think. I sure am glad I left a killer party at work to come home to all this awesomeness.

My husband picks up on my shift in attitude and asks me what's wrong. I try to explain I'm a little disappointed....meaning I started speaking in tongues.

"I didn't expect a huge cake or a surprise party with strippers and champagne, but I certainly wasn't expecting a missing kid hunt when I first got home, or a spaghetti-hating demon screaming at the top of her lungs, or a husband who was more interested in talking about the lawn than my last day of work!" All while yelling, too. Jen strikes again! Sad, mopey face from husband.

A fight immediately ensued, followed by me storming out, followed by me sitting in my car at a forest preserve with no shoes on, wearing a ratty pair of too-short shorts that say "DANCE!" on the butt....which is where I still am now, typing this very post into an app on my phone. Damn you auto correct. Damn you to swell.

I realize now, as I sit and watch the super tall grass in front of me wave around and whisper, "be cool," over and over again....I set myself up for this.

I had these expectations, you see. I thought because I was having a "special day," life as I knew it would cease to exist. The clouds would part and the perfection of my workday joy would rain down on me at home, too. I didn't tell my husband I wanted to make this a special night. I assumed he would know. I assumed he would make it special if he wanted to. I assumed. I expected. I deemed myself worthy of that kind of mind-reading...that kind of perfection. And I let my family pay the price.

If I had taken two seconds to look around and stop thinking of myself, I might've seen some of the things my family did do to show me love.

The dishes were done. Kids fed. Animals fed. Laundry done. Beds made. Everyone smiled when they saw me, everyone hugged me. Even the missing kid, when she returned of course.

Everyone was safe. Everyone was alive and healthy.

Everyone except me, Jen, the New Stay at Home Mom with Great Expectations.

Who do I think I am? Yes, my coworkers rocked my life and threw me the best party in the world. Yes, I gorged myself on every food imaginable and was showered with gifts and love and hugs and all the good things ever. But when did that generosity change in my head and warp into some greedy, self-indulgent sense of expectation? Couldn't my amazing day be enough? Why did my brain demand more, more, more....from two half-people and a man who couldn't possibly of known what I wanted?

Let's hear it, many of you walk into your home and are greeted with balloons and presents, food, notes of love, and people asking you a million questions about YOU....? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

I better get it together if I want to be happy doing the least-acknowledged job on the planet. I mean really, I wanted the party to continue, and because I couldn't see past myself, my party came to a screeching halt.

Sometimes you gotta lose yourself in a forest preserve to snap yourself out of....well......yourself.

So here's to being a new Stay at Home Mom. Here's to my hubby getting a kick ass job. But most importantly, here's to the people who make the mistake of thinking their own desires, beliefs, and expectations are more important than the feelings of others. It's ok. We all do it. Try, try again. The next hour of your life is what YOU make of it. I'm going to go home and apologize to my loves, shower them with kisses, and try, try again.

Welcome to an exciting, but humble, new chapter in the Flaws Forgiven story. Happy to have you guys with me. Thanks for reading.

Friday, August 8, 2014

How To Mod Podge Transfer like a Jerk

Welcome to another lovely installment of Jen's jerk-like DIY! As some of you know, I take a very honest approach to do-it-yourself projects, as showcased in previous posts like How to Paint your Trim Like a Jerk and Neglected Nightstands: A Makeover Story.

This post shall be no different. This is my flaw-filled tale of how I took two butt-ugly filing cabinets and turned them into something I kinda enjoy looking at.

The "Before" Pic
So you remember back when I wrote the trim post? The one where I explained I wanted to "lighten and brighten" up my home from beigey blandness to sweet French country bliss? I wrote that post a little over a year ago and I am delighted to tell you absolutely nothing has changed. In over 365 days, I have not put one ounce of work into my "lighten and brighten" project. Not one ounce. Procrastinators, unite!

A couple weeks ago I decided I had to do something to quiet that nagging little voice in my, much to the dismay of my husband, I decided I was going to paint some furniture.

I knew I wanted something easy, something cheap, something that used the ungodly amount of Mod Podge I've got in my basement, and something French-cottagy. I'm kinda into the whole "wildflowers and white" look.

I scoured a couple hundred blogs for this project, trying not to skip the "research" step. I honestly used a number of tips and techniques ripped right off my Pinterest wall, but because I combined about 40 different ideas and added my own jerk flavor, I can't really tell you a single source that helped me with this project. Search Pinterest for french white paint furniture transfer and read allllllll of the pins that come up. Universal credit goes to all those. And the Graphics Fairy. Everyone needs to know about the Graphics Fairy.

So. Let's get started.

Step 1 (optional, I think?): Paint your furniture like a jerk. Don't wipe it down beforehand. You want to make sure you get a ton of those teeny little cat hairs and huge black dog hairs all up in that stuff, like a real jerk would. Get paint all over? No problem. Just use your sock to wipe it up. Don't forget to accidentally dip your hair right in the paint container. That's when the real jerk glory hits ya. Wear that shizza loud and proud.

Have you heard all this crazy buzz about chalk paint? ...Not chalkboard paint, CHALK paint. As in, the finish is chalky. For about a year now I've been wondering why some rich lady named Annie Glidden or whatever has been selling chalkboard paint. Well now I know, people. It's not chalkboard paint. It's chalk paint. Different things.

I used this stuff. It was at Home Depot.

You'll notice it is NOT Annie Glidden or whatever. I don't even know where to buy that stuff. I also did not make my own because I would prolly completely mess it up and let's face it, this is jerk blog time. Jerks don't get thrifty and smart, they blow money on paint. This stuff was about $9 a container. I got 2, and the sales guy recommended grabbing the wax to go over it. So about $25 for the paint.

Step 2: Figure out what image you want on top of your terribly-painted furniture. Graphics fairy is the bomb. She has everything you need. Go to her. It will bring your jerk meter down a little, because she is truly the best thing on the internet, but it's worth it .I chose a French sign for a flower shop.....or at least I think I did....extra jerk points when you choose something in another language and don't take the time to research what it means!

Step 3: Waste a ton of paper trying to print the graphic. Try it at home first, where the printer is sure to be cheap and less reliable. Waste some ink printing on paper that's been smashed and tore up by toddler fingers and cats that enjoy laying on top of random objects. Then realize you have an ink printer, not a toner printer. Many of the non-jerk blogs say to use a toner printer, like the ones you have at work the library. Head into work the library and print a few more copies of the image using a toner printer. Lose the copies within 12 minutes of printing them. Print them again. Have them destroyed by previously-mentioned cat and children. Print them again.

Step 4: Cut around the graphic like a two-year old, making sure you're really far, far away from the outline of the image. This will ensure you spend an overwhelming amount of time peeling all the excess paper away later. Like a jerk.

Step 5: Paint gobs of Mod Podge on the furniture surface (in the general area of where you want to place the graphic) using a super-hairy, dirty paintbrush. Get disgusted with the amount of hair you've just Mod Podged on your piece of white furniture. Wipe all the Mod Podge off, using an equally-dirty towel. Get more hair on there. Sit back and cry for a minute while the Mod Podge starts to dry into a nice, hairy sheen. Remember at the last minute that water gets undried Mod Podge off. Use water. Wipe off. Wait for wet surface to dry, kinda, and re-paint the Mod Podge on there.

Step 6: Paint enormous amounts of mod Podge onto your graphic - the side with the image. Really smear the crap out of your image. Grab another copy of the graphic. Repeat Step 4 as fast as you can, before the Mod Podge you already slathered onto the furniture dries. Try to paint the graphic again. Get Mod Podge literally on every surface you can possibly reach, including your legs, feet, and face.

Step 7: Place the image face-down. Put it on all crooked-like. Try to move it. Rip the paper. Try to put it back together again. Smear the image. Repeat steps 4-6. Get it in the general vicinity of where you want it.

Step 8: Grab a flat card, like a credit card. Use it to smooth the Mod Podge out so the graphic lies flat with no air bubbles. Really press hard. Make some little tears in the paper. Reap all the benefits of overusing your Mod Podge and get the white, gluey madness into every crevice of your life. Think it's smart to Mod Podge the back of the graphic.

Remember you eventually need to rub the paper off and Mod Podge will keep that from happening. Scramble to remove the Mod Podge you put all over the back of the graphic. Realize Mod Podge is gumming up your credit card. Try to wipe it off on your pants. Fail miserably. Spend the next three days chipping Mod Podge off your credit card with scissors.

Step 9: Let it sit for 24 hours. Or 5 days.

Step 10: Spray the graphic with water. Really soak it, so the water ends up dripping down the side of your furniture and getting all over the floor. Make sure you end up slipping in water and knocking your butt on the corner of something the brick you'd recently used to hold the furniture off the floor when you painted it. Let the water soak into your graphic, floors, pants, everything.

Step 11: Rub the paper like a maniac. Ignore everything everyone said about being gentle and make sure you rub off both the paper and the graphic. Use your finger and just go to town.

Make so much friction your heat dries the water. Spray more. Watch as children and animals slip in the pools of water that are now surrounding you like a moat. Princess DIY.

Step 12: Dry off the image. Again, rub fiercely here. Why be gentle after all the time and energy you've put into this project? Nah. Jerks don't care about messing their graphics up.

Step 13: Coat the entire surface with another thick, gooey layer of Mod Podge. Let it dry, hairs, lint, and all.

Now step back and enjoy your flaw-filled creation with jerk-like pride and a haughty, evil chuckle. You did it - the jerk's Mod Podge method of transferring graphics onto painted furniture.

I gotta admit, like any good DIY jerk, I'm pleased with the results. Not as ugly as before, but not so classy I can't put a perspiring glass on it. Works for me!

Any of you transfer with Mod Podge? That stuff is like the milky sauce of heaven.

Happy jerky-DIY weekend everyone, and as always, thanks so much for reading :)

Friday, July 25, 2014

So They're Building a Power Plant next to Your House

Come with me, dear readers, as I take you on a journey into a typical summer day in Jen's hood.

As cliche as it sounds, I wake up every day to birds chirping like crazy. We have so many birds around here it's like Cinder-freaking-ella is about to open her tower shutters and yell at that old clock. My home faces east and my bedroom rises with the sun - all light and early shadows and dawn, completely. Every weekday I am serenaded by the thunder of trucks leaving for work and every weekend I rise to the rumbles of Harleys leaving for a Saturday ride.

By mid-morning the kids of summer are emerging from their homes, barefoot, golden, eager for the sun to rise higher and signal the start of a sprinkler or two. Joggers, dog-walkers, garbage men, and mailmen make their rounds. Bees and monarchs duke it out over a bed of coneflowers and the short, loud barks of chipmunks pepper the air.

As dinnertime approaches I hear the trucks returning from work, driving just a little faster than they did in the morning, eager to get home, crack a beer, and fire up the grill. Lawn mowers spring to life. The smell of burning wood and charcoal permeates the air. Garage doors stay open, years worth of paint cans, rusty tools, and licenses plates on display like a suburban museum exhibit.

The sun falls farther behind my house as the day slips away. Post-dinner walkers start passing by now, families with strollers, runners, the golf cart crew on their way to their neighbor's horseshoe pit. Old Style and obese dogs, moms yelling and lawn chairs creaking. Someone decides to crank it up and the local country station drawls into our lives like a soundtrack. The mosquitoes start biting. The air turns sticky and the sky purple with the promise of night. And still the children of summer keep playing.

When the last rays of sun have shone and the light takes on that weird, can-barely-see sheen, I stare out the windows, eyes strained, searching for the first few flickers of lightening bugs. My youngest has fallen into a deep sleep by now. My oldest is racing around outside on her bike. My hubby and I share a look....another day is done. Another one to come. And we're alright. We're doing just fine.

I love my neighborhood. I love looking into my backyard and seeing the cornfield behind it. I love driving down the street and seeing chickens pecking the ground. I love sending my kid to a one-school district with ten bright yellow buses sitting neatly in a row. I love the hawks, the foxes, the family of deer living near the river. This is my home, the place I want to raise my kids, the place I find myself settling into like a favorite chair, soft, comfortable, relaxing.

And that's all threatened now. You see, they're trying to build a power plant a few miles from my home. It will sit about 200 yards from the school, on a plot of land currently filled with cornstalks. The gas-fired, water-cooled power plant is state-of-the-art, the energy company tells us. It is needed, they say. It is clean, they say. The site they selected is perfect, they say. They say a lot of things.

This particular plant is a joint venture, a project split 50/50 between Enventure and Northland Power. We're in the beginning phases, technically, as the zoning meetings began just last night. The power companies are looking to amend the current ordinances we have for the property. Although zoned industrial, the standing ordinances do not allow for 9-story-high smoke stacks, 9-foot-high barbed wire fences, and the immediate depreciation of property values. This is poor news for the power companies. Poor little babes.

I first heard about the power plant a few weeks ago. I feel like I could write a book on all I've learned since then. Although the site is located outside my neighborhood, it sits right next to my daughter's school. I am friends with families who live within feet of the proposed build site and drive past the place every day. I knew, immediately, that I needed to be involved.

Now those who support the plant have taunted people like me with the phrase "NIMBY - Not In My Back Yard." They're essentially saying I wouldn't care if it didn't affect me. They could not be more accurate. I wouldn't be upset if they'd chosen another spot. It wouldn't be my problem. It would be sad, but it wouldn't be mine. This is me, being honest, transparent, and completely flawed. I am human. As I've written before, many times, you can never truly appreciate the devastation of a situation until you've lived it. This is human nature. So shout NIMBY at me all you want - you're right. I don't want it in my backyard. But I think a more appropriate thing to shout would be NIABY...because in all of my research, in the countless hours I've spent glued to this computer, what I'm finding out is that we don't need these plants in ANYONE'S backyard. Refurbishing coal plants, continuing wind power efforts, and experimenting with solar power options are all sustainable, non-destructive, and yes, very expensive alternatives to plopping a pollution machine right in the middle of a neighborhood. Of those three adjectives, sustainable, non-destructive, and expensive, which do you think the power companies are most concerned about? Nobody deserves this. Which is why I've taken tonight to write about it.

I never truly appreciated the struggle communities went through when faced with challenges like this. I don't guilt-trip myself about it too much - like I said, how could I have possibly understood without going through it myself. Ignorance is bliss. Now that I'm in the thick of it, though, I've learned a couple of critical things I feel I can pass down to anyone who is or might be dealing with these circumstances in their own town. Maybe by sharing what I've learned, I'll save at least one of you the heartache of starting from ground zero.

1. Identify a leader. My opposition group is led by two guys, both from the neighborhood, both with full-time jobs and (because I'm a picky writer) both with some pretty bad (but adorably real) grammar. It wasn't punctuation, though, that gained the support of over 1k Facebook followers in just two weeks. It wasn't spelling that raised almost $12,000 in under 6 days. It wasn't a professional event planning team that earned a crowd of over 800 people at the first zoning board meeting. These are regular guys with one very important, contagious character trait....passion. They are communicative, organized, but most importantly, dead-set on learning the most they can about the power plant and sharing their knowledge with their neighbors. Find a good leader and the troops will follow.

2. Use social media. No need to elaborate here too much. Everyone uses it and word spreads fast. It's easy to stay organized with invites, postings, polls, and shared links.

3. Educate yourself before siding with someone else's opinion. This one is really hard. The accusations against power plants are scary. The thought of your kid becoming sick is enough to cause immediate panic. I am particularly prone to jumping to conclusions. Calm down. Research. Plan your thoughts well. A few things I've learned about the power plant they're building in my area:

Water: The plant needs water to cool itself down. They plan on drilling a well to tap a major aquifer that runs through the state of Illinois and into parts of Wisconsin. This aquifer is already tapped by a number of other cities and at the rate at which we are pumping from it now, we won't be able to sustain water levels. This isn't the upper-level of water here, people...they want to draw from the lowest water level we've got. When it's gone, it's gone. The power plant needs 1.5 million gallons of water each day. The energy company has tried to circumvent our concerns about this by reaching out to local water treatment facilities. They've changed their stories a few times, the latest of which is that they will now be getting 100% of the water to cool the plant from waste treatment facilities. They've talked to the other cities, they say. It's a verbally done deal, they say. But they're still going to drill the well, they say. You know. Just in case.

Air: Gas combustion creates fumes. It's a chemical reaction. The plant will release nitrogen oxide, carbon dioxide, and very small, hard-to-measure fine particulates. The power plant will filter out 90% of the nitrogen oxide and carbon dioxide and produce only 10% the amount of fine particulates as coal-powered plants. Unfortunately, this still means pollutants will be added to the air. These pollutants contribute to respiratory disorders, stall lung development in children, and cause asthma. Because fine particulates are so small, researches have had trouble studying them. The few studies they have done, however, show there is no safe level of exposure to these particulates. They bypass our lungs' defenses and infiltrate our system with ease...especially for the young and old.

Noise: Construction noise can reach upwards of 100db, depending on the equipment and the range at which you're listening to it. The human ear is damaged at 120db, or 85db if heard for a prolonged period. A child's learning, development, emotional state, and physical ability to concentrate is heavily affected by noise, especially if they have learning disabilities. Schools in my region that have no air conditioning (like mine) will have windows open for about half the school year. Plant construction is estimated to take 2 years. They need to dig tunnels both in front and behind my child's school to transport waste water. I don't imagine the power company will be sharing their earplugs with my babies. Oh well. What's a lifetime of learning and hearing loss.

Plumes: Gas-powered, water-cooled power plants create steam. That steam creates plumes. In the winter, these plumes freeze and form ice over surrounding roadways. The Enventure director who sited our plant and sits opposite of my community in the zoning hearings, Conrad Anderson, actually wrote a paper detailing the dangers of plumes in northern states and described how some governments are demanding gas-fired plants be cooled by air instead of water. He also mentioned converting from water-cooled to air-cooled will increase the cost of plant installation and reduce plant capacity, increasing total production costs by 5-10%. Some good research there, Conrad. Appreciate the education. Ooop! Don't want to forget to cite my source. Wouldn't want to get sued! Click here or in any of the other blue areas in this paragraph to read good ol' Conrads professional analysis:

Security: Power plants need to be monitored around the clock. Power companies who propose plants next to schools, however, are not required to come to preliminary zoning hearings with security plans on what type of weapons their guards will be carrying or what caliber they will be discharging from with children playing 200 yards away. Those are not things the power plants came to the school or zoning board with, knowing ahead of time. No, no...instead they can wing it. Just a batch of unknown guns and a playground full of kids. What could go wrong?

Property values: Studies have shown neighborhoods within 2 miles of a power plant experience a 3-7% decrease in housing value. To do the math for you, if a home is worth $145k, it will drop in value by $4,350 - $10,150. Those are fun, numbers, right? Especially for blue-collar, middle-income families who get to experience the added sting of watching prairie grass turn into pavement.

Money: I'm not a numbers girl. Honestly, to do that math up there, I needed to break out a calculator. I don't know much about taxes, aside from they keep going up. I don't know much about hosting fees, except that they are paid to the township, village, or city directly. What I do know is that no amount of lipstick, no matter the shade, can make me wanna kiss a pig. Sorry, Wilbur.

School boards: School boards care about things like enrollment. Yes, they care about children's health and safety, but they also care about populations, numbers, and butts in seats. Decreases in enrollment mean decreases in money. I never thought about it from this perspective before and was thankful for the lesson. Power plants drive people away...and that rings true for the kiddos, too. No kids means no school. School boards will side with the citizens because it's the citizens they want to attract. Powerful allies!

Ok enough about what I've learned. Moving on to number four in my tip list.

4. Attend every meeting you can. Even when you're tired. Even when you've been working all day. Even if it means skipping dinner and missing out on time with your family. The community cannot be heard if the community is not there. Show up, wear the same color shirt as everyone else so your presence makes an impact, and stay for the whole thing. You honestly have the ability to make a difference. It's not just something they tell you in those feel-good self help books.

5. Donate. Donate your time. Donate your energy. Donate your money if you can. If you can't, no big deal. Make signs. Tie ribbons around trees. Write your political leaders. Contact environmental groups. Talk to attorneys. Spread the word door-to-door. Volunteer to lead research efforts for one of the major areas of concern. Give what you can and then give just a little more. The combined efforts of many can move a mountain.

6. Keep it classy. Emotions run high. It's expected and well justified. Don't let the anger get in the way of speaking clearly and being heard. You want people to want to listen to you. Don't lose sight of your goal - to get this plant out. Screaming is what these companies want to hear - it's unprofessional noise. Distracting. Dismissed. Calm voices, however....educated voices, voices that speak with respect and courtesy...those voices demand attention. Choose your voice wisely.

7. Don't give up. Don't let yourself get rattled by the opposition. You've researched this. You know where you stand. Have faith in yourself and your community. You will be challenged. Deal with it. You can't educate anybody - they must want to learn. Picture a kid with his fingers in his ears. He isn't going to hear you until he wants to. Let it be. Focus on you and those who are like you. Get the job done.

I won't know whether or not our efforts have been successful for a while. What I do know, though, is that I will never, ever regret making the decision to join forces with my community and take a stand against something I know is wrong.

I drove home from a school board meeting this week and the craziest coincidences hit me like a splash of water. I was tired after the meeting and was driving barefoot, sick of wearing my work heels. I stepped on the brakes to stop at a light, looking through the fading daylight at the same farm I'd passed by hundreds of times, the one with the barn roof done by Copley roofing and the yard full of chickens and horses that always cause my girls to squeal and clap with delight when we pass by. In the pasture I noticed something I'd never seen before...a large, white, marquis sign, the words "STOP THE POWER PLANT" emblazoned on both sides. It detailed the time and place of the zoning hearing, imploring people to go and put an end to this madness. I squinted through the dark and saw, in very small letters on top, the words "Ed's Rental." My favorite farm, who'd done business with my favorite roofers, had rented a sign from good ol' Ed's Rental, a place I've also driven by a thousand times, always thinking about renting that rototiller or someday granting my big girl's wish and getting a blow-up castle for a day.

I kid you not, my eyes started welling up at the simplicity and pure defensiveness I felt at that moment for my town, for all these nooks and crannies I know so well, for all the memories I have etched in my brain. And if it wasn't mushy enough, as the light turned green I swear to you Rodney Atkin's voice started coming over my radio, singing in his sexy, happy way, "These are my people...this is where I come from..."

That moment, as I stared into the taillights of everyone who stayed late at the meeting, heading home like me, one long line of commonality and determination, that moment will stay with me for the rest of my life. My fight is far from over, and yours may not even have begun, but let me tell you, lovely readers, when you choose to inject yourself in the fibers of your community and fight toward a common goal side-by-side with your neighbor, you've already won.

I will keep you updated and as always, thank you so, so much for reading.

Update: August 8th, 2014: The power company lost their attorney (he was an elected official in the community and finally came to his senses after seeing over 800 people show up to the zoning meeting). The power company asked for a continuance until October. The zoning committee granted this continuance. I will post more when we learn more. Thanks again for reading!!


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!