Friday, October 31, 2014

Home Office Makeover: A Real Classy Jerk Space

So how's this for procrastinating:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My husband put up this bomb-ass pegboard. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

One last before and after!

Happy Halloween everyone :) Thanks for reading :)

Friday, October 24, 2014

Tales from a Chick with Daddy Issues or Fiction?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And see, that's where you come in.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Friday, October 17, 2014

Sometimes You Need to Just Say F#@* It

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But today? Today, I made it better.

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

Just say F#@* it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 10, 2014

Be in the Moment, or Be Responsible?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I don't think so.

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

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

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

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

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

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


By Robert J. Hastings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 3, 2014

The Real Buzz on Buying Honey

Ahh fall. Leaves changing colors, the birds chirping, squirrels gathering nuts, and  -----ahhhhhCHOO ----- snot flying everywhere. I have fall allergies. My daughter has fall allergies. Our wastebaskets are overflowing with tissues and our eyes overflowing with artificial tears. It certainly makes it difficult to enjoy the season when you need to focus most of your energy on breathing.

Enter, honey....that golden, delicious, precious little resource I took completely for granted until I moved halfway around the world for a bit and learned honey can help dramatically reduce seasonal allergy attacks. It makes perfect sense when I stop to think about it. Bees make honey from pollen, pollen makes me sneeze, and if I ingest pollen little by little, my body slowly realizes pollen compounds are not things we need to attack with the mucus of 1,000 noses. Kinda like that one time I was deathly allergic to cats as a child and got so fed up with it I grabbed my neighbor's cat and literally rubbed her all over my face. I broke out in hives and had a 60-minute sneezing fit, but I kid you not, from that day forward, no more cat allergies. True story.

But I digress.

So here we are, a mama-and-daughter-duo of boogers, desperately in need of some local, pollen-filled honey. I hopped on over to my local health food store and bought a beautiful jar of honey love.

Now, before I go any further, I need to tell you.....I'm kinda into the homesteading revolution. You may remember my food-knowledge-is-power attitude problem from previous posts such as Grass Fed Beef 101 and The Consequences of Purchasing Cheap Meat. One of my biggest flaws has always been failing to educate myself about things I assume to be regulated by some magical governmental body. After a ton of research, and many nights screaming obscenities at my computer screen, I've come to the conclusion America's food system is completely broken. Consequently, I've spent quite a bit of time trying to figure out what I can do to avoid going to a grocery store.

Naturally (see what I did there), when it came to my honey, I was Miss Suspicious. Sure, I was taking the proper precautions. I'd purchased locally, check. I'd purchased from a health food store, check. I'd checked the label to see if I'd missed any random ingredients, check check. 

But here's the kicker: I'd done this before and gotten completely bamboozled. Oh yea.

Let me tell you a story about a girl named Jen. Jen was a bright-eyed, hippie-wanna-be with bad allergies and a sweet tooth like none other. She was feeling especially sweet one fine Saturday morning and decided to head on over to the honey table whilst perusing her local farmer's market. She'd seen the honey stand before, with it's huge "LOCAL HONEY" signs and sweet, homemade labels, but she'd never really checked it out and was reluctant to fork over $7 for a small bottle. 

"Today is different!" she thought. "Today, I can feel my allergies just rearing to go! Today, I want something sweet! Today, I will BUY some of that delicious, golden, local syrup. It is time!"

Jen walked up to the stand and smiled at the man behind the table. He looked up from his phone for a minute, but did not return the smile. ***Clue #1 - Passionate, honest artisans are not grumpy to their customers!

No worries, Jen thought. I'm getting honey today. It is a glorious day! As she picked up a bottle, she asked the man behind the table where the honey was from. 

"It's all locally produced and packaged just north of here," he said. ***Clue #2 - Lack of specifics equates to a lack of knowledge....passionate, honest artisans know everything about their trade...and they don't hire unknowledgeable folks to peddle their wares.

"Oh, ok," said Jen. "So the hives are located here, in our county?"

"Uh, no, the hives are up in Wisconsin," he said. "But the flowers and plants up there are the same as down here, so it really is local." ***Clue #3 - Generalizations about regional flowers and plants show a lack of consideration for micro-ecosystems. Each backyard has its own little ecosystem, and while some things are the same from yard to yard, to bet your business and someone's health on the similarities is just plain wrong. AP Bio taught me something - praise Jesus!

The state of Wisconsin sure is large, Jen thought. I wonder why he isn't giving me a straight answer? Oh well. I'm sure the town checked him out before allowing him to set up shop at their farmer's market. I'm gonna buy this honey because I really, really want it. 

Jen brought her beautiful jar home and the next morning, added some to her oatmeal. It was superb! Delicious taste! Now, because Jen was a good little calorie counter at the time, she decided to log her honey intake. Strangely enough, she had noticed a little barcode on the back of her honey container. I wonder what this barcode is for? she thought. For good ol' curiosity's sake, she decided to scan it with her calorie counter app barcode scanner. Just for fun. A few little smirks and giggles.

She looked down and was surprised to see the barcode had actually registered...and pulled up a very specific, rather unsettling result:


I'd done everything right. Local guy. Farmer's market. Asked all the questions. The only thing I didn't do was follow my intuition. I didn't listen to that little voice in my head that told me something wasn't right. I later went online and found anyone can have a booth at a farmer's market in my town....anyone. Literally. You have no idea where the food is coming from unless you ask, and even then, you are forced to take the person's word at face value. 

Since then, I've researched everyone online. I take down the names of the farms I see and Google the living crap out of them. Regulations mean nothing, provided they exist to begin with. There is little to no regulation of honey in America. Most of the honey bought in stores doesn't even have pollen in it. Insane, yes? I've had to make myself here an edjumacated honey eater.

And no way was I gonna get bamboozled again. Not this year. No way man.

The second I came home with my health-food-store honey jar, I went to Google. I found an email address for the owner of the bee farm and shot this email over to him:

Good Morning,
I recently purchased a bottle of your pure local honey and I was it "raw?" I've been trying to find local, raw honey to help alleviate our allergies for years and was hoping your honey was unpasteurized/unprocessed?
Thank you very much for your time.

He wrote me back immediately. It was glorious. He explained his honey is as unprocessed as honey can get. He does not heat his honey beyond 100 degrees (bees maintain a temperature of 93 degrees inside the hive - stick that lil factoid in your pocketses!). He runs it through a sieve to get all the waxy weirdness out and then simply bottles that stuff up, pollen and all. He also added a few helpful bits of knowledge about "raw" honey. He said we don't yet have a universally accepted definition of raw honey, but most believe it to mean the honey is not heated beyond 120 degrees. He said many large bottlers (pretty sure he's talking about that cute honey bear at the grocery store) heat their honey to 180 degrees to keep it from crystallizing. Good rule of thumb? When searching for quality, local honey, crystallized honey is the bees knees! All it takes to re-liquify it is some hot water.
Pretty much the best experience I've had with a food-producing farmer. Not only did he explain, in detail, how my food went from flower to bottle, but he added in some interesting information I didn't even think to ask. Talk about taking the initiative to help your customers! I later found out this guy is also an aviation instructor and psychology professor. Can we please get more products on store shelves from people like this??

Honey can be a godsend this time of year, but unfortunately you gotta know where to look. If you find yourself torn between honey! and honey?, reach out to the farm (or company) on the label. Ask them the tough questions and if they can't answer, move along to someone else. Every dollar you spend is a vote. Vote health, vote education, vote for the proper way to stay snot-free!

A Few Resources for Your Reading Pleasure:

What about you, dear readers? Any of you have honey woes? Anyone else suffer from fall allergies? I'd love to hear about it in the comments down below. Thank you for reading!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Measuring Success One Poop at a Time

For the past 6 months I've been turning the area under my basement stairs into a "home office." This office is intended to function as my own little zen space - a place where I can write and think and create and snooze. My nook. My sanctuary. For those of you balanced on the edge of your seat with anticipation, don't worry, I'll absolutely be writing a"How to Make a Home Office Like a Jerk" post when the office is complete. 

I'm about 75% done and my most recent additions include my very first laptop (thank you freelancing!) and the writing desk of my dreams. I have a small fan, an essential oil USB diffuser (yea - it's a real thing - thank you old coworkers!), and a Homedics desk humidifier. The walls are a calming shade of sage and the lighting is perfect...not too white, not too bright. I've mitigated the basement/cat litter smell with a few well-placed, subtle plug ins. The feeling I get when I walk down there is relief - utter relief that I have a dedicated, quiet place to work.

I was floating a little today, buzzing with the knowledge I was going to write my first blog post from my new office. I had a little more pep in my step as I rounded the corner to the basement stairs, hopping down them like a jolly little writer elf on her way to blogging heaven. I was envisioning my favorite writing shawl, imagining the words that would flow from my peace, and I was already feeling the sensation of keyboard under my fingers when...


Huge, and I mean HUGE, giant, enormous, stink-bomb cat poop, laying like a disease right in the middle of my zen.

This wasn't your typical kitty do-do, people. This was full-on, I ate-your-Christmas-ribbon-and-half-a-loaf-of-sourdough-oops cat crap. It stunk to high heaven and sat there, mocking me, saying, "Heh heh heh! You think you get zen space with nice clean floors and pretty smells? You get POO!"

I immediately marched upstairs to look for the poo donor and sure enough, there she was, lounging preciously on my wingback, doing the half-asleep, I-don't-care Jay Cutler face. 

Here's where it gets funny. See, I went back downstairs, came face-to-face with the turd, and immediately started crying like a total wuss. How can this be, poo? This isn't the way it's supposed to go down here, I thought. This is a zen space! I earned this space! I worked my butt off for this space! This space is physical proof I am not a lazy housewife who does nothing all day! HOW CAN THERE BE POOP ON MY PROOF?

It hasn't been easy to measure success since quitting my corporate job. You don't get pay raises or recognition for doing a bang-up window-washing job. There's no fancy title that comes with cleaning butts and packing lunches. Even my freelancing world is pretty void of verbal feedback and that positive reassurance that says, "AWESOME work, Jen!" As silly as it sounds, my laptop, my desk, my office, those things sent a signal to my brain that said, "You're doing it, JenJen. You're making it happen. You are succeeding."

Everyone's different, you see. Everyone perceived success differently. 

Maya Angelou says it's all about liking yourself and what you do.

Good old Frank sticks close to the theory that you create your own success through sweat and hard work.

Mr. Chrysler says it's all about enthusiasm. 

And then Estee Lauder.....for her the key to success was action, not dreaming. 

I guess at this point in my life I've been challenged to redefine what success means to me. I don't have performance reviews, or a sparkly resume, or prospective advancements within a career anymore...and clearly measuring success by evaluating the basement office I share with Kitty PoosATon isn't working out. But how, then? How do I measure how well I'm doing at this new life?

I went to a ladies group at my church the other day (no, I am not 80 years old and no, the church didn't burst into flames - I am as shocked as you are). They had a professional organizer come in and during her intro, she asked each of us to write down our top ten priorities. Now anyone who knows me understands I agonize over lists like my life hangs in the balance and I must, absolutely must, put down well-thought, well-articulated, all-encompassing answers. But I didn't have that kind of time. So here's what I ended up with:

10. New things
9. Colors and light (Don't ask because I don't. Even. Know.)
8. Social life
7. Communication
6. Clean
5. Peace
4. Faith
3. Quality time with those I love
2. Writing
1. Health

Yeeep. There you have it. Can you tell I was trying to be as general as possible so I could sub-categorize essentially anything in my life under one of the ten headings? Family members? #3. Gardening? #5. Reading? #5. Working on myself? #1 and #7. Seriously. You name it, I can place it. Tricky tricky!

But let's look at the full picture here. I was asked to prioritize my life. My top ten priorities. So if success differs from person to person, and each person's personality and priorities contribute to how they perceive success, then wouldn't it be fair to say achieving a positive position within your top priorities would, essentially, equate to success? 

Isolate individual priorities + achieve positive place with priorities = success?

If that's the case, then heck.....not once do I list "work," or "career," or "corporate recognition" in my priority list. Nothing about climbing a ladder or becoming an executive. Not a word about performance reviews, or recognition ceremonies. Interesting. 

Let's look instead at what I did put on my list....
10. New things -  I love trying new stuff. I try a new recipe every day. I try wearing flannel 24/7. I try to meet new people (hello church ladies!)...sometimes. I try different ways of teaching my kid letters. I try not showering for a few days. I'm all about the new things.
9. Colors and light - I am painting my house and pretty much everything in it. I haven't gotten new windows yet, but they're kinda on the grand plan. I like to buy flannel in different that what I meant? Honestly, people, I don't know where I was going with this priority. 
8. Social life - I've been hangin with peeps more than I have in years. I've found I love it and it's important to me. I am tired, don't get me wrong, but it's nice, the inclusion. The time away. The chance to challenge myself and see whether or not I've still got some craziness left in these old bones.
7. Communication - I talk a lot. A TON. I love to talk. I don't get people who can't talk. I get those who choose not to, but I don't get those who seriously just cannot. One of my priorities is to learn how to communicate with those types of people - the kind who can't talk. So far I'm finding texting and instant messaging to be a godsend!
6. Clean - I have come to realize I love a clean ass house. I'm not just talking no-dishes-in-the-sink, I mean sparkling shiny sink and a tub I'd be cool licking. I think that's an ode to my Mama and Grandmama. I've got a pretty insane cleaning schedule around here but you know, the more I do it the faster it gets and the less there is to do. 
5. Peace - This traces back to my desire to be happy. I don't need to be over-the-moon all the time. I don't need there to be stars and rainbows and joy everywhere. I just need to be content. At peace. I want that. I want to find that. 
4. Faith - As some of you know, I was struggling with the decision to go back to church. Well, I went my childhood church, actually. I can't say it enough - It's. Been. Awesome. I see my kids faces light up at the same things I and my sister would smile about when we were young. I sit by the same red stained-glass window. I literally tear up in every service....and I want more. Good feelings = give Jen more.
3. Quality time with those I love - This one is "duh" and cliche to the max. My love language (if you don't know yours, Google it, lifechanging, I promise) is quality time. It means a lot to me because it is the way my mind and my soul perceive love. Spend time physically with me, or spend time reading something of mine, or spend time finding me the perfect gift - any of those, any form of spending time on me, and you've got me wrapped around your finger. I recently created this hilarious little Ludwigsen's Annual Autumn Festival thing for me and my fam. I even made a power point with an "event program" and RSVP slot for my kiddos to use. I did this in my rare free time - that's how much QT means to me.
2. Writing - I sometimes think maybe writing is the answer. I get so wrangled up in my head and my emotions...especially about serious stuff like this, my feelings of failure....and writing seems to be one of the only ways to get it all figured out. I honestly use this blog, and you, my dear readers, to figure out my problems. I wonder if truly dedicating myself to writing a book could garnish the same positive consequences. 
1. Health - I'm not going to lie, this one shocked me a little. My number one priority is health? Seriously? I guess it makes sense....kind of. I want chickens, and a super-productive garden, and emotional stability, and happy children....a healthy life. I do believe this was my very general way of saying I want it all. I'm so smart!

Now, if I look over those ten things, and I compare it to where I'm at, right now, right at this second as I'm typing this, I gotta say....

I'm not doing too bad.

I've seriously committed portions of my day to all 10 of my priorities in the past week. I'm working towards my priorities and not doing all that I guess....barring approval from my internal supervisor.......I'm pretty dang successful? Yea. Yea I think I am. And I think I need to look at my priority list the next time I feel inadequate for relating to a woman who's been staying at home with her kids for ten years....or I pass a person in the grocery store who's wearing office clothes as I toddle around in my beloved flannel......or I stutter as I try to tell someone what I do for a living.....or I come across a giant cat poop sitting in my flawed ideation of all I've accomplished this year. 

Success should reflect priorities....not the other way around.

Here's to feeling successful for having a kid who will still "snug-a-bug-a-rug" in your arms each day.

Here's to feeling successful for making a delicious dinner for your family.

Here's to feeling successful for growing actual, real-life pumpkins. 

Here's to feeling successful for making the time to walk every single day.

How about you, readers? How do you measure success? Tell me about it in the comments down below and as always, thank you very much for reading.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Health Insurance 101

I had a dear friend contact me earlier this week, upset and panicked because she received a hefty bill from a recent doctor's visit. After miscommunicating a few times via text, I called her up, ready to pepper her with questions so I could give her some solid advice.

And then she answered the phone. My questions drifted off my mind's page as I realized she was crying. She was doing the brave cry, the one where your voice pitches just a little lower, catching slightly, teetering precariously on the ledge of sadness, carefully trying to hide it, carefully trying to keep the choking sobs at bay. I imagined her standing there, wiping at her eyes, her nose, her cheeks. Dammit, I felt her say. Damn this straight to hell.

This is not the first time I've received one of these calls. Between Army medic training, my health admin degree, and my experience in medical billing, my friends and family kinda figure me for a health insurance answer lady. I don't mind and find it flattering. It's exhilarating to actually use the skills you've learned in school to help those you love and care about, ya digg?

It got me thinking....there's a great number of people out there who struggle with understanding health insurance - especially when something goes wrong. So here you go, world, here is a simplified, broken-down, Jen version of some basic health insurance facts you might need to know somewhere down the road.

***PS: I live in America and as such, speak from the perspective of an American healthcare consumer. Sorry global readers! If any of you are reading this, I'd love to hear about your country's health insurance in the comments down below! These types of things excite me.

So let's start with some basic history and my "why" behind the importance of understanding your health insurance.

Health insurance was originally created to help pay for catastrophic events. It was never intended to sustain or maintain everyday health - only those things that were considered life-threatening. Think of your other insurance you use Gieco when you need an oil change? Does State Farm come and refinish your hardwood floors so they stay in primo-box conditions? This is how health insurance originally began....major, serious conditions only.

Great Jen, but who gives a rat's pootinanny...

Well, you do. See, when health insurance began taking over all areas of health, from prevention to sickness to minor injuries, it subsequently removed the power of the consumer. Think about it - if you paid a guy $80 a year to care for your lawn, and he did so, and it looked pretty good and healthy, would you really care how he chose to care for it? Maybe a little....but enough to become involved? Enough to do it yourself?

We live in a day and age where insurance companies run the show. They say what can be done, how it can be done, who can do it, and how much it all costs. We rely on them to pay so we don't have to - we need them. Dangerous position to be in when you're not wizened in the ways of healthcare billing and insurance. But don't worry...we're gonna fix that a little.

Some basic insurance terms:

In-network: Docs and facilities your insurance company likes and has a contract with.

Out-of-network: Docs and facilities your insurance company does not like as much because they do not hold contracts with your insurance company. Insurance companies like contracts. Contracts = control.

HMO: Health Maintenance Organization. Basically this type of policy requires you to use a gatekeeper (M for Manager, Elmo!), or PCP, for all your healthcare needs. Instead of paying deductibles, you pay copays. HMOs tend to have cheaper premiums, in my experience. Read on to figure out what the heck a copay, deductible, and premium is.

PPO: Preferred Provider Organization. This type of plan allows you the freedom of choosing who you see, when you want to see 'em. Got a hangnail you just know is due to improper toe alignment? Go see a podiatrist. Have a mark you want removed, immediately? Head on over to a dermatologist or surgeon. No need for a gatekeeper here - you are free to move about the healthcare board as you see fit. Of course, you should prolly stay within network and only see those podiatrists who hold contracts with your insurance. In exchange for this freedom, you will be subject to coinsurance, deductibles, and in most cases, higher premiums. I promise I will tell you what those things are in a minute.

High-deductible plan: Your deductible is insane. Truly it is. It's almost laughable. High deductible plans act much like those old plans of our yonder years.....they will cover you in catastrophic events, for sure. But the sniffles? Pay up. Broken arm? Gimmie all yer money. Back pain? Chronic illness? You'll be paying out the yim-yam until your deductible is met. Not for prevention, of course. And as an added bonus, get do get your power back. Remember how I said our current healthcare world keeps power in the hands of the insurance companies and not the consumers? Well, with high-deductible plans, you become an educated consumer out of necessity. You regain the shop around for affordable doctors with the best overall value. You take advantage of places like Walgreens and CVS. You start to care about how much every procedure costs and what it is....because you are paying for it yourself. That is power, pure and simple. I recently transitioned from a standard HMO to a high-deductible PPO. I can feel my comparison-shopper Jen rearing her knowledgeable head high and proud already!

Contractual adjustment: People, this is what insurance is all about. Wanna know why your doctors become affiliated with BCBS and Cigna? They get patients. So here's how it works: Dr. Smith signs a contract with BCBS. She says, hey, you give me patients, I'll give all your patients a discount on my services. Instead of charging $100 for an exam, I'll charge $82. Whammo. $18 is knocked off the price, according to the contract the doctor signs with the insurance company. That $18 is considered the contractual adjustment. 

Preventative services: These are "keep me healthy" services. They normally include annual checkups, vaccinations, well-woman exams (think paps and mammos), and physicals. Obamacare mandates full coverage for these types of services....meaning you should not be paying a dime for your kid's annual exam, or your baby's well child visit, or your routine cancer screening (pap, mammo, testicular, those types of things). Wondering if a specific service is preventative? Ask!

PCP: Primary Care Provider. Do you have an HMO policy? This is the doctor your insurance company wants you to see before seeing any other medical professional. They love PCPs because one doctor means less hands to control...more managed care means less money wasted on specialist-seeking consumers who think they know what they're suffering from, but don't. I personally love PCP's because I live in this Little House on the Prairie world where my ideal healthcare situation is heading over to see Old Doc Murphey who's birthed every baby in town and knows everything about my medical history. It's nice to have a "guy" or "gal." I don't mind sacrificing my ability to see whoever I want, whenever I want if it means I can see the doctor I love and have bills paid with no problems.

Copay: A stupid amount you're required to pay upfront for any non-preventative care. These can range depending on your policy AND where you are getting treatment. My doctor's office copay, for example, is $35. My Emergency Room visit copay is $500. Yea. Copays are normally associated with HMO insurance plans...but I've seen them for people with PPO plans too.

Deductible: The amount of money your insurance company requires you to pay for non-preventative medical treatment before they will start picking up the tab. The cool thing about deductibles? You get the insurance discount we talked about before....that "contractual adjustment." The doctor's office can legally only charge you for the amount remaining after the insurance processes your claim with that discount. The only exception is when your claim is completely denied by the insurance - you won't get a discount if your insurance doesn't cover the procedure. Deductibles are normally only required for PPO policyholders.

Coinsurance: Another stupid amount you're required to pay. Remember those crazy percentages on your insurance card or policy package, where the insurance pays 80% of a service and the patient pays 20%? So if I need an MRI, my insurance will pay 80% of the MRI, but I need to pay 20%? That 20% is your coinsurance. It kinda sucks, this coinsurance, because it often hangs on even after you meet your deductible. It'll hang out there like a gross little booger until your annual out-of-pocket maximum is met. Awesome!

Premium: This is literally the amount you pay each pay period for your health coverage. So that $250 every two weeks that comes directly out of your check and goes to BCBS before you can even get your grubby lil' hardworking hands on it? That is your premium. I don't know why they don't just call this "payment." Whatever.

So now that we've bulked up on our terms, how about some industry insider tips?

3-Ways - Good stuff. Hear me out. So you get a bill. You call the doctor's office. They say it's an insurance problem. You call the insurance. They say it's the office's problem. Ask the insurance company to do a 3-way call with your doctor's office. They can and will do this. When I was in billing I would get 3-wayed all the time. True story. Eliminate your middleman self and make some magic on those telephone lines.

Financial Assistance - Any nonprofit healthcare entity is required to have a financial assistance program. Think you're too rich? Think again. Assistance is often awarded based on need, not income. Prove you need it (aka, I only have $100 left each month after paying bills) and chances are, you'll get portions of your bill written off.

Providers, Facilities, Labs, and Radiology -  Let's say, heaven forbid, you experience chest pain. You head to the ER at Hospital Peace. You're treated by Dr. TomTom. You get labwork done by Beam-Me-Up-Scotty Labs. You get an x-ray by Stars and Pins Radiology. You will, often times, get four. Completely. Separate. Bills. Pay attention to the bills you receive and understand your hospital stay will not be bundled and billed in one neat little package. This is life.

Policy Awareness - I hate to say it....but it is not your doctor's job to know your policy. Learn your policy inside and out. Thinking about getting a procedure? Ask your doc for a full description of the procedure, including the expected CPT codes, so you can check with your insurance. CPT codes are 5-digit numeric representations of medical treatments. They match what your insurance company pays for exactly and leave no room for confusion - so if you can get them, get them. Some doctors will draw up a pre-estimate with these codes on them. Ask! Asking questions will help you save money, I promise.

Note Taker - Calling your insurance? Write down the date, time, name of the rep, and ask for a reference number for the call. Calling your doctor's office? Take down the date, time, and name of the person you're speaking to. Learn the names of office managers and executive leaders. These people can be a godsend when something goes wrong...and believe me, it happens. People are not perfect, but they are capable of executing learn their names and take vigorous notes.

Well, there we have it, readers. Jen's lovely little Health Insurance 101 course. It ain't an exact science, but hopefully this can be a nice place to start. Luckily, my dear friend was able to work out her insurance issues and found out her huge bill was a clerical error. Sometimes it really is that simple.....just takes a couple questions to save you money and heartache!

Any of you have problems with your health insurance? And if I missed anything or you'd like additional details, please let me know in the comments down below. As always, thank you so very much for reading :)