Monday, September 28, 2015

Baby Books...Who Needs 'Em

I have two kids, both girls, one is 3 and the other 9. When I had my precious first baby, I had her baby book pre-filled as much as I possibly could prior to her arrival. Once she was born, I kept up on it for approximately 9 days, and then I stashed it somewhere safe so I could finish it later, when I had more time.

Of course, that never happened. The book sits quietly in its unfinished condition on my basement bookshelf, hidden among old textbooks and novels with torn covers. Every so often I'll go down there and sift around, seeing its faded yellow cover peeking at me, and the guilt will grab hold. I'll take the book down and thumb through the pages, laughing at my silly handwriting or smiling while reading a memory I'd forgotten. And then I'll flip to the last half of the book, the part where you're supposed to insert photos, real ones, on real paper, to make a short, concise timeline of your baby's toddler years. And all of those pages will glare at me blankly, chastising me for failing to write down the first time she lost a tooth, or tied her shoe, or got her first haircut. And sometimes I get that feeling in my stomach - the bad one, the one that says, "you failed." I've failed to keep an accurate chronicle of my firstborn's life so that she may one day enjoy it, perhaps share it with her own children.

So you'd think with the second kid I'd of learned my lesson. I received an adorable baby book that didn't seem too intimidating at all. Simple pages. Simple questions. Easy to fill out. Just a few pages dedicated to real photos on real paper. I could do this.

Except I didn't. I haven't. I prolly won't. Those first few pages are filled out and that's it. Done. Kaput. I didn't take notes, or keep it by my bedside and scrawl in it each time a milestone was hit, or print out a single picture. I didn't even affix the ultrasound pics. They're pressed between the pages, flattened, but safe.

I have friends with younger kids who ask me things like "when did your kids walk" and "how soon did you start feeding solids" and I just stand there, wide-eyed, reaching into my soupy brain, coming back with only clouds and rainbows. I have no idea. I really have no idea. But I make something up, something that sounds good, because the parent doesn't usually even want to know my answer, they just want to be reassured their baby isn't a whacko.

So two kids, two baby books, and a whole slew of blank, wordless, photo-less paper. My legacy? Not in those pages.

No - I've figured out my legacy, my gift to my kiddos, arrives by other means.

Take the supermoon eclipse we had last night. My eyes saw something that only happens once in a generation. My kiddo, who caught a glimpse of the eclipse at very beginning, might see something incredible like that again, but I will not. And maybe my excitement, or my attention, is my legacy.

Mom showed me what a supermoon is. And man, you shoulda seen her face. She was so excited. 

She pulled me outside each time a hot air balloon puffed across the sky.

She taught me her secret french toast recipe.

I have no idea what my kid will remember about me when I'm old and gray. I hope it's not the yelling. Or the quick temper. Or the baby books I never finished.

I hope she remembers that winter I took her out into the woods just the two of us, and we trekked through the snow and I took pictures as she rolled down hills and we listened carefully as our boots plodded along the snow.

I hope she remembers sitting under the Christmas tree like I did when I was little, looking up and shifting so the only thing you could see were lights, lights, beautiful lights.

I hope she remembers watching seedlings in the spring and finding eggs in the summer and carving punkins each fall and building snowmen in the winter.

She might one day find her baby book. She might flip to those last few pages and, knowing me, they'll still be blank. And maybe she'll be sad. But maybe she'll smile.

Because maybe she'll know her mama was too busy blending spinach and bananas into juice to write down when solid foods were first consumed.

Or maybe she'll know her mama was digging through Halloween decorations instead of recording the results of the latest pediatrician visit.

Or maybe she'll know her mama was making sure the rooster was behaving around her kids instead of printing pictures.

This is what happens when roos attack my kids.
Because as much as I love to take pictures, and document, document, document, life is what happens on the other side of the lens. I will never stop taking pictures of everything because I want to remember everything...and my memory is terrible, let me tell you ("hey when did you kid start walking?" .... blank stare...). But I need to remember to step out from behind the camera lens every once in a while and be a part of the picture that's developing right in our very souls.

Maybe etching memories into our mind with experiences is just as good as etching them into books.

And perhaps traditions that start in the kitchen are just as comfortable, if not more so, than a worn album full of pictures.

And maybe, just maybe, those hours I spent staring at my babies was worth a million baby books completed to perfection. Because as crappy as my memory is, I will never forget the look and feel of those tiny hands on my cheek. That is the stuff life is made of.

What about you, dear readers? How do you create a legacy for yourself? Are you an album-lover? I'd love to hear about it in the comments down below and as always, thank you so much for reading :)

Friday, September 25, 2015

The Day a Pair of Bunk Beds Kicked My Ass

It's officially fall, dear readers. Punkins. Boots. Colorful treetops.

Long-haired Jens hurtling toward Home Depots in beat-up pickup trucks with grimaces on their faces like a redneck version of Cruella deVil.

Oh don't worry. I'll tell you the story.

So once upon a time there was a mom who suddenly had a second baby, but didn't suddenly have another bedroom. No biggie, the kids will share, she thought. But as the wee ladies grew older mom began to realize two twin beds would only just fit in the bedroom the girls shared. So this mom, like any good homesteader wanna-be, decided to be resourceful and found some bunk beds on Craigslist. They were local, owned and purchased by a family in town whose children were now grown, but had loved the beds throughout their childhood.

So this mom loaded these beds into her truck, drove them home, and put them at the top of her to-do list. Meaning, she let them sit in the garage for about 3 months. Once the appropriate amount of procrastination came and went, she dragged them out, wiped the spiders off, and painted them white. They were beautiful.

She let them dry a couple days but then couldn't stand the thought of them sitting idle for another few months. No, the mom said to herself, these beds simply must be put up today. Now. Right now. Immediately. So the mom lovingly broke down the younger girl's crib and started moving the bunk bed into place.

Of course, when her spouse returned from work he was overjoyed to see how productive she'd been. He was so excited about assisting her with the remainder of the project that he was rendered speechless - at a true loss of words, no doubt from overwhelming joy at the thought of assembling bunk beds after work on a weekday.

Together they arranged the bottom bed. But once assembled, the mom realized the bed was simply too tall. No. That would never do. We're putting the youngest daughter on the bottom and she can't climb that high up on her own. Can we undo everything we've done and lower the mattress rails? Of course we can. Let's get to it, honey.

Now, because the mom wanted more weight on the bottom bunk, it made perfect sense to tear apart the oldest girl's current (put together, made, perfectly beautiful) twin bed to steal the boxspring. Now, the mom said, satisfied with the lower bunk, now we need to get that top bunk bed set up. Way up there.

Oh that wasn't that hard, she said. The first top rail is secure, yes? Lovely. Now for the second rail....wait a minute. Where did you put the other bolts? No, I don't see any over here. Are we missing a bag? We must be missing a bag. The lady said she included all the hardware. We just must be missing a bag somewhere. I'll check the garage. You check under the beds. All of them. Maybe I packed them with the crib hardware? I'll go check. Oh! Wait! Here's a few of the bolts we need - but only 3. We need four, yes? What about the dowel connectors? See any of those? No? Nothing?

Conclusion: the Craigslist lady is a straight liar. There is no hardware. There was never any hardware.

The mom, despite her best efforts to remain calm, drives to Home Depot like Cruella de Vil.

"No, ma'am, we don't sell dowel screws and bolts that heavy-duty. Might need to order those online."

But the mom doesn't want to order them online. She wants this bed done now. Immediately. Cross it off the list. She returns home with smaller bolts and screws. Maybe they'll work out. Putty or something. That'll help. Mud. Rocks. Something.

They don't fit, they're too small, and it's officially an hour past the youngest kid's bedtime. This youngest kid is running into the bunk bed construction zone, jumping onto her new bed, jostling the entire top bunk half-done half-assed piece-of-crap contraption above her head, making it shake and threaten to fall down on her little head at any second. And dad tells her to get out of the room. And mom tells her to get out of the room. And she leaves for a second and sneaks back in as mom is trying desperately to make too-small screws magically grow longer. And the little hell-raising child bumps her head. And picks up small metal pieces. And moves blankets onto what little, precious floor space is left. And stands on unfinished particleboard in her bare feet.

So mom decides this is it, it's not going to happen, the bed will not be finished tonight. She can smell her own armpits and is trying to remember the last time she showered while she grabs the nearest set of twin-sized sheets and tosses them on the bed. She puts the comforter on top. The pillows. Stands back.

It's too tall. The boxspring makes the bottom bed too tall. Again. Dad comes in with the youngest on his tail. She is excited to see her new bed. Frantic, even. She leaps towards it. NO, her mom grabs her. It's not ready. Go read books. Dad looks like he might actually punch mom in the face but mom just shakes her head. We need to take the boxspring off.

So they tear the fresh bedding back, move the mattress, and shift the boxspring out. They shuffle it down the hallway and into the dining room, where it sits to this very day. The youngest kid's mattress gets back on the bottom bunk. The top bunk sits like a condemned barn roof - open and unfinished and dangerous-looking.

The oldest kid pops in to check progress and the mother, defeated and tired, remembers she has another kid....a kid whose bed sits in the dining room. So the two grown ups grab the oldest kid's mattress, but leave the boxspring. Maybe she won't notice her boxspring isn't there? Maybe. Maybe not. Does it matter? It does not.

Both kids settle into bed as mom types on the computer. What size are these things we need? These pieces? What are they called? I can't remember what the Home Depot man told me. Do we have anything in this house that can be used to measure anything? The tape measure is in the garage. Here, this is 4 inches long. And that's 1/2 inch long. Oh, here's some for sale at Menards. No, those aren't the right measurements. But look, it says right here, 1/2 inch. That's what we need. No, Jen, that's the length. You're looking at a piece that is 1/2 inch wide. No I'm not. Yes you are. I don't think so. Wait, what does 3M mean? That's metric. What in the h does the "M" stand for? No clue.

An hour of this and the mom's eyes begin to blur. She checks the same websites again and again. Nothing. No parts. No bolts or screws. No hope.

But then, like magic, she finds it. A place that specializes in bolts, apparently. She puts in her order. Falls into bed that night. Sleeps too little. Wakes to find an email that says, "We only sell wholesale. Try this fastener place instead." At least they gave me another lead, the mom thinks, knowing with absolute certainty at this point that what she is, what she actually is, is a bolt detective. Finding missing bolts. Tracking them down. Putting the bad guys in their place.

She follows the next lead. The e-commerce site will sell to her - but only at minimum of 10 per product. She needs 1 screw, 3 connectors. But at this point she does not care. And it's only $4 for all 20 pieces anyway. The shipping is $15, of course, but she is about to put these bolts away for life. She does not care what it costs.

The pieces came today in the mail. Tonight she might actually get to finish the beds. And then she can move on to her fall projects. Start harvesting the benefits of this precious season - one last hurrah of productivity before the silent, sleepy comfort of winter moves upon her.

Maybe she can get her mind right and do more things like impromptu drives through farmland with her favorite sidekick.

Maybe she can go on a few more outdoor excursions to her favorite places.

Take time to enjoy the colors.

Appreciate the immense amount of work that goes into providing for the winter months.

Maybe harvest a better attitude.

The start of every season is a chance to start again, you see.

It allows us a new set of tasks to focus on.

A new list of priorities.

And what a wonderful thing that is.....because those bunk beds sure kicked my ass.

What are you guys doing to celebrate the new season? Are you excited for fall? I'd love to hear about it in the comments down below and as always, thank you so much for reading :)


Friday, September 18, 2015

A World of Worthy Causes...but How to Choose?

Wow, my lovely readers. What an overwhelming response to my last post. Comments, arguments, and most importantly, conversation....the biggest compliment a writer can receive. I'm overwhelmed and excited. I took a risk writing about such a controversial topic and I am honored to say it's been my most-shared post to date.

Hasn't all been wonderful, of course. I've lost a few followers. I had a couple people hide my posts from their Facebook News Feed. I've learned things about my friends and family that surprised me. Made me a little sad. At one of my weakest moments, I sat at my computer and typed and deleted and retyped and got up and came back and deleted and typed again comments toward the more poignant and misplaced responses to my post, most notably the argument that the #blacklivesmattermovement calls for the killing of police. You know. Because in some realities extremists represent the entire group. If we were to follow that logic, then the entire law enforcement profession is racist and violent against unarmed black men. The Muslim religion is to blame for terrorism. Priests are molesters. And women driving crossover vehicles are clueless soccer moms checking Facebook on their phones. 

Needless to say, this type of thinking angers me deeply. And being a writer, I wanted to write about it. Right then. There. Immediately. But these people are friends. So I hesitated. And fixated. Weighed the pros and cons of making a point. Compared perspectives. And my spouse heard about it for days. 

Eventually my obsession reached a point where my spouse felt the need to say, very bluntly, "Jen, just let it go. This isn't your cause."

And that got me thinking. 

I am a deeply passionate person. I feel all the feels, all the time, with all the things. And it seems there is always something calling my attention, always a new inspiration, a new way for me to help and express my passion through both my time and money. As of this blog post, a few of my personal passions include:

Wounded Warriors Foundation
Saving the pollinators
The feminist movement 
Finding a cure for SMA
Backyard farming and food self-sufficiency
Unschooling/learn-through-experiences teaching methods
Permaculture design and landscaping
The #Blacklivesmatter movement
Living off the grid/eco-power
Eliminating homelessness in our veteran population
Feed Our Starving Children
Supporting local businesses
Suicide awareness
Food Bank of Northern Illinois
The gay pride movement
Upcycling and building from garbage
Early intervention in the state of Illinois
Ethical treatment of our nation's farmers and farmland
In-season-only food consumption/canning, freezing, and preserving
Single mother support in moms groups like MOPS
Mental health for Armed Forces
Food Co-Ops
Homeopathic treatments for cancer
Disaster preparedness and basic survival skills for kids
Seed saving
The Salvation Army
Various wildlife charities (National Wildlife Federation, National Parks Conservation Association, National Audubon Society, Greenpeace, Defenders of Wildlife, The Sierra Club, The Arbor Day Federation, and Heifer International)

And folks, those are just the things I could think of in the three minutes it took for me to type all that up.

I care about a whole lotta stuff. Which means I kinda feel like everything is "my cause." 

But there's gotta be some sorta prioritization of passions, right? I ask myself the question: How can you make the most of your limited days on this earth? Is it possible to contribute to the things that make you tick while still getting the laundry done?

And when does the blessing of having access to so many incredible causes turn into something negative?

For me, it happens when I feel like a failure. A failure for writing profound thoughts about racism and then getting pissed two days later because my toenail polish chipped. A failure for being too tired to hit up the farmers' market and shopping at Jewel instead. A failure for wanting to save my money for Christmas presents instead of donating to the food pantry.

And I know I'm not alone. 

I was at my mom's group this past week and a number of ladies referenced a "full plate." My best dear girlfriend has a set group of charities she remains devoted to and that's it, see ya later, no more from her because she has to create that limit or else she'd be broke and crazy. We all feel pulled in a thousand different directions, and nowhere is this more evident than in our yearning to participate in the various causes and deserving efforts of those around us. 

But my heart and my head don't match, you see. I feel like I cannot give my last dollar away and still be a responsible parent. I feel like each of these causes deserve a lifetime of attention and devotion. And I've only got one lifetime, man. And I'm not even living it at 100% most days. Flaws, forgiven, people.

So what can we do? How do we choose?

I start by sharing the things I'm passionate about with anyone who will listen. I try to gather others to help. Here, check this out. Hey, what do you think of this. Wow, you gotta see this new thing I found. Maybe if we all did a little, it would equal a lot. It's hard to not take it personally when my messages aren't received. Sometimes I cry. But then I try again. And remember that like me, each person has his or her own set of causes they are working to support. 

Graceful Declination
I perform a "daily limit" method to try and calm my restless soul. Yes, I want to do all the things for all the people and animals all the time. But I also have a life playing out right before my very eyes that needs attention....attention I want to give. Attention I yearn to give. So I contribute a little bit of myself to a small number of causes each day, be it a quick check-in with the latest news, educating myself on recent events, sharing a post, or simply teaching my kids why a particular cause is important. And then I pray that when I put my head down at night, I will feel like I've done enough. It's no foolproof method, let me tell you. I sometimes forget to check in with the things that matter outside of my little bubble. But when I do remember, and I can focus my attention, I feel accomplished. 

Choose Around Your Adventure
I try to pick causes where I can have the greatest impact. This is selfish, I think, but effective at narrowing down the never-ending options. Do I love fishies and whales? Yes. Do I help with ocean clean-up? No. I do not live near an ocean. Do I think the broken adoption process in America is a cause worthy of ceaseless attention? Absolutely. Do I devote attention to making a difference in that area? I do not. I haven't the slightest clue what those families go through and do not in any way consider myself an expert in the process. Do I support the Koman Cure? No, not only because I think it's corrupted, but because the organization is already receiving millions of dollars in financial support. 

I do, however, support lesser-known charities in dire need of funds, like direct campaigns for babies suffering from spinal muscular atrophy - a disease I knew nothing about until an old college friend shared his daughter's story. I do know how it feels to be broke and tired and sick because you can't justify the cost of healthy food, hence my attempts to make healthy food accessible in our own backyards. I have experienced profiling because of my sexual preferences and witnessed racism in our nation's ranks of military men and women. These are the things I know, the causes where my passion is met by the experience a person can only get by actually going through or witnessing the hardship themselves.

A little bit of "NIMBY" going on here - "not in my backyard" -  right? As in, if it doesn't directly affect you, why should you care? And I'm going to say what I said way back when I wrote my Power Plant're dang right.

It is easier to relate to the homeless when you yourself have experienced homelessness. When I see a single mom struggling to make it out to social events it kills me...because my mom was a single mom. I am more helpful when I've experienced it myself - this is not a negative aspect of life, people, this is a gift to be shared. A light resulting from your own personal darkness. And yes, a tool for whittling down the thousands of directions we're pulled every day. Take my best good girlfriend with her set list of charities, for example. She's worked with struggling children, including those of Mexican immigrants, for years. You talk about immigration reform and it sets her on fire. She is outspoken, and opinionated, and passionate about the rights of Mexican immigrants. She's met these families. She is close to their struggles. And thank gosh for that, because they need more people like her in their corner.

So choose around your adventure. Name some of your worst hardships. I bet at least one of them can be followed to a worthy cause. 

Maybe if we share a little more, allow ourselves to gracefully tap out when we're overcome, and try to dedicate ourselves to issues we've experienced firsthand, we might actually get to the end of our life and think, yes. I made an impact. We may not hit every cause we feel for, but the ones we do will be changed by our contribution. And that is, contrary to my own personal beliefs, enough.

I'd love to hear from you, dear readers. How do you determine which causes you contribute to? Do you ever feel pulled in a thousand directions? What's your favorite way of managing the endless choices? And as always, readers, thank you so, so much for reading.


Friday, September 4, 2015

Why the Word "Black" in #BlackLivesMatter, Matters

This week the world lost a celebrated, heroic father of four. He was a mentor to many, a devoted husband, an Army veteran, and a source of light and inspiration in our community. The perfect example of what it means to be an upstanding member of society. A blessing dressed in boots and humility. His name? Lt. Joe Gliniewicz, an officer with the Fox Lake Police Department, gunned down by three men, still at large, only few weeks away from his retirement.

A tragic loss to his family, to our community, and to the nation.

As I scrolled through my Facebook feed this week I had tears welling in my eyes from the heartfelt and touching stories of the way this man lived. I was moved by the outpouring of support for his family and friends. I was proud of the memorials and honor bestowed upon this deserving man. This man who was a gift to our community.

But I also noticed a disturbing trend, something that distracted me from the true purpose of his memorials.

In many of the beautiful candlelight vigil and memorial photos I viewed, my eye was drawn to a number of hand-written signs, filled with black block lettering spelling out the hashtags:



I don't know how to describe how that made me feel. The best I can do is to say it rubbed me wrong. And at first, I couldn't figure out why.

The negative feelings stayed with me for the remainder of the week, as the soft lock-downs at schools ended and the police choppers stopped whirring over our homes.

Why, in the midst of all this tragedy and sorrow, am I feeling resentment toward my neighbors?

And then it dawned on me. The hashtag, #policelivesmatter, made me angry. It made me sad. And it motivated me to write this post, despite the fact it may be one of the most controversial topics I've addressed to date.

We can't replace the word "black" in #blacklivesmatter, my fellow neighbors and friends. We cannot. Hear me out.


Let's start at the beginning. The hashtag #blacklivesmatter was created after the 2013 murder of Trayvon Martin. It accompanied the 2014 deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. And it continues to stand alongside the family and friends left behind when unarmed African Americans are killed at the hands of the very people we depend on to keep us safe.

To put it simply, #blacklivesmatter is a movement. It is a cause. It is more than just three cramped words on a sign - it is an awareness campaign. It is meant to invoke change.

It was not started to create a divide. It was developed with the intention of enlightening the nation to a division that already exists.

I cannot say the same about the newer hashtags I've seen this week. #policelivesmatter is retaliatory in nature, designed to fire back at a perceived missile that, in all fairness, was never launched. #blacklivesmatter was not written on signs to shame white people. It was written to act as a wake-up call and garner support in fighting an issue that's lived in the dark for decades.

While the historical source of these two hashtags both stem from tragedy, one is intended to bring light to a dark space, while the other is meant as a counterattack.

Unequally Yoked

This won't go over well with some of you so let me start with my obligatory disclaimer.

***Obligatory disclaimer: I am no stranger to the consequences of violence nor the commitment required to serve this country and its citizens. I have nothing but respect for my fellow men and women in arms, especially those who've lost their lives in combat or on duty, but you don't need to take my word for it, my actions speak louder - I served as a US Army 91-W series medic for 4 years before my honorable discharge in the winter of 2007. My husband served 2 tours in Iraq, deployed for 12 months the first time and 13 months the second. We lost many members of our brigade to the war in Iraq. I attended too many funerals for the fallen. I do not take this subject lightly and hope my opinion, however layman, will at least be respected based on the perspective I've gained from having lived the life of someone who's served in more ways than one.

#policelivesmatter is a play on #blacklivesmatter. You cannot read #policelivesmatter without acknowledging (however resentfully) #blacklivesmatter. In it's very nature and design, #policelivesmatter forces a comparison. An unfair one. An unequal one.

At some point we need to acknowledge an assignment of responsibility for willingly putting one's self in a line of work that could result in the loss of life. A soldier, or officer, willingly jumps into the fray. They run toward the sound of gunfire. A child, or civilian, runs away.

Now hear me. This assignment of responsibility doesn't make the loss of life any less important. It doesn't make the loss of life any less tragic. But as anyone knows when signing up for the service or force, getting shot in the line of duty is expected. It is not cloaked in secrecy or hidden in the dark places of a stranger's is expected. So expected, in fact, that we undergo severe training purposely intended to teach us how to handle taking fire.

The life of a police officer absolutely matters. But utilizing a phrase made to defend the innocent lives taken due to racial violence creates an unjust and unequal comparison. The African American boys and girls who were shot by racists with weapons never ran toward the bullets. They ran away.

The death of an officer in the line of duty and the death of a civilian while walking down the street cannot be compared and chained as equals. They are two different things. They may hurt the same. They may hold the same importance to the family, friends, and community left behind. But they are vastly different circumstances that deserve to be spoken about, debated about, and yes, hashtagged about, as separate entities.


Police brutality against African Americans needs awareness. As a white girl, I will plainly tell you, most of us have no idea what real life is like for a black person living in a white country. We think because we aren't lynching people or calling people that disgusting hateful "n" word to their face that racism is abolished. We may even think "reverse racism" is a more appropriate phrase to describe today's racial climate. And you know what I say to that? I'm willing to accept the anger of a race who's grandmother was cut down because she needed to use the bathroom. I'm willing to accept the disgust and mistrust of an entire culture that was once raped, molested, impregnated, and aborted to serve a white man's needs. I'm willing to accept the discrimination and wariness against my translucent skin tone because if the tables were turned, would I feel any differently? Would I want to engage in a culture that historically treated me no better than a pair of shoes? Was I, personally, the one who did it? No. My family had barely arrived from Europe by then. But can I understand it? Can I empathize, especially when I see racial slurs and hate crimes against people of color as I scroll through my News Feed? Absolutely. As a white woman who finds herself personally innocent of performing racial crimes, I willingly shoulder the anger and mistrust projected on my race...if for no other reason than to respect the horrors of the past and prove that yes, I can be different. I can teach my kids to be different.

Yet I'm not hearing enough of my fellow whities stand with me. I'm still hearing people use that horrific "n" word to describe their neighbors. I'm still witnessing discrimination in schools. I'm still watching my community shake around signs reading #policelivesmatter, when they should instead be holding pictures of our fallen officer, or his insignia, or his squad.

Because the purpose of #policelivesmatter isn't to raise awareness, right? We know police officers fall victim to criminals in the line of duty. And when it happens, the entire community comes out, pays their respects, and salutes the officer into the afterlife with a 21-gun salute. It may not make national news every time it happens, but it certainly is recognized by the family of the fallen, the friends of the fallen, the state's entire police force, and the fallen officer's community. There is no doubt #policelivesmatter.

Can we say the same about the murders and deaths of our black neighbors? Can you name 5 out of the known 15 black lives that were lost in the past year due to police brutality? Are these individuals buried with the same recognition? And what are you feeling as you read that question? What is the first answer that pops in your head?

Hell no?

Who cares?

They did it to themselves?

I need to google who those people were?

There is more racism alive today than we realize. Hence, the reason we need an undiluted, strong, powerful statement dedicated to drawing awareness to the lack of equality in our judicial system. We need to stop detracting from #blacklivesmatter by watering it down with our own personal pain and anger.


It was never #blacklivesmattermorethanwhitelives, people. It was never that. It was never intended to be personal. It's hard to not take it personally. I get it. I'm a white girl, so believe me, I get it. But you know what the answer shouldn't be to those feelings you might get as white person reading #blacklivesmatter? Those feelings of maybe guilt, anger, and shame?

The answer shouldn't be to retaliate in anger. Or respond with violent, harmful phrases intended to hurt. It's not to one-up the #blacklivesmatter movement. The answer is not to whip words back in another's face.

That's not the answer, people. Those types of responses further divide us from each other.

Pitting #policelivesmatter against #blacklivesmatter moves us away from equality, not toward.

There's no doubt #policelivesmatter. Get original and think with the big picture in mind. We want less violence, not more. We want less death, not more. We want more togetherness, less racism. More peace, less war.

And the first way to get there is to find a way to express our sadness and anger without further dividing our country. Grace and understanding are two of the most vastly underutilized weapons against violence of any color. 

So how about this. How about instead of snapping back out of anguish with things like #policelivesmatter and #alllivesmatter we let #blacklivesmatter continue to act as a cornerstone in the fight against racism.

And let's instead come up with our own original way of memorializing the incredible lives of those killed in the line of duty. Like wearing the blue stripe. Lighting our blue lights. And remembering the life and love of a man who gave all to protect his community.

Rest in Peace, GI Joe.


Friday, August 28, 2015

Battling with Teachers - Strike Hard or Surrender?

Ahhh the first day of school. It's that time of year again. Things are a bit different in our home this year. I've officially been out of the corporate working environment for one full year (hallelujah!). My youngest, and last child ever, is going to preschool (I only cried for a few hours). And my big girl, my 4th grader, finally has a new teacher.

Last year, my eldest baby girl wound up in the classroom of a very new, very inexperienced young woman. Now I consider myself a young mom...I was blessedly knocked up when I was 21 for crying out it's rare for me to walk into my kid's classroom and feel like the oldest person in the room. Last year, however, on Meet the Teacher day, I definitely found myself wondering if this woman had ever even heard of Bone Thugs n' Harmony. Prolly not. Her hip hop knowledge base likely began with Lil Wayne and Rhianna.

I knew right then and there things were going to be off.

And they were. Boy, were they ever.

Now my kid can be loud and boisterous when excited, but is also extremely introverted and terrified of authority. She is also, and this isn't proud mama talking, extraordinarily smart. She was reading at a 5th grade level in first grade, people. The kid is smarter than me. Which should be awesome, right? Teachers typically eat that stuff up, right?

Not this one. No, her 3rd grade teacher chose to focus on my kid's biggest weakness....her social ineptitude. My lovely firstborn struggles deeply with relating to and understanding other kids. Her teachers up until last year had been wonderful - coaching her through her interactions with other kids, helping her focus on her education and studies, redirecting her when she became bored in class. Her 2nd grade teacher actually referred her to a special advanced program for 3rd graders and beyond - it allows kids with above-average learning skills to join other like-minded kids in separate classes for math and language arts. It was a godsend. My kid came home spouting sonnets about her advanced classes. She was challenged and excelled. Her two advanced class teachers praised her regularly and provided me with positive feedback during parent teacher conferences. "She is wonderful, and very, very bright." I could've cried I was so happy.

Can't say the same, however, about the feedback from her 3rd grade homeroom teacher. I received phone calls about my kid "bullying" other children and refusing to listen in class. My angel baby received referral after referral after referral for behavioral issues. In the beginning, I attempted to work with my kid on her "problems." I didn't know the teacher and gave her the benefit of the doubt in those first few months. I thought she was honestly looking out for the well-being of my child and believed her when she said my kid was indeed being a bully.

But then I started to wonder. I'd ask my daughter to break down her interactions with her classmates and the teacher. I spoke to my kid's other teachers (she had 3, after all, and that's not including her art, music, and PE teacher). No one else encountered any problems with her behavior. And these "bully" instances? Well, the worst of them, the one that was escalated into a full-blown "she could be suspended for this type of behavior," consisted of my kid drawing a picture of an animal with it's tongue out and crazy hair and big teeth and a caption that said, "*insert student name* is crazy."

Now, I did coach her on how that could be interpreted as negative by the child she'd named. I told her she needed to be careful about what she said, did, or wrote about other children. But did I ground her? No. Did I think she needed anti-bully intervention? No. Did I think her homeroom teacher, who called me and talked in her serious voice to deliver what she considered outlandishly terrible news, overreact and step out of bounds? Absolutely, I thought so.

You see, as I continued to speak with my kid about what she'd done I learned she'd drawn the picture at the request of a group of kids who were drawing everyone in their classroom as animals. Also, in our house the word "crazy" is a good thing. I was voted Most Crazy in high school, as a matter of fact.

I get it. How could the teacher know that? Nobody knows what goes on behind closed doors...which is why I would've expected the teacher to, at the very least, ask. Use a little common sense. I was deeply pissed about the quick-draw accusations and not giving my kid a chance to explain. This teacher had blacklisted my kid as a bully and it was affecting my kid's ability to learn. She would come home crying, leave worried, and get "stomach aches" all the time. This, from a kid who loved school and learning and books and teachers. But could I blame her? During one of my phone conferences with this woman, the teacher explicitly told me she'd heard "other" teachers talking about my kid and they all agreed, my kid was a bully. She was "viewed as a bully throughout the faculty," and this teacher "just hated to see that happen to someone as bright as" my daughter. I was floored. Teachers were standing around the water cooler talking shit about my 8-year-old kid? Who's the bully here?

Eventually, communication with this teacher disintegrated into highly emotional screaming matches, with me doing most....ok all....of the screaming.

"Stop referring to my kid as a bully, lady!"

"She looks up to you and you say things like that about her? And you wonder why she doesn't listen?"

"Do your teacher buddies know you're telling parents what they say during their lunch break?"

"Maybe if her teacher didn't label her as a bad person, she wouldn't be acting like one!"

Oh I went nutters. I was not nice. I did not respect this lady. But I kept my kid in her class. And the school year ended with my kid saying for the first time in her life that she never wanted to go back to school. And I absolutely despised this teacher and wanted nothing more than to stomp in there and tell administration everything this stupid lady had told me. I wanted her fired. I wanted her head on a platter for me to send on over to whatever craptastic facility she graduated from so all the other jerks-in-training could see what happened when bad teachers did bad things.

But of course I did none of that. I smiled and got excited for the new school year and now it's upon us and my kid has a new teacher and we're both looking forward, hoping for the best.

Because I don't know what the right answer is. You see, people are people - imperfect and flawed. There are people who excel at their jobs, like my mom and dad in-law, both retired teachers who rocked the educational pathways of the youth placed in their care, and then there are people who suck at their jobs, like my kid's 3rd grade teacher, who knew neither what she was doing nor where her boundaries existed.

As parents we can go nuts, like I eventually did. I mean, I could've taken it to the next level, and the next, and possibly gotten her into some serious trouble with her boss. It's the mama claws. The urge to fight, to defend, to strike hard against anyone who in any way harms your kid.

But then there's the flip side. Reality isn't nice. Real-life can be a bitch. I know I've worked for people that didn't like me. I've worked for people who weren't fair, or nice, or even knowledgeable. And I worked there anyways, often because I needed the money. That's adulthood in corporate America right there. It's not fun, but it's real. And the sooner I can teach my kid to understand her self-worth and abilities are in no way dependent on what another person says, does, or thinks, the better.

So part of me is glad I chose a middle ground. I struck hard and gave that teacher hell near the end....but I also surrendered my kid to a real-life learning experience. And now that she's experienced it, this mama's dang sure it won't be happening again ;) Here's to a new school year! And thank you to the teachers who view their kids with new eyes each morning. You are a shining majority that reins supreme over the few bad apples every profession is forced to claim.

What about you guys? How do you feel about fighting teachers? Ever had a bad teacher yourself? They seem to stick with you, don't they? I'd love to hear about it in the comments down below and as always, thank you so much for reading :)


Friday, August 21, 2015

3 Simple Herbal Remedies for Your Holistic Medicine Closet

As some of you know, I am totally amped up about the Mother Earth News Fair I attended a few weeks ago. Feeling motivated by the crunchy power, I decided to concoct a few herbal remedies in preparation for winter. Winter around here is cold, snowy, and long, and gosh knows with two kids in school and my spouse working in a germ factory (aka, your standard office with cubicles), we're bound to get some nasty bugs floating around our home.

Now before we get started, this is your public service announcement to be wary before ingesting anything new into your body. Certain herbs don't mix well with medications or pregnancies or kids or hair colors or toenail polish so be sure to do your homework and speak to a medical professional if you have any questions. I am a trained combat medic, not a medical professional. I've done my research and know my medical health status, and also really love green crap I can soak in liquor and then ingest to make myself feel better. The blog's name is Flaws, Forgiven, people. Tread at your own risk.

One of my favorite words in the English language is "free." Free to be me. Free stuff. Free day. Free ice cream. Free is a good.

So when I began researching which herbs and plants I wanted to use, I immediately looked up plants I can literally see right out my front window.

The first is plantain. I've got plantain everywhere. Matter of fact, my entire front lawn isn't grass, but plantain.

Plantain is like the superweed from heaven. It can calm stings and rashes from both insects and plants. It has antibacterial properties and can stop bleeding. Fun fact: if you get stung by a bee, chew up a plantain leaf and smudge it on the sting site. Plantain will draw out the toxins and calm the sting. It's great for your skin (acts as an astringent) and also soothes sore throats like a boss. That last part is especially attractive to me, as I tend to get strep throat anytime a respiratory infection sets up shop in my life. 

So what did I make with my lawn plantain? Cough syrup, that's what. It's the easiest thing in the world. Leaves, jar, honey, done.

Plantain Cough Syrup:
1. Go outside and pick a bunch of healthy-looking (green, non-bug-chewed, full) plantain leaves. 
2. Spread them out on a towel or table to check for bugs. Remove any bugs.
3. Wash your plantain leaves if you wanna. I get my plantain from my front yard where I know no chemicals have been sprayed, no fertilizers used, and no dogs pooped, so I skip this step entirely. I'm a lazy herbalist.
4. Shove your plantain leaves in a jar. I filled my jar about 1/3 the way full of leaves. You can cut them up, put them in a blender, juice them, or mush them if you wanna. Some people do that. I am lazy and do not.
5. Pour honey on top of your plantain leaves (preferably local honey). Fill the jar to the top.
6. Use a spoon or knife to push the plantain leaves around in the honey to release any air pockets. You want those suckers really coated.
7. Screw the lid on and let sit for a few weeks so the leaves really infuse the honey with their goodness. Give it a nice turn upside-down every now and then if you remember to. Some sites insist sunshine is the best for infusing, some insist darkness is needed. I just went with what's easiest for me and put the jar with the rest of my stuff in my medicine closet. 

That's it! Take a teaspoon or two when your throat hurts. You can strain the leaves out if you want. I won't. Bet you can guess why. 

The next plant I have in abundance in my yard is Queen Anne's Lace. Now this is one warning I am serious about - if you are not sure whether the plant you have is Queen Anne's Lace or not, don't use it. There is some impostor plant out there called Water Hemlock that is poisonous and will kill you. It looks very similar to Queen Anne's Lace and I repeat, it is poisonous. It will kill you. I actually read that Socrates drank Poison Hemlock to commit suicide. Well isn't that fun!

Luckily, there are some easy ways to tell the difference between the two. 

#1: Queen Anne's Lace is hairy. Some people say "the queen has hairy legs." Fabulous. The stems will be hairy. 

#2: Queen Anne's Lace smells like carrots. 

#3: Queen Anne's Lace has a little dark purple/red dot in the middle of the flower. 

If you're unsure, check around the web. There are a ton of sites like this one that can help you ID what you've got. I've got Queen Anne's Lace, which rules because this flower packs some power.

Queen Anne's Lace helps with depression, psychosis, schizophrenia, and is just started to be recognized for its treatment of Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. It's anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, and anti-bacterial, but is also a natural contraceptive and labor be careful, preggos or preggo wanna-bes. Fun fact? It's called Queen Anne's Lace because this one time Queen Anne of England pricked her finger while sewing lace.....that little dark dot in the middle of the flower is supposed to be her blood. Creepy and cool all at the same time!

I wanted to draw the benefits from this flower in the purest way possible, so I made a tincture. A tincture is typically done using vodka but you can use apple cider vinegar too. Although shoving things in vodka just sounds better, don't you think?

This is very similar to the cough syrup above, only using vodka. Flowers, jar, vodka, done.

Queen Anne's Lace Tincture:
1. Go outside and pick the heads off some Queen Anne's Lace. Be sure you know it's Queen Anne's Lace.
2. Spread the flowers out on a table or towel so all the bugs fly off or crawl off and you can squish them or shake them free. 
3. Shove your flowers into a jar. You can also wash your flowers. Like with the plantain, I found no need to do this. 
4. Pour vodka over the flowers. Fill up the jar.
5. Poke around in there to be sure all the air has escaped from the little flower crevices. 
6. Put the lid on and store in a dark place for 3-4 weeks. Shake it every now and then if you want. Strain out the herbs when it's done sitting around if you want. The vodka will preserve them indefinitely. 

Done. I'll be taking this on days when I feel especially pressed against the wall. Some chicks take it 3x a day for contraceptive purposes, but that's not really my aim here. You can put some under your tongue with a dropper or dilute a few teaspoons in water and take it that way. I might be taking it by the shot, depending on my mood. Just sayin.

The last plant in my arsenal is a good one. A very, very good one. This flowering beauty is said to be one of the best anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-illness plants in the world. It's a #1 holistic recommendation for those suffering from cancer as it's said to boost the immune system like nobody's business. Some swear by it's ability to shorten the duration of colds and even slow down our bodies' aging process. 

What is this awesome miracle herb?

Echinacea....aka coneflower. 

You see these things in gardens everywhere, man. I have a huge purple coneflower bush in my front yard. The butterflies, bees, and birds love it...and I mean LOVE it. Just watching those guys go nuts over the plant motivated me to go out there and nab a few blooms for myself.

Now some people say the roots have the highest concentration of goodness. That's great, but I don't like diggin all that much. So leaves and petals is where it's at for me.

Ehinacea Tincture:
1. Go outside and snip off some flowers and leaves. Careful! The middle part of a coneflower is very hard....and pointy.....and stiff. *snicker*
2. Pull the petals off the flowers. You can save the seedheads for later if you want to replant or you can compost them. I say more flowers is more good! Save the pollinators!
3. Put the leaves and petals on a towel or table to check for bugs. Squish those bugs. Or let them fly free.
4. Wash the leaves and petals if you want.
5. Shove the leaves and petals into a jar. 
6. Fill the jar with vodka (or apple cider vinegar). Get those air bubbles out.
7. Put the lid on and store in a cool, dark place for 3-4 weeks. Shake it when you wanna. Strain it if you wanna.

You can take the tincture every day if you want, but I won't be. I will take it when I feel the start of a cold coming on, or when flu season hits its peak, or when my kid comes home with a runny nose. Just like with the other tincture, you can place some drops under your tongue, mix a few teaspoons in water, or just take it straight. 

See? Not that difficult, right? Just pick, clean, and stick in jars with vodka or honey. Easier than running to the store. And the herbs were free. And if you upcycle your jars from pasta sauce and jelly like I do, you'll have a surplus of containers to choose from. The only things I needed to buy were the liquor and sweet sweet honey. Frugal, fast, and fun!

I am pumped to have some clean, happy herbal remedies to use this winter. I am even more pumped to share this stuff with you guys. Any of you tried holistic remedies before? If so, which were your favorite? If not, what is your problem? Ha just kidding....I would love to hear about it all in the comments down below :) As always, thank you so much for reading!

Friday, August 14, 2015

2015 Mother Earth News Fair: The Greatest Thing That's Ever Happened

Picture this:

You're at the library and you head over to your favorite book section. You are browsing the aisles carefully, quietly, trying not to bump into this chick next to you. Her arms are full of books she's already carefully selected and you notice she has one or two titles you've already read. They are good books, you remember them well. You consider telling her this but decide against it. Too weird. You're feeling like a weirdo for checking out her books (did she notice?Totally makes me self conscious when people look at my books!), so you grab the first book you see and start to walk away.

"Oh, that one is awesome," the chick says, quietly. She is still facing the bookshelves, has barely turned toward you, actually. She turns her head and smiles lightly before speaking again, "It's really good. Sorry, not trying to creep on you or whatever. Just thought I'd let you know if you like that book you'd better sign up for the sequels on the hold list. They are never in!" She makes a kind of weird, high-pitched chuckle and her face starts to flush. You smile back. She's just as uncomfortable as you are. You walk away feeling like you just met a mirror image of yourself, only on an opposite reading schedule. 

That is what the Mother Earth News Fair was for me.

From Saturday afternoon until Sunday night, I was surrounded by hundreds upon hundreds of people who were just like me, but knew something a little extra, had an experience that was a little different from mine, and wanted to share it with me. I saw a chick in a hippie skirt get really pumped up about free tea at the Mountain Rose Herbs booth. Me too! I bought organic fair trade chocolate from a hot guy wearing blue eyeliner because why the hell not. I love blue eyeliner! My books were checked out by a lady who gave me invaluable advice for the book signing I wanted to go to. How did she know it was the most important thing ever to me? I sat behind a dude with the most envious, gorgeous dreads I've ever seen. I love dreads!

Despite my honest-to-goodness anxiety about having conversations with strangers, I found myself chattin' it up all dang weekend.

I met a lady who lived right outside my hometown (random because I'd traveled a little over 2 hours to get to the fair). She'd served in the military and outranked my ass big time, so I joked about going to parade rest and made her laugh. She told me about her dream to sell off her gardens and move north so she could live off the land in peace. Really cool woman.

You ever seen PS I Love You? You know the Irish guy she falls in love with after her husband dies? Billy or whatever? Well his doppelganger was there. He wasn't an Irish guy in a band, though. No....he was a vendor who custom built his own cedar chicken coops. And by chicken coops I mean chicken palaces. These things were gorgeous and amber-colored and smooth and smelled like the forest and built by a man with melon biceps who tried politely to hide his laugh when I tripped over my words trying to compliment him and a little bit of drool came out of my mouth.

I talked to a super-nice chick in the book signing line (yes, Joel Salatin signed my book ... I almost died) who inherited a farm and was working to become self-sufficient. She told me about a few other festivals in our area that she attends regularly and was genuinely interested in my fears about butchering my first bird. I mean she really felt my pain. And wanted to listen to me!

We visited hundreds of vendors selling everything from seeds to grass-fed beef, reusable cloth maxi pads to pans that cook without water, compostable toilets to beehives....I met a CSA owner who was so passionate about her produce and a book that showed her how to cook in season, that I snapped the 2nd-to-last copy of that book up immediately. Anyone who reminds me of me in the passion department needs to be taken seriously. 

I stayed at an organic B&B, hostel, campground, CSA, and teaching facility called Wellspring. It was founded over thirty years ago by a nature-loving woman named Mary Ann. 

We were greeted by beehives.

We stayed in a barn loft that'd been converted into bunkhouses. 

We ran amok in hoop houses.

And rows upon rows of vegetables.

And of course I found some chickens.

I think the best part of the fair, however, was seeing Joel Salatin. More specifically, seeing my kid interact with Joel Salatin. You read that right. My kid not only met him, she helped him process some poultry.

Now I get some of you will think chicken processing is not all that awesome. I get some of you may think my kid shouldn't be seeing a chicken processed. And to that I say, you better not be eating chicken.

Chickens aren't dino-shaped, kids! ***one of many awesome one-liners from Joel

Joel teaches people how to be responsible consumers and farmers. He did a live processing demo at the fair to show hundreds how to process a chicken respectfully and humanely. He believes we, as humans, were never meant to kill animals on a daily basis. He said killing drains the soul...and he couldn't be more right. I take this entire killing business very seriously and as I type this, on the eve of my very first chicken processing attempt, I can tell you with 100% certainty I am nervous, queasy, and yep, a little sad that I'm going to take the life of another living thing.

But thank gosh for people like Joel, and events like the Mother Earth News Fair. Because at least now I know how to do it the right way, the respectful way, a way that's sustainable and healthy for everyone involved. 

Including my kiddo. 

Now when Joel processes chickens he uses a cone to calm the bird, makes a small incision to bleed the bird (they are upside-down in a dazed state when he does this - very similar to the lightheaded feeling you get when you stand up too fast), and once they fade away (less than 2-3 minutes), the birds are moved to the scalder. After they are warmed up, they are sent over to the plucker/picker. After the feathers are gone they are ready to be rinsed in cool water and cleaned. 

Joel doesn't like to make a ton of cuts in the he never chops heads off. Instead, they are pulled off after the birds are bled, feather-free, and rinsed. Queasy people stick with me I promise I have a point. After processing a few birds Joel invited the kids, who'd been watching just behind him, to try pulling the heads off for him. One little boy stepped up to the plate but got a little nervous and freaked and went off to the side. Joel looked around him and there was my kid, my big girl, and he said "You wanna try?" and she nodded and quietly walked up there and in 2 seconds flat got the job done. The whole crowd cheered for her and Joel praised her and my heart exploded and I tried to take a thousand pictures and my mom whooped next to me and my daughter had this beautiful smile of pride on her face. 

It was hands-down my proudest moment as a mother....and my favorite part of the fair.

Now if animals and processing meat isn't your thing, don't worry. They had a ton of other topics to learn about, including organic gardening, food storage, making your own lotions and shampoo, building an eco-friendly home, raising food-conscious kids, making jelly, I mean, you name it, it was there. I went to a seminar on building a home made of junk. The dude was awesome. I also learned how to tune into my inner vibrations and use my intuition to harness the power of flowers. True story! Flower essence post coming soon! Ha!

So I can't say it enough - the Mother Earth News Fair was the best, greatest, most incredible fair ever. I was truly surrounded by what I felt were my people. Everybody was so accepting, so excited about the same things I was glorious. I came home with an exercised body and soul and a whole lotta stuff.....

Hoping they have it near me again next year. And if you're looking for something fun to do with the kids, consider going to this fair. They have seminars like "Dirt Building" and "Chicken POOP for kids" and "Build an Electric Car" and a TON of other fun things to do, plus anyone under the age of 17 gets in FREE. Schweet!

Happy to be home and excited to share some of my new-found knowledge with you in the next few weeks :) Any topics you're interested in? Let me know in the comments down below! Thank you, as always, for reading :)