Monday, November 23, 2015

#1 Way to Stress Less, Be Happy, and Laugh

The holidays are here. Thanksgiving, one of my favorite days of the year, is in 3 days. This year I'm celebrating Thanksgiving with my side of the family (we are little, but fierce) and I'll be making the short trek a couple of hours away to gorge on good food. I'm also, however, cooking a little Thanksgiving meal for just me and my little household the day after Thanksgiving. We have a little turkey and I've got some great new recipes I can't wait to try.

But even with the promise of good food looming on the horizon, and a month of festivities kicking off in a matter of days, I still find myself habitually prone to stressing the f out. It's like my own little piece-o-crap holiday tradition. Stress, worry, feel guilty about it all, then repeat.

And there's more to life than that. I'm going to be a middle-aged woman soon for frick's sake. I should be capable of handling Thanksgiving and Christmas without dissolving into a pile of tears and guilt every two days or so.

So, earlier this year, I started a de-stress experiment. And by experiment, I mean I tried something, started doing it almost everyday, and then decided the results were favorable enough to write about it here, at a time when I (and others) need the extra de-stress help.

I needed to implement a new habit into my life and being the picky little habit-maker I am, I outlined a few new-habit guidelines. I needed something:
  • Healthy - physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, whatever
  • Easy - no running/jogging, forcing myself to write when I don't wanna, or class commitments
  • Flexible - can do it at home, whenever the heck I please
  • Free - I don't have money
  • Enjoyable - gotta love it each and every time or I'll never do it again
  • Promotes self-love - no feeling guilty...about anything
  • Walks me through releasing anger - because this past year I'm getting angrier than a kicked hornet's nest and the anger is slowly destroying all chances of happiness
Not that bad, right? I mean, anything can fit the criteria above, right? ;)

But wait, there's more:
  • Inclusive - something I can do with my kids
  • Relatable - following Ree Drummond is all well and good until I start looking around my life and realizing I did not marry a cowboy or have a sprawling, million-dollar ranch with wild horses roaming around
  • Friendly - My feelings of failure follow me around like a dark shadow 99% of the time. I needed something that welcomed me like an old, non-judgmental friend
So yeah. Basically, I needed calorie-free ice cream that grows on trees and talks to me like Ellen DeGeneres.

Unfortunately, despite some heavy research, I could not find Ellen Edy's.

But I did find something else. Something better. Ok, maybe not better than calorie-free ice cream that grows in my backyard and talks to me like Ellen. But close.

You ready to finally hear what it is? Promise you won't click off the page once you see the word?


Now wait! Don't run away! Don't let any pre-conceived ideas ruin your chances at finding an enjoyable, funny, happy way to relieve stress!

Yoga is not all about perfect poses and bending all over and squeezing into tight pants and buying $50 yoga mats. Matter of fact, it's the opposite of that. 

I've done all kinds of yoga. I never stuck with it because I was pissed it didn't melt the fat right off my body. If I'm gonna exercise, it better be fat-melting. It better be worth the hour or so that I'm stretched out in front of my TV in roll-inducing yoga pants, lookin' like a holiday ham wrapped with twine. I did MTV yoga. I did "professional" yoga taught by ladies with national certifications. I did Self magazine yoga. I did flashcard yoga. I did a whole ton of yoga....but nothing stuck, nothing became habit. It's like I wanted to maximize my exercise time, which meant either blasting through cardio or doing some sort of body-damaging, lose-your-mom-bod boot camp crap. Those things have a place in my life, don't get me wrong, but they aren't a way to reduce stress, be happy, and laugh.

Yoga, when done right, shouldn't be about losing weight. Toning and tightening might be side effects, but weight loss? Think about it. The very concept behind weight loss is stressing your body enough to make it eat it's own fat. I mean, really. C'mon here, people. I'm going for stress-free, happy living here. Weight loss is none of those things. It just isn't. Physically and mentally, weight loss is stressful by its very nature.

So I took yoga out of the "drop pounds" picture completely. I shifted it from my mental "exercise" column to my mental "relaxation" column. And can I please tell you, that shift alone has changed the way I move through my practice. Instead of waiting for it to be over, I listen to Adriene and truly embrace what I'm doing. It's crazy healthy and really allows me to enjoy the "me" time.....because running 3-4 miles up hills doesn't feel like "me" time at all. It feels like punishment...another item to check off my list, another obligation...and after making that mental shift, yoga is now something I actually crave, even on days when I typically don't hit the mat (or in my case, carpet as I don't use a mat).

Oh yes, I forgot to mention....Adriene is my YouTube yoga girl. She is hilarious. She is real. She focuses on nothing but self-love. She is knowledgeable. She is peaceful. She films out of her own house. Sometimes her dog walks into the shot. Sometimes you hear motorcycles revving outside her house. Sometimes she messes up. Sometimes she says things like, "Get down, Shorty," or sings the opening song from The Lion King. She is a real human, a funny, relatable human, and I love, truly love tuning into her page and meeting her on the mat. She approaches everything with a sense of acceptance....and it's not the kinda boring, cheesy acceptance that makes you roll your eyes and think, "really? I didn't drink enough kale this morning to handle this much hippie..." That's not her. She's a friend. A YouTube friend who helps me chill out.

I promise, try one, silly, 20-minute video. You will be hooked like I am. There's no pressure, no stress, no guilt, and you'll leave the mat feeling clean and fresh and ready to tackle the next thing on your list.

And no, this is not a promotional blog post. No exchange of money, services, or whatever here. I just love her and like telling my readers about things I love.

Her Yoga for a Broken Heart video helped me through unspeakable hardship earlier this year.

A few of my other favorite (and free) online yoga videos by Adriene:

Yoga for Stress Relief

Yoga Love Flow

40 Minute Fat Burning Workout (I do this one when I'm real angry - it's a nice challenge!)

Detox Yoga for Digestion

Energizing Morning Yoga

Yoga for Back Pain

That's it, dear readers. Yoga is my #1 way to stress less, be happy, and laugh. I hit the carpet in my pajamas with my hair piled on top o' my head and my breath stinkin and I join Adriene as she laughs and breathes her way to a more relaxed, strengthened state of mind. It's fun, it's easy, it's free, and I feel nothing but acceptance when I'm done.

Any other yogis out there? Iva from Neuroscience Newbie I'm lookin at you! :) What other stress-relief tips do you guys have for me? I'd love to hear about them in the comments down below and as always, thank you so much for reading! 


Monday, November 16, 2015

A Winter-Proof Chicken Hoop House

I get so excited when the air indicates a change in the seasons. The sweet, fragrant smell of spring, the sticky, humid aroma of summer, the subtle undertones of forest and leaves in the fall, and the snap, crisp scent of winter.

I love winter. Winter is coming. I am a happy girl.


You see, I have a new concern this year.....these two little babes.

I am a chicken-owner now. A completely moronic, first-time chicken owner who lost over half her flock in the first year. That's right. I started with 6 in April this year and now have 2. Lost my first chicken to a predator - we're thinking a fox judging by the way she was killed. Had to cull Gandalf, the rooster, when he started biting my kids. Then, like the sad, sad stories I read about and shake my head at, thinking there's no way in hell I'd ever let something like that happen, my girls were attacked in their hoop house, just a few months ago.

The predator killed Yennifer, my beautiful little silver-laced Wyondotte. Holiday, my last buff Orpington, was in bad shape. Real bad shape. Broken foot and can-see-though-her-abdomen bad shape. So I had to put her down. While in my pajamas. In the rain. With tears streaming down my face because despite how much I want to be a hardass, emotionless homesteader, I love my birds and feel no joy in taking their lives. Plus my sweet girls were wasted. Can't eat a bird when you don't know what's bitten it. Pretty much one of my lowest moments in this journey toward self-sustainability.

So that horrible morning left me with two birds. Two lone little loves. Strangely enough, the two I have left are also the very first two chickens I brought home. Ruby and Cheese, my Barred Plymouth Rocks, my little survivors.

Predators are underrated. I thought with my 8-ft-high privacy fence and secure hoop house, my girls would be safe.

Turns out it's not so easy.

Chicken wire protects chickens from nothing. That's right. Nothing. As in, not a single thing. Anything can get through chicken wire. Skunks. Dogs. Opossums. Foxes. Raccoon. Cats. Minks. Weasels. Pretty much the only creatures that cannot get through chicken wire are chickens. And that is a shame, because the other material I use, hardware cloth, costs about 3 times as much.

But I'd rather eat sand that's been peed on than lose another bird. I've made it my life's mission to keep these last two alive and to learn from my own stupidity. I modified my original hoop house door and added yet another of hardware cloth. That pretty little screen door? That was my downfall. That was how the predator got in. Screen doors do nothing, people. Nothing. Wrap your screen doors in hardware cloth because that screen ain't doing you any favors.

And I figured, while I'm at it, modifying this hoop house and making it more secure, how about I go ahead and get my winterizing on.

I live in the northern Midwest. It gets down to -20 degrees here in the winter, sometimes dipping lower, especially with the windchill. We average close to 40 inches of snow each winter. I know. It's crazy, but I love it. I love the thought of getting snug and reading with tea. It's my happy zone.

So anyways, I researched some cold-hearty chicken breeds and only purchased birds that could do well in my climate. My two girls are built for the cold, no doubt....but regardless of breeding, they still need a warm shelter for the coldest days of the year.

Some people add a heat lamp to their coop. I can't do that (nowhere to secure it in the hoop house). Plus I don't wanna. Heat lamps get hot. Heat = fire. Fire = my last two chickens dead and me pulling all my hair out and then falling into a pit of homesteading failure and doom.

I knew I had this sweet little modified hoop house just chillin the the backyard. I needed to find a way to insulate it.

Enter scene: Free plastic from a local garden and nursery shop. Think about all those greenhouses you see at your local garden store. They need to replace that plastic every now and then and guess what - that means the old plastic needs to get dumped. Sometimes they'll keep it around for patch jobs and oddball projects, but when they've got a 100-ft greenhouse that stands 50-ft tall, little scraps of plastic just aren't that useful anymore.

And that's where I come in. I have a teeny little 10x12ft hoop house. Teeny. Little. Insignificant. I talked to the manager at the garden center, who also happens to be a cherished and lovely friend, and she said the plastic is super expensive, but yes, she was pretty certain they had some old stuff sitting in a shed somewhere. That I could have. For free.

A few weeks later, I went and picked up a ginormous, huge ball of dirty, ripped, old, white greenhouse plastic. I had myself a little moment in the truck on the way home. I officially scavenged my very first item from a local business. I drove home with that lump of plastic in my truck smiling like a maniac the entire time, so happy, so excited, so thankful. I'd received enough plastic to cover the hoop house.....twice.

I cut the plastic out around the door, stapled a bottom panel of plastic onto the door (which of course is also covered in hardware cloth now), and created a curtain for the top of the door. Like their own lil' vertical dutch door. That curtain is fabulous. Allows air in and out (super important for healthy birds) but doesn't let the wind or rain in when it's rolled down. That's a piece of baling twine stuck into it and holding it all rolled up.

I also made some cutouts, covered with hardware cloth, of course, near the back of the hoop house. A little cross-ventilation will make sure they have fresh air to breath, without sacrificing their need for a non-breezy, warm place to roost.

The plastic is, to be honest, barely secured to the frame. Those tarps on top hold the plastic down pretty well, in addition to adding another layer of protection. The plastic is also stapled to the frame in the front and back....but I wanted the sides mobile...non-permanent, so in the summer I could roll them up and let the light in and the heat out. Of course, you're just asking for problems if you don't secure your cover down somehow on the sides.

The solution? On the two long sides, the plastic is stapled to a detached wooden board, a 2x4, and then rolled around the 2x4 until it's tight. In the summer, I will roll the plastic up higher and secure the 2x4 to some hooks in the PVC frame about 3 feet from the ground. Waa-lah. Hoop house side windows. Of course, the plastic went right over the hardware cloth I'd wrapped around and around and around, so (hopefully) I won't need to do much come summertime. Just roll and go.

The key to using plastic on your hoop house? Make sure you don't have pointy stuff sticking out. I had to painstakingly check every piece of baling wire I used to secure the hardware cloth to the PVC pipe and make sure all pointy parts were tucked in. The front and back frames are made of wooden beams (check out this post for the full breakdown of what was used for the hoop house, how much it cost, and how it's put together). The beams were too "sharp" on top, meaning the weight of snow could potentially tear the plastic. So what can cap a piece of wood, stay soft in below-zero temps, and cost nothing? An old glove, of course. Bam. Works like a charm.

I stuck a thermometer in the hoop, the same one I used when they were wee lil chicks, so I could keep an eye on how cold it gets in the hoop house. So far the temp has stayed about 5-10 degrees warmer inside than out. We'll see how she does in the dead of winter! And yep, that waterer can be plugged in to keep the water from freezing. We'll need to run an extension cord....I'm delaying that as long as humanly possible as I've heard these things have a short life.

I'd read straw bales are great for insulation, but can get moldy and create problems with chicken lungs. One of my favorite chicken dudes, Justin Rhodes, said you can always use the bales on the outside of the house if you're worried about too much heat loss. So that's what I did. Bonus points: the bales help secure the plastic down so the wind doesn't get under it and cause it to freak out.

Of course, one of the best things you can do to keep your animals happy in the winter is to add some warm, soft bedding to the ground. The layer of pine shavings in the hoop house is about 1.5 feet deep near the roost. Those doors help block any stray wind gusts and help hold the roosting branches in place.

It's a little dark in there sometimes, which will undoubtedly affect my egg counts, but eggs aren't my primary concern these days. I just really want to keep my flock safe.

I went ahead and purchased one of these for good measure. Next time something comes at my girls, I'll get 'em on camera.

So who wants to take bets on how well I keep these two little loves alive this winter? Anyone? Anyone? And no, if you're a hawk, fox, or raccoon, you can't join in the bet...Ruby's rules.

What are you doing to prep for the winter? Are you looking forward to the change in seasons? I'd love to hear about it in the comments down below and as always, thank you so much for reading!


Monday, November 9, 2015

Movember....More Than Just a Pretty Stache

I'm just going to throw this out there.

I'm not a huge fan of balls. Yep. The ones you're thinking of. Don't really like 'em. They weird me out...worrying about smashing them somehow - weird. Dudes' obsession with them, touching them, scratching them, talking about them - weird. The wrinkles - double weird.

So it should be no surprise that I am not at all versed in the ins and outs of ball health. In fact, I am giggling right now like a total moron. Just typing the word "balls" and giggling, thinking about balls and trying not to say the word out loud...just Jen your most flawed blogger, sitting here laughing out loud, alone in my living room, with windows in my Chrome page open to ball health webpages. Creepin on some balls. 

Can't handle it.

I know everything there is to know about women's health. Breast, cervix, uterus, estrogen, you name it, I know it.

But not balls. Had a whiff of biological reason in my arsenal. That's it. I had no clue. Up until today, of course.

November is also Movember - the month of mustaches. These mustaches act as a walking billboard to promote men's health awareness. They are "changing the face of men's health".....see what they did there...I am in love with the creative mind that made that one up....pulls at my copywriter heartstrings like no other...And if I'm any indication of the female populations' knowledge base, we need a helluva lot more mustaches.

Men love to talk about balls, amiright? It's pretty insane how many times I needed to hear the word "teabag" in college. But I never heard about ball problems. Or problems with any other part of a guy's body. I know when men get colds, because it's like the world is ending, but when guys find a lump somewhere, they just wait for it to go away or literally explode. Serious stuff isn't talked about. I never hear about it. I mean, think about it, can you think of a single guy who voluntarily goes to the doctor for yearly preventative exams? No, I'm not talking about men with chronic conditions, I'm talking about those dudes I know, friends and family of mine, who almost refuse to see a doctor. Ever.

When my girlfriends are ill, I know right away. They'll text me or call me and while they always keep on trucking, they talk about it. 

Any chance you can watch my kids so I can go to the doctor? Yeah my lady visit. Oh joy.

I am seriously so sad, I cannot even.

Jen's pap came back abnormal. Yeah you should totally text her later this week. Don't tell her I told you.

My cramps made me throw up in public today.

Does it matter that Mama's had a headache for two weeks? I didn't think so!  

I love my menstrual cup. You need to try it.

I mean, women are vocal. If something is bothering us or we're not feeling good, chances are we'll say something or lean on one another to get through the illness, especially if it's serious. But guys?

Hey man, heard your skin, like, burns or some shit.

Are you contagious?

You went to the hospital? I hate hospitals. Did you have a hott nurse at least?

That sucks. 

Jake hasn't shown up for practice in like a month. Eh, he's prolly fine.

Man up.

It's no wonder men's health and wellness sometimes gets lost under layers of pink ribbons and scarves. Men just aren't as vocal. And women, as much as we (occasionally) love men, are sometimes too busy worrying about our own intricate bodies and health concerns to try and educate ourselves about the bodies of the other half. I mean, shouldn't they know about their own junk? Why should we have to know about that jazz? 

Cuz we're women and we have a civic duty as strong, smart, quick goddesses to help those less fortunate. ;) And because guys need love too. 

So let's nab some quick facts:

Prostate cancer is the most common major cancer in men.

Men are 4 times more likely to commit suicide than women. 

And testicular cancer hits them young.

How can we help?

The Prostate Cancer Foundation has a (hilarious) Mo Bros and Mo Sistas campaign that raised over $126.3 million dollars last year. A description of the funding strategy (incredibly easy to read) can be found here.

The Testicular Cancer Foundation has teamed up with Tommy John to create the Support Your Balls campaign (seriously cannot stop giggling) - they have an Instagram challenge running until the end of the month where you can snap a pic of two things that look like balls, *snicker* tag them with #SupportYourBalls, and follow them (@TommyJohnWear and @TesticularCancerFederation) for a chance to win a free pair of men's underwear. Bonus points - Tommy John is donating $1 for each entry... Also, and this is important, they have half-naked hot men messing around with/in underwear on their webpage. Seriously, they have videos for each product. And they're an underwear company. Just think about that for a second. And no, I am not getting compensated in any way. It would be an injustice to all women to not share that info. Plus, men's health and stuff. 

Support the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. They host walks all over the country and take donations year-round. Men's mental health is just as important as their bodily health....and even harder to diagnose. 

Casually ask a guy you know if he's going to participate in Movember. It's a nice ice breaker because the only thing dudes like to talk about more than their balls is their facial hair. 

Plus mustaches are hott. 

How about you, dear readers? How would you grade your men's health knowledge? Did you know what Movember was all about? Know any men in your life who could benefit from a little more Mo? I'd love to hear about it in the comments down below and as always, thank you for reading!

Monday, November 2, 2015

Weirdest Stuff I Found in My Kid's Halloween Bag

It's that time of year again, folks. The devil himself, disguised as so many delicious little morsels of sweet goodness, is in my home. He is fruity. He is peanut buttery. He is my favorite breed of kat. Calling all gym rats - send me your power! This is the beginning of the all starts with Halloween....then turkey all up in my life.....then Christmas cookies and hot chocolate and mashed potatoes divine.

So let's pretend I am resisting the temptation. Let's pretend I am not typing with one hand while another clutches a snack-sized Heath bar on it's merry little way to my mouth.

And let's sit back and reflect on the other things I found in my kid's Halloween bag this year. You know what I'm talking about. The different things. The weird things. The things that make you look down into your sack and say, "huh?"

Now for the record, I am a fan of anything free. If you're handing out something on Halloween, you rock, especially if you don't have kids of your own or don't particularly like children. I consider all Halloween distributors generous souls.

But some stuff is just weird.

I remember a time when Laffy Taffy consisted of only fruity, neon-colored flavors. And banana. How can you forget banana laffy taffy. But then I saw this. No artificial flavors, hm? So you're telling me a little mug of steaming cocoa with marshmallows in it was somehow dropped into your vat of taffy and then poof - out you came? What happened to you, Laffy Taffy. What happened to you.

Didn't even realize they still made these. True story. I see they've updated their package to keep with the times - Gluten Free! Nut Free! For all those lil' ones who wish to go vintage!

Halloween popcorn. I won't go into a tangent about why microwave popcorn is horrific...especially while eating a Butterfinger....but trust me, it's apparently horrific for you. Normally, I think bagged (read - already popped) popcorn is great as an alternative option for kids with sugar sensitivities (haha). I think it's a thoughtful gesture. But that Act II stuff you see pictured below? It expires in two days. Do you know how long it takes for popcorn to expire? Thanks for the tease, neighbor lady.

Go home, Lemonheads. You're drunk.

Did you just hand my kid a diet soda? You know Jen believes in Jesus when she manages to smile and not chuck a can of diet soda back at the lady who just handed it to her little girl.

And now, for the piece de resistance, this lovely hunk of curiosity. Yes, that is a fruit cake. And not just a little fruit cake, that thing could serve 4-6 people, easily. My kid came trotting back from the house smiling and saying, "Wow! I just got a fruitcake!" and I subconsciously tuned it out per the Parent Handbook for Creative and Imaginative Children and then I opened her bag and sure enough, fruit cake.

Oddities are fun, aren't they? I certainly enjoyed opening my kids' Halloween bags and finding all the incredible things I could eat when they went to bed creative ways people in my neighborhood handle trick-or-treaters.

What about you, dear readers? What's the strangest thing you found in your kid's Halloween bag? Do you remember receiving something weird in your candy bag when you were little? I'd love to hear about it in the comments down below and as always, thank you so much for reading!


Monday, October 26, 2015

Why Do Chicks Cry so Much?

I have this problem. See, I have two daughters who, despite their feminist upbringing, love to watch princess movies. And as they're watching these movies, (Frozen, Tangled, Cinderella, Ariel, repeat), their mama, little ol' me, is sitting there either typing away, stirring something, or scrolling through my phone.

And then, without rhyme or reason, it happens. That specific part of the movie (Elsa draping herself over her frozen sister, Rapunzel's dad shedding a tear as his queen wipes it away, Cinderella saying "but you see, I have the other slipper," and Ariel's dad with his fingertips on her chin as they say goodbye) will happen, and my eyes will start to prick, my nose tickle, and sure enough, no matter how many times I've freaking seen these freaking movies, I will have tears in my eyes.

Happens constantly.

The Budweiser commercials with the Clydesdale and the puppy.

Soldier homecomings.

Culling my chickens.

Timelapse videos.

Violence or illnesses against children.

When a shy person dances.

Getting put on the spot.

Witcher 3 cutscenes.

Witcher 3 graphics.

Witcher 3.

Carrie Underwood singing "How Great Thou Art"

When dudes I care about (either in real life or on TV) cry.

When my corn doesn't grow properly.

While singing my toddler a lullaby.

Anytime someone asks if I'm ok.

When a leaf falls off a tree.

I mean the list goes on, people. Most of my friends know this about me because when I was younger, it was worse. I had a high school biology teacher ask me a question once after class and I just stood there, crying. I don't know why. She wasn't scary. She was nice. My friend Jen (we're Jens, squared, get it?) just looked at me and was like, "It's alright, she does this sometimes." Those friends of mine, They get it.

My spouse hates it. I mean hates it. Pretty sure he's told me he can't stand that I cry everyday - which is SO not true. I mean, I don't cry every day. Not every single day. That'd just be crazy, right? not me. Not me. No. Maybe.

Even I get frustrated by my lack of control in this department. When I was in the Army I learned how to hold it in pretty well by just getting pissed. I would get angry as shit. The Army handles angry. The Army does not handle crying. But I've been out of the Army for years. Many years. I'm back to my wily, crying ways.

I decided to check into it. This is the end of October, after all, and as some of you remember, I participate in National Novel Writing Month every November. 30 days of getting straight-up locked in the basement, type, type, typing away. There will be crying, oh yes, there will be crying. So like I warned you last year, this will be my last perfectly-coherent (well, coherent for me, Jen) post for a while. I'll still write on Mondays, of course. It might just look like alien speak. But I digress.

Chicks and crying is a real thing. I have friends, female friends, who will cry with me when I cry. And if they don't, they cry pretty consistently on their own. We're a giant gender of crying. And I want to know why. ***fingers crossed it's not just because I am insane***

Apparently it's a combination of things.

Chicks cry because of our biological makeup. That's right. I can't always control it, you hear? My hormones, apparently a specific hormone named prolactin, are vastly different than that of a man. Us chickies have about 60% more prolactin than men do. And men of course have more testosterone, which is said to work against emotional crying. Plus, one article I read said female tearducts are smaller....which I guess means they cry more because they can't hold as much? Weird. But biological! Can't change it!

Chicks cry because of our social environment. We're kinda socially allowed to cry more than dudes are. I hate to say it, but if I walked into my old office and hugged a coworker and then cried a little everyone would laugh and hug me harder. If my old boss (dude) walked into the office and cried a little when he saw me, everyone would be freaked the f out. We're getting better at allowing dudes to show their more sensitive (read - not angry) emotions but they're so not on the same level as us chicks. It's also a running joke in every movie ever that chicks who cry get what they want from dudes who don't want them to cry. That is not the case in my personal situation - I just get ignored - but if I had a man who didn't want me to cry so badly that he'd do anything to make it stop, you bet your ass I'd use that to every now and then get what I want. Flaws, forgiven, people.

Chicks cry because of our personality. Just like dudes, some chicks are just more prone to emotional outbursts. I, for one, am an overly-anxious, somewhat-extroverted, highly-empathetic person. This is part of the reason why I cry when I see the elderly holding hands. And why I can't watch the news. My internal person, the very essence of who I am, transports me into the lives and feelings of those around me and my head gets filled with the thoughts and concerns of others. And so when they cry, or they are happy, or they are sad, or they are scared, I feel it with them. For the most part.

You hear that?? Half of that stuff I can't even control. Like the biology. And the social environment. And even the personality traits, kinda. I can't really change who I am in the blink of an eye, you know? Yeah, I may sprout tears like a hydro-chia pet but you know what? I get some great stuff in return.

Like friends who aren't afraid to cry in front of me because they know I'm a crier.

Kids who know emotions are ok.

Problems that get resolved instead of swept under the rug.

Stress relief.

Clean tear ducts.

Stock in Kleenex.

In fact, although it gets annoying at times, I am kinda proud of my ability to place my emotions, trace them back to a root cause, and then communicate the whole process to another person. That is a pretty bomb-ass gift, if you ask me. It allows me to explain myself. Explain things for others. Help others explain themselves. It's pretty rad.

In fact, the only part of this whole "crying like a wee lil baby" thing that I don't like is the blotchy face. And the perception of others, specifically, those who don't understand emotions or are afraid of them. Like dudes. Specific dudes. Dudes with emotional barriers that sit there like logs when a woman is crying.

So how 'bout this, dudes. How about you make like a movie and hug the crying girl. Get over yourselves for two measly seconds and hug the crying chick because you know what, she prolly needs it. And if you hug her, maybe she'll stop crying sooner. And maybe she'll feel closer to you. And maybe she won't feel terrible about something that simply is part of who she is, who most women are, at the core of our very beings.

Cuz I betcha what - I betcha next time you're real upset, and you feel so down you can't find your way back up, that chick will be sitting right there, ready to wrap you up in every wonderful, soft, caring, empathetic part of her.

Sources for research:

And that does it for me, dear readers! I will be back next week with (hopefully) a semi-legible post for your reading pleasure. How many criers do I have out there? Are you ashamed of it? Proud of it? How do you handle your emotional prowess? I'd love to hear about it in the comments down below and as always, thank you so much for reading :)


Monday, October 19, 2015

What I Learned One Year After Quitting My Job

I quit my corporate job back in August of last year. I was tired of the commute. Tired of not getting paid what I was worth. Tired of not seeing my kiddos. Tired of being tired.

So by the time the spouse had a decent paying job with health insurance, I was rearing to go. Buckin' bronco. So excited my pants almost flew off. 

And now? Was it worth it? What did I learn? Would I do it again, or am I ready to rejoin the workforce?

1. Not needing to work in an office is awesome.
I do not miss that commute. I do not miss standing in the rain, the wind, the heat, with a random gaggle of strangers, waiting for the train to come. I am happy my belongings now sit nicely in my home instead of shoved in bags thrown over my shoulder or stuck in metal drawers that don't open or half-pinned/half-taped onto a carpeted wall with a little bit of foam in it. I really enjoy the freedom to blow my nose, cough, and sing loudly if I want to. I don't need to ride wonky elevators. I don't need to go into the office. And that is awesome.

2. I wish I had an office.
I know. I make no sense. Now see, I built a beautiful little office space beneath my stairs in my basement. It's gorgeous and comfortable and all Jen. But you know what I am trying to do for a living these days? Write. And you know what I can't do when I hear little feet and then big feet and then screaming and yelling and eerie silence and then more yelling? Write. I am officially one of those jerks who wants a trailer outside in the backyard so I can leave the house in my pj's and be isolated and alone in my own little space. When I worked in an office, this was one thing they kinda had going for them. If I needed to work, I'd toss in those earbuds and away I'd go, no kids to worry about, no husband to worry about, just me and my office and the snack cart right in front of my desk. Here at home, it's not the same. I worry more. I see more laundry. And earbuds don't drown out kids.

3. You don't have more time.
I am embarrassed and appalled to report I do not have more time now that I'm not working. I've found a plethora of volunteer work. Some of you may have read my Food Shed Co-op post last week. If you haven't please do. Food co-ops are awesome. And see that's the problem. Everything really is awesome. There are so many beautiful places for me to spend my time. So instead of chillin' and writing in a cave wrapped in 50 blankets, I find my days full of shuffling back and forth to my church for mom's groups and preschool and choir and festivals. I find myself schlepping to the next town over to meet with the food co-op people or to visit a friend who had a new baby or visit another friend who I just never see or visit a store that sells pine shavings for my chickens. I spend hours emailing parents about classroom parties. I spend hours crafting things to win free tuition at my kid's preschool. I spend hours just trying to keep my house clean. Sure, there's less time spent working for dollars, but I've filled every minute of that time working for nothing. Nice job, Jen! Literally!

4. Judgement will happen.
I hate to say it, but people judge me constantly. I don't blame them - I was the same way when I worked in an office. I judged the crap out of stay-at-home-moms and honestly thought moms who stayed home had all the time in the world, so they had no excuse to be late, or disheveled, or irritated about their situations. I was ignorant. And so are the people who judge me today...the ones who think they are busier, smarter, more successful, more put-together, more organized, working harder, in a tougher spot, more sacrificial. I mean really, the list goes on. People judge what you do with your time....but take my word for it, people only judge what you do with your time because they are insecure about what they are doing with theirs

5. Kids are ungrateful assholes 99% of the time. 
When I worked at the office, I didn't get heaps of praise. I was thanked every so often by my coworkers, but my boss was not one for delivering positive feedback. He was more like, "If I don't say anything, you're doing good." So I wasn't accustomed to getting that pat on the head or hip-hip hooray. No big deal. But every year, at least once a year, he was forced to remark on my progress. I clung to the things he said, especially the good things, and it sustained me throughout the year. You wanna know a secret? Kids don't do that crap. I'm a parent. I'm not an employee. They didn't ask to be born. I made them. So while it's nice to get hugs and coupon books, there is a certain part of my heart that aches for that positive review. The "Mom, this is fantastic," instead of, "I don't like veggie rice skillet!!" I find myself trying to recreate those occasional moments of positivity by planning fun, family-centered things for us to do, but they epic fail each and every time. Trunk or treat? Screaming toddler. Fun, family-only weekend? Grumpy, tired, sick kids. Fun time taking my older kid on a fall drive? Attitude and a "don't care" mentality. I miss the solid, reliable moments of positive feedback. You don't get that from kids. They just aren't wired that way.

6. Your house is always dirty.
Seriously. You think that by cleaning it on a schedule, regularly, with good products, that your house would be nice and neat. It's not. It's dirty. I'm seriously considering purging everything and living with nothing in my house so I don't feel so grossed out by the mess. 

7. People will push for more, more, more. 
Now that I don't have the excuse of "working," for 12 hours a day, I've noticed people like to ask for more of my time. It seems like every time I try to do something good for myself, I end up getting roped into a volunteer position I didn't want anything to do with. Don't get me wrong, I like helping out, but for some reason, having that "working mom" title protected me from the rather demanding aspects of daytime motherhood. I've never realized just how many opportunities a person has to serve someone else...especially for free.

8. I'd rather sleep than interact with other people.
This one shocked me. I thought I'd be starving for adult time. I am not. I want sleep. I want alone time. I am around other people, primarily my kids, 24/7. I want to be in a room, a nice, quiet room, maybe my garden, with nothing else but a book, some gardening gloves, and maybe my laptop so I can write. I don't want to go out. I don't want to plan big things. I want to be alone, in a quiet place of rest and relaxation, renewing my soul. 

9. I am not in control.
I thought not having a boss man in front of me would allow me certain freedoms, like eating, sleeping, and using the bathroom whenever I felt like it. Now, however, I have to answer to the schedule of a pint-sized person with a larger-than-life attitude. After preschool today, for example, I received a call from a woman I'd met this weekend during my attempted mother-and-daughter-bonding-fall-drive. She had bales of straw and was selling for $3 a piece. I wanted them, but by the time I received her voicemail, it was 11:30 and I needed to feed my kid lunch, get her down for a nap, and then get this blog post done so I could then call my MOPS moms, write my big girl's teacher, hand-make a card for a dear friend, and login to a new client's website. But those straw bales....$3 each? That's a wonderful price for straw. I couldn't pass that up. So I drove 30 minutes in the opposite direction of home, scanning the side of the road for a bank so I could withdrawal some cash. And true to form, I couldn't find a bank. I ended up needing to drive 20 minutes past my straw destination into the next town over to grab my cash. Meanwhile, it's past noon and my kid is hungry and tired and sitting in the sunny side of the truck and very, very unhappy. By the time I finally made it home with the straw, it was 1:30 and something had snapped inside of my toddler and there was no recovering from it and she is still crying right now as I type this. I thought working for yourself made you immune to someone else's schedule, but that only holds true if you don't have children. 

10. Happiness lies in the soul, not the surroundings.
I often walked by apartment buildings in the city and wondered how people could be happy living among so much noise and so little green. I wondered about the little old lady walking her dog down the road as gangster rap blared down the street and a Metra train flew into the station, whistle blaring wildly. I often scanned the sky, thinking the jet I was hearing was obviously in peril, when in actuality it was just flying low, coming into the airport. I wondered how these people were happy living there, in the land of smoke and smog and loud noises. I thought being home, in my own world, would fill up my soul and make me happy beyond words. And while I am joyous at least once a day, I've realized it has little to do with my surroundings and everything to do with how I am feeling in my heart and my head and my body. Perspective, while hard to hold onto, is key to a happy life. And that holds true no matter where you're standing.

Bottom line: I never want to go back. Never in a million years. I've learned more about myself in this past year than I did in all the years combined at the office. This is where I'm supposed to be.

What about you, dear readers? Ever done something drastic, a real life change, and then looked back and been surprised about what you'd learned along the way? I'd love to hear about it in the comments down below and as always, thank you so much for reading :)

Monday, October 12, 2015

Why Food Co-Ops Are Better Than Grocery Stores

I mean it. Better than Trader Joes. Better than Whole Foods. Better than the new Fresh Thyme "Farmers Market" that's going up in the old Dominick's location (yes, I'm talking to you, local readers).

But Jen! Fresh Thyme is an organic store selling local foods! They have "farmers market" in their name! They are helping your cause by getting good food on our tables! How can you talk down about a store that sells the stuff you're always ragging on us to buy??

Because conventional grocery stores, even the organic healthy trendy ones, just. Can't. Compare.

I have good reasons to support co-ops. And so do you.

But let's start at the beginning.

What the heck is a food co-op? In simple terms, it's a food cooperative, or a community-owned grocery store. It is a place to buy truly local, responsibly-grown food, owned and run by members of the community.

A food co-op is democratic. Owners cast votes to make decisions and each owner, regardless of amount of money donated, shares purchased, positions held, or longevity within the organization, may only cast one vote. Food co-ops are held to internationally-recognized principles and revitalize the area around them. They permeate the fibers of the community and weave new bonds, new relationships, and better health into the regions they touch.

The co-op we are trying to build is based on a fairly straightforward set of ideals. We want out of the corporate mess that's become America's food system (Gogurt, anyone?) and in to the fair, body-and-soul nourishing system of truly local foods, education, and participation in our food chain. Our goals include:

Promoting food justice 
Jen Translation: Healthy food is a human right. Our schools should be serving it. Our poor should be able to afford it. The people who provide healthy food for us should be able to provide for themselves. 
Why grocery stores just can't: Ever seen a Whole Foods, Mariano's, or Trader Joes in a poor neighborhood? Me either. Why? It doesn't make business sense. These grocery stores are created for one reason and one reason only - profit. Don't let the flashing "fresh! local! organic! farmers market!" fool you. They want your money. Nothing more. 

Increasing access to healthy food
Jen Translation: Suburban white girl problems: driving to 4 stores and ordering my meat from another state because there's no one-stop shop for the healthy food I want to serve to my family. Reality for thousands living in food deserts across America: it's easier to buy a Coke than an apple. 
Why grocery stores just can't: See above. If they wanted to increase access to healthy food they would build in areas where healthy food is needed the most, not in areas thought to fare best according to sales projections.

Collaborate with local farmers and suppliers
Jen Translation: Plunge money into our local farms so our aging farmers don't get kicked out on their asses and the farmland isn't swept up by Monsanto. Realign the balance between supply and demand so local organic carrots can be as affordable as a Big Mac. Reduce destruction on our planet by reducing the petroleum footprint of our dinner table.
Why grocery stores just can't: Let's say I'm the General Manager of Fresh Thyme. I can either get strawberries from a local (within 25 miles) farm for $3/lb or I can buy strawberries from a local (within 100 miles) farm for $1.50/lb. Which "local" am I going to choose? And what happens in the winter when Mama Caramel Latte wants her organic oranges? Florida is at least in the same country, right?

Enable wise choices with clear labeling and full product disclosure
Jen Translation: Give consumers like me what we need to make truly informed decisions. GMO? Need to know. Truly local? Tell me what farm it came from. Grass-fed? Explain for how long, where they ate, what they ate in the winter, and if they were grain-finished. And motivate those who still think 100% vegetarian-fed chickens are good things to get edjumicated. 
Why grocery stores just can't: Wouldn't want customers to know the "local" berries they're selling are actually from a farm 5 hours away, right? That wouldn't fare well. Can you imagine what would happen if they told us where they got those local oranges in January? Or if they pulled their very best vegetarian-fed eggs from shelves??

Bring sustainable products, services, and education to our community
Jen Translation: A co-op is more than just a store. It's a place to take cooking classes. A place to have pumpkin growing contests. A place to grab a healthy, fast lunch while you're dodging around. A place to learn how to grow your own food, prepare dishes made with in-season produce, a place for single moms to learn how to meal plan, a place for single dads to flirt with hot chicks named Jen...
Why grocery stores just can't: Aside from a super adorable turtle that occasionally entertains our kids while we shop, what do organic food stores give us besides, well, food? When was the last time you walked into a grocery store and learned how to cook a healthy meal....with ingredients you could read......from places you can visit? No? Anybody? 

Strengthen our local economy
Jen Translation: Take co-op profits and put them back into the co-op or the community. One or the other. That's it. 
Why grocery stores just can't: HAHAHAHAHAHA *ahem* sorry. Sorry. Ok so seriously now. Grocery stores are around to make money. They may be owned by honest people. They may be run by men who were once poor immigrants. They may be founded on excellent principles. But they are profit-driven. And every corporate organization has one - a little fat man sitting behind a huge desk somewhere plucking a thread from his $1k tie and checking his stocks online before staring at his secretary's bum and the profits from your recent trip to *insert natural, organic grocery store here* are helping pay for his extramarital affair. You think I'm making this up. I've worked in corporate environments before, people. This is real life. Even the "philanthropic" stores out Fresh Thyme, which will have a "board showing all the organizations we donate to in the local area!" not shoot 100% of profits back into the community. Kudos for them giving a percentage of profits to the community they're in. I'll take their money. But there's a better way to support the community. It's not they way they work. It's the way food co-ops work. 

Pay our workers a living wage
Jen Translation: If you have a full time job, you should be able to afford to keep a roof over your head, clothes on your back, and good food in your mouth. Here's a handy-dandy chart designed by the powers-that-be in our local elected office. And I betcha they didn't include getting Tommy that new power wheel for Christmas. 

Living Wage Calculation for McHenry County, Illinois
Hourly Wages1 Adult1 Adult 1 Child
Living Wage$11.66$23.53
Poverty Wage$5.00$7.00
Minimum Wage$8.25$8.25
Why grocery stores just can't: Go ahead and google average salaries for employees at your favorite grocery store. Go ahead. I'll wait..... *elevator music*........Back? Good. Did you see what I saw? They makin' $11.66/hour? Don't think so. Likely they're closer to minimum wage, yes? Think profit-driven entities will ever choose to pay more when they can get help for less? 

See what I'm getting at? I love that people are shifting toward organic eating. It's healthier and I believe in supporting it. It's obvious Big Ag has caught on and wants a piece of the all-natural, organic pie. They're enticing the public with words like "farmers market" and "organic" and "local," and our people are falling for it. Hard. My lovely readers, there is a better way to do this. Yes, natural food stores that support our local farmers even minimally are a step in the right direction. But when given a choice between taking a single step and flying half a mile in the right direction, why would we ever choose a single step?

Because it's easier. It's easier to understand a traditional grocery store, with its aisles and aisles of shelves and familiar options. It's easier to justify the cost of food when it's perceived as a "good" bargain with any sort of beneficial undertone, no matter how false or misrepresented. It's easier to treat a grocery store as simply an outlet to buy food.

Let's make the grocery store what it once was - a place for people to buy what they need, the staples, the seasonal produce from the farm next door, pies made in a kitchen, not a factory. A place for people to meet and share stories. A place for people to learn from those who've done it before them. Co-ops do this. They create environments, not grocery stores. They become a part of the community, not just another building absorbing cash from its patrons. And for these reasons, co-ops will always tower over grocery stores. They will always be a better way to purchase what we need. They will always be a worthy investment.

We have everything we need just outside our own front door. Farmers to support. Land to cultivate. Kids to educate. And good food to eat. We just need to be willing to embrace it, support it, and share it.

The food co-op I support is called the Food Shed. You can find more information at We're in the beginning stages but growing fast! Support, share, and be healthy!

Have you ever shopped at a co-op? What did you think? I'd love to hear about your food co-op experiences (or local food sourcing experiences) in the comments down below and as always, thank you so much for reading!