Monday, October 10, 2016

Another Day with Abby

Today's post is dedicated to the Greene family, and their sweet baby girl, Abigail.

I remember the first time I met Adam Greene. I was nervous, shy, and even a little embarrassed. You see, I was carrying his friend's baby. Hi, nice to meet you, you don't know me, but your buddy knocked me up so guess what? I'm a part of your life now. 'bout them Bears? I remember the knots in my stomach like it was yesterday. 

Truth be told I'd crossed paths with Adam long, long ago. His sister was one of my very first friends when I moved to a new school district. She and I and a strange Texan named Chad would hang out all the time on the playground. I'd seen Adam before, but never spoke to him. Nope, I didn't speak to him until I was swollen and achy and nervous and anxious. 

I was worried for nothing, it turns out. He was incredibly friendly, the epitome of a big-brother kind-of-guy, and he smiled a lot. He didn't talk too much but when he did it was typically something funny, video game-related, or genuine. He greeted me with kindness and that kindness has carried over through the years, into my wedding day, at birthday parties, and even more recently, through my divorce. He looked me straight in the eye and asked if I was ok the last time I saw him. He is one of only three guys that's done that during this insane time in my life. You remember those moments. Direct, caring, friendly. 

I remember meeting Rachel, too. Where Adam carries more subtle conversations, Rachel delivers a whirlwind of words, typically fast-paced, on any subject in the book. I remember struggling to keep up and wondering if she was going to eventually realize I'm not nearly as intelligent as I must've looked because I had no idea what we were talking about. 

Rachel has the most beautiful face I've ever seen. Huge green-gray eyes. Dark, incredibly shiny hair. Perfect skin. She also smiled a lot the night I met her. And she was crazy in love with Adam, I picked up on that immediately. She shared funny stories from the past and I remember laughing and trying to picture my soon-to-be-husband as a young high schooler, acting like an idiot and wearing stupid hats. I found myself feeling so much more comfortable. A girl I can talk to who isn't judging me and is smart and nice and doesn't seem to mind that I was kinda just tossed in this little group of tightly-knit friends. 

She and her sister did our hair for my wedding day. She made me beautiful and told me I was beautiful and helped hold my huge white dress in a teeny-tiny stall so I could pee. She sent me messages while I was in Germany and hosted my second baby sprinkle and went out of her way to be nice, understanding, and inviting. She didn't have to do that. These were her friends that she'd had for years and years, I was a newcomer. But she did it anyways.

These two wonderful people decided to make more wonderful people. They were blessed with two little girls. Abigail and Emma. I had two girls, they had two girls, another couple had a boy and a girl, another had two girls, one couple had four boys (#bossstatus), another had two girls - as the years passed we added kids to the group faster than I could keep their names straight. We shared birthday parties and holidays and beach days and I still look forward to the one party every year when I am pretty much guaranteed to see everyone and I can try and pick out which leggy, sweaty kids were the little tiny babies I felt like I held just days ago. 

Abigail, the Greene's oldest, loves to talk. When she comes over she wants to know everything about the chickens. Names. What they eat. Why they are colored that way. Where the eggs are. Could she have some eggs? How many chickens. Could she hold them? Why couldn't she hold them? What liked to eat chickens. What scared chickens. But really please, could she hold them? She reminds me of my oldest.

Emma, her younger sister, is a girl of action. Much like my youngest, she knows what she wants and there's no doubt she is going to get it. At our last party I watched as she partnered with my youngest and together they dominated the mud pie kitchen and defended their riches from every other child in the yard. These women will run the world one day. 

Our kiddos play together. Not all the time, not very often, but they play together. We didn't feel pressed for time. We could always make a playdate some day down the line. When Rachel's mother passed away unexpectedly this year, my heart ached for her. I saw Rachel a few weeks later and hugged her, handed her more beer, let her know I was thinking of her. That's the same day Adam truly saw me and despite his own hardships, asked me how I was doing. We don't see each other much, but it's in these moments that we are there for each other.

And it absolutely shatters me to say now is another one of those moments.

Rachel and Adam just found out their beautiful Abby, only 7 years old, has a brain tumor. And before your broken heart rushes you into a slew of defensive thoughts about innovative medical treatments, various award-winning cancer centers, and how we've come so far technologically, please let me stop you. 

Abigail was diagnosed with DIPG. 

I want you to read these next few paragraphs. Please read them in their entirety - there's something you need to understand. 

"What is the prognosis for a child diagnosed with DIPG?

Medical advances in the past 40 years have greatly improved the survival rates for children diagnosed with most types of cancer. For some cancers, the medical advances have been extraordinary. For example, the survival rate for children with acute lymphocytic leukemia has increased from less than 10 percent in the 1960s to nearly 90 percent today. Overall, the survival rate for children with cancer is around 83 percent.

But these medical advances have done nothing for children DIPG.

Brain tumors remain the most common cause of cancer-related death in children, and DIPG is the leading cause of death from pediatric brain tumors. A child diagnosed with DIPG today faces the same prognosis as a child diagnosed 40 years ago. There is still no effective treatment and no chance of survival. Only 10% of children with DIPG survive for 2 years following their diagnosis, and less than 1% survive for 5 years. The median survival is 9 months from diagnosis." 
(Taken from

The Greene's, the lovely, wonderful family I described above, were handed that prognosis for their little girl. There is no rationalizing this away. There is no, "But what about?" This is, quite literally, every parent's worst nightmare. And it's happening, real-time, to two incredibly good people, one strong little sister, and one beautiful, brilliant ray of light with lots of chicken questions, sweet Abigail. 

So what can we do? As tears fall and hands shake, I wrack my brain trying to think about what I would want to hear. What would I want? Who would I want to see? Do they want food? How much is too much? How much is not enough? How can I even begin to understand?

And the bottom line, the real truth, is that I can't possibly understand. I do not understand what they are going through. I can't empathize my way into their world. And nothing I can do can shelter this family from the pain they are experiencing. This is their new normal and this new normal is unacceptable. And I can do nothing to change it.

But I can offer to hold the umbrella over their head for a little bit. The rain will still fall, the wind, still blow, but if I can keep the storm from hitting their faces for only a moment, it's damn well worth trying. 

Abigail Greene's website is called Another Day with Abby. There's a link where you can donate, even as little as $1, toward Abby's life. Your donation allows Rachel to stay with her daughters instead of working her full time job. Your donation allows Adam to travel back and forth from work into the city to hold his daughter's hand during treatments. Your donation helps pay for the smiling nurses and pediatricians who provide Abby's medical care. Your donation allows Abby to live life to the absolute fullest.

We can't take her cancer away, dear readers. But we can take a minute out of our lives to show love and support to a family that's continually shown love and support to others. This is our chance to show them that they're not alone. This is our chance to look them in the eye when they're not ok and say, "I am here. And I can help."

Please consider visiting Another Day with Abby and showing the Greene's that love and light can be found in even the darkest of places. You can also follow along with Abby's journey on her Facebook page, Abigail's Fight with DIPG.  

As always, thank you for reading. 


Monday, October 3, 2016

Harvest Results...How Did the Seeds Do?

It's been a heck of a start to the fall season, my dear friends. There's been quite a lot of heartbreak around these parts lately and I've decided to take a pause from the serious stuff for a minute and talk about something pure, simple, and joyful.....

....growing food. 

There's something very soothing and calming about taking a seed, shoving it in some dirt, giving it a little water, and watching it grow into a little plant. I don't think there's a single hurt in the world that cannot be soothed by just a little time outside in the dirt. It's therapeutic and natural and brings us back, quite literally, to our roots. Garden therapy is all about the process. The food that comes afterward is just a bonus.

I started growing my lil seedlings this spring - remember the Growing a Garden series I wrote alongside my 2016 gardening efforts? If you're thinking about gardening, or want to see how I started it up all by myself, check out that series. I planted a plethora of veggies this year, almost 10 new varieties, all of them heirloom and purchased primarily from Seed Savers and Baker Creek, with a few random little packets I got for free from the Mother Earth News Fair last year. PS: I am in Zone 5 - check here to find your zone. 

So which seeds panned out and which ones didn't? Let's find out :)

My zucchini rocked the house again this year. They got a late start because of the Chipmunk Fiasco of 2016 but regardless, they've given me a number of huge, quick-growing squashes that I've diced and sliced for pasta, freezing, and of course, the best, easiest zucchini bread ever. This is my second year using these seeds from Baker Creek and they didn't disappoint either year. I was able to save some seeds from the largest zucchini I found and am excited to see how they germinate next year. 

Last year I tried these in a bush-like habitat, planting them at the base of my corn and pole beans as a weed shade. They gave me one, yellowing little cucumber and almost immediately became afflicted by mildew. This year I tried them in a climbing pattern, up a trellis made of chicken wire, and unfortunately, nothing. I will be trying a new variety of cucumbers next year. Snow's Fancy, I wanted to love you, but alas, I fear it wasn't meant to be.

This lil' packet was free from the Jung table and booth at the Mother Earth News Fair. I am excited to say that despite getting them in the ground late, and seeing some pretty significant mildew on the leaves this past week, I've harvested four beautiful, adorable little sugar punkins this year. I will be planting these again next year :)

Both of these bean types germinated like crazy. My kids have furiously gathered and shelled these guys for the past few weeks. Trail of Tears had the most gorgeous flowers that were a favorite among the garden's pollinators. The Brinker Carrier's are huge and hilarious, looking like chunky little caterpillars at first glance. I let both these bean types dry on the vine and we will be storing them for use this winter as a dry bean. My only complaint (and this is more Jen Error than anything else) is the vines are quite strong - I need to work on my trellis skills. They toppled the corn over while trying to stretch to other plants!

I don't know what it is with me and spinach but man does my spinach ever bolt quick! I tried this variety last year too and had the same issue - the seeds germinated wonderfully, but the plants grew tall and spindly and seedy within 2 weeks. Maybe that's normal? I've been spoiled by my kale, I imagine.

This kale. I cannot even describe how amazing this kale is. The bunches are huge, healthy, beautiful, and hearty. Every seed I direct sowed into the ground this spring grew into a beautiful, bountiful bush of kale. I harvest the bottom leaves and work my way up and this stuff doesn't quit - it just grows more leaves. Last year it stuck around until the first major snow of the season. A definite keeper!

I didn't think I could ever get strawberries to love my garden but alas, I'm having the best luck with these two varieties. The Old North Sea berries are new and were just planted this year so no fruit yet. They have grown substantially since planting and of the three little root bundles Baker Creek sent me, two of them took off like lush, leafy rockets. My Alexandria berries were planted last year and they came back this year with delightful success. They were working hard well into the heat of the summer and although the berries are small, my girls loved plucking them off and popping them into their mouths for the majority of the spring. Fingers crossed both varieties survive the winter!  

Insect Control
I plant marigolds and nasturtiums every year for insect control. Nasturtiums are also edible - very tangy and gorgeous in salads. Last year both varieties exceeded my expectations and provided me with beautiful blooms from summer through the fall. This year, however, I was down on my nasturtium luck. Instead of direct sowing them, I started them indoors. That will change next year - back to direct sowing them once the frost passes! My marigolds are gorgeous - honestly they made me tear up on this crisp fall morning - beautiful orbs of gold and orange. *le sigh*

My peppers did not make it at all this year. I've grown the purple beauties and napoleon sweets before and had wonderful yields. This year I added the sweet chocolates and was so excited to see all three varieties grow into healthy, gorgeous, productive bushes. I simply did not get them warmed up quick enough. I also tried companion planting them with tomatoes this year and the tomatoes went crazy, which I think made it hard for the peppers to get that precious sunshine they love so much. Next year they get their own space on the south side!

Tomatoes, oh the tomatoes, dear readers. I tried tomatoes in 2015 and it was a bust. Only one or two orbs and they had blossom end rot like crazy. I was so sad, especially when I'd read about how they're the easiest things to grow, ever. This year, much to my joy and pleasure, I had the most incredible bumper crop of tomatoes. Of the four varieties I planted, only the Bonny Best did not grow. The Hillbilly Potato Leaf are ginormous, but extremely sensitive to water. Almost all of them split, which was fine with me because I don't sell them, I eat them. The Green Zebras were perfect, but smaller than I expected. And the Moonglows were my favorite. Beautiful orange orbs of extremely fleshy, delectable goodness. Fantastic year for tomatoes!

My cauliflower decided to high-tail it to Rot City this year. In 2015 this variety produced some of the best cauliflower I'd ever eaten. This year, the heat of the spring made the leaves wilted and attracted earwigs to my precious, yellowing bundles of goodness. I have not given up on this variety yet and will be trying them again next year in a different bed. 

My herbs soared with the eagles this year, my friends. The only variety that did not go nuts was the cilantro. Everything else, including the basil I put between plants and as an insect deterrent, grew strong and healthy and bountiful. I absolutely love the purple basil and the lemon balm, they are perhaps my two favorites. My herb spiral is looking gorgeous!!

This is all my fault, really. This variety did so so good in 2015. I went nuts starting these guys and started them too early. The planters I used stunted their growth and I didn't use enough soil in the raised beds to allow them to really spread out and get big. I was able to harvest some onion, but not the gorgeous, beautiful braids I imagined when I planted them. Next year, onions are getting more space!

These little babies survived what I consider to be a murderous attempt on their very lives. I planted them way too close together, in restrictive planting material, with nowhere near enough soil for them to root. Regardless, they gave me some adorable (even if kinda funky-lookin) orange roots. They also gave me a couple yellow-tailed swallowtail butterflies. I'll do them justice next year!

The harvest isn't quite over yet but if it were to end tomorrow, I would leave the season feeling quite successful indeed. Happy gardening!!

What did you grow this year, dear readers? What are your favorite varieties? I'd love to hear about it in the comments down below and as always, thank you so very much for reading! 


Monday, September 26, 2016

10 Things Nobody Told Me About Divorce

Hello my lovely readers. Oh how I've missed you so! I was overwhelmed and uninspired these past few weeks. I was able to clean, cook, and work, but that's about it. That was as far as my head was letting me go.

You know why?

My date in front of the divorce judge is this Thursday. This Thursday. I am doing this without an attorney and drafted all the legal documents myself, did I tell you that? I prolly didn't. I prolly was trying to avoid the onslaught of "Are you joking! Don't be an idiot! He'll take everything!" comments. But it's true, he and I are both representing ourselves. That paperwork is horrendous, and I'm a girl who loves paperwork. I can understand why attorneys charge so much.....kinda.

So I hesitated this morning, feeling nauseous after another night of restlessness and lying in my bed going over and over my various areas of brokenness. I thought, "Who the hell wants to hear from a whiner? Nobody likes to read about divorce. It's depressing. It makes single people not want to get married. It makes married people anxious. It makes struggling wives and husbands scared they might end up there some day. Best if I just keep quiet another week and hope something new and positive comes along next week."

But then I thought to myself, "Jen, what in the actual f@#$ is wrong with you? This blog is called Flaws, Forgiven. This is your space, your place. If you can't be ugly, sad, truthful, and real here, then where?"

This is my messy place. My place to connect to other messy people and raise my hand alongside you and voluntarily join up together in our own little messy, messy world. I'm truckin on today, readers. I'm writing because I feel like I might die if I don't and I'm drawing inspiration from real life. And real life for me, at least this week, is all about divorce.

1. Everyone has an opinion.
I assumed, perhaps stupidly, that my decision to divorce would be taken with a unanimous and resounding "Yes! I support you! I am here for you, feel all the feels!" You don't realize how different the people in your life are until you struggle with something immense, like divorce. Some tell me I made a great decision, it's time to move on, chin up, be strong. Others think I'm being a little dramatic, should've stayed put, needed to think about the long-term implications of my decision a little more. I will say the first group heavily outweighs the second group in my situation, particularly because I was left with the choice to divorce or remain with a repeatedly unfaithful man, but those few random people who are saddened by my decision still poke at me.

It hurts to think my decision causes others pain....but what hurts even more is facing those who cannot sympathize with me and understand divorce is something I never wanted. Despite the Facebook pictures showing me smiling and happy, I am mourning my marriage. I am purposely throwing myself into the happiest possible surroundings I can because if I stay put, stay inactive, I will fixate on the loss of years and years of hard work. My marriage was an investment gone bad, Jen's Black Tuesday. It's devastatingly difficult to be around people who cannot understand that, especially when I was so sure I wouldn't need to defend myself.

Similarly, I have very sweet, supportive friends who say things like, "It could be so much worse." They mean well, they love me, and I love them for trying to make me feel better. But it could always be so much worse. Telling someone it could be so much worse while they are at their worst is the emotional equivalent of threatening to cut off a one-legged woman's good leg. It undermines the struggle and fails to acknowledge that sorrow, anger, complaining, and generally being upset is allowed during divorce, regardless of specifics. It leaves me wanting to scream, "Let me be a whiny bitch for a minute! Promise when something terrible happens to you I will stand by your side and let you feel every last piece of it without rushing you along!"

Bottom line, don't expect anyone to fully understand what you're dealing with unless they've been there themselves...and even then, be prepared for the comparisons and the "you are so lucky" (yes someone actually said that to me while I shared the details of my divorce) comments. If you do find someone or a group of people who can simply stand there and hold you, judgement-free, lean on them and hug them to you with all your might. They are the right people to be around in this season of your life.

2. I judge myself every single day. 
Sometimes I judge my parenting. Sometimes I judge my ability to be a good friend. Sometimes I judge my looks, my character, my strength, my drive, my skills, my dedication, my heart. And yes, sometimes I even stand back and judge my decision to get divorced. I do not regret it, oh no. That ship has sailed. But I do look back at the events leading to my divorce and wonder if I couldn't of done something different. Been better. Tried harder.

Am I being a good mom? Am I being a good friend? Am I doing enough to maintain the relationships in my life? Did I make the right choice staying quiet? Do I really have any right to be sad? I'm constantly on the stand in my own courtroom, evaluating my progress through this maze of crazy paperwork, single parenting, and new routines. I overthink the crap out of my decisions....and it's because I don't trust myself. I don't trust myself to make the right choices, to be the support my kids need, to achieve my goals. There's a little light within me that grows by the day, telling me to push forward and for the most part, I listen and do. But I also doubt and judge myself constantly.

As time goes by and you develop a feel for your new routine, your new life, your new standards, your days in front of your internal judge will get easier. This is all about gaining confidence and learning to trust yourself again. It will happen. Be as gentle as you can with your self-critique until that day arrives.

3. My left hand is a flashing billboard.
So most of you prolly know by now that I love driving and flirting. I love the fleeting, absolutely no-strings-attached way you can ride alongside someone and give them smiles. I love when I'm deep in thought about something trivial and mundane and some dude rides up and winks at me. I love when I'm singing at the top of my lungs at a red light and the person in front of me is staring in their rear-view. I love it. And when I first separated from my ex, I flirted like a maniac. I rolled down my window on purpose to drag my hand through the air so all the dudes on the road knew I didn't have a wedding band. I felt free and it was lovely.

On the flipside, I find myself extremely self-conscious when I'm up in front of the church singing with the choir on a Sunday morning. Do they see I'm not wearing a ring? Have they noticed it's no longer there? I get self-conscious showing up at school events for my little ones. Do the other parents notice the tan line where my ring once sat? Should I wear long sleeves so I can cover my hand if need be? I wish I could say I was above worrying what strangers think, but we all know by now that is obviously absolutely not true.

The truth? Chances are nobody notices or cares what's on your left hand....and if they do, you'll never know what they're thinking anyways. Best to put that newly-naked left hand in the air with positive flirtatious vibes and let any negativity about your null-and-void ring roll right off.

4. Friends and family choose sides.
This one will blow you away when it happens to you. Fair warning.

As I mentioned earlier, I was pretty confidant those who know me and my ex would understand why I chose to get a divorce. I didn't adequately prepare myself for the very painful experience of getting left off a what I thought was a mutual friend's party invite. Or a family dinner. Or a holiday celebration. Every friend and family member who was his before the marriage falls into muddled, hazy territory that is tricky to navigate. Dinner with family members you love sounds like a no-brainer, right? Well, not when your ex doesn't want you there. Doesn't matter how much you love them, that's his family and you're out. Plain and simple.

And despite what they say, people will choose sides. They may do it gently, and continue to hang with you both while the other is not around, but there will always be a situation where only one of you can attend. The host will need to make that hard decision and chances are, it will hurt.

The only way around this is to accept your divorce signifies a completely new life.....your daily life for sure, your parenting and financial life, obviously, but also the way you spend your free time and how the people of your "married life" play a role in your "divorced life." Those relationships will change and sometimes will, yes, end. The sooner you work past that and accept such things are just a part of divorce, the better equipped you will be during your recovery process. Remember the good times and cherish your memories and move on. You have new places to be now.

5. I am happier.
My divorce isn't final yet. I'm only 9 months into this new, separated life. I am sad about it every day. But even in this walking-dead, bleary-eyed state, I realize I am happier. I am happier than I was when I snuck around checking phone records. I am happier than I was when I argued over how many beers were in the fridge. I am happier than I was when I wondered if I was too fat to be sexy. I am happier, even though I am not very happy.

Sometimes the pain of the moment causes perspective to warp and creates a sense of longing for something that was never really there in the first place. The good times stand out and my stomach lurches and I feel nothing but failure, remorse, and sadness. It's important, at times like these, to think back on the past with a clear head. I kept notes in my phone from those days, the real bad ones, so I could talk to my therapist about them back when we did marriage counseling. Sometimes I will pull those notes up to remind myself of just how bad it was and how much growth I've encountered already.

This whole situation is extremely difficult and painful and makes my head spin. But I am happier than I have been in 10 years. And you will be, too.

6. I can reach crap all by myself.
I had this silly image all through my marriage that if I got divorced I wouldn't be able to reach stuff up high. Like, I'd get divorced and I'd need to grab a dish from the top shelf of the pantry and instead of having him there to help me, I'd try and get it myself and would end up bumping the shelf somehow and everything would come crashing down on top of me and I'd die under a mountain of canned olives and cake platters.

But you know what's shocking? Now that I'm living the single woman life, there's not much I can't do myself. I can reach stuff up high. I can lift heavy stuff. I can build firepit brush piles. I can fix stuff. I can do those things. I'm not some wamby-pamby little mouse who flinches and tears up at the thought of her ex-husband's swift ability to unclog a drain. Reality is I've got a naked 4 year old who's crapped her pants and I need to get that drain unclogged now and get her poo-butt in the bathtub and cleaned up immediately because I start work in 4 minutes. So I do it.

You can do the stuff he did, or she did. Maybe not the same way. Maybe not with the same efficiency. Hell maybe you hire someone to do it. But you can get it done. You can reach crap all by yourself. The ideas in your head, the visions you had of your life post-divorce, they are not reality. Imagination is beautiful and terrifying and also simply that....imagined thoughts. Ground yourself in the reality that your life can function beautifully without anyone else around to help or watch or praise you.

7. I do not recognize my ex 99.9% of the time.
I know. By now you may think I am some kinda moron. I mean, c'mon, you're getting divorced, it's obviously not what you thought it was going to be. But I mean it when I say this element of divorce stunned me. I thought after ten years of marriage, I knew my ex inside and out. Turns out I was wrong and that scares the living crap out of me. My head is consistently humming with thoughts of, "Did he ever love you? Why does he hate you? Was he always like this? What if he changes his mind about giving you money? What if he takes off? What if he has a breakdown like those crazy shooters on the news? Who is this person? Has he really seen you naked and afraid? Is this really the same guy who dried your tears? How could you ever think you knew him, truly? What is wrong with you? Who else behaves like this? Will you ever find someone who doesn't change his mind about you every day? What if it's not him, it's you?"

Those thoughts go on and on and on, dear readers. When someone you love turns into someone you don't recognize, as I've mentioned in previous posts, it's the most jarring, unforgiving, horrific experience a person can have. Betrayal doesn't encompass it. Painful doesn't come close to describing it. You doubt the other person but even worse than that, you doubt yourself. How could your heart and mind and judgement be so wrong?

The only way up from here is to make a conscious decision. You really have only two choices - harden your heart and refuse to risk the pain of poor judgement again, or chalk your failed marriage up to a rare and horrible experience that will not define you. I am trying very hard to holdfast to my dedication to the second option and to remain hopeful about love and faith.

8. Reading and visiting the county's legal self help office was the single most helpful action I took.
Nobody told me to do my divorce alone. Everyone told me to go the opposite way, actually. Who knows, I may still end up hiring an attorney (Thursday will decided that). But despite the long hours I put into this paperwork, and the horrific legaleze I was forced to decipher over and over, I am glad I've done this on my own. I've learned my rights, I've learned his rights, I've read typical court outcomes, I've read what to avoid, I've read what to strive toward.

Perhaps it's my control freak nature. I feel I have no control over my failed marriage...but hell if I won't have control over the paperwork that seals my fate. Either way I feel better knowing and understanding these things. I'm informed and knowledge is power.

Take a minute to look at the divorce laws in your state. Go to the self-help area of your county's courthouse. Familiarize yourself with the paperwork and expectations. Even if you hire an attorney, it behooves you to understand the basics of your divorce case. You might need to understand these things later if something in your agreement is breached or changes need to be made.

9. The truth comes out.
Remember how everyone has an opinion about your divorce? Well, turns out everyone has an opinion about your ex, too. Once those around me understood my marriage was permanently over, the truth came out. They told me what they really thought about my marriage and my ex. They let it alllllll go. And in some ways, it was reassuring, and supportive, but in other ways it was very sad and hard to listen to.

I don't want to listen to someone completely bash the crap out of my kids' father. It's ok to call him a name here or there, I do that sometimes too. But tearing him apart in front of me does not help me. He is still a part of my life. He will always be a part of my life. I need to deal with that and keep some semblance of positivity in my interactions with him when possible.

People throwing too much shade? Is the truth hurting too much? It's ok to tell them to hush. They will. And then they will likely feel bad and apologize for getting caught up in their moment of anger. When you really step back and look at it, such displays are almost endearing. Your ranting friends are mad this happened to you. They want to let loose potentially years worth of opinion that's been bottled up and brewing. They are hurting too. But it's ok to tell them to hush.

Likewise, it's ok to tell your ex to hush. He might want to talk about his new love interest. He may want to divulge what really made him cheat. He may start talking about what he was really doing that night you thought he was somewhere else. Tell him (or her) to hush. You're dealing with enough truth right now. The truth within others' hearts doesn't need to be hashed out right now.

10. Doing things on my own is more healing than wine and chocolate. 
I know. This seems impossible, Jen. What are you saying. It's true, dear readers. I could very easily drown in bad food and beer and Netflix. Sometimes I allow myself to do just that. But can I please tell you, in all honesty, nothing feels as good as doing things on my own. Going to the library alone. Taking the kids on a "family-friendly" outing alone. Hosting a party alone.

Each time I do something I typically did with my ex, I gain a kernel of independence and confidence back. Every time I achieve a new goal, or try something new, or venture out on my own, I learn a little more about myself. It's incredibly empowering and definitely makes me feel better than wine and chocolate.....I really am telling the truth. 

It's tricky because a lot of the time I want to curl up and make good use of use various mindless crutches, like sleep, books, or Facebook....but I'm finding when I push myself to make plans, get busy, jump outside my comfort zone, I feel accomplished in ways I haven't felt in years.

Don't let your traditions end with your marriage. Tweak them if you need to but do them anyways. Make them your own. And realize you can do this, this thing called life, after divorce. Matter of fact, you can do it better. And you will.

Have you been divorced? What shocked you about the process? This goes out to non-marriage breakups, too....any tips to share? How did you find yourself again? I would love to hear about your experiences in the comments down below. As always, dear readers, thank you so much for reading :)


Monday, September 12, 2016

Best, Easiest Zucchini Bread Ever

I know I say this every time the seasons change...but I am so, so excited for fall this year. I had a record-breaking roller coaster of a summer, reaching some of my highest highs and lowest lows and let me tell you, I am ready for change and blankets and the end of the insanity that is my lawn these days. I've lost animals in that lawn. Children. My children disappear into that lawn. But I digress.

One of the craziest, most interesting things about autumn is the ironic pull this feminist single mama feels toward her kitchen. Oh yep, I said it. I love female power and challenging stereotypes and teaching my girls they can be warriors and anything else they want to be....but I also love, love, love being barefoot in my kitchen. It's true. I love cranking up the oven, sprinkling flour on my counter, and baking the crap out of my garden harvest. I love smell of my crockpot as it melts chicken bones into broth and I love pulling out my huge old-school pressure canner and listening to lids pop. I love rinsing off heirloom tomatoes and looking out the big kitchen window and watching my chickens bobble across my yard. I love, really love, being in my kitchen, especially after visiting my garden. And with autumn around the corner, my trips to the garden are becoming more and more frequent.

Now normally I have zucchini up the yim-yam by now, but some of you may remember I had an epic battle of ungodly proportions this year with massive amounts of teeny, sneaky little chipmunks. Everything went in late and as a result, my zucchini just started blooming a few weeks ago. You know. In August. My summer squash, zone 5, typically comes in ready to harvest by June. Juuuust a bit late, yes Jen?

I had all but given up hope and resigned to learn from my mistakes and try again next year when one day, I went out there one day to grab some Moonglow 'maters and noticed a stretch of dark green peeking up at me from under those huge, giant zucchini leaves. Sure enough, when I swept them back, I found this.

Blessed be thy giant zucchini. The kiddos were so excited we took pictures with the thing. And then we promptly decided it was time to make bread.

This recipe is adapted from Iron Oak Farm, a delightful little blog I follow on Pinterest and Etsy. 

3 cups of flour
1 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
3 eggs
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup coconut oil
1/2 cup honey
1 tsp vanilla
2 1/2 cups zucchini (see below on how to prep it)
1 cup raisins (optional)

Zucchini Prep: Now once upon a time I read you needed to shred your zucchini by hand with a cheese grater. This, dear readers, is about as fun as shredding 5 blocks of cheese or 4 bars of soap. Anything that requires me to use a cheese grater automatically makes me want to punch myself in the face. So here is how I do it instead:
1. Cut the zucchini in half longways

2. Scoop out the seeds (you can save these for planting next year if you grow heirloom!)
3. Cut the zucchini into smaller pieces
4. Throw the pieces into a blender and/or food processor and pulse, pulse, baby

That's it. I don't add water, I just pulse away. I tamp stubborn chunks down between pulses so they get good and shredded. If I have more than 2 1/2 cups of zucchini, I toss the extra in a baggie, write how much is in there on the baggie (this helps later, trust me), and freeze it for the winter. Taa-daa! :)

1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and move your oven rack to the highest position possible. The higher you bake in your oven the more even your stuff bakes!
2. Grease two bread loaf pans - I use butter but you can use anything slick. *heh heh heh*
3. Mix up all your wet ingredients - this includes the eggs, olive oil, coconut oil, honey, vanilla, and zucchini.
4. In a bigger bowl mix up all your dry ingredients - so your flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon, baking soda, and baking powder.
5. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix until well blended. If you like raisins in your bread, add them now. It'll look pretty liquidy and that's perfectly ok....great, even.

6. Pour half your batter into one loaf pan and the other half into the other loaf pan.
7. Bake for 60-75 minutes. You'll know it's done if you can shove a toothpick in there and have it come out clean. I like to live dangerously and go based on color and smell alone - a nice, deep, golden color combined with that perfect "not quite burned but soon to be" smell means it's ready. Or, you know, toothpicks n' stuff.
8. Let the bread rest in their pans for a little while then turn the pans over onto a cooling rack or clean towel and let everything cool down. You can eat some now and burn yourself like I always do - yes, it's worth it.

This bread freezes really, really well so if you think it'll stick around long enough, go ahead and put that second loaf into the freezer or gift it away like the angel you are. In my 3-girl-household we usually eat an entire loaf in about 2 days. Yep. Not even a little ashamed.

print recipe

Best, Easiest Zucchini Bread Ever

3 cups Flour
1 cup Sugar
1 tsp Salt
2 tsp Cinnamon
1 tsp Baking soda
1/2 tsp Baking powder
3 Eggs
1/2 cup Olive oil
1/2 cup Coconut oil
1/2 cup Honey
1 tsp Vanilla
2 1/2 cups Zucchini
1 cup Raisins (optional)

1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees2. Grease two bread loaf pans3. Mix up all your wet ingredients4. In a bigger bowl mix up all your dry ingredients 5. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix until well blended. If you like raisins in your bread, add them now.6. Pour half your batter into one loaf pan and the other half into the other loaf pan.7. Bake for 60-75 minutes.

Found on Flaws, Forgiven:

What are some of your favorite fall recipes, dear readers? I'd love to hear them in the comments down below and as always, thank you so very much for reading :)


Monday, August 22, 2016

Be Too Busy to Be Busy

So I pull up to the preschool drop off line this morning and the little one, all of four years old now, starts squirming. She remembers this moment from last year......this is the moment Mama drops the charade and allows her baby girl to do what every young kid was designed to do and craves to do with every fiber of her little being.... amok in a moving vehicle without a seat belt on.

This careless, reckless behavior is our little tradition. We pull up, I unbuckle her, she jumps out of her seat, and she wanders around the truck free from restraints and dictatorship and discipline as we crawl closer and closer to the front of the line. Sometimes I'll tap the breaks and she'll giggle her butt off as she slides back and forth on the seat. Sometimes she'll sit on my lap and steer. Sometimes I let her play with the radio and she'll always end up on a song she knows and she'll look at me with wide, happy eyes and start shakin her little tush. This is her wild child time, guaranteed, every morning before preschool.

Today was particularly exciting because it was the first day of preschool. She was peering out the back window and waving at all of her friends, almost unhinged at the idea that yes, Rosie really still does exist after all this time. Once her buddies got bored and stopped waving back, my little one occupied herself by waving at everyone and anyone who passed by. Some parents. A pastor. The gardener guy. And one man carrying a folder and moving at a purposeful speed.

"Mama," my baby said. "Mama, that man didn't wave at me."

I just looked at her, wanting to see what her reaction would be. Would she cry? Would she smile anyways? Had she become so emotionally developed that her feelings were now capable of being hurt by strangers? I held my commentary, waiting.

Her big blue eyes follow him into the building and she pressed her little lips together. "He's just too busy," she said with a frustrating sigh.

She immediately began hopping up and down on one foot and asking me for chapstick, unfazed, the man already forgotten...but I fixated on her comment. I looked toward the door the man had disappeared into and couldn't help but wonder how many waves I'd missed in my years and years of being busy.

I think all too often we tell ourselves, "Smell the roses? I'll get to it." We let our responsibilities rule our lives and our obligations take up our free time. I still behave as if I'm invincible, walking around with all the time in the world, decades away from my deathbed and that pivotal moment when it's all gonna come down to how many roses I actually stopped to smell.

The balancing act of me time and free time and her time and his time and work time and play time is so exhausting and overwhelming I end up dedicating myself to the most pressing need at the moment...and more often than not, that's making money. I can't tell you how many times this summer I've told my beautiful babies I cannot lay down with them, or read more books, or talk, or play, because Mommy has to work. Or clean. Or cook. Sometimes I feel validated. We all need money, right? My job allows them to have a good, stable, secure life. They need a clean home. They deserve fresh, healthy meals. But I'd be a liar if I didn't tell you I sometimes get horribly stuck on the question, "If this was the last day of my life, would I be happy with how I chose to live it?"

Now, I get it. It's not realistic to live every day like I'm dying because if I did it would be liquor-laced ice cream, dolphin rides, and living out of a van while driving cross-country and singing along to the Moulin Rouge soundtrack.

But I do believe there are ways to improve our current mentality of being "too busy" to be happy. Being busy doing things you don't enjoy is quite literally the definition of busywork. Busywork isn't as productive as we think it is and at the end we're left feeling like we've wasted so much precious time. I am fairly certain we'd all rather be smelling pretty flowers and waving at children than working and washing clothes and being submerged in the mundane and impossibly trivial parts of our lives...but how do we make that happen? How do we reverse the dynamic? How can we become too busy doing the things we love to be busy doing the things we hate?

Like any good procrastinator and/or slacker, I have to schedule new habits into existence. That's right. If I want to start a new physical fitness program, or write more, or even, yes, spend time with my kids and chickens, I have to place it on my calendar. That's what makes it official, you see. Not my deep desire to make those things happen. Not some otherworldly support or push in the right direction. Nope. For me, new habits only truly begin to take shape when they've got their own little color-coded square on my Google calendar.

You might not like calendars. You might like journaling. You might like refrigerator poetry magnets. You might like affirmations. You might like phone apps. You might be one of those insane highly-regarded internal thinkers who can just make their mind up about something and then whammo, it's your new reality. Whatever your flavor, reversing a habit and creating a new way of interacting with your life requires reminders. Lots and lots of reminders. So get your Tumbler feed ready and your motivational pictures printed and on your'll need them.

Sometimes (and by sometimes I mean every single time) I try and change everything too quickly. Instead of delicately maneuvering myself into a better future, I cannonball into it from 3,000 feet above. I want to spend more time with my kids? No problem. I'll just plan 10 to 50 activities for us to do over Christmas Break and volunteer for every single position available at their schools and spend hours yelling at myself when I don't hit every item on the kid-friendly summertime bucket list. That's the way to do it, Jen. Be a better mom by lighting yourself on fire.

The better way? Think big-picture, act small scale. Realize that the little things, even something as simple as a three-minute conversation with your pre-pre-teen before she goes to bed, can drastically change how connected you feel. You don't need to go crazy making all the changes for all the things all the time....start slowly, with small things, little by little. Take five minutes away from work to make yourself tea or eat a banana without looking at a screen. Actually sit down and focus on your food instead of trying to schedule appointments and check email and check Facebook. Leave your phone in your purse while you pump gas. Let yourself do one thing at a time every now and then. Give yourself permission to let your mind wander. Give yourself permission to become completely engrossed in one simple thing at a time...and let that thing be the thought, person, or activity that means the most to you at that moment. Get busy being simple.

Of course, old habits die hard. I can't even tell you how many times I've revamped my goals and tried to be a better mom, a better gardener, a better friend. I am constantly needing to bring myself back to the roots of who I am and reevaluate what it is that makes me happy. I kinda feel like this is normal....I mean, as we change, we grow, right? And as we grow, our needs evolve....I no longer need to marry Leonardo DiCaprio to die a happy woman, for example. Things change. Things change, Leo. 

Don't stress if you fall back into old habits. When you find yourself again tied down for all the wrong reasons, take it as a sign that it's time to check in with yourself and identify what makes you happy. Maybe you're falling back into old habits because you're sad, or bored, or simply not paying attention. Whatever the reason, forgive yourself, get back on the Busy Living wagon, and roll on.

This little dance called Work-Life Balance is a tough one to learn and an even harder one to practice. We're surrounded by compromised ideals and a slew of propaganda specifically tailored to make us feel bad for not doing it all, all the time. The result? We fight to do it all, all the time, and we miss the important know. Like blue-eyed kid waves. And hott boys at traffic lights. And roses that need sniffing. But hope is not lost. We simply need to teach ourselves how to dance in a world designed for dying. We need to be too busy living to be busy wasting time on things we can't extract joy from. We need to fill our lives with moments where we just take our seat belts off and dance.

What about you, dear readers? How do you find balance? What areas are you trying to work on? I'd love to hear about it in the comments down below and as always, thank you for reading :)


Sunday, August 14, 2016

How to Deal with Painful People

She talked you down after your first heartbreak. He made you smile in the kitchen that one Christmas when you were so stressed out and sick all you wanted to do was cry. She gave you her cucumbers each and every time because she knew you loved them so much. He listened to your worst, darkest confessions and kissed you anyways. She gently ran her nails up and down your arm for hours and gave you the very best goosebumps. He held your hand and whispered praise while you birthed his children.

And then these people, these moments you once cherished and can still recall with such clarity, they become bathed in red and confusion. The metamorphosis of someone you love becoming someone you do not recognize, someone who would so easily tear at your happiness in a way only they would know to do, that reality tosses you into a place you don't recognize. Sometimes the change is instant, jarring, like a stab wound, deep and wide and open. Sometimes the change is slow, gradual, like an infection that started with something small and seemingly insignificant but then spreads and eats its way through your flesh. Either way, the pain is indescribable. Such betrayal leaves you breathless. Such hate leaves you searching for answers. Such insanity leaves you questioning your judgement.

But you're not crazy. I promise. The presence of painful people in your life does not render you incapable, or weak, or worthless, or disgusting, or stupid, or any of the things you might say to yourself, or the painful people in your life might say with their actions and words.

Painful people, I am realizing, are simply a part of life. They will find you no matter what you do. They could be a stranger. They could be a sibling. They could be someone you married. The random, terrifying ability of someone to change on a dime and become capable of inflicting inexplicable harm is not something we can predict, I don't care how fancy your tarot deck is.

So that's the first step in dealing with painful people: Know that the harm they cause is not your fault. You do not deserve to feel pain. You do not deserve hate. And most importantly, there is nothing you could've done to prevent the painful people in your life from causing harm.

Do you remember when Nancy Kerrigan got whammied by that stupid blonde chick's hitman or whatever? I was a little girl when I watched her on tv screaming again and again, "why, why..." I've done a fantastic impression of that very moment, real-time, way more than I care to admit. It's human nature to want to know why. I want to know why. I want answers.

But there are no answers. Step two: Accept that there are no answers. The painful people in your life made up their mind to act exactly how they are acting and you'll get no help from playing the why and what if game. And if you're anything like me what I just wrote won't stop you from asking those questions anyways so here you go - here are the only answers to be had:

Why are people painful? Because they are miserable.

Why are they miserable? Because they allow themselves to be.

These painful people are not reflections of your abilities. They are not reflections of your judgement. They are not reflections of you. 

Every broken relationship was once whole. And the shattered pieces of every relationship, if you look closely, are speckled with the remnants and hopes and dreams that take us so high, make us think we are invincible, lead us to believe real, lasting destruction is impossible and love will always overcome. And there's only one truth in all of will always overcome. Just very likely not in the way you expect it to.

This is the time to keep your eyes wide open and search for the love. Remember that juxtaposition I talked about a few weeks ago? Every time there's dark, there's light. Find the light. Step three: Seek out the light. Before you even start to think about how you're going to deal with the painful people in your life, hold fast to your light. Find your confidence. Seriously, reread that confidence post. Get back to standing on your own two sexy feet. You're going to need it.

Painful people thrive on inflicting pain. Sometimes they are outwardly proud of it, sometimes they are in denial, sometimes they don't even realize how much they enjoy repeating behaviors that suffocate, stifle, and strangle those around them. Sometimes they are otherwise good people that truly just for whatever reason want to harm you. Whatever their modus operandi, you've gotta realize the results, regardless of the reasons, are always the same: you are in pain, they are thriving off it. Excuses cannot work here. Step four is to cast out your excuses for that person. He may be great at math. She may donate regularly to your favorite charity. You may love his parents. She may be a good person, deep, deep down. Irrelevant. What matters right now is that he is harming you and consequently, is no better than a common criminal (who, in all fairness, would at least outwardly admit he wants to cause you pain).

That's one of the hardest parts, I think....setting fire to those memories and moving past what once was so you can fully accept what actually is. What's actually happening is someone is trying to tear you apart. What's actually happening is you are being threatened and will be eaten alive unless you act defensively. And, dear readers, painful people do not play fair. The more they know you, the deeper they will cut you. The more vulnerable you allowed yourself to be with them, the more open and exposed and trusting you were of them, the quicker they are capable of gutting you. This is a dirty, dirty game that often results in simply cutting the infected person out of your life forever. In some cases, however, cutting the painful people out of your life isn't possible. Game plans are key.

There's a stack of bricks waiting within each of us, piled up in the corners of our heart, patiently holding out for the day we need them for protection. Slowly, surely, these bricks become our internal fortress against those who seek to harm us, tear us down, make us feel like we are nothing. Slowly, surely, one by one, we need to slam these bricks down and knock the dust off our self-worth. The wall doesn't need to exist all the time, or be impenetrable to everybody, but to the painful people in your life, the wall needs to become a reality. No more letting the painful people in and out of your life at their whim. No more answering their cries of change and commitment with love and understanding. Step five is to build your wall. It's a sad step but it needs to be done, lovely readers. You are not this person's friend. They are purposely harming you. Write down your boundaries. Write down topics you will and will not share. Write down what they are and are not allowed to know about you. Create your boundaries and be prepared to defend them. If there's one thing a painful person doesn't like, it's learning they actually really did lose access to you in every way imaginable. It will be game on once they realize what they lost.

And this is where the best step comes into play. What is the most beautiful, serene way to communicate with another person? It's your smile, gorgeous. Your smile lights up the room. It stops hearts. It forces people to pause and wonder. Your smile conveys your strength, your ability to see beyond this trivial, momentary blip on the radar of life. Your smile communicates that these painful people cannot defeat you. You are unstoppable. You are unbreakable. And this person, this person who wishes to see you cry, who wishes to see you fall, will only see you smile as you rise. Step six is to smile. Smile at the painful people in your life and know that despite them and the pain they choose to inflict, you are protected and you are loved and they will never conquer you.

Now, I'm no fool. I know what it means to cry into my pillow and I know that need to call someone you love just to take a few deep breaths. I know what it's like to lose countless hours of sleep and I know what it's like to despise yourself for all the wrong reasons. I know what it's like to smile even though you are literally breaking inside.

But the point is they'll never know one way or another. The painful people in your life don't get that power anymore...the ability to control when you're happy and when you're sad. They don't get to see the results of their efforts; whether executed out of tenderness or spite, their actions will always end with the same reaction - indifference. They cannot phase you. They cannot beat you. Cuz let's face've already won. 

Do you have painful people in your life, dear readers? How do you deal with them? I'd love to hear about it in the comments down below and as always, thank you so very much for reading :)


Monday, August 1, 2016

Best Ever Homemade Blueberry Muffins

It's blueberry season. This is a good thing because it is also back-to-school season, aka the mysterious and unavoidable Month of Target Shopping Rage. Everyone needs the same crayons, people. Let's be friends. Blueberry season helps to counterbalance the horror of deciphering supply lists...the little blue orbs are adorable and deliciously healthy. They are great in smoothies, on pancakes, or as I'm about to show you, in these muffins.

Now when I tell you this is the best ever homemade blueberry muffin recipe, I mean this is quite literally the best homemade muffin recipe ever recorded, ever. I've tried many, many recipes, dear readers, and this one takes the cupcake (meheh heh). Bonus - these muffins are very easy, require very little time to make, and store so well. The storage factor is important because I'm no saint in the breakfast department; I rarely make my kids a special breakfast because I am typically wanting to jump off my roof pretty sleepy in the morning. I shouldn't be operating things like skillets and gas stovetops before I've had my tea. These muffins allow me to give my kiddos something special without actually cooking anything. I can practically feel the Mom of the Year award in my hands!

***Quick note about blueberries***
I have some lovely, young blueberry bushes in my backyard. We ate all the berries right right off the bush long before we could gather enough for this recipe. I could buy fresh berries from the grocery store but those buggers are super expensive, especially the organic ones I insist on I buy frozen. The tricky thing about frozen blueberries is that they are all wet and juicy - so I use a little less than 1 cup of them for this recipe. If I used fresh berries I could use up to 1 1/2 cups of them if I wanted, it just depends on berry size and wetness factor (giggity). You don't want your batter too wet or it won't bake right.

(makes 12)

6 Tbsp butter
1 1/2 cups flour
3/4 cups sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup whole milk
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1-ish cup blueberries

How to Make 'Em

1. Grease your muffin tins or pop those paper babies in there.

2. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Adjust your oven racks so you have one kinda high up - bake higher in the oven to get a more even bake on your stuff. I swear it works. 

3. Melt the butter in a small pan until it is barely melted, then remove the pan from the heat and let it cool a little teeny bit.

4. Combine your dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt) and whisk until fully blended.

5. Add melted butter, milk, eggs, and vanilla and mix gently until combined. This stuff gets stuck to my whisk so sometimes I use a fork or a spoon. Don't overmix or else!

6. Gently fold in blueberries. Stop and admire your blue fingers for a minute, then continue. 

7. Spoon into muffin tins and wipe off any spills. I fill 'em up until they're almost full because I don't like doing half batches with leftover batter because I am lazy. Also, purple batter rules. 

8. This is prime lick time, so if that's as much your thing as it is mine, go to town. 

9. Bake for 18-20 minutes until brown. If you have purple batter like me just poke em a little and pay close attention to the edges, they will show the nice brown color you're looking for. 

10. You can try not to eat them all at once or you can accept that this is heaven in muffin form and just allow yourself to fall into the deliciousness. Feeling competitive? My record is 12 in 2 hours. Bring it. 

Pin this recipe for later:
Recipe adapted from Santa's North Pole Cookbook by Jeff Guinn

I would love to hear your favorite blueberry recipes in the comments down below, dear readers, and as always, thank you so much for reading :)