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The Brightside of 2020

I think we can all agree 2020 is a total shit show. It’s tragically comical in its absurdity. Its devastation is heartbreaking. The uncertainty of the next three months is terrifying. We all hope and pray the nightmare ends on December 31, 2020. I’m not sure if time works that way, but I have to believe.

Despite the shit-ton of horribleness that is 2020, amazing things happened, too. A call for social justice; united voices saying the names of those who were lost at the hands and knees of police brutality; a call to the end of systemic racism; people coming together to protest and let the world know that black lives matter; compassionate police officers linking arms with peaceful protesters; action, not just words. Love perseveres.

During the current wildfires in my beautiful Oregon, people are coming together to offer refuge and support to those forced to evacuate and who lost everything. People responded immediately to help in any way they could. People are brave, resilient, and compassionate. We collectively grieve for what Oregon has lost and what continues to be at risk. I imagine this is the same for Washington and California right now. Love perseveres.

Creativity flourished: artwork demanding social justice; protest signs; spoken and written words of love and compassion; new ways to connect to one another; different ways to express creativity. In 2020, I wrote from my heart and shared my life showing all its heartbreak and triumph. The response were words of support. Love perseveres.

For me personally, 2020 gave me more time with my family. Because I now work from home, I have extra moments with my sister that I would not have otherwise. And every day with her is a gift because she is living on borrowed time. 2020, brought my eldest daughter home to live with us and my youngest daughter home for a long, lovely visit. My heart is full. Love perseveres.

2020 marks the 30th year of my incredible love affair with Mike. I will settle for nothing less than another thirty years with my one true love. Yes, love perseveres.

I hope you, too, can see the brightest parts of 2020.

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We All Wear Masks

I wear a mask during the COVID-19 pandemic to keep myself and others safe. Sure, I complain about the tropical heatwave under my mask, maskne, and foggy glasses. It’s a minor inconvenience. That’s it. It’s not a political statement. It’s the very least I can do.    

I don’t mind wearing a mask during the pandemic. When I wear it, I can be any one—someone more confident, funny, beautiful, worldly, sassy, brutally honest. I think I’m hiding from the world, but I’m always recognized. So much for that plan.

Wearing a mask isn’t new to me. I’ve been doing it my entire life. I was the girl who smiled with her eyes and laughed while I was broken inside, hiding a homelife that was anything but safe, loving, and stable. No matter how much I hurt inside, I smiled. My mask hid my secret. I wore this mask when I met my husband. I broke off little pieces at a time to give him just a glimpse of my real life. It felt wonderful when the mask finally fell away and he wasn’t horrified by what he saw. He sees everything. I’m not sure he wants to sometimes, but he put a ring on it.

I still wear a mask so people don’t see my depression or how hard it is for me to get out of bed sometimes and be amongst the living. I smile and say I’m fine. Or I will really lie and say I’m good when I’m anything but. I will hide behind a sunny disposition and laughter (except with my poor husband and kids). There are times I’m good. I just never know.

Let’s be honest, we all wear masks. Saying exactly what you’re thinking during a work meeting may not end well. I mean who doesn’t want to call someone a complete fucking idiot over Zoom. But instead, you smile and agree with their insane idea. Or when you lie to the cashier at the grocery store and say your day is going wonderfully even though you just got the results of your biopsy and you’re terrified; it took everything you had to get out of bed and you just want to curl up on the floor and cry at the check-out line; your marriage is hanging on by a thread and the next fight just may end it for good; you’re so stressed at work your hair is falling out; you worry how you’re going to buy your groceries next week; you’ve been holed-up with your kids during the pandemic and they are on your very last nerve; or you woke up in a shit mood and the sound of the cashier’s voice makes you want to jam your car keys into your eardrums. The list is endless.

Writing gives me the courage to take off my mask so you can see me—not just the person I want you to see. You see my ugly side. Writing let’s me be brave and honest. You may judge me, but maybe something I write may help you in some small way. It’s helping me.

P.S. Don’t be an asshole. Wear your mask or cloth face covering when you’re out and about, wash your hands, and follow physical-distancing guidelines. We’re all in this together.

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Hope is a Gift

Hope is the thing with feathers

That perches in the soul

And sings the tune without the words

and never stops at all

Emily Dickinson

Hope has been the one constant in my life, even as a child. I may not have had a word for it, but I believed things would be better one day. I believed every hurt and fearful moment would pass, and I just needed to hang on a moment longer. So, I tightened my grip until it was safe to let go.

I’ve always had hope, it just looked and felt differently at different times in my life. As a child, hope saved me. It was the only thing I truly had. As a young adult struggling with depression, I had hope I would feel better again because hope carried me through much worse. As a young mother, I had hope my children would know how much they were loved because I had so much love to give. I had hope for their future and that they would grow into the people they were always meant to be. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I had hope that no matter the outcome, I would be at peace because I was surrounded by those who loved me.

I’ve been gifted with hope. Even when I question everything in this world, my belief in hope is unwavering, not because I choose to see things differently, but because it has proven itself to be real in my life. I hope for the best, even though I know not everything will be as I hoped. I believe anyway. I have hope in the midst of despair and uncertainty, especially now. We must have hope for this world and our future. Otherwise, all is lost, and I refuse to belief that it ends this way. I refuse to live in a world without hope.

I have hope, even though our world may be different after the pandemic, we will continue to love, dream, and believe in our collective future. We were meant to be hopeful, and when we hope together, we fight for a better world. It gives us strength. It inspires us to create, persevere, believe in our abilities, and triumph.

Hope truly perches in our soul.

Life · personal growth

My New Normal in the Time of COVID-19

My new normal is working in my pajamas and not brushing my teeth until noon. I roll out of bed fifteen minutes before the beginning of my work day to make a pot of coffee, feed the cats, and corral my hair with a plastic clip. I don’t even bother brushing it first. No make-up. I haven’t worn a bra in days. It looks like depression.

I sit at my desk in my bedroom for hours. I talk to voices that used to be faces. I sit in virtual meetings on mute so no one can hear the dogs barking in the other room. I leave my new office long enough to say hello to my sister-in-law in the living room, collect my Uber eats delivery, and grab a Diet Coke from the fridge. I’m a hermit with a head-set. My connection to people is a string of instant messages and emails.

My work day ends by closing my laptop—no goodbyes over cubicle walls; no see-you-tomorrows; no drive home to clear my head. It’s like I’ve snapped my fingers and am instantly home. My bedroom is a bedroom again. I take a nap, make dinner, hang-out with the family in the living room (steps away from my “office”), and go to bed at my usual time because tomorrow is a work day. One day is identical to the next and I don’t even care what day of the week it is.

Before COVID-19, I dreaded going to work, not because my job is dreadful, but because I just wanted to stay home and hide from the world. I didn’t realize going to work and being in the world helped me manage my depression. Depression loves my new normal. It’s been trying for years to keep me home in my jammies. It loves that I don’t shower every day or brush my hair. It loves my isolation and our long conversations. It loves that I look like I’ve given up.  It loves that I look like I feel. It loves that it’s my new co-worker I have coffee with in the morning instead of my best friend.

I don’t know how long my new normal will last. We live in a strange, frightening new world. Social distancing is a word I didn’t know existed before the COVID-19 pandemic. Stay-at-home orders, quarantines, and travel bans are part of our everyday language. Personal protective equipment and ventilators are on everyone’s minds. It’s not just my depression that loves my new normal. My anxiety thrives on every uptick of COVID-19 cases and the real possibility of someone I love dying. It’s not my usual fear of death. It’s so much more.

There’s much I don’t have control over right now, but I can define my new normal. It includes hope, hair brushes, and hot showers. It includes creativity in place of naps, FaceTime coffee dates, and inhaling fresh air. It means telling depression and anxiety to keep it down during work hours. I’m thankful I can work from home, and so very grateful for those who leave home to save lives, keep our world running, and give us hope. They normalize the world that is anything but normal right now.

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Thank Goodness I’m Not a Good Wife

Creepy AF

I was packing up my 80-year-old mother-in-law’s kitchen to move her into her new home across the street from us. That’s a whole other story, my friends. I came across her copy of Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book. Maybe this was new fifty-five years ago judging by the pictures and yellow pages. I’m pretty sure my mother-in-law rarely used this cookbook from the stories I’ve heard about her cooking. I couldn’t throw it in the Goodwill box. I was strangely drawn to it.

Here is what I’ve learned from this cookbook:

1. I’m a horrible mother and wife for not making my family breakfast every morning and sitting them down at an “attractive as possible” breakfast table.”  Clearly, the fend- for- yourself breakfast is a no-no. “Try to serve each member of your family the foods he particularly likes.” What? Who has time for that non-sense? You get cereal! And you get cereal! “You won’t have to force your family to eat if you set out a breakfast that smells, looks, and tastes good.” Force my family to eat? Eat what I cook or go make your own damn meal.

2. If I didn’t already feel like a failure at breakfast, I might as well jump in front of a train as punishment for the dinners I prepare. “Plan each dinner with as much thought and care as a company meal.” Right. Plan. My planning involves stopping at the grocery store after work and wandering the aisles trying to figure out what I can throw together quickly because I’m tired as hell from working all day. Even worse, I don’t serve coffee and dessert after dinner. Fail.

3. “Plan meals the easy way.” I’m directed to choose items from six columns: meat, starchy food, vegetable, salad, dessert, and “nice to serve.” Six fricking columns! On a really good day, my family gets three columns worth of food. The meat column is a choice of beef in all its glorious forms (steak, ribs, loaf, and corned) and one chicken option – chicken fried steak. The starchy food column is every single way you could possibly serve a potato. Just about every thing is buttered in the vegetable section. Way to go butter! If you struggle to eat a salad, this column will not help you. I would rather eat a bowl of snot than a molded vegetable salad. Come to think of it, maybe those are the same thing. Pear and cream cheese salad? Pass. If I were to serve dessert, it would be whatever pre-made thing I grab from the bakery section of Safeway. Homemade desserts. As if. I could probably pull off the “nice to serve” column. Here’s your dill pickles and grape juice. Enjoy.

4. If you really want to torture someone and make sure they never eat again, serve something from the “meals built around a variety of meats” section. Maybe I’m wrong. Someone must be into liver loaf, scrambled brains (from what, I don’t know), and stuffed veal hearts.

5. Another reason I suck as a wife and mother. No one gets a packed lunch. “A good general rule for planning lunch-box meals is: pack something hearty, something sweet, something good to drink, and something for a surprise.” The surprise would be if I actually packed a lunch. Here’s your lunch money. Try to buy something resembling food.

6. Just in case you didn’t know, “meat is money—take care of it.”

7. I tell you what, if I’m at a party that serves hors d’oeuvres consisting of codfish balls, anchovy puffs, and liver pinwheel canapes, I’m out.

8. Here’s the intro to the casserole section: “Park dinner in the oven to look after itself while you greet guests, catch up on your mending, or just relax a little.” Mending? Who do they think I am? We have learned to live with holes in our socks.

9. Anyone in the mood for a baked prune whip?

10. Table settings? “Have a sufficient variety of everyday dinnerware, too, so your family won’t tire of the same setting meal after meal, day in and day out.” Listen, I’m not moving the table into the living room. We’re just fine eating off our mix-matched, chipped, dinnerware in front of the T.V. And by the way, the kids wouldn’t notice our dinnerware if it was on fire.

I haven’t used an actual cookbook in quite a while. I have a smart phone and Pinterest. Maybe that’s why I love these old books.

Bon appétit!

Life

I’ve Been Squirreled!

Having Attention Deficit Disorder as an adult presents some unique challenges, especially when you have to be a productive employee and an attentive mother and wife. A squirrel is no longer an animal in my world. It’s a verb. Sorry, I meant to pay attention to you, but I was squirreled. I would have finished that super important project, but I was squirreled. Damn squirrels! Hey did you see that fat squirrel out the window? Who’s that walking by with the cute dog? I like cats. Hey, here’s a link to a funny cat video. Did you see that fat squirrel?

Here’s a snapshot of my life with ADD.

Jenny at work

Department head: “Jenny, do you have anything you want to say about this super complicated, convoluted policy we just came up with?”

Jenny: Shit. The only thing I heard were the introductions at the beginning of the meeting. Okay, just smile. “Nope. Sounds good to me.”

The absurd, logic-defying policy rolls out.

Jenny: “Who the hell agreed to this?”

Also, Jenny at work

Manager: “Jenny, I need you to write this last minute, super important legislative report by noon today.”

Jenny: “No problem. I’m on it!”

I write a sentence. Oh, an email just popped up on my screen. I better read it. Crap, I need to write this report. Oh, another email. I fall into a rabbit hole of emails that can clearly wait, but I answer anyway. Focus! I write two brilliant sentences. Oh, I need a cup of coffee. Whoops, I just spent fifteen minutes wandering through cubicles on my way back from getting my coffee that’s now lukewarm. A few more sentences. Hey, what’s this piece of paper you just put on my desk? Nothing important? Great, let me read it in detail and make edits. Oh, another email! I better go to the bathroom. Now, what was I working on? Shit! The report! Manager walks by. “How’s the report coming along?” “Almost done,” I say. 11:45 – I write like a bat out of hell with super-focused precision for fifteen straight minutes and finish the report. “Nice work, Jenny.”

Jenny at home

I better clean the kitchen. Oh, this random thing doesn’t belong here. I’ll put it in the office. Wow, what a mess. I need to rearrange things in here. Oh, this is something the kids made when they were little. I better put it in my special treasure trove. I spend the next hour going through every single treasure. Better let the dog out. I wander outside with him. Ugh, these weeds. I start pulling weeds and then notice the patio furniture is in disarray. Wow, the patio needs a good sweeping. I go into the garage to get the push broom. Hey, I left a glass out here in the garage. Weird. I better go put it in the kitchen sink. I start to empty the dishwasher. Ugh, these cupboards of full of things we don’t need. Better open every cupboard and pile everything on the kitchen counter. This junk drawer is a mess, too. The contents of the drawer are dumped onto the counter to sort through. It looks like a bomb went off in the kitchen. I now have an overflowing Goodwill box and a full trash can. That made me thirsty! I open the fridge to get a Diet Coke. Wow, what a mess. I start cleaning out the fridge and now the sink is full of dirty Tupperware. I start washing the dishes again. Geez, I wonder why I feel so tired. Babe, I’ll finish the dishes after my nap. I wake up. Not a dish in the sink. My sweet husband washed them.

Jenny during conversations with her family:

Mike: “Babe, listen to this hilarious story. I’m going to say the person’s name I’m talking about fifteen times.” The story concludes.

Jenny: “Wait, who are you talking about?”

Kylie: “Mom, I want to talk to you about this problem at work.”

Jenny: “I’m all ears.”

Kylie: “So, what do you think I should do?”

Jenny: “About what? Hey, do you want to go to Starbucks?”

Jenny writing

I can’t use the word distracted again. Let me use the thesaurus on my phone. Hey, I got a Facebook notification. I spend the next hour stalking people on social media, reading random articles posted by a friend, and watching a few funny cat videos. Right, I need to get back to writing. I look up distracted in the thesaurus. Oh, frenzied is a fun word. That leads me to the word corybantic. Wow, what does that mean? I look up the definition. Oh, it means frenzied. Back to the thesaurus. Oh, berserk is a neat word. I then start singing the berserker song from the movie Clerks. Hey, I wonder if that actor is in anything else. I then fall down the IMDB rabbit hole and don’t find my way out until forty-five minutes later. Oh yeah, I’m supposed to be writing. What’s another word for distracted? Let me check the thesaurus.

Never a dull moment, my friends.

Family · Life

One Sassy Mother

Jenny with sassy girl #1
Jenny with sassy girl #2

I’m a sassy gal. It goes without saying that I’m a sassy mom who raised sassy, strong women. I’m honest in a way that is completely inappropriate and embarrassing. My grown daughters share with me the bits of wisdom and advice I gave them during their formative years and I can’t believe my absolute absurdity. I either sugar-coated the shit out of something or told them the good, bad, and ugly. I either told them everything or nothing at all. There was no in-between. There are things I wish I would have told them when they were younger, like my struggle with depression, but I didn’t want them to worry. Maybe they did and I just didn’t know.

A lot of times, I gave my girls a heaping pile of sass with a side order of unwelcomed advice and attitude. I sprinkled in my opinions, observations, nagging suspicions, and worry. When they gave it back, I was petty, pushed buttons, and pouted. It was hard to tell the teenager from the mother. I shared my moodiness and negativity willingly, even though no one wanted it.

I have a sassy sense of humor that can be a little dark and questionable. Does that stop me from sharing it without discretion? Absolutely not. I will say the craziest, most incredulous nonsense just to hear my girls’ authentic, addictive laughter.

If you want to see real sass, I dare you—I double dog dare you—to mess with my girls. I won’t fight for myself, but I will go medieval when it comes to my beauties. I won’t be polite about it and I won’t compromise. I won’t back down until you back away. I will not hesitate to rip your face off, figuratively of course.  I’m not a psychopath.

Yes, I’m a sassy, stubborn mother. I’m a little bit of a handful. But I’m also the mother who encourages her girls to dream, chase adventure, be true to themselves, live in awe of the moon and the stars, love deeply, and love life. I’m the mother who reminds them they are brave, brilliant, and so much bigger than any challenge that comes their way. I champion them, cheer for them, and celebrate them.

I am the mother who loves them to infinity and beyond.

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A Few of My Favorite Things

My favorite thing is my 30 year love affair with my husband.

Who hasn’t hummed or sang My Favorite Things from The Sound of Music? I guess not everyone was held captive by their grandma and forced to watch musicals as a kid. It’s a catchy tune even if the list of favorite things is bananas. My list doesn’t include bright copper kettles or woolen mittens, but to each her own. I’m fascinated by the thought that everyone’s lists are different—it’s what makes everyone so unique.

What if instead of asking people what they do for a living the first time you meet, you ask about their favorite things?  You would get to know them on a whole new level. Have I done this? Not before this morning when I asked my sister. Everyone is going to say the people they love, but how many people love fat puppy bellies? My sweet sister does and so do I. Just the thought of it makes me smile.

There are the big categories of favorite things like kids, family, animals, jobs, hobbies, etc. I’m more interested in the specifics. To me, kids are little balls of chaos, but one of my favorite things is watching them draw or paint. They are totally free—no worries about perfection or criticism. I don’t want to hold a baby, but I do love those open mouth kisses that gobble your cheek and the smell of their hair freshly washed with baby shampoo.

I love my bratty weenie dog, but my favorite thing is when he burrows under the blankets and all I can see is his sweet face and big brown eyes framed by his old man eyebrows. I love my cats, but my favorite thing is when they visit me while I take a bubble bath to keep my company. Of course, I love my kids but my favorite thing is hearing them laugh at something completely absurd I’ve said. I love writing, but my favorite thing is when I string together a few words that end up being perfect together. I mostly like my job, but my favorite thing is having that first cup of coffee (with the perfect amount of creamer) with my friend who is more like a sister. It goes without saying that I love my husband, but one of my favorite things is, when I’m spinning out of control, he kisses me and everything is instantly better.

Some of my favorite things are just for me to know, but here are a few in no particular order:

  • A full golden moon.
  • Sunsets that light up the clouds with fuchsia and gold.
  • Birds chirping all around me while I read outside.
  • Internet videos of unlikely animal friendships.
  • My husband wrapping me in a blanket right out of the dryer.
  • Finding the perfect gift for someone and being so excited I can’t wait to give it.
  • Having lunch with my girls before they run errands with me.
  • Making people laugh because I’m too sassy for my own good.
  • Bubble baths with lavender oil.
  • Listening to my oldest daughter break into song in the middle of Target.
  • Going to a Blue October concert with my favorite concert buddy.
  • My youngest daughter saying something so unexpectedly funny that I can’t stop laughing.
  • Eating all the chocolate covered caramels from a box of chocolates before anyone else has a chance to grab them.
  • Looking through people’s photo albums.
  • Watching my mother-in-law laugh so hard it looks like her face is going to crack in half.
  • My oldest sister’s reaction to shirtless pictures of Chris Hemsworth.
  • My youngest sister exchanging move lines from Stepbrothers with my husband.
  • Seeing a folded towel in the morning left for me on the edge of the bathtub by my husband.
  • Holding hands with my honey while we lay in bed watching television.
  • The way my brother hugs me like he is keeping me from floating away.
  • When my sister says turds and wieners to make me laugh.
  • Sleeping Beauty and sassy Tinker Bell.
  • Seeing a picture of my husband with my youngest daughter at a Blazer game.
  • Snuggling up in my favorite blanket while watching movies with my husband.
  • Reading a line from a book that makes me wish I had written it.
  • An unexpected bouquet of roses.

When I’m having a hard day, “I simply remember my favorite things and then I don’t feel so bad.”

What are your favorite things?

Life · personal growth

What if?

My best decision was marring my best friend in 1990.

It’s human nature to ask what if. What if I said yes instead of no? What if I chose the road less traveled? What if I left home three seconds later or turned left instead of right? What if everything was different?

Life is a series of choices. Sometimes your life is shaped by the choices made by others before you even knew you had a voice. Sometimes the choices you make have a profound impact on those closest to you, and even those with whom you may have shared a handful of moments. Every second presents us with choices to make, some mundane and insignificant, but others shatter your world—the life you made for yourself, dreams you chased, a future you thought for sure was certain. Sometimes life presents you with one opportunity to make the right choice. Sometimes we get to make the same choice time and again until we learn to choose better. Sometimes we never learn.

My life has been a series of calculated choice—each decision led me away from a life of poverty, addiction, and abuse. I chose hope. I chose to end cycles that passed from one generation to the next. I chose me. I could have easily made other choices, no one would have blamed me if I had, but I wanted more for myself. It wasn’t going to be gifted to me. I fought for it.

What if my parents would have made different choices? Would I be as stubborn and strong as I am now if I hadn’t struggled every day until I left for college? Would I choose to be as compassionate as I am now if I didn’t know what it felt like to carry around pain and fear I collected as a kid? Would I be as creative as I am now if writing and reading stacks of books hadn’t been my only escape from a chaotic, violent homelife? Would I be as hopeful as I am now if hope had not been the only thing I had growing up? Would I diligently manage my mental health now if I had not watched depression and drug addiction destroy my parents? I could choose to see the tragedy in each choice my parents made, but instead I choose to see triumph. That which did not kill me makes me stronger. That may be true, but it sure hurts like hell.

What if I would have made different choices? I’ve made choices out of fear that absolutely broke my heart. I’ve made decisions I knew were right, but hurt those I love. I chose with my heart instead of reason, and chose reason when my heart begged me not to. I chose to be stubborn and irreverent, when being open-hearted and open-minded would have made all the difference. I chose skepticism over faith, pessimism over positivity, pride over humility, and doubt over confidence. I chose passivity when I should have shouted from the rooftop and anger instead of forgiveness. I chose denial when confronted with facts and chose to believe my worst fears couldn’t possibly be true.

But I chose to try again, knowing I can be better.

There are choices I am so proud I made—being hopeful, going to college, reaching out for help, marrying my best friend, getting out of bed every day, buying a home, raising strong, sassy girls, loving with my whole heart, writing, letting my self be vulnerable when I needed to and strong when I had to, and never giving up.

What if I am living the life I’ve always wanted?

I am.