Dec 29, 2015

Awesome Posts by Awesome People - 2015 Post Roundup

We're almost to the new year and, as per usual, I'm reflecting on the year past!  Here's a compilation of all the awesome, thought-provoking, and inspiring things I read in 2015 (if you want a serious wave of nostalgia, go see the things we were talking about in 2014).


Blog Advice and Resources

Body Shaming & Self Image

Feminism and Sexism



Self Improvement & Self Actualization

Social Issues

So those are all the posts that I found particularly impactful.  What about you?

What were your favorite posts and topics of this year?  What discussions were important to you?

Jenn signature graphic | Business, Life & Design

Dec 27, 2015

Australia Travels and Happy Holidays!

I'm off for an exciting International adventure!  I've had some posts scheduled for the new year since summer, so I'm not going to change that, but comments will be few and far between until I get back in a couple weeks.

So Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, everyone!  Or, if like me you have memorized the lyrics that one holiday Spanglish song, Feliz Navidad, próspero año y felicidad!!!

Jenn signature graphic | Business, Life & Design

Dec 22, 2015

Quarterly Goals - Winter 2015

Holy crap, it's almost Christmas!  And I've got another seasonal goals check in.  Here's how I did for Fall.

Autumn Seasonal Goals

1. Finalize Australia trip w/sisters - Check!

Leaving in less than a week!!!

2. Come up with themed Halloween Costume - Check!

We went back and forth a few times, considering Trailer Park Boys (easy, but no one knows what it is) vs Zoolander (harder but more fun!).  Then Ryan's Christmas gift arrived - a Final Fantasy Tactics red mage costume, which turned out to be pretty sweet.  So obviously he needed to wear that.  Roommate and I made (cheaper) costumes to go with him.  Only one person got the reference, but hey!  We looked good, right?

3. Pursue 3 different avenues for finding new clients - Check!

October: This one was easy - I just followed up with a friend's boyfriend about potentially needing work for his business (it had been casually mentioned a bunch of times but I had yet to outright ask him if he really wanted it).  And there was another potential lead that I followed up with.

November: I attended the New Castle County Chamber of Commerce (what a mouthful!)'s Business Women's Expo (full post about it on BL&D).  The workshops were decent, and the networking was ok.  I feel like all too often with the chamber networking events it becomes this, "Are you done talking yet?  Ok, here's MY sales pitch." instead of people actually getting to know each other.  Despite that I made a couple contacts I'd like to follow up with in a non "Here's my email sales pitch!" kind of way.  Also!  (And this is more exciting)  My 2nd lead from October got back to me and is looking quite promising.  We discussed a ton of potential projects starting January, so we'll see, but I am optimistic about my freelance opportunities.

December: I'm kind of cheating for the last one, because they came to me!  I was absolutely delighted when an old coworker from the DC area roped me in on a project with her new company.  And then one of my current clients referred a friend over to me for a logo project.  So that plus site updates, getting business stuff in order (bank accounts, business licenses, the works!), finishing up my last few weeks of full time work, preparing to move, and Christmas/family/vacation prep was plenty.  I'm exhausted just thinking about the last few weeks.

4. Bake something - Check!

Apple pie with "fancy" lattice crust
I made a pie!!!  And to pretend it was fancy, I sliced up the premade crust and made it into a lattice.  Attractive and delicious.

Thanksgiving pie fest!  (Pecan, pumpkin, and pumpkin cheesecake)
And then more for Thanksgiving!  When you're not going to see family, you have to console yourself somehow.

5. Go on an adventure each month - Check!

October: Went pumpkin picking with some bloggy buddies and hosted a clothing swap.  (blogger pic below)

November: I was brave and made an art-show-turned-dinner lady date with someone I didn't know terribly well (plus, you know, buying a house).

December: Took my family and new lady friend to Cream Ridge Winery (still as amazing as the first time!), attended an ugly Christmas sweater party at someone's house I'd never been to before, and managed the photo booth for a Zumbathon for an old client/friend.

Top left: me and my neighbor (she was my date to the ugly sweater party and we had a blast!), the rest are at the Zumba birthday bash.  I did some whining at the beginning of the night, but by the end I was glad to have done it, which is my usual pattern with social outings.

A damn good Fall, if I do say so myself.  And the new year marks the beginning of a few new adventures, including the Australia trip, moving into our new house, and striking out on my own as a freelancer!

6. Finish Christmas shopping - Check!

I had most of this done at the beginning of October.  Then time passed, some of the gifts got gifted early, and I had a last-minute (for me early December is last minute) panic attack and bought a bunch more stuff.  Either way, done well in time for Christmas.  <3

7. Finish in-limbo craft projects - Check!

Recipe book trimmed.  Mirror painted.  Family scrapbook designed (and I made a private blog to document the big family events - nobody wants THAT many words in a scrapbook).  I had another project that I let go in order to get SOMETHING off my plate and I feel good about that decision as well.  I ought to have pictures of the crafts I completed, but I don't.  Blogger fail.

8. Do just one Fall-themed thing - Check!

I love the picture on the bottom right so much.  I chuckle every time I see it.
I'm using pumpkin picking as both an adventure and a Fall-themed thing.  But, seriously, this was just about the most Fall-themed a day could possibly be!  I also went apple picking with my family, did the Ren Faire, and got fancied up for Halloween.  So I guess "just one thing" was a more modest goal than it needed to be!

8/8 - A good season!!!  I'm not sure what clicked about these goals, but I was on it.  Most were completed before the end of October.

Here's the new goals...

Winter Seasonal Goals

  1. Find clients!!! (Complete 1 marketing task every week that I don't already have my time filled with client projects.)
  2. Budget - fo' real (I never stick to them, but if I'm gonna freelance, I'm gonna need to.)
  3. Optimize our new living space!
  4. Find an adventure for each month (this is a repeating goal, but always one of my favorites)
  5. Finish writing book
  6. Routine - get into it (I'll need this if I'm going to work for myself 3 days a week)
  7. Introduce myself to our new neighbors

Looking forward to 2016!  Merry Christmas, everyone!!!

Do you make seasonal goals?  What are you planning for this winter?

Jenn signature graphic | Business, Life & Design

Dec 17, 2015

Gifting - Is There Such a Thing as a "Bad" Gift?

I was reading Holly's post about Christmas gifts and her list of things she'd like.  At the beginning she links to this awful post someone wrote about what not to get her for Christmas.  Awful because it's all petty stuff, and she sounds like such a spoiled brat.  BUT it did get me thinking, is there any gift I could genuinely say is bad without sounding like an ingrate?

I know I've given gifts that have fallen flat.  But there haven't been any I've received that I didn't at least pretend to be grateful for.  So here's my list...

Gifts I Had to Pretend to Like

1. Hair Puller Outer (aka Torture Device)

So you know how some people always want to give you something "useful"?  In my experience, it's been primarily boyfriends.  This particular fellow thought he was doing me a huge favor and it never occurred to him that a gift to alter my appearance could be perceived as an insult.  I'm a pragmatic sort, so I was willing to overlook this and indeed, the hair puller thingy did seem to have some potential for usefulness.

For about 15 seconds.  And then, eyes watering and skin flaming red, I realized I'd rather leave my body hair completely intact than ever, ever use this thing again.  It was more painful than the time that I decided to try to wax my lady bits with a kit at home.  It felt like it was ripping your skin, rather than just yanking the hair out by the roots.  It was bad.

2. Clothes

This is always a risky prospect.  My sisters have (what I consider to be) excellent taste, know my size, and even what shapes will be flattering on my body.  But anyone else... yeah, it's just a total toss up.  And then you add grandmotherly forgetfulness into the mix, and you've got triple X shirts and XS panties and making a show of enthusiasm is very difficult.  When my mom was teaching us to write thank you cards, she told us to say something nice about the item and when it's something you can't even physically fit on your body that gets difficult.  So... we got creative: "the color was so pretty," "what nice lace detailing," "how funky and interesting!"

3. Bath Sets

Not a fan in general, but I have a particular memory that really reinforced this for me.  A group of friends and myself would exchange gifts every year and most of us didn't want to.  So each year we'd wait until the last minute, hoping we just wouldn't do it until that one friend would pipe up, "I got your presents today!"  Then we'd sigh and trudge to the mall to buy something meaningless for her because we felt obligated to.  The best year (and by "best" I mean most pointless) was the year I got her a bath set from B&BW.  Not the kind of thing I liked, but probably the kind of thing she liked.

When we exchanged and I opened her gift, lo and behold!  Another bath set.  Yes, we basically exchanged bath sets.  I don't know if she liked mine or not, but if my money HAD to be spent on overpriced hygiene products, I'd rather have picked my own scent.  Although what I'd most prefer is to not do the exchange and just save our money.  None of us had very much of it at that point and my bank account would have been a lot happier.  To be fair to this friend I should probably mention that we did our exchange a couple more times before growing apart, and the very last one was probably the best - we actually bought things with each other's interests in mind, rather than our own.

4. Keychains

As a kid I kind of liked these.  I had keychain collections hooked onto my backpack and it was all very "cool."  But as a practical adult, I only need the one for my actual keys, and I don't like clutter, even sentimental clutter from people's trips and stuff.  I feel like an ass just writing this, but it's honest.  The only trip souvenir I've ever really liked was a piranha skeleton that my grandmother brought back from the Amazon.  THAT was pretty awesome!  Everything else?  I didn't go on that trip, so it's hard to treasure your memories that I don't share.

5. (Some) Giftcards

I don't actively dislike these, and sometimes they're genuinely useful.  But how well do you know me?  Do you even know if I've ever been to that store?  If it's a restaurant and it's within 45 minutes of my house - yes, thank you, I will definitely be using this!  But if it requires me to physically go somewhere I've never been to pick out stuff I probably don't need?  Meh.  There's a pretty good chance I won't ever actually make use of it.  Someone got me a giftcard to Target once (sorry Target supporters!), and at that point in my life I'd never been there.  I remembered it 2 years later, tried to use the card, and discovered these things come with a time limit.

OH!  And I'm terrible at remembering them.  Currently sitting in my purse, giftcards for: Catherine Rooney's (over a year old), Barnes & Noble (few months), Water Works (2 years-ish), and Dogfish Head (1 year).  And these are places I like!  I made a special trip to Water Works twice (it's a restaurant by the Philadelphia art museum) and forgot the card both times (Sorry, Sister3, I'll remember next time!).

Edit: I used the Barnes & Noble card after writing this so I wouldn't forget about it again.  Haha!

So anyway, I don't think any of these are "bad" gifts - they were just things I didn't appreciate the way someone else might have.  So I say thank you and then quietly regift or donate to Goodwill later.  Thanks for the sentiment!  I care about you, also.

I still haven't thought of a bad gift unless it's something openly judgemental, like "Parenting for Dummies" to someone whose kids are out of control or... I don't know.  What do you guys think?

Is there such a thing as a "bad" gift?  What's the worst gift you've ever received?

Jenn signature graphic | Business, Life & Design

Dec 15, 2015

The Spirit of the Holidays

And no, I'm not being careful about saying "Christmas," I'm literally talking about all the holidays.  Including semi-holidays, like my birthday.

I put up the tree on Monday and our half-assed lights around the front door.  I swapped out the paintings by the door the winter ones with the white walkers that I love the best.  And I felt it.  I felt the glow and warmth of holiday time and genuine excitement for the day I'd be spending with family in just 3 weeks.

Why is that notable?  Because I've been struggling this year.  As I've gotten older, holidays have gotten more and more lackluster.  Mostly just my birthday.  My birthday has been pretty much unpleasant since number 19 or so.  Not always - sometimes my sisters plan something amazing for me, like the year we went skydiving and spent the day on the beach with our cooler full of birthday cupcakes.

This past year I was pretty mopey.  I was determined to ignore my birthday, because how could I get upset if it was just another day?  But I did anyway.  I noticed and I felt lonely and sad.  So at the last minute I rounded up some family and friends and forced them to go to Outback with me (a longtime favorite that I refuse to grow out of!!!), AND to let me pay.  Me paying is crucial to my enjoyment of a group meal, because I don't have to feel guilty for ordering too much stuff, or for straining my friend's finances.

So it was good.  And you'd think the lesson would be - hey, ignoring the day makes it suck.  Don't do that.  But I didn't figure that out until after Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving I had pretty much the exact same plan.  I wasn't feeling up to Thanksgiving.  I knew I was going to feel sad if I didn't do anything, but Ryan suggested thinking of it as just a day off work and not a holiday.  A day off work sounded amazing at that point, so I thought this was a genius plan.  Until Thanksgiving.

What was originally suggested as a "play video games together" day turned into a "Ryan plays video games by himself in the basement" and, after baking an excessive number of pies, I didn't know what to do with myself.  So I moped, until Dani sent out a "Happy Thanksgiving" text.  I'm not sure why exactly that touched me so much but it really did.  Having someone to commiserate made the day so much less bad.  And it gave me something to do other than polish off a bottle of wine by myself.

So we chatted, I consumed large amounts of pie and wine and read books, and managed to get by.  I tried to find the silver lining, but overall it's probably a memory I won't try to hold onto.

And underneath my forced optimism, I felt a tinge of fear.  What if I was turning into a grinch, like my father?  What if the real reason he got so grumpy at holiday times was because he was dreading this feeling of wistful, aching letdown?  What if I got to the point where I couldn't enjoy any holidays?

Ryan's been attempting to persuade me not to set up our Christmas tree this year.  Because we're moving soon and is it really worth the hassle?  I almost let him persuade me.  We're busy after all, and setting up, and packing back up, is just more work we need to do.

But a small voice in the back of my head said, "You know, Thanksgiving last year was fine.  The year that you DID something."  So I got all the stuff out.  I attached the sections of our cheap, Walmart tree, fluffed it up, plugged it in, and then bam.  I felt it.

That elusive joy and contentment that I'd been missing.  That sense of excitement and having things to look forward.  The feeling that the time until then was still just regular life, but it was a little better because I was making the most of it.

I can't just ignore the holidays, or my birthday.  We grew up making the most of them and having a buttload of fun.  As an adult, and with people far away, it's not always possible to have that same fun, but it doesn't need to be the same.  It just needs to be something.

After setting up the tree, I got out my collection of ornaments - mostly gifts from last year when I specifically requested them.  I started to straighten out some paper clips to hang them and then I stopped.  This, too, was a family tradition, and maybe Ryan and I have only 9 ornaments, and maybe we have a crappy Walmart tree with big holes in its fake branches, but I wanted someone to go through with the ceremony with me.  So I dragged Ryan out of the basement, forced myself to not feel guilty for such an illogical request, and he humored me while we put up our single strand of lights over the door and decorated our skimpy little tree.

Our tree topper is a little, stuffed dog that Ryan got for me out of a claw machine.  I put him on top of one of our decorations and, when Ryan tried to convince me to put him away for our Halloween party, I added devil horns for his "costume" so he'd be part of the decor.  Using him as a tree topper without removing the horns was a bit of irony I quite enjoy.

And I felt a sense of family.  We don't have kids yet, but we will, and they'll be part of this tradition.  We'll hang their hand-crafted, glitter-encrusted popsicle stick stars, and their cut paper snowflakes, and family photos.  And we'll argue about who gets to hang the favorite ornaments, and we'll laugh over the crooked placement of the tree topper, and we'll absolutely listen to Christmas music while we do it - starting next year, because this year I was busy trying to be logical.

Trying to be normal.  Trying to pretend there wasn't a huge hole where my family used to be.  But there's no point in trying to hide from it or avoid it. because it's there, and not participating in the holiday throes of excitement feels like a betrayal and it only makes that gaping hole bigger and more painful.

So from now on, I'm embracing the holidays.  I'm embracing the fullness and the emptiness, the bittersweet emotions of all those family traditions I've loved since I was a child, even if my childhood family has changed, and grown, and can't always be together in the same ways.  Especially when my family grows and I have kids of my own to pass those traditions on to.

Ryan said, at one point, in an effort to comfort me on Thanksgiving, "We're your family now.  Me and Luke and Roommate."  Which is only a partial truth.  They are my family, but it's not "now."  It's not a replacement.  It's an addition.

BUT since Ryan's offering, he's gonna have to get used to being thrust into holiday-themed festivities.  Because that's my definition of family.  And I don't care anymore whether that's logical.

What are your holiday traditions?  Does your family get together?

Jenn signature graphic | Business, Life & Design

Dec 14, 2015

My Favorite Ways to Donate

So I think I mentioned before that I don't really enjoy volunteering.  I feel like a jerk for even saying that, but frequently I find myself feeling sad and mad and guilty and that whole altruistic glow?  Nuh uh.  I don't get that.

It's almost the complete opposite.  I realize the depth of the problem, and I realize how little my petty contribution affects the outcome.  It's just an all around bummer and no matter how often I tell myself, "Doing something is better than nothing" I can't shake off those horrendously negative feelings.

It's not always deeper awareness of the problem.  Sometimes it's the experience itself.  For example, I did NOT like volunteering at the food bank, because when we did there was a large group of people who were forced to attend for work and they did not give a shit what went into those boxes.  They completely ignored the rules about trying to include different food groups, and now that I've seen with my own eyes that homeless people are being given 7 cans of spaghetti sauce and told to make meals for their families, I'm not exactly feeling the warm fuzzies about what the food bank can do.

I know I shouldn't let one bad group of people form my opinion of a charity.  After all, they weren't regular volunteers.  But the idea of going back just makes me cringe.

I also think, while time is always valuable, that we often don't give enough thought to where our money is going.  I know I talked about them already, but I'm going to again, because I think they're amazing.  The Center for High Impact Philanthropy does research on charities to compare how much value they're getting for that initial investment.

An example they gave at a TEDx Event I went to last year was the food bank.  You've probably donated to food drives before and the concept behind the event is great but... the price we pay for goods on our ends is way higher than what the food bank could buy in bulk if they had our money instead.  Plus, they have access to resources we don't - food that has been labeled incorrectly and that they can get for free, as long as they can pay for the transport.

Now the Center for High Impact Philanthropy is hardly the only place to do this.  When I told my mom about it, she said, "Oh, I just looked at what charities Bill and Melinda Gates donate to, because I know they did a lot of research on what most impacts society."  You can see their list of charities here, and, I'll admit, it's broken down a little more easily than the Center's, even though they're still my favorite.

That was one of the things on my mind when I chose what charity to donate to.  I don't have a ton of money and I don't have a ton of time, but I DO want to help in some small ways and ideally, for it to be as useful to others and as non-miserable to me as possible.  So here's how I give back to the community.

My Favorite Ways to Donate

1. Nurse Family Partnership

This was one of the programs that the Center's speaker specifically mentioned.  The idea is that help be provided to low-income, young mothers who might otherwise struggle with raising a child.  I LOVE this idea, because it's helping people who don't necessarily have any other resources AND it's helping at the root of the problem, as children are developing, rather than the symptoms after they've grown up.  The studies show improved child health, reduced neglect, mental illness, and crime (as the child grows up), and improved academic performance.  I donate monthly to this program

2. The Blood Bank

I LOVE donating blood.  Everything about it fascinates me.  Especially doing the apheresis machine - I get to watch my blood go out, plasma get pumped back in, and the tubes alternate between red and yellowish each time the machine reverses.  Even if it didn't, even if it was super gross, I still think it's a great way to give.  People need blood, around the clock, all throughout the year.  Add to that the cookies, how incredibly nice everyone is at our donation center, and the fact that they only need me a couple times every year and this is probably my favorite.  I have fun conversations with someone almost every time I go.

3. Goodwill

I'll admit I haven't done a ton of research here.  So I don't actually know how Goodwill compares to the Salvation Army or other donation sites.  But it's right next to my house, it's incredibly easy, and the people who take my stuff range from indifferent to quite pleasant, so I have yet to feel bad when I leave.  When you compare any portion of charitable donations that come from that, it's sooo much better than just throwing stuff in the trash.  AND someone else gets to buy your old stuff that you would have thrown away anyway for an affordable price.  If not Goodwill specifically, I highly advocate any secondhand store that'll take your stuff.  Let's ease up on the landfills, guys.

4. Floating $5

This one I like almost as much as my main charity.  I was struggling one day when someone asked for help for some random cause.  I wanted to give, but it went against my "high impact philanthropy" philosophy, and I can't afford to give to EVERYTHING.  Finally I decided $5 wasn't a big deal - I could easily afford it and it felt better than doing nothing.  I've continued with that mindset.  Originally it was supposed to be $5 a month to whatever cause called to me that month, but it's turned more into $5 whenever I happen to see one I really like.  Sometimes it's even kickstarters, but I like the idea that I CAN donate to anything that really calls to me without worrying about it hurting my finances.  And I don't have to agonize over the amount anymore, because it's pre-decided.

5. 5Ks and Races

At one point most 5Ks were for a charity and that was nice.  Now they're not, so you have to read a little more carefully.  I still do some races just because they seem really fun (Wipeout Run, Color Run, etc), BUT for the most part I try to pick ones that will go to a cause.  We just did the Reindeer Run earlier in the month (Special Olympics), and will probably do the Chocolate Lover's 5K on Valentine's Day (benefits Deltech, one of my alma maters), and the Back on My Feet 5-Miler (Back on My Feet) in the spring.

I was considering trying a new volunteering opportunity in the spring, when I'm freelancing and have flexible weekday hours.  I thought maybe I'd try dog walking at an animal shelter (we've cleaned cages and litter boxes in the past and liked that - especially when we got to play with tiny kittens) BUT now that I have a dog it might be too heartbreaking.  I like the idea of beach cleanups and Habitat for Humanity (although when my sisters and I tried that before they really didn't have any use for us as unskilled laborers and we ended up painting several coats on all the doors).

I was a peer mentor in high school and did Special Olympics bowling with my "mentees" and I LOVED that.  And then there's a part of me that wants to try something entirely new and ideally even related to my skillset - design, marketing, event organization, etc.  But I haven't yet found an option that I like with that.  So we'll see!

There are other things I'd like to do, too, when I have more money.  I've daydreamed about offering a scholarship from Jenn Wells Design but it's still a long ways off before I (or the business) can afford that.  And there's so, so many other charities.  I figure as I go through life and climb the metaphorical ladder, I can gradually up my monthly contributions, both to the partnership, and to new causes, probably based in education or job training.

As for now... well, I've got some 5Ks to sign up for and a blood donation after work today.

What are your favorite ways to donate?  Do you prefer to give time or money?

Jenn signature graphic | Business, Life & Design

Dec 10, 2015

My Only Un-Get-Over-Able Fear

Getting "over" fears was a hobby of mine for a while.

Ever since a tiny, little non-incident horseback riding with our aunts, I'd had this tinge of discomfort and nervousness about the idea of riding again.  Horses are such big animals!  It could take off or buck me off or shove a hoof through my brain.

Not the most irrational fear ever, I think.  But I didn't like that I felt it.  So one time, when visiting, I specifically requested that we go horseback riding again.  And you know what?  A few years of getting older, white water rafting, parasailing, and sky diving later and being on the back of a horse really wasn't scary at all.

Quite the opposite.  When my horse sped up into a choppy trot and showed hesitation to obeying my command to slow, I felt no fear, just the adrenaline rush of, "What's going to happen now?!"

Becoming a (very minor) adrenaline junkie has helped me get over a lot of things.  You can't be afraid of heights after you've been pushed out of a plane and your brain was so high on strange chemicals it wasn't even afraid.  Instead you just remember that feeling.  That tingly rush of excitement.  You know the one.

I attempted to find more fears to conquer.  I ate meals alone.  I traveled alone.  I took myself on a solo art date.  We got scammed in Europe, but we couldn't just hide in our hostel - we had countries to explore!  When I let Luke out and feel that nervous, "Oh god, what if something is hiding in the dark?" I make a point of stepping outside and waiting until the feeling is gone (or until he's done peeing - I mean, that's all you can really ask, right?).

But there are some fears you can't get over.  For some people it's the fear of death.  I don't have that.  It seems too distant and remote and unlikely to happen to me.  Naivete is my shield for that one.  For some people it's the fear of living their entire lives without having lived it fully.  Fear of missing out.  I can understand that, but whenever I feel that feeling, I go do something new or exciting or that scares me.  Problem solved.

Here's my biggest, most uncomfortable, "un-get-over-able" fear.  I am afraid of losing the people I love.  Not to death, but to distance.  I am afraid of losing their love.  That they'll stop, inexplicably, without warning.  That they'll disapprove of me and my choices.  That I'll disappoint them.

Sometimes I push people away when it feels like they're disapproving.  I call it "rebelliousness" but it's not.  They can't reject me if I reject them first.

I'm doing my best to not respond that way.  It's just fear talking, after all, and I'm excellent at quelling fear.

But what do you do when there's nothing to face?  I can't just experience my fear and then not be afraid anymore.  It's not a single event, whether likely or unlikely.  It's a constant fact of life that I live with every day.

My sisters and I are growing up and, pretty soon, will just be growing old.  We've grown into separate lives and while we make an effort to talk and be close, it's inevitable that we'll lose touch with each other's lives.

The distance makes it more inevitable.  With Sister3 in California and Sister2 in Philly (and soon to be moving farther away), it's impossible for us to see each other as often as when we lived in the same house or even the same state.  We can't go shopping together, borrow each other's clothes, have girls nights with ice cream and Pride & Prejudice.

I hope that one day, we'll all live in the same place again.  And I love that we plan sister trips and have amazing experiences together.  I'm grateful for the technology and resources that allow us to see each other as frequently as we do and to stay in touch when we can't be there in person.

But none of that makes the fear go away.  The fear is a tight, little ball of pain that lives inside my brain and my throat.  Perhaps, with time, it fades in the sense that I go longer periods of time without feeling it.  But all I need to experience it as if for the first time, is to remember that it's there at all.

It's a pain that feeds on itself.  The fear says, "Hey, this event might make you feel this way" and the pain says, "You already do, because you always feel this way even if you forgot about it for a while."  It can be triggered by anything - an inside joke, a fond memory, dropping someone off at the airport, making positive life plans that don't in some way lead to us all being together again.

And... I don't really know what else to say about it.  I can't logic myself out of it - losing people is losing people.  I can't throw myself into it and "get over it" - it's not as tangible as a fear of sharks or heights.  I just have to live with it.  And that's far more difficult.

What's your biggest fear?  What's your approach to dealing with it?  Do you have any family members or friends you miss?

Jenn signature graphic | Business, Life & Design

Dec 8, 2015

Blog Superlatives - My All Time Mosts and Bests

I keep a list of my favorite blog posts from other people for a massive post at the end of the year with an entire years-worth of good stuff.  For whatever reason, this got me thinking about awards and superlatives, but it seemed mean spirited to pit other people against each other, so instead I'm competing against myself.

So here's all my most notable (in some form or fashion) posts!

Blog Superlatives!!!

1. Post I'm Most Proud Of

Media Hype - Shootings, Autopsies, and Incomplete Information (Second runner up would be A Different Kind of Faith.  Both deal with tricky topics and manage to do so in a non-confrontational way, which I'm not always so good at.  Oh, and I just wrote it, but I really like Woman on Woman Crime - Judgement, Bias, and the "F" Word also)

2. Most Commented On

Show Us Your Books - July Reads (Of course - it's always show us your books.  The most commented on non-linkup was The Wedding - Pictures and a Story.)

3. Best Header Image

Breaking the 27 Commandments for 27 Year Olds (Although I really liked my Design Day Friday header images too.  Ahhh, the days when I cared.)

4. Most Self-Righteous

A tie between 4 Blogging "Rules" I'd Prefer Stay Broken and What Makes Me Unfollow - a Rant (Oof, some of these were hard to read.  Remind me to not talk about blogging anymore, okay guys?)

5. Best Title

Mistress Shaming - a Misallocation of Blame (See that wordplay?!  This is the only post to get nominated for 2 categories and for good reason.  Catchy title - terribly awkward subject matter.)

6. Cheesiest

Introducing... My Family!  (This might be a tie with the sappy one I wrote about Ryan recently, but you just guys just saw that, so I skipped it.)

7. Most Scandalous

Another tie!  How to Emotionally Scar Your Friends (Our First Stripper) and Mistress Shaming - a Misallocation of Blame (I probably wouldn't have said this one is scandalous except OH MY GOD, my coworker discovered my blog shortly after I wrote this and he decided to read a piece of it out loud.  Guess which sentence he chose!  Uh yeah, it was this, "The man is just a poor innocent who is swayed by every beckoning temptress and who cannot control into whom his penis enters."  Oh the cringe.)  A runner up would be The Other Side of the Sketchbook where I talk about modeling for a figure drawing class.

8. Weirdest

Just Beachy - a Fond Farewell (It still makes me laugh, though.  As an aside - I predicted I'd be done blogging a full 6 months ago!  Look at me, sticking with a hobby.)

9. Funniest

Even Weddings Need Context Clues (Obviously this is a pretty subjective category, but this post is one of the most concise funny stories I've ever told.  I'm also not terribly funny, which made it a difficult one.)

Whew!  That was fun.

One thing I noticed when digging through for "most commented" was that often the posts I'm most proud of, and do the most research for, aren't actually read as much.  I know it's because discussing social issues is hard and maybe people are tired of them from having read the same stuff on a bunch of other blogs.

But I'm going to keep writing them regardless.  I fully believe I become a better person every time I do the research, educate myself, and churn out something well phrased and reasonably diplomatic.  So even if that's the only purpose they're serving, it's good enough for me.

On a similar note, someone recently asked what the point was of blogging.  Whether it was justified that she poured so much time and effort into this hobby.  I know this answer is different for everyone, but I've always felt that, while the friendships and connections are a huge, huge perk, blogging is the answer to the question, "Why blog?"

I work through a lot of stuff here.  I set my goals here.  I make plans.  Sure, I have quite a few fantastic cheerleaders to help, but even if they "wouldn't miss me when I'm gone," I'd retain all the benefit and value of having undergone this experience.  I am better now than I was 2 years ago.  It's been some magic alchemy of words, written and read, thoughts formed and shared, ideas garnered, and fun throughout.

For me, the value of the doing is the doing.  I don't need any more than that.  And looking back at old posts is a fantastic reminder of that, especially when they make me cringe.

And now I have to go sing Unbreak My Heart, since my own post got it stuck in my head.  Aren't we all glad Kelli is back and my post didn't have to be the last we'd see of her?!?!

What are your blog post bests and mosts?  What do you get out of blogging and has it changed over time?

Jenn signature graphic | Business, Life & Design

Dec 3, 2015

You're Not Still Going to Have a Roommate When You ___?

"Is your roommate still going to live with you when you buy a house?"

Yes.  Yes, he is.

I don't mind this question.  People are genuinely interested or curious in our plans and so I tell them.  It's like when someone asks if I changed my name or calls me "Mrs. Wilson."  I haven't changed my name and it's still up in the air, but there's no point in taking offense.  Typically they're calling me Mrs. Wilson as a friendly way to refer to the fact that I recently got married.  They're being nice.  Why would I take offense to that?

I don't even mind if people ask if we're planning on having kids.  You know, maybe it technically is none of their business, but hey, whatever!  It's friendly conversation.  (Until they tell me time is running out - then it's a problem.  But that's another post.)

Here's what I do mind.  When I explain that our roommate is coming with us, because we all get along great and we don't see any reason to change that arrangement just because we'll be living in a house instead of an apartment and the response is, "Oh, that's weird."  Is it???

I mean, sure, maybe most people don't choose to have a roommate after they get married.  A lot of people have roommates while they're single and then once they get serious with a significant other and move in together, they choose to do so with just the two of them.

Ryan and I lived alone together for a year or so.  Then we moved in with a friend for convenience because we were in between jobs and rent was a struggle.  That didn't work out so well, but it wasn't so damaging that we weren't willing to try it again with a different friend.  And this time it's been pretty idyllic.

Sometimes we get frustrated with each other.  On rare occasions we've even had uncomfortable exchanges.  But you know what?  It's been amazingly rare for a group of opinionated adults who aren't related.  I fight more with my sisters and we don't even live together.

So yeah, in my mind it's a pretty ideal living situation.  We all save some money, we get along great and enjoy hanging out in the common areas when we want to, or hide in our rooms when we aren't feeling social.  We all have similar personalities and no one gets offended when one of us introverts needs to go hide for a while.  We share the same hobbies, which means group TV marathons, game sessions, and extra access to our DM that the rest of the tabletop gaming group doesn't have.

Honestly, it's probably even better for me and Ryan than it is for Roommate, because while we might clean up his dishes every once in a while, he's taken care of Luke for us several times when we've gone on vacation and never hesitated to take him out if we're doing something and want to stay out late.

And so when people try to tell me how strange it will be when we have kids, I think to myself, "Uh, yeah, having another person to help is obviously a terrible idea.  No one is ever exhausted or overwhelmed when they first have children."

I feel that, if they're going to worry about anyone's feeling, it should be Roommate's.  Having a roommate when we have kids will be a huge benefit for me and Ryan, but why would Roommate want to stick around for screaming kids that aren't even his?  As a single guy, that might well prove to be the breaking point.

But we just started this whole home buying process, so kids aren't exactly imminent.  And with a 9-month advance warning, I think we can work that out when we get there.  For now, we have a fantastic arrangement that works for everyone.  Is that really so hard to understand?

I should probably just stop the post there, but I'm going to go ahead and be uncomfortably forthright.  I think some people get the idea that choosing to continue living together is not only weird, but signifies that we have some kind of alternative lifestyle.  If we did, it would obviously be none of anyone's business, but we really don't.

A coworker jokingly asked if we had a love triangle going, and I told him we totally did, with Ryan as the center.  This has been something we've joked about before and it affords us all a great deal of amusement, but the reality is that we're all very traditional.  I want to make this point to further reinforce that you don't have to be swingers or have some sort of polyamorous arrangement in order to choose to live with other human beings in addition to your spouse and spawn.

There's nothing wrong with either of those lifestyles, but I'm still absolutely amazed that people have so much trouble with the concept of adults living together that they have to start coming up with theories like this.

Have you ever lived with a significant other AND roommates?  Or lived with a couple?  What weird judgements did you experience?

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Dec 1, 2015

Book Challenge Month 1 Update! #SCWBC15

Time for the 1 month check in!  I actually thought I wouldn't have any books to talk about but then Thanksgiving happened and I read up a storm.  So, here's what I've read so far.

Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead - ♥♥♥♥♥

This definitely made it onto my Game-changers shelf!  Such an important, important message.  And it's not just for women who want to work.  Sandberg points out that a huge part of attaining equality is being able to choose freely and staying home with kids is equally valid and important work to remaining in the work force.  Some of the points that hit me the strongest were about our subconscious prejudices and I'm determined to discover and overcome my own.  I wrote more about the book here on my other blog, but you should probably just read it.  Or listen to it!  I quite liked it as an audiobook.

Inkheart - ♥♥♥♥

I don't have super strong feelings about this one.  I enjoyed it and I think the writing is really good.  The story didn't captivate me the way my favorite books do, but there was nothing wrong with it.  I read Inkheart with my own eyeballs, but just started listening to the sequel, Inkspell, and it's read by Brendan Fraser, who, it turns out, is an amazing reader!  This is the first audiobook I've listened to where someone does voices and it's overall delightful.  Maybe I can get into fantasy audiobooks after all.

Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch - ♥♥♥♥

Very interesting story!  I bought this because I was intrigued by the combination authorship of Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman and the story was just as unique and wacky and I could have expected.  A fun, lighthearted read and I really enjoyed reading each of the author's notes regarding the other.  You got a little glimpse into their friendship and it was, frankly, adorable.

Winter - ♥♥♥♥♥

SOOOO GOOD!  I had high expectations and Marissa Meyer did not disappoint.  I already gushed on Goodreads, but I'm still blown away that her last book was so long and she didn't split it up into 2 books or charge more for it.  I was quite pleased, because in some of the others, the end came much too soon and this was perfect.  Satisfying story, satisfying amount of time to be in the story.

TOTAL POINTS: 50 (out of 200)

I swapped some stuff around because my reading got sidetracked, but here's what I'm planning on reading for the rest of the categories.

5 points: A book between 100-200 pages
The Time Machine by H.G. Wells (118 pages) (I was going to do this for "debut book" but it was too short.)

10 points: A debut book by any author
— Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk (218 pages)

10 points: A book that does not take place in your current country of residence
A School for Unusual Girls by Kathleen Baldwin (352 pages) (England/Europe)

10 points: A book that someone else has already used for the challenge
— The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (325 pages)

15 points: A book published under a pseudonym
The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain aka Samuel Clemens (240 pages)

15 points: A book with “boy,” “girl,” “man,” “woman,” or their plurals in the title
Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg (217 pages - ♥♥♥♥♥)

15 points: A book with a one-word title
Inkheart by Cornelia Funke (548 pages - ♥♥♥♥)

20 points: A book with a person's first and last name in the title
Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman (430 pages - ♥♥♥♥)

20 points: A food-themed book
Chocolat by Joanne Harris (306 pages)

20 points: A book with a verb in the title
Emotional Freedom: Liberate Yourself From Negative Emotions and Transform Your Life by Judith Orloff (401 pages)

30 points: Two books with the same title by different authors
Winter by Marissa Meyer (832 pages - ♥♥♥♥♥) and Winter by Sarah Remy (301 pages)

30 points: A nonfiction book and a fiction book about the same subject
— Physics of the Impossible: A Scientific Exploration into the World of Phasers, Force Fields, Teleportation, and Time Travel by Michio Kaku (329 pages) and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (216 pages)

What are you planning on reading for the challenge?  What book challenges are your favorites?

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Nov 30, 2015

Survival Mode - How I Deal with Sh...tuff

Unrelated to this post, but I'm back.  Cutting back on blogging helped a bit, but I still didn't get anywhere close to finishing my story or the word goal for NaNoWriMo.  Still, it's more than I've ever written at one time before!  I think I'm going to set myself an easier word goal per day (maybe 500 instead of 1,700) and see how that goes.  Anyway, back to the post...

What I call "survival mode" is not, in fact, a good mechanism for dealing with things that require actual survival skills.  It's also probably not terribly useful for dealing with real, traumatic situations.  Here's what it is:

Survival Mode

I have a mental place I go to when I'm stressed, anxious, dreading something, or terribly uncomfortable.  I shut off the thinking part of my brain that's coming up with terrible scenarios, or freaking out about our upcoming adventure.  I go as blank as possible and settle in to endure the next few minutes.  Then the next.  Then the next.  (Which is actually very similar to what the main character says in the first season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, "You can endure anything for 10 seconds!")

I think the first time I ever did this was during physical exertion.  We were hiking at the Grand Canyon and I wasn't in terribly great shape.  About halfway back up, I was exhausted, each step was effort, and I was doing my best not to be a huge whiner even though my brain was awash in self pity.  So I shut it off.  We made it to the top, and the whole process was a lot less tortuous than it could have been if I'd been emotionally experiencing each step of it.

I continued to use "survival mode" for physical discomfort.  Long drives where my back was aching, hikes and/or running, getting a tattoo, etc, etc.  But then I made an amazing discovery.

I had signed up for several Meetup events in the DC area.  But I'd flaked out on every single one.  Each time, as the day approached, my brain started complaining.  "I don't really want to do this.  Why did I sign up for it?  It's going to suck, I'm going to be awkward and bored and miserable.  This is a terrible idea.  I don't know where it is.  I'll get lost.  Let's just cancel."

I finally forced myself into a car to attend a Meetup.  My brain was screaming at me, as per usual.  I struggled to remind myself why I had signed up in the first place and that I did, in fact, want to do this, when suddenly... my mind got quiet.

The feelings were still there, but I wasn't engaging with them.  I wasn't excited, I wasn't scared.  I was just prepared to endure.

The Meetup was amazing.  Every time I started to feel awkward, I shut down my emotions, and just brought them back for polite chitchat.  By the end I was feeling positively bubbly!

It wasn't entirely smooth sailing after that.  I missed a few more Meetups, due to last-minute "lack of desire to go" before I finally realized it was probably a mild form of anxiety.  But each success built on the others.

I can't even tell you the number of times it's helped.  Meetup groups, a horrendously uncomfortable bus ride with coworkers, using the "friend-dating" website, posing for figure drawing, that first blogger date.  I mean, basically any time I'm going to meet new people, and sometimes even hanging out with old friends, there is guaranteed to be a moment when my brain says, "Holy crap, I don't want to do this!"

But I know now.  That's not me.  That's some broken, scared, little piece of me that can be overcome.

And I'm not saying that shutting your feelings off is the best way to deal with things.  But when my anxiety brain is at its most powerful, that's the only way I've figured out how to deal with it.

My rational side knows that no matter what happens, if I just endure, I'll get through it and the discomfort will be over eventually.  Just take it a few minutes at a time.

Just like running.  Nothing lasts forever.  And when it's over, you'll probably be glad you did it.

Do you have social anxiety?  How do you deal with the irrational side of your brain?  Do you have your own version of "survival mode"?

Jenn signature graphic | Business, Life & Design

Nov 16, 2015

Writing Energy - a Limited Resource

I've been struggling to keep up with NaNoWriMo and I noticed that the days I don't feel like writing, it's typically after I've written a blog post instead.  My hypothesis?  I only have so much writing energy.

So I'm going to be MIA for the rest of November while we finish up the challenge!  I had posts scheduled, but I'm going to push those further back, too, because I'm not keeping up with comments at all and I feel bad.

See you guys in 2 weeks!

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Nov 12, 2015

Woman on Woman Crime - Judgement, Bias, and the "F" Word

I had a couple of interesting conversations this week.  They caused me to do 2 things: 1) Spend a lot of time thinking about the whole stereotype of women as catty bitches who can never be truly be friends ("frenemies") because they're always competing and 2) Really question my own actions and the things I might be doing or saying to perpetuate this stereotype.

I gossip.  I've worked on it a lot in the last couple years, but I still do it.  I have a driving need to analyze situations and people and the things that make them tick.  But there's a fine line between trying to understand who someone is vs trying to find labels for them.

I'm not perfect.  I cross the line into woman-on-woman crime sometimes (to use Amy Poehler's apt description).  Ironically enough, I crossed that line when I was talking about someone who believes and perpetuates the stereotype.  This was pointed out to me as proof that the other person was right because I was fulfilling it.

At first the idea made me upset.  I need to do better.  The issue absolutely needs to be talked about.  But I need to present it in a different way.  I need to say "the belief that ___" rather than "the kind of person who believes ___."

But you know what?  The rest was bullshit.  Here's why.  (And, for the record, I'm glad this conversation happened, because it gave me a lot to think about, and the person who caused this thinking to happen was totally not serious, and I hold no grudges, but obviously a blog post had to happen, because important social issues, dude!  This is the risk you take when you converse with a blogger!)

I am only one person.  To take one statement of mine and then use that to justify any stereotype is ridiculous.  Even if I am a supposed supporter of women and I'm still making those mistakes or phrasing things the wrong way, it doesn't make me any more representative of my entire gender than any other one individual.

This is how all prejudices and stereotypes are born.  We see one person, or one group of people, and we assume they represent all people like them.  We're better than this.  We're smarter than this.

I don't think I need to explain the problem with stereotypes to any of you, but I'll do it anyway.  When someone, especially a woman, says they can't get along with women, or that most women are catty, they're doing several things.

1) Perpetuating a stereotype.  I mean, if a woman said it about her own gender, it must be true, right?  2) Creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.  If that's what you believe, that's what you will see.  3) Completely missing out.  That is half the population that you are discounting and whose company you will never be able to enjoy and appreciate.  And that is countless women who, like you, are unique and interesting individuals, and being blind to that is a damn shame.

Everyone has biases.  Claiming otherwise is naive.  Since it's difficult and maybe even impossible to reach a point where we are truly unbiased by our culture, the opinions of our loved ones, and our own past experiences, the best we can do and the most we can hope for is to always be open to questioning ourselves.  Is that really a pattern or is it a perception problem on our end?  Does your boss really hate you or is she just not as nice as you think a woman should be?  Are the women around you actually catty or are you judging them by one or two occasions instead of general patterns?

Sometimes the answer is yes, your boss really hates you.  Or your workplace really is filled with negative people.  But you know what?  That's just one example and, while it sucks, I hope we can all be open-minded enough to not let that one group speak for everyone else.  And maybe find a new job with people who don't suck.

And, for the record, this is feminism and I wholly consider myself to be a feminist!  For all the people out there who think it means "man-hating," challenge that assumption and don't let some small group of people make you afraid to use a word that means equality.  Feminism means challenging assumptions and stereotypes in an attempt to find equality for everyone.

If you can honestly say you DON'T want equality, especially for women, then sure, you can say you're not a feminist.  But if that's the case, get out of here.  I have no use for you.

What assumptions have you challenged lately?  How aware are you of your own biases?

*No men were harmed in the writing of this post
**Read Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg - it is a HUGE eye-opener

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Nov 10, 2015

Things I've Done Right

I saw this somewhere, but I have no idea who it was so if you recognize your idea, let me know and I'll give credit!

I've made more than my fair share of mistakes.  I'm getting better about this, but I used to be incapable of learning from other people's mistakes, and frequently repeated my own.  Oh, I'd learn, but not until I'd made the same mistake 2 or 3 times.

And I could agonize over those mistakes, but ultimately what's the point?  I can't undo them, and most of them were necessary, because if they hadn't happened, I'd have just done something equally dumb instead.  Learning the easy way is not my style.

BUT lately I've been thinking about how things feel different.  I'm happy more often than sad.  I'm not struggling to get by financially.  When I spend time with friends, I feel good about it afterwards, instead of bad, complain-y or gossip-y.  And then I realized... I've finally done some things right.

To celebrate, here's a list!

8 Things I've Done Right

1. Breaking the Bad Relationship Pattern

Before Ryan, I was in a couple long-term relationships.  I was even engaged once.  And we were miserable.  We made each other miserable.  The best thing I ever did was to get out, pick someone who was supportive and a good match for my values, and then read everything I could get my hands on about relationships and communication.

Ryan is amazing but he wasn't a magical solution or the road to my "happy ending."  I had to learn a LOT to be better on my end of the relationship and then we had to do a lot of work together to improve our conflict resolution skills.  I'm sure there'll be struggles in the future, but I'm pretty confident that we'll get through them the same way we've overcome the past ones: educating ourselves, working at it, and making small improvements until we have a system that works.

2. Letting a Friendship Go

I won't get too cliche and go on about "toxic" friendships, but that's basically what it was.  I derived very little real enjoyment from our time together, and spent far more time frustrated about poor life choices, overwhelming negativity, and manipulative tendencies.  Ending our friendship wasn't pretty, and it took a while for the negative feelings to fade, but I do feel better about it now.

I've been thinking more and more about the saying, "You're the sum of the 5 people you spend the most time with."  And you know, I don't want to be around people who are going to influence me in a negative way anymore.  Now I've got one less source of negativity in my life, and the friends I have left make me happy.

3. Getting a Dog

This might seem like a no-brainer to you pet people, but I hadn't had many pets growing up, and dogs frightened me a little bit.  I could not tell the difference between happy and angry barks, had no idea growls could be playful, and was pretty intimidated by the whole idea when Ryan mentioned it.  He really wanted a dog, however, so I acquiesced, as long as he took care of "it."  Pssssht!  I was naive.  Luke is my baby, and no way in hell is he not going to get walked because it's "not my job."

Having a pet, while occasionally frustrating, adds an extra level to my life, with warm, fuzzy cuddles, and the sheer amount of emotion I feel for this animal (jk, we all know he's a people).  I can't imagine not having a pet now.  And that's not even going into the studies that show that pets reduce stress.

4. Becoming More Active

Speaking of stress, being more active has shown me how much my physical actions affect my mood.  I've always had a cycle of highs and lows, and before I'd always just curl up in a ball for a day or five, and wait for it to end.  I still experience slumps, and sometimes they're bad, BUT now I have one more tool to help me fight them.

In addition to that, I've noticed the slumps decreasing in frequency, which is amazing considering how much more I have on my plate now than in the past.

5. Learning to Disagree Respectfully

This goes along with number 1.  I have always hated confrontation.  In the past, I'd avoid it until I was so fed up that I exploded and while the resultant brawl would usually get me what I wanted, it wasn't exactly a source of contentment for anyone involved.  Ryan's helped me a great deal, but reading relationship books has really made the difference.  And now that I know how to do it, it's insane that it wasn't just a common sense thing, but (and I mention this a lot, but I heartily believe it) I don't think we have good role models or resources when it comes to learning conflict resolution.

So when someone offended me, instead of calmly saying, "I'm not sure why you would say that, but it bothers me because..." I'd either retreat, explode, or say something in retaliation.  Keeping a calm tone and explaining rather than accusing works wonders!  And it's made life easier for my (now) marriage, friendships, and even familial bonds.

6. Choosing Happiness Over Obligation, Fear, or Security

This is definitely a work in progress, but I'm sick of filling my life with meaningless things because I "should" or out of a misguided sense of obligation.  I remember realizing at some point that Ryan and Roommate didn't say yes if they didn't want to and didn't even feel bad about it!  So I'm working on turning down activities, events, and even favors if I don't want to do them.  I'm also taking a hard look at my life choices (like my job) and making sure my reasons aren't rooted in obligation or fear.

I've skirted around this issue for a while, but I'd been wanting to make a change at work for a while and finally discussed it with my boss and decided (mutually) to drop down to part time in the winter.  I agonized over wanting to freelance for the longest time, but didn't because I "owed it" to Ryan to keep a steady job, and my boss would hate me and my dad would hate me, and it wasn't the "smart" thing to do.  You know what?  Ryan supports it since it's what I need to do to be happy, and he's even shown excitement over some of the freelance opportunities coming my way.  My boss was perfectly fine and reasonable with it, and we compromised with no tension or hard feelings.  My dad will probably be pissed (haven't discussed it with him yet), but he'll get over it.  It's my life, not his, and I value different things.

7. Finding Hobbies

This might sound silly, but one of my favorite things about my relationship with Ryan is all the hobbies he's introduced me to.  I love our gaming group, and having my own dice bag.  I love watching "nerd" shows like Firefly and Doctor Who, and finally understanding what all the hype is about (plus space).  And, as much as I've always enjoyed reading, I don't think it gives me nearly as much satisfaction as what my enthusiasm of the moment is.  Purging the house?  The best fun I've had all year!

I'm a project person, apparently, and life's just not the same when I don't have a passion project calling me to get everything else done to work on it.

8. Self Improvement

I don't know that I've ever liked myself as much as I do now.  Part of that is getting older and getting more comfortable with myself.  But a huge part of it is reading, and learning, and changing the way I do things.  Some of it is stupid, little things, like reading books about how to be happy and love yourself.  But you know what?  I probably wouldn't have thought I was worth love at one point.  I didn't think I was a "good" person.

Now I know that's bullshit and I deserve to be happy, just like everyone else does.  I'm also more tuned in to my own emotions, and better able to identify the things that will make me happy.  I make better decisions, have more confidence, and handle it better when things don't go according to plan.

I'm going to cut myself off there, because I'm getting tempted to put things like "getting older" and that's hardly a decision I made to do.  (Seriously, though, getting older is awesome.)  It is so incredibly gratifying and blissful to be able to look at my life and realize how much more put-together I am now.  I was such a mess!  And it took a while, but all the pieces have finally come together into something I can be happy with.

What things have you done right?  How do you celebrate your successes?

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Nov 5, 2015

It's the #NaNoWriMo!

Did you sing the title to the tune of "it's the final countdown"?  If not, please go back and read it again.

Now that you're pumped, let's talk about my current favorite topic!  I'm participating in NaNoWriMo (for the uninitiated, that's National Novel Writing Month), and I'm having a blast.  I'm also less excited about blog posts, because all my writing energy is being diverted into my daily word quota.  Didn't realize it was a limited resource, but there you have it.

I'd had a story idea back in May.  I played around with it, mostly at meetings when I was trapped with nothing but a notepad and pencil.  But it was always a "maybe later" kind of thing.  Enter NaNoWriMo.

A few days before November, people started talking about this weird word that I vaguely remember seeing last year.  I actually went to the website, read more about it, and thought, "I have a book idea."

I kept thinking, "Well, I always give myself too many projects.  I can do it later."  But then I thought, "What if later never comes?"

I made an account.  I read the resources.  I realized I'm a planner, not a "pantser" and I really needed to get some background documents together.  The 3 days leading up to November were a flurry of Halloween interspersed with daydreaming and hastily jotted notes.  Honestly?  Halloween kind of sucked.  So I'm glad I had something positive to focus on.

I've been pouring my little heart out and I love it.  Let me tell you about my story.

My main character is Matt and he's a huge nerd.  I modeled him after Ryan and myself and he's important, because it's through his eyes that we see the story, but he's not THAT important.

You get to see my crappy concept sketches!  Hooray!!!  Matt and his friends playing D&D in their dorm room before craziness happens and Matt finds himself in "fantasy land."

The truly important characters are 7 princesses (seven because three and seven are the most commonly used numbers in fairy tales and three was too few) in a fantasy land that need rescuing.  Except that they don't.

So Matt rescues them to fulfill some cheesy, antiquated prophecy, and then the ladies take over and get to work.  I was going to make a point of the ladies being disgusted by the prophecy's old-fashioned criteria, but then I decided my world didn't have to have gender inequality in the first place.  So instead they're all mildly confused about it, but not too upset because the whole damsel in distress trope never existed in their world.

There's also a narrator who makes snarky remarks.  He/she/it amuses me no end, but I might end up removing this element from the story because I'm not entirely sure it serves a purpose.  I was aiming for an irreverent Terry Pratchett/Douglas Adams style narration but I'm not sure I have the skills to make that come to life.

I'm noticing a couple things as this story forms:
  • I love my own writing.  No humility here.  I mean, I'm not going to brag that I'm awesome (because that's rude), but as I write and when I reread, I'm so in love with it that it's ridiculous.  I know it can't possibly be as good as it seems to me, so I'm going to need to find some external perspective to help me with feedback and to get a realistic idea of the weak areas.
  • The first draft is going to be a lot less fleshed-out than I want.  At first I was trying to figure out how to make it read less like a YA book, but then I realized getting the story down is the first step.  Then I'll go back through and make the world fuller and richer and add detail to the bare bones of "he said this" and "she did that."
  • World building is my jam!  I did this once before in high school, and it's never enough for me to build a story on the framework of our own Earth.  I made up my own planet, thought about how it orbits, how the inhabitants evolved, and even how the laws of physics might differ there.  I love doing this but it also means that, as long as I stay consistent with my own rules, no one can call me out on inaccurately depicting something.  Because it's not our world or culture!

My crappy sketch attempting to show the world layout and trying to figure out if that kind of orbit is even scientifically possible/what that would mean for daytime vs nighttime and what the climate would be like with 2 suns.

Now I'm a newb to this writing community, but I've already seen some "professional" do-gooder author sharing his (highly condescending) opinion of why NaNo isn't "that terrible" even though the premise is awful and the forums suck, and so on and so forth.  Obviously I took some issue to that.  I don't think anyone believes they're going to write a masterpiece in 30 days and be done.  I DO think the community serves the following purposes:
  • Gets us started!  I signed up on a whim and you know what?  I am fully confident that I am going to see this through.  All I needed was that initial push.
  • Accountability.  No, a certain word count isn't what matters.  But having that goal in front of us keeps us writing through the writer's block and uninspired moments.  It builds the habit.
  • Makes it fun!  I love updating my word count, and Kelli and I have been checking in with each other and sharing our experiences.  I love it!
  • Resources.  Honestly, I don't love the resources NaNoWriMo provides, but even if they don't give you all the information you need, they get you started thinking about how to more fully flesh out your story.
  • Confidence.  I think people are reluctant to admit they'd like to write a book, even though most of us feel we have a story somewhere inside ourselves.  NaNo makes it something to be proud of, something to celebrate, and something to have fun doing.

Anyone else out there participating?  Let's buddy up and talk word counts, character development, and plot holes!  (Melissandre, if you're reading this, GET STARTED AND FRIEND ME!  You can do it!!!)

Have you/are you participating in NaNoWriMo?  If you were to write a book, what would it be about?

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