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I’m re-branding!

Wait, scratch that.

I’m a human, not a brand.

I’m re-naming!

There. Less fancy, more real.

Yep, I’m re-naming. Everything.  For several reasons… all good (I think).

Read more below about why The Velvet Hive is being quietly led out the back door (with parting gifts, I promise! I’m not a monster…) and a new name/look/blog is being ushered in and welcomed with open arms (I hope).

***

Ok, first…

New Year = New Look.

Who doesn’t love a fresh start?  I certainly do.  You know how Madonna always re-invents herself?  Well, The Velvet Hive has left the Papa Don’t Preach stage and is now entering the kinder, gentler mama stage (remember when Madonna first had Lourdes and was [briefly] all hippy dippy and softer around the edges?).

You know what? Let’s scratch the Madonna analogy. That ain’t gonna work here.

New year = new look.  Let’s leave it at that.

So, if you happen to visit here and we are mid-construction, please wear your hard hat and know that we’ll be all pretty (and safe) again soon. Also, the old website will eventually direct you straight to the new one.

Secondly…

Back to writing.

I used to write to write.  I didn’t have to overthink what I wrote, because my writing was mostly anonymous and it couldn’t harm or hurt anyone.  Also, there was none of this big blog-business that there is now.  I’m not criticizing the blog industry revolution, but I am criticizing the way I have let it affect my writing.  Somewhere along the way, after sharing a few posts, I was no longer anonymous and since the cat was now out of the bag, I decided to just go for it and put everything out there – with my face (and my family’s) linked to it all.

I don’t have to tell you that this ended up being both a very positive experience – but also a negative one. I’ve written about it before. The more attention you get (even if it is little ol’ me and my little ol’ blog), the more room you leave for misunderstanding and/or criticism. It comes with the territory and I understand it. But a recent wake-up call made me understand it at a whole new level. Though I am not going to completely sensor myself or only write about rainbows and butterflies, I will be a little more vague with regard to details and particular experiences. If I’m going to link my writing to myself publicly, I need to also protect those I love – and never put them in a situation of hurt or misunderstanding.

Therefore, I’m considering this new name/look as also being a new, mindful start.

And, finally…

I want to go back to me.

I’ve been doing a lot of self-reflecting lately. And, I’ve come to the conclusion that I miss me.

When my husband and I first met, I was very much “the glass is half full” girl to his “the glass is glaringly half empty” guy.  Every time he tried to shoot down a plan or idea with a We can’t do that!, I would reply with an Oh yes we can!

I know for a fact that my previous positivity and go-getter attitude was one of the reasons Brian fell in love with me, so I don’t know when or where it was that I started a slow decline from that happy, optimistic soul to this [more often than not] complete Debbie Downer.  The eternal optimist in me has been suffocated by a perpetual pessimist, and it’s time I start to re-train my brain into believing even the smallest lemons can indeed be turned into lemonade…. or, better yet, vodka lemonade.

A fresh start is what I need right now.  I’m going to go back to writing for myself (but in a much more mindful way). I’m going to turn this blog back into what it originally was – a boring place of my musings. No more recipes, no more decor. To be honest, that was all a fleeting-Gemini-moment anyway.  (Though I will share that kind of stuff on Facebook and Instagram, I just don’t need to write about it.)

So, it’s back to the basics for me.

And with this transformation (or would it be a regression?), I’ve decided to compliment my inner-makeover with an outer one as well.  A new look for the old me…

…with a name that will be a constant reminder that it’s all as simple as turning Lemons Into Vodka.

😉

Coming soon…

xo,

Jen

 

***

’Tis the season… of chaos.

How is everyone hanging in there? I always think I have it so together about a month before Christmas and then all hell breaks loose about two weeks out. Shopping is done, for the most part. Baking, not so much. Wrapping? Not a single gift has been looked at since being shoved in the closet or hidden under a down comforter.

Ugh, I dread the wrapping.

I always try to psych myself up for it by convincing myself it will be peaceful, relaxed and merry. I pour myself a glass of wine, turn on the first of my annual gift-wrapping movie line-up (The Holiday, Love Actually and The Family Stone, to be exact) and then commence. Within three minutes, I’m calling the lost tape and scissors unimaginably inappropriate names and I can usually hear Brian from the other room cursing whatever he’s trying to put together.

It’s magic.

I really did think we were on the ball this year. Or, let’s be honest, I thought I was on the ball this year. I am the CEO of Christmas in this house. Brian is my executive assistant.  I know when I say that, it may sound demeaning, but I swear it’s not. I think a better description would be that I’m like a disheveled, drunk CEO who gets business done – but also leaves a trail of chaos in my wake.  And poor Brian is the poor assistant/AA sponsor that has to clean up behind me and get me back on track.

Have you seen Sixteen Candles? You know that scene where the two grandmas are making breakfast and kooky Grandma #1 is flipping pancakes while holding an incredibly ashy cigarette and talking away – all while Grandma #2 is holding a spatula under the cigarette trying to catch the ash before it falls into their breakfast.

I think you can guess whose who in the above scenario.

Anyway, one thing we did get done and off the list was our annual holiday card. We actually got this one done pretty early, because I was tired of laying awake at night worrying that a) it wouldn’t look exactly as I envisioned it; and 2) someone else would beat us to our idea.

That’s so ridiculous, right?  I mean, who else out there wastes time thinking up Christmas cards like this, right?

I’m not sure if you know this about us, but we take our holiday cards very seriously. Not a matching-pajamas-kind-of-serious (I think those are totally cute, by the way) or a nice-family-photo-where-everyone-is-smiling-serious.

I mean serious.

Here’s a few cards from Christmas past just so you fully understand.

 

Unfortunately, we did not break the internet that year.

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I’m kind of mortified how this one actually ended up being a prophecy of sorts. At the time, we didn’t know who the two primary candidates would be.

So, yeah. Christmas cards are kind of a big deal for us.

I’m not sure why we started to really get into them to this level.  I think about four or five years ago, we made a ridiculous one of us holding our pets and people thought it was funny.  And, we’ll kind of do anything for a laugh, so every year after, we decided to up the ante a bit.

This year’s card was, by far, my favorite.  We are huge Game of Thrones fans and so we knew nearly a year ago what this year’s card was going to be about.  I obsess over our costumes and the scene – and even the wording on the cards.  Luckily, my husband is nearly as obsessive as me.  So, we make a really great team in the weird department.

This year, I thought that I’d post some photos of the process.  A lot of people think that we take several shots of all of us together until we get a good one, but what they don’t realize is that we rarely ever shoot everyone in the same shot.  We usually have sessions one by one, so these photos are probably even trickier to do than people think.  This is where my husband gets all of the credit.  He’s a photography genius, in my opinion.  He knows exactly where everyone needs to be in order to have us look like we are all together in the final piece.  And his artistic eye, editing and photoshop skills are phenomenal.

We always shoot Ivy first and once she is done, we all breathe a collective sigh of relief. Ivy’s part is a big part of what keeps me up at night every year, because you never know what a toddler is going to do (or not do). She blows my mind every year – and she usually has the most complicated role.

Talent lunch break.

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What you can’t see here is me to the right, kneeling and showing her how to breathe fire – and her mimicking me.  Hannah is ducking behind the stool to make sure she doesn’t fall.

 

I’m not going to lie, I’m not above bribery when it comes to Ivy and these shoots.  This year I think we got away with just a cookie.  Last year, she got a trip to Target and the toy aisle.

Have you ever tried dressing your two-year old up like Donald Trump? Don’t you judge me! 

After Ivy is finished with her shot, things are a little more relaxed – though my husband would likely beg to differ. I readily admit I’m a bear when it comes to the shots we take and my opinion on if they look how I feel they should.  In my defense, I spend so much time and preparation studying the actual characters we portray and how they stand, what they wear, etc. that it would seem such a waste if we didn’t do it right.  Right?

Case in point: I’m irritated that my Lannister lion pendant didn’t show up in our finished photo.

See what I mean?

But we do have fun, I promise!  Hannah loves getting dressed up every year – even though half the time, she has no idea who she’s dressed as.  This year, she looked over some photos of Daenerys and she was really excited.  (I think she kept that wig on for a full hour after her shots were done.)

 

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It doesn’t look difficult, until you’ve been standing there for 30 minutes with one arm elevated while having your dad and step-mom repeatedly tell you to put your shoulders back, stand up straight and keep your elbow level.  

As you can see, we do these sessions from our house.  So, we clear out our living room and put up the backdrop.  And every year, as we are dressed up like strange characters, I pray that no one comes to the door.  It would be mighty awkward for Cersei Lannister or the Mother of Dragons to be greeting the FedEx guy at 10 am on Saturday in suburbia.

Brian was having a hard time trying to look menacing while also not looking narcoleptic.

It’s 5 o’clock somewhere. Am I right, Cersei?

Oddest GoT couple ever.

 

Besides Brian’s awesome photography skills, he also had double-duty this year as he was both Jon Snow and Santa.  It cracked me up how this confused so many people. They thought we brought an extra in for our family card!

Peace out, Santa!

So, there you have it. Some behind the scenes fun!

I hope you all liked our card this year.  I know that our cards can be confusing to people who aren’t familiar with the shows or current affairs we’re covering, but we try to make them just crazy enough that everyone will get some kind of amusement out of them.

As for next year, I can honestly say I have no idea what we’ll be doing.  But I’m guessing 2017 will give us something to work with.

xo,

Jen

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It’s 11:30 pm and I have been sitting in the dark, staring at my open laptop – and the above quote – trying to figure out what it is I need to say.

I have been restless for a week.  Luckily, work has been extremely busy, so it has occupied much of my time – but in the few quiet moments I’ve had, I have sat in silence, my thoughts turning over and over in my head until I’m exhausted.

I have struggled with writing what I’m thinking, because I am aware that I have somewhat of an audience – be it little or large, it makes no difference when you know people are watching. And so I have grappled between being true to myself – or writing about what people want to read.

And then I remember…

I don’t owe anyone a damned thing.

I am not selling anything. I am not representing anything or anyone – other than myself.  This blog carries on from nearly ten blogs before it – when I had an audience of none – when I wrote for no other reason than wanting to write.

Recently, my sister-in-law said to me, after I followed up a post with some clarifications, “That is ridiculous. You don’t need to clarify anything. These are your own thoughts.”  And my response was, “Well, I would hate for anyone to think that I meant…” 

You know what?

You’ve got it!

Chuck it.

***

During my mom’s last visit, she brought out a stack of papers she found in an old desk of mine from high school.  Much of it was random musings of a teenager – overly-dramatic poems (which Brian and I had a good laugh reading through together), some school papers that included articles I wrote (they spelled my first name wrong in the byline), a start to a young adult book (that I only let my sister read, at the time, and she readily critiqued)…  and mixed in with all of it was a typed up letter I had written to the Voice of the People section of the local newspaper.

 

To whom it may concern:

I have a few things to say and I hope you find it important enough to put in your VOICE OF THE PEOPLE section in your newspaper.

I may be writing this a little late but I still think that what I want to say should be listened to.  It’s about the burning of the flag. Lots of people say that burning the flag is a horrid act. That the flag stands for freedom. A freedom in which men fought and died for. A freedom in which we worked so hard to get. The flag states our freedom to think and live as we please. A freedom to our own color, religion and our way of living. I agree the flag stands for all of this. I agree that the flag shouldn’t be used to get back at the government for something they are doing wrong. I don’t think the flag should be burned.  But isn’t every person who has a prejudice against anyone different than themselves also going against everything the flag stands for also? Every time a person curses another’s color, religion or sex, aren’t they also burning the flag?  Not physically so others can see them, but verbally when they hate those different from themselves.  So what is so different if people burn the flag through a match rather than through their mouths? I think that doing one is just as bad as the other. I think both actions are wrong.  So everyone out there who can say that they think that burning the flag is an outrage and wrong, but they themselves have gone against what the flag stands for, well, just think of the ways they’ve burnt it in one way or another.

Another thing, I am not some kind of ‘80s hippy who wants to go around and save the world. I’m just a fifteen year old kid who wants to be heard and not just seen.

J.B.

 

After reading this letter, I laughed at my then-15-year old self and set it aside. I had forgotten that I used to write letters every so often to the newspaper.  I never mailed one of them – but, as is the same case today, just getting my thoughts on paper was therapeutic.

However, a few days ago as I was sorting through my desk and I ran across the letter, I sat down and read it to myself again. And this time I felt a weight land heavily on my chest.

Make no mistake, I don’t think that letter was profound in any way. I certainly don’t think it had any kind of genius message.  But, I do want to know: why didn’t I mail it? 

I want to grab that 15 year old girl by the shoulders and scream, “MAIL IT!”  I want someone else to have grabbed that 15-year old and told her:

“Don’t be scared. Let them hear your voice. Act. If you believe in something, ACT.”  

Do not let the fear of how you may look sideline the truth of how you feel. 

So, here I am.  Decades later.  With little blue eyes watching now. And I am never going to make that mistake again.

I will say it and I will live it. And I am not going to keep quiet in order to appear gracious and neutral.

In our home, we don’t “tolerate” love – we embrace it.  
In our home, religious freedom is just that – freedom. For all religions.
In our home, your religious beliefs (or lack of them) do not define your humanity. Your actions define your humanity.
In our home, black lives matter.
In our home, we understand it is our responsibility to take care of this planet.
In our home, we understand and appreciate this country is made of a melting pot of immigrants, which include my great-grandparents and likely yours.
In our home, we don’t turn our backs on our suffering neighbors.
In our home, free thought is encouraged.
In our home, science is not just a theory.
In our home, women’s rights are human rights.
In our home, we don’t build walls.
In our home, we break down walls.

And another thing…

Peaceful protests aren’t the byproduct of giving kids participation trophies. They are the byproduct of the First Amendment.

Expressing sadness over a world turned upside down by election results doesn’t equate to “babies” not getting their way.  It equates to genuine sadness.

You don’t get to call yourself pro-life unless you are fighting for ALL lives.  (Perhaps click here for a better understanding.)

I don’t define all democrats by clusters of rioting in otherwise peaceful demonstrations, just as I don’t define all republicans by organized Ku Klux Klan “victory” parades celebrating the president-elect.

***

Listen, this is no longer about an election. I am not denying the president-elect won. He won. That part is over now. And, as I told Hannah tonight over dinner, Donald Trump is going to be our president and we have to respect that.  But I also told her that doesn’t mean we stop standing up for what we believe in or doing what is right.

I may be going to Washington in January to march – and if not there, the sister-march in St. Louis. (I would hope that everyone has read and realizes the Women’s March is not a protest against Trump – it is a march for women’s rights.)

If I do go, Ivy will not understand why right now.

But when she comes across a photo of it in a desk twenty years from now, she will know.  And I will have done more than mailing it in.

xo,

Jen

 

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***

Yesterday. It was nearly 5pm, I was under the gun with a work project. My three and a half year-old, Ivy, was being unusually high-maintenance. The dogs were being insanely rowdy. Our house was (and still is) a mess. Western stand-off music played in my head as I walked from the living room to the kitchen and tumbleweeds of dog hair rolled by.  Ivy’s underpants that I washed and folded three days ago are now scattered across the rug on the floor. Endless mugs of unfinished coffee cover my kitchen island.

When my husband came home, he grabbed the dogs and took them for a walk, so I could finish my work.  I finished up and, as they were still gone, I grabbed a glass of red wine and went upstairs to do something I never, ever do: take a hot bath.  I made a glorious, sudsy oasis (using dish soap, of course, because we have no bubble bath) and was about to step in when Ivy appeared behind me, back from what felt like the quickest walk in history.

“You takin’ a bath, Mom?”

Yes.

She looks over my shoulder and observes my glass, “You havin’ wine?”

Yes.

“Ok. Did you want one of my bath toys?”

I just started laughing. As much as I want my alone time, who can be annoyed with a tiny human offering you her bath toys?

So, she stayed in the bathroom with me – and played with her bath toys from the other side of the tub –  while I just sat there, sipping my wine and washing off the day.

***

Some days are harder than others. For all of us.  But, yesterday as I sat working – still in my pajamas with unbrushed teeth at 5pm – I looked around my chaotic, messy, home and I just said to myself:

Chuck it in the f*ck it bucket.

My husband is right: You’re not expected to do it all.  But, even more importantly, sometimes you don’t even have to do half of it.

  • Laundry: It gets done (on my end) in this house when I’ve officially run out of jeans or good underwear. Chuck it.
  • Cleaning: My husband often sings out “Nothing cleans like company!” when we are expecting people over, because that’s usually the only time we thoroughly clean this home.  Chuck it.
  • Ivy doesn’t seem to be phasing out of her I am terrified of everyone except my immediate family phase. She hisses at people in the grocery store and clamps her hands over her eyes when anyone looks at her. Because I have run out of excuses, I no longer make apologizes. so I basically just look like I’m raising a total asshole  Chuck it. 
  • I’m sure there are moms out there who just read the above and think I am raising a total asshole.  Chuck it.
  • Willow, our dog, is digging holes all over our backyard and nothing seems to stop her. Chuck it. 
  • I’ve killed every plant in this house out of pure neglect because unless you are a toddler telling me you are hungry 57 times a day or a dog nudging me incessantly at meal time, I can’t be in charge of your livelihood. Chuck it.
  • I watched four bananas die a slow painful death on my counter and I didn’t even make banana bread. Chuck it. 
  • We are retraining Ivy to sleep in her bed, because she’s suddenly scared of everything. I have done an army crawl out of her bedroom more often than I care to admit. Chuck it.
  • I owe about 50 friends, family, etc. emails, return texts, messages, etc. and I don’t even know where to begin. Chuck it. 
  • At all times, I feel like I have 50 balls up in the air – and I only catch about 7. The rest land on my head. Chuck it.
  • And, lastly, it is guaranteed I will have more than one person read this post and think, “You think that’s bad, try having….”  CHUCK YOU!

Here’s the thing: as much as we are all in this thing together, we are all in this thing alone. So, decide for yourself what you want to throw in the f*ck it bucket. It’s YOUR f*ck it bucket and you can do whatever you want with it! That’s the beauty.

You may care about a clean house more than I do (for the record, I think everyone on earth cares more about a clean house than I do). But I’m of the mind that as long as you are not living in filth that qualifies for a social services well-being check, you’re a winner in my book!

We all have things that appear higher on the list of priorities than others. And everyone gets to decide what tops their list.  A word to the wise: keep your eyes on your own list.  What matters to others may not matter at all to you – so don’t let other people’s priorities trick you into thinking they should be yours as well.

And maybe consider chucking all of those “How to…” articles in your bucket as well.  Then start a running dialog in your head that begins with “How I…”

xo

Jen

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Please tell me you know what that quote is from. Otherwise, leave now.

Just kidding.

Go look it up and come back… We’ll wait.

Got it?

Great! Let’s move on.

I haven’t had the urge to write for awhile. At all.  This should probably always be taken as a good sign, as I’ve said before that I tend to write when I’m down or going through something.  But things have been going well – and busy – and every time I go to write lately, I fizzle out.  Or a squirrel runs by…

Also, honestly, sometimes I go through these phases where I feel cornered in my writing. I have tried very hard to stay true to my own path in what I choose to write about and, as I’ve also said before many times, I mostly write as a one-off purge. I write what I’m thinking or feeling at that moment, get it out there – and move on.  The minute I start to be “expected” to write about certain topics (step-parenting, in particular), I feel trapped and want to do the exact OPPOSITE.  I’ve been thinking a lot about why that is – and, after some serious soul-searching, I think I’ve figured it out:

I am not just a step-mom.

I don’t know why that matters to me so much to say (or type) out loud.  I don’t think anyone is even accusing me of being “just” a stepmom.  But sometimes I feel pushed into a corner, as if it’s some kind of niche I’ve hit upon, and there is so much more to me – and to all of us step-parents!

So, let me just have a general mom moment here.  Because I don’t go to the grocery store with Hannah and Ivy and think, “This is my daughter and step-daughter.”  In fact, I don’t think of it much at all, most days.  They are just “ours” – all of us co-parents’.

And there ain’t one “step” – and certainly no “half” – about it!

***

We’ve had a busy, busy few weeks – and I’m exhausted.  Brian and I just returned from a much-needed and much-appreciated (thank you, Mom and Tante Janet for watching our little red dragon!) getaway to New York.  We have been there many times together and so we’ve been to pretty much all of the “must do” tourist attractions.  So, when we go now, we both like to explore neighborhoods and go off the beaten path – and we had a great time!

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Brian doing what he does!

 

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Day-Date in Central Park

 

*I do want to note that we did tour the 9/11 Memorial, which I honestly cannot recommend enough.  There is no way to put the experience into words, so you will have to see it for yourselves.  It is so incredibly well-done – but know that you will be emotionally drained by the time you are through it.  Brian and I both were in awe, but also said we never wanted to have to go back – though we will, because there is no way we won’t take Ivy and Hannah. It is so incredibly important.

Since we returned from New York, the panic of not getting Ivy to a pumpkin patch before Halloween set in (so ridiculous, I know) and we headed to Eckert’s Millstadt Family Fun Farm.  Ivy had a blast picking her own pumpkin from the patch (she wanted a green one) and petting all of the animals. We also did the corn maze. (I can neither confirm nor deny if we cheated.)

Check Obligatory Pumpkin Patch visit off the list.

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She was very specific about finding a small, green pumpkin.
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Waiting for the pig races.

 

When looking at these pumpkin farm photos and others, I feel as if people often wonder where Hannah is in most of my Instagram or Facebook photos, and I’ve finally given myself a pass on worrying about it.  The simple truth is that Hannah is a teenager and also a very busy kid – and when she’s not at dance, or poms (she recently made Captain – woo hoo!), she has a more active social life than Britney Spears in 2001.  (Not that she’s doing anything Britney Spears may or may not have been doing in 2001!)  So, to wrangle her for candid photos – much less the mini-sessions I have with Ivy – is pretty much impossible.

It’s very rare that I get Hannah to myself these days – it’s very rare that any of us do! We’re all treasuring our time with our social bug when we can get it.  But sometimes I think back to when she was just 5 or 6 and Brian used to work every Sunday, so I’d have her to myself.  Those were such treasured, fun times.  We had little traditions every Sunday: swimming, shopping and having lunch.  I’d hear all about her friends and ideas, etc.  She’d tell me animated stories and I’d think how fast she was growing up – even back then.

We don’t get much one-on-one time these days. When she is with us, Ivy – of course – wants to be with her sister and vice-versa. I’ve actually learned to savor the small moments Hannah and I get.  When Brian is traveling for work, I pick her up from dance – and in those car rides and the nights she stays over while Brian is away, we pack in a lot of conversations and catching up.

Today was a day to savor.  Brian wanted to get yard work done – and I took the girls for a fun day at Chuck E Cheese’s.  I had forgotten how fun this place is!  Of course, Ivy dove right in.  And the sweetest part of the day was watching Hannah show Ivy all of her favorite games and rides from when she was younger.  And – can I just get an Amen! that you no longer have to deal with all those tokens?!  They now have Play Passes that scan at each game/ride.  (But don’t worry, those glorious, coveted tickets still spit out when you win!)

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She quickly caught on to the appeal of the “tickets”.
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I cannot adequately express the amount of danger Ivy poses while playing skee ball.
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Sisters.

 

We ate lunch, played for hours and came home exhausted.  It was a great day alone with the girls that I will savor – the joy of watching them together always makes my heart burst a little more.  There is such a love between them, a deep and true love. This is why I do wince a bit every time I over-hear someone use the term “half-siblings” – because I honestly can’t imagine any two sisters more whole.

xo,

Jen

 

:: Our day at Chuck E. Cheese’s was sponsored. The fun and quality time we had was priceless! ::

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Wow.

Wow. Wow. Wow.

After writing my post yesterday about the anxiety I’ve been dealing with (and hitting the “publish” button with one eye closed), I told myself that if even one person knew what I was experiencing and made me feel less “crazy” than I would be better off for having shared it.  I had no idea that I would receive so many emails, texts, comments and messages from people telling me they knew exactly how I felt – or had similar experiences with anxiety – or just wanted to tell me that they are here to listen if I ever need them.  You guys are FANTASTIC!  I haven’t been able to respond to every message yet – but I promise that is for no other reason than I want to respond and give you the attention you deserve. Your shared experiences are so appreciated.

All that said, I do want to follow up and clarify a few things that I wrote, so I can move on fully. When I write, I don’t plan it out. I just write. I find that’s the best way for me to write honestly and raw – and if I try to do it any other way, it doesn’t feel genuine to me or my thought process.  That’s why you will see missed spelling errors, etc. I write, publish and then edit – which is a pretty accurate description of how I go about life in general.

I’m such a rule breaker.

Anyway, after I publish these things – I realize that some of it could be misconstrued or translated negatively. And – because of my now well-documented anxiety – I get anxious when I think I might be misunderstood. So, let me clarify some things (if only to appease my own mind):

  • When I wrote “I wasn’t married, I didn’t have kids… I didn’t have a whole lot of love to lose,” I want to make it very clear that I was talking about a very personal, self-destructive part of my life that had nothing to do with not having a husband or child(ren) and everything to do with me not having much self-worth. What I meant was, at this time, I didn’t care what I did to myself and I didn’t have a whole lot of love for myself  and that’s why I wrote that I didn’t have a lot of love to lose. I want to make it especially clear that I don’t think you need a partner or children to be “whole” or have a life full of love.  Anyone who really knows me already knows this very well; however, I would hate for anyone to think that I feel you need to be married with 2.5 kids to be happy or content.
  • When I write about being a usually “carefree mom,” it is not my intent to make other moms or parents feel inferior because they do things differently. I honestly think who we are as parents has trickled down from who we are, naturally, as people. I am laid-back (maybe sometimes too much), because that’s how I am as a person in most things (unless there’s a gorilla sitting on my chest telling me the ceiling fan is gong too fast and will fly off and kill us all.*). I’m not saying my way is the right way. I’m saying this is how I naturally am and it has nothing to do with who you naturally are or how you parent.
  • I wrote that I don’t like to talk about my miscarriages anymore. I want to clarify that I don’t want to ever write about them again. That said, if you are having recurrent miscarriages or fertility issues and you want more information on what finally worked for us, please, please message me. I don’t ever want people to think that because I don’t want to write about it, I also don’t want to tell them our experience and help them.  I am more than willing to help anyone who is going through that on a private level. I want to help people.  Talking to other people is what led us in the right direction of getting the right treatment and ultimately having that red-headed firecracker in our lives!

Ok, so now that that is off my chest… thank you again so much for all of your comments and messages. They not only help me, but you are helping so many other people by sharing!  Sometimes, there is strength in numbers – and this is one of those times. Today, in between work and responding to your messages, Ivy and I ran outside and splashed in muddy puddles (ala Peppa Pig) and we laughed our heads off.  I highly recommend taking a moment today to just get out of your office, off your sofa or – simply – out of your own head, and go do something random and fun. It works wonders for the soul!

Thank you also for reading and following this blog. I’ve been doing this for years and years and years – and yet I’m still amazed every single time I get responses from people.  I promise there will be a fluff post coming soon!  Someday…

xo,

Jen

*I would personally like to thank my father, Randy, for putting “that fan is going too fast and going to kill us all” scenario into my mind for all of eternity. Clearly, this anxiety sh*t is hereditary. 

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This one reminds me to be strong!

 

I’ve been getting some great messages from a lot of you – and I want you to know how much I appreciate it!  I know that sometimes I write about touchy things and I’m glad that you feel comfortable messaging me to either tell me that you relate or to ask questions/get advice. I’ve also found that I get a lot more “private” messages after a somewhat “brutally honest” post – which reminds me I am not alone and we are all in this together!  That said, a recurring theme in these messages seems to be that you all think I have my sh*t together.

Whoa. Whoa. Whoa.

Do you remember that horrible Laci Peterson case?  (Please don’t make me detail it here. Google it, for God’s sake!)  I was kind of fascinated with that case (as many were) and one of the things I always remember is how the media kept portraying Laci as this Martha Stewart-type wife who made everything look perfect. I remember clearly how her friends spoke out and said she would have hated that. They said that Laci liked to do things pretty, but she was also a smart-ass, sarcastic, big-mouth and the thought that she would be remembered as Betty Crocker, her friends said, would have made her furious.

I relate to that on so many levels. So, when I share these fun photos with you – or write about some new step-parenting issue I’ve maneuvered through, please don’t Martha Stewart me into a corner. As I’ve said before, we’ve all got our own sh*t – and we all get to share it – or not – how we please.

This brings me to something that I’ve been thinking about writing about for awhile now – but I have been on the fence as to whether I want to share. Not because I want you all to see me as a highlight reel, but because I’m not sure if this is something that anyone will really relate to – or even care to read about. And, it’s also very personal.  And maybe it’s partly selfish for me to write about, because, if I’m being honest, I kind of want to hear just one person tell me: I understand this.

So, here goes nothing – and shall this post disappear by tomorrow, I say this:

“What post? I have no idea what you are talking about.”

***

Let’s talk anxiety.

No, I mean, let’s really talk about anxiety. Real, heart pounding, mind-racing, insomnia-inducing, paralyzing and suffocating anxiety.

Do you know what I’m talking about?

If you don’t, then maybe this post will help you understand someone who is suffering.

If you do, then I want to tell you one thing: you are not weird or crazy – and you are not alone.

I have been suffering from anxiety that has gradually progressed to an extreme level over the last decade.  I am so used to the feelings and side-affects from it that, for the last three years, I have stifled it and kept it a secret from everyone – save for a few hints here and there to those closest to me.  In fact, it wasn’t until I found myself having a full-blown anxiety attack about a month ago (and not the “ha-ha! I’m having an anxiety attack!” kidding kind that everyone loves to exaggerate) – and called my mom, sobbing while having difficulty breathing because I felt like a gorilla was sitting on my chest – that I realized this is a real problem.

And it was affecting everything. And sometimes everyone around me.

When I finally confessed fully the extent of these attacks and the thought-process that goes on in my head to induce them, I did feel like a crazy person – but I also felt huge relief.  Finally. I said it out loud. I was laying it all out there: no matter how ridiculous it sounded, no matter how insane the scenarios in my mind appeared when I said them, I felt free from my secret.

No more hiding.

And why did I keep this a dirty little secret? For one, I felt like no one would take me seriously. No one would believe the extent to which my mind would go to induce these breakdowns.  As a parent, I am naturally laid-back with almost everything.  I don’t hover. I don’t overthink the “stages” Ivy goes through. I definitely could not give a flying f*ck about what Sally-Over-There can do compared to our girls.

So, what I mean is that, on the day-to-day things, I am pretty carefree and unbothered (and I’ve got an unapproved crayon-mural on one entire dining room wall to prove it. Whoops.).

But…

Tell me that we are going to a public place for some concert/festival/sporting event and my mind will immediately race into 101 Ways We Could Die mode.

I know. That sounds hilarious, right? It sounds like something funny someone would say in passing.  But guess what? It’s where my mind really goes. In 100% seriousness.  And me writing this right now – for anyone to see – is probably one of the most vulnerable things I’ve ever done.  (And I’ve shared a lot with you people.)

After finally confessing all of this to Brian and my mom recently, and hearing myself say it out loud and realizing it’s not healthy and that I need to address it, we talked about when it may have started. I have thought about that on my own for a long time and I believe it was triggered by three main events:

1.   I met Brian.  

I know, I know – that sounds terrible, but it’s actually quite the opposite. Before I met Brian, I was a train wreck for a long, long time. Horrible decisions from the time I was 18 led me on a downward spiral that lasted nearly a decade. I became self-destructive and irresponsible to a level that I couldn’t share even if I wanted to. (And I will never want to, so please don’t ask.)  I hurt myself, and, most regrettably, I hurt others. I don’t live in the past, but there is a mountain of regret that lives there – and, again, I will never, ever subscribe to the “No regrets!” badge of honor. I hurt too many people to be so selfish as to not regret my choices.

During these years of recklessness, I didn’t care what happened to me. I was not married, I didn’t have kids and, aside from my family, I didn’t have a whole lot of love to lose, because I didn’t particularly love myself. By the time I met Brian, I had myself together, for the most part. I was living in Chicago with a great job that I worked really hard (for years) to get to – and I was finally free of a very unhealthy relationship. In fact, I was very happy and content – and just kind of doing my thing, in a healthy way.

Then this perfect man comes into my life and suddenly, I had everything to lose.  When we started to get serious, I started to experience small bits of anxiety. I am not saying my life was worthless and without meaning before Brian. But, for the first time, I had such a real, full love that the thought of any harm coming to him started to creep slowly in – and ignite small fires of anxiety that would gradually be snuffed out with my (then) ability to rationalize.

Then…

2.   A close family member was killed in an accident. 

This was the first time I had ever experienced a death so sudden and unexpected – and to someone so close and with so many years left to live. I remember going to the funeral and studying his wife the whole time. Her gracefulness. Her strength. Her ease in comforting everyone else (as so often is the case at things like these). I remember her seeing me after I first arrived at the visitation – and she walked to me and hugged me, with a sad smile, and said, “Your life can change just like that.”  That was all she said. That’s all she needed to say.

After that, I became almost obsessed with the idea that one day, he had left for work – and that night, he never came home. I thought of it endlessly. I thought of her endlessly. I thought of her and their children being taken off guard – of how their entire lives were changed with one sentence.  How do you wake up one day and make coffee and eat breakfast and say goodbye to your husband as he heads off to work – and then have your whole life change by that afternoon?

It made me realize – again, as these things do – that no one is guaranteed anything. YOU ARE GUARANTEED NOTHING.  And knowing this now more than ever, I became even more fraught with anxiety. Brian can be taken from me in a minute. Anyone can be taken from you in a minute. Don’t be caught off guard.

Don’t wake up and drink your coffee and think you are guaranteed the same life by dinner time.

The above started to become an endless mantra in my mind – almost to the point of obsessiveness. But I learned to stifle it, for the most part.  And Brian and I carried on – and were married and started creating a beautiful life – while I dealt with the underlying anxiety of losing it all in a second.

It still seemed manageable.

3.   The miscarriages.

I don’t like to talk about this area of my life anymore. At all. I had a whole blog about our fertility issues, which did help a few others out who were going through similar issues – but I was also criticized harshly for it (and maybe rightfully so).

That said, it was during this time that my anxiety started to skyrocket – and Brian and I talked about this in length recently.  Our miscarriages were ticking time bombs. I would get pregnant (easily) and we’d go in for an ultrasound and we’d see a lovely, strong heartbeat. And then we’d go back in again, and it would be gone. There was no shock or pain worse than the first time – when it hit us out of nowhere.  After having four miscarriages in a row, I taught myself self-preservation by constantly expecting the worst.  I told myself to never be caught off-guard again. Ever.

Assess the possible risk, regulate it in your mind and then assume the worst scenario will happen.  

And that is what I have carried around in my mind, like some sort of defensive weapon, ever since.

Obviously, the addition of our daughter, Ivy, has increased the anxiety ten-fold. I have suffered from insomnia for months on end. I lay in bed and think of awful scenarios and things that could happen. I’m not talking ‘falling off a bike’ things – I’m talking completely irrational, horrible things.

That’s why I think it’s so incredibly important that people know that real and severe anxiety exists. It is not just something we say to have a laugh at ourselves. It is real and exhausting and painful – no matter how irrational it sounds.  I think I realized the level of my anxiety when I really said out loud some of my recent worries to Brian. I don’t know that he took me seriously until I told him things I worried about. He was clearly shocked, but he finally understood the magnitude of what I was dealing with.

I have since consulted with a doctor and we are trying a mild anxiety medication (to start with) and some other things that are helping. When I first started telling her everything I was experiencing, I almost downplayed it at first – and she put her hand up to stop me and said, “Wait. Wait. Wait. First of all, you are ok. This is not weird or crazy. Please don’t give me excuses or downplay this: this is real and this is anxiety.”  

Brian – in his own sweet way – is teaching me to live in the “now” (as cliche as that sounds), because, as he says, “What is going to happen, is going to happen – don’t rob yourself of the moment you’re in.”  He knows it’s not that simple for me, but hearing it is a good reminder.

And I’m learning new tricks to instantly push away the fear and scenarios that routinely try to push their way in.

So, this is what I want to tell you: if any of this sounds remotely like you, know that you aren’t crazy or irrational or ‘being dramatic.’ You’re human and this is real. Talk it out. Say it out loud. Seek some help.

And if this doesn’t sound like you – but maybe sounds like someone you know or love – please don’t discount them. Don’t discount their fear or their worry. I know it may seem irrational to you – or even funny. But it’s all very real, I assure you.  You may not understand it – or relate to it (on this level) in any way – but you can let them know you see them. And acknowledge their suffering. And hold their hand. And help.

xo,

Jen

I recently had a very dear friend message me, because she needed a sounding board due to a bump in the life of a stepmom.  I assured her this gig is hard and complicated. I have been in my step-daughter’s life since she was four and she is now a teenager. For as much as I have learned throughout the last ten years, the one thing I know is that this role will always ebb and flow. Conflicts and issues are never going to be summarized in one Brady Bunch episode where everything is resolved in 30 minutes.

No matter how uncomfortable it may make us to discuss the difficult moments as a step-parent, it is also incredibly important. My Instagram feed may be a highlight reel of mostly fluff, but my role as a parent and step-parent is full of mistakes and tears and happy moments and sad moments and anger and frustration and everything in between. And we owe it to ourselves to be real and honest and share some of the more difficult moments as well as the easy ones.

Here’s the truth of it: as a step-parent or a parent co-parenting with a step-parent (and I think it’s very important to remember the latter, because it’s just as complicated for them to co-parent with you), you need a whole lot of “extra”.

Extra strength.
Extra patience.
Extra hard work.
Extra restraint.
Extra empathy.
Extra dedication.

And, especially: an extra tough skin.

Just when you think you’ve got a good handle on co-parenting, something will come up out of nowhere to knock you off your stool of temporary zen. And you’ll get angry and frustrated and feel under-appreciated or misunderstood. And you will be pissed off.

Sometimes super pissed off.

There are no cliff notes to the book of step-parenting. There are events and circumstances that will come up and bring on a whole new chapter of challenges – and this is a book series that never ends.  You will think you have it all under control and then a wrench will land squarely in your lap.

There are so many wrenches in my lap at this point, I could open a hardware store with full inventory.

Issues come up that you never ever thought about – or would ever need to think about if you were just in charge your own child. And sometimes, I think of how much more complicated it is being a step-parent while also raising a child of ‘my own.’ (And, yes, I do hate that wording, but I can’t think of a better way to explain it here.)

And this is where I get brutally honest:

Trying to raise both of these kids equally is impossible.

There. I said it.

It is impossible.

Oh my gosh. I feel such relief typing that out loud.

And I don’t mean that in the sense of loving them. They are both loved fully. I mean that it is impossible to raise them equally in experiences and opportunities and our philosophies of family and parenting, in general.

You know how not-yet-parents love to say or think: “My child will never do that,” or “I’ll never [fill in self-righteous verbiage here] with my child.”  Well, I remember, before having my daughter, witnessing other stepmom’s choices and thinking, “I’ll never do that. Everything will be equal between my step-child and our child.”  

Ah, to be young, naive and have a brain erupting with butterflies and rainbows again…

I have tried. Oh my Lord, I have tried. I have gone over-the-top, obsessively insane trying to make things equal.

And I’m done.

I have to be. For all of our sanity.

Make no mistake, I still try to make everything as even as possible: individual attention, experiences, material items, etc.. But, logistically, it is impossible to make everything equal, and I am no longer driving myself (and those around me) insane trying to do it.  I only have so much input as a step-parent in raising my step-daughter, but I have full control – with my husband – over how our daughter together is raised. And I am no longer willing to sacrifice opportunities and strong convictions I have in parenting in order to perfectly even out the playing field.

Example: My step-daughter attends public school, which is completely great and wonderful.  At the start of my step-daughter’s schooling, my husband had wanted to put her in a private school, however, it wasn’t feasible financially at the time for him.  She has done wonderfully and she attends a great school. Now, our daughter, Ivy, is going to begin pre-school next year, and I want to put her in the local Montessori school (just for pre-school), because I have always loved the philosophy, and I think she would excel in a more independent atmosphere.  This decision has nearly given me an ulcer, because it is not “equal” to what my step-daughter experienced.

They won’t have equal preschool experiences.

Yes, I realize how ridiculous this sounds.

Never mind that I wasn’t married to my husband at the time my step-daughter attended preschool – nor was I financially responsible for her. But it nags at me that people may think, “Oh, look at what they are doing for Ivy.” And I know it nags at my husband as well.

Here is what we need to remind ourself as stepmoms: My family with my husband is not what was his family with my step-daughter’s mom.

You can still do it your way.  That doesn’t make you selfish or unfair.  That makes you a good parent, because you are honoring your parental compass and not sacrificing you or your child’s experiences so that everyone gets an equally gold-plated participation trophy.

In my particular experience, I realize that I am fortunate to co-parent in a mostly copacetic way with my step-daughter’s mom. However, though we do have many shared outlooks on parenting, we are still not in total agreement all of the time. And that is fine and normal and ok.  So, we do us in our household – and they do them in theirs. And that may mean my step-daughter and daughter won’t always be equally parented or have identical experiences or opportunities as children, be it spiritually, financially or pre-schooly…

…but they were both brought up equally loved and I hope so badly they grow up knowing that.

Because we are trying, so hard.

xo,

Jen

 

earth

“I think of that Mr. Rogers quote, ‘Look for the good,’” my sister says to me, when I have asked her for what seems like the hundredth time:

“How do you do it? How do you do that job every day?” 

She is a social worker, now a supervisor. She has helped the most broken – and sometimes worse. Children and babies. Born addicted, or with parents addicted. Children abused within an inch of their lives. She has told me stories that haunt me, years later. “I could never do it,” I say.

I am not strong like you, I think.

But she does it. Every day. And she still looks for the good, she says.

She finds it in the foster parents and adoptive parents. She finds it in the parents working to change. She finds it in the small saving graces of near-deaths that weren’t deaths. She finds it in the callers who are brave enough to call. She finds it in the other social workers. The police officers. The doctors and the therapists.

She doesn’t re-tweet meaningless hashtags or regurgitate rants with an agenda. She doesn’t preach. She doesn’t judge.

She helps. Every day.

******

I watch the news.

Two men – separately killed, unjustly?

Look for the good, I hear her whisper.

Five officers killed by a sniper, more than double that injured.

Look for the good, Jen.

I turn to social media: Endless rants and regurgitated posts on gun control and politicians. “Our president is a failure!” one says.  “Let me help you! I’m the person for this job,” a candidate spouts.

Keep looking, my sister…you will see it.

A shooting close to home in Missouri, another officer.

I promise, just look. It’s there.

Politicians making promises. People with blinders choosing which one to believe based on nothing more than loyalty to a side.

Guns need to be controlled. You can’t control guns. Guns aren’t killing people. People are killing people. People with guns are killing people.

Look for it, it’s right there, Jenni. The good.

Muslims are trying to kill us, they say.  All Muslims?  Well, no…but most, maybe.  Maybe? 

You will see it… the good is right there.

Black lives matter. All lives matter.

No lives matter.

I can’t find it, sister… I’m looking.

I am tired. I am sad. I feel lonely in a world of chaos. I want to hide. I want to hide my family. I want to scream and I want to stay completely silent and still at the same time. I want to stop hearing… anything. The noise. It’s coming from everywhere, yet no one is saying a thing.

Ivy comes down the stairs from a long nap, sleepy-eyed with wild red hair running in every direction, as if it’s trying to escape her head. She runs to me and hugs me. She wants to snuggle, as she does after every nap. I hold her as I rub her back, and I think how big she has gotten. How much heavier she feels than she did even a month ago.

This is the world we are giving you baby, I whisper.

She looks up at me with bright blue eyes, smiles and says, “What, Mama?”  Her face is innocent and kind, untouched by hate, untouched by anger, untouched by fear.

And I finally see it.

The good.

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Dear Haley,

I shamefully admit that I hesitated in writing a blog post about you again, because my blog now has more followers whom I don’t know in “real life” than I do. I decided it wouldn’t be a good place to ask for anything, since the majority of readers have no connection to you or your mom or your life.  If I wrote and asked for help, it would look like just another blog with a sponsored post. I hesitated out of fear that people wouldn’t get it. Or respond to it. 

I am so sorry. 

Here’s the thing, Haley. I haven’t forgotten you. I will never forget you. I’ve known your mom for over 20 years, but I only knew you briefly. You were beautiful and brave and you deserved more.  More laughter, more trips, more education, more experiences and more time.  Your mom deserved more, too. She deserved all of that with you – and for you.  You are her only child and sometimes when I think of that, my breath catches and I feel suffocated for her. I shrink back and remove myself from the pain she feels, because there is nothing I can do – I am helpless to heal her.

But I am NOT helpless in keeping your memory alive and helping other kids like you.

Days, weeks and now over a year has gone by. And as much as I know that you had an army of love around you while you were here and in the weeks after you moved on, I also know that time slowly softened the pain for some of that army – save for your mom and those closest to you. There is no fault in that – it’s natural, I know.

But we can’t let the softening of pain lead us into inaction or apathy.

I think of you and your mom every single day. That is not just something I say or write. That is the truth. I couldn’t forget you and your fight – who could? But I also would never let myself if I started to. I remember the moment your mom text me and told me it was cancer. I remember feeling like I was drowning. This is so big. What do I say? How do I help her?!  And then I remember going into fight mode. We all went into fight mode. We all rallied.

And we rallied.

And we rallied.

And we rallied.

While you fought and fought and fought. 

But somehow, after the battle was over and you moved on, the army became a little smaller. And a little quieter. And though no one has forgotten, the fight seems to not be so important anymore. 

BUT IT IS. IT IS SO IMPORTANT. 

I wish you were here to tell everyone how important it still is. To put your own face in front of them and say “This is what the fight is for! Do you remember me?! Do you remember my fight? My energy?! Do you remember how sick I was? How I suffered?! Do I have to be in front of you to remind you?!”

If you couldn’t stay here for more, then your mom is damn well making sure that other children will have a fighting chance to. And we all owe it to you to REMEMBER your fight and honor it.

I will never, ever forget you. I will never, ever stop honoring you. And I will never, ever hesitate in asking for help in your name again.

You were not here long enough for all you deserved, but you were here long enough to make a difference. To leave a legacy and a permanent imprint. That is more than some people are able to do in ninety years, Haley.

You did it in just nineteen.

xo,

Jen

Please, please consider sponsoring our team for the annual Heroes Like Haley 5k run. Click HERE to donate and HERE to read more about Haley and her fight. 

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