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The Jennifer Stays In The Picture

“I avoid photographic evidence of my existence these days.”

In 2012, Allison Slater Tate wrote a wonderful piece for the Huffington Post.  The Mom Stays in the Picture tells Allison’s story of feeling less than beautiful and recoiling in horror when her young son asked her to pose with him for a picture at a family event.  The story shows an evolution in her thought processes.  A woman who once cringed at the thought of being photographed because of her supposed imperfections came to realize that, “we really need to make an effort to get in the picture.”  She correctly asserted that our children had the right to have documented proof that we were once alive, and she recalled that in looking at pictures of her own mother, she saw nothing but love and light.  No flaws.  Only beauty.  She went on to say,

“Our sons need to see how young and beautiful and human their mamas were.  Our daughters need to see us vulnerable and open and just being ourselves — women, mamas, people living lives.  Avoiding the camera because we don’t like to see our own pictures? How can that be okay?”

This amazing article had a beautiful yet unintended consequence.  Women from all walks of life and of all shapes and sizes wrote in to confess feeling very similarly about their bodies, and not wanting there to be any tangible or visual documentation indicant of the fact that they had physical imperfections.  They started taking family pictures, and shared those with the Internet community.  What began as a tiny article ballooned into a beautiful notion.  The mom gets in the picture and she stays there.

I remember reading this article when it was first published and being in awe of both Allison and the other courageous women who set aside their own insecurities, even if only for a moment, and took and shared those family photographs and selfies.  I admired their courage, and wished that I too could abandon my own hesitancies about my appearance long enough to walk along their road of courage.  In this day of instant digital imagery and selfies abounding, I found myself absolutely hating any footprint, digital or otherwise, of my appearance.  The thought of anyone seeing proof of my size was just horrifying to me,  Sure, people knew I was heavy.  That’s not a fact that’s easily masked,  But what about the people of my long ago, I wondered.  What if they saw that I was still heavy now, even heavier than I was when I was younger?  What would they think?  What about the people who knew me just before my wedding…who knew that I had lost an extraordinary amount of weight only to put almost every pound back on?  Certainly, I thought, they’d look at me with either contempt or tremendous pity.  It was only recently, just this year actually, that I started feeling a little more comfortable posing for selfies and other funny and goofy photos, but those poses always came with careful planning and sometimes, multiple re-shots to hide a double chin or my large torso or other flaws that so glaringly stood out to me.  These re-shots were sometimes tedious to those sharing the camera lens with me, and they often did not understand why I was so consumed with worry about how the photo looked or how I looked in it.

A family friend is a wonderful photographer, and for the last year, I talked with her about taking family photos and triedtriedandtried to work up the courage to do it.  It’s strange.  I don’t know what I was afraid of, yet I know it distinctly.  What if my weight made me look bad and blemished these mementos?  What if I was an embarrassment to my family by being in them?  What if we posted them online and other people saw with photographic certainty just how heavy I am?  What if, what if, what if?  For many reasons, I swallowed hard and did it.  I committed to the date, I made sure my hair looked pretty(-ish?), and I showed up at the shoot.  I did so because my daughter and her daughters and their daughters deserve proof that I was once alive.  I did so because of the extreme hypocrisy I was demonstrating for my daughter and her friends by telling them how beautiful they were and how they should believe in their own beautiful worthiness when I myself couldn’t echo the same sentiment.  Because I envy the photographic Christmas cards my friends send every year and because I’ve secretly always wanted to do one.  Because my amazing husband and wonderful friends and family tell me that I am beautiful for no reason other than to do so, and surely these people wouldn’t lie to me.  Maybe, just maybe, there is a chance that they see something I don’t.  And maybe, just maybe, that chance weighs more than any fear, any double chin, any fat roll.  So I did it.  We took photos as a family and they are beautiful.  Yes, the photos show that I am heavy, but more than that, they show that I am alive.  My face is alit in joy and love and that joy and love are so clearly illustrated in these beautiful photos.  I posted them on Facebook today, and was thrilled and overwhelmed by the love and kind comments that followed.  Thank you to all of you who sent messages and posted such wonderful comments.  Those of you who know me know that this was a huge step for me, and I am so grateful for your outpouring of support and love.  You sure know how to make a girl feel ten feet tall.  You know, I might just make this family photo thing (and sharing the photos as well) an annual thing.

My right to feel beautiful and happy in my own skin weighs more than any self-doubt I may have.  It certainly weighs more than any ugly or hateful thoughts people have or comments that they may make.

My daughter’s right to have photos of me to share with her children and great-grandchildren weighs even more.

And so, the Jennifer got in the picture.  She’s gonna stay there, too.

(images courtesy Cheryl Singers from Cheryl’s Shutter Photography)

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“They Live In Darkness. You Be The Light.”

Sometimes, the enormity of the human condition is overwhelming to me.  It just hurts my spirit.  Stays inside me.  Affects me.

This weekend, the Westboro Baptist Church will be picketing at three churches in my tiny little town.  I was browsing through Facebook on my lunch hour and I came across a story published by the Gardner News about this horrible organization’s plans to come to our little town and spew their message of hatred.  Why they chose us, no one knows.  We aren’t burying a soldier this weekend.  There have been no high-profile crimes or deaths in our area (in, like, ages), and none of us can figure out why they have chosen these three particular churches in our peaceful community.  All day long, the sadness and enormity of this has weighed heavily inside me.  I made the immediate decision to react with love, and to encourage the same in those I care for here in Gardner.  These people simply thrive on any attention given to them, and they relish in any negativity shown to them or any efforts made by the well-intentioned to change their hearts and their souls.  Heartbroken for the leaders and parishoners at the churches targeted for picketing, I called two of them today and spoke with members of their staff.  I offered my love and support and prayers to them as a sister in Christ, and I told them that they were cared for here in our community.  One woman asked me how she would explain all of this to her children, and I told her to treat this as a teachable moment.  To use this opportunity to clearly explain the difference between love and hate.  I thought that the very best way that we could respond to their presence was to continue on with our lives as if they were not here.  Show them no consideration.  Give their voices no room within our spirits.  Refuse their efforts to engage us in dialogue or hateful discourse.  Walk with dignity and show them by example the way God wants us to treat one another.  As the day wore on, I had another thought.  Each and every Gardner resident should take a few hours Sunday to give back.  To volunteer.  To do something kind for someone in need.  To combat hatred with love and to bring peace and goodness to others.  Please consider talking with your family tonight and tomorrow and making a quick plan to show kindness to others on Sunday.  It doesn’t have to be anything elaborate.  Sure, if you have the time and are able to schedule a session, go ahead and volunteer at the charitable organization of your choice.  Write letters and make cards for our men and women fighting for our freedom and the freedom of others halfway across the world.  Rally a few friends together and buy canned goods to donate to a local food pantry.  Just a few hours of your time can make a tremendous difference.  Your love and your good works triumph over any hatred shown by others.  As I’ve said many times, there’s nothing in this world greater than love.  Nothing.

I shared my sadness about this situation with a colleague today, and he said something so incredible to me.  “They live in darkness.  You be the light.”  Be the light, my friends.  We cannot do anything to impede this hateful organization’s right to picket and to say the horrible and heartbreaking things that they say.  We can, however, give of ourselves to others and lead with love.

Am I Taking This Too Far?

Hey guys.  Sorry I’ve not been very vocal out here in the Blogosphere over these last few days.  I enjoyed a long holiday weekend with my family and kept it kinda low key.  My daughter and her soccer team (and my amazing husband, the coolest soccer coach ever!) won their game in the freezing cold on Saturday morning.  The hubby and I enjoyed a “date night” Saturday night (and watched the Nebraska Cornhuskers get mutilated…*le sigh*), and we spent Sunday with loved ones out of town celebrating my father-in-law’s 62nd birthday.  I treated myself Monday to a little pampering at the spa, followed by a morning of shopping and a delicious lunch date with my hubby.  It was a good and (very!) much-needed time of relaxation and love after a horrible, horrible week.  Sorry to have been so silent.  The bloviations are back.  You’re welcome.  :)

Something happened to me today that…I don’t even know how to describe it.  As you know, I spoke to my detective at the Kansas City Assault Squad last Friday.  (Need a refresher?  Click here.)  He told me that he had issued the summons to the woman who battered me on Friday morning.  I didn’t know what “issued the summons” meant, and should have asked.  Did he put it in the postal mail?  Did they drive out to Overland Park and give it to her at her office?  In my haste and impatience, I called my detective yesterday and asked what the status of my case was.  He explained that the summons was sent to her in the mail on Friday, and that there was really nothing for me to do now other than to wait for my summons to come in the mail.  I asked if he would be at court and he said that he’d only come if the judge instructed him to.  He said that if she were to walk in and accept responsibility for everything, there would be no need for him to be there.  I asked him about what Officer Hamlett had said…that most people plead these sorts of cases out to avoid a hearing and going to court.  Oddly enough, he said that his experience has been the polar opposite.  He said that most of the time, these cases do go to court.  He said that the defendant hopes that the plaintiff won’t show up, and that the judge will subsequently throw the case out.  I was stunned.  People really do that?!  People really come this far only to turn their backs and walk away?  He said that they do (and he doesn’t understand why, either).  Unbelievable.  I’ve come this far, and I will see it all the way through.  I don’t want to go to court, but I will do it.  I deserve it.  I deserve the unfettered opportunity to stand up for myself to the woman who bullied and battered me…to have my voice heard and to stand up for civility and what’s right.  With the love and support of the people who will be in the courtroom with me (and those of you who are cheering me on on the sidelines!), I know it will be just fine.  Anyway, back to the summons.  Doing the math, I figured that she probably got her summons in the mail today.  You figure, Friday and Saturday and Tuesday (today…remember, yesterday was a federal holiday) would be plenty of time for a summons to get from Jackson County, Missouri to Johnson County, Kansas.  All day long, I thought about it.  Did it come?  Did she see it?  Did her husband retrieve it and call her at the office to tell her?  Or would she see it when she got home?  What happens now?  All sorts of irrational (or are they?) worries flooded my mind.  Are my family and I safe?  On the bus ride home tonight, I noticed I had a new follower on Twitter.  Someone brand new to Twitter as of October 5th (the day after the incident)…someone with only two tweets and who also follows TheJO…was suddenly following me.  A female.  I immediately panicked.  I was afraid that it was my batterer.  I feared that somehow she had found me online and knew who I was and knew about my life.  As you know, I tend to be very open about my life here on my blog and online.  My Facebook page is completely private, but my Twitter page was w-i-d-e open for all the world to see, and it included information about my daughter and my family…oh, and links to this blog.  I was so afraid that she had found me.  My Twitter account is now set to private and no one can see it that I don’t allow to, but has the damage already been done?  And am I insane to worry like this?  Is it rational for me to be afraid that she may try to find out who I am and cause harm to me or to the people I love?  It’s on my mind a lot.  I truly, truly believe that she suffers from some sort of pathology.  Obviously!  Who else would behave in the manner that she has?  Is she sick enough to hurt me or to hurt the people I love?  I’m afraid, and I don’t know if I should be.

Am I crazy?  Am I taking this too far?

That’s The Power Of A Story…

Friday night.  Doesn’t everyone love Friday night?  The end of the business week and the beginning of a short period of relaxation and do-whatever-you-want-ing.  As you know, this was a rough week for me.  I am glad that it’s over, and I am looking forward to a fun and peaceful weekend.  My daughter has a soccer game tomorrow.  We’re celebrating my father-in-law’s birthday on Sunday.  Monday is Columbus Day, adding another day to the weekend.  I’m just looking forward to some “down time” with the people I love.

I called the Assault Squad at the Kansas City Police Department again this morning.  The detective I spoke to said, “No one has been assigned your case, so I just assigned it to myself.”  We talked, and he was great.  What he said was a little different than what Officer Hamlett told me yesterday.  My detective told me that once he received the information report from the Overland Park Police Department, he would issue a summons and send it to her home.  A court date would be set “about a month out” (his words), and I could expect to see my summons in one to two months (!!!).  I wish I’d asked him about the differences in what he said and what Officer Hamlett said.  So much for my grandiose vision of her being arrested (and embarrassed!) at work in front of all her coworkers.  (I was actually hoping for a little dose of humility and shame, and hoped that maybe that would knock her down a few pegs.  Ah well.)  My detective told me that if she didn’t show up, they’d issue a bench warrant for her arrest.  He told me to call him back Monday because he was scheduled to be in court all day today and wouldn’t have a chance to get to my case.  To my surprise, he called me a few hours later and told me that he had received the report from Overland Park, and that he had issued her the summons (in the mail, I guess?)  My boss and husband and I were trying to figure out why she’d get her summons so quickly and I’d have to wait one to two months (so much for this being a quick process!) for mine.  We’re guessing (purely guessing…please correct us if we’re wrong) that she gets more time because she needs to hire an attorney and make the decision if she wants to go before the judge in the courtroom or plead it out.  So now, we wait.  I was scared senseless that I was going to bump in to her tonight at the bus stop.  Boss #1 is confident that she’ll keep her word and take the later buses.  Maybe having been held and questioned by the police (and, presumably, told that I was considering pressing charges) scared her enough to keep away.  I hope so, but really, that’s not good enough.  I want her behavior to change.  Oh well, one step at a time, I guess.  Again, many, many thanks from the bottom of my heart to all of you for being on Team Jen…for listening (er, reading) and cheering me on.  For saying that you’re proud of me.  (THAT feels so good.  Not even kidding.)  Bullies only thrive in a climate of shame and fear.  I wish I was truly as brave as you wonderful people give me credit for being.  But I will tell you this, your support makes it a lot easier to stand tall.  Thank you.

OK…so I am behind on sharing with you my love of Kevin S. Kaiser’s amazing e-book, “@Wrimo: A 30-Day Survival Guide for Writers.”  I owe you two musings tonight about this inspirational little guide to keeping NaNoWriMo participants moving through the month of November.  Here’s the first:

“If you choose silence, no one will speak up for you because no one can.”

Wow.  Pretty prophetic in light of everything that happened this week, eh?  What I absolutely love about this little (but very meaningful) phrase is that it reaches inside my heart and pushes me forward whenever my worries about participating in NaNoWriMo seem heavy.  I can allow my doubts to keep me from trying something I desperately want to experience, or I can take that leap of faith and give it my all.  If I don’t, no one will do it for me.  No one can do it for me.  The story inside me is mine and mine alone.  The only way to make it our story is for me to share it with you.  And I can’t do that if I let fear hold me back and keep me from giving this the very best of me.

The second amazing piece of inspiration I wanted to share from Kevin’s book with you tonight is just absolutely beautiful.  It’s an absolute truth about life that, I imagine, people don’t stop and think about very often:

“We owe it to each other to tell stories.”

Think about it for a second.  Don’t we grow exponentially as people by interacting with others?  If we leave our hearts open to the experience, every interaction with another human being can make us in some shape or form smarter or stronger than we were before.  How sad it is to me that some people don’t see the world this way.  They hide their eyes from the sun and fail to see the richness we all have, and in so doing, prevent themselves from ever expanding in their thoughts or their ideas or their spirits.  Keep your eyes and your heart open, and the stories of others can illuminate and give new direction to your life.  They can help you to learn something.  To feel something.  To find something new.  To grow in a relationship.  To take a leap of faith.  That’s the power of a story.  My life takes a different…a better and a stronger shape because of your story.  What a beautiful gift we give one another.

More tomorrow.  Love to all of you.  Thank you again for sharing in my story.

Emotional Day

Hi guys.  So it’s 6:35 in the evening and I am writing to you from high atop Two Pershing Square in downtown Kansas City.  The only one left in my office after a stressful day, I am enjoying the peace and quiet of a serene office and the comfort of knowing that a horrendously difficult project is almost done.  I stayed late to work on this monstrosity of an assignment (more on that in a moment), and in so doing, missed my bus home.  You’ll recall from yesterday’s awful situation (see here for a refresher) that the woman who assaulted me has agreed to take the later buses.  Not wanting to be in any way, shape, or form in her presence, I opted to go ahead and stay until after my daughter’s soccer practice, when my husband can make the trek downtown to pick me up.  The quiet here is nice.  I can articulate my thoughts and actually b-r-e-a-t-h-e after a rotten day.  Before I go in to any of it, I wanted to say thank you so incredibly much to all of you who posted incredibly supportive and amazing comments on Facebook last night.  You don’t know what your support means.  It’s funny, I guess.  After being sick last year and taking that journey so publicly with all of you (and receiving the hugest of the hugest outpourings of love and support), I should have known that all of you would come through again, hugs and support and love aplenty.  I thought that maybe you might all think less of me for having allowed this situation to continue as long as I did.  Nope.  Not even close.  Only love and support.  You guys are fantastic.  You make my heart happy.

So today wasn’t even in the realm of what you or I would call a “typical good day.”  Not (period) even (period) close (exclamation point).  A major assignment is due of me at the office tomorrow, and I thought I had done a really amazing job on it.  The message was delivered today that I indeed had not done quite the whiz-bang job I previously thought.   I am a perfectionist when it comes to my work, and so I took this very, very seriously…and personally.  By the end of the day, the kinks were worked out and with one more tiny piece of information we’ll get tomorrow, the project will be finished and on its way to our National Office in Washington.  But to start the day with the enormous cloud of self-perceived failure hanging over my head didn’t give me quite the boost I needed for the events that followed.  I went to the Kansas City Police Department this afternoon and gave my report to a wonderful officer, who treated me with incredible grace and respect.  I actually apologized to him when I left.  He sees horrible, horrible crimes, and here I sit complaining about something so incredibly small (I mean, I know it’s not small, but you know what I mean…)  He said something perfect.  “A crime is a crime.”  And he’s right.  And she had no right to do that to me and I had every right to be there.  He took the report and discussed my case with a detective from the Kansas City Assault Squad.  He gave me a case report number, and told me to call in three days to see if the report had been filed.  The overachiever in me (damned perfectionism) called tonight.  (Yeah, it’s not filed yet.  I’m not surprised either.)  I asked what the process was from here, and he said that once the report was filed, a warrant would be issued and she would be arrested and booked and given a court date.  I’d then be called and told to come and testify on XYZ date.  He said that in many cases like these, defendants plead out.  It’s not worth the trial.  He seemed to think that the worst that would happen would be that she’d get probation.  I made it very clear to him that I did not want her to serve any jail time.  I see this so clearly in my mind.  She is older and hearing impaired, and I worry for her safety.  This isn’t about punishing her.  Or hurting her in any way.  This is about changing her behavior.  I almost began crying as I said that to the officer.  Mind you, at the same time that I am having this conversation, another woman was crying uncontrollably in the lobby of the police station.  My boss and I couldn’t make out what she was saying, but it was obvious that she had been harmed in some way.  I cry when other people cry.  I love.  That’s just me.  So add my rotten morning to my horrible evening the night prior to my worry that my assault-er (is that a word?) would be harmed in jail and it took me everything I had to keep it together.  Officer Hamlett (he smiled when I said, “Oh, like the story…minus a ‘t!'”) said that it’s hard to predict what will happen because he didn’t know if she had any prior convinctions, but that once the warrant was issued, it was out of our hands.  I know I did the right thing, but it doesn’t feel good inside.  I want this over with.  I just want to put this bend in my road so far behind me that no mirror will show it.  He wasn’t sure how long the process would take.  I suppose that’ll depend on how busy the Assault Squad is.  God, they have so many other more serious cases than mine!  I feel so guilty tying up their system!!!  (I know I shouldn’t).  Boss #2 told me this morning that I had to do this.  And that I shouldn’t feel a bit guilty about it.  She said that we’re all responsible for civility, and she’s right.  Wish I didn’t feel so bad.  You know, this was all compounded by the morning I had and the “Jen-the-epic-failure” notion I carried around at the office today.  (In Boss #2’s defense, she did later step up and try to get me to understand that she didn’t think I’d failed…but it was too little too late after a horrendous day).

It’s 7:00 now.  Soccer practice is over at 7:30.  I am so looking forward to going home and having a hot shower.  No lunch today (so I’m starving).  Just didn’t have the heart.  Thank you again for all the love and support…and for cheering me on today.  It’ll all be over soon, and I will have done the right thing.  Just hope “soon” is really soon.  Anyone wanna go to court and cheer me on while I testify? (I’m only half kidding when I ask that, by the way.)

Yeah…and about that whole NaNoWriMo, writing-about-how-much-I-loved-that-book thing?  I’ll be back on the case tomorrow.  I owe you two devotions now.

Bullying: It’s An Adult Problem Too

Hi guys.  I know I promised to devote my blog this week to my reviews of (and crazy love for!) Kevin S. Kaiser’s new e-book, “@Wrimo: A 30-Day Survival Guide for Writers,” and, I promise, the love will return tomorrow night, but something happened tonight that I needed to put out there…to get off my chest.  And how do I do that?  By bloviating to all of you, of course.  (By the way, I know I tend to ramble on a bit.  Thanks and mad love to all of you who actually stick it out through my blog posts!)

We hear so much talk today about bullying.  As the mother of a school-aged child (and a former target of bullying), I couldn’t be happier about the increased focus and light shed on bullying in our schools, and the countless campaigns to end bullying and to return our focus to respecting one another and acting in love.  Because the incidents of bullying that we hear about occur in our schools, it’s easy to forget that this is a problem adults face as well.  And by “adults,” at least in the context of this blog post, I mean me.  I’ve been the target of a pervasive bully for the last several months, and have stayed largely silent about it because of shame and embarrassment.  Tonight, the shame ends and the light goes on.  Tonight, I took control of the situation.

Everyone who knows me knows that I work in downtown Kansas City, Missouri.  I live in Johnson County, Kansas, and the commute is lengthy.  To prevent wear and tear on my car (and avoid the huge costs of gasoline and parking in downtown KC), I take TheJO.  TheJO is a large-scale, very upper-class bus service that connects residents of Johnson County with destinations throughout the Kansas City metropolitan area.  I’ve been a JO commuter now for over five years, and I’ve so enjoyed the convenience and ease of travel that it provides.  I am not a fan of driving, I’ll be honest, and it’s wonderful to not have to worry about traffic hassles and accidents…and weather.  Driving in severe weather is the absolute worst.  Plus, it’s nice to have some “Jennifer Time” where I can relax, unwind, and just be me.  Knitting, crocheting, reading, listening to music…just some quiet “Me Time” or a chat with some of the wonderful friends I’ve met on the bus.  I really appreciate and enjoy all that TheJO brings to my life.  Until very recently, I’ve experienced no problems in riding TheJO.  Sure, there are the days where the bus is running late or the heat or air conditioning can’t quite keep up with the climate, but barring that, it’s all been good.  Until this summer.  This summer, a hearing impaired woman began riding my route.  I’d seen her on other routes before and she seemed friendly enough.  Unfortunately. that was a first impression that later proved to be terribly wrong.  This woman is very aggressive.  She has to be the first person to board the bus.  She’ll shove you over and cut in front of you in an effort to ensure that she is the first person on board.  She also has to be the first person off the bus as well.  If you’re in her way, she’ll mutter aloud and make it clear to you that you’ve inconvenienced you.  She’ll also walk toward the front of the bus while it is still in motion (which is completely unsafe, mind you) just so she can get off the bus first.  One day, I was just about to get on the bus (before her, mind you), and she put her hands in front of me and pushed herself right in front of me.  I almost fell in to the street.  Another time, I actually did get on the bus before she did and because she was angry, she bent down and put her face in mine (after she boarded, of course), and just screamed at me.  Her words were unintelligible, of course, but it was visibly apparent that she was furious that I had gotten on the bus before her.  Another time when she tried to pull a similar stunt, I held my hand out to block her from coming close to me and I said, “Today, I get on the bus first.”  She muttered something aloud, and that something was, “Bitch,” I’m sure.  One day when the bus was very late, she paced up and down the street, moaning aloud and giving all of us a very clear indication that she was angry.  When the bus finally did come, she put her face in the driver’s and proceeded to yell at him just as she did with me.  My repeated EMAIL messages to TheJO to ask for assistance were met with a deaf ear.  They said that because her bad behavior was taking place off the bus, there was nothing they could do about it.  They refused to come and speak with her or to make any effort to explain to her that riding this bus is a privilege, not a right.  After several EMAIL messages back and forth, TheJO washed their hands of the situation and said that they couldn’t do anything to help me.  So I changed routes.  What’s that old adage?  You can’t change other people, only yourself.  So I made the necessary adjustments to my work and family schedule to take a completely different bus and avoid having another confrontation with her.  In all honesty, I was concerned for my safety (and tonight’s events proved my concerns right!) and I felt it was just best to make the change and to sever myself from any chance that we might cross paths again.  It worked beautifully, until she took my bus tonight.

While I was waiting for the bus tonight, I was chatting on the phone with my husband rather innocently.  The bus stopped immediately in front of me, and she, yet again, did everything she could to slip in to the mere inch or two separating me from the bus.  The last time she did this, I almost fell in to the street.  I turned around and said to her (she reads lips), “Back off.”  When I turned to get on the bus, she put her hands in the small of my back and shoved me, hard.  A third passenger waiting for the bus saw what happened.  When I got on the bus, I furiously left another message for TheJO, and then called the Kansas City Police Department.  They advised me to get off at her stop and to have the Overland Park Police Department meet us there and take a statement.  And I did exactly that.  I spent nearly two hours explaining what happened to the police officers (who were great, by the way…mad props to officer Trenton G.  Thanks for making me laugh.  You were the best part of this entire mess.)  They completed what they called an “informational report,” and explained that the Kansas City Police Department would have to order it.  I made it very clear that my intention was to press charges.  Assault?  Battery?  (In Overland Park, I learned that they call this “simple battery.”  The officer wasn’t sure what it would be called in Kansas City).  She said it was “an accident” and that she fell in to me.  She also apologized and said that she would take the later bus routes.  I don’t believe her.  She’s “sorry” only because someone stood up to her.  No one stands up to her, probably because of her hearing impairment.  That stops now.  Many people on TheJO asked me over and over, “Why is it you that she picks on, Jennifer?” and I had no answer.  And I let it go on and on because (God, I am ashamed to admit this), I was intimidated by her.  Her conduct in the past has escalated…from simply trying to cut in front of me to nudging me to yelling at me, and all the while, I put up with it (well, I did try to get TheJO’s management to do something about it, but other than that…)  Tonight, I stopped allowing that mean and ugly-spirited woman to treat me like that.  I called the Kansas City Police Department back, and they asked me to come in and file a complaint tomorrow.  I then called my amazing boss, who will be taking me tomorrow to file charges.  I want her arrested for assault (simple battery?  You say tomato, I say John Deere tractor – ha!)  According to Officer Trenton, most cases of simple battery result in jail time or fines.  I don’t want her to go to jail.  With her age and hearing impairment, she’s sure to be the target of harm and I don’t want that.  I do want her to get the message that mistreating other people…and touching other people without their consent…is illegal and it won’t be tolerated.  I know that if I had allowed this incident to come and go without fighting back, just as I have with all the others, it would be tacit approval and she’d think she was allowed to get by with it.  And the abuse to my self-esteem would have been terrible.  I let this bully bother me all summer.  I stood up for myself tonight.  I hope that tonight, she’s re-thinking the hurtful and hateful way that she has behaved (although I seriously doubt it, given her lame excuse to the officer that she “tripped” and that it was an “accident”).  I also hope she’s a little scared.  Scared of what happens next.  I wonder if they told her that I was considering pressing assault (battery?) charges.  You know what really scares me?  That we’ll go to trial and her husband (who looks as crazy as she does) will have a gun and shoot me or someone I love.  *sigh*

So that’s it.  Bullies are only successful because people cower in fear and shame.  My shame and cower days are over.  Please say a little prayer for me as I head to the police station to make my first (and hopefully, dear God, ONLY) police report against another human being.  Thanks for reading this.  I know it was long-winded (just another typical Jen post – ha!) , but I appreciate you sticking it out.  Please, please, if you’re the victim of bullying, step up and stand up.  I’ll be right behind you, that’s for sure.

 

Bubble Up Enchiladas

I’ve always been crazy about recipes.  I could spend (and have spent!) hours inside Barnes and Noble with just a notepad and a pen, writing down delicious-sounding recipes from the shelves of awesome cookbooks for sale.  I love looking online for recipes and meal planning ideas, and I really get a kick out of trying new things in the kitchen.  Because I am such a picky eater (hint: see that link above that says “Get To Know Me?”  Click it and scroll down to #6), it is very difficult for me to find recipes that are quick and easy to prepare, but that contain ingredients that I’ll actually eat.  I love tacos, but that’s about as far as I’ll branch out as it pertains to Mexican food.  (Well, that’s not entirely true.  I do like fajitas.  I mean, who doesn’t like fajitas?  And I’ve been known to eat the occasional cheese quesadilla on a Friday here and there during Lent).  I digress.  Most Mexican food is (WAY!!!) too spicy for me, and I am not one for heavily veggie-laden dishes.  So that pretty much leaves me with tacos and fajitas and the occasional cheese quesadilla when it comes to eating Mexican food.  I was happily surprised today to find an enchiladas recipe that looked both easy and delicious, and I couldn’t wait to give it a try!

My hat tip for the delicious Bubble Up Enchiladas recipe goes to Kelly over at Semi Homemade Mom and Steph at Plain Chicken.  If you like Mexican food, you will LOVE this recipe!  And it really couldn’t be easier to prepare!  If you try it out, please let me know!  I’d love to know your thoughts.

Bubble Up Enchiladas

1 pound of ground beef
1 packet of taco seasoning (I used Taco Bell)
1 can (8 oz.) of tomato sauce
1 can (10 oz.) of enchilada sauce (I used Old El Paso Mild, and it had just a tiny bit of a kick)
2 cups of shredded cheddar cheese
1 can of Pillsbury Grands refrigerated biscuits
OPTIONAL:  sour cream, salsa, additional shredded cheese

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Cook the ground beef in a skillet until brown.  Drain off the fat.  Return the beef to the pan and add the taco seasoning, tomato sauce, and enchilada sauce.  Cut each Grands roll into fourths and add them to the pan along with 1 cup of shredded cheese.  Gently stir the mixture to combine.  Pour into a greased 9″-by-13″ pan and bake for about 25 minutes. 

Remove the enchiladas from the oven.  Sprinkle the remaining cheese on the top and bake for an additional 10 minutes or until the cheese is melted.

Editorial Jen Note:  Being so new to enchiladas (and so picky and anti-spicy food), I did some research on enchilada sauce online.  The reviews for the Old El Paso weren’t good, so I was hesitant to buy it.  However, it was either that brand or store brand (which didn’t look good from the review of the ingredients), so I went with it.  I realize I am an enchiladas newbie, but I thought the sauce was pretty good!  You may have an enchilada sauce you like better, which is totally fine.  Alternatively, you could also just make your own homemade sauce.  Emeril has an awesome-sounding recipe!)

NaNoWriMo? NoNoWriMo?

So, I’ve got this crazy idea…

For the last several weeks months, I’ve been talking about and giving serious thought to participating in National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo.  NaNoWriMo is one of several programs sponsored by the Office of Letters and Light (OLL), a nonprofit organization whose entire aim is to inspire a love of writing in children and adults.  NaNoWriMo participants, called Wrimos, make a pledge to write a 50,000 word novel during the month of November.  Wrimos are encouraged to write chapter outlines and character profiles and to prepare early, but the actual rules of the game don’t allow for any actual novel writing until November.  I first learned about NaNoWriMo last year and I desperately wanted to do it, but I found out about it right before it started, and with no advanced prep or direction whatsoever, I let November slip by without participating.  This year, I am prepared.  I mean, I am prepared.  I have six (!!!) pages of chapter outlines, and countless other pages of random notes about my characters and the goings-on of their lives.  I’ve still got more prep work to do, but I am in really good shape to launch on November 1st.  I know I am a good writer, and I know I’ve got the support of the people around me (to include the spousal unit and kiddo, family, friends, and even my boss).  But yet, I am filled with doubts.  I worry about NaNoWriMo all the time, and I am afraid that I will let these worries hold me back from participating.  Here’s a taste of what’s going on in my mind…

“There is no possible way I can do this!”

There are 30 days in November.  Divide 50,000 words by 30 days and you get 1667, give or take.  That’s almost 1700 words per day that I’d need to write in order to make sure I remain on track to make my goal.  That’s a LOT of writing to do in one day!  I have a demanding job (more on that below), a two-hour daily commute, a marriage I don’t want to neglect for a month, and a tweenaged daughter whose school and extracurricular activities keep us constantly on the go-go-go.  Oh, and don’t forget that there’s a major holiday in November, too.  Someone’s gotta make that turkey, although I might be able to convince my mother-in-law to do that if I promise Christmas and all the trimmings at our house.  Even though I have the support of my amazing family, I don’t want to miss out on their lives during the month of November.  I simply just don’t know if I have the time to devote to this project sufficient to be a success.

“I won’t have the energy!”

I mentioned having a demanding job.  My official title is a Management Analyst, and I work for a subagency of the U.S. Department of Labor.  My real job is to handle anything and everything related to human resources for our 115 or so staff spread across four states.  I spend the entire month of October dedicated to performance appraisals for our entire staff.  First, I write and re-write and re-write the appraisal for our Regional Administrator (which is neither easy nor fun…nor is the review process from management), and then I spend the rest of the month reviewing and correcting and rejecting staff appraisals.  It sounds easy and it really is, but it’s a high stress time and there never seems to be enough time to get everything finalized, approved, and sent on to Chicago.  October 31st is always the big due date, and I worry each year that I won’t get everything done and that I’ll subsequently miss Halloween and its shenanigans with my family.  That has never happened, thank goodness, and with each year, I get better and better at this, so the likelihood is good that I’ll be better than fine this year.  This year, I even built in an extra day for a buffer, giving management an October 30th deadline and buying myself one extra day for all the last-second “Oops, please fix that for us Jen” problems that always arise.  I am always exhausted on November 1st, and I don’t know if I’ll have the zip to launch right in to a huge writing project with a lofty word goal and a quickly-approaching deadline.

“Perfectionism will be my downfall.”

The folks over at OLL are pretty clear.  They don’t want Wrimos to focus on perfection.  Rather, they want the focus to be on the journey of self-discovery NaNoWriMo participants go on when they embark on and undergo this challenge.  OLL will tell you not to worry about everything being perfect.  Just get the story out.  Um, yeah, no, that’s not me.  I am a perfectionist when it comes to my writing.  I read and re-read and edit and fix and re-think and re-do.  Over and over.  And don’t get me started on format and page numbering and margins and nitpicky pieces of perfection.  It has to be “just so.”  I am afraid that I will focus more on making it all perfect and lose the inspiration for the project because I can’t be the perfect storyteller.  What if I can’t tell a perfectly rounded story?  What if I leave some critical detail out, or my characters look undeveloped and not-well-thought-out?  I said earlier this month that Aaron Sorkin, the amazing television writer, is the reason I can’t ever be a professional writer.  No one can write characters like that!  See what I mean?  I can’t be content to just be some fledgling writer finding her way and growing herself as an author!  I have to compare myself to one of television’s best screenwriters ever!

“The mojo!  What if I lose it?!”

As I stated above, I spent many hours this summer writing chapter outlines and plotting out the lives of the characters in my story.  In moments of pure inspiration and genius, the ideas flew out of me like crazy.  They came and came and the inspiration grew and grew and I was a journaling fool, making sure every awesome thought was recorded and excitedly linking ideas and paths for my characters to take.  What happens of all that mojo dries up come November?  What if the ideas stop coming?  I have this nightmarish vision of being halfway through and be-bopping along just fine and then WHAMMO, no ideas!  The well runneth dry!  No more awesome character arcs and exciting plots!  THEN what would I do?!?

“I don’t want to get sued!”

So this story I want to tell?  It’s not exactly a novel.  NaNoWriMo defines a novel as a “work of fiction,” but they do give a little wiggle room and allow Wrimos to write works of historical fiction.  That’s what my piece would (will?) be about.  Someone died many years ago.  When I was two years old.  In a state hundreds of miles away from where I lived.  There would never have ever been any opportunity for her and I to have known each other, and yet her story resonates inside me and I am dying to learn more about her and to research her life.  She is a huge, huge part of my story.  Given the fact that she died before I was born and I never had the opportunity to meet her, the facts in my story are highly fictionalized.  Everything I plan to write paints this woman in the highest of light and with the brightest of color, but I worry that her family may not take kindly to my fictionalizing her life and their lives and that they may sue me.  If I bill it as historical fiction, I can probably get away with it.  But….what if?  Please don’t ask me her name just yet.  You’ll know when (if?) I write the book, I promise.

“I don’t want to hurt her…or her family.”

This one’s the biggie.  This woman I want to write about?  She took her own life.  I can’t tell you the amount of time I’ve spent agonizing over this.  Am I hurting her by doing this?  She took her own life.  She wanted to be at peace.  In writing anything about her, am I hurting her spirit?  Interrupting her peace?  Forcing her back in to a world she so desperately wanted to leave?  And what about her family?  Would doing this hurt them, too?  Even if I paint them in the most respectful of lights, which, please believe me, is my plan, would my words cause them pain by bringing up painful memories from so many years ago?  I would never, ever want to do anything to hurt these people…or the soul of this woman who so fascinates me and whose life ended so many years ago.  Sometimes, the enormity of it all gets to me and I think to myself, “I just cannot do this.”

So, doubts in mind and outlines in hand, I look up NaNoWriMo quite often online and scramble to find websites and writings of other authors, either experienced Wrimos or newbies like myself.  Last Friday, I stumbled upon something completely awesome.  Kevin Kaiser has written an e-book called, “@WriMo: A 30-Day Survival Guide for Writers.”  This book is billed as a support for Wrimos to keep them moving in the right direction, and to prevent burnout and throwing in the towel.  Apparently, only 14% of last year’s Wrimos actually made it to the finish line.  If I embark on this journey, I want to go all the way and see it all the way through to the end.  Which makes me the perfect person to read this book, eh?  So Kevin’s looking for 100 people to be on his “launch team” for this book…to read it stem-to-stern and to help him promote it.  Who better to be on this launch team than me?  Someone chock full of NaNoWriMo doubts and unclear if she’ll make it all the way?  I sent Kevin an EMAIL and volunteered to be on the launch team, and I hope he picks me!  Please keep your fingers crossed for me!

So that’s about it….I want to write but have doubts.  If you have ever done NaNoWriMo, I would love to talk to you.  If you know and love me and want to help me sort out my insanity and help me quell the (very loud!) voices of these doubts, I welcome your insight!  Thanks for reading, everyone!  Oh, and bug me as we get closer and closer to November.  “You ARE doing NaNoWriMo.  RIGHT, Jen?!?!?”  :)

It Never Gets Any Easier

So tonight was my parents’ last evening here in town.  They head back home tomorrow.  Because they were both exhausted and still had some packing to do, we had an early dinner this evening and parted ways after several hugs and kisses, a plethora of “thanks” for a wonderful last few days, and their promise to drive safely.  Almost immediately after we got in the car to leave, the tears came.  Bidding them farewell never gets any easier.  I was always the girl who never understood why children grew up and moved away from their families.  Even when I was very young, the thought of not being geographically close to my parents would make me heartsick and I would cry.  I vowed never to leave Indianapolis, and even in to my professional career, I had absolutely no desire to find a life anywhere else.  In 1999, I was given the opportunity of a lifetime – a human resources internship with the Department of Defense.  My duties took me all over, but my first stop was here in Kansas City.  Within a week of my arrival (and just immediately after signing a two-year mobility agreement promising the DoD that I’d not set up roots anywhere), I met my amazing husband.  Our love story began, as did the journey of my leaving home and finding a new one.  I was heartbroken to leave Kansas City, but headed on in the summer of 1999 to my other assignments.  And when the opportunity for a permanent placement back in Kansas City came in October of 2000, I was thrilled and jumped (with joy!) at the chance.  Curtis was thrilled.  Finally, a job in the new city I dearly loved with the man I wanted to spend the rest of my life with!  Moving away was an odd mix of exhilaration and heartbreak, and I remember crying, quite often, and missing home and my parents so, so much.  The hole I felt in my heart was tremendous.  Curtis was so incredible.  So supportive.  So incredibly worth it.  (And he still is…another story for another day…)  With return visits home came the same heartbreak.  Saying “goodbye” and returning to my new home in KC was difficult.  That was 12 years ago, and the ache is the same even now.  Having them in my home for these last several days and sharing with them in this amazing life I’ve created and then seeing them walk away is just heartbreaking.  I wish they could stay.  I wish Indianapolis and Kansas City were closer.  I wish Facebook and phone calls were enough to make us feel as close as close can be, and that this kind of heartache didn’t envelope me.  I am not sorry I moved to Kansas City and built this amazing life.  I love it here so much.  I love the life Curtis and I have created.  This is the only home our Erin has ever known.  But a (very, very large) piece of my heart will always be wherever my parents are.  I miss them and Indianapolis so incredibly much.

Have you ever had a thought that you were too afraid to share?  Maybe a thought that you figured would go away or be less weighty if you just kept it to yourself?  I am afraid to give this horrible thought a voice here on my blog (or anywhere), because once those words are said, they are out there.  They become part of the lives of the people who read them.  They can’t be taken back.  But, I have to get this pervasively ugly thought out of my heart, and saying it aloud is just too painful.  My amazing father is 70 years old.  I am so afraid that this is the last time I will see him.  His health is good, vision notwithstanding.  Curtis thinks I am very premature in having this worry (and God, I so hope he’s right), but what if?  Visiting with them each year for Erin’s birthday, I see the signs of their aging.  The loss of the vitality and energy I so clearly remember them to have had.  It hurts and it’s heartbreaking.  I know aging is part of life.  I just don’t want it to happen to my parents.

Please keep my parents in your prayers as they drive to St. Louis tomorrow, and on home to Indianapolis on Friday.  Also, please love your parents.  Call them.  If you are blessed enough to have a close relationship with them, continue cultivating that relationship and share in their lives.  If not, make a concerted effort to extend your hand and establish a tie.

“Accept Your Miracle”

Hi Internet.  It’s me again.  I’ve been deliberately holding off on writing this blog post since March 2oth (an incredibly l-o-n-g time ago, yes, I know).  As you know, I had D&C #3 in mid-March.  It was to be the end of my “hyperplasia uncertainty” journey, and its results would tell me if medication and weight loss alone would be the forces strong enough to combat my atypical complex simple endometrial hyperplasia, or if a hysterectomy would be the only option to prevent me from getting uterine cancer.  As you know, my emotions ran the gamut over this last year.  I came out fighting from the very beginning, unwilling to give cancer any sanctuary inside me, and determined to do all in my power to ensure that I’d live a long and happy life, filled with the laughter and love of the family and friends God had so richly blessed me with.  As I got farther along on my journey, the fear crept in.  And as 2011 left us and the new year began, I became more and more convinced (and terrified) that I’d fail on this journey and that I’d have to have a hysterectomy.  The dreaded “H word.”  I feared it and did all I could to will it not to happen….and finally came to accept the fact that perhaps it was the smartest and most succinct way to end this journey and to get on with the rest of my life.  No more worry.  No more talk about my uterus (because really, isn’t that everyone’s favorite topic?) and hysterectomies and cancer.  Just a future-focus and laughter and love.  In the last moments before last month’s D&C, I told my doctor that I thought perhaps we had done this wrong.  By “we,” I mean “me.”  My OB/GYN and my gynecologic oncologist were right to do all they could medically to preserve my uterus.  Hysterectomies are risky surgeries, and being overweight adds additional complications.  They were right to try to treat me with medication.  But I was absolutely convinced that I was wrong to have been so married to my uterus…so strong an advocate to keep it.  In the end, I felt positive that a hysterectomy was the best decision…and, too, that the results of my D&C would show that I hadn’t beaten this disease on my own.  I had no idea just how wonderfully wrong I was…

…On March 20th, I could no longer waitwaitwait for my doctor’s office to call me with the results of the D&C.  (Oh, and this may be old news, I went for my first-ever mammogram the day after my D&C.  Your Jennifer, ever the glutton for medical punishment – ha!)  I called and left a message for Sherry, my doctor’s nurse, who almost immediately called me back.  She said, and I quote:

“Dr. Eckert wanted me to call and give you the good news.  You are negative for any hyperplasia or malignancies.  And your mammogram was normal.”

I didn’t believe her.  I made her repeat her sentence.  I wrote down the words as she said them:

And then I went completely numb.  Insanity, right?  Why wasn’t I dancing in the streets?  Tears, then numbness.  My husband and mother and bosses were thrilled.  Hugs, and many of them.  And still, I was numb.  When was Sherry going to call me back and tell me that she had given me someone else’s test results?  When was the other shoe going to drop?  I had a follow-up appointment scheduled for two weeks post-op, and I figured it would be at that time that that “other shoe” would drop and that any excitement and happiness I felt would be immediately extinguished and replaced by new fears.  I cancelled an evening out with girlfriends that night, deciding that I needed to spend the evening at home with my family.  I posted my good news on Facebook, and the very lot of people who have been here all along cheering for me and praying for me and loving me were right there to delight in the good news.  When I told my dear friend Donna that I was numb and couldn’t feel this joy, at least not yet, she said, “Jennifer, accept your miracle.”  She was right.  That “follow-up” appointment was today, having been rescheduled from Wednesday of last week so I could represent my agency at a veterans’ career fair in downtown Kansas City.  I told my doctor today that I was worried and waiting for the other shoe to drop, and she smiled and said that there isn’t any other shoe.  It’s truly, truly over.  You may recall that she told me early on that while endometrial hyperplasia does respond to medication, she didn’t think I’d overcome it with medicine alone (see here for a refresher).  She took responsibility for that today, and apologized.  Medicine isn’t always an exact science.  I was so afraid to believe, and now, it’s time for me to accept my miracle.  She said that of all her patients who have come this far, none have gotten sick again.  I have to continue taking the medicine, but I can handle that.  If it means I won’t get cancer…if it means there’s no risk of me dying on the table during a risky hysterectomy…I’ll do it.  It’s finally over.  I’m not sick anymore.  And it’s finally OK to believe that.

I made the decision very early on to take this journey in a very public manner, and I’ll never regret it.  I did so for two reasons.  Well, three reasons, if I’m being honest.  I love to write, and I’m good at it.  Very good at it.  It’s a catharsis for me, and I love using the written word to spin the stories of my heart and my life, and to share those stories with those who will read and embrace them.  I also wanted to be an advocate for women to take charge of their health care, and to not be neglectful of their bodies like I was for so, so many years.  We’ll never know for certain, but the likelihood is very good that I would never have gotten sick if I had gone for my annual exams and if I had kept on top of my polycystic ovary disease.  What better example than a living, breathing one?  I didn’t want any other woman to risk the loss of her health through carelessness or neglect.  I wanted the men in my life to take a second look at the women they loved, and to press them to make smarter health care decisions and to be more careful with their bodies.  Finally, I knew myself well enough to know that I’d need support in order to make it through.  My amazing husband and family were with me every step of the way, but the prayers and hugs and love and support of one’s friends can’t ever be underestimated.  I figured I’d get one or two, maybe five (tops!) people wishing me well and keeping me in their prayers.  I had no idea the outpouring of love that would come my way.  From phone calls and EMAIL messages to hugs and dinners and yummy desserts being brought to our home to dear friends caring for our daughter so I could be at the hospital for three early surgeries to COUNTLESS posts on Facebook and Twitter expressing love, sharing prayers, and listening and responding when fear and sadness made several days on my journey hard to endure.  I have no way to thank all of you with the limits placed on the human language we speak.  I am living proof of the fact that, as I’ve said many times throughout this journey, there is NOTHING stronger than love.  NOTHING stronger than prayers.  To each and every one of you who have followed my journey and cheered me on and helped to make the hard days more bearable, thank you.  For listening and reading VERY long (sorry!) blog posts and sending up prayers and for laughing with me and loving me, thank you so incredibly much.  I am so unbelievably blessed to have had your love and support.  And I’ll never forget it.

So, I guess that’s it.  The journey’s really over.  Time for me now to accept my miracle.  Thank you for being a tremendous part of that miracle.