It comes in waves, this grief thing.  One minute I'm fine and the next minute, I'm swimming (sometimes drowning) in an ocean of sadness.  Unlike real waves though, grief waves are invisible and unpredictable; there is no regular ebb and flow, just seemingly random tidal waves that knock you over in the midst of everyday life.   

Ah... but there are triggers, and part of the learning curve to the whole grief process is realizing what your triggers are, and learning how to appropriately interact with them.  Last night, Jay and I were out doing some Christmas shopping, trying really hard to feel "in the holiday spirit".  There's nothing jolly or festive about grief, even though it is coinciding with Christmas.  Grief just dims everything.  But there we were, out co-mingling with the masses in the madness of a shopping center.  I had tucked my grief away for the day; I folded it up and put it in my pocket.  I traded it in for my best "happy face" and went out in search of joy and holiday cheer, via consumerism.  I have to say, it kind of worked.  Not that I felt jolly by any means, but it was pretty fun to walk around and make fun of all the crap that people waste their money on.  And it was fun to join them and buy some crap for Christmas.  I do every other year, so I might as well this year, too.  It helps to feel normal, in any way you can, in the midst of upheaval. 

In between stores we stopped at a Five Guys for a quick burger.  It was delicious, and was really hittin' the spot... until it hit the spot: the grief spot.  You see, the last meal I shared with my Dad was Five Guys.  It was one week before his death, and in retrospect, it was the first day of his final decline.  There was a lot that he couldn't do that day, but when I asked him if he wanted a cheeseburger from Five Guys, he said (in a way that only my family can appreciate), "Yah", and so I went out and got us all burgers.  We sat around the kitchen table (dad in his wheelchair) and ate Five Guys Burgers and Fries.  That was the last meal I had with him...  And so there I was at Five Guys, during the holidays, amongst happy shoppers when all of a sudden a tidal wave came and knocked me over.  Tidal waves are dangerous enough as it is, but even more so when eating a cheeseburger.  Talk about a choking hazard. 

Then today, as I was cleaning up the huge pile of clothes that are permanently parked at the foot of my bed, I found the dress I wore to his funeral.  Ouch.  Another wave.  What am I supposed to do with this dress?  Do I hang it in the closet with all of my non-funeral clothes and pretend that it's just a regular dress?  Do I fold it up and put it in storage?  Do I burn it?  

So- now I know; Five Guys and that dress are triggers for me.  Maybe they won't always be, but for now, when everything is recent and feels so raw, they are.  Now the question is, what do I do about that?  Do I avoid that place and hide that dress?  Do I do the opposite and go to Five Guys weekly, and incorporate the dress into my regular winter wardrobe?  How do I interact with these tangible reminders that my dad actually died.  It feels wrong to ignore them, like ignoring them means that I'm ignoring the truth of what happened.  It's tempting; ignorance is bliss, after all.  But ignorance is still ignorance, and the truth is still the truth, and and no matter how much I want to fold up my grief and fold up my dress and eat a cheeseburger without thinking about death, I'm simply not there yet.  

The truth is that my dad died (even typing that hurts), and we ate cheeseburgers on his deathbed, and I wore a black nondescript dress to his funeral.  Sure, I can take away the things that remind me of the awful reality of his death, but taking them away will not bring him back.  Similarly, I can eat Five Guys while wearing that dress every single day and it won't change a thing.  If anything, I would have a heart-attack from too many cheeseburgers, and well, that's just sad.  

And as for tidal waves and triggers, they are messy at times and don't always present themselves at convenient times, but I'm learning that they are a necessary part of the grieving process.  So I think I'm going to embrace my triggers when they come -- not totally avoid them, nor immerse myself in them -- and let the waves wash over me.  Dad always taught me to respect the ocean and not to fight the waves but to go with them.  He also taught me that no matter how bad I got slammed by a wave, I should always get up and get back out there.  So that's what I'm gonna do... one day at a time. 

Living While Losing, Part I


I think it's funny (funny? maybe ironic... yes, ironic) how my last post was about my brother dying, and how at the time, I had no idea what was about to happen.  

Five days after I wrote that last blog post, it was a Friday, it was October 1, and I had just left work and was walking towards the train station.  I called my Dad's cell phone to find out the results of a fairly routine MRI (that's the thing about managing a chronic illness - MRIs become routine).  I'll never forget it, I was walking up 15th street, from Chestnut St. I was walking on the east side of the street, up towards where the sidewalk ends and you either have to cross the street on the right and head towards City Hall, or cross the street to the left and head towards Market St.  Right there, right as the sidewalk was ending, my Dad told me, in a very casual and calm manner, that the scan revealed an "explosion of metastases" in his brain.  A few minutes later, I was on the train, in the "quiet car", quietly sobbing.  

Three days later, on Monday, October 4, I was in Pittsburgh for a work thing.  What's most incredible about this is that I went to Pittsburgh for a work thing, even though my dad had "an explosion of metastases" in his brain, and all I really wanted to to was curl into the fetal position and hide under blankets and cry.  But I didn't.  I went to Pittsburgh to "train the trainers" about how to educate folks on Medicare fraud.  

I'll never forget it, we were at Kane Regional Center in Pittsburgh, and I stepped out of the training to answer a call from my brother.  I stepped out into a noisy hallway and all I heard was the panic and confusion in his voice; he said something about Mom crying.  I hung up with him and instantly dialed my parents.  There was a bad connection.  In retrospect, I appreciate the irony of this bad connection, because in 1997, when Dad called me in Philadelphia to tell me that Steve had died, we had a bad connection.  I now associate bad connections with bad news.  Anyway... we had a bad connection, so I stepped outside the building into the misty, cold rain and that solved the connection problem.  It did not, however, solve the cancer problem.  Dad went on to explain that they had met with his oncologist and the prognosis was grim: he had four weeks to live.

In a way, everything after the utterance of those words was a blur.  In another way, my senses were operating in a heightened and awakened state, albeit numbed, and I remember every detail of the ride home from Pittsburgh that afternoon.  It's like I have a series of still shots - the way sunshine splashed against the dark gray clouds, the cheesy classic rock radio station, the cheeseburger I wolfed down at Roy Rogers at the rest stop in bumblef*ck, PA while a parade of Amish people passed me by; the raindrops that seemed to be pregnant with more rain; the awful parallel park job I did once at home, and how Jay and I held each other and sobbed together once I walked in the door.  

48 days later, on November 21st, my Dad died.  Someday I will write a book about those 48 days, because they were some of the most joyous, heartbreaking and all-around surreal days of my life, and they deserve their own story.  I will write more about those days here, too, but I just know that at some point, this whole saga will be a book.  It has to be...

Until then, cherish each moment with your loved ones, because as cliché as it sounds, the only guarantee we have is this this moment.  We have no idea what will happen in between this blog post and the next...

The Cursor, The Dance, the Hole: The Day


Whenever summer begins its slow yield to autumn, I know the day is near.  It pops up on my mental radar screen towards the end of August, blinking and flashing in my mind like a cursor on a blank computer screen.  I try to think of a million other things in an attempt to dim the thought; I try to fill the screen with letters and words to distract me from the starkness of the blinking black bar against a blank white screen.  It sounds like a methodical process, like some choreographed dance that I do with and around the day, but it's not; it's just some subconscious process that I go through each year.  And each year it works, until it doesn't.  The day always finds its way and demands my attention, rightfully so.  

This year is no different.  I felt the day's approach back in late-August, and then was reminded of its nearness recently when I got my new calender book.  I opened the book to September, and there it was, September 27th, somehow blinking, italicized, bolded, highlighted, underlined and seemingly jumping off the page, lodging itself in my throat.  "It's just a day", I reminded myself, engaging in the annual dance.  I put it out of mind, and carried on with the happenings of September 2010 rather than wallowing in the memories of September 1997.  Lord knows, there's a LOT going on, plenty to keep my mind occupied, distracted.

But it's funny, our minds.  Powerful devices.  Sometimes when we block the front door entrance, our mind finds the back door and weasels its way in.  Or maybe it's our heart, via our mind -- who knows.  Either way, we can't hide from the things that our mind and/or heart deem significant; these things will always arrive on our personal doorstep, whether we invite them or not.  This is something I know to be true.

And so it was today, this year, on the eve of September 27.  But it started two or three weeks ago, when I went to the library and took out four books.  On a conscious level, I read them in no particular order.  First the book on midwifery and natural child-birth, then the mediocre book about April & Oliver, and then today, without realizing how close we are to the day, I read The Crying Tree.  First of all, this was an excellent book; maybe the best book I've read all year.  It was a book about a 15 year-old boy who was murdered in his home, and the family's long journey through grief.  While reading it, I made no connection; I was deep in the dance and did not notice the subtle parallels between the characters in the book and my own family, nor the date.  I was totally absorbed in their story.  

The book portrayed grief so accurately, and I should have seen it coming sooner, but I didn't.  As I read the last page, one lone tear fell down my cheek.  That one tear was followed by many more as I closed the back cover and attempted to recount the story to Jay.  My words came out scattered and I knew I was butchering the story.  But it didn't matter; trying to explain a story like this, a story of grief,  is like trying to explain what it feels like to fall in love.  Words just fail, no matter how eloquent you try to be.  

Still not connecting the story to the current calender context, I sat and savored the novel, the characters, the ending.  I had successfully and subconsciously filled my screen with a rich story, thereby hiding the blinking cursor.  I had danced around the cursor.  I made it.

Yeah... not so much.  About an hour after finishing the book, I had the urge to email my mom and recommend the book.  I gave a brief synopsis of the plot, and then it hit me.  "Oh my God", I thought.  The book was all about a mother's unimaginable grief over losing her son, and here I was, in full avoidance mode, dancing the month away, sharing with my mom how much this book affected me, on the eve of the day.  In one email, I had danced my way from full-avoidance into the cursor, my eyes blinking in sync with it.  As I hit "send", one lone tear fell from my eye.  This time, it was for our own story; the story of Steve, the mountain, the fall, the call, the shock, the devastation, the permanent hole in Scott, my parents, Katie, me, and the whole world. 

I didn't plan on reading about a book about a family's long walk through the multiple stages of grief on the eve of the anniversary of my brother's sudden death.  In fact, I planned on avoiding it -- the day -- as much as possible.  But like I said earlier, even though I may not have chosen it and I didn't want to look directly at it,  it demanded my attention, my respect.  It found a way to make me honor it, indirectly, via the back door.  And now that it's here, and I'm here, I have to acknowledge it. 

My brother Steve hiked Mt. Washington 13 years ago.  He fell.  He died.  My family has a hole in it.  But we're okay.  We're surviving.  We've absorbed and are continually adapting to the hole; sometimes we dance around it, sometimes we stare at it, and sometimes we fall in it.  But the most important word in that sentence is "we";  we are still "we".  

So, on the eve of the day, I honor my brother, the memory of him and the unending love we all feel for him, and each other.   I also feel deeply for the families, both fictitious and real, who have lost their son, their brother, or any other member who has died and left a hole. 

And with that, I end this year's dance, curtsy, and take a bow.  Until next year...

Rest in Peace, my sweet brother. 

Paper, Light, Purpose: Life Changing Stuff


I have obtained three things in the past week that have changed my life.

1. A planner / calender book.  Ever since school ended, I stopped using a planner.  In retrospect, this was a necessary move.  I needed a break from the scheduled and organized life I was leading; I needed to have no plans and no organized pattern for a good chunk of time.  It was wonderful to have a break, but I am a hardcore list-maker and such a visual person that I need a book of full of paper and calenders to help me feel normal.  I found a great planner that has an ample paper supply for excessive list-making, along with monthly and weekly calender space.  I feel like a new woman.  Let's make plans, people!

2. A book-light.  If you're a book-lover, this one's a no-brainer.  I love to read, but could never read in bed because Jay goes to bed before me and I never want to turn the lights on and disturb his sleep.  I always felt deprived of this small joy and slightly jealous of those who routinely read in bed.  Finally, I wised up and purchased a book-light!  It only took me a few years.  This genius little device clips onto my book and casts a perfect LED spotlight on the pages without waking Jay.  Perfection!  Now I can wind down with a few chapters in bed, and it makes all the difference; I've gone from a midnight bedtime to a 10:30 bedtime.  Bedtime has never felt so good!

3. A new job.  Employment is a wonderful thing.  Unemployment is a wonderful temporary thing, but I gotta say, getting a job feels really great.  I had the summer of my dreams; I had little-to-no responsibility, got to travel, reconnected with friends, spent time with family, chilled on the beach, read lots of books, reconnected with sleep and generally just enjoyed myself in every way, every day.  But with the change in seasons comes a change in what I need.  In the summer, I needed nothingness.  Now, I need purpose and activity and challenge.  And so, this new job comes at the perfect time.  

The best part?  All three things -- the planner, book-light and job -- all go hand-in-hand.  I need a planner to stay organized at my new job, the book-light makes me go to bed earlier so that I can wake up feeling refreshed and ready for work, and I can make lists of books I want to read in my planner, while I'm on the train on the way to work.  Such simple ingredients, such a big impact!  Who knew that a little paper, some light and a daily dose of purpose could be so... just what I needed.

Happy Autumnal Equinox! 

Scenes from the Front Deck, vol. 1


I'm sitting on the front deck of my new, albeit temporary home.  We're on the second floor of a little beach bungalow that is 3rd from the beach, and has ocean views from every room.  It is the quintessential beach house; it is old, small, has two decks and lots of windows (read: lots of sun and ocean breezes)

So I'm sitting here on the deck, enjoying the quiet solitude of nighttime.  The stars are out in full force, and all I hear is the ocean -- rising, cresting, and falling onto the shore a few steps away.  It is so peaceful here, and even though we're only an hour and a half away from home, I feel like we're on the moon, or somewhere equally exotic and peaceful.  But really, we're in Jersey!  Just goes to show that once you throw an ocean into the mix, it really doesn't matter where you are.  Put an ocean in a dumpster and it becomes paradise.  No offense, Jersey. 

Anyway, being here is so restorative, and not just in a cliche vacation kind of way.  I can't tell you how many summers I've spent here on this same beach; how many warm summer nights, just like tonight, I've spent listening to this ocean while pondering the beauty of this big, wide world.  And although Jay and I day-trip here often, it's been years since I've been here at night and experienced the stars and the quiet and the all-encompassing headiness of the beach at night.  So it feels quite restorative being here because, well, it just is, but also because so much of myself is here; so many memories and experiences and lessons learned unfolded right here, and the recognition of that fills my cup in a way that just feels really really good.  

Anyway, I better sign off and get some shut-eye, because one of the best parts of the "beach at night" experience is watching the night give way to day.  Regardless of how many sunrises I've seen, especially on this beach, it never gets old, and is always worth the early alarm.  So with that, I'll say goodbye and wish you each a peaceful night and a beautiful day ahead.  xo

8 for 8


We just celebrated our eight year wedding anniversary, and to celebrate (for real), we're treating ourselves to a week at the beach on LBI.  We figured eight years of marriage deserves eight days on the beach -- one day for each year together :)  Unlike other types of vacations, beach trips are really dependent on the weather.  Sure, a cool, rainy day or two at the beach is nice, but nobody goes there hoping for rain.  So now that our trip is within the "10-day forecast" range, I've been checking like a hawk, and this is what I see:

Nothing but sweet sun icons as far as the eye can see!  I couldn't fit all the days, but you get the point -- it's just more of the same... sun, warmth, no rain, blah blah blah... 

So, Happy Anniversary to my sunshine, my best friend and my beloved, Jason Michael Stewart.  Here's to our eight years of marriage, to our eight days of sun, and to eighty more years of love, laughter and life together! 

Labor of Love


Okay, I'll admit it -- I'm just a little obsessed with all things baby right now, so please allow me to indulge my obsession, at least for today.  

I am currently so fascinated by birth, and by the enduring legacy of the billions of women who have carried and delivered babies since the beginning of time.  Talk about a sisterhood!  I feel overwhelmed by the collective strength of all of these women who -- whether in a hospital or at home, with meds or without -- have labored and birthed their babies.  

I imagine going through labor is one of the most intense experiences a woman can have, and I love hearing about and seeing the various methods women use to help them cope with the pain.  After seeing The Business of Being Born, I realized that not every woman wants the pain to be numbed; rather, some women see the pain as part of the whole experience and don't want to be numb to any part of the process.  Having never gone through labor, I cannot comment on the pain nor what I would do in that situation, but for those women who have chosen to walk through the pain, I am in awe of the ways in which they cope.

I've been watching youtube clips of home and water births, and just cannot believe the strength of these women.  It's like they tap into and draw from the Divine, and from the strength of the generations of women who came before them.  One clip that I find so moving is of a woman singing through her contractions.  It is so beautiful.  She is clearly a spiritual woman and is deeply connected to the Divine in this clip, despite having two strong contractions.  She almost makes me want to have contractions.  Almost :)

Baby? Maybe!


It's no big surprise that Jay and I want a baby.  We've been trying to conceive on and off now for a couple of years without any luck (sorry if that's TMI, but it's our reality and I think it's important to talk about these things).  We've tried a variety of methods, from charting cycles to using ovulation strips to meeting with fertility docs, but nothing has worked.  During all of this, I was going to school full-time, so in all fairness, school was my priority and trying to conceive always landed on the back burner.  But still, it's been incredibly frustrating, especially when everyone around us was either getting pregnant or having babies.  

But now, I'm done with school and we're ready to really pursue this again, for real this time -- no distractions, no school stress, no excuses.  Earlier this summer, I had lunch with friends who are the proud parents of a new baby boy.  We got to talking, and they shared their lengthy and frustrating journey to parenthood, which, like ours thus far, had been full of disappointment and heartache.  Our stories had so many parallels, including cycle irregularity, the books we'd read, the charting we'd done, the fertility doc procedures, etc.  "Finally", I thought, "someone who really understands".  

Obviously, the sheer existence of their precious baby boy means that somewhere along the way, our paths stopped being so similar.  They conceived and we did not... yet.  Whereas our path branched off and was more about finishing school, their path led them to the discovery of a little device called the Clearblue Easy Fertility Monitor.  Never heard of it?  I hadn't either, until they told me how they finally achieved pregnancy.

Friends of theirs, who also struggled to get pregnant, used it and swore by it, so my friends decided to give it a whirl and try it out.  After two months, they were preggers.  Incredible.  Unlike ovulation test strips that so many of us are familiar with, this fertility monitor detects both LH and estrogen hormones, and therefore helps to target ovulation.  For women like myself who have irregular cycles, ovulation is unpredictable, so having a device that does the charting for you and tells you when it's peak fertility time, well folks, that's a miracle.  Well no, babies are miracles, but you get the point.  

After my friends told me about the fertility monitor, I went online to read reviews and to see if others got the same result.  I can't tell you how many couples, especially couples who struggle with this, have gotten pregnant with the monitor.  Story upon story, women everywhere are getting pregnant with this thing.  Just go onto Amazon's page and read through the reviews for yourself.  It's pricey, and most couples use it as a last resort before thinking about In Vitro Fertilization or continuing to meet with fertility specialists, so the stories of couples trying to conceive for years prior to using it are so touching.  So many stories of couples on the cusp of losing hope, and then BAM, baby-on-board.  I was in tears just reading through the reviews on Amazon, mostly because I could relate to and empathize with these women, but also for the hope their stories provide. 

So, I ordered it and it should arrive today.  We are hopeful, yet realistic, as nothing is guaranteed.  But, we are hopeful.  We know that whatever is meant for us will unfold for us, and we are grateful.

Here's hoping for the expansion of StewMody, Inc. in 2011 :)

Open House, Open Mind


It's official, I have a new hobby: going to open houses!

Now that I am no longer a voluntary slave to the pursuit of higher education, I have my Sundays back.  And now that I'm about to get a great job and have steady income (manifesting), Jay and I are finally ready to kiss our renting days goodbye and purchase our first home.  This is terribly exciting, because for years we never thought we would ever be able to buy a home, but with a lot of savings, some luck, and a carpenter husband who loves to fix things up, we are in good position to be homeowners.  Plus, in this incredible buyers market, we'd be fools to not to look for a home. 

Since I don't actually have a job yet, we're not actually looking with an agent.  BUT, thanks to Sunday open houses, we're able to look around, check out areas, figure out our must-haves and deal-breakers, and just get a feel for the market.  Unfortunately, our largest deal-breaker is the Philadelphia public school system, so we have already made the difficult decision to leave our wonderful neighborhood in Philly and head back to the 'burbs.  I wish more than anything that we could stay here, but some things are just non-negotiable, and education is one of those things.  So in addition to a home, we're on the hunt for a new area, preferably an area that is still close to the city, has a nice community vibe, and a solid school system.  

Yesterday we went down into Delaware County and saw about seven homes in the Folsom / Aldan / Drexel Hill area.  We went to this area primarily because it had a lot of open houses, not because we're looking exclusively in that area.   We saw a great mix of homes; some were ugly and had zero character, and others had a lot of charm and potential.  We learned that pictures can be quite deceiving, both in good and bad ways.  For instance, look how cute this house is:

Now look at the view from the front door


But on the other side of the coin, this house looked small and uninspired from the outside:

...but the inside was full of character, big windows, unexpected nooks, and beautiful built-ins:

This house sat on a large lot, had a fantastic front porch, and had tons of potential:

...but it was in a crappy neighborhood, or at least a crappy section of a neighborhood.

So you never know what you're gonna get, which makes for fun outings to open houses!

In my perfect-world scenario, we would buy a fixer-upper home like this:

...and turn it into something like this:

And while I'm talkin' dream scenario, this house would be right here in Mt. Airy, would have a large backyard, and Philadelphia schools would offer a world-class education.  A girl can dream, can't she? :)  But seriously, I'm open to new possibilities; I'm open to the potential of ugly spaces and unfamiliar places.  I am open.  And grateful for open houses!

The Job Search: Stories and Signs from the Front Lines


A little over a week ago, I was feeling really frustrated with the lack of feedback I was experiencing on the job search.  Despite the effort I was putting into it, nobody was contacting me and it was starting to feel like nobody ever would.  When you're home all day alone and have no real sense of purpose, it's easy to let these frustrations take over and dominate your thoughts.  I just needed some feedback, from anyone.  So I had a friend eyeball my resume and cover letters and asked her for feedback.  She thought they were strong and reassured me that the process of searching for a job takes awhile, and that it's not unusual for organizations to take over a month before they start contacting candidates.  So with that, I took a sigh of relief and got a little wind back in my sails.  It's amazing what a little feedback can do.

Two days later, I received my first call from an employer.  It was the boost I needed.  And better still, it was regarding a job that was a perfect fit with my experience and I remember saying to myself, "if these people don't contact me, then there's something wrong with my resume".  So it felt great to finally have an interview on the horizon, especially for a job that I felt beyond qualified for.

The interview was unusual in that I didn't have to say a word.  I literally walked in and the woman explained that she had just happened to have lunch with two of my prior bosses who vouched for my abilities and encouraged her to hire me.  She knew I was looking for full-time work and that the position was only 20 hours per week, but explained she was in the process of calling around within her network to see if anyone could hire me for an additional 20 hours so that I would have full-time work.  "Wow", I thought, "this woman is doing my job search for me".  I didn't have to sell myself at all.  It was weird.  She showed all of her cards way early and let me know that I was the only candidate they were interested in, and that the job was mine if I wanted it.  I knew I didn't really want the position, but it just felt so good to be wanted that much by an organization, especially after feeling so frustrated.  So we left it open-ended.  I expressed that although I was seeking full-time work, I was open to exploring other options such as two part-time gigs, or just working 20 hours a week for six months, kind of as a way to prolong my real job search.

I left the interview feeling great, but confused.  "What should I do?"  On the one hand, I thought, "It's silly to turn down any opportunity in this economy", but on the other hand, I was afraid to settle for a position that I felt lukewarm about, and especially fearful that the minute I accepted the job, more appealing offers would start coming in.  So I thought long and hard about it and weighed the pros, cons, and risks.  I was tempted to take it, but something held me back.

I spent the weekend with my parents and talked it over with them.  They felt how I felt.  Big suprise -- they are my parents!  Dad came down more in the "take it" camp and said things like, "a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush", and Mom was more hesitant and  posed questions like, "how will you feel if you take it and then another organization contacts you?"  "Great", I thought, "well this was helpful!

But later that night, Mom and I got to talking, and she did was she always does; she told me to pray about it, and to ask God for a sign.  After a slight eye-roll, I remembered that she was right, and that the woman has a long history of asking for and receiving signs.  Seriously.  She's been doing this for years, and it never ceases to amaze me.  There are too many stories to share in this post, but one of my favorites was when Mom & Dad were house-hunting in Georgia and not having any luck, Mom prayed that God would lead them to the right home, and asked God to show her either a statue of Mary or yellow roses when it was the right home.  Well, imagine the look on mom's face when she stepped into the backyard of a house and found a garden that had a statue of Mary surrounded by yellow roses.  That house became our home, and little did we know, the next door neighbor turned out to be the sister of my mom's dear friend from Connecticut.  Another interesting piece of info that wouldn't become relevant for another two months was that this neighbor, in addition to being mom's friends' sister, had recently lost a child.  They didn't know it then, but they were about to have a lot more in common than merely being neighbors and knowing the same woman in a distant state.  This story still gives me chills...

So anyway, back to the job dilemma, Mom suggested that I ask God to send me a sign.  She felt that if this part-time gig was really meant for me, then God would open that door a little further and let me know, and if that job was not truly meant for me, then either the door would shut or another door to another opportunity would open.  I liked that perspective, and chose to pray my way out of this dilemma.  Monday morning I said, "look God, I am so grateful for the opportunity before me, but I'm just not sure if it's the right fit for me right now.  Please send me a sign, a clear indication of what to do."  One hour later I got my sign; I received an email from a second employer (an employer who I REALLY want to work for) stating that I made the first cut and that I was invited to participate in the second phase of the hiring process.  I couldn't believe it, but actually, I could. Mom's words echoed in my mind "...another opportunity would open...".  This was it, and in that moment, I made up my mind.

A few hours later, the woman who I interviewed with last week called and asked if I had made up my mind and if I wanted the position.  It felt so good to confidently say that I didn't think it was the best fit for me right now, and that I have another opportunity in the works that is full-time.  She understood, but asked that I contact her if my plans change.  Wow.  

So now I'm working on phase two of the hiring process for a job that I can really get excited about; it's a writing assignment that is due by Friday.  When I called Mom and let her know, she was thrilled but not surprised, and reminded me that even if this job doesn't pan out, maybe it's purpose was simply to close the door on a job that wasn't meant for me, and that it did.  So we'll see what the future holds, but for now I feel excited, and grateful, and like I'm exactly where I'm supposed to be. 

The Train Game


We all excel at certain things; some of us are excellent storytellers, or painters, or cooks.  Me?  I'm really good at missing my train.  I cannot tell you how many times I have raced to the train station only to see the train pulling away from the platform.  It is such an infuriating feeling, but hey, at least I'm consistent and quite good at it.  

Last night was no different.  My plan was to meet my friend Suzen for happy hour and then come home and spend the rest of my night with Jay.  I caught the train into the city without a hitch; in fact, in a serendipitous twist of fate, my friend Jen just happened to be on the same train and we got to spend a solid 25 minutes of unexpected quality time together.  Anyway, I got into town and met my friend for happy hour, which by the way, if you've never been to Palace at the Ben, you must go.  It was delicious.  We drank mango martinis and shared plates of Murg Malai Kabab and Panir Tikka.  YUM.  

Anyway, we wrapped up around 7:00, and left the restaurant at 7:04.  I thought my train options were something like 7:15 and 7:40, so I knew I had to hustle if I wanted to make the 7:15, but I was only a few blocks away from the station and felt confident that I could make it.  When it comes to train times, I tend to remember general times, but not exact times -- this is bad, and ultimately makes me really good at missing trains.  I decided to call Jay as I hustled so that he could check the exact time of the train for me.  I was still a solid two blocks away when he said, "The train leaves at 7:10, you have four minutes".  

I started running, really really running.  I was weaving in and out of people on the sidewalk.  My pants were falling down so I had one hand clutching my pants trying to keep them in place, and used the other hand to propel me forward, the way runners do when they pump their arms in unison with their legs.  I'm pretty sure I didn't look like a graceful and coordinated runner though.  Nope, I'm pretty sure I looked more like the hot mess express, all crazy-eyed and sweaty, charging through the city streets trying desperately to keep my pants up.  

I finally reached the station, tore open the door, flew down the first set of stairs, raced down the corridor, glanced at the clock, saw the numbers 7:09, said "shit", glanced down to the platform, saw my train sitting there, tore open the second door, flew down the second set of stairs, swung the door open, flung my body onto the platform, ...and saw my train pull away. 

Mentally, I collapsed.  Physically, I just stood there, lungs heaving out of my chest, sweat pouring down my face, eyes staring with bewilderment and defeat at the now-empty track.  Despite the fact that the next train was scheduled to arrive in only 30 minutes, I felt like it was all over, I had lost the game, again.  Train: 5, Jen: 0.  I never seem to miss my train by a few minutes, which I think would be much easier to stomach; I seem to always miss my train by seconds, with one foot on the platform, watching the train snake out of the station.  The two train taillights, like evil red eyes, lock with my eyes and say "ha ha ha, got you again sucker!"  Ugh!  So infuriating.  I'll get you next time, train!

But, once I get over the initial disappointment of missing my train once again, I inevitably  tend to enjoy my time at the station, where there are abundant people-watching opportunities and sometimes excellent street musicians offering musical distractions in exchange for a buck or two.  Last night was no different, I sat on a bench and watched the comings and goings of all sorts of different people, and even watched someone miss their train.  I empathized with his frustration, recognized the crazy look in his eye, and quietly raised my fist in solidarity as he took his respective place on a bench and resigned himself to the fact that he had just lost a round of the train game.  Train: 1, Man 0.

The sweetness


The sweetness of summer. 
What is it?  We all talk about “it” – that “thing” that makes summer the sweetest season, but what is it really?  Can you put your finger on it?  As kids it was the break from our main responsibility: school.  It was a time to catch fireflies and stay up late and eat ice cream everyday and have sleepovers.  It was a time to abandon all cares and footwear and for at least two solid months.  Now, as adults, we can’t really “check out” the way we did as kids; we have to work (well, some of you) and therefore wear shoes everyday, and I doubt most of us eat ice cream on the daily, and staying up late is no longer a special treat.  But despite these concessions we make on our path to adulthood, summer remains the sweetest season, and today, on the eve of August, I’m trying to pin-point what does it for me; what makes summer feel so damn good and special?

Right off the bat I’m going to say the beach, Long Beach Island (LBI) specifically.  I’ve been spending summers at this place for as long as I can remember, and for me, summer is synonymous with trips to LBI.  Walking up to the beach entrance through the dunes and seeing the ocean for the first time (that day, week, season, whatever) remains of my favorite summer sights to behold.  It just never gets old.  And then there’s the relaxation of having your toes in the sand, and the playfulness of swimming in the ocean, and the late-afternoon peacefulness that remains after the lifeguards and families have gone home.  So yeah, days spent on LBI are definitely one of the “things” that makes summer so damn sweet.

I think summer heat can be really challenging, especially the heat we’ve experienced this summer (hottest July ever).  But, I’ve gotta say, warm summer nights somehow make it worth it.  Everything just feels better on a warm summer night; dinner tastes better when cooked or enjoyed outside, driving with windows down and music up hits the spot like nothing else on a warm summer night, and hanging out with friends on a porch or in a yard, surrounded by the rhythmic sounds of summer cicadas, is total bliss. 
So I think for me, these two “things” are what makes summer the sweetest season.  Also, this summer is particularly sweet because I’m in between student mode and job mode, and therefore summer still feels like a break from my main responsibility because I don’t have school OR a job.  This also means that I’ve been barefoot most of the summer and staying up ridiculously late, because I can ;)  Soon enough September will be here and the slow dissolve from summer to autumn will begin, and I’ll get a job and put my shoes back on, but until then, I’m going to savor every last drop of summer, sand, sunflowers and cicadas, because ultimately what makes it all so sweet is that it’s time limited and temporary.  Just like an ice cream cone.

Mojo Risin'


Almost two years ago, my hard drive crashed on my MacBook and I lost a tremendous amount of my beloved music collection.  It sounds silly, but this was a really big deal to me.  Some music was recovered, but a lot was not, and of the things recovered, they were all jumbled up and inconsistent.  I lost whole albums but gained multiple copies of one song, stuff like that.  

I guess most people would slowly but surely rebuild their collections, but for me, it was all too much.  You see, this crash happened right in the middle of fall semester of my senior year, and during the same week of my dad's cancer diagnosis, so it was just too much, you know?  I did not have the mental, physical or emotional energy to go through my iTunes and delete the multiples and try to find what exactly was missing; it was an exhausting thought, plus, I was angry at technology and no longer trusted my computer to be the gatekeeper of my music collection.  I guess I thought I would deal with the mess over semester break, but I never did; instead, I lost my desire to have a music collection (which is a ridiculous thought!).

It was just too much.  Years of collecting music, and then poof! it's all gone, or mostly gone, or so jumbled that you don't even know what's missing until you think, "ahh, I'm jonesin to hear 'Dub Side of the Moon'" only to realize that you only have five of the songs.  It got to a point where I stopped opening iTunes because I was always disappointed with the mess that had become my music collection.  So I stopped.  I chose instead to listen to NPR, podcasts, and Pandora.  Once a music connoisseur, I slowly became a passive listener of whatever was on.  "What do you want to listen to, Jen?"  "I don't care".  This was not me.  I do care what I listen to; I have opinions and usually crave certain styles or artists during certain seasons or for whatever reasons.  But I lost it; I lost my music mojo.

In addition, I also lost my desire to seek out new music.  I used to actively hunt for  interesting artists and beautiful sounds that sparked a little something in me.  But ever since the great crash of '08, I slowly stopped the search.  Again, I became passive.  Again, not like me at all.  If someone put a disc in my lap I'd listen to it, but I wasn't out there investing my energies in discovering the gems that are out there.  And that's a damn shame, because the world is full of so much beautiful, soul-stirring, foot-tapping, booty-shaking, hand-clappin' music.

So that's the bad part.  The good part is that I'm getting my mojo back :)  Maybe it's because my world has become less defined by stress and more defined by my interests, or maybe I'm just tired of being an unauthentic and uninspired passive consumer of music.  I am ready to delve back into the joy of finding and listening to music that makes me feel happy.  I am ready to open iTunes again and go through the sad heap of tunes and clear the clutter and organize the goods.  It's been a long time coming, but I am ready to LOVE music again. 

I'm curious as to what musical treats you've been enjoying lately.  Have you stumbled upon any artists or sounds that made you say, "yeah, that's the stuff!"?  In the spirit of sharing sounds, give a listen to this little gem I discovered on NPR this morning.  It's Iranian funk music, and it blends the best of Middle-eastern sounds with the funk.  What do you get when you mix the sitar with Sly?  THIS >> Iran: An Unlikely Treasure Chest of Funk

On the Edge of the Ocean


The past few days have been a series of ups and downs, an emotional roller-coaster of sorts. Dad endured five days of CyberKnife radiation to kill the latest brain tumor that is dangerously close to his brain stem. He has to take a steroid prior to, during, and after the radiation to help shrink the swelling so the tumor doesn't touch the stem, but as with all drugs and "treatments", there are negative side-effects.

I had talked to dad on Monday night after round one and he was fine; he was joking like his normal self and was happy to start this process. Twenty-four hours later my mom called, in tears, stating that dad had fallen in the kitchen and cannot walk. What?? She went on to state that she had been very sick the past few days and that she was a mess, too. Dad was on the couch but could not move or hoist himself up, and my mom was too weak to pull him up and get him to bed. The visual of both of my parents unable to physically maneuver and emotionally overwhelmed was too much for me to bear. Mom put a call into the doctor, but it was after-hours and they wouldn't get a call back until the morning. Mom was scared and obviously concerned about how she was going to get Dad to the CyberKnife center in the morning, which is over an hour away from their home. I told Mom I would meet them there and help get Dad out of the car, etc. I hung up the phone and was numb. Dad fell? Dad can't walk? He was fine yesterday. I spent that night full of fear and anxiety. I couldn't sleep, and went to my default place: google. This is not good for me.

Finally, after hours of insomnia and worry, the phone rang at 7:45. It was mom. She sounded like a different woman, as if everything was fine. Apparently the doctor called and stated that dad's muscle loss is a normal side-effect of the steroid, especially in the shoulders and thighs. Mom also said that dad can walk, but he cannot get up from a seated position, so as long as someone can pull him up, then he can walk ok. She told me not to come down and that they were fine. She also mentioned that she was feeling much better and had stopped vomiting. I realize now that a lot of the fear and panic in the call the night before was a reflection of her own emotional and physical state. Not to say that her reaction to dad's fall and inability to move was inaccurate or over the top by any means, but she did not have the emotional or physical capacity to deal with this latest development. I hung up from that call feeling relieved, but also mindful that I need to worry about my mom's well-being just as much as my dad's. Sometimes it's easy to overlook the fact that my mom is carrying the weight of all this stress and uncertainty; she is on the front-lines of this epic battle and endures her own invisible battle scars.

So that was Wednesday morning, and the rest of the week was uneventful, and good. I've forgotten how much I love to read, and get lost in someone else's story for awhile. It's a nice escape. As a Pisces, I'm all about escaping, so reading is a healthy way for me to experience escape without actually doing it. So I spent the days reading and doing some job search stuff and re-connecting with a neighbor who I haven't seen in a while and cooking and generally enjoying the moments and exhaling from the heaviness of Tuesday night.

Jay and I decided to make it a beach weekend, so we set the alarm for early on Saturday morning so we could hit the road early and avoid as much traffic as possible. When I woke up I checked my phone. There was a text message from my cousin in Colorado that said "please call me when you get up". Hmm, this was unusual. I am no stranger to bad news via phone call, in fact, it's the only way I've ever received bad news, so I dial and instinctively brace myself. I remember years ago when my friend Sara called me to tell me that she found her brother Jonathan, lifeless, hanging from a tree in the woods, how I literally had to brace my body in a door frame. This felt similar. I sat down on a chair in a hunched position, kind of like how we hunched over during tornado drills in elementary school, in Indiana.

Mary, my cousin, answered the phone and I immediately said, "what's going on?" I knew the silence on the other end was not because she didn't hear me or because she was ignoring me; it was because she had no breath, no words, just tears. And then the words started coming, bit by bit. "Yesterday morning"... tears... "we were all leaving for the family reunion"... sobbing... "Norman and Ryan were supposed to meet us at the airport" ... tears... "But when Norman went to wake Ryan up..." crying... "he was dead" ... sobbing...

Ryan was Mary's nephew. He was my cousin Nancy's son, and Mary helped raised him. He was 18 years old, and died in his sleep from cardiac arrest, of all things. Ryan had just graduated from high school and was off to college in August. But now he is dead, and our extended family begins the heart-wrenching and never-ending journey of grief. My heart aches for them. This shocking news brings so much to the surface, like how my own family stumbled through life after the shocking death of Steve. My heart aches for Nancy and Norman, who, like my parents, have now lost a child. How do you ever recover from that? My heart also aches for Ryan's siblings, Cara and Marc, who have suddenly lost their brother. I want to comfort them, but I know that in the face of such tragedy, there is no comfort, anywhere. I remember that about grief: it is a grinding and non-stop feeling of tremendous emotional and physical discomfort, and nothing in the universe can relieve it. And my heart aches for all who are touched by this tremendous loss, for Mary and all of the extended family, for Ryan's friends, and for the community where they live in Colorado.

So I took my heavy heart to the beach and let ocean do it's thing. There is something so healing about being on the beach and staring out into the vastness of the ocean. With so much uncertainty and suffering in the world, it feels comforting to stand in the ocean and feel its natural rhythm; the way it rolls in and flows out, like breath. Storms and chaos happen, but eventually, the ocean finds it's meditative groove and restores its rhythmic and reliable ebb and flow. We are like this, too, and seeing the ocean is a welcome reminder of this.

As I stood in the ocean, I looked south and thought of my parents, who live near the ocean in Delaware. I wondered if they were also on the beach, exhaling their stress and feeling restored by the water. I also thought of my extended family, who, despite Ryan's death, are gathered on the beach in the Outer Banks of North Carolina for what was intended to be a family reunion. Ryan loved the beach, and was so looking forward to spending time with his cousins, so Nancy, Ryan's mom, decided the best way to honor his young life was to do it at the beach with the family gathered around. I closed my eyes and imagined all of us, Jay & I, my mom & dad, and the Wolfe/Paetow/Carr family, all on the edge of the Atlantic, all looking to the ocean for peace and healing. Just as I share their heart-ache, I shared their peace, too. It's like we were all there, all connected, all together, because of the ocean. And I'm sure Ryan was there, too, his spirit now eternally part of the waves that wash over us and the winds that dry our tears.

And so it was. Healing and peace on the edge of the ocean. And so it will always be.

Rest in Peace, Ryan.

Coming Full Circle


Over the past few years, there have been two or three occasions where I've been required to write one of those broad essays detailing why I was pursuing a social work degree, what inspired me, etc. You know, like a college application essay. My essays always focused on a service trip I went on in high school, with my youth group, called Appalachia Service Project (ASP). While I didn't recognize it at the time, these trips to Kentucky and West Virginia really changed me in a profound way, and both directly and indirectly lead me to where I am today. Here's a little blurb from one of those essays:

..."Looking back, I suppose I can pinpoint the exact event in my life that sensitized me to social injustice and inequality, and made me realize that I wanted to help others. It was a week-long volunteer trip called Appalachia Service Project that I participated in during the summer of my freshman year in high school. The mission of the service trip was to spend a week repairing families’ homes in the most rural and impoverished parts of the Appalachian Mountains. In preparation for this trip, I spent weekends volunteering for Habitat for Humanity learning the skills of home building and repair, and washing cars to raise the needed funds. Once I finally arrived in Kentucky that summer, I could not believe that I was still in the United States; the poverty and dire housing conditions were way beyond any training or expectations I had. I could not believe that 11 people lived in a two-room house with no running water and no electricity! How could people, right here in the United States, be living in such unbelievable squalor?

At the end of the service week, I felt empowered by my contribution to one family’s quality of life; however, I knew it would never be enough. I knew that their problem was not merely a leaky roof, but rather a representation of the deep inequalities that persist in our nation. I didn’t know it then, but a fire was kindled in my heart that week in the mountains of Kentucky that is still burning strong today.

I returned home from that experience with a new awareness of my own privilege and it forever changed how I saw the world. I could not understand how I lived in a house where the foyer was larger than the actual homes of most people I met in Kentucky. It did not take long before I realized that I didn’t have to travel to Kentucky to experience vast inequality; it became clear to me that it was occurring in varying levels all around me" .... yada yada yada.

I say all of this because yesterday I went to Temple's Career Center to have my resume reviewed and when I took out a copy of my old resume from years ago, the woman helping me pointed to where it said "Appalachia Service Project" in the volunteer experience section and said, "I used to work for them!" We got to talking about the specifics of her work with the organization and my experiences as a volunteer. She was based in Kentucky, my first trip was to Kentucky. She asked me what group I went with, and I couldn't remember the name of the church, so I just said, "It was a group from Ridgefield, CT". Her eyes got big and she said, "I had a group of people from Ridgefield, CT working under me, um let's see, yeah, Mark P., Kelly G., Laura F., and Paul F., yeah", and I'm like, "are you kidding me? Not only do I know those people, but those people are all significant in some way. Mark P.? I had a major crush on him that started on ASP. Kelly G.? She was a good friend in high school, and again, we shared some good ASP times together. The F. family? They were my neighbors for years, we lived on Nursery Rd. in Ridgefield, CT."

It was an amazing coincidence, and it was the first time that these two distinctly different worlds connected. Well, they've always connected for me personally, but for them to connect via other people, all these years later, was really amazing. Especially because my visit yesterday was essentially my last visit to Temple, and will serve as the springboard for my post-grad career. So, since my experience with ASP was ultimately a guiding force in my decision to pursue the social work path at Temple, it felt serendipitous that my last experience at Temple should happen to involve a little ASP, back where it all began. Like a perfect circle.

First Hour


It's a beautiful Saturday morning. I wake up and greet the day, and Jay. We had a coffee-pot malfunction / explosion, so I decide to walk up to the Avenue to get coffee from Infusion. The day is still young, but I can already feel the heat and humidity rising; I can almost feel the heat in the sidewalk through my black flip-flops. I look down at the pavement and admire it for a moment. I think to myself how resilient it is; how not too long ago it was under 3 feet of snow, and now it is absorbing summer city heat. I feel grateful for the sidewalk and wish it well. "Hang in there today, it's gonna be a hot one".

I get to Infusion and order an ice coffee. The woman behind me asks, "what size?" I hate that question. It's a perfectly legitimate question, but sometimes it's hard enough to decide what to order let alone what size. When did sizes start, anyway? What ever happened to a standard cup of coffee? I digress. Anyway, indecision fills my mind, "do I go for a small? do I really need a large?" And like always, I go for the middle and order the medium. I grab a copy of the local paper, the Mt. Airy Independent, and decide to sit out on the Avenue and absorb the scene. I sit on the glider bench outside of Scoop and the Video Library and sip and glide and read and watch the morning unfold on Germantown Ave. I am always walking to and fro on this stretch of road, but rarely do I just sit and sip and glide and watch, so I feel happy, peaceful, grateful.

I head home, admiring the gardens and adorable tiny parcels of land that some people have as yards. I run into a neighbor, we chat briefly and wish each other a great weekend. I walk up the steps to my house and sit on the front porch and soak in our own little front yard oasis. Despite the cars and buses, all I hear are the birds chirping and the wind chime blowing in the breeze. I look at the garden and think of the snowman that stood there a few months ago, and how the garden was buried under heavy ice and snow. Like the pavement, I feel impressed by the resiliency of nature. It always regenerates; it always comes back.

I smile and think of myself, because like the garden, I am resilient. Not too long ago, I was buried under a different type of heaviness, and at times felt frozen and like my Spring would never come. Now I feel liberated and free and happy, and me. I feel grateful for the coffee and the sun and the breeze and the glider swing and the paper and the pavement and the snowman and all things that have lead to this moment.

And this was the first hour of my day. Not bad for a first hour. And something tells me it's just gonna get better from here...

The Calm After the Storm


A little over a month ago I finished school. Woo!

One month ago today I jumped out of a plane. Double Woo!

Three weeks ago we took an amazing trip through Colorado and Utah. Wowie Zowie!

One week ago I was frantically wrapping up my work assignments for my job that is ending. Yip Yip!

Four days ago my siblings and I conducted an oral history project with my parents. Zing Zong Zap!

And today... stillness. Nothingness. Total calm.

Now that school and all of the post-grad plans are complete and are in the rear-view mirror, it's officially time to dig in and start the job search.


I'm still working on my resume and have an appointment at Temple's career center next week to have it reviewed, so until then I'm engaging in what I call "job search lite", ya know, quietly perusing the job listings and making mental notes, but not taking any action. It's kinda like when you have a job but you still look at what else is available, just in case. And after spending all morning looking through the listings, I can confidently say this: 97% of the listings underwhelm me.

But that's okay, because I know exactly where I want to work
, so the vast majority of jobs can keep underwhelming me because I know where I belong. Now I just have to convince the organization that I belong with them ;) That should be interesting.

So until my resume is up to snuff and I land the job I want, I'm going to enjoy "job search lite" and the calm that goes with it. No papers due, no group meetings, no deadlines, no 40 page articles to read, no presentations to prep, no internship, no nothing. I have two plans this week: one involves happy hour, and the other involves a walk in the woods and a picnic. Ahh, now this is how I envisioned life after the storm... and damn does it feel good.

Social Worker Seeks Social Work


I am officially starting the job search next week.

Many of my fellow-graduates began their job search months ago, and some are even working. But I -- kind of by default and kind of by design -- am just in the very beginning stages of the process. One reason that I chose not to look yet was time, as I had none, and quite possibly less than none if there is such a thing. Plus I had a job at Temple and was committed to that position through the first week of June (today or tomorrow). Finally, I knew that I wanted to jump out of planes and travel right after graduation, and basically exhale and decompress for a minute before starting, and I knew a job would throw a wrench in those plans.

So here I am, wrapping up my work as a research assistant at Temple and ready to find stimulating, challenging work in the broad field of social work. People often ask, "so what kinds of jobs are you looking for?" They also ask, in a roundabout kind of way, what "social work" is and what social workers do. I love answering this question because I believe the profession has a serious PR problem that stems from the fact that we don't define ourselves and our work enough; we simply react to others' definitions of what social workers do. "No, we're not all child welfare workers!", or, "Case management is not social work!"

So let me break it down for you and try to explain what social workers do in their many roles. In a nutshell social work is all about increasing the well-being of all people, especially the vulnerable and oppressed, by recognizing and addressing the environmental forces that create and perpetuate social injustice and therefore social problems. No person exists in a vacuum. Every person exists within the context of a family, a community, a state, a nation, a culture, policies, etc. And so social workers work at all these different levels to untangle and dismantle the forces and systems that ultimately work against people, and to create systems that promote social justice and equality. Of course there are more immediate needs, too, and there are social workers who help people obtain the resources they need now while also advocating for broader social change. For instance, a homeless individual needs shelter and food and resources now, but what good are all those things if we're not also trying to understand the root causes of homelessness and advocate for policies and resources that will prevent future homelessness.

Social workers work with almost any population in almost any setting. Some social workers are clinicians who do therapy and run groups; some are Executive Directors of non-profits; some are community organizers; some are researchers and academicians; some develop and evaluate programs; some are political organizers; some monitor and create policy; some do crisis intervention work; some do hospice work; some write grants and raise funds; some facilitate adoptions and find foster families; some are educators and advocates, and so much more. Despite the wide range of work and the many roles played by social workers, we all work under the same mandate to work to expand access and opportunity, and to promote social justice.

My particular concentration in grad school was community organizing and social policy, so the kind of work I'm looking for is not the clinical stuff but the community-based advocacy and policy stuff. I'm less concerned with the population or issue I'll be working with than I am the actual work I'll be doing. All I know is that I have a brain, and I would like to use it everyday at my job. I do not want to be a pencil pusher or simply another worker bee in the over-bloated social services industrial complex; I want to use my brain to come up with ideas that work for communities. I see Philadelphia as one big pile of steaming potential, and I want it to be my job to work with people to figure out how to realize that potential.

So, that's my starting point. That's a rough sketch of what I'm looking for. Like I said it could be around any issue or with any population, as long as I get to use my mind and do work that is meaningful. I hope that's not too much to ask. Now, the $100k starting salary (LOL!), that I may have to budge on ;)

Wish me luck, friends. I'll keep you posted!



Next weekend, my brother, sister and I are all meeting at our parents house in Lewes, Delaware to do something we've never done before; we are going to capture our parents' oral history, on video. This would have been a must-do on my list regardless of current happenings, mostly because of my love of StoryCorps and stories in general, but given the current situation brewing in our family, we feel the need to go ahead and get their experiences and reflections on the record.

I guess that's what's meant by what my mom calls "the gift of cancer". This is in no way happening because we feel like dad is dying; rather, this is our reaction to the "gift of cancer". The gift is merely a wake-up call; a voice over a mega-phone saying: WAKE UP - LIFE IS PRECIOUS - TAKE ADVANTAGE OF EACH AND EVERY MOMENT. And so we are.

I am a curious being by nature. Many of my friends will confirm this; I ask questions like nobody business. And my mom loves this about me. She frequently says, "I wish I would have asked my mom that question" -- her mom passed away years ago. That only fuels my curiosity about my own parents, knowing that they still have unanswered questions. And so as I prepare for the oral history next weekend, I find myself curious about you. What questions would you ask your own parents? I know that some of you have lost parents and some of you still have two parents, if not more. What questions would you ask?

Here is a sampling of the questions I have:

- What was it like to grow up in the 50's and 60's?
- What events and experiences shaped you?
- How did you meet?
- What was it like to get married?
- What was it like to have your first child?
- What was it like to lose your first child?
- So many questions about historical events
- What was it like to have two trouble-maker boys and then two angelic daughters ;)
- How have they sustained a healthy marriage for 44 years?
- What was it like to lose their own parents?
- What are their words of wisdom?

And so much more. What would you ask your own parents? Or, as parents, what memories or things about you would you want you children and grandchildren to know?

Thanks for any input you have - I'll let you know how it goes.

Third Time's a Charm


Welcome to my new, same blog. I changed the colors and overall feel of the page to mirror the inner calm and peace I now feel in my new, post-grad shoes. I used to blog quite regularly on my MySpace page, which now feels so icky and stale. Then I moved over here to blogger but was not consistent with my posts (courtesy of grad school). Bad blogger! - I know. So now I have changed it up a third time and really hope to fall back into a regular groove because honestly, writing is my passion. It is everything to me. And blogging is such a good way not only to write about things that matter (or don't) but also to connect with people and discover the hidden linkages we all share.

So again, I invite you to stay awhile and walk with me. I spent the past six years in school and just graduated from grad school and kinda feel like a baby deer attempting to take her first steps. Ya know, kinda cute but kinda awkward; kinda full of ambition but kinda ready to fall on my ass. I'm just in a total state of transition, from student to ???, and I assure you the road ahead is anything but certain, but last time I checked, certainty was pretty boring. So I am committed to sharing this uncertain, awkward yet ambition-fueled journey with you, because I know I am not alone; I know that we are all fumbling in the dark at times, totally unsure of ourselves and the decisions we make. But I also know that it's way more fun when shared with friends, family, strangers and stalkers.

Cheers to you, cheers to me - third time's a charm.

temporarily CLOSED for renovations


Hi. Long time, huh? Sorry about that, been a wee bit busy.

Now that things are settling down in my life and I'm settling in a more natural rhythm, my desire to write is surfacing, and I am beyond happy to satiate that desire. Before I do, I feel like I need a new space, or at least a new look to usher in this new era. I am in a transitional phase and feel like I need a blog to honor that; a space where I can share the interesting things I am re-learning about myself, the ups and downs of the job search, and all of the usual musings on life in my shoes.

The blog address will stay the same, I think, I just need to re-imagine it and make some general tweaks. So stay tuned, my dear reader or two :)

With gratitude ~ J



My heart is feeling so heavy tonight. As you guys all know, my dad is battling cancer. Battling cancer. That statement seems so canned, which I guess is representative of these times; we hear it so often. Who isn't battling cancer?

Anyway, some days I feel good and positive, and other days I feel like fear has it's ugly yet powerful hand gripped around my throat and is killing me. That is today. And that is because yesterday, I got news that my dad was instructed to go in for an MRI because the docs don't know what's currently wrong with him.

It's a long story, and not one I feel like re-hashing right now, but basically he is and has been suffering tremendous pain from side-effects of the different "treatments" and surgeries that have attempted to kill the cancer. Currently, he has intense pain in his entire head and neck, and the docs can't seem to understand why, thus the MRI. Now, it could be anything, but because the man has stage 4 cancer, the first thing that comes to my mind is that the cancer has spread, yet again, and that it's in his brain. PANIC MODE!

It's these moments in between diagnoses and real news that are the worst, because they yield the most "what if's?" and anxiety. "What if it's this? What if it's that? What if it's just a sinus infection?" But regardless of the final outcome, it makes me think of the worst case scenario, and I hate that about cancer: it makes you go there. And to make matters worse, my dad's birthday is on Thursday so today I had to go card shopping :( I have a tendency to cry in the card aisle on normal days, but today the waterworks were definitely in full effect.

Anyway, I'm just feeling all sorts of spun. I know that for me, when I'm feeling this type of panic and anxiety, I know that the antidote is gratitude. Gratitude always brings me back to center and makes me re-focus on the positive. It's the main spiritual principle that I live by and I know that it works, so with that, allow me to give thanks in order to relive my anxiety:

20 things I am grateful for today, January 12, 2010:

1. winter sunshine - cold reinvigorating air in my lungs and golden warmth on my face.
2. cooking dinner with my love
3. old friends - nothing quite like 'em!
4. being able to sleep in until 8:00 today - a rare occurrence
5. My health
6. New supplies from Staples - does anyone else love "sheet protectors" like I do?
7. Pandora music - best invention ever! I'm all about the Eddie Vedder station
8. Purpose
9. The ability to temporarily work from home
10. The kind and helpful staff at Kitchen Kapers
11. The power of snuggles (don't laugh)
12. The power of Facebook to connect people
13. The power of peanut butter on toast ;)
14. my fresh dry-cleaned winter coat
15. you
16. Ken Burns' series on the National Parks - it's amazing.
17. my cocktail - it's looking at me & begging me to put it on this list
18. feeling well rested, relatively speaking
19. the fact that I have one more semester :D
20. our couch, which if you haven't been devoured by, well, it's your loss ;)

Ok, so that's my list, and ya know what? i feel better. I feel good, in fact. Works like a charm every time!

If you choose to leave a comment on this post, I invite you to leave your list of what you're grateful for right this moment. It doesn't have to be 20 things; maybe three or five, or how ever many you wish to share, but please do share. And as always, thank you for listening. This wouldn't be anything without you guys...

A Christmas Story, by way of a Question


This post was originally just gonna be a question: "What colors do you see when you visit this blog", but I've gotta give the back story...

Imagine it: it's the night of December 23rd and Jay & I had determined that we would exchange gifts this night because we were scheduled to leave on the 24th for our holiday travel / family extravaganza. So we separate and go into different rooms to wrap gifts. In my head I'm thinking that he'll need a solid hour to wrap all of my gifts, both because he got me many, many gifts, and because well, he's a man and men are... let's just say that in my experience, men are not blessed with talent in the art of gift wrap.

About 15 minutes in to the wrap session, there was a rap at the door of the room I was in. It was Jay, joyfully letting me know that he was done and asking whether or not I was done. I quickly scanned the 3 out of 12 gifts that I had wrapped and politely let him know that 1) I was not done, and 2) I was very impressed with his ability to wrap ALL of my many gifts in such a short amount of time. I also secretly panicked, as we had not set an official spending limit and had simply agreed to spoil each other to a point that we felt comfortable with. "Oh crap!", I thought, what if I had gone way overboard with all of these presents and what if he had only bought me a pair of cute socks and a tube of Burts Bees. Nah. Never. Not Jay. Not in a million years. And so I dismissed the thought and wrapped on, for at least another 20-30 minutes.

When I finally emerged from the bedroom, I had to struggle to carry and see my way through the pile of neatly wrapped packages in my arms. By the time I got out to the living room where the Christmas tree was, I almost dropped them. Not because they were heavy or falling out of my arms, but because I saw what was under the tree waiting for me: 4 gifts. "Just four?", I thought, as I eyeballed the twelve that I had for him. Huh.

We shared a hug and both expressed utter excitement about giving each other gifts, and Jay says, "well you definitely win in the quantity department..." And since the joy is truly more on the giving side, I feel really excited and kinda feel bad that he only has four gifts to give me. poor guy.

So he starts opening my gifts to him: a really nice chef's knife, a Ken Burns documentary series, shirts, music, etc. He hands me one gift but states that 3 out of the 4 are all connected so I would need to open it, not look at it and just put it down and cover it up. "Huh,.. shady", I think. I open #1, put it down and cover it with wrap. I open #2, put it down and cover it with wrap. Meanwhile I give him more gifts to open: DVD's, another shirt, more kitchen stuff, etc. Finally it's time for gift #3, the one that is connected to and will explain #1 and #2; I open it and see that it's an electronic gadget. After a couple oohs and ahhs, and a "what is it?", I realize it's a GPS system.

{Before I proceed, I should tell you that I love maps and that I have a great sense of direction. In fact, I love to get lost for the sheer enjoyment of finding my way out. So a GPS system is the LAST thing I would want. It's like a chef getting a years subscription to "Microwave Meals". I also think that GPS systems are making people dumb, but that's a whole other blog}

I had to be honest, but I needed to buy myself another 20 seconds, so I was like, "ohhh, what is it? Ohhh, okay, well, um, I really, uh-- yeah I really don't want this. Sorry love, but it's not really me, ya know?" And Jay was like, "well I know how much you love maps (SO SWEET) and I thought it might be useful on our road-trip (again, very sweet and thoughtful), and I thought you might really like it" And I was like, "yeah, I like maps, when they're on the wall or in an atlas. Sorry presh" :( So there it was: 3 out of 4 of my gifts were a FAIL. 75% down the tubes. It was classic, and as disappointed as he was, he was a good sport and we were able to laugh pretty hard about it, which was a gift unto itself.

So it all came down to the fourth and final gift, which totally looked like a shirt box or maybe a board game. I picked it up and thought "yes, definitely a board game", which was cool cause games were on my list. I peeled back the upper left corner and just saw white. I ripped some towards the center and saw some pinkish / purple design. And then I realized: it was a new laptop :) And, it was a really really nice laptop; a MacBook Pro, which is an upgrade from my current one, which has recently started to become sluggish, burnt, and has possible and probable internal melt issues. EPIC SUCCESS! It was classic, 75% epic failure followed my a major face-saving gift. I'm so glad it wasn't a shirt! That would've been a total FAIL.

So anyway............... that's the back-story of the original question of this blog. On my old computer the colors are slightly different and I'm not digging the way my blog colors appear on this new laptop. And that has me wondering, what do you guys see? The color on the sides is supposed to be more pinkish, like Magenta, but on my new screen it almost looks more reddish, like Burgundy. And the text box is supposed to be brown or khaki but it looks greenish now. Either I need to tweak my screen colors or I need to tweak my blog; either way, I definitely need your help!

Thanks, and Merry Christmas! I hope your gifts, both received and given, brought as much laughter and joy as ours did :)