Homestead: 1.) A house, especially a farmhouse, with adjoining buildings and land. 2.) The home and adjoining land occupied by a family. 3.) an ancestral home 4.) Where you lay your heart. Thanks for stopping by the homestead!

My Turn

Everybody takes a turn, just wait a little bit and it will be your turn again soon.
Patience young one, it will be your turn to go again.
We take a turn with the _____________and then let others have a go as well.
Your ______ is not going away forever, we are just learning to play with others.
Breathe and let’s hand the _______ back.
________ has to go home and go to sleep now. We will play with it again next time.

I’m sure there’s some dumb children’s song (sorry but I cannot stand THAT KIND of kid’s music), that teaches your child how to share and take a turn and all that nonsense. I only say nonsense because I have to find humor here -with my current only child- who is about to turn 3- and isn’t in daycare nor preschool yet. Truth: the sharing/taking turns thing is a very important lesson to learn for both parents and children. And it is a LEARNED BEHAVIOR. It is not something that we come with into this world. As a first time mumma of a now full on toddler who sometimes does the Gone With the Wind “I do declare!” if a toy is taken away. Or just gets full on WWF with a kid if they try to play with her toys. Or is as sweet as a pie, punch, and cake milkshake- I speak only from my own experience and through observing others and how they handle this…with their own children and with my child.

First off, you need the patience of a UN Negotiator.
Then, you need to have a sense of humor. Because let’s be honest, full on freak outs over some small piece of plastic or wood is hilarious.
You also need to know when to accept defeat, pack it up, and walk away. This is NOT giving in to your child. This is simply, seeing a situation to its conclusion and making a choice that best fits your needs. Like if you’ve been at the park for four hours and it’s obvious that your small child is hungry, tired, and needs a change of scenery. You BOTH need a change of scenery.
Most of the time you need to step back and let them figure it out. So long as no one is getting hurt and if all parents involved are on the same page with letting them Lear their way through it. Then back the effe off and let them learn their way through it.

I am not expert. I’m just mom. But I’m a mom who’s very honest with herself and her child about our contributions to our society and our world. I’m also not into making a big deal out of small things or wasting time trying to analyze every single little thing my child does. She’s a toddler, she makes no sense to us nor herself half the time. As the stay-at-home mother here; it is my job to teach her, help her grow, help her learn to handle her emotions (wherever they take her), teach her to stand up for herself and others without being a jerk kid, and help us both be better people. At least that’s my take on it. Our road to reach those milestones and accomplishments will not be paved the same way as someone else’s, but we will get there. Because we have to. Because we’re human. And that’s what we do.

I have a number of dear friends who are currently pregnant with their first child- YAY FINALLY, COME JOIN ME IN THIS MOTHERHOOD GAME LADIES!!!!
Anyhoo, they are all at different stages of pregnancy and besides being really excited and happy for them, I am trying to be a decent resource. I am open to questions and criticisms about my own choices in parenting my little human thus far, because I wish I had had someone like me while I was pregnant. It’s okay that I didn’t, but I just know that I want to be that person for them now. Because the unknown is scary right? And you could read every parenting book and website that exists and still not be fully prepared for what happens when that moment happens. The minute they hand you your baby, however you deliver them, and you look at this amazing-beautiful-wonderful-perfect little creature that’s all yours. Your life is never the same. Your heart is never the same. Everything is illuminated. Truly it is. It’s amazing and scary and tiring -and gross a lot of time- and frustrating and challenging and then they say I love you mama and your heart melts and, and, and……

And the only thing you can really prepare yourself for is that everything will keep changing so don’t try to control too much. Let go of your preconceived notions of what it’s going to be like and educate yourself so that you have the confidence to make the bestest rightest decisions for you and your family. And DONT APOLOGIZE. Just don’t. They are learning to be a new baby-toddler-child and YOU are learning to be a mama. It’s new to both of you. Be patient with yourself and your child. Also, just love them and keep them alive.

Again, I’m not an expert. I’m just a fellow mumma traveler on this shared parenting path. I’m also a college educated women. I’ve held many jobs, including my favorite work in public radio and events management. I’m an artist. I’m a storyteller. I put myself through school and have been on my own since I was 19. I’m a sensitive soul who’s imperfect. I’ve also been through quite a bit of ups and downs these last 24 months. I’ve experienced a lot of loss in both professional and personal relationships. Partly because that’s what happens when you decide to leave your full time job to stay home with your child and then end up having to leave your home to travel and get your family healthy. Partly because being human -and all that entails- sometimes makes friendship dynamics change, morph, and sadly all out disappear.

I really wish someone would have given me like a huge heads up about this past summer of seriousness. I heard others talking about it as well, so I know it’s not just me, but got damn it did NOT feel like any kind of fun, carefree, hot, adventurous summer. It was a heavy, heavy Life-In-Your-Face kind of summer for me and most of those closest to me. Plus I fractured my stupid right ankle falling off of a stool just trying to grab a little cover up so I could go out to a MUCH NEEDED dinner with an old friend-buh.

Buh.
Buh, buh, buh.
That is all I have to say about this past Summer 2014.

Don’t get me wrong, of course there were beautiful moments and treasured times with family and friends. I got to take a fun road trip out to Colorado and have a challenging adventure with my 2.5 year old. There was the usual fun July 4th Family Reunion weekend up in WI. We finally fully unpacked our new healthy home and got to enjoy some outside garden time in our beautiful backyard. There were a couple BBQ’s, some nanny work, some play dates, a few park trips, not a lot of pool time (because it never seemed to really be hot enough for long enough), and of course the big engagement party planning for my best girl.

So, no the summer was not all heavy serious.
But it wasn’t a lot of fun either….for me.

As my 8 blog drafts here tell me, I’ve attempted to come back on here and write-it-out along the way. Through the many losses that this summer brought into my life, I’ve tired to sit down and gain some perspective. A partner who’s job keeps him away M-F and an active, happy, rambunctious, adventurous 2.5 year old does not afford you a lot time to sit down and gain some perspective.

I’ve tried. In fact I’ve tried 8 times, just since this latest passing of my mentor, friend, father figure, teacher- my Dumbledore Sheldon Patinkin passed away. But life must go on. The show must go on, right? And my 2.5 year old, though very empathetic and loving with her hugs, kisses, and sweet “Mama, your old friend is gone? I’m so sorry mama. I’m so sorry for your heart.” My daughter does not have time for me to take time to grieve and process the magnitude of all the passings of those close to me since May of this year. Nor should she, because she is 2.5, and she’s amazing.

Which brings me to yet another part of this summer of seriousness that actually brought some light, relief, and hope for me…… Our girl is normal. She is actually excelling above a 4 year old level in her speech and language and artistic skills. But she is a normal, happy, healthy, challenging toddler almost three year old. We had the big evaluation done with 5 therapists through the Early Intervention program- because that’s what you do here in the city of Chicago when your child tested with high levels of lead and you moved out of your home, started traveling and staying with family all over the US to get the lead out, and relocated back here even though you wanted to go back home to the west coast…… I digress.

Our girl is just fine though. Better than fine in fact. And I can breathe again….finally. No we can’t guarantee that her high exposure to lead has had zero affects on her body, brain, and mind but that’s life. Or at least that our life as her parents. And I’m okay with that. Now. I wasn’t before. Before I was angry, scared, tired, angry, and scared, and oh did I mention angry? Of course I was though, who wouldn’t be? I never expressed that anger nor fear to my daughter, EVER. Not me, not never, not once. But it was there. Every blood draw where my daughter screamed for help and asked my why I was letting them do this to her. At every one of those 248 apartments I looked at when we were moving back here last Dec and ONLY FOUR we’re safe enough. Every time someone asked me how my daughter was doing and I had to sum it up in a positive way- because no one wants to hear your damn sob story. Every time we had to pack up our car and move on to a different place, or force our family to make room for us. The anger and fear was there with me the whole time. But it didn’t control me. It didn’t rule me or make decisions for me. I let it move through me in waves and quietly wept in various bathrooms late at night while everyone was sound asleep.

That is what you do as a parent. Especially when your child is lead poisoned and you have to move out of your home and travel to stay in healthier places that gel with your partner’s job. You keep your “internal stuff” inside and you Keep. Moving. Forward…….

Till maybe you reach a point where you can’t move forward for yourself till you take care of yourself. Maybe say you aren’t happy in your current relationship or your want to go back to work but the obstacles to do such a thing are greater than you imagined. Maybe you had a summer of seriousness like me and experienced three big deaths in a short amount of time. Maybe you’re really good at being good with the day-to-day and making sure your child has the best experiences that your resourcefulness can provide. And maybe the losses of friendships and people are too great for your heart now and you need to take some time for you.

It’s your turn to focus back in on you. To get that stuff up and out that has been kept way deep down inside for a couple years. Some people are able to achieve this through yoga, or a girls night, or a few bottles of wine, or maybe even with their kids, or through couple’s counseling, or by going back to work, or being creative, or….. I don’t know what other people do. That’s other people.

For me. My turn. My processing and desire to seek balance and peace so that I can make some pretty big life decisions; I look to talk therapy. I’ve talked about needing and wanting it again since moving back to Chicago. But now, now I’m doing it. I owe it to myself and my little family. I’m not ashamed. I’m not going to hide. I’m also not going to put if off any longer in the hopes that somehow I will “just be okay.” That’s not how grief and processing loss works. The truth is, or rather my truth is that I can no longer ignore my need to do this. This latest passing of my dear friend and touchstone to all, only made it abundantly clear that I have to now go back into talk therapy. It’s My Turn. It’s My Time. And quite frankly is My Money. So there you go.

Why am I sharing all this here?
Because life is tricky sometimes and we are all figuring it out.
This is a part of how I figure it out. I reach out. I share. I try to connect. I give.
I admit that things are not perfect, that I am not perfect.
I hurt, I cry, I write, and I hope.

I hope that over the next few weeks, I will stay on task to write one post a week in line with my sessions. Not just a rehashing of what we talked about in therapy, because I would bore myself with that. But, maybe I will do just that, I don’t know. Only time will tell.

Hellos from the Homestead,
Jess

Don’t Wait Till Tomorrow

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Someone else probably wrote a more eloquent and smarter version of what I’m going to write here. They probably used those lovely long “look how intelligent I am!” vocab words and made profound connections to life, love, the universe, and our human form. That’s okay because that’s for them and this is for me. And for you if you read this:

Do not wait till tomorrow to tell someone you love, that you love them.
Don’t wait to make that phone call to an old friend to “make plans for later.” Make them now.
Don’t not do that thing because you’re scared, do it because it’s scary and will make you grow.
Don’t waste time in relationships or jobs or relationships that feel like jobs because “you’re supposed to be doing those things at that age and this is what you should do.”
Don’t wait to move to Paris and fall in love, or vice versa.
Don’t not eat that really terrible food for you, if that’s what you want. Fucken eat that got damn double bacon cheeseburger with the fries and that shake…and then go do yoga if you want. Or don’t.
Don’t wait to start your own business, go online-go to the library-go talk to people and start your business today.
Don’t wait to adopt that dog, or cat, or iguana. Go get them today, they need you and they need a hug…and so do you.
Don’t wait to learn to ride a horse, or build a bike, or start a garden.
Don’t wait to be a good person, be one today. Help others, lend a hand, give a hug. This life can be way too short to not do good for others and yourself.
Don’t wait to have a family, make one now- whatever that looks like to you.
Don’t wait till tomorrow to go to that park, or read that book, or meet that new friend. Do it now.
Don’t wait to move to that one place in that one city over there. Pack it up and hit the road today.
Don’t wait to take that pottery class, or learn to cook French cuisine or finish that project or snuggle under blankets in the rain- just cause.
Don’t wait to go out to a fancy restaurant.
Don’t wait to get on the floor and play that one game that you hate playing with your child, but they absolutely LOVE IT AND HAVE TO PLAY IT ALL THE TIME!! Go play it with them…now!
Don’t wait to eat a bowl of buttered popcorn while watching that one movie with your sweetheart, or maybe future sweetheart.
Don’t wait to eat bacon, it’s really good.
Don’t wait to try a negroni slushie, it’s a taste sensation.
Don’t wait to get up for someone on the bus, get up now…right now!
Don’t not marry that person because _________. Take them in your arms and run off into the sunset (Plus sunset silhouettes look really pretty).
Don’t wait to donate that stuff you haven’t touched in your 15 years moving around the same city. Give it away to a needy family, today.
Don’t wait to show your children the world, even if you can’t physically travel.
Don’t wait to use your imagination.
Don’t wait to reach out to someone who is hurting and needs you but is too scared to ask. Go over, help them. They will be thankful, I promise.

Don’t wait till tomorrow to be the best version of YOU you can be.
Don’t wait till tomorrow to climb that mountain, they’re all mountains.
Don’t wait till tomorrow to live and love. Do it now.

Right now.
Tell someone, call someone, bicycle to someone, take a boat, fly an airplane, yell through tin cans connected by all the strings of your years… Tell them you love them.
Don’t wait till tomorrow.

Hellos from a Heavy Hearted Homestead. Love and Light to all who are suffering.
Jess

All The Happiness

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To Infinity and Beyond!!
Is there anything better than the pure happiness, arms outstretched, head high to the sky, joy of your own child?

I’m sure plenty of non parentals can think of a shit ton of other things that make them happy and fulfilled in their lives, and that’s great for them. Hi fives! Fist bumps! That used to be me! I might be kinda jealous, but not really. Get er done! Enjoy! Live, laugh, love! Proud of you :) For mama me though, there is nothing that brings me greater joy than seeing my daughter “so happy mama!”

Like any good parent, I’m constantly questioning whether I’m doing a good job. Pictures like the one above are a good reminder to me that Yes, yes you are doing a good job just look at all the happiness in those outstretched arms and head high to the sky. Not a care in the world. As it should be for a 2.5 year old, living in a major US city, growing up in a working middle class home, in a relatively safe neighborhood, with two caring parents, good food choices, and the summer all around her.

I am abundantly aware of how fortunate we are to have what we have. Even though I would like so, so, very much more for my daughter and my family
(health insurance, regular dental visits, good schooling, family nearby, world travels, a sibling perhaps); I know in my heart that this little girl is having a good life experience thus far. Even through lead poisoning, homelessness, traveling, being apart from her dad, acclimating back to Chicago, loss of friendships, lack of extended family presence….this little girl has not skipped a beat nor wanted for anything more than love, some homemade playdoh or cars-trains-planes, and maybe her iPad. In that, I know we are lucky and I trust that we will do everything we can to provide everything we can for this beautiful child. The fact that I can take a moment to even reflect on this, is a luxury that a lot of mothers don’t have. I know this and I am thankful.

Great, so why the need to write an entire MLog post about it and share it on FB?

Because I need to put something good out there right now.
Because I’ve written four other blog posts since my last one and haven’t published any of them.
Because all of those blogs I wanted to publish revolve around: parenting, lead poisoning, defending my choices and my family, loss of friendships, disliking Chicago, traveling to Colorado, defending other people’s parenting choices that might not be the norm, ugh ‘Murica, missing my old work, missing storytelling, challenges of toddlerhood, other people’s kids, other kid’s parents, breastfeeding, missing friends, the depressing state of Chicago shootings, potty training, the health care industry, social media burnout, and doing more with less.
Because I’ve met a bunch of new people lately, who’s first question is always “What do you do?”
Because I do consider myself a writer, a chronicler, an archivist of sorts and it’s a good practice for me to keep up with this blog.
Because I’m human and my need to connect to others is strong.
Because I keep hoping that in time I will get back to using this blog for its original intent.
Because Gaza.
Because I’m helping plan my best friend’s engagement party.
Because I’m nannying 50hrs/week for my dear friends and I need a break, because make no mistake Nanny Work IS work.
Because I’m unapologetically ME and just because I’m not some uber famous mom blogger (bleh) doesn’t mean my voice doesn’t matter. It does. To my family. To my readers (yes I do have some and Thank You). And most importantly, to me.

Alas.
This post is not about me and my #MomLife.
It’s really for my beautiful girl with wings spread wide open, smiling bigger than the clouds, and shining brighter than a thousand suns. This girl. What a character. What an awesome little hooman she is turning into. Of course I have to say that because I’m her mom, but still aside from that I’m able to really see her and she everything she is going to be…..

Lately, I’ve been able to see her through our nanny work and the eyes of our 16 month old charge. Who just lights up as soon as we come over for the day- this make me feel good and accomplished and I am not ashamed of that. I am proud of this. It is no easy feat to be a full time caregiver and teacher to another’s child, so I take my work very seriously even if “it’s just childcare.” That is an actual quote from an actual person I know, who I assume was being funny and I hope didn’t realize how kinda rude they were sounding. I don’t tell other friends, “oh it’s just event planning,” or “oh it’s just teaching,” or “oh it’s just retail.” So have some ding dang respect for however someone chooses to work OR NOT- and keep your trap closed if all you can say is a stupid comment. Shit is seriously hard enough for- oh I don’t know, everyone I know- we don’t need to inject tiny judgements upon each other. It’s a #freakingwasteoftime. #hashtag

You know what’s not a waste of time?

Enjoying this time with my daughter, being proud of the work I’m doing, and always taking time to savor All The Happiness. Because as we know -all too well, just given our own experiences in the past few months and years- anything can happen at any moment. Anything has happened at any moment. Which is how this life thing goes, but I’m pretty sure the trick is to stop every now and then and enjoy it. Just enjoy it.

Enjoy the people who are in your life who care about you and your family- and you them in return. Let go of the ones who are confused as to how simple a task, such as to just love each other, really is. Expel your regrets and move on always, always move on. Strive to do more and be better for yourself and family; but know this: so long as there is love, support, and encouragement in the home- everything else is cake. You really do just need to Love them and Keep Them Alive. Struggle if you must, but teach yourself and your little human (who is looking to you for how to bein this world) how to work through struggles and be better than before. Don’t be a dick to people, period. Try not to yell, but know that if it happens ITS NOT THE END OF THE WORLD AND YOUR CHILD IS NOT SCARRED AND YOU ALL WILL BE OKAY BECAUSE SOMETIMES TODDLERS ARE JERKS AND YOU ARE TIRED AND YOU JUST NEED A BREAK MMM KAY….. Be kind to yourself. I’m gonna say this one again to any parent who may read this; whether you stay at home, work outside the home, work at home with the kids, or however you have to do what you do to get by: Be Kind To Yourself.

None of any of this is easy.
Even though all the lifestyle blogs, Pinterest boards, celebrity obsessed culture, and social media “likes” would have you thinking otherwise.
Nobody has it figured out.
They just figured out their trick and are running with it.

It’s taken me most of my life, a lot of loss&pain, and the birth of my daughter to realize that All the Happiness I seek is within me. Every day is an opportunity to really truly be happy. Now, whether or not that actually happens is a whole other blog post….or not. Who knows what the days have in store for us. I do know one thing for certain, my trick is to stop every now and then and savor these moments. Even the gross annoying ones. Because as cheesy as it sounds, they all go by very fast. Before you know it, it’s been a year since _________, and so-in-so is now doing such-in-such, and you find yourself already at the end of the summer with a little girl on the brink of turning 3.

Or maybe that’s just me.
I’m okay with that.
And I’m happy.

Hellos from the Homestead,
Jess

This One Is For Me.

I can’t sleep.
Partially because I had a cup of coffee for dinner, but mostly because I’m watching my daughter sleep. Not in a creepy mom can’t separate herself from her baby toddler like the I’ll Love You Forever book way, but because I’m scared…..and it’s completely irrational…and I know this….but….

What the fuck am I supposed to thinkfeeldo right now?!
Another person I had a friendship with has passed away and there is not a ding dang flim flam thing I can do about it. So. I’m gonna write. That’s one thing I can do. I can share his my story and then hopefully I will be able to sleep again. Truth be told, I haven’t slept well in 13 days -since another loved one’s passing- but that’s my thing… I think. That’s how I process the unprocessable. I stay up late or wake up early and I think, write, or draw and then I hopefully sleep and feel a little better.

Tonight though I don’t know how to feel better. I found old drawings my friend Jeremy and I used to send each other, because we used to do exquisite corpse through the mail. If you don’t know what I mean by through the mail then let me explain: In the Olden Days (10/15 years ago) before internets and smart phones, we used to do this thing called “write letters” or actually cut and paste pictures, drawings etc and send them to each other through, what is lovingly referred to as Snail Mail. We would have to wait days or weeks (especially if you live in Chicago’s post codes) for a response.

My friend Jeremy and I used to keep in touch via letters, pictures, presents, drawing collaborations and a few emails and phone calls from time to time. He did the most exquisite drawing of my ex fiancé and I when we got engaged like a million years ago (2007) and also sent me a healing potion when my ex and I broke up in 2010, cause he was awesome like that. He was also a dad, a scholar, a husband from what I hear, and from what I know- one of the kindest hearts out there. Of course he was, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing about him, now would I?

He also had juvenile diabetes, which finally took his young life at 35 and left a little -now 12 year old- girl, fatherless. We used to make fun of his disease and say “Oh, how juvenile!” In much the same way that people say “Oh how pedestrian.” And really that’s all I can speak of his disease. Except that a lot of my good eating habits come from discussions he and I had about Heath, Wellness, the body, and the mind. And in case anyone is wondering, no he wasn’t some obese ‘Murican who slovenly ate his way to death, though if that had been his story I would NOT be any less hurt by his loss. He was in fact cut like a mutha and fit as _____. At least he was when we were young (er) and dumb and danced till the sun came upmost days, then went to work/school or sometimes both, then turned around and did it all over again. I don’t need to get into specifics, because if you were there you knew what was up. We had fun, we grew up, and we took care of each other….

Then Life Started Happening and some of us lost touch, broke up, fell out, or just moved on. But J and I kept in touch. Even when my then boyfriend became jealous of our correspondence and “forbade me” from communicating with J. Ugh, I’m so embarrassed to even write that, let alone admit that I listened to him and stopped communication with J for a while. Even during that stupid confusing time, we still kept in touch. Because he was family to me, not some secret snail mail- artist-Wiccan-side piece I had stashed away.

It’s hard though. You “get busy” and you lose touch.

Sadly, we did lose touch after 2010, because Life Happened and….well, it’s why I’m sitting here in Chicago writing about this instead of participating in a memorial for him in Vt. Just for the record no one is keeping, I’m none too fond of having to talk to parents who’ve just lost their children. Don’t get me wrong, I will do whatever I have to when the moment calls for it, but I think I’m okay now with having to make the phonecall no one wants to make. At least, maybe for this year mmm kay? And in regards to young people passing away, because 35 is still too young friends; I’m cool with not having any more young people leave here just yet. Its too young to die and too young to leave behind a child.

Which I guess brings me to the last part of this piece.

This is the part where I ask you to take a moment from your busy day and send some love to a girl who’s lost her dad. Send some love to his entire family. They need it right now….

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Yep, my daughter is still next to me and is still breathing.
And so am I.
Which means I can make a good choice to try and go to sleep so I can be a good mama tomorrow.
Praise be to my friend and parenting partner, who also is breathing next to me on my other side, for coming home quick today so that I could “take some time for myself.” He’s been (of course) great these last 13 days, hours, minutes and I’m thankful for that.
I’m also thankful for you if you’re reading this.
Maybe we can write letters to each other, or better yet -hang out soon.

Love and Light to all who are hurting tonight,
J

Sometimes Balloon Doggies Pop… (or turn into rocket ships and blast off into space)

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It’s been a heavy 6/7 days around our homestead and I keep trying to make sure at the very least, our two year old empathetic smarty pants doesn’t pick up on my great deep sadness. Which is why a few days ago, as soon as I started to feel it, I got us out of the house and directly to an awesome little corner in Chicago that houses Bang Bang Pies. I reached out to a friend (who happens to have a degree in counseling) to meet up with us so that we could distract me catch up.

It was the perfect distraction day date. My little bit got to run around in the garden out back and play with the customers and the shop dog, while we ate our breakfasts and drank coffees at the mini picnic tables. And I got to talk. Talk about how I was feeling. Talk about how I was doing with all these past few days. Talk about how absolutely, deeply, and profoundly sad I am for this loss and for my best friend’s family. Talk about what it was like seeing old friends again after year(s) of not talking. Talk, talk, talk. I got to talk without feeling guilty for putting any attention on myself, because after all this is NOT about me. This is about a family that I love dearly and have grown close with over these 10 years, and their greatest loss.

But I’m still a human being.
And I have feelings.
And it’s hard to watch someone(s) you love be in such pain, because you just want to make it all go away for them. You want to have that special hug, that magic touch, those perfect words, that will ease their intense pain. But the truth is, there are no words, special hugs, nor magic touch that will make anyone come back.

I’m also deeply sad that this enigmatic creature has left our earth.
Did I spend every waking minute with him? No.
Did I grow up with him? Not really, although I first met him when he was just 17.
Did he call me all the time looking for advice from a big sister figure? No.
Was I there for holidays and birthdays and did we laugh together and have fun together and take stupid silly pictures? Yes.
Did he make the only thing my daughter would actually eat at thanksgiving last year -because, two year old- and was I looking forward to more holidays with him? Yes.
Did we band together to help move his sister with what ended up being an all night move, and make fun of her? You betcha.
Did I laugh a lot with him? Absolutely.
Did I listen to his sister talk about how worried she was about him at times? Yep.
Do I miss him now and this really sucks and I’m so sorry for this family I love and wish I could change this for them? Yes.

Does my two year old understand what’s going on right now?
Yes.
She does.
In her own way.
Because she’s two.
She knows that mom left at 5am a week ago and was gone for 18 hours. She knows that her “Auntie T and Auntie S and Gramma L” are incredibly sad. She knows that someone wasn’t there last Sunday at Gramma L’s house. She knows that mama has been crying and that mama has been sad and that it’s okay to cry because there are “smiley faces at the end of sadness.” (Her words friends. My two year old said that)

She knows that we went to a good breakfast and the park on Monday -after what was a confusing, kinda scary, but then okay because we were all together at the house weekend- and she got to run around and play with mom. She knows that her first real experience with sadness and being able to verbally express it happened 3 weeks prior, when an orange balloon doggie (made for her by the weirdo Lincoln Square bead shoppe guy) popped on our walk to the train.

She has been saying, “balloon doggie popped and it’s making me sad,” for the past three weeks. So of course on Monday we sure did go back into the bead shoppe and the old man sure did make her not one but TWO balloon doggies (1 orange, 1 white). We of course had to take her doggies to the park and of course they ended up popping… Kind of. They’re balloons, they pop. This time it was different, and not just because this is our second occurrence with balloon doggies popping.
***Sidenote/advice to all new and aspiring parents out there: one of you should learn how to make balloon animals, seriously it’s gonna come in handy. They don’t tell you this in any of those parenting books nor classes, so this is my friendly advice to you.***

Back to our balloon doggies though….

We took them to the park and were having a great time, when the white one popped and a big gust of wind blew it away. My little lady Lost. Her. Shit. And hey, I get it. It’s effing sad when your balloon doggie pops on grass that’s supposed to be as soft on the balloon as it is on your feet. Then, you discover hidden amongst all that soft grass lie these weirdo small prickly plants that *pop* *pop* crash your balloon animal party. I of course just held her and told her that everything was going to be okay. And then it happened. She looked up at me with all the waters of the Great Lakes and asked, “But what about auntie T and S and g-am Liz? Did their balloon doggy pop too?”

In that moment, I could see my sweet little old soul of a beautiful two year old trying to comprehend the concept of death. To me this is a beautiful, powerful, and profound thing. Not something to be scared of or try to shield her from. It’s an awful occurrence when a child leaves this earth before their parents. It’s not natural, it doesn’t make any sense, and it doesn’t seem right nor real. Why wouldn’t my two year old have some understanding of this?

Our special soul who transitioned from this earth, now just a week ago, is the brother of my BFF, but I saw him as my little brother too. Like I said above. We didn’t spend every waking moment together or even every few months together. But I had a lot of love for that guy, especially seeing him with my little girl. I’m an only child with one non-existent parent by choice, the other because of mental illness; so I kind of infuse myself into other families. My friends Are My Family, and this family is very very very special to me. We are all hurting with them.

This is no different for my little girl. She knew someone was missing on Sunday and she asked me about it at breakfast on Monday. We looked at some pictures from holidays past with him and she just kept saying, “so we will see him soon then, ok.” Oh my little sweet girl. How I wish that we’re true….

So as we were sitting on that lawn, the white balloon doggie popped and carried off by the wind, we sat and cried and held onto our orange balloon doggie. We started looking at more pictures of our “family” and I explained further that we would not be seeing brother A because he turned into a rocket ship and blasted off into space….and wouldn’t you freaking know it (and I am so not even close to lying at all) the orange balloon doggie unfolded under my weird tight mom grip and stretched out to look like… you guessed it….a Rocket Ship. Then… you guessed it…..that same wind blew up again and it blasted off (then popped somewhere not far from us but far enough from the two year old gaze). And we said goodbye to the Rocket Ship….

She’s still talking about the balloon doggies, but now she talks about the Rocket Ship and how it took off and how AWESOME that was, and how we shouldn’t be sad, and “don’t cry anymore mama.” And I could not have created a better way to explain the loss of someone so special to people who are so special to us. It’s almost as if he were here helping me come up with a way to explain this.

Who knows where we really go after our time here. I have no idea. I have concepts, thoughts, hopes, and dreams that we all see our loved ones again, but nobody really knows. So just in case we don’t see them again….let’s make our time here, now, on this earth, with these people…make it count. Make it important and loving and wonderful and painfully beautiful too. Make it count folks. Make it count.

Tell your people you love them
Tell them as often as you can
Scream it louder when they don’t want to hear it
And quietly whisper it to them when they’re not looking

Because sometimes balloon doggies pop, or turn into rocket ships and blast off into space. RIP sweet Abdu.

Love,
Us

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Waiting to Exhale….

No, this isn’t a nod to that Waiting to Exhale, though some times over the past 16 months I have felt a bit on the verge of a good Bernadine’s Rage coming on. What? I loves me some Angela Basset, especially when she’s ranting about a cheating husband and throwing expensive clothings out the house. Just to be clear- lest anyone think my partner suddenly became a philandering, rich, well attired scallywag- MY Bernadine’s Rage was more geared towards all this Lead Poisoning business and the seemingly unfair manner in which everything transpired last year. My Bernadine’s Rage was ignited every time another person told me (or I heard through the grapevine) that I was making a big deal out of this because “we all grew up with lead,” and “you’re still nursing your child? it’s not like she still has lead poisoning or is retarded,” and “when are you going to go back to work? you need to be a productive part of society again now that your daughter isn’t lead poisoned,” and “you can’t save the world, Jess,” and “F*&% You Enviro-Nazi!” and “Oh that’s just Jess being overly dramatic, you know how she can be. Her daughter is fine.”

The funny thing about rage is that it can be the perfect motivator for change, and change I sure have….for the better of course. I have no other choice but to be better; for myself, my family, and for this amazing little girl who teaches ME every day how to be a better person. Admittedly, most of the rage that fueled up inside me eventually lead to a deep depression and/or anxiety attacks for me. But through all of that, I stayed focused on what was important and worked very hard to get this stupid lead out of my daughter’s body. And guess what? It worked, because now we can sit here in our new lovely home and finally feel safe and secure that at least our home will not poison our child. Even with all the testing we did here before moving in, I still have been nervous that something wasn’t going to be okay. That lurking in some corner would be that one thing that would turn our lives upside down again. That because of all the unpacking and lead dust on all our things from storage, this would negatively impact my child. That no matter what we did, we would never be able to really get our daughter’s lead levels down because “we live in an old city afterall.” But…..

WE DID IT!!!!!!!

We got to that number that I’ve been wanting to see since Dec 3, 2012.
We are now at a 2 for our BLL.
Yes, it is not a 0 which is where any person would want to see their Blood Lead Level, let alone a parent like me who just wanted lead to not be a freaking issue anymore.
But considering where we started 16 months ago at a 15, and even just where we disappointingly (to me) were just four months ago with a 4 . Well, today I am damned proud that we were able to get down to a 2.

So what do all these numbers mean?

I get asked this all the time, and I think depending on who you talk to you will hear a different perspective. However, the CDC states: “Experts now use a reference level of 5 micrograms per deciliter to identify children with blood lead levels that are much higher than most children’s levels” and “Until recently, children were identified as having a blood lead “level of concern” if the test result is 10 or more micrograms per deciliter of lead in blood. CDC is no longer using the term “level of concern” and is instead using the reference value to identify children who have been exposed to lead and who require case management” and “In the past, blood lead level tests below 10 micrograms per deciliter of lead in blood may, or may not, have been reported to parents. The new lower value means that more children will likely be identified as having lead exposure allowing parents, doctors, public health officials, and communities to take action earlier to reduce the child’s future exposure to lead.”

Got all that?
Yeah, I didn’t think so either.
It can be confusing-ish, but here’s what you should know if you have children, are planning to have children, are pregnant, or planning to become pregnant- whether or not you live in an old home:

“In America today 1 in 3 children under the age of 18 has had a blood lead level of 2.5 or higher in their lifetime”
– from Lead Safe America

Just because lead was “outlawed” in 1978 does not mean that it was eradicated and has just gone away. In fact it’s quite the opposite. Old homes with old windows and old, old, old structures are deteriorating (duh because that what happens with time) and all those lovely old paints are chipping, peeling, and poisoning our children. It also is still being used in products from lipstick to dishware and in a LOT of children’s products- most of them “made in China.” You would assume that this couldn’t happen today because we know that lead in any content is not safe, but it is. So please everyone be aware, get educated, and make good choices for you, your family, and ALL of our futures. Also, check out and support good organizations doing the tough work of advocating for all of us with work like the film MisLEAD. Consider donating, time-money-resources to Tamara Rubin and her Lead Safe America Foundation.

In our case, our child was poisoned due to our “gut rehabbed” home not being so greatly gut rehabbed. The major culprit was the improper way that the building owners/property managers never updated duct work, porches, interior stains and ledges, and NEVER tested for lead -because they’re not required to by law. Our entire basement was still lead paint and we had GFA from the basement, therefore we had all been breathing in lead dust for years. Not only are we lucky and thankful that our daughter is as healthy as she is and that I had zero complications in pregnancy, but so far it appears as though her high lead levels have had minimal effects on her development.

Here’s a funny thought for, oh I don’t know- EVERYONE: How’s about some laws are put in place that if you purchase an old home/building you have to test for the presence of lead and are required to remediate it properly. How’s about we get some federal and state funding to help building and home owners do the right thing? How’s about we have something more in place than just some stupid photo copied pamphlet on the “dangers of lead poisoning” if you rent a home/apartment in Chicago? How’s about the Healthy Homes Initiative actually helps create ohIdon’tknow HEALTHY HOMES!! Grrrr

So here’s the part where I talk about Waiting to Exhale for the past 16 months…..

Just so you know, its difficult to really live when you’re constantly holding your breath and waiting for the other shoe to drop…. And I love shoes…and I have a LOT of shoes…..so there was a LOT of dropping…. Since we got that phone call on Dec 3rd, 2012 I have been holding my breath under a strong current of fear- for my child’s health and future, for my health and future. I’ve been too nervous to take deep breathes just in case all that lung power was needed to fight for my child- it was. I was too scared to celebrate and expel with full lung capacity all the small victories of the past year, just in case something else was lurking around the corner it was. TREPIDATION, THY NAME IS JAM. Mind you, I did not waste time in fretting or in unnecessary manifestation of false fears or circumstances. When you’re basically homeless with a toddler, you don’t have time for that nonsense. As my British Nanny would say, “Well you sure did get yourself into a dither now didn’t you?” Yes Nan I did, I sure did. And that’s okay, because that coping mechanism allowed me to keep on going, keep on fighting, keep on holding my breaths.

And now, now I can breathe again.
And it feels good.
And I feel full.
And healthy.
And safe.
Our lives can finally start again and get on with it already.
The only alarm I hear is that of my partner hitting snooze 20 times before finally dragging himself out of bed.
My glaciers of apprehension are melting, along with this stupid Midwest winter.
My unease with being back in this city is still there but isn’t the first thing on my mind.
I’ve gotten more deep healing sleep in the past two days than I have in 16 months.
I can start really planning instead of just reacting and surviving.
(For the record I have a love/hate with “survival mode” living. It is both necessary for the immediate and really just not a lot of fun for the long term)

Before I Get On With It Already, I would like to stop for just a bit and be proud of myself. Yep, just little ole me. I have been a brilliant motherfucking human being and mother through all of these past 16 months. I have always kept my priorities in line while trying to navigate some pretty rough waters by myself and with my partner and family. A day did not go by where I wasn’t “working for the greater good of my child.” There is still (and always) work ahead for us as parents, that is the nature of parenting, but maybe it won’t be so fucking god damned shit stormed scary-as-hell hard, ya know? I’m not saying that I’m some all encompassing, holier-than-thou, Mother Theresa, Mommy-Martyr; cause honestly everyone who is a GOOD PARENT can claim that title. But for what we have endured as a family; and what I’ve had to watch, witness, experience, process, and creatively filter for my child- I should get an award….or at least a big hug the next time you see me….or maybe a taco dinner and strong margarita….or a haircut….or a massage….or at least a high five ;-)

Yes, I have some pretty big decisions and possible big shake ups and changes ahead for me personally, but now I can do it without this constant fear that our home is going to harm our child. Until you’ve been in a situation like ours, where the one place that is supposed to keep you safe from all the bullshit out there in the big bad city world, fails miserably- you don’t know and you can’t judge. I don’t know if I’ve expressed it enough or if I can even eloquently write about yet, but what this situation like ours has changed in me is something profound. The past 16 months have simultaneously totally altered me as a human being, a woman, and a mother AND it also allowed me to really and truly get back to who I really am inside and be a kid again with my little girl. Through all the tears and pain I found laughter, love, and trust in myself that I AM ONE HECK OF A GREAT MOTHER and I love with everything I am. That’s actually how I’ve always been; but somewhere between horrible bike incidents, break ups, loss of jobs, changing friendship dynamics, becoming a mother, leaving a great job, and stupid lead poisoning- I started to feel some of that which makes me, me fade away.

But, I mom ramble.
Simply put, the past 16 months have been a cluster-butt-fuck and I am really truly finally looking forward to moving onward, upward, and forward. I deserve it. My daughter deserves it. Our family deserves it.

For today though, we enjoy our small victory over lead and go treat ourselves to a Hot Doug’s lunch and visit with a dear friend at his frame shoppe (and pick up our awesome framed goodies).

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Thanks for reading.
Thanks for your support, love, and encouragement all these many 16 months.
I look forward to having more fun here on my blog and in our lives!!

Hellos from our SAFE Chicago Homestead,
Jess

We Are the Stories We Tell….

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My Current #MomBrag share is that my 2 year old now creatively colors in the lines…..

This is just one part of my story as Teacher to my amazing little girl I love so much ;-)
For better or worse / ultimate cheese factor or not, I have been a bit inspired by the TV series True Detective and it’s writer Nick Pizzolatto’s interviews on writing the show. Perhaps it’s because of my flare for the dramatic (thanks theater degree), or my love of the long narrative (and 6 years of managing an inde bookstore), or my experience in live storytelling in Chicago (and on the radio), or that I really needed to be inspired by something lately that didn’t have to do with being a mother (as lovely as it is)…but I found just a simple statement from the TD writer, “We are the stories we tell ourselves…” to be a jolt I’ve needed for a long time. Yes, the rest of his statement includes a more dark interpretation of how we should be careful of the stories we tell because blah, blah, blah gloom and doom etc. That’s not what I got out of what he said.

First off, I thoroughly enjoyed the show and think that a.) it should have been longer than 8 episodes (duh who didn’t want that) and b.) regardless of where the writer and the series goes from here, it’s been fun to watch a show that came the closest to (what I think) reading a pulp, noir, weird fiction-ish, short story feels like. Perhaps its because the last book I read was Gone Girl (which seems like a forever ago now), but this show really encapsulated for once what it was like to turn good writing into a great visual narrative. Now, who I am but just an ex public radio working/theater educated/used to be well read bookstore managing literary invested citizen of Chicago so my opinion doesn’t carry much “weight” in the greater scheme of things I suppose. So take my thoughts/expressions here at whatever value you choose, but I do know of which I speak because of my background/love of all things books and reading and literature and weird fiction and curiosity and life and art and love and theater and storytelling etc.

So yes, I REALLY liked the series. I was fine with the ending. I didn’t think it had a “come to jesus” moment at the end but more of a “gain some humanity moment and allow yourself to finally feel” for the Rust character. I didn’t need it to take a supernatural full occult spin with the Carcosa/Yellow King themes- it was amazing just to see those things being referenced in a well received show. As a woman I was fine with the female characters, once I realized by episode 2 what their purpose was- it was not a show about them- and I don’t always need a show to have some fantastical representation of female strength and power, though I do have hopes for the next season with 2 lady detectives, yes! In regards to “issues of race” around the show, again I wasn’t looking for this show to give me some moral non-stereotypical representations of race; which guess what it didn’t. It was one story, just shy of 8 hours of screen time revolving around these two main characters, The True Detectives, and “getting their guy” while also getting pretty changed themselves in the end.

Moving forward…..
Moving back to me…

The whole “We are the stories we tell ourselves…” and I will further add to that
“…. and others” really hit me hard in my guts and my brains. Not so much in my heart, that’s reserved for more romantic ideas of my story. For reals though, my mind has been swirling with ideas and thoughts and thoughts and ideas since reading this statement from an interview with the TD writer. Sure, it’s a simple idea that honestly I’ve heard before from so many of my people in the storytelling gang here in Chicago, online, and across the country; so it’s not a new concept to me. For some reason though, it just happens to ring so much more true for me write right now, during what is still an unsettling chapter in my story. So much has happened the past 15 months, heck the past 4/5 years, and yet here I am still in Chicago living out my story.

Using the word “still” above is very much intended to impart some level of “ugh” and “dread” from me to you. I have tried in earnest to leave Chicago 3 times since 2004. It is now 10 years later and here I am. Not only can I “not quit this city” it would seem, but to reference another TD theme, I also seem to be living in that circular crushed Lone Star can top / time wrap / always living the same story thing. However, do not mistake this statement for any type of regret, I do not live in regret at all. In 2004 I stayed for a boy, even though I had two very big opportunities on either of the US coasts (NYC and LA). In 2010; I tired to pack it all up again, but having just gone through a major break up, finally secured decent work with insurance after being unemployed for 18 months, and not ready to leave everyone yet…I stayed. And then I got pregnant. And then came the awesome job. And then came leaving the awesome job to pursue being an awesome mom for a while. And then came the lead poisoning….and our wanderlust, traveling, challenging, but adventurous lifestyle…. for 12 whole months. Now, I am/we are back here in Chicago till either there’s a big change in our family dynamic, a big opportunity for mom to take care of the family, or something else that I can’t creatively come up with quite yet.

But I digress on my Chicago story, because the truth is I knew what I was getting into coming back here and I have to be okay with it. For my daughter’s sake/sanity/growth/ development; and my own. There are “worse places” to live, I know this. I also know how absolutely horrific the winters are, how isolating our financial status can make us, and how stupidly difficult it seems to be just to make some other mom friends -which is a whole other topic I’ve been talking with my few other (lovely and wonderful) mom friends that I do have- and am very thankful for always. I’m not here though to write about how sad, isolating, depressing, and downright challenging life in Chicago can be for someone like me. I’m not even interested in reading about my own woe-is-meisms.

What I’ve been most interested in is Changing one’s own narrative…. Changing my narrative to be more precise. Which is way, way, way more than just “changing my attitude,” (as I’ve been so nicely reminded by others). It doesn’t have to do with just “my attitude” or “my outlook” or “perspective,” though I won’t argue that those attributes for self sufficiency and possible happiness are important. I wish changing my narrative was as easy as just breaking things down to a “victim/non victim” “letting go vs living in the past” or “taking control vs being taken advantage of” or “hurt/loss/pain vs change and growth through process” or “light vs dark” “good vs evil” “sanity vs insanity” “maturity vs immaturity.” Those are all easy concepts to see, understand, feel, and change.

If we are the stories we tell ourselves, then my current narrative work lies in two stories:

1.) Give an ending to the painful/complex/nuanced/confusing PLOT TWIST that occurred last year when multiple what I thought were important, meaningful, long term friendships were abruptly ended. This has been something that has keeps me up late at night and rudely jolts me awake in the morning; trying to figure out the hows-what’s-whys. It is the first thing that pops into my head during my meditation practices, and it lives in my chest-back-neck-throat during my yoga work. I’ve tried to deny that this lives in me, but it does. Actually, it’s only gotten more deeply imbedded in my psyche and my muscles since moving back here, because simply put- I don’t have a lot of mom friends and am terribly lonely and sad. I thought my only choice was to let go and just work on me, but it’s not that simple. I thought maybe I just needed more time to process everything, but I’m not a fan of inactive ways of working through things. I thought after getting a much needed and deserved apology, that everything would just be “okay,” and it’s not. It’s not because I miss my friends. I miss sharing my life with them and them with me. I miss having more people around my daughter, that I honestly thought would be there forever, as silly as that sounds.

Which leads me to 2.) Writing the next BIG STORY of MY LIFE as JAM.

Not Mama Jess. Not Partner Jess. Not Anxiety Jess. Not Panic Attack Jess. Not the Reluctant Lead Poisoning Activist Jess. Not the Pity Party Jess. Not the wish I had money so I could take care of myself Jess. Not “When do I FINALLY get to go to King Spa” Jess. Not “Can I please just get a break or take a little vacation” Jess. Not “Can we get another date night seeing as how we’ve only had ONE since before our daughter was born” Jess. Not this now super greying, only able to get Medicaid for myself (luckily my daughter’s father is forced to get her decent insurance because of the ACA), can’t put my daughter in classes that she could really use, lonely, sad all the time because I have very little mom friends, isolated in basic poverty because my “partner” can barely make ends meet with his all-the-time consuming job, isolated, still trying to unpack our home without any help from anyone, wishing more family would take an active role in our lives and HELP, wishing I had more creative success, jealous of others and their happiness and relationship success, done with all the lead BS from last year, angry that things just can’t seem to work out for me…person. NOT THAT PERSON. This story is not going to be for THAT PERSON. That person needs to go away because she is helping no one and she is NOT FUN AT PARTIES.

This story is for the future me. For THE FUTURE of my daughter, and hopefully for any future little me’s that may want to join us…even though we only have so much time little guys and gals, so if anyone out there is going to expand our family it should happen kinda-sorta within the next 3,4,5 years tops ya. This story is for the future creative me who is desperately aching to JUST DO SOMETHING ANYTHING PLEASE!!!! Ahem, pardon me. It’s been a while since I’ve been able to truly create from myself and not just for or with my daughter. I mean for crying out loud, I started this blog as a means to get things going for me as a creative force. My goal and dream with both this blogspot and my full site was to really get something going ya know? Now it’s just turned into my bitching post of everything that is wrong with society, the city we live in, my personal life, with hints of how amazing my little girl is. I swear that’s not all that I am. I used to be a really happy, fun, outgoing, lively, energetic, excited, creative, woman. Now. Well, let’s just say that I never expected to be in this part of the story where my whole identity is wrapped up into being a mom and figuring out how best to get my two year old to wean, start using the potty, and sleep in her own bed. I’m not ungrateful that I have gotten to have all this time with my darling daughter, minus all the stress of last year, but it would seem that I am ready for this SAHM chapter to come to a close as well.

If I’m going to continue being real here, like I have time to be anything else at this point, I don’t know that I am cut out for this: Stay-At-Home-All-The-Time-And-Neglected-By-My-Supposed-Partner-So-Where-Do-We-Go-From-Here-Because-I-Have-To-Do-Full-Time-Childcare-And-Any-Job-I-Get-Will-Have-To-Work-With-Me-Because-My-Supposed-Partner-Cannot. I’m okay with not just “being okay” with this kind of life story. Who would be happy in this? Surely, noone I know. Which is probably why most of my friends here have nothing to do with me beyond FB and Instagram likes and comments. Also, to not make this future story turn me into a huge asshole, I have to be fair and say that I don’t think either one of us thought things would end up this way. Yes, when you become parents you expect there to be sacrifices, challenges, obstacles and such THAT YOU WORK THROUGH TOGETHER but….what we have here folks is a failure to communicate for fear the communication will lead to separation. And I know, no good-caring-loving-thoughtful human like us enters into this kind of emotional, social, and moral parental contract thinking they’re not going to stay together. But those chapters have yet to be written, they are merely storyboard ideas written in pencil. We will see if that chapter heads to the ink press….

In the meantime, I am going to start working hard again on those things which made me, me BEFORE my daughter was born. Embroideries, sewing, storytelling, writing, drawing, painting, collecting, yoga, meditation, getting my hair cut, pedicures, time with friends, homemade pizza, not being a slouchy grey haired sad faced girl all the time, maybe a fricken beer every now and then sheesh, dancing, cooking, securing a good job so I can have decent insurance and stability for my daughter and I, reaching out to MY FAMILY who makes an effort instead of focusing on those who excuse away their lack of involvement in our lives beyond stupid FB. In my future story, I’m going to have a chapter where the character reminds us that it’s not over for you at 37. You have a whole (hopefully) 50/60 years to live, and look at the amazing life you’ve lead thus far. Yes, that is what I’m going to try to focus on starting today, starting now, starting with the writing, editing, and sharing of this blog. For this is the story I am telling myself and now others…..

Thanks for reading.
Hellos from our Can Anyone come watch my kiddo so I can finally unpack my home after 3 months, ugh Homestead,
Jess


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