August signifies two things: The impending return of school and my birthday. In fact, I don’t want to even think about the school year until I’ve enjoyed as much of my birthday as possible.

In keeping with our Safer-at-Home Summer, we rented the boat one last time and invited two young ladies to join us. As the day drew closer, I wondered how the day would unfold only because the forecast was grim. The threat of rain toggled between 50 and 80 percent all week, finally settling on a 100 percent chance of rain by Friday morning. I settled my mind by telling Chuck, “Even if we only get a few hours on the boat in the morning, it will have been worth it.”

Mercifully, it never rained a drop until that evening after we’d already gotten home.

We drove around a bit before dropping anchor at a sandbar. The kids floated around and enjoyed the shallow water while Chuck and I lounged on the boat. Going on a Friday meant the lake wasn’t overrun with people, thank goodness.

We hit up a second sandbar after lunch, where we all laid like slugs on floats.

It felt like we had the entire lake to ourselves, which wouldn’t have been the case had we rented on a Saturday. Thanks to the gorgeous weather and lovely company, I couldn’t have planned a better boat day. Before going back to the first sandbar, I gathered my people for a photo.

This photo shows you how shallow the sandbars are.

This guy right here:

He ended up being out of town on my actual birthday, but he never misses an opportunity to make me feel special. The boat was one thing, and then we went to dinner with Lesli and Jimmy the following night:

But he really knocked it out of the park with his actual gift:

MY HUSBAND bought me ACTUAL PROPS from my favorite television show of all time. I honestly couldn’t believe it. I don’t know in what season or episode Elizabeth Moss wore those earrings, but I’m going to spend the next few months rewatching Mad Men (for the umpteenth time) looking for them in every scene with Peggy.

I’ve been spoiled by friends and family with gifts and treats in the mail, and then I was so delighted to receive these English Garden flowers from Karin. Truly, I felt so loved all day and all week.

Even the sunset on my birthday was beautiful.

Mom’s birthday is a week before mine, so I must share the Treadway family photo we took with Becky over FaceTime:

School starts in less than two weeks, and I’m doing my best to manage my expectations. I so badly want everything to be normal, but I know that’s an impossibility right now. We’ll wear masks at our co-op and move as many assignments online as possible.

I hope we can meet in person all year long, but the reality is that we could very well move online entirely as the fall and winter months creep closer. No longer can we get away with a sniffly nose or occasional cough. Every symptom of potential illness, whether COVID-19, strep, or allergy, will be an anxiety ignitor. We may not be together in a classroom all semester, but I’ll take what I can get for now.

Despite the lovely birthday, this Dorothy meme accurately represents my feelings on just about everything else. Hang on tight, everyone!

My Least Favorite Question: “How is the writing going?”

Five years ago I was accosted by a girl in my head. She showed up uninvited, as if she’d been waiting for the opportunity to pounce. She told me her name, her story, and then sat down to wait as I considered it.

In secret, I started to type.

Within days I came out to my husband as a wannabe novelist – a surprise to both of us – and confessed that I had no clue what I was doing. Could he still love me if I followed a crazy dream? Did he think I had potential? Can a nobody journalist just morph into a somebody novelist? Furthermore, why do people show up in your brain if you’re not meant to do anything with them? 

He nudged me forward. Yes, do it. OF COURSE DO IT. So I did, and that’s how Leona came to be. Then Mallory showed up two years later, and now a third cast of people have arrived. The new ones are still in progress, but frankly, so are Leona and Mallory because I’m still learning about them. Just today, while on a long run, I discovered something else that belongs in Novel No. 2. Like a sweet gift, she whispered something in my ear and I ran harder to mull it over properly.

This dream is not gone, not even a little. In between the freelance writing, the homeschooling, the teaching, the photography… I am still thinking of my characters. I carry them with me. I know which chapters need trimming. I know which plot points need attention. I know these matters will be tended to at the correct time.

But oh, some of you still ask, and you are dear to me. You are. Please know that I covet your support in that rooted, quiet way. When my time comes, I know some of you will race to buy a copy my book. You’ll jump at the chance. THANK GOD FOR YOU. Yet, I cannot bear to answer this question – “How is the writing going?” – because it nearly kills me every time. There is no suitable answer.

How do I summarize the hours I’ve spent crafting these stories, or the hours I’ve spent just thinking about them? How do I explain the many query letters I’ve sent out only to receive rejections in return? How do I describe the requests for full manuscripts – real jolts of hope – only to be told that something is not quite right? How do I harness the encouraging feedback from industry professionals and churn that into a better story? 

And how, please tell me, do I balance the things I must do with the things I long to do? That is something I’m sure you all understand.

Perhaps I should return to the monastery. Something about that feels right.

So yes. I’m still writing. OF COURSE I AM. There is no need to ask. Until further notice, assume EVERYTHING FORWARD.

That time I was questioned by the police

A couple of days ago I was on a six-mile run while listening to West Cork, an Audible True Crime series, which is set up like a podcast. (If you enjoyed Serial and S-Town, I recommend you give it a try.) The particular episode I was listening to centered around the Irish Garda’s (police) questioning of a murder suspect, and suddenly I was struck by the memory that I, too, had been questioned by the police.

Not for murder, mind you. For fraud, forgery, and theft.

This was me in college. I was an A/B student – only one C, thank you very much, and it was in Geology,  a mind-numbing class about rocks.

This photo was taken in 1998 in my office when I served as editor of the university newspaper. Behind my head on the wall is a poster of Jon Bon Jovi. To my right, on the shelf, is a framed photo of Chuck and me. I was the student who got up early to exercise, rode my bike to campus, hung out in the newsroom when I had free time, and studied hard for every exam. In addition to the newspaper, I also worked part-time at the front desk of a local hotel, an ideal job for a college student because I could study when not helping guests. I had nary a blemish on my record.

Imagine my disbelief, then, when I was called in to the Murfreesboro Police Department for questioning. I had no clue why I’d been contacted, so I started recounting my steps for weeks and months on end. Had I gone somewhere? Had I seen something? Had I done something? Why do police officers look so scary in interview rooms? 

I sat down at the table and the two male officers looked back at me. I remember clearly a distinct silence before a file was opened and one of the officers took a breath to speak.

“Do you know why we wanted to talk to you?”

I either shook my head or said no.

The officer read my address to me and asked if I lived in that particular apartment. I said I did. (As a reward for earning the editor position, I moved off campus into my own one-bedroom apartment. The rent was $390 per month and my cat, Precious, was able to live with me.) He asked how long I’d lived in that apartment, and at the time, it had been less than a year.

Then he placed in front of me a series of checks written out to various stores in the local mall. They weren’t checks from my bank account, and my name wasn’t on any of them. He asked if I recognized the checks, and I said no.

He asked, “Are you sure?”

I examined them more closely. They belonged to a woman, evident by the printed name in the top left-hand corner, and they’d been filled out by a woman, evident by the big, loopy cursive handwriting. Still, they weren’t mine, nor were they filled out by me. I either shook my head or said no.

The officer explained that a box of checks had been delivered to my apartment – or rather, the metal mailbox associated with my apartment located at the front of the complex.

“I don’t use that mailbox,” I said. Relief washed over me. “The lock doesn’t work so the door just hangs open. I only use my campus mailbox.”

Another bout of silence.

“Only junk mail gets delivered to the apartment. I don’t use that mailbox. I don’t even check it.”

My relief faded. I realized that whether or not I used the mailbox for my own mail didn’t matter. If a box of blank checks had been delivered there, in theory, I still could’ve taken them and used them.

“I didn’t take the checks. I didn’t do this.”

The checks were collected and set aside, and a blank notepad and pen were placed in front of me. I was to sign my name several times, then sign the name of the person whose name had been forged.

A handwriting sample.

This was the real deal. I was a suspect in a crime. (Cue Law & Order gavel.)

I panicked as I started to sign my own name because I was certain they’d doubt me. As a 20-year-old creative person, my signature was known to change shape. It depended on my mood, my effort, the time I had to sign something. Sometimes it was coiled and messy, other times it was neat and professional.

I endeavored to sign my name authentically. Then, I moved on to the stranger’s name. I signed it over and over again, each on a new line, then I pushed the notepad back across the table so the police officer could inspect it.

Then he said something I will never forget.

“I have to say – this looks very similar.”

He brought the checks back to the center of the table and placed the notepad next to them. Yes, they looked similar, in that twirling, spiraling way every girl’s handwriting looks similar at 20 years old. My heart pounded.

“I didn’t take those checks. It wasn’t me.

While I have no idea what I looked like sitting at that table, I’m confident I looked a mess. I’ve never been able to hide my emotions. What you see is what you get. Surely, they could’ve interpreted my fear as guilt. The truth was that I wanted to cry and call my parents. 

Then, I looked at the dates on the checks and thought of my work schedule at the hotel. Suddenly, it occurred to me that my time could be accounted for. 

“You can look at my time cards,” I offered, “at the hotel. I’m sure I was working on those days.”

I went on to recount my work schedule, knowing my time cards would validate that I was seated at the front desk on the clock when the real thief was clothes shopping with someone else’s money. I gave them my boss’ name and number and told them to verify that what I was saying was true.

They let me go with the warning that if my time couldn’t be accounted for I would be contacted again. 

Thankfully, my boss provided the life-saving time cards that coincided with the dates written on the stolen checks. I was both grateful my name had been cleared and mortified that it had been associated with a crime in the first place.

I never heard from the police again.

The last thing I did was call the leasing office at the apartment complex to tell them what hell I’d just been through and to get the dang lock fixed on my mailbox.

A year and a half later, when I moved out of the apartment, the lock was still broken and the mailbox continued to be stuffed with junk mail address to “Current Resident.”

16 Things I Learned in 2016

Over the last week, and then again today while on a run, I sorted through 2016 and whittled down a collection of lessons I’ve learned in the last year. I’ve never been keen on setting resolutions, but in recent years I’ve worked hard to be mindful of my mistakes and efforted not to repeat them. I look critically at myself, at how I’ve behaved, at things I’ve said, and resolved, in a way, not to repeat them when they’ve not been helpful. I fail, of course, like we all do, but I endeavor to be better anyway.

2016 was a mostly good year for our family. Last night during dinner we went around naming the things we loved – from the boys turning 10 and 13, to Jeremy getting his first deer, to our anniversary trip to Key West and the unmatched experience at Lambeau Field. In 2016, I started teaching at the homeschool co-op, and I ran a relay race in April and got my 15th medal at a half marathon in December. I spent a long, pensive weekend at a monastery in July and had photo sessions in the double digits. Jeremy saved up his own money to buy an iPod, rode roller coasters with his brother at Hershey Park, and Jackson saw firsthand what it might be like to be a sports statistician.  Chuck has excelled in his job too, though I cannot disclose those details here. Just know that he continues to be amazing.

So yeah, 2016 was mostly very good. I am thankful, but I am also watchful. There are always areas in which to improve and grow. With that, here are 16 things I learned in 2016:

No. 1 Parenting evolves. We have a teenager in the house now. A baby teenager, but a teenager nonetheless. We are now in constant negotiations with Jeremy over what we allow, what we don’t, what will benefit him, what won’t. Chuck and I talk regularly about how things are changing with our oldest son, comparing how it was when we were 13, comparing how it is with other teenagers we know. We are doing our best, I am sure, but long gone are the days of nap times and lessons about sharing.

No. 2 But it also stays the same. Regardless of the boys’ age and stage, the Miller House Rules are the same as ever: Family first, be kind to everyone, work hard, do your best, tell the truth. Obey Mom and Dad, and remember that privileges are earned, not freely given. There is nothing you can do to lose our love, but you will probably never know the WiFi password.

No. 3 Faith evolves. It is good to have your faith challenged, even when the process is painful and seemingly unending. Read books that challenge your ideas and be in conversation with others who believe differently than you. I have never lost my faith, but it has evolved a dozen times. Each time I’m stretched and twisted, and even when I’ve recoiled, I settle into a deeper understanding of what it means to follow Christ.

No. 4 But God stays the same. It is humbling and reassuring to know that God sees me, hears me, knows me, and still loves me. If I know nothing else, then this must be enough.

No. 5 We are not promised time. Death is a curious, cruel thing, and when those we love pass on from this world, death seems to linger and take up space where it is not wanted. Several friends have lost parents, siblings, and children in the last few years, reminding me again and again that we are not promised a single moment beyond right now. When we live like we have endless time we deceive ourselves. Better to look at the truth of our mortality and make decisions accordingly. For example…

No. 6 Don’t waste time. Don’t waste time on bad television, bad company, and bad food. Read good books, and drink good coffee. Choose friendships that have reciprocal benefits and strive to keep those friendships thriving. Work hard and play harder. Take care of yourself. Take care of your kids. Take care of your spouse. Travel and exercise and get enough sleep. These things are time well spent.

No. 7 It’s okay to say no. The older I get, the more emboldened I feel to say no. Saying no means several things, such as “If I say yes, then I’m overcommitted and I can’t keep doing that anymore,” and “I don’t feel the way you do about this thing, so I need to say no,” and “This doesn’t align with my priorities, so I’m saying no.” Saying no doesn’t mean you’re a curmudgeon or that you’re selfish or that you think your time is more important than someone else’s. It just means you are careful with your time, that you don’t have endless talents and efforts to spread around thinly. Invest your whole self where you can, where you desire to, and say no to the rest. IT’S OKAY.

No. 8 My body is different now. For someone who’s struggled with body dysmorphia for more than 20 years, this is a hard truth to swallow. I still run, lift, stretch, and sweat, and I am thankful that I can still do these things, but my body is not what it was even five years ago. It is more important than ever that I’m careful, watchful. It is essential that I eat well, that I rest when my body begs for it, that I remain thankful for all of my abilities, even though I’m not as fast as I want to be, as skinny as I want to be, as strong as I want to be. Health is a multi-faceted thing, and today, I am healthy.

No. 9 Yoga is amazing. Once I finally committed to a regular yoga practice and was over the hump of it being “too hard,” I fell in love. I love yoga. I LOVE YOGA. I am thankful for the online resources that afford me a variety of practices so I never get bored. I am also glad that I finally bought a mat. Yoga on a mat is better than yoga on carpet. But yoga on carpet is better than no yoga at all. You heard it here first.

No. 10 I don’t want to give up on being published. There is much to say on this matter, but this isn’t the place. I am still writing. I am still working. The dream is a plan. I covet your support.

No. 11 I love teaching. This is one of the surprising realizations of 2016. When I submitted an idea to teach creative writing at our homeschool co-op, it was done with grandiose ideas and a tiny bit of confidence. Now, a full semester later, heading into the next semester with two classes instead of one, I am pleased as punch to say that I love teaching. It’s an unexpected treasure to discover you enjoy something.

No. 12 I do not value my skills as much as I should, and I’m primarily referencing photography. I am the queen of underpricing and overdelivering. Oh, how I wish I could set rates that reflect what I provide! If the money didn’t matter, I’d do it all for free. But the money does matter, so it’s something I need to fix. If any of these are actual resolutions, then this is one.

No. 13 Personal relationships are more important than politics. More surprising that Donald Trump’s presidential win was the splitting and fracturing of personal relationships in the brutal aftermath. While my family is still in tact, I know families and friendships that aren’t. It grieves me deeply, and while some may argue “principles over people,” I believe the greatest principle is to love one another. After all, when we are struggling, we don’t call Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. We call our people. So yeah, don’t break up with your people.

No. 14 My husband really loves me. If you know us in real life, then you are shaking your head. Silly girl, of course he loves you! This isn’t a realization I came to suddenly, nor did it only materialize this year. We have more than 20 years in the books, which means I’ve been on the receiving end of many gifts, gestures, and many more I love yous. Still, there’ve been a dozen times in 2016 alone where I saw my husband as more than a spouse. We really are friends. Best friends. We love being together. As introverts, we love our time alone, but when we’re ready for conversation, we often choose each other. We love to travel together, to daydream and make plans. I am immensely grateful.

No. 15 Teaching my boys to serve is worthwhile. Regular volunteer work is as important as school. Maybe more important. Do it, do it, do it.

No. 16 No matter what happens in 2017, life is good as long as we choose to find the good. We do well to remember that.

One foot at home, one foot in the Abbey

It has been terrifically challenging to fold back into day-to-day life after three days at the Abbey. I know – the math of that statement doesn’t make sense. Three whole days versus my entire life? Nonsensical.

And yet, that’s how I feel. Each day has been a careful step into what I hope will be my new normal. Less noise, more quiet. Less indulgent, more intention. Fewer complaints, more careful with my words. All of these disciplines are challenging because I’m not a single person who lives alone and has control over most of my environment. I’m an active member of a busy family so I have to make sure whatever habits I start will mesh with the vibe of the house.

For example, my “no noise until 10 a.m.” rule is working beautifully. When we start school in a couple of weeks, we’ll move it to 9 a.m. The boys have learned to move about the house a bit more quietly in the mornings, which I appreciate.

Though I’ve gotten back on Facebook a few times, I still do not have the app on my phone, nor do I plan to put it back on my phone. I am doing my best to limit Twitter, but with election season and all… It’s hard. The negativity is so strong, but the information is so good.

Television is… noisy. Still not fully integrated there.

Instead of busying my mind with what’s going on outside these walls, I’m readying the boys and myself for the school year. I’m editing the book and preparing for the literature and creative writing class I’m teaching at our co-op. We’re signing up for fall sports and volunteer work, and I’m thinking about what race to run this fall.

There’s plenty to focus on, like these two cuties who sit at my feet while I type.

Major and Sam July 2016

I did not expect the Abbey to leave this deep of an impression on me, but I’m not mad about it. Tomorrow is my birthday. Year 38. I’m curious to know if any new habits or disciplines will positively affect the course or outcome of the next 12 months. This time last year I was very down about all the rejection letters I’d received from literary agents. Though they were plump full of compliments and constructive criticism, they were rejections still. (My sweet husband planned the most fantastic birthday surprise ever and it was just the boost I needed.)

birthday surprise 2015

This week, I’m taking it slow. I’m listening and watching. I’ll be writing query letters again soon, and it’s quite possible that I’ll endure another painful round of rejections in 2017.

Or, maybe not.

Whatever happens in Year 38, I’m going into it with my eyes and ears open. A lot can happen when you pay attention.

Jennie Creates an Attitude Adjustment

We’re a month into summer and something is wrong. I’m moody, irritated, and wishing electronics didn’t exist. I’ve been moping around the house disappointed, watching trash TV and eating chips from the bag, even though I couldn’t nail down exactly what I’ve been disappointed about.

Only this morning did I realize what’s been bothering me, and I’m ashamed to say it’s nothing new: Simply, expectation met reality. 

This basic equation sums up every level of disappointment one can have. You expect something to be one way, then it turns out another.

For example:

Expectation: By June, I thought I would’ve spent more time working on my novel.
Reality: In the month of May, I only worked on it twice.

Expectation: I thought the boys would spend most of the day outside with neighborhood friends.
Reality: One set of kids is out of town for several weeks, the second set of kids has a series of sports commitments, and the third set of kids spends most days with their grandparents. That leaves Jeremy and Jackson with only each other.  And what happens when two siblings have been around each other so much that they are on each other’s last nerve? Mom becomes a hostage negotiator.

DSC_0103 low res

Expectation: With more free time, I thought I’d be back to running five or six miles, maybe more, by mid-June.
Reality: It’s too damn hot. I ran four miles on the treadmill the other night. It was fine, I guess…

Expectation: Lots of photo sessions, lots of fun!
Reality: My 2009 iMac is starting to run slow and it makes me panic. Uploading and editing photos gives me physical and emotional anxiety. I have no backup plan to replace hardware or programs if this computer chokes and dies tomorrow. Now that I’ve released this negativity into the Internet, I’ve jinxed myself and the computer will for sure die.

Expectation: Lots of freelance work, extra money!
Reality: Writing doesn’t pay well. It will never pay well. And if I’m working on freelance, I’m not working on the novel. Catch 22.

Expectation: Without school work to worry about, the boys will be footloose and fancy free with all the time in the world to play.
Reality: Their default setting is video games. I hate it. Two hours a day still feels like too much time with the screen. It is my least favorite conversation to have with them and we have it every single day. 

See, none of this is innately bad. No one is sick, no one hurt. We are blessed with opportunity, freedom, and choice. ALL GOOD. And yet, I’ve let high expectations override common sense and stir me into discontent.

Which brings me to this morning. I checked myself at the bedside: Life is good, but dang, girl, lower your expectations. Brothers will fight, freelance work will always be tedious, and it will be hot until mid-September. Playing extra video games in the summer will not kill the children. If the computer dies, you cancel photo sessions. Will you be upset? Yes. Will you cry? Probably. Will it be the end of things? No. You aren’t the breadwinner here.

And by God, do the yoga. You always feel better after the yoga.

deepen flow yoga

Which is what I did. I made some phone calls and then did half an hour of yoga (click on the photo above to watch the sequence). Refreshed, I washed my face and emerged from the bedroom ready to start the day with a different attitude. As I type, I am actively trying to push aside the disappointment and focus on the good. THERE IS MUCH GOOD TO FOCUS ON, and if I can continue to dwell in this space, then summer won’t be so bad after all.

Also, more of this please. #PubNight

Night at the pub

Update on Novel No. 2

At least once a week, sometimes more, someone asks me, “So how’s your novel going?”

Here are all the things I don’t say: 

“It’s going really well! I’m so pleased with my work.”

or “Oh, everything is just falling into place perfectly. I couldn’t be happier.”

or “Every night is another chapter!”

or “My character development is spot on and the plot has no holes.  Yippee!”

or “I got an agent and I’ve signed a book deal! Keep your eyes peeled!”

Instead, I smile and don’t cry and say, “Fine, thank you.”

Which is the truth. It’s going fine. It’s not horrible, but it’s not fantastic. I have days when I get a lot of writing done and I feel good about the direction I’m heading. I have days when I talk to another writer and feel encouraged because I’m not alone. I have days when God provides me little bits of providence that confirm that I’m taking all the right next steps. Those are the best days.

But I also have days when I feel like the crappiest writer in the world, that I’m a dreamer with zero talent, and I have no business trying to write fiction at all. AT ALL. I feel like a fraud. Those are the worst days. 

I don’t intend to share plot details publicly, but I will say that this second novel is different from the first for several reasons. I’ve changed the point of view from third to first. The main character is not endearing, and the story is a single plot, not a dual one. The writing is tighter and cleaner, a task that is much harder than I initially thought it would be. I don’t love this story more or less than the first one. Simply, it is different. The two novels are unrelated to one another.

Here’s what keeps me going: 

  1. There is an agent waiting for this novel, so I will not let her down.
  2. There is a story to tell and it must be told by me.
  3. I would not forgive myself if I quit now.
  4. When I hit a low moment and want to quit, providence steps in to convince me otherwise. (One day I will make these events public, but for now I’m savoring them and keeping them close.)

Here’s what will help me: 

  1. Some time away. My children are lovely but they are hugely distracting. This is why writers retreat and hibernate. I never needed hibernation in journalism, but for fiction writing, I do. There is a monastery in Kentucky that allows guests for week-long and weekend retreats. Two people have suggested this place to me, so it’s on my radar. I’m thinking springtime.
  2. A break. This one I need to give myself. If I could find the secret serum to CHILLING OUT and resting my own brain, I would benefit tremendously. Currently, my coping mechanisms include running, reading, and wine. What’s missing is a good night’s sleep.
  3. Your continued encouragement. I remain in a constant state of bewilderment that so many people have faith in me. Really, it leaves me speechless and uncomfortable in the most magnificent way. Thank you, and please don’t stop.

Jaw-dropping start to 37

I didn’t have a whiff of anything regarding my birthday until a random email came through in mid-July confirming Major’s boarding reservation for August 1. I didn’t arrange to have him boarded and it would’ve been strange if Chuck had, so I asked him about it. Obviously, I didn’t want to pay for a faux reservation.

The snowball had begun. Yes, Chuck made a reservation for Major and no, I wasn’t supposed to know about it. Dang those helpful automated emails.

Chuck wouldn’t budge on information. Are we going somewhere? Just for the day or for the weekend? Is is nearby? Is it far? Who’s going? All four of us? Just us? Just me?

Nada. He said absolutely nothing, except, “It’s something you want and something you need.”

I pestered him for weeks and got no answers. I texted Corey. She didn’t have a clue. Lesli didn’t know either. I didn’t ask other friends because why would they know anything either? I nearly asked around at church, but that could get annoying. So, I just waited for August 1.

Chuck told me what to pack. We were headed west and I needed a bathing suit and something nice to wear to dinner. I grabbed a book to read in the car. I was a good, patient little birthday girl.

We took this photo leaving our driveway.

On our way August 1

We were going to Nashville, a small detail he finally disclosed. But what were we going to do there? It almost didn’t matter because spending alone time with my husband is a favorite hobby of mine. I settled in with a book and then I made Chuck listen to a podcast about The Goldfinch. It passed the time.

His phone dinged a few times. A co-worker was texting, he said. He checked his watch occasionally. We arrived downtown and I had to use the bathroom immediately. There was a line outside Biscuit Love, a restaurant in the Gulch. Were we going there? What’s that line for? I raced into a nearby restaurant to use the bathroom, then headed across the street to where the people were. We surpassed the line – was this rude? Shouldn’t we wait in line too, I asked him. Nope, he said. Inside we went.

Jaw drop

I know these people

I saw a face I recognized, and then another, and then another. Six whole faces of people I love. They stood there taking pictures of me with their phones, laughing at my jaw on the floor. Corey, Karin, Amy, Kathryn, Lesli and Susan. And then there was Chuck, beaming. He wouldn’t be staying in Nashville but rather dropping me off. I pulled him into a hug and cried. None of this I deserved.

Biscuit Love

What’s a girl to do? I have more than one hundred years of combined friendship with these people. Corey, friends since 1991, when she took a chance on the shy new eighth grader in the church youth group. Then Kathryn, friends since 1993, when tenth grade was especially hard at a new school and she provided all the comic relief and support I could need. Good grief, the stories she could tell! Then came Lesli and Susan in 1998, forming a trio of friendship that is completely irreplaceable. I met Amy in 2000 when one of Chuck’s best friends made an awesome choice for a girlfriend (and eventually married her). Karin showed up in 2001 when I took a new job and we became friends at first sight. That kind of magic doesn’t happen everyday.

And then there’s Chuck, together since 1996 – post-Corey and Kathryn, pre-everyone else – he learned early on that my friendships were invaluable to me. They are the family I choose, and though it was a road we had to navigate in those early years of marriage, today it’s a no-brainer. These women make me better, and he thought it was the best gift he could give me.

Kisses from the Master planner

Once I stopped crying, we sat down to eat. Afterward we went to the hotel where Chuck had made arrangements for us and then he kissed me goodbye, leaving me in their hands. I cried again. That man. I swear.

The rest of the day was lovely. Hot-tubbing, dinner at Husk, wine after. Lots of laughing and talking and enjoying each other’s company. My cup runneth over, and more.

Elevator selfie

Dinner at Husk

Cabbing it

Matching clutches

The only negative – and I wouldn’t mention it if it didn’t explain how the weekend ended – was that I must have eaten something that didn’t agree with me because I spent most of the early morning hugging the toilet. No, friends, it wasn’t a hangover. It was food-related, so come morning I was pale and weak and craving my own bed. I really wanted to see Trainwreck and grab one more meal with these women, but physically, I just couldn’t. I cried over that too.

Goodbye selfe

There aren’t words to describe how grateful I feel. All the planning, the details, the sacrifice, the time… This was less about celebrating my birthday and more about celebrating the longevity of these relationships. They’ve ebbed and flowed for all the obvious reasons – moving, jobs, kids, illness, whatever. But all the lines are still open, still being nurtured, still hanging on. Because even though Chuck is my cornerstone, life isn’t fully lived without friends like these.

So thank you, everyone. I’m completely overcome.

The last week of 36

As my birthday approaches, I’ve been pensive about life. Does anyone else get that way? All self-evaluating and introspective? I’ve been particularly self-aware of who I was a decade ago and it’s humiliating how sure of myself I was in my 20s. I knew it all, I said a bunch of crap out loud that would mortify me today, and years later I sit with all this regret over the word vomit I had on a myriad of topics. I owe many people a slew of apologies.

But let’s look forward. Or rather, let’s look at today. For reference, these are the things 20-Something Me thought would be fully settled by my 30s:

  1. I’d no longer worry about my weight. Confidence would overflow. All that self-esteem garbage would disappear with maturity.
  2. My writing career would not only be well-established but also easily maintained. I mean, after all this time, right?
  3. Financial security. Nothing specific, just secure. No worries.
  4. Unshakeable political and religious beliefs. Rock solid, they were. Rock solid.
  5. Easy parenting since we have boys! No girls means no drama. Whew!

Now that we’ve had a good eye roll, here is the reality check:

  1. My body dysmorphia is the burden I will likely carry for the rest of my life. I’ve accepted this. It will never go away but instead be managed. Some days are better than others. Some days I run, some days I eat Oreos. I try to be kind to myself either way.
  2. I write because I love it. If I get paid for writing, glory be. If I don’t, that’s okay. Obviously, I prefer to be paid, which brings us to #3.
  3. Thank goodness my husband has the skills to pay the bills because clearly I do not. This is what happens when you marry a creative person. (Sorry, babe.) We’ve made good decisions and bad decisions, and this year we decided to get braces for both boys (goodbye, anniversary trip.) Money comes in, money goes out. Such is life.
  4. All political and religious beliefs have been shaken and stirred. It’s been the most fantastic ride and I’m thankful for the growing pains. My current state of faith is that God is not done with me yet, and THANK GOODNESS FOR THAT.
  5. Easy parenting? Ha! No one told me that babies turn into preteens. I proceed with caution.

This is my last week of being 36 and I’m actually feeling fine about it. There is much to be thankful for: I’m crazy in love with my husband. We kiss in front of the kids and laugh when they call us disgusting. I have the freedom to write and volunteer and homeschool the boys. I absolutely love where we live. My girlfriends are second to none.

In a moment of my own daydreaming today, Jackson asked me what my birthday wish is and I said, “To be published.”

“Wouldn’t it be great if birthday wishes came true?” he said, then he returned to the book in his lap.

“Oh yes,” I said to no one. “It would be a dream come true.”

When I blow out my 37 imaginary candles this weekend, I will wish for it. Publication, I mean. I’ll wish for it at 11:11 or whenever I blow away a loose eyelash from my fingertip. I’ll always wish for my stories to take flight. But in between that wish and the next one, I’ll try to remind myself of all the reasons life is good anyway.

Me in College, circa 1998

For me, college was primarily about two things: writing and exercise. I was so in love with both that I couldn’t decide which one should be the major and which one should be the minor. I started out as a journalism major with a minor in physiology (with the goal to work in cardiac rehab), but then I switched halfway through and left it that way.

There’s a piece of trivia for you. My bachelor’s degree is in physiology. Looking back, I should have done a double major. It wouldn’t have been hard. Shoulda, coulda, woulda.

Today, not much as changed. I still love writing and much of what I write is concocted while exercising. Both culminate in the mind. They are the methods of exertion I use when I need to burn energy, be it physical or creative. They give me such satisfaction that when I’m done with either I feel as if I’ve accomplished something magnificent, something only I could achieve.

Looking at this photo, I can tell you exactly where I was and where I had just been (or perhaps where I was about to go). It was taken in the hallway outside the Sidelines newsroom in the James Union Building. I had stopped by either after exercising or just beforehand. You know how women walk around in workout clothes all the time now? Whether they are going to yoga or not going to yoga, whether or not they even exercise at all? That was pretty much how I looked throughout my four-year college career, because in between editorial meetings and Kinesiology class, I was at the Rec Center or logging miles down Main Street.

So yeah, this is me in college. Totally. Writer and runner. I’m nothing if not consistent.

jennie in college 1998

Throwback to my last tattoo

It’s been three years since my last tattoo, so that tells me it’s time for another. (Tomorrow!)

Integrity Tattoo

The quill was an obvious choice – a nod to my passion, imprinted on my writing arm. In hindsight, I wish it was bigger, but that means I have space for other things.


Throwback to Glamour Shots

I was a senior in high school and one of Chuck’s sister’s friends ran the Glamour Shots studio in town. She was in need of a model so I agreed to do it.

TBT Glamour Shots

You have to know that I was anything but a model in high school. I didn’t wear makeup, rarely styled my hair, and wore baggy, rugged clothes (as you can see in the photo). Chuck and I spent our weekends hiking, and if we dressed up to go to dinner, then it must have been for prom.

I have an entire collection of Glamour Shots photos from this experience and I’d show them to you if I could. Unfortunately, Chuck was the second model in that session and I’d be a single woman if I put them on the internet.