Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Six Books A-Reading

I love books and I love to read. I'm just not a linear reader.

What, you ask, does that mean? Well, I can't seem to read one book at a time. At any given moment in my life, I have up to six books scattered between my nightstand and side table next to my reading chair.

Why is that? Well, I've asked myself the same question. And this December I think I've come up with a reply.

My mood.

Have you ever started a book and it didn't click with you? Or have you read all the way through and not truly found much satisfaction? Have you perhaps re-read or re-started that same book at another time only to discover a completely different experience? Well, I have. I've started and/or read books that have been "okay" or "bleaky" only to re-read them and discover a great enjoyment ... a completely different story even.

But it's the same material. I'm the same person. Why did it gel this time and not the time before?

I've come to the conclusion that reading, being such a mind and imagination driven event, is influenced by our mental state. The "place" you are in emotionally influences how you experience the words and story you read.

So ... my "December Six" included Girl on a Train, These Shallow Graves, The Paris Wife, Jessamy, Quiet and Written in my Own Heart's Blood.  It was an eclectic mix and -- in this year's over-scheduled, dreary month of December -- not necessarily the right recipe for my slightly stressed out mental state.

Girl on a Train bugged me -- for about 2/3 of the read -- and it was one of the few books that I seriously contemplated not finishing. But it was rated Best Fiction Book of 2015 and I am not one to toss in the towel. Didn't help that the story was told by a whiny, unlikable primary narrator with a bunch of equally yucky secondary ones. However, it did take the promised Hitchcock-esque turn. I anticipated the ending but overall did find that last 1/3 of the book more satisfying.

But, that's not the only reason I believe I was resistant to the read. It was the dark tone and the depressed narrator and her inability to take control over her life that got to me. Amidst all the pre-Christmas stress as well as an over-scheduled calendar and perpetual rushing about, I couldn't enjoy the book because I couldn't relax into the story. It set me on edge and stressed me out ... not a good bedtime read. Not a good choice for this month,

These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly was picked up by mistake. I'd misread the last name of the author. But when I started, I was drawn in completely by the protagonist and her struggle between the life she had and the life she longed for. The mystery was compelling, the characters fully-drawn and the setting eerie. It had everything I wanted in a book this month.

The Paris Wife is a beautiful dramatization of the story of Hemingway's first wife Hadley and their relationship/life in Paris. Author Paula McClain has a strong sense of these characters and makes them real. But in this tale I am faced with a woman with a lot of drama. She can't seem to determine what she wants, deal with the larger-than-life nature/personality of her husband or do anything about ... well ... anything. I sympathize with her challenges as a post-WWI woman limited by societal norms and I am truly interested in her story. She just has too much angst for me to enjoy the book fully right now. So I read a little and then take a break.

Quiet by Susan Cain is my non-fiction focus.  I really like it. I just read it slowly and absorb what I learn. It address the challenges of life as an introvert amidst this overly-talky world. I'd share more but the Introvert in me won't allow it.

Written in my Own Heart's Blood is the latest Diana Gabaldon. In 2015, I read and re-read her entire Outlander Series and this is the latest ... book 8. And, like the others, it's about 825 pages. I'm stalling not because of related drama -- though it has it in spades in various different and intriguing storylines. I'm stalling because I don't want to read it too fast as the next book isn't out yet and I don't want to lose track of what's happened and be forced to re-read 825 pages to figure it out!

Jessamy is the piece de resistance this December. It offered exactly what I needed, captivating my imagination and giving me moments to escape and find joy in another time and place. The book is out of print now but was a favorite of mine as a young girl. I found a hardcover copy on-line by ... fate, I read it quickly with immense pleasure, tearing up at the end. What a delightful story!

So, that's the moral of this tale. What we enjoy from the written word is intensely personal. It has everything to do with who we are and where we are emotionally and physically at the time we pick up that book. What we dislike at one time may fascinate us at another ... or not.

So if you have a lot of stress, don't pick up something that adds more. Unless that's what you are looking for. Me, I like to escape, discover new places, new ideas and a story that creates a movie in my mind that I could jump into ... perhaps even become one of the characters myself.

Now ... wouldn't that be the ultimate adventure ... Of course, that tale has been written by Jasper Fforde with his Tuesday Next series which began with The Eyre Affair... 

What are you reading? Or not reading ... Think about it.
                                                                                                       -- Jenni


Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Lights In The Darkness

There are certain Christmas Traditions that have depth ... they carry on years after they were first introduced. I'm one who embraces tradition. See, I'm Sentimental that way.

As a young girl, I remember fondly my father driving us around Valparaiso during the holidays to look at the lights and decorations. We'd take several outings throughout the season -- the longest one would take place Christmas Eve after church. All the houses were different. Unique. I liked it best when there was snow too. But the twinkling lights held a certain magic nonetheless.

There's a house near me. It's lit with blue lights and blue light icicles dangle from the roof top. It glows. My daughter asks me to drive by it whenever we are out at night. For some reason, that blue-lit house holds a special fascination for her. She remembers it every Christmas. She calls it "The Blue House."

There are many beautifully decorated homes and businesses near me. Not as many as some years, I'm sorry to say. But enough to enjoy a drive around town with your family to see them. It's low-cost entertainment.

Some people enjoy traveling to up I-75 to Rochester's Main Street to see the streams of colored lights. Others enjoy the elegance of Royal Oak's tree lined downtown decorated with ice blue lights and green balls. It's glorious to see when you're out in the evening.

But there is one house that I make it a point to never miss. My son and I discovered it for the first time a few years ago quite by accident. We were avoiding some construction and opted to drive down Lakeshore Drive in Grosse Pointe on our way home from a rehearsal. At the corner of Moross and Lakeshore is a very festively decorated home ... aglow with a quantity of lights in varying colors that come with an electric bill I certainly wouldn't want to pay. You can read a map sitting beside it!

It's not that house.

It's the next house. There's an expansive lot with a huge lawn. And this lawn is empty -- stark even -- but for one Tree. This tree in the front lawn reaches to the sky with long slender branches. And every single one of those branches is covered glowing white bulbs. Every single branch is lit as if painted with lights. I've never seen anything else like it. And then, to make it glow even brighter, a spotlight shines in it. It's stunning. It stops me in my path. I drove by it last night, turned around and drove past again.

My son and I might just have to take a trip over to try and photograph it. It's breathtaking.

It's amazing to think that a tree devoid of leaves during this particularly dark, dreary December can affect me so. It just goes to show that beauty and wonder can be found all around us when we take the time to open our hearts to it and clear our calendar to experience it. Even in the bleakest, busiest, craziest, most challenging moments there exists a source of Light mightier than the darkness. (Ties in quite nicely with the True Message of this Season, doesn't it?)  Yes, this tree is truly awe-inspiring. Out of the darkness, there is beauty. If only you take the time to see it.

So that's my Christmas Week message to you. Look at the lights. Take a drive by. Stop racing about and checking off your list and choose to find a few moments of wonder. Take time to gaze outside your window and away from your cell phone to encounter beauty in the darkness. No matter what is under your tree or going on in your life -- or the world around us -- there is Light mightier than the darkest night. It's worth your time. And it's magnificent.

My parents are visiting this Christmas. Think I'll take them out for a drive ...

              Merry Christmas to All ... God Bless Us Every One ... 
                                                              and to All A Good Night ... Jenni


Friday, December 18, 2015

Finding The Wonder

I awoke early Wednesday morning, as is my nature, with a little help from my cat. My daughter was asleep beside me -- she'd had a tummy ache and fell asleep with me. I glanced over to her with a smile. Now, you may think that cats have a singular nature and care little for human contact. But cats are just like us ... some like to be alone while others prefer company and the human touch ...

My cat meows to inform me it's "our time." She wants me to turn on the Christmas tree, fix my coffee and settle into my chair so she can climb on my lap and snuggle. There's no distraction. There's no one but us.

She's been a little more adamant this month about Snuggle Time. And, even after I fix her breakfast, she comes back for more. Settling into my lap and wrapping her tail around my arm. And when I brought my computer to my lap to begin this blog, she informed me that was just not acceptable. She sat beside me until I put it down then took her place, afterward climbing onto my footstool for additional caressing.

It's funny how she helps me settle down ... slow down ...

In this Festive time of the year ... that's what Charles Dickens called it in A Christmas Carol ... our focus is scattered. We have lists of things to do and concerts to attend and work to fit in and cookies to bake and projects to complete and wishes to grant. Distracted by the many things on our to do lists and to buy lists, there is a crazy element to driving ... frenetic even. It's scary out there.

As a kid, I don't remember "holiday stress." When did it happen? When did we lose the Joy and the Wonder?

I'm guilty of it. December hit me and brought a sense of Dread ... All these things to do, decorating to accomplish and shopping aka finding the perfect gift for everyone ... no pressure really. Amidst that, there were work events to plan and kids to schlep to their choir practices, piano lessons, swim practices and extra ballet sessions -- and don't get me started on the holiday concerts. I felt more stress and anxiety than Holiday Spirit.

At Christmas, I struggle with the lists. See I like to select that perfect gift for the people important to me. It's not a financial thing ... it's finding something that expresses a feeling or captures a shared passion or reminds me why we are close. And, once in a while I find it ... something I select because I know the person I'm buying for. And the look in their eyes as they unwrap that brightly colored package and see something that means something ... It's one of those moments MasterCard defines correctly as Priceless.

It's a crazy time of year, no matter what Dickens said. And the selfless reason and faith-based aspect of the season gets lost in holiday traffic more times than I care to admit. So Here's my Holiday Wish for you: Do something to find the Wonder ...

I found it recently. How? Well I decided in one of my more stressed-out moments that I needed to find One Moment of Joy & Wonder every single day. Just One. So, I've intentionally taken more time recently to spend with special friends and my parents -- on the phone or face to face as our locations allow. I found Joy laughing at The Muppet Christmas Carol and watching a family friend meet the challenge of a sour Margarita. I found Wonder spending time out on the town eating Mexican food and catching up. I saw Sparkle in the orange glistening on a glass of Blue Moon. I supported my inner child by signing up for a coloring class with another friend after the holidays.

There's a theme here. It's not in what I did but the Moments spent Connecting with people I care for.

I found Holiday Spirit listening to my daughter sing Winter Wonderland while she held my hand in the car. I found Joy & Wonder when my son and I struggled to make bracelets for his Secret Santa and then settled in to watch a Leverage Christmas episode. I found a Smile as my husband coached his Diving Team and cheered on our son's swimming -- and when he decorated the front of the house ... All the lights and evergreen roping. I found a Smile as I spoke with my friend in Chicago as selected an Angel Card for this time. And, I experience true Magic in the traditional trip to see Santa -- a few simple moments with my children while we enjoyed our Starbucks breakfast.

I find Joy catching up with my Family and Friends. I find Wonder presenting a specially selected gift and watching eyes light up in discovery. I find Magic in the look in my cat's eyes as she cuddles with me.

One of my dearest moments each year is crafting my Christmas Email with the photo from the Santa Trip. I just can't get cards done anymore ... but my Christmas Message is full of heart and love and appreciation ... And I think people get that ...

See the Magic of this time of year is not found rushing around. It's found in the simple and special times with People -- and Cats -- who give our life meaning, Joy ... and Wonder.

Merry Christmas to All ... God Bless Us Every One ...
                                                                                              -- Jenni 





Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Off The List: Goin' Rogue with Jessamy

Sorry Ron. I'm going rogue. I know this month the assigned Classic's Challenge reading was a Nobel Prize winner, and I truly was all geared up to read an O'Neill play. I started three, in fact. They just didn't grab me; yet I did intend to press on. But, then I thought and realized that I had read a Nobel winner a few months back (before the assignment was modified to Pulitzer Prize Winner.) And I did both finish that read and post a review. (Click here!) So I decided to choose my own classic this month ... a Jenni Winner. One I would give a prize to, if I could.

As a girl growing in Valparaiso, Indiana, I spent a lot of time at the local library. It was originally a two story yellow-brick building, which expanded as years went on. The upstairs was for adults and the downstairs for children of all ages. I loved the cha-ching sound of the Library Card Machine as it was inserted with a paper card to log the books you took out, leaving that stamp with the due date on the card when was placed in a pocket in the front of the book ... Remember those?

I fondly recall the children's floor. I visited it often and read every single Oz book. I can see them on the stacks even now. I found and checked out every Nancy Drew book available in the 1970s too.

But there was a book I discovered quite by accident when I was 10 years old. It was called Jessamy and written by Barbara Sleigh. And as it was published in 1966, I lovingly bestow is with a "Classic Rating." It may not have earned a Nobel Prize, but since it influenced me and my passion for reading so heavily, I'd give it a nod!

Jessamy is the story of a young orphaned girl shuttled between aunts. But, the summer-time aunt has two children with whooping cough, so she is sequestered away with a friend of the aunt's who is the caretaker of an old house called Posset Place. Jessamy, being a curious but solitary girl, explores the house -- discovering a schoolroom with marks in the cupboard (aka closet). These marks denote the height of all the children in the family who once resided there in 1914. The names and the marks include her own!

This discovery ends up being a time-traveling mechanism, a journey opening the door to family, friendship and mystery.

I read this book many times as a kid. I remember taking it out from the library over and over. I even remember deciding that one day I would name my daughter Jessamy. Well, over time, I forgot all about it ... til my daughter (not named Jessamy by the way) turned 10 and my thoughts turned to this book.

That said, I decided she should read it too! I followed my own footsteps and went to the Royal Oak Public Library. The card catalogs may have changed, but I figured I could find it.

No luck.

Okay, so I would just go to the bookstore and get a copy for her. Couldn't find it at Barnes & Noble. Then, I went on-line to Amazon.com. The discovery was shocking. Oh, I could order it from there ... but at a cost of between $775 - $1000. See, Jessamy had gone out of print.

I was devastated. This book that captured my imagination, shaped my reading direction and led me to the idea of time travel -- an idea Diana Gabaldon continues to foster with her Outlander series -- was not available to my daughter or me any more.

I went to Google and typed frantically, seeking that perfect Christmas present for my daughter. It had to be somewhere! It was then I discovered a heart-warming thing. Jessamy wasn't just a special book to me. It was special to many young girls ... now moms and grown-ups with daughters of their own. The number of comments on Goodreads from women who had read this book and then sought this book on eBay, only to lose it in bidding wars for hundreds of dollars, was fascinating. It was genuinely beautiful to see how a book can touch so many imaginations and hearts ... to see all these people who were drawn to a book that I loved so much.

Angels must have been on my side, though. At one point, I typed in Jessamy and there, amongst the images, was a lovely pink dress. Distracted for a moment.I clicked on the image and somehow -- I can't honestly say exactly how -- it took me to an Etsy Shop where a woman clothing designer from Hawaii had posted a hardcover copy of Jessamy at the "affordable" (well affordable when you consider the current going rate at Amazon.com) of $50. It was a discarded book from the local elementary school. And, after one week in transit, this hardcover copy is now sitting safely on my reading table.

A Classic Book holds up over time. And as I turned the final page this morning to complete this re-read, I had tears in my eyes. It's a beautiful story ... and it's about more than time travel. It's about a journey to self-acceptance, friendship, family, and choosing to live and find joy around every corner.

So, Ron, I hope you will give me credit for O'Neill's Mourning Becomes Electra -- which I read and wrote a Term Paper on my senior year at Albion College, Hemingway's To Have and Have Not  --which I read this spring, and Sartre's Les Jeux Sont Fait which I read in the original French in college.

I'm sorry more young girls won't have a chance to read Jessamy. But my daughter will. It may not be a Nobel Prize winner, but it's a Prize to me. A prize winner that will be part of my family Forever, sparking imaginations on and on ... for generations to come ...
                                                                                                                   -- Jenni



Saturday, November 14, 2015

Shine Your Light

Paris is bleeding and my heart is broken.

The beautiful City of Lights is darkened today by tragedy and destructive acts of violence. By black hatred.

There is nowhere on this planet that I have dreamed of more often than Paris ... its sites beckon me. I so long to walk by the Seine, browse the beauty of the Louvre, and sit in a street cafe to watch the artists of Montmatre near that place in Paris most dear to me ... Sacre Coeur. A poster of this white church once held a place of honor in my childhood bedroom.

But today, as I awoke to tales of horror and hate, the beauty of my dream is stained. And my spirit cries out against the senselessness and the cowardly actions of individuals bent on destruction.

When did violence become the answer? When did cruelty become the choice to influence change? And when did killing become an acceptable action to place upon a "to do list"?

There is so much hate surrounding us ... so much intolerance and self-righteousness. So much finger-pointing and condemnation of differences. I am crying as I type and think of parents who have lost children ... and children who must push on without parents. Of the loss of lives in a war of hate that no one is winning. I think of a nation devastated by the echo of bombs and gunshots and wonder what we have come to that this has become so commonplace.

I don't understand. Oh, I realize I am naive. But Please ... someone tell me how we've allowed our difference to become loathing, treatable only by acts of violence and suicide bombers. When did Peace and Cooperation fall victim ... and how did we allow that to happen? What do organizations like ISIS want to create? Or do they seek only to destroy? What do they want us to hear? How did they get to a place where cruelty is mistaken as the only way to create change? Why do they choose Hate?

I don't face such extreme violence. I don't hold onto that kind of Hate. But, I do struggle with the affects of Hatred and Unkindness, like everyone else I'm sure. Mind, the violence I face doesn't compare to what happend on the streets of Paris -- it exists more on an emotional level -- yet it affects me nonetheless. Disdain, dismissiveness or perceived unkindness from others has its affects on my spirit. A thoughtless act or word that that resulted in a breakdown in a relationship or something even worse. I struggle with difficult moments and people who have perhaps blasted holes in my heart. They had their reasons. Their agenda. But my response is a choice. Do I return cruelty for cruelty? Hate for Hate? Am I unkind when someone is unkind to me? Am I self-righteous? And what is the result of my actions?

The other morning as I read my Daily Bread Bible lesson, the writer discussed dealing with difficult people. We all have them ... the people we just don't gel with or the people who we've had a falling out with. People who dislike us because we may have wronged them at one time, unintentionally even. People who we don't see eye to eye with and may never find common ground.

How do we choose to deal with such individuals? With violence and cruelty? By avoiding eye contact and steering clear? By gossip or bullets? By bombs and bloodshed?

After reading this message the other day, I decided to take a different route with someone with whom I've had "issues." I've decided that silence and avoidance are not what I want. That differences are just that and not everyone may be my best friend but I can choose kindness.

See there is beauty in even the most difficult person if we can get past our own issues to discover it. The painful energy they are giving out may be reflective of some deeper pain they are feeling. Perhaps it is something they are struggling with ... a demon of their own which we know nothing about.

Romans 12:18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

So, after months of silence, I spoke. I initiated contact. I reached out. Twice. I planted the seeds. And, I moved past the past, feeling lighter as the healing energy surged through my spirit. I chose to shine my light instead of hide it under a bushel ... I chose to make peace instead of flame the fire of separation.

Perhaps the play I'm in right now influenced me. For my character personally, it's about forgiveness. Not forgiveness of others, but forgiveness and acceptance of my own self for all my limitations and losses. For me, it's about reaching out and accepting the light and love of others. It's about renewal. It's about discovering that who I am and what I offer is enough ... and beautiful in and of itself. And it's about Shining My Light for others and offering them the same opportunity.

Self-Love. Acceptance. Forgiveness. Wait, that's what I need too. I have much in common with my character of Rose ... 

We spend so much time in the Darkness, judging ourselves and others. Condemning and complaining. Firing bullets -- literal and figurative -- at others to deflate them and lesson them in our eyes. To make us bigger and them smaller. To break them down so we can rise higher.

Today, I shine my light toward Paris. Toward those broken who have chosen hate and those victims of that hate. And I shine my light toward those who may have once hurt me ... or whom I may have inadvertently or even intentionally once hurt. 

My heart bleeds for Paris and all those who have lost in this sea of dark violence shadowing our planet. I pray for peace. I pray we can find a way past this hatred. I pray we can find a way to shine our lights, different as they may be, to create beauty instead of hate.

And I pray that Paris can find its light again ... 
                                                                                                      -- Jenni





Saturday, November 7, 2015

Take The Time Today

Today, I am baking an apple pie. It's 1:07pm -- as I begin this post -- and I have already snuggled with my cat, caught up with my son, stripped beds of sheets, done two loads of laundry, purchased necessary items for that same son at the local CVS, swept my kitchen floor and attended two funerals.

It's the last one that made the decision of what I'm doing this afternoon. It's the last one on that "done" list that inspired me to bake a pie.

I'm still wearing my dressy clothes as I type -- my Angel open heart necklace, skirt, tights, heels and dressy blouse. I swept the hard-wood floor and launched the second load of laundry in my dressy church clothes. Feel a bit like Donna Reed.

To tell the truth, I've already had a challenging week and I will admit to some weariness. I'm in a play. We have had a busy tech week. I wear two hair pieces, spend over an hour getting them on and my head is sore. Whereas some may choose to spend the weekend after such hecticness lounging in front of the TV, I am baking a pie. Or, I will be once I finish this post.

Today I said goodbye and honored the life of a lovely soul who lost her battle with pancreatic cancer. But before that, I attended a funeral on the other side of town to support a coworker who lost her father. And on Monday, I will bid farewell to a theatre friend -- one who actually once gave me the opportunity to direct him in what turned out to be the last musical he performed at my local community theatre -- who also lost a battle to cancer. I am sad at the loss of so many beautiful spirits ... and hopeful they have a place on the stage, at the card table, or in the choir in a heavenly realm in their new shiny, transformed state.

Life happens. We get busy. Our priorities shift from caring about the people around us to "getting stuff done." We allow ourselves to feel hassled. We shut down and shut out.

Today as I sat in the church next to a very dear and very important friend of mine, I found perspective. I was truly blessed as I listened to a song my friend Conny recorded that she wanted shared in her Celebration of Life ... it was her taking the time to say Thank You to the people important to her. What am amazing message. See none of us knows how much time we are allowed on this planet. So we should make the most of it ... and we should remind the people who are important to us that they hold a place of honor in our hearts.

We should tell the people we enjoy spending time with how much we enjoy them ... whether our time together is limited or lengthy. We should make time for the "important" things, and let the rest go.

So, amidst the rushing, I have taken more time lately to bake cookies and snacks for my kids. I even made a great sacrifice and spent a couple hours last week catching up with a friend I hadn't had time to get together with in a month. I graciously helped her 'break in'  her new hot tub.

I messaged a friend who lives far away.

I made time to get dinner or a drink with friends who are important to me ... amidst our crazy schedules.

I have straightened my kids rooms and dressed my daughter's dolls up simply to see the resulting smiles -- and enjoyed doing it too.

And now, with this post, I speak words I don't always take the time to express. In case you don't know this ...

You are important to me.

And because I care and I don't know how much time I have to make a difference on this planet, I will reach out. I will send light. I will care for those who are important to me with unconditional acceptance and no expectations.

Whether we are gathered around the dinner table or have an evening once a week to lounge and watch TV or grab lunch in between yoga and picking up kids or take a few minutes over a cup of tea to talk politics or get a beer at the bar ... each moment was important to me because you -- the people I spent those times with -- are vital to me ...

You bring sunshine and joy to my heart. You challenge my thinking. You help me grow. You teach me things and give me more than I can ever express ...

Whether we took a walk and laughed or chatted on the phone across the miles or shared stories over knitting needles or took a drive ... I enjoyed the moments we shared. Whether you gave me a Valentine or took dance classes with me or performed with me in a show ... You gave me something in that moment. And you continue to give meaning to my life. Thank YOU for taking time to share with me.

When I was in fourth grade, my best friend Sheila Stratton and I listened to a 45 called Thank You For Being A Friend ... It was sung by Andrew Gold. Some of you may remember it ...

Thank you for being a friend
Traveled down the road and back again
your heart is true you're a pal and a confidant
I'm not aschamed to say
I hope it always will stay this way
My hat is off, won't you stand up and take a bow...

Oh there's more to it. I'm sure iTunes has the song, if you're curious. But for now, I just want to thank you for the moments -- large, small, intense, passionate, quiet, simple, theatrical, etc. Thank you for making time for me. Thank you for choosing to spend your busy days or evenings with me. Thank you for your text of encouragement or the call just to say hello. Thank you for the Angel Card. Thank you for dinner and listening ... thank you for sharing.

You give meaning to my life ... you are special ... I enjoy you and whatever time we get ... I treasure you and our times together.

Now ... I need to go and bake that pie ...
                                                                                                -- Jenni



Monday, November 2, 2015

Share The Road!

I reside in a small-big town in the Midwest. Small enough to run into people you know at the grocery store or walking down the street. But large enough to boast at least 4 McDonald's and a few places you can blend in and disappear to when you want some quiet anonymity.

Recently my small-big town added bike lanes to its streets. They are highly confusing things believe me.

Sometimes there is a line with a symbol beside it.

At first I mistakenly thought the lane "lined off" was the bike lane. Silly me. Here I am riding along merrily in my own little world, protected from those mean old cars ... until I nearly ran into a parked car. Oops.

Point of Order: Why do you need a line if the symbol already indicates that a bike should be riding on the right hand side of the road. Don't bikers ALWAYS ride on the right hand side anyway and don't bikers know to avoid parked cars?

Other times there are two  lines with a slightly different symbol inside it. In these instances, I now understand a bike is to be ridden within the confines of those two parallel lines. And now a once two lane road is classified as a one lane car road and one lane bike road.

Point of Order: If there is no bike in that lane, can a car drive in it? Can I pass on the right? And what happens when I need to turn? Do I turn from the outer lane? Isn't that a no no?

Hence ... the confusion.

Along with the paint job came numerous signs warning bikers to stay off the sidewalks in the downtown area. They site the City Code. Isn't that friendly? But I get it. I understand the "why." Some busy shopper is walking out of a store and a bike slams into them, the rider oblivious with earbuds blaring music from their iPhone into their heads. Perhaps some innocent diner with a carry-out box gets lambasted by a racing bike. Ouch! Or someone scrolling through their contact list to send a text and not paying attention is greeted by screeching bike wheels.

I understand the why ... it just all seems extreme and unnecessary and government getting involved in what SHOULD be common sense.

Yeah, I said it. "Should."

Sigh.

Bikes and Cars have ridden on streets together for years. We have somehow managed to share the road. Oh there are instances of accidents. People can be careless. People can make mistakes. People can make bad decisions. But, we survived without the lines.

People and bikers have navigated sidewalks together too. Bikes have ridden down sidewalks to avoid the traffic and the drivers backing out of parking spaces. Drivers chatting on cell phones or just not looking behind them very well. I mean, backing out of parking spaces is hazardous enough without tossing a bike into the mix ...

But that's what we've done now. The bike lane downtown resides right behind those parked cars ,,,

My small-big town has invested quite a bit of cash into these painted white lines, symbols and signs. I honor and respect the leaders of this small-big town. I consider more than one of these leaders to be a good friend of mine. And I truly believe these leaders get up each day and work for the betterment of my small-big town. I believe and honor their efforts and good intentions.

But bike lanes and signs make me sad. They tell me that signs were needed because people don't know how to share ... how to pay attention and look out for others ... how to look beyond their dashboard -- or bike helmet -- and SEE.

For some, the lessons of Sharing taught in Kindergarten didn't stick. As drivers and bikers need special lanes and signs, other people need expensive and often ugly signs by the side of the road to tell them DO NOT LITTER. (Obviously the people who litter can't read since there is a lot of litter by the side of the road.)  There are even people who make special rules to not use the main staircase or instruct the people using their space to take a back entrance (to feel control maybe?) and maintain the integrity of a facility they manage. They need to separate instead of integrate. For some reason, power and separation have meaning to them.

I wonder how these people did on the playground ... did they share the sandbox? Or did they divide and make rules to put others in a different place.

I am sorry we need painted bike lanes, signs and special rules to tell people to be considerate of others. I am sorry people feel a need to separate or hold themselves higher than others and thus make people around them feel small. I'm sorry we can't all play in the same sandbox and appreciate the uniqueness of each other ... and honor and celebrate the fact that we aren't all the same. I'm sorry that we didn't all learn the value and joy of true sharing.

Too bad there are people out there who didn't read Robert Fulgrum's All I Needed To Know I Learned in Kindergarten. It's not too late ...

Because if they did ... and they truly understood and embraced the message in that poem, we could spend our small-big town money on park care or improvement or road repairs or other welcoming, friendly small-big town stuff. We could enjoy the main staircase and have fun together instead of feeling misunderstood or hostile or frustrated. We could play in the sandbox together and just enjoy the toys.

But we have bike lanes ... Just what does that say?                                                                                                                                                                                 -- Jenni

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Something Wicked This Way Comes ... A Fall Treat

I love fall. I love crispy fall leaves beneath my booted feet as I take walks in the brisk fall air. I love the scents surrounding me and the taste of cinnamon donuts and cider. I love fall colors and clothes ... and the azure shade of a sky littered with heather-painted clouds.

The other day, as I sauntered happily down the sidewalk Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte in hand, I took a deep breath. There is something mystical and enticing about this season. Perhaps it is the mysterious way the leaves transform and wave so soundlessly, caressing the sky in the breeze as though someone directed them to do so. Perhaps it comes with the cool mornings, warm afternoons and crisp nights. In the fall, I find myself waiting for something ... catching my breath as I anticipate some unknown change or arrival.

Perhaps that is the way Ray Bradbury felt when he wrote Something Wicked This Way Comes. Yes, Sara, you were right! You CAN "smell" October when you open this book. The first line captures you and promises you a unique adventure ...

"The seller of lightning rods arrived just before the storm ..." Wow.

I approached Ron's most recent Classic Challenge to read a Sci-Fi/Fantasy classic with a referral from a friend (Thanks Sara) and I'm so glad I did. What a treat.

Something Wicked This Way Comes not only brings fall alive but features an evocative traveling carnival as well ... one with all the runway "freak-shows" of the classic carnival of old. Talk about capturing my attention. I have always been fascinated by carnivals and their side-shows. What child doesn't recall fondly a trip to a colorful, tent laden midway ... mystical, magical, exciting moments of memory.

Something Wicked drew me in with a tone reminiscent of Daphne du Maurier-style gothic fiction blended with well-crafted characters and a carnival troupe ... a macabre and scary troupe that is more than slightly unpredictable. It is a troupe with supernatural power ... a troupe with a magic Carousel.

This is Ray Bradbury at his best. Sadly, I don't recall reading anything by him previously so this was an exciting adventure. This book is stylized with a mystical quality, at times the evocative descriptions are a bit rambling but they serve a purpose. They are deliberate. Thus, the sometimes meandering descriptions are riddled with metaphor and allusion ... beckoning you deeper into the carnival experience .... inviting you to explore the dark corners of your own life and imagination and even darker possibilities.

The story integrates themes popular even today ... coming of age and the regrets of life unfulfilled are balanced precariously with the perils of getting what you wish for. Deeply sinister carnival owners seek to entice two nearly 14 year old boys on the cusp of adulthood and a woman feeling old and left behind. The invitation beckons to us all ... Ride the merry go round and shave a year or two off your life any time you want. Or add a year or two ... It's an attractive invitation difficult to resist. It's evil to the very core though. And as the true hero of this novel states: "Evil has only the power that we give it."

I understand Bradbury was influenced to write this tale based on his own "hysterical spin" on a merry-go-round when he was four years old. He shrieked and screamed until the operator stopped the ride to "let him free." Not long after that he saw Lon Chaney in the film Laugh, Clown, Laugh, encountering the darker tones that lurk behind a clown's painted face.

Then at age 12, Bradbury met Mr. Electrico on the carnival grounds, Mr. Electrico introduced him to all the carnival freaks that Labor Day weekend in 1932, even recalling a past life moment the two had shared at the battle of the Ardennes Forest outside Paris where Bradbury had actually died in his arms.

Bradbury himself said that was a turning point in his life, stating that "something amazing had struck him with electric fire and changed him forever." Within eight weeks, he began to write ... He wrote every day after that, for the next 65 years.

I have never been a big fan of horror films or books. I have nightmares about clowns ... perhaps due to Poltergeist and It, which I saw as a teenager. But, I have to admit a fascination with the darkness and macabre nature of these old carnivals. Something Wicked This Way Comes evoked the feelings I experienced reading Erin Morgenstern's Night Circus a few years ago. That book was an otherwordly reading experience too ... I couldn't put it down.

Something about Sideshows intrigues me ... beckons me ... entices me. And something about fall and carnivals excites me. You hear the screams on the rides, you smell the caramel apples and popcorn, yet you only glimpse a tiny bit of what is truly before you. It's magical. It teases ... and it draws you back again and again with the promise of something you cannot yet explain.

I think I will read this book every fall with a cup of hot cider in my hands  ... and wait to see what happens. Because Something is coming ... I sense it ...
                                                                                                      -- Jenni


Friday, September 25, 2015

Today's Curious Answer: Oil + Water DO Mix

Okay Lucy ... This one is for you. Because you asked me to write a blog about this. Because you were curious. As I write, though, I make a Disclaimer. This is not an advertisement and I am not a doctor -- though I have played one on stage :) This is simply Jenni's Corner and a few thoughts about discoveries I have made recently. Should you begin and opt out, I will never know. 


I am a Curious individual. I am an Alice and I have explored many Rabbit Holes, learning when I can and meeting Mad Hatters, Obtuse Caterpillars and Whimsical Cheshire Cats along the way. I have leapt into the Looking Glass and speak Nonsense fluently. I ask questions ... and for me questions breed more questions. I am content that this is so.

That said, I recently began to experience a resurgence of some frustrating issues related to stress, sleep and anxiety. More annoying than anything. And, as I am at an age where such weirdness is wont to happen ... well, I wanted these things to stop happening. And I was Curious as to whether there was an option that would help me other than over the counter or prescription tools.

Not that those are bad. I was just Curious.

My Yoga Instructors had recently introduced me to the world of Essential Oils. Had used them in a class or two. Had spoken of the benefits they had encountered when integrating them into their own lives. Now, there are no medical claims I am suggesting here. I am simply sharing discoveries and presenting what I heard and experienced personally with these tools.

One of my Yoga instructors ... well, she is like no other. I attend her classes and KNOW that my heart rate has eased, my spirit has lifted, and my peace of mind is ... well, in one piece once again. Her class is therapy to my soul, my body and my mind. And I do everything in my power to get there Saturday morning at 9am. She empowers my spirit and strengthens my physical being along the way Yoga does that. But Yoga with Suzanne gives just ... a little something more.

Anyway, Suzanne had mentioned Essential Oils one day. And my Curious Alice nature took over. Might there be something here that could help me with my surges of Anxiety and Sleep issues other than a pill or trip to the pharmacy? Was there something natural that might support my own system in making the needed transition of a 40-something year old young woman? Was there something therapeutic out there I could access without a Therapist?

Yeah, okay, I wanted a quick fix without a "fix."

I met Suzanne at the Bean & Leaf in Royal Oak. I went to hear about her experiences and to learn. And I was delighted with what I discovered that morning. She introduced to the world of Young Living Essential Oils. (I say the name because these are the ONLY oils with which I have any experience or have researched/explored. I can personally only speak to these specifically.) She told me all about the benefits and affects of diffusing certain oils in water and absorbing their scent. Of massaging these oils into key places on your body. And of taking these oils orally to support overall health and wellness ...

Did you know that when you put a drop of these essential oils on your big toe it takes 23 seconds to work through your circulatory system? Faster than a Xanax ... and safer too since the addictive, narcotic aspect is eliminated. You can apply them at pressure or chakra points with varying affects. There are numerous reflex areas on your foot that send energy through your neuro-electical pathways. In other words, a drop of oil in a specific location on your foot can travel to a point within your system and affect you, your outlook and how you feel.

I was fascinated and decided to give this world of Essential Oils some time and research. I've discovered that it isn't a new thing at all. It isn't a fad. Essential Oils have been in use since before the birth of Christ ... remember the Frankincense and Myrrh? They are used commonly in Eastern practices. And, when you think of it, plants were once used in early medical care. So, it's not without supporting documentation.

There are fundamentally three ways to use Essential Oils ... topically, aromatically, and as a dietary aid -- you add a drop of Grapefruit or Lemon to Water or Peppermint into Tea to soothe the stomach. You apply 2-4 drops to the back of wrists, the temples or the neck. With some oils you can do this "neat," Others require diluting with an oil called a Carrier Oil.

The final way to use these oils is Aromatically, placed with water into a diffuser. A Diffuser is an ultrasonic humidifier and air purifier that breaks the essential oils into micro-particles and disperses them into the air, with various affects to the individual(s) nearby.

The number one Essential Oil is Lavender. It is credited with helping about everything ... hence the reason I told my dear friend Lucy to use a few drops with Epson Salts in her bath to soak away stress. I have itchy eyes in the morning ... probably because my cat sleeps with me. I use a drop of Lavender and Frankincense around my eye area in the morning and am itch free for the day.

Now, you can scoff all you wish and talk about the placebo affect. But, when my son had a migraine, I used my essential oil tools and my diffuser. I put a drop of Peppermint into his tea. 20 minutes later he walked from the darkened room in shock that the migraine was gone. This from a kid who typically sleeps for hours and throws up twice before recovery sets in.

In another instance, a stomach ache was aided by a touch of peppermint ... and an allergy to ragweed was eased by the Allergy Trio Blend of Peppermint, Lemon and Lavender.

At times I play mad scientist ... mixing my oils for certain results. There are combinations, blends, "recipes" and ideas I learn from an amazing group of women who have integrated these oils into their daily lives.

I have an oil diffusing right now. It's called Balance. It aids my perspective. It eases my stress. It makes me feel good. And, with two  very stressful work events, kid stuff, home care and rehearsals happening ... that's something I need.

So, Lucy, oil and water do mix. They mix together in my diffuser and send an aromatic message to my mind, body and spirit. They nurture me and help ease my anxiety. I have a new Pre-Sleep routine that involves oil and water and two very amazing essential oils called Vetiver and Valor. And I've been sleeping better than ever.

Like I said, I am a Curious soul. A bit mad of course. The best people are, you know.
                                                                                    -- Jenni






Friday, September 18, 2015

On Non-Fiction, Virginia Woolf and A Room Of My Own

Yes, Ron, I finished my non-fiction classic assignment. I'm sorry it took me so long. I have an admission to make ... Despite the sheer number of books I read and have read, only the tiniest number of those are non-fiction. 

As a young girl, I read lots of biographies on women I admired. And I have a friend who has gifted me with several amazing non-fiction reads. I've started them ... they intrigue me ... They truly Beckon me to indulge their ideas and savor their words. And I will. I want to.  Be patient with me ... I'm just not finished ... yet.  Just give me Time.

Sigh.

See when I read fiction, I escape or explore or visit or experience something outside my purview. I go on an adventure somewhere or with someone who exists only in my imagination. But when I read non-fiction, I'm guided to look inside. Sometimes that isn't the easiest read for me. I read slower. I read to learn or take note of something. I read ... differently.

So, Ron, when I selected my non-fiction classic, I selected the shortest book I could. All of 113 pages, I thought I'd get thru Virginia Woolf's A Room Of One's Own in record time.

Um ... I didn't. Took me six weeks and one library renewal. Perhaps it was knowing my brother had already read it and actually owned a copy that pushed me to finally pick it up and NOT set it down in favor of something ... fiction.

So, Virginia, I have a room of my own. This, according to Virginia, was necessary for a writer to truly find her voice. As I type my prose or my poetry, I enjoy my room. My cat shares my room. My family occasionally ventures into my room. But, it's mostly my room and that's pretty much all I can expect since I'm a woman who makes less than the 1929 equivalent of 500 pounds a year ... another requirement according to Virginia.  Inflation being what it is, I am informed that to adjust said £500 in 1929 to present value would mean about £25,000 or $43,000 in US dollars. Anyway, I don't make that, Virginia, so sharing my room occasionally but having it to my self most of the time is a pretty darn good deal.

About the book ... If you pick it up, read the first two pages of Chapter 1. Then, when she starts going on about Mary Beton, skip to Chapter 2. I am absolutely convinced that if I had done that in the first place, I would have been captivated much faster. See Virginia lacks focus in Chapter 1, she rambles a lot in an attempt to illustrate the poor treatment of women at the time and how impossible it was for women to become writers. That's pretty much all I got from Chapter 1.

But then as I read on, I found myself noting many profound comments that I wanted to return to or make note of later. (That's what happens to me when I read non-fiction!) Virginia's use of descriptive devices is tremendous. I could see and smell the places she referenced. Her story about Shakespeare's "sister" and the unwelcome nature of not only an Elizabethan writer but an Elizabethan female actor ("any woman born with a great gift would have gone crazed, shot herself, or ended her days in some lonely cottage outside the village, half witch, feared and mocked at") was stirring. As a female actor myself, the idea that someone would tell me that I could get no training in my craft or laugh in my face and bellow something about "poodles dancing and women acting" as he proclaimed that no woman could ever be an actress ... well ... that hit me. And I didn't like it.

Perhaps my favorite section was Virginia's examination of Jane Eyre, one of my treasured and much read books. Have you ever read it? Well, there are moments where Charlotte Bronte clearly spoke her own thoughts as Jane. She let her own commentary bleed into the work and into the thoughts of her character.  See there ... on the pages of that great novel ... I met a fellow restless spirit for the very first time. Jane/Charlotte shared a stirring reflection about her ... their? ... personality: "the restlessness was in my nature; it agitated me to pain sometimes ... " And she went on to say: "It is vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquility ... Women are supposed to be calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties and a field for their efforts ..."

According to Virginia -- and clearly both Charlotte and my dear friend Jane -- they need a room of their own and a chance to explore and find their voice, eventually articulating that voice on paper ... but that's only an option for a woman with £500 a year,

Virginia noted how most books about women at the time were written by men.  Men wrote their view of women and how a woman thought. Virginia then noted how women find themselves challenged to write like men when they should write their way. They should nurture and use their own voice -- not as someone else might or as someone might want them to write. They should not allow someone else's opinions to muddy the message they want to share. 

Virginia illustrated her thoughts with passion. Her images were stirring and decorated with beautiful and very intentional word choices. Her description of Shakespeare's talented but cast aside sister stirred me. Her review of Mary Carmichael's first novel was amusing. And her impatience with a world intolerant of women artists was quite clear.

Women writers out there ... Buy this book. Highlight the passages that stir you. And write like a woman. Write your words your way. Don't try to master a tone that isn't yours. Exercise the authenticity of your own voice!

Men writers out there ... Buy this book. Honor all your fellow writers ... male and female. You may not be Will Shakespeare, but you have something to say ... just like he did. You can learn from Virginia to honor your voice.  

Jane Austen had to hide her writing. She didn't have a Room Of Her Own. She didn't go anywhere ... the only traveling she did was through the pages of her novels. Those transported Jane as they eventually transported the reader.

Charlotte and Emily Bronte sold their beautiful tales for a pittance. They had neither £500 or a room of their own in which to write. But, these female writers -- women who probably scrounged and borrowed paper -- penned words and ideas that would stand the test of time. They found their voice and created vivid and intensely passionate characters that connected to their readers -- male and female. 

Virginia recognized their unique accomplishment in 1929, She would be glad to know these authors are still celebrated today.

I hope Virginia Woolf knows that women have their own rooms now. And that we have found our voice ... Oh, and that the Bodleian library now lets women inside its doors.

So, Ron, thanks for challenging me to read a non-fiction classic. I learned a lot about writing as I dog-eared page after page of "good stuff" in this little book. Think I will buy a copy to read it again ... and again.  

Just gonna skip Chapter 1!


                                                                                                                              -- Jenni

Sunday, August 30, 2015

On Fractionated Coconut Oil ... and Life

Last week the server at work began to experience a personal crisis. One minute I'm typing along using files from the shared i:drive. The next minute all I could access were two documents in the 2014 Community Awards folder ... not much use as I was working on the 2015 event.

To make matters worse, I lost Internet access and email access. Wi-Fi- sputtered and I couldn't access email on my phone even with my own personal data! Talk about Frozen in place. It absolutely threw me.

Now, we KNEW the Server was failing. Our technicians were due to upgrade and make necessary enhancements the next day. Good thing, right? Well ... sort of. Their arrival and work in our small office was nearly as disruptive. I still couldn't get anything done. One minute I'm typing up a press release and then the next I'm ejected from my desk to "upgrade my email to Office 365" -- a program that I'm gonna need to sort through and figure out come Monday.

So, there I sat with pencil and paper, writing out "stuff" without actually having "stuff" to look at. Talk about disruptive!  I was fractionated and unable to do much but meander and plan for the next week ... when I hope all goes back to "normal."

Life is like that ... fractionated ... divided, separated ... broken up by changes in technology, people, health, responsibilities and so on. It's not necessarily or always a bad thing ... fractionated. It just breaks things up. It alters the flow.

As all this "work" stuff happened, I was trying to connect with a friend I hadn't seen in a while. Texts, messages, calls ... but no face time. As human beings we crave connection. Rick Springfield got it right when he sang We all need the Human Touch. Loneliness, feelings of isolation and confusion are rampant in this country with people relying on technology, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and "social" media to keep them close to each other. All this has an impact though ... at least it did on me. The disconnect meant I was not grounded. I felt I'd lost my joy and my sparkle, leading -- I must admit -- to a bit of depression and moodiness.  It happens ... when I feel disconnected from people I care for.

See Facebook posts and texts are no substitute for the Human Touch. At least not for me.  I need to look into eyes and touch others to feel connected to them. I need time to talk face to face. As I contemplated this fact, lyrics from an old Olivia Newton-John song kept playing in my mind:  You don't need no psychiatry, come on baby you can talk to me. Cuddle up on the couch with me, we can talk on night for free ... 

Talk. Touch. Time. Eye contact ... that truly gives me Energy, Joy and fosters Creativity, grounding my Spirit and nurturing my Heart. Gonna go out on a limb and say that I don't think I'm alone here ... 

The other day I walked by a woman waiting for her car outside of Jax in Birmingham. I had just had a wonderful manicure from a dear friend who started her own business about 18 months ago -- a business which has become one of the Top Spas around. The Beach House Day Spa and my friends Michele and Lauren save me oodles in therapy! Time there gives me the human touch as well as time to talk, laugh and share. And as I was feeling fractionated, I really needed the human touch, eye contact and people who "get me" and genuinely care -- people who also share their own challenges, thoughts and joys with me. It's a two-way street with active listening!

Anyway, back to the woman. She had on a beautiful bright pink dress. It looked truly stunning on her. So I took a moment to compliment her. The look on her face ... the way her eyes brightened. Well, it was as though a rush of energy shot between us. I could almost see that energy. I watched her stand a bit taller and smile as she thanked me for the compliment. It took nothing but a smile, eye contact and a few words from me. But the impact on her ... it was powerful. I don't know where it went from there, but I suspect it might have touched others in her path that day.

We're so busy. We're so self-oriented. We're glued to posting our Status using a program that gives us no emotional support. But the benefits for reaching beyond ourselves and our keyboards/smart phones to touch others is immeasurable. I'd rather Talk to you than Message you. Look in your eyes. Hear your voice.

About a month ago, I began to experience a resurgence of an anxiety issue I'd had in the past. It seemed unrelated to anything going on in my personal life, but it affected me quite dramatically. As a Type AAA control freak, I sought ways to banish this "drama." Quick fix other than turning to prescription meds. And I began to learn there was another option.

Unbeknowest to me, there was an entire world of Essential Oils out there that worked cooperatively to aid the mind, body and spirit. There are oils and combinations to counter headaches and migraines, sore throats and sleep issues, anxiety and focus. There are oils that work to enhance creativity -- I'm actually diffusing two now that seem to be having quite a positive impact on a creative block I've been suffering lately. 

Oh you may scoff all you like. But my son had a migraine Monday, so I administered the recommended blend of essential oils. Well, I've never seen such a rapid transformation. He is typically out for hours -- sleeping in the dark with horrible light sensitivity. And, when he finally awakes, he throws up and moves slowly. Well, the correct formula of oils saw him up and about and out with his friends within 30 minutes.

With essential oils, you break some of them down to allow them to go further or create a "blend."  Fractionated coconut oil, grapeseed oil, sweet almond oil ... all aid these potent alternative tools cooperatively to allow them to last longer or even work better.  Sure, there's no medical backing but if you consider that in "olden times" (and I'm not talking about when I was a kid) most medicinal treatment derived from plants. There is a lot of supporting documentation about this option. Google it ... I dare you. (Better still, call me and I'll tell you more!)

Anyway, fractionated coconut oil is my preferred carrier oil (that's what it's called) to use with my own oils. And it helps me and my own experiences ... 

Back to the office and the technological drama ... back to the struggles with time and to do lists and people I couldn't connect with etc etc. Life gets fractionated. People aren't always there to get us through. People can't always make time or find time for me ... or for you. Sometimes, we are on our own and sometimes we feel disoriented, lonely or even sad. 

That is life. So you have to find something deep within yourself to push thru. When things get fractionated -- and they will -- we have to change our own inner dialogue. We have to change the message we're telling ourselves and get out of our self-created "rut." We can decide not to fall apart or lose our joy based on the behavior of a server or a family member or a friend or a challenging project or a tough yoga pose .... or (fill in the blank).  We have to remember that whatever is happening it is not permanent ... it will change. We can decide not to allow it to fractionate us ... 

We possess the power to change how we look at Life and its many fractionated moments -- not good, not bad. Just broken up at times.. We can decide to select a new outlet or project. Call a different friend. Workout. Bake. Create a new playlist and pump up the volume. Unplug and go camping. We can even reclaim our joy standing up on a friend's speed boat and feeling the wind rushing through our hair as the stresses or sadness or to do drama flies out behind us to be absorbed by Lake Michigan.

My Granddaddy used to say: Life it do get tedious. Well, Life it do get fractionated. How you deal with it ... what essential oils and blends you add to your life ... what projects or other people you find to get you through fractionated days ... that's what counts. 

That's living with joy, purpose and discovery. Continuing your adventure and choosing to respond instead of react. That is your tool to counter loneliness, drama or crashing servers. 

You can't always get what you want (said the Rolling Stones) ... but it you try sometime, you just might find ... you CAN get what you need. And that's pretty damn cool and empowering ...
                                                                                                                   -- Jenni





Monday, August 10, 2015

Whooo ... are ... you???

Curiously this morning, I'm thinking again on the nonsensical yet very earnest story of Alice in Wonderland. Alice is my favorite character in literature. I admire her questioning nature, her determination and her willingness to leap into the Rabbit Hole fearlessly. I love her desire to explore and accept what happens to her. I love that she is Curious. I've read both her stories repeatedly. And ... once upon a time I sought a way into her looking-glass myself ...

In Lewis Carroll's nonsensical world, there resides a caterpillar. He is now, thanks to the cleverness of Tim Burton, known as Absalom. And his voice echoes in my head -- sounding, not surprisingly, very much like Alan Rickman. And his key question applies not only in a nonsensical land to Alice, but to each of us. No matter whether we are 3" tall and standing beside a mushroom or 6' tall walking down the street, we must consider a very personal and sincere question, as only we can answer it genuinely ...


Intriguing and not easily answered, is it?

Hamlet examined this very question in one of his many contemplative monologues, lamenting: What a piece of work is a man ... How noble in reason! how infinite in faculty! in form, in moving, how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals! And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust??

Bringing us back to The Caterpillar. Whooo ... are ... you? he asks in his breathy tones. The answer, even for Alice, was more complicated than she first realized. And, so it is with each of us.


Whooo ... are ... you? Perhaps you are many things, making the answer elusive. Mother or Father ... Wife or Husband ... Significant Other ... Lover ... Actor ... Athlete ... Writer ... Director ... Traveler ... Explorer .. Poet ... Doctor ... Lawyer ... Indian Chief? Perhaps you have a job ... or career, in the home or outside its four walls. Perhaps you have a hobby or a passion. Perhaps you like to garden or dance. Perhaps you teach or guide others at a school or other facility. Perhaps you are an animal lover or retired after many years in the work force. 

Your beliefs affect who your are. Your values too. Your goals and your hopes. Your deepest longings and desires. Your habits and addictions. The music you listen to and the books you select. All these things shape who you are ... all these things add depth and pieces to the puzzle that is you.

There are so many possibilities and responses, leaving the Caterpillar's question floating in the air. 

Are we who we want to be?

Are we who others need us to be?

Or ... are we both? And did we set aside who we are for the ease and comfort of others ... or the ease and comfort of ourselves.

In the 1970's, Sally Field played Sybil, a woman with multi-multi personality disorder. She had so many personalities even her therapist, played by JoAnne Woodward, didn't truly know them all.

On the popular HBO series Game of Thrones, we meet a man with many faces ... Jaqen H'ghar. He can be all things or no one. And his true face and motives are as unclear as why our favorite characters seem to die off all too quickly.

In these "dramas," we catch glimpses of a deeper truth ... the complexity of human nature. We are each of us a Sybil, with many characters lurking inside and awaiting a chance to come into the light. Based on the situation we find ourselves, we become the personality and character that fits the occasion.

We are each a Jaqen H'ghar, sometimes showing our face and other times hiding our true selves and donning the image our immediate situation needs -- the one we select that depicts the image expected or required. Sometimes we hide our true face, fearing rejection or misunderstanding. Perhaps it becomes habit to show only that persona that fits the expectations of others or our current situation, hiding away those darker elements of our personality or sharing them only occasionally and selectively. Sometimes we choose to play the role that goes with the flow and causes the least amount of discord in our lives.

Whooo ... are ... you?

That is our greatest secret, isn't it? And some people keep that answer close to the vest, showing only the merest hint of its complexity to others. Some of us try to control it, manage it. No matter what words are uttered from our lips or what actions we perform, only we know what is natural, what comes from the heart, what is part of our performance and what is authentic.

Then, no matter what and who we think we are and what we think is right or best for us, if we are open to it we can be surprised and discover unexpected elements inside us. We can still be shaped and grow based on the words, ideas and invitations of others .... 

For example ... 

The other day, I auditioned for a beautiful play based on a book that I read and adored. I prepared and met with a friend prior to the audition to read through the script.  We were auditioning for different roles and hoping to have the chance to perform together. Then when the auditions began, the director flipped us ... seeing us in the opposite roles. After months of preparing for one part, suddenly we looked at the script and roles differently. We were surprised, yet the challenge of finding ourselves in this new light, helped us discover something new -- something exciting. Something enchanting in itself. 

Providence? All I realized is that you have to be open to live fully and find delight where you might have once found fear.

Of our true selves, only we know. And every now and then, someone touches our lives to shed light on aspects of us even we didn't know were inside. The trick, I've discovered, is to be open to the surprises that greet us each day ... to make the most of those moments and embrace life ... to be unafraid of leaping down the Rabbit Hole or into the Looking Glass and meeting our own White Rabbit and Blue Caterpillar. 

In the immortal words of The X-Files, The Truth Is Out There. You can either hide your Light (or your Dark) or leap into the Rabbit Hole, embrace each moment and person that touches your life with two hands, and continue the journey to truly discover Whoooo You Are ....
                                                                                                                           -- Jenni





Monday, August 3, 2015

On Summertime and Shakespeare ...

For many, it's Summertime and the living is easy ...

Summertime ... That all-too-brief time of year here in Michigan. The time when people explore relaxation on their boats, on their patios, on a lawn chair. Even the chores are lower-key ... mowing a lawn, weeding a garden, watering plants and flowers.

Kids are off school. People flock to the beach or go camping. It's a lazy time of flip flops, slip on sneakers, shorts, t-shirts and sundresses. 

Not so for my son and me. It's the middle of Summertime but our weeks are anything but easy. We don't lounge on the patio. We aren't taking leisurely walks or bike rides. We aren't on a boat or at the beach. And we aren't in chill out mode. In fact, our schedule is slammed.

Strangely, though, we don't mind. As odd as it may sound to you, there is a rhythm to our Summertime and a joy that arises from the often hectic work we choose to do.  

What, you ask, might that be? Can a crazy schedule in the summer elicit a feeling that All's Well? Heck, in the Summertime, most people agree that To Be busy is just not To Be. To find a calendar filled with commitments and deadline must be a Comedy of Errors. Surely an over-scheduled calendar sounds like A Winter's Tale. Measure for Measure chill-axing in July and August is the thing to do.

Let me transport you to my Summer for just a moment. Picture this ... the Moon is full and the stars twinkle. Leaves rustle easily on lofty branches in the night-time breeze and the heavens are my office ceiling. Street noise fades into the music of cicadas. The smell of popcorn wafts thru the air along with the fresh scents of suntan lotion and mosquito repellent. Around me, sounds of children's laughter blends in to tones of iambic pentameter. I'm in a park ... my Summertime office. But right now this park is far from "typical." My Park is decorated with tents and bleachers and fire flies ... with  scaffolding that climbs upward, lighting "trees" and speakers.  

There is a stage in this park. Wooden. Artistic. Different every year. It blends in to its environment, quiet ... until a troupe of actors emerge to utter words in its open air arena. And the park ... the green space of picnics and frisbee golf ... is suddenly filled with blankets, lawn chairs and hundreds of people. They come every summer to my Park to experience the words of the Bard as they were meant to be heard .... in an open air space where trees and stars form the only roof. Why do they come, you ask? Well, to hear Shakespeare. And the event would be Shakespeare in the Park. 

It's a crazy season we have, my son and I, since we signed on for Shakespeare in the Park nearly 10 years ago. Starr-Jaycee Park is our office and my now 16-year old son -- who has two years with the program on me and is happy to brag about that fact -- is working there even more than I am. He has the desire to support this program with his time and gifts too. He's passionate about it and has been known to do work he never does at home while in the Park. And when it happens to rain, he will run about covering lights and equipment just like any of the adult staff. 

To Be busy with Shakespeare in the Summertime is a blessing and something that has sparked my passion since I first became involved. See, I don't sit well. I like challenges. I like to be busy. My son feels the same. When he was little, he used to say that the two weeks of Shakespeare in the Park were "the best part of the summer."  10 years in, I play various roles in the company -- though oddly none on the stage -- while my son handles sound design. My spotlight is welcoming patrons to the Park, coordinating fundraisers, managing the playbill, and a host of other odd jobs the company founder sends my way. I'm passionate about sharing the shows, the youth education opportunities and the company with others. At a time in my life when I was honestly floundering, Shakespeare called and I'm so glad I answered. 

Oh there are times when it's a bit too busy. Isn't that always the way it is? Either you have too much time on your hands or you are rushing about. It's either To Be or Not To Be ... but 

This program gives something to me, to my son, and to others that I have never before witnessed. My daughter looks forward to KidsAct! acting "camp" every summer. And the passion it creates --the people and friendships that are forged because of it -- well, it's like nothing else.

A Light in Yonder Window broke for me ... it was Shakespeare in the Park. And I am so glad I climbed through that balcony and took a leap of faith to become part of it. I give it my heart, soul and time every summer. And it repays me in the smiles I see on others' faces, the reviews applauding sound improvements noted in the newspaper that light up my son's eyes, and the joy I get hearing laughter and applause as the words of the Bard come to life every year.

All the world's a stage and we are merely players. So go forth, my band of brothers, once more into the breach. Explore Shakespeare -- or whatever joy or passion may beckon you -- even if it means your Summertime won't be easy. 

I stood the other night outside the "theatre" and took in what this special group of people that I am a part of worked together to create. Moonlight shone on the stage, cicadas and the sounds of traffic echoed behind me, actors in lovely costuming decorated the stage and an audience brought the park to life. Yep ... despite the rush to get there, grabbing Taco Bell, Slurpees or McDonald's en route and in between productions, the disruption of family life, and the hours necessary to make this program happen ... it is so worth it. 

My son and I discovered the joys of genuine inspiration and passion in Starr Jaycee Park with Shakespeare Royal Oak nigh on 10 years ago. We come to the Park because we love what we do and we love to do it. What began with one man's vision continues to grow and touch lives and hearts and minds and souls 15 years later.  I invite you to stand in the moonlight and take it in ... 

Discover what inspires and creates passion for you and it won't matter if your Summertime isn't easy. Buy a ticket. Don't sit on the patio and allow the summer to pass you buy. Find your Park like I found mine ... 

To Be ... or Not to Be. That is the question ...
                                                                                                              -- Jenni

www.ShakespeareRoyalOak.com



Wednesday, July 15, 2015

On Beignets, Braces and Broken Noses

Enough is enough, right? How much can we take? Is it a challenge the Universe tosses out to find the answer to that question? Is asking for Patience the best way to find things thrown in our path that demand us to find it within ourselves? Well, that's the last time I ask for that!

There are times when Enough is actually too much. When you've had as much as you can stand. When the night is too dark. And the mood is too black. When anxiety rushes in.

Ever happen to you?

I'm pretty sure most of us have had our own versions of "the darkest night." And, I'm probably correct when I say you might even have experienced a week or a month or perhaps a year of "the darkest night."

What do you do to get through it? What are your crutches or methods to rise above ... to claw to the surface?

In Finding Nemo, the good-hearted and optimistic regal blue tang Dory reminds the pessimistic and worry-wort Marlin to "Just Keep Swimming." No matter what happens -- be it sharks or jellyfish stings or getting swallowed by a whale, Dory's sweet message comes through ... Just keep swimming.

But come on ... she had short-term memory loss. She forgot if something bad happened anyway. Of course she can stay positive.

In the Christmas classic Santa Claus is Coming to Town, the penguin Topper struggles with finding his footing and is reminded to "Put One Foot in Front of the Other." The penguin is obviously troubled ... it belongs at the South Pole and is lost up at the North Pole. All alone. No family and completely lost. He's got his own issues. But somehow, Topper rises to the challenge and comes to terms with it by surrounding himself with a new family.

Heck, even filmmaker George Lucas concurs with Santa, saying: "You simply have to put one foot in front of the other and keep going. Put blinders on and plow right ahead."

Guess he must have had some bad nights before Star Wars skyrocketed his career.

There are many Biblical quotes to help you through Dark Nights. Prayers and Faith are a huge source of comfort for many. Falling to our knees can be the best way to find comfort and strength. I have Bible verses book-marked and sticky-noted on my computer screen to remind me that I'm not alone -- no matter how alone I might feel at any given time.

I have my good days. My good months. My bad days. My bad months. I'm probably just like you. It's the human condition to climb mountains and stumble into valleys. And, as Miley Cyrus' Hannah Montana sang once a long time ago:

There's always gonna be another mountain ...
I'm always gonna wanna make it move.
Always gonna be an uphill battle. 
Sometimes I'm gonna have to lose.
Ain't about how fast I get there.
Ain't about what's waitin' on the other side.
It's the Climb.

Yes, I really like that song. It is about Faith after all.

None of these things make the minutes of The Climb or the Darkest Nights go faster. But embedded in them is Hope. Hope that things will get better. Hope that IF you can shake off the fear and anxiety and stress -- which in the grand scheme of the Universe are short term dramas -- you will find yourself on the other side of the little black (or big black) raincloud. 

The other night, my son had an unfortunate meeting with a concrete sidewalk while in line for Beignets at a local Food Truck Rally. He passed out and face-planted. It was a terrifying moment ... and one where the calm of a mother truly set in. I was focused amidst the blood, friendly with Ryan the Fire & Rescue Medic and precise and appreciative with every doctor, intern, resident and Emergency Room employee. 

At 4:30am though, the Darkest Night stirred me and awoke me with a start. Heart racing and anxious. 

Watching him undergo a cardiac work-up yesterday, I was calm. All was well. Clean bill of health. Hours later though the implications bubbled through my mind ... why do they do that? I mean all was well. But anxiety rose to the surface. 

Yeah, I know he'll be fine. A little surgery next week. Just a little anesthesia. A butter knife procedure to push his nose back into place. But still ...

Then, there's the braces. As simple the process and as gregarious and knowledgeable as the doctor, watching my baby girl take this next medical step in stride was wonderful ... but it hit me later as well.

Oh my dramas are what they are. They are relatively small -- in the grand scheme of things. There are so many challenges faced by the people surrounding us. But they are all significant to each of us ... no matter how "small" they might be. And they invariably prompt "stuff," be it sadness, confusion, anxiety, stress, worry, emotion and result in personal struggles. 

My daughter watches a friend move away to California. People face health issues or lay-offs or struggle with building business and paying bills. Still others around us struggle with illnesses, face Cancer with grace and strength or deal with the death of a loved one. There is a lot of Stuff we have to deal with ... every single day. And some days are just harder or darker than others.

But, like George Lucas, I will keep putting one foot in front of the other. Like Dory, I will keep swimming. Sometimes though, I will shake. Sometimes I will cry. 

When that happens ... when the Darkest Night kicks in ... I pray. But I genuinely find my greatest strength comes from people. In reaching out to those with whom I'm deeply connected, I find what I need to press forward. My calm comes from time and conversations with my dearest friends and my family. A hug ... a word ... a text ... an email ... a Facebook message or post ... a smile. Better still ... being held by someone who cares for me. Physical connection. A walk holding hands. Touch. My cat snuggling on my lap. My daughter reading beside me and reaching out one moment with gentle fingers to stroke my face and remind me that everything will be okay. 

It's not food or alcohol ... It's people who see me through The Darkest Night.

Guess that's good, cause Jarod and I never did get one of those damn Beignets ...
                                                                                                          -- Jenni