Thursday, December 25, 2014

Here's How I Know the Christmas Spirit Is Real

**Fair warning: This post has nothing to do with budget, or running, or minimalism, or any goals in general at all. This is purely a mushy I-Love-My-Family-Even-Though-We're-All-Crazy post.**

My mom and dad met when I was 9. That's not usually how the story goes, I know. My mom and I were living in a house in Florida, and my dad moved in next door. My dad was a strapping, young(ish) Englishman, working in Boynton Beach on a visa.

My mom fell in love instantly.

So did my dad. I mean, he didn't fall in love with my mom right away. No, he only had eyes for our Golden Retriever, Rusty.

My dad loved that dog. He would come over to our house almost every day to help us train Rusty or to play fetch. This is where my mom found her opportunity. See, my mom is a world class cook, so she used her kitchenly wiles and made my dad dinner several nights a week.

Eventually my dad couldn't eat food not cooked by my mom, and he made the lifesaving decision to propose to her, lest he starve to death. That's how I see it anyway. Pretty sure it's accurate.

Yes, yes. We're very happy. Now get in the kitchen.

Where did I fit in? Well, for a while, my dad who was not my dad at the time, would try to help me in math, or give me an allowance on the side that my mom didn't know about, or throw me in the pool. 

The struggle was real, guys.

Or take me to Disney World. He did that a lot. That was pretty awesome.

Then I became a teenager and we moved 4 times in 4 years. That was incredibly difficult for me, because I didn't have any friends, and I couldn't play any sports, and I couldn't join any clubs. And I blamed my dad. We fought CONSTANTLY. I "hated" him, and I'm not gonna lie, I'm pretty sure he "hated" me too.

There was love there, obviously, but you had to look really hard for it. Like, one time I was driving back to Atlanta for a shift at work when I got caught in some terrible traffic because of a major accident. This was before every person over the age of 5 owned a cell phone, so when I didn't show up for my shift on time, they called my parents' house to try to get a hold of me. When I still didn't show up after an hour, they called again. My dad, without even blinking, got in his car and traced my steps back to Atlanta to make sure it wasn't me in the major accident.

Or like when my engine blew up, or my radiator exploded, or my timing belt snapped - he always helped me out.

But generally our interactions involved us yelling at each other about money and responsibilities. This happened for a solid 12 years. We didn't talk on the phone, we barely spoke when I came home. We, um...we weren't in a good place.

Slowly but surely, as I started to figure out this whole "life" thing and stand on my own two feet, my dad stopped seeing me as a sullen, bratty teenager, and instead started seeing me as a daughter he raised. But we still fought a lot.

Here's where I'm convinced I'm living in a Hallmark movie. So, in Hallmark movies you have this grumpy, grinchy kind of character who used to love the holiday spirit, but who's now withdrawn and angry all the time, right? That's my dad. He wasn't overly generous when I was a teenager - and I'm not just talking about money (that part made sense because he was trying to teach me the value of the dollar, timeless 90s tween wardrobe be damned).

No, what I mean is we rarely spent time together. He tried to teach me how to drive stick shift once, but after about 30 minutes, his fist was clenched on the handle over the window and his face got really red, and let's just say I didn't learn how to drive stick shift that day.

But over the last month he's been a completely different person. I'm not sure what happened (elvish dust and Santa Claus magic, probably), but he's acting like - like a dad. Like the kind of dad you see in commercials and stuff.

E and I are thinking of buying each other bikes, but we aren't ready to commit to that kind of money. So my dad went into the garage, fished out his and my mom's bikes, pumped the tires, put the bike rack on my car, loaded the bikes, and gave me the tire pump.

He saw the wiper blades on my car were in sad disrepair, so he drove me to AutoZone to buy new ones, and installed them for me.

I've been talking about how my Kindle Fire (OG) is outdated and not compatible with newer apps, so when he saw a WinBook on sale, he bought me one.

My dad and I both like craft beer, so I was telling him about how my favorite beer has been out of stock at most stores in Atlanta all season. He called up his local bottle shop, found out they had 3 six packs, and asked me how many I wanted.

He noticed that I always have to open my car's trunk from the inside because the handle is broken, so he grabbed some bolt cutters (and I don't even want to know what else), and fixed it.

These are small things, to be sure, but none of them would have happened 10 years ago, and all of them have happened within the last month. I'm not sure what's changed, Maybe I've grown. Maybe he's grown. Maybe Santa or Hanukkah Harry gave us both a little push. 

My dad is the grumpiest of Grumpy Gusses, but he's my dad, and I love him. 

Pictured: Future Grumpy Gus

I loved him before, even when I "hated" him, don't get me wrong. But lately he's been more like the man I knew in 1994, and I'm really grateful for that.

So maybe this has nothing to do with Christmas at all, but I did ask Santa for a dad when I was about 6. I think delivered, he's just been tinkering with it for the last 20 years.

Maybe he wasn't ALWAYS grumpy.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

My Mom Is a Hoarder

My mom is a hoarder. And so is my dad. I've often thought about submitting them to Hoarders or Hoarding: Buried Alive.

When I was a child, my mom and I moved around a LOT. Every year, in fact. We moved so often that we didn't always bother to unpack everything. My mom liked to call herself a "Pack Rat". I remember in one apartment, we had makeshift walkways created out of boxes piled all over the living room - the living room that was unusable for a time.

My mom and my dad, who are empty nesters, now live in a 4 bedroom split level house. The garage is so full of stuff (theirs, and my recently deceased grandmother's) that they park their cars outside in the driveway. The basement is completely filled with old memorabilia or "As Seen on TV" things from Costco that it can only function as a storage area. The breakfast room has 3 bookshelves chockablock full of cookbooks and cooking magazines. The kitchen has so many appliances and pots and pans and serving ware that the cabinets have now spilled over onto the counters, and there is no more space to prepare food. I could go on. And on top of all of that, they also have a storage room down the street.

My mom and dad don't like living a messy life. They want desperately to be organized, they really do. But here's a story:

For Christmas last year I gave my mom 4 days of my life. In those 4 days, any 4 days out of the year, we would tackle 4 rooms of the house. The catch was that my mom had to let me donate, trash or recycle 90% of what I thought was needed, and she could save 10%. We started in the kitchen.

We went through tupperware, pots and pans, appliances, COLANDERS. My mom owns something like 7 colanders. SEVEN. She has 5 or 6 casserole dishes, innumerable pots and pans of the same and varying sizes, 3 different coffee makers (standard, espresso and Keurig). We filled maybe one large box to "sell at a yardsale", and maybe one trashbag of broken items. Every time I asked my mom to pare down, she gave me a reason why she couldn't get rid of this, and certainly couldn't part with that.

The yardsale never happened, and I don't know where that box is now, but I'd wager several of those items are back in the cabinet.

So we didn't tackle any other rooms. I love my parents, but I wasn't going to waste our time.

The thing is, I don't judge my parents for hoarding. Sure, I make jokes on occasion, but the truth is that they're bombarded with advertising and socially accepted norms 24/7 telling them that owning more is better. Upgrading is important, but nostalgia is good too. So they have no filter and they keep everything.

I don't judge them at all, but I don't want to live like that.

In what may seem like the most obvious statement in the world, I think there's a chance I was maybe influenced by my mom. Bless her heart, she tried to instill the values of cleanliness and organization, but I had no frame of reference.

Besides having an overabundance of "useful" items (I'm using that term loosely here), my mom is also a collector. Of like, everything. Magazines, cookbooks, kitchen tchotchkes, ashtrays, menus, clowns, Murano glass. When I was 8 or 9, she and my grandmother (another fine collector in her own right) decided I needed to start a collection. My grandfather had collected yo-yos, my uncles had collected stamps and coins. None of these were interesting to me, so I started collecting cat figurines. Why? No idea. Because I was supposed to, I guess. I stopped collecting them sometime in high school.

When I came home from college my freshman year, I wanted to clean out my bedroom. My mom said she'd help me. Big mistake. I tried to donate my prom dresses, old board games with missing pieces, and (you guessed it) the figurines. I had no attachment to them anymore. I had pictures of myself in my dresses, I couldn't play the games without the pieces, and c'mon. Who needs cat figurines? I'm not even a cat person.

But my dear, sweet mom couldn't let go (there's a pattern here, I'm sure of it). She wouldn't let me donate my dresses. Sharpshooter and Trivial Pursuit are still on the top shelf of the closet, and those cat figurines?

Packed away in the storage room down the street.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Quick Tip #1: Move Your Alarm to the Bathroom

If my big intention for 2015 is to live more mindfully, part of that is to live more productively. What I mean is that I want to spend less time being passive or inactive, and more time actually living life. Less TV, less mindless internet time (read: cats, hacks, and knickknacks), more being outside, more human interaction, more creating - that sort of thing.

I'm pretty lucky in that I have amazing flexibility with my job. I work from home about 2 days a week, and go into the office the rest of the time. On my office days, I can arrive any time between 7 and 10! My work load has its ebbs and flows, so some mornings, when I know I have a full schedule ahead of me, I'll log online around 7:30 to start my day. Other mornings I'll wait to start my day until 9 or 10 (I'm on the East Coast and work with a lot of people on the West Coast, so later start times help synch our schedules).

For the past several months, my standard morning routine has started with my alarm going off about 45 minutes before I have to leave for work, or about 15 minutes before I have to log on for the day, if I'm working from home. This is typically around 8:00 AM or later (with a few exceptions for days I know I'll be slammed, as I mentioned). 

Also of note, I typically fall asleep on the couch around 10:00 PM, and head to bed by 11:30. So I'm getting a full night of sleep (and then some!). Yet every morning when that alarm goes off, I hit snooze. More than once.

Recently, I decided that I was wasting these morning hours and wanted to start waking up earlier. So I set my alarm for earlier. Like 45 minutes earlier. But I didn't wake up. Instead, I just hit the snooze button closer to 5 or 6 times. 

E was not pleased.

I've read a ton of tips and tricks about how to become a morning person:
  • Put your phone on the other side of the room.
  • Set your coffee pot the night before.
  • Buy a special alarm clock app that makes you do math before you can shut it off.
  • Get out of bed when you wake up naturally.
None of these worked for me. One tip that did make sense, and has worked every day I've used it so far, is to put the alarm clock in the bathroom. I hesitated to do this at first because I was afraid it would wake E. I asked him about it last week and he very obviously pointed out that I was already waking him up - several times - by keeping the alarm by the bed and hitting snooze repeatedly.

So, a few days ago I set my alarm (which happens to be on my phone), and left it in bathroom with the door open. The next morning the alarm did its thing, I got out of bed, turned on the lights, turned off the noise, and started my day.

So. Simple.

Here's a few benefits/reasons why I think this worked for me:
  1. Leaving my phone in the bathroom overnight helps me fall asleep faster because I'm not distracted by texts (or Facebook, or Feedly).
  2. I'm forced to leave the bed, with its warm blankets and soft pillows, for the harsh reality of winter in a drafty house.
  3. When I get into the bathroom, I turn the lights on immediately, which jolt the senses.
  4. I generally need to use the bathroom as soon as I wake up, so I'm staying out of bed for a few extra moments.
  5. With the lights on and the call of nature answered, I will brush my teeth, and by then I'm awake and I'm not fighting for "just another 5 minutes". 
I haven't had the urge to crawl back into bed once since I started this new routine. It's amazing.

Waking up earlier has given me extra time to:
  • Enjoy my coffee.
  • Write blog posts.
  • Read blogs.
  • Spot clean the house.
I'm not curing cancer with the extra 45 minutes, but I'm finding a calm and productive way to start my day. My ultimate goal is to eventually wake up around 6:30 AM and get a workout in. For now, I'm happy with a successful babystep. Try it!

Monday, December 22, 2014

What I'm Talking About When I Talk About Minimalism

For me, staying motivated means being constantly reminded about my goals. I'm very, very bad about letting distractions derail me. So I downloaded several podcasts related to budgeting and minimalism, podcasts I can listen to easily while I'm in the car, in the kitchen, or on a walk.

One of these podcasts had a wonderfully synchronistic episode. The show itself is MoneyPlan SOS, which provides great financial advice about debt, wealth, and everything in between. There's an archived episode from September 2012 with Untitled Minimalist's Robert Wall, wherein Robert explains that minimalism is different for each person. Sure, you have 20 and 30 somethings out there who live in a car and own about 10 things. But that's not really sustainable, especially when you talk about starting a family. For everyone else, minimalism is simply not owning more than you need to live your life. Well, I mean if that's your definition...

I did say that I'm not a minimalist, and I'm not sure that I want to be. But c'mon. Owning nothing more than what you need to live your life? That sounds pretty flexible and achievable. That leaves room for hobbies and activities that bring me joy.

Things that bring me joy. I keep bringing it up, because it's such a profound and yet perfectly simple way to look at things. As I sit in my living room right now, I look around and see a Christmas tree, a TV and stereo, a print from my favorite artist, two photos that I took myself, a few blankets, some pillows, a couch, a chair, rug...

90% of what I see is useful or makes me smile. My goal is to get ride of the other 10%. Getting rid of that 10% (broken game controllers, old receipts, etc) would mean that I was surrounded 100% by things I use and things I enjoy. How cool is that?

And the 10% right now that's cluttering up my house, well it's something I have to clean. It's something I need to spend time dealing with. Why would I waste my time dealing with joyless things? Joyless things that have no use?

Having fewer things means having less clutter. And having less clutter means I spend less time cleaning. If I spend less time cleaning, then I have more time - to write! I have more time to play with my dog! I have more time to spend with my friends!

True story - when E and I lived in the apartment, I dreaded having people over. I LOVE to host. I love cooking for friends, providing a warm and inviting place for them, but our place was a MESS. And I think in 3 years, the entirety of the apartment was clean maybe twice, including the day we moved in. Every time we cleaned, we'd focus on the living areas first - makes sense, right? That's what people would see. And we would just move stuff around. Move laundry from the couch to the bed. Move old mail from the table to the counter. Move this to that room. Move that to the other room. So we'd have a presentable living room, kitchen, bathroom (MAAAYYYYBE, if we got to it), and our office and bedroom would be absolute wrecks. So then I'd spend time cleaning those, just to let crap pile up back in the living room.

I spent so much time cleaning, when I could have been cooking. Or decorating. Or relaxing.

This is my favorite part of minimalism. The idea that once you remove some physical things from your home or your life, you've made room (physical, mental or emotional) for things that bring you joy.

Like I've said before, I'm not anywhere near done, but I've already started to notice changes in my life. If E wants to have an impromptu shindig, I don't have a minor panic attack for 2 hours. I just do a quick sweep of the house and clean the toilet. Voila!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Looking Ahead: 2015

I don't want to make resolutions for 2015 - too easily and too often I get off track, and by mid-February all motivation is gone.

Do I want to lose weight? Sure.
Do I want to get out of debt? Duh.
Do I want to be more organized? You betcha.

So here's the thing. Around this time last year, I started reading about this crazy, COMPLETELY unAmerican, nutso idea: minimalism. I talked briefly about it in my last few posts, but the gist is really to live intentionally.

So last year, as I mentioned, E and I got rid of 12 bags of clothes and 15 boxes of unnecessary...things. I started in my closet first. Anything I hadn't worn in the last 3 months were tossed. Then any item that couldn't make at least 2 distinct outfits. Then, I got real with myself, and packed up any items I knew didn't fit.

Next, I moved on to E's closet. That was a little tougher because he hadn't been reading the same blogs as me, and couldn't read my mind. We spent about 30 minutes talking about clothes and materialism, and assigning emotions to things. Why on earth were we so attached to t-shirts with holes in them that we hadn't worn in 2 years? And by "we" I mean "E". And by "2 years" I mean since college. But it was like a lightbulb went off as we were talking, and we easily pared down his clothes and shoes within 2 hours.

A few days later I tackled my books. Now, I went to a liberal arts school, so my textbooks weren't textbooks so much as freaking national treasures. I learned from primary sources like The Odyssey and Rites of Spring and The Bagavadgita. And so did E. So in our apartment we had 3 large bookshelves filled to the brim, AND the tops of our cabinets in the kitchen (which is a pretty rad decorating choice if you ask me). But did I love all of these books? Had I even read all of them? No.

Books are sacred to me, and so I will never throw them in the trash. But I definitely owned several that I felt ambivalent towards, or just outright hated. Why did I continue to surround myself with things that didn't bring me joy?

So into boxes they went. Along with never-played boardgames, never-used blenders, and never-to-work-again electronic devices.

It felt so good, and it made moving in June that much easier. Throughout the rest of the year, I've constantly thought about the big "purge", and how refreshing it was, and how free I felt immediately after.

So in June, E and I moved into a new house. We had enough furniture and knickknacks to immediately unpack and make the place feel like our own. I've been guilty of buying a few unnecessary things here and there, but overall I think I've done a good job at reusing/redistributing other items we already have.

My biggest problem isn't filling my house with stuff. My biggest problem is filling my closet with stuff. The problem with reading blogs about minimalism is that the bloggers all seem to have it figured out already, right? They have a formula for essentials, they've figured out their style - they seem perfectly content. And so for me, when I read their blogs (and look at their outfits), I fall back into the same old habits.

If I just had that sweater, of course my wardrobe would be complete.
If I just had those leopard print shoes.
If I just had those skinny pants.

So, in the last 4 months or so, I bought. I bought and I bought and I bought. And then I realized I bought a LOT, and so I've stopped. Finally.

I will say that my binge shopping was different this time around. Every item I purchased goes with at least 3 other things I already own. And every item fit perfectly. And each time I finished shopping, I'd come home and purge my closet some more.

I don't meant to belittle folks with eating disorders, but typing all of that out just now makes me realize I have, like consumerist bulimia. That's insane. That's an insane way to live when you're talking about THINGS.

So I was about to congratulate myself on some babystep progress, but clearly, I need to do some more work.

So, I think by now we've figured out that I'm not great at impulse control. In fact, I'd say it's my biggest weakness. I eat too much, I drink too much, I buy too much, I watch too much...I love temporary satisfaction. But we all know it never lasts.

And here comes the big reveal. 2015 is the year of gaining control. Control of my spending and of the stuff in my house. And that's IT. It's not a resolution, it's an intention.

I want to surround myself with only things that bring me joy. It's easy to say that. I love my couch - it's comfortable. I love my dog - he's funny. I love my bedspread - it's pretty. I love the art on my walls - I chose it intentionally. But I don't love the cannister of rubber athletic balls that have never been used in the 3 years we've lived together. I don't love the 15 or so cooking magazines that I picked up in line at the grocery store that are now sitting on my bookshelf having never been used.

Every day I look around my house and find something else that has no purpose in our lives. My immediate response is that we need to get rid of "it", whatever "it" is in that moment. And then my second response is to think back to when it was purchased (if I did the purchasing). What purpose did I think this item would have in my life? Was I kidding myself at the time? What triggered me putting it into my cart?

Decluttering is good. It's important. It's helped me figure out that I DO attach emotions to inanimate objects. It's also helped me keep my house cleaner. Awesome. But decluttering is only ONE aspect of it. The other piece is to make a conscious decision every time I'm out that I will only buy items that I need or that will bring me real, continuous joy. Learning what my triggers are and ignoring them, I hope, will help me to bring less "stuff" into my home. Less stuff means less money spent AND less to clean.

And now, if you've read this far, you deserve a treat. Here's a picture of Rocket Raccoon. Or maybe it's a regular raccoon, but I like to think it's Rocket.

Photo from

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

2014: Year in Review, the Good

I told you I'd be back! My last post recounted, in dramatic detail, all of the terrible, awful, no good, very bad things that happened in 2014. About a week or so after the post, this article popped up in my Feedly feed.

So yeah. Sorry to have dwelt on the negative, but I'm feeling a lot more hopeful and positive about 2015.

But before I get to 2015 (and I have some fun ideas I'm going to share next time), I want to end 2014 on a high note. A lot of the positives surrounding this last year actually came out of surviving/dealing with/handling/living through the negatives. There were a TON of blessings in disguise this year, and several just plain old blessings.

As I mentioned last time, I started the year "unemployed". This was probably the best thing to ever happen to me. That's so crazy to say, but truly I can't imagine my life would be half as fulfilling or meaningful if I was still working at my supposed dream job.

For starters, being fired is, to me, probably the WORST thing that could ever happen to my career. And, in fact, my marketing career is pretty much over. So the WORST thing ever actually happened, and you know what? I came out on the other side. I took all of my talents and skills, and I found a new job in a new industry, with a company that values its employees and provides a TON of training resources. As much as I miss the creative aspect of marketing, I'd pretty much call this a net win. I'm paid more, less stressed, and have a fantastic work/life balance (most of the time).

A photo posted by @jencanread on

On top of that, I gained a lot of confidence. Sure, immediately following my dismissal I was an absolute wreck - don't get it twisted. Being fired for cause will shake you to the very core. But, almost immediately after I lost my job, I started working at a boutique wine shop. This wine shop? Another blessing. The owners are some of the most genuine, kind, helpful, lovely people you could ever hope to meet. And supportive. So incredibly supportive. They really helped me gain perspective on my job loss, helped me rebuild my confidence with tons of encouragement, and just straight up helped me by giving me a job. They didn't have to hire me, they had no need for a full-time employee. But they did.

It's hard to exactly put into words what those 2.5 months at the shop did for me. I was so ashamed of being fired, but within weeks I was able to hold my head up, just a little bit higher. The WORST happened, and I was still here. And, dare I say, happier?

A photo posted by @jencanread on

A photo posted by @jencanread on

For 2.5 months, E and I had almost identical schedules. We'd wake up and have breakfast and coffee together. We'd make dinner together, we'd go grocery shopping together. We had a lot of quality time to talk about Important Things.

I also had a lot of time to spend on the internet. Pinterest became my constant companion. For a while, I'd pin clothes or furniture thinking "when I'm back on my feet, this is what my life will look like." But then one day, I saw a pin for this blog about a minimalist wardrobe, and a lightbulb went off. Later that week, I detoxed my closet. A few weeks later I did it again. Then I talked E into joining me. Over the course of a month or so, we gave away about TWELVE(!!) trashbags full of clothes. Then we started on the rest of the house, and gave away probably FIFTEEN BOXES(!!!!!) of stuff, ranging from boardgames to kitchen utensils and appliances to books.

We continued minimizing, decluttering, and organizing over the next 6 months, and it felt amazing. I'm 100% certain that this would have never happened if I'd been working at my previous job - a job who's sole purpose is to sell sell sell stuff stuff stuff. I'm not a minimalist, and I'm not sure I want to be, but I love being more intentional with what we have in our home. I'm not perfect, and my house can still get cluttered very easily, but I have a completely new outlook on what actually comes into my home. More on this later, because this is a huge driving force behind my goals for 2015.

Being unemployed also completely changed my outlook on finances, for a time. As soon as I started my new job, I paid off all of my medical bills and a majority of my credit card debt, and I started a decent savings account. (Then I fell of the wagon, and am now climbing my way back, but that's a different, lamer story - again saved for 2015).

So, to recap - January 2014 included a great and fulfilling job, a new perspective on the American dream, an opportunity to connect with my incredible boyfriend, a new confidence - and I didn't even mention the showers of love and support we received from our friends and family. January 2014 was pretty awesome - and then I got a new salaried job!

But as you know by now, a new job wasn't my only major life event in 2014. This year has been difficult, but fall has been the worst part of it. Dealing with the breast cancer "scare", my grandmother's death, and E's less than ideal work situation - all within a few months - has been draining. But somehow I feel like we are coming out on the other side stronger. E has held me up, helped me beat back depression, and just been a fantastic cheerleader throughout. I'd like to think that I'm able to do the same for him as we handle another few months of "un(der)employment". I think it's fair to say that we've struggled a lot in our 5+ years together, but there has been something stronger and more serious about this past year than any other. I'm so incredibly grateful to have such an amazing partner by my side. We don't always agree on what's best, but we challenge each other, support each other, and (I think) make each other better.

Okay - so those were all of the blessings in disguise. Now, let's talk about the regular ol' blessings!

In June, E and I left behind our apartment of 3 years (the longest I've ever lived in one place my entire life - true story), and moved into a beautiful-to-us 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom house in the city. Our house (which we rent) is probably not THAT much bigger than our apartment, but the floorplan is much more open, we have so many huge windows, and we have a yard. The yard, man. That is a G-dsend, for real. This guy couldn't be happier:

A photo posted by @jencanread on

Our neighborhood is slightly sketchy full of character, and we're walking distance to a park, farmer's market, coffee shop, yoga studio, and several restaurants. I'm in love.

A photo posted by @jencanread on

We celebrated weddings this year for 3 couples who we love and adore. In April, we traveled to Cashiers for E's cousin's gorgeous mountain wedding, and in May, we traveled to Charleston for another cousin's perfectly southern affair. We had the opportunity to visit with family that E doesn't get to see very often, and it was a lovely and exciting time.

A photo posted by @jencanread on

Then, in October, we were both members of the wedding party for two of our closest friends - Jenn & Jerod. Weddings can be a huge time commitment, they can be a financial strain, and they can try friendships, but these three weddings only brought us smiles and full hearts.

This year was also big for me and my best friend, K. We both turned 30!! I still can't believe it. I remember meeting her our senior year of high school, when we both went to Oglethorpe to compete for a scholarship. She was so happy and friendly - and smart! Our friendship really began our freshman year of college when we decided to rush Alpha Phi Omega together, and it was cemented when we became roommates the following year. We've seen each other through school, heartaches, career advancements (and setbacks, obvi), life, loss and everything in between. And I CANNOT BELIEVE SHE'S 30! That's SO. OLD.
A photo posted by @jencanread on

We celebrated her birthday in June with some party time, then more party time, then one "look at your life, look at your choices" moment (we decided both life and choices were pretty awesome). We celebrated my birthday in August with a classy affair at the wine shop. Then, because none of that was enough for us, we went to the redneck riviera with our S.O.s where we drank obnoxiously large rum drinks, every flavor from the Bud Light "Rita"family of beverages, and water. So much water.

Then we celebrated E's 30th birthday! Holy cow!

This photo was taken at E's 30th birthday party. Not pictured: E.

Another absolutely wonderful thing that happened this year is that I was finally able to visit my sister, who I hadn't seen since I was 14, and meet my 3 adorable nephews for the first time. Look at them!

A photo posted by @jencanread on

Now look at us!

So 2014 was a really tough year mentally, emotionally, and financially. But I also have a lot to be thankful for. I'm so incredibly lucky to be surrounded by an abundance of love and understanding. As much as I'm ready for 2014 to be over, it was a year of such tremendous growth and learning for me that I can't say I wish it had turned out differently.


Thursday, December 4, 2014

2014: Year in Review, the Bad

You know when someone asks you if you want the good news or the bad news first? I always pick the bad news. I want to rip the band-aid off, and then end on a high note.

I thought 2013 was a wild ride - between starting my dream job, then being fired for the first time in my life, then celebrating E's college graduation- I'd never had had such emotional whiplash!

But 2014 looked me right in the eye and said "Sorry, girl. I don't think you've had enough yet."

I'm looking forward to 2015 and all of the new opportunities and life changes it might bring, but in order to do that, I need to reflect on this year. I want to stare right back into the eyes of 2014, accept the crap that came our way, and then put it away. The good stuff - and there's a lot of good stuff, don't get me wrong - I'll treasure and hold on to. But I'll get to that in my next post.

So. 2014. I started the year "unemployed". I had a job, actually, working at a local wine shop (that's one of the great things that I'll talk about next time). I absolutely loved working there, and I'm so grateful to the owners for helping me when I was really down. But if we're being completely honest, it was really, really tough, financially. I was barely making a living wage working full time hours, which lead to enormous amounts of stress related to paying down my debt. I'd lie awake at night worrying that we'd eventually be homeless, and I'd have to move back in with my parents.

Fortunately, I started a new salaried position on January 27. Whew. Problem solved!

So, that weekend, E went on a ski trip with a friend and broke his leg! He was completely helpless for the first 2 weeks or so, bless him. I didn't mind taking care of him at all, but because he was unable to stand, much less walk, for about 2 months, he was effectively unemployed. And paying high medical bills. So the financial stress just lingered, like an unwanted house guest, for months.

E was finally cleared to go back to work sometime in April, and was back to full time by May.

Then tragedy struck. My uncle passed away suddenly, leaving his two adult sons absolutely heartbroken and given the task of dealing with what comes after. My mom and I went down to Florida to help where we could and provide a little bit of support. It was an incredibly difficult time for my cousins, for my mom, for my grandmother. I certainly spent time reflecting on the good memories I had, but I felt more like a witness to the grief of others. My uncle and I weren't close, and honestly didn't have a very good relationship at the time that he passed. Instead, I focused on being a shoulder for those around me. I hope I provided some comfort. His death started me thinking of my family, its history, its drama, its heartbreak. His service was held at sea, on a speedboat, attended by 2 of his 3 sons, his daughter, son-in-law, sister and myself. It was small and lonely, and just really damn sad.

Summer passed, and it was finally time to deal with something I haven't really spoken about publicly. Last September I found a lump in my breast. I started a post about it several times, but nothing I wrote sounded right to me. I found a lump in my breast. It's one of the greatest fears a woman has to face. Maybe not THE greatest, but it's up there. I found it last September and went to a doctor immediately. After a brief examination, the doctor told me it was unlikely to be cancer, and that I could wait for my health insurance to kick in before scheduling further tests. At the time, we assumed my insurance would start in November, but instead I was unemployed. Once I started my new job, my benefits kicked in immediately, but it was a high deductible plan, and I had to wait until I had money saved.

So in September I went back to my doctor, who stated I needed a mammogram and potentially an ultrasound. Also, I didn't have one lump anymore, I had several. I scheduled my mammogram for the following week, and had an ultrasound on the same day. I was told I needed to schedule an appointment with a specialist immediately, and that there was a "potential for malignancy". HO. LY. SHIT. I was put in touch with a family friend, who happened to be a breast specialist, and got in within 2 weeks. After several hours of waiting, sitting with cancer patients and survivors, generally working myself into a self-pitying frenzy, another ultrasound was performed, and when I finally got to see the doctor her first words to me were "it's not cancer!". Thank. G-d. She determined it was most likely a fibroadenoma, but it could be another type of cyst, so a biopsy would need to be performed. She then said there was a miniscule chance that it was cancer, but that she would be absolutely shocked based on all of the evidence. So. Back again the next week, biopsy performed, confirmed it was a fibroadenoma, scheduled surgery, went to surgery, the end!

And then 5 days later my grandmother passed away. My grandmother was...complicated. Her life was complicated, her relationships were complicated, she was complicated. I loved her in a way that you're supposed to love your relatives, but she was mean and spiteful, and in the end she'd become a huge burden to my parents, who she'd lived with over the last year or so. I used to say things like "bad people have families too!". I was back at the office on Monday, and around 1:00 my mom called me to tell me it was over. My grandmother had been declining for the last 2 years, but in the last few months, almost immediately following my uncle's death, she lost the ability to speak. Her quality of life was just not there. She passed away in her bed, with her caretaker by her side. My mom went home immediately and sat with her until the funeral home could come. I went home to be with my mom, but couldn't bear the thought of seeing my grandmother, my Nana, gone. I sat in the breakfast room, working from my laptop, when I heard a commotion. I got up to see the funeral home had arrived, and they were taking my Nana away. I saw her hand fall out from under the sheet, and I just lost it. The next few hours were rough, with my mom trying to make the arrangements. There was confusion, and anger, and sadness. And there was fighting. So much fighting. I went home that night and cried for hours. It really is true, you have no idea how much you'll miss someone until they're gone. I was so angry with my Nana while she was here, and as soon as she wasn't I just wanted to feel her stroke my hair again, or hear her sing to me. It hadn't occurred to me that I would be so sad, so I wasn't prepared for the grief that followed. My mom and I went to Boston the next week for the funeral. Nana was laid to rest next to her parents, and her daughter, my Auntie Nancy.

It was an another incredibly difficult time, and almost immediately following that, E quit his job. It's not my place to talk about it here, but suffice it to say that we'll be starting the new year with another unemployment, and another few months of financial stress.

I have both friends and family who have suffered so much worse, and my problems weren't insurmountable. I know have a lot to be thankful for, and believe me I'll cover it all in my next post. But this has been the most difficult year of my life so far. So, my apologies for being uncouth, but 2014 can blow me.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

2014 Resolutions Recap - This Should Be Fun!

Well. It's Decemeber, and I haven't posted since...January 7. HA! So I thought I'd pop in and give a little update. How'd my resolutions go?

1. Stay organized so I don't have the urge to buy things.

This has actually gone pretty well. E and I spent the month of January purging our closets, our books, our kitchen. We got rid of anything that didn't serve a purpose, from clothes that didn't fit, to appliances we didn't use, to books we hated from college. We moved in July, and we've tried very hard to fill our new home with only items we love, while keeping the house itself clean and tidy.

As far as clothes go, I've still gone shopping a bit, but I've tried very hard to keep my wardrobe as pared down as possible. It's a struggle, since I definitely get an emotional high from buying new things, but I've really been buying more intentionally so I know I'm on the right track.

I signed up for StitchFix a few months ago, and I'm loving it. It sounds crazy, but I think it's helped me spend less. Because I'm staying organized, and only buying what I love, I always know what I have. I can tell the stylist what I'm looking for to fit into my wardrobe, and then I wait to see what I get. There have been several times I've walked around Target or Banana Republic and wanted to purchase an item, but I've stopped myself because I want to wait for my "fix" first. I will only purchase something when I'm out if I truly LOVE it, or if I "need" it to fill a hole in my closet, like a black t-shirt or something. Then, because the clothes from StitchFix are higher quality, but more expensive, I'll also only purchase the items that I LOVE from them. So I'm filling my wardrobe with things that look great on me, and that work with other pieces that I already own, and I'm not just making impulse purchases of items I'm ready to get rid of a month later.

All of that being said, staying organized and buying less is still a big priority for me in 2015.

2. Eat more whole foods and cook at home every night (eat out no more than once a week per meal*).

Well, once we moved to the grocery store wasteland, keeping our house stocked with fresh produce became difficult. However, since I work from home 2-3x per week now, I have lots of time to cook, so we really eat at home almost every night. I eat lunch at home when I'm working there, but when I go into the office, I like to take full advantage of my face to face time with co-workers, so I end up eating at the local cafe. I do try to make healthy choices, and grab a huge salad filled with TONS of fruits and veggies 9 times out of 10. It's not great on my wallet, but it's worth it for the extra fellowship time. 

3. Take Johnny for more walks - at least 3 times per week and at least 6 miles total per week. C'mon now. You have no excuse.

Well, I had no excuse, and this still didn't work out. Johnny goes for walks almost weekly, ranging from 1.5 to about 3 miles. We live close to a big park where we go on Sundays for the Farmer's Market, and we walk to the locally owned pet store for bi-weekly baths. So, we're doing better than when we lived in the apartment, but not nearly as great as we could be doing.

4. Write more (400 words per day, 5x per week).

Have you seen the blog? Did you read that first paragraph? Yeah. No, this hasn't happened. Clearly. I did write a short story on my beach trip though!

5. Read more (26 books at least).

I did not read 26 books. I read a few, especially during my beach week, but still not enough.


Yeah. They're going to have to amputate my leg.