Some sweet time with a niece, the little model

(If you don’t read the snippet of words, go ahead and scroll down to the photos–that’s the real point!)

I had a really spectacular weekend this past weekend. So, so many highlights.

One of them occurred Sunday morning. My parents-in-law had a full house, and I was the first one awake. I took my book and sat on the porch.

Fifteen minutes later, my niece Kate, the second person awake, tiptoed outside and joined me. We said good morning, and she got really quiet and just looked around the backyard (it’s a gorgeous backyard–huge deck, pool, a ton of trees behind which flows the St. Joe River). I kept reading and kept peeking at her, surprised she was so completely content to sit in silence.

Another 15 minutes later, we both started giggling: Somewhere in the trees, someone was playing a trumpet. Not a song–just odd bursts of notes. The strangest wake-up call I’ve ever heard and not what you expect to come out of the woods at 10 a.m.

We spent the next 20 minutes talking about her school, music class, how excited she is to learn to play the recorder, how neat it was to see the group of turkeys moseying about in the field on the side of the house.

When Jeff and I left later that day, in the car, Jeff commented on the long hug Kate gave me when we left.

In short: I adore this girl. And then I get on Facebook this morning and see that she posed for a local photog’s business. LOOK AT THIS LITTLE GEM.

That is all.

For anyone based around Indianapolis, the brilliant photog behind these images is Amanda Matthews. Check her out on Facebook.

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Kate the Great. By Amanda Matthews Photography

Oh, happy day: I just finished a journal & get to start a new one

I did something this morning that only happens every few years. It’s been happening in that time span since I was in the second grade, though less often as I get older.

I finished a journal.

journal1

The way I use a journal has changed since I was a child. When I started, in second grade, it was a chronicle of my day: what did I do, who did I talk to, what was going on with my family, with my friends. It’d be boring if it wasn’t so adorable.

In about sixth grade, it shifted focus primarily to friends and boys–and not necessarily in that order. That sort of angst continued until high school. The college years meant I had less time to jot my thoughts, but it was still an important part of my life.

After graduation, the entries trickled, sadly. But my topics became more important than those that preceded them.

Today, what I write about is all over the board. This latest installation, 793 days covered in 192 pages, is full of poems and lists. Thoughts about friendships and my marriage. Things that made me excited and sad. Favorite quotes I found, and the first pages of the book I’m writing. Detailed memories from visiting my grandmother in Las Vegas after my grandfather died and a few recipes she gave me there. In the front, I tried to list all the places I used the journal. In addition to my home, we have

  1. My friend’s parents’ lakehouse in Sardenia, Ohio, and
  2. Her childhood bedroom in Liberty Township, Ohio
  3. A local cafe
  4. The Cleveland Museum of Art
  5. On airplanes, from Fort Wayne to Vegas and back; and from Orlando to home
  6. And my favorite, the balcony of our hotel at the Marriot Grande Vista on the Orlando trip in April

I am notorious among my friends and family for my shoddy memory, and I love that I can open up a journal at random and find a memory that I’d likely forgotten. I open this journal at random, right now, and find myself on Feb. 22, 2014. It turns out, I hadn’t forgotten this particular memory, but I didn’t recall this particular thought:

“This is a trip that should be chronicled. I feel it will be a big one for me. Even if nothing life-changing or earth-shattering occurs, it will be the first time I see Nani without Papa …”

Now comes another exciting part, nearly as exciting as scribbling thoughts in the final pages of a journal: starting a new one. This book is kind of small, and the lines are far apart, so I suspect it won’t take me 2 1/2 years to get through, like the one I just finished. But the sentiment on the cover was perfection.

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The joy of saying ‘no’

Last week, the fabulous Liz Gilbert posted a little something about saying “no” on her Facebook page. She wrote about how difficult it was to say “no” to people, that she feared her group of friends would grow smaller as people became upset “because they were angry and hurt that they were no longer getting everything they wanted from (her).”

Turns out, her circle did grow smaller, but those who stayed became her most trusted, dearest friends.

I shared the post because it spoke to me, as so much of what she writes does. Because while I may get a little nag in my guts when I tell someone “no,” I will do it anyway if that’s what I want. I am a happier person when I am doing the tasks that I want to do. And when I am over-worked and -stressed with too much on my plate? I am a less happy person–and I do a crappier job on my commitments.

Seems like a no-brainer to keep my to-do list full of items I actually want to do.

This, apparently, is not a common belief.

Many of the comments on the post I shared were about how women–never men, in this instance–all but had to train themselves to say “no”:

  • It didn’t come naturally to a cousin, but she worked at it.
  • An acquaintance received coaching about how to make ridiculous requests to hear people say “no”–and, surprisingly, 80 percent of her “unreasonable” requests were granted anyway.
  • A friend shared that as she entered her 40s, it became easier. With age, wisdom, I suppose.
  • A college friend went a little further, explaining that it’s more than saying “no,” but getting used to not explaining one’s answer. “Every time I feel guilty about saying no,” she wrote, “I remind myself of this literary lesson: ‘The giving tree died – and you are not a tree. Trees are forever rooted in one place … and you have places to go.'” Brilliant.

For me, developing the will–ability? desire? cajones?–to say “no” came out of my high school and early college years. I was always and forever the “nice” friend. I was a fantastic listener who would do anything for anyone, a trait that often results in getting walked on. I’d go along with the crowd, happily doing whatever everyone else wanted to do.

Things changed the second semester of my senior year of college. I had very few credits to take, as I’d packed my early years with gobs of classes. I found myself ready to graduate and leave this faux adulthood that life thrusts upon those 18-year-olds who opt for a four-year, on-campus university experience, and I realized: I wanted to do everything exactly as I wanted to do it for those final months.

So I went out, virtually every night. Not to get shit-faced or stay out until 4 a.m.–I was never much of a partier–but to spend time with these friends I knew I’d never see again. I went out because I knew what my dorm looked like all too well (yes, dorm–I lived on campus all four years of college). I went out because I was recently out of a relationship so serious that, had I hung on a little longer, he would have given me the ring he’d bought (ACK). I went out because I had some college’ing to catch up on.

During that time, I lost one of my closest friends because I was being “selfish,” “naive,” and “full of myself,” opting to enjoy my final months in the city I would soon leave forever instead of staying in every night. I wasn’t sorry then, and I’m even less sorry now.

Over the decade or so since, no one would ever make the mistake of calling me “too nice.” I’m much too blunt for that. I can sugar coat like a champ, but I operate under a simple assumption: We are all adults, and I owe you nothing. Unless “you” are my husband, my parents or brother, or on the short list of my bffs.

Life is entirely too short to fill my days with things I don’t want to do, and I am much more fulfilled when my life is peppered with things that bring me joy: people I love, writing projects, jewelry, The Walking Dead, and more, and more, and more. With this worldview comes a beautiful confidence; I saw a HONY comment yesterday that put it perfectly: “I used to walk into a room and wonder, ‘Will they like me?’ Now I walk in and wonder, ‘Will I like them?'”

Today, saying “no” looks very different than it did in my college years. It’s less “I’m not going to stay home because I want to go out and DO ALL THE THINGS” and more “Go ahead without me. I’ll stay home in my pj’s with ‘A Storm of Swords’ and two fingers of whiskey.” It’s less friends calling me names behind my back because I go out too much and more understanding who are the ones who actually seem to want to spend time with me. It’s looking at the people who have brought me grief in my life and feeling at peace with letting them go, and it’s looking at those who are toxic in their guts and refusing to debase myself similarly.

To paraphrase Ms. Gilbert, go ahead and practice using the word “no.” Understand how to say it, and don’t give a shit. Know what’s up. Be powerful, and be free.

Myrtle, who knows what’s up. (Click on pic to visit Gilbert’s post.)

It’s been a month: I officially keep a gratitude journal

One of my favorite Christmas gifts I received was from a new friend. She’s something of a paper/pen/journal nut, and she made me a gratitude journal. It is essentially 12 grocery-list sized pieces of nice card stock held together with an o-ring. Each page is headed with a month and numbered.

It’s a gratitude journal, she told me. Each day, no matter how shitty the day, I write something I’m grateful for.

Oh look, another weekend note (see list below)

Oh look, another weekend note (see list below)

I thought the fact that I’m allotted such a small amount of space would irritate me, that I’d be inclined to detail the good things I choose to note each day. Instead, I find I like that I don’t feel compelled to actually journal each night. This is a glorified list, but one with a lot more meaning than “milk, avocados, whiskey.”

I filled out every day in January except the 4th, when I plumb forgot. I gave it a looksie, curious if a common theme emerged, and I found a number of commonalities. Here are the most frequent topics:

  • Friends/family (8): new friends, my ridiculously supportive husband
  • Reading/writing (6): My Atlantic subscription, writers’ retreat, finishing a good book
  • Me (4): My creative side, healthy hair
  • Weekends (4): five-day weekends, Fridays after work

They’re not all deep and meaningful, but that doesn’t make them any less important for a happy life.

There are reasons to be grateful all around. I don’t often have bad days, but when I do, it’s nice to have a little bound list of all the reasons I have to feel loved.

The importance of staying in touch with 14-year-old you

Last week, I pulled up an album on Spotify that I haven’t listened to in a decade. It was an album that got so much play when I was 14 that, when I listened to it at 31, I could sing from the first word of the first song to the last word of the last song.

It was Natalie Imbruglia’s “Left of the Middle.” Remember “Torn”?

Feeling nearly giddy with nostalgia, I shared a Facebook status about the experience and was met with a comment that made me pretty happy:

One of the things I love about you is that you haven’t lost touch with your inner 14-year-old.

I wouldn’t go back to my teen years for anything,* but there is a joy and innocence of 14 that grown-ups can’t replicate. We can try. We can decide that those traits are important to us and live our lives in a way that attempts to replicate that feeling. Apparently, I do this successfully enough that others have noticed.

And yet, there is no first kiss like your first kiss. There is no reading experience that comes close to that first book that spoke poetry to your guts. There is no friendship like teen girl friendship.

At left, at 14 (yes, that’s a Tigger mock turtleneck midriff shirt with black overall shorts). At right, at 18.

But maybe we can try to maintain some of that newness. Certain things from 14 are worth carrying into adulthood:

  1. The friendships. In 1997, the sun rose and the sun set with my best friend (above). Her word was more important than all the words. Her approval was more important than my own. I’ve no interest in having that level of dependence on another person again, but what I wouldn’t give to love a friend so fully. Today, I can’t even muster the energy to call people I haven’t talked to in two months. At 14, one of our biggest concerns was that the other would fall off the caller ID. Our home caller IDs held 99 numbers, and when she went on vacation, other calls would push her down the line. We could never, ever let the other’s home number disappear from the phone. It was a Big Deal.
  2. The relationships. Not everything about the relationships, god no. But if we can find someone as an adult who makes us as giddy as those first, new loves, we should hold on with two hands.
  3. The knowledge that anything is possible. There is nothing as fearless as a teenager. At 14, I could decide to be a journalist or a chemist, an engineer or a veterinarian. I could decide to go to Kent State, or Ball State, or Italy. I could decide to get engaged at 19, or 22, or 32, or never. As a grown up, it’s easy to feel stuck in all those decisions we made back in our 20s as if, for some reason, we can’t unchoose those choices. Yeah, it’s harder with kids and spouses and responsibilities, but it’s still your life. If you’re in a dead-end job, get out. If you loathe your city’s weather, move. If your fiance sucks, ditch him.
  4. The amount I documented my life. I have the memory of a goldfish, so I am eternally grateful I kept such detailed journals from the time I was in second grade well into college. As life got busier, I pulled out my pen less often. I still keep a journal, and I’m determined to start writing in it more often this year. But no matter what, I will never detail conversations, love interests, or a day’s play-by-play like I did in 1996.
  5. My love of King’s Island. I grew up not 20 minutes from the amusement park. My friends and I would get season passes, and each week, a different mom would drop us off at noon and pick us up at close. King’s Island was our babysitter, and it was amazing. As far as third places go, it knocks the socks off Starbucks or Barnes and Noble.
There were a ton of friends who shifted through the King's Island crew. They're some of my favorite teen memories. (And that'd be a Bulls jersey serving as my bathing suit cover up. I'm sure I'm wearing my gold Bulls necklace and Bite Me earrings, too.)

There were a ton of friends who shifted through the King’s Island crew. They’re some of my favorite teen memories. (And that’d be a Bulls jersey serving as my bathing suit cover up.)

Not to say 14 was all blue skies and pinky swears. There are plenty that I’m happy to leave in the annals of the ’90s:

  • My unibrow
  • My bacne
  • My obsession with the phrase “bite me”
  • My refusal to learn to drive
  • My insistence on remaining a virgin until marriage. Thanks for that, St. Max youth group.
  • My inability to cleanly dump a boyfriend (OK, this problem may have edged into the millennium)
  • My inability to hit on someone cute (This was only a problem in my early teen years–in my later teens, I figured out how to do it: I talked to boys only who didn’t intimidate me, which means I dated lots of computer nerds. I still love me a good computer nerd. I am highly amused [and kind of turned on?] by my graphic designer husband currently learning code for work.)
  • My barely there A-cup
  • My oily, oily face. If I put my head down on a homework assignment, I would leave a stain, not unlike greasy pizza on a paper plate. Ew.

Clearly, the con list is longer than the pro list. But I’d still like to give 14-year-old me a time traveling fist bump of appreciation. She wasn’t all bad.

* That’s not entirely true. Here is a complete list of things I would be 14 for again: A month’s worth of writing lessons from Stephen King. Getting rid of Joey’s autism.

The differences between turning 21 and turning 31

My 31st birthday was on Monday. I took the day off work, shopped, watched a girlie flick (“Sex and the City 2”) while I filled some orders, went with ma hubby to dinner at my favorite joint in town, and then saw Occulus.

When we stepped out of the movie theater, on the evening of April 14 in northeast Indiana, the ground was covered in snow.

APRIL EFFING 14th.

A decade prior, I walked out of an underage bar in Kent, Ohio, drunk for the second time in my life (I was not a college drinker …) I looked up. I looked at my boyfriend. I looked around.

“I’m not that drunk, am I?”

No, I was not, because it was snowing. They were the only two times in my life it’s snowed on my VERY SPRING BIRTHDAY.

At my 21st birthday, I sang karaoke for the first time in my life. The song, fittingly, was “Like a Virgin.” That is what’s happening here.

I had no idea I was the kind of girl who wore midriff shirts, but then you go. Also, I wish I looked half as cool as Melissa did while we sang.

At my 31st birthday, which I celebrated with friends this past Saturday, I karaoked again, and I knocked something silly off my bucket list: I sang on karaoke one of my favorite George Michael songs of all time, one that I’ve wanted to sing for ages but was too shy to do in front of strangers: “I Want Your Sex.”

First time, “Like a Virgin.” A decade later, “I Want Your Sex.” You can’t make this shit up, folks.

At my 21st birthday, we started the night at a friend’s, who wanted to be the first to provide me with my first legal drink. The day fell on a Sunday, so at midnight Saturday night/Sunday morning, we cheersed and headed out.

At midnight. AND I WASN’T TIRED.

My 31st birthday began at 5:30 p.m. That’s like early bird special time, but I wanted to go to a winery that closed at 7 p.m. So we sipped our wines, bought copious amounts of wine slushies, and enjoyed the gorgeous patio.

At my 21st birthday, we were all CASUAL. Oh man, so many jeans, so many sweatshirts and sweaters. Look at us go:

For 31? Still some jeans, but considerably more fitted. Fewer belly buttons. (Ugh, seriously, can I go back in time and bitchslap me?) Much more colorful and interesting tops. At least three maxi skirts (for the birthday girl included). I never really GOT it when my mama said women get better with age. But … we do. (Not that I don’t love those early-20s fools above. But come on.)

(There were boys there too, but the ladies photo is much more fun.)

At 21, I guarantee I wanted people to buy me all the things. I wasn’t a material girl, but I know I was hyped up to see what the boy got me. (Don’t ask … it’s been a decade, do you think I remember??)

At 31, when friends showed up with gifts, I was uncomfortable opening them. I so appreciate the gesture and feel so warm and fuzzy that people like me enough to show up with a gift. But I don’t throw parties for presents–I throw them to make all the people I like get in one space at one time.

(Though the giant pop-up floor map of Westeros was pretty badass …)

And of course … there’s that whole “I have a husband now” thing. And that’s pretty much the best.

Alrighty, what was your 21st birthday like? Tell me you wore ridiculous things, too??? And how did it compare to your most recent celebration?

An old-fashioned love story, an ode to my papa

Last month, I had a sort of impromptu visit to Las Vegas. When my grandfather died Feb. 1, my dad and aunts were already there. He had been ill, and they knew he didn’t have long.

Papa passed away just before the Super Bowl, and it turns out, Vegas is about as busy for the Super Bowl as it is for New Years Eve. This made plane tickets for his funeral $2,000 more than they would have been otherwise. Alas, I did not make the funeral.

Instead, I visited a few weeks later, to spend time with Nani. I have an aunt and cousin who live in Vegas near her, but most of our family is in Illinois. So after Papa died, Nani was alone, and she was lonely. She and Papa married when she was 18–he was 28–in December 1955 in Tehran, Iran. They met at a Bingo game at Nani’s neighbor’s home. She caught a boy’s eye, and he rushed home to tell his older brother about the pretty girl. He said, “If you don’t hit on her, I will.”

At the next Bingo game, Papa was sure to be there, to meet Nani. A week later, they were engaged. A week later, they were married. Nine months later, my dad was born. Ten months after that, my aunt was born. Three more aunts followed over the next seven or eight years.

My beautiful grandparents on their wedding day, 1955

My beautiful grandparents on their wedding day, 1955

When Papa died, he had just celebrated his 86th birthday. My grandparents had been married for 59 years. Nani, 77, is alone for the first time since she was 18 years old.

This is a simple fact, but my brain cannot comprehend it. At 18, a girl is not quite a woman yet. I’m not sure what it is that turns one into a woman, but I don’t think it’s marriage or a child. It’s something that happens over time, as life happens, as sadness and happiness transform and mature a person.

So for the first time in her adult life, my nani is alone. She misses Papa. For the past few years, he wasn’t doing well. He’d get lost in their small one-story home, unable to find his way from the kitchen to the bedroom, a trip that takes a dozen steps. This put a damper on Papa’s walks. He always was a walker; when I was little, he’d take me to the mall to walk. I used to run ahead like a drunk toddler, stop, check to make sure he was still following me, and race ahead again.

Christmas, sometime in the mid-'80s, with Nani and Papa

Christmas, sometime in the mid-’80s, with Nani, Papa, and my cousin Mike

Papa didn’t speak English well. Oh, he could communicate the important stuff, but for a toddler who just wants someone to take her to Showbiz (long before it was Chuck E. Cheese’s), Papa was my favorite playmate. Unfortunately, English conversations with Papa never went much beyond, “Hi, Papa!” and “Love you.” But he IS a grandfather, and grandfathers have favorite stories about their grandchildren. His favorite one about me went something like this: “At Showbiz? You said, ‘Papa, more money!’ and I said, ‘No, no more money!'” and he’d demonstrate how I’d move from game to game, checking the coin return, determined to find a spare quarter before I’d give up and go jump in the balls.

But he understood way more than he let on. My sophomore year of college, my parents moved from the Ohio home where I grew up into their Illinois home, where they still live today. They bought me a plane ticket from Kent to visit for Thanksgiving, and it would be my first visit to the new house.

A friend dropped me off at the Canton/Akron airport, and I saw that my plane was delayed. I wanted to be sure my parents knew, but calling them was proving difficult–I did not know their new phone number. I had two family phone numbers memorized; my mom’s parents weren’t home, so I dialed my dad’s parents, chanting under my breath, “Please be home, Nani. Please be home, Nani.” Papa answered.

“Papa, hi! It’s Jaclyn!”

“Batta Papa, how are you??” (“Batta Papa,” or “Batta Nana,” as my grandmother calls me, means “of Papa’s heart,” or “of Nana’s heart.”)

“I’m good! Papa, is Nani there?”

“Hmm?”

“Nani, is she there?”

“No, no.”

“Oh.” Shit. “Papa, I’m at the airport and my plane is delayed. Do you have my parents’ new phone number?”

“OK.” And he walked away from the phone. I had no idea if he would come back.

Miraculously, minutes later, he returned–with their phone number. Thus, teenage Jac learned that Papa was just pretending he didn’t understand what was going on. That man knew what was up.

Little Jac with Papa and obscene gobs of Care Bears. And a Rainbow Brite. And some orange camel thing on the chair.

Once, Papa saved my life. I shared that story with my nani on my visit, but I’ve never told another family member. We were swimming at a small beach, me and my cousins and Papa. Three of them were on a raft that Papa pulled, and I held onto the back, kicking my legs. I let go, thinking we were in more shallow waters. I could graze the sand with the tip of my toe, but the water level was just at my nostrils. I remember trying to flail, and thinking a 6-year-old version of “Oh, shit.” After a few moments, I felt an arm clothesline me across the belly, and Papa charged me up and out of the water, onto the sand. He didn’t yell at me, he just bent to look me in the face as I coughed and sputtered. I’ve thought about that a lot recently, and I wonder if he remembers this. If he remembered.

The last time I saw Papa, it was a happy occasion–it was my wedding. He wore big giant sunglasses, and we all joked that Papa was a rock star. I was the only grandchild he saw get married. In fact, as a 30-year-old woman, I had all four grandparents seated at the reception table with her parents. This makes me the luckiest.

Most of the Assyrians (the ones who didn’t run inside, away from the cold wind). That small boy with me and Nani and Papa and the Christmas tree? He’s the tall fellow behind Papa.

Papa was quiet through most of the event. I’m not sure how much he realized what was going on. But when the DJ started to play the Assyrian music, the kind you dance to as a snake winding its away around the dance floor, holding hands with your neighbors, we all saw his face light up. He used to lead those dances at weddings, but at mine, he just sat in a chair, watched, smiled, and bounced his leg while his son, the father-of-the-bride, took over and led the the strand of Americans, who had no idea what they were doing (including this one).

Clockwise from top left corner, me and Matt, the cousin who "talks Assyrian" with me; three of my aunts; my dad leading the Assyrian conga line (I'm sure it has a better name--I just don't know what it is). Note Joey looking confused. Or possibly in pain--Mom found a big sore on his toe the next day. We thing either Aunt Zharmen or cousin Ryann accidentally clomped on his poor feet with their spike heels.

Clockwise from top left corner, dancing with my cousin Matt; three of my aunts, who knew what they were doing; my dad leading the Assyrian conga line (I’m sure it has a better name–I just don’t know what it is).

In retrospect, I’m glad I visited Vegas when I did. A few weeks after the funeral, everyone had gone home. I got to spend a long weekend with my nani, talking, keeping her company. We drove to the cemetery and I got to say goodbye to Papa, and I got to hold Nani while she cried and told him she missed him.

Because he lived far away, it doesn’t seem real that he has died. Even while I was there, in their home, spending my days and evenings with Nani and not Papa, it felt like he was just in the back room, or maybe he was on the couch next to me, just out of my peripheral vision, watching John Wayne shoot people, or just in the family room, out of eye shot, playing solitaire.

During the final years of his life, Papa got religious. He’d pray, and he’d tell my dad, “Just in case.” He’d also tell my dad that he worried God forgot him. He was ready to go, and knowing that, it makes things easier for a granddaughter.

But I’m not so sure it makes it easier for a wife.

Jeff and I will have our first anniversary in May. Periodically, I think about what will happen when he’s not around anymore. What I would be like as a widow. How I would cope. The thoughts can’t come. I can’t imagine it. I cannot fathom it. All I see is empty. I see holes, and what once filled those holes was light and love and a piece of self that never grows back.

Fifty-nine years they were married. Five children. Eight grandchildren. An across-the-ocean move. But what remains?

A wife. Those five children, and eight grandchildren. That backgammon board Dad will take the next time he visits my nani. And memories, the kind that flood me when I see a little girl and her grandfather at the mall or catch a whiff of Earl Gray tea.