wherever you are

What do you do? What do you want to do?

If you’d have asked me that question in college, I’d have given you a blank stare. I loved to write and read; Dr. Haluska’s were my favorite classes. I was decent at editing, I knew, and okay at writing. There is always room to improve, though, and how many people actually make it as authors?

In short: I had no idea.

I got lucky, though, and landed a copy-writing internship straight out of college. It was at a publishing company, and it was here that my first job was born. I was good at what I did, and my editors loved me. But that didn’t mean I wanted to be a copy writer forever . . .

After a year and a half, I returned home to California where I worked as an ophthalmology tech, a job I hated but desperately needed. Shortly thereafter, I received the opportunity to teach in Asia — first in Taiwan and then in Hong Kong. Those experiences changed my world, and most days I long to go back. It’s been freelance writing and teaching and tech writing since then, however, and I must say: I’m grateful for each one. My “career” thus far has given me insight into far more walks of life than many can claim — and that’s a good thing.

ladder5Why? you might ask, to which I’d reply, Why not? How could it possibly be bad to be able to relate to more people around you?

Not only that, good can be done everywhere. I still think of little *Lacy, in whose classroom I was an assistant last year. She’s a big second grader now, and I wonder, Does she remember me? I miss her little-girl giggle and grin. Working with people who’ve only been around just a very few years is one of the best things I ever did. These days, at the Water Agency, I help facilitate public projects aimed at helping the greater good. Pictured in this post are before and after photos of a dam the water agency built last summer to protect fish in the Russian River. People aren’t the only ones being affected by California’s historic drought.

And it all leads me to believe that whoever you are, and wherever you are, you can make a difference. You don’t have to be in a service job to help others. You don’t have to give all of your time and money to charity (although doing so never a bad thing). You don’t have to be a pastor or a teacher or have ten titles behind your name to make a difference. Life starts now, not at some distant day in the future when you’ve got everything “all figured out.” And every day counts. Sometimes all it takes is a smile or an encouraging word to turn someone’s day around — including your own.

The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well. — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Be a rainbow is somebody else’s cloud. — Maya Angelou

*Name changed


A fishladder!

to help a stranger

Broken-down-car-drawing-in-inkShe came at me from across the busy street. I was sitting in my car with the door open, enjoying the breeze, listening to the rustling of the trees, preparing for my upcoming tutoring session. I watched her cross — alone and carrying nothing — and thought it odd, but I looked away. I didn’t expect her to stop.

“E-excuse me? Miss?”

I looked over. The girl appeared to be about my age and was wearing faded jeans and a baggy sweatshirt. Her reddish hair was pulled into an oily ponytail at the nape of her neck. “Uh, hi,” I said.

“Can you give me a ride?”

Umm . . . I looked at the clock in my dashboard. 5:45. “Where do you need to go? I have to be somewhere in 15 minutes.”

“My car broke down,” the girl hurried to explain. “It’s not far. My friend’s house. It’s about 5 minutes from here, off Rheem Boulevard.” She looked near tears.

Umm . . . “Uh, sure,” I said. What else could I say? “Yeah, I can do that.” I looked down at the textbooks and papers strewn across my lap and passenger seat beside me. My half eaten salad from Whole Foods sat atop the dash. “Hang on just a sec.” I grabbed the textbooks and salad container and tossed them in the back seat. The papers I gathered into a pile on my lap. “Come on in.”

The girl climbed in. As she did, I noticed — she had a faint odor, like stale sweat and body odor. I had to fight not to wrinkle my nose.

“Okay, so I’m not actually from around here,” I told her. Which was true. I travel nearly 160 miles round-trip once a week to tutor *Sophie right now. “Where are we going again?”

“Rheem Boulevard. It’s that way.” She pointed to a road on our left.

“Okay.” I turned on the car and began driving in the direction of her finger. She didn’t say anything else as we went, and the silence felt awkward; I used it as an opportunity to introduce myself. “I’m Jessica,” I said.

“I’m Stacy.”

“Nice to meet you, Stacy. I’m sorry about your car. So . . . You just left it there?”


“Do you not have a cell phone or anything?”

“No. I mean, yes, but my cell phone is dead, and I don’t have any money.”

“Oh . . .” I was at a loss. Stacy seemed prone to lapse into silence between my attempts at conversation. But then she surprised me.

“You’d think people in Moraga would be nice, but they’re really not,” she said. I assumed she was talking about her car. I waited for her to say more, but . . . nothing. I understood what she meant, though. Upon my first visit in Moraga, as I’d watched Mercedes Benzs and BMWs drive through its hilly terrain, I’d felt a strong impression that these people were, if not selfish, very self-absorbed. No one made eye contact, and there was an intense “keeping up with the Joneses” type feel throughout the town. Thankfully Sophie’s family was an exception.

“I know what you mean,” I said after a moment. I looked at the clock. 5:50. Were we close? I didn’t want to be late . . . Then it occurred to me: Had I been foolish? After all, I knew nothing about this girl. Could I trust her? I glanced at her through the corner of my eye, but her face was blank; I could detect nothing. “Are we getting close?” I asked finally.

“Yes, it’s coming up soon. It’s going to be up here on the left. It’s . . . right there.” She pointed to a cul-de-sac twenty yards ahead.

“Gotcha.” I turned on my blinker and turned left at the street. “Now where?”

“Umm . . . It’s right there.” I did a U-turn and parked in front of the house she’d indicated. “Well, here we are.”

“Thanks so much,” she told me as she got out the car.

“Hey, no problem,” I told her. “Good luck with your c–,” but she was already shutting the door and walking towards the front door.

Well, that was interesting.

As I drove away — I now had five minutes to get to Sophie’s — I thought about my concerns on the drive over, and how sad it was that I even had to worry about whether or not helping a stranger was the right thing. I knew for certain I wouldn’t have helped Stacy if she’d been a man. Was that because it really wasn’t safe to help a man, or . . .? Or was it something else?

It’s a strange world we live in, but I, for one, want to be kind, helpful, and generous whenever possible, no matter what the risk or ultimate return.

*name changed
Image credit: Leah Whisenant

it’s not about the flag

It’s not about the flag. It never has been.

A few weeks ago (a month now, maybe?), Jon and I were lucky enough to receive free passes to a Nascar race at Sonoma Raceway. I say “lucky” because Jon grew up twelve miles from Talladega, in Alabama. Nascar is, at heart, a Southern thing.

It was my first race.

The weather was sunshine; the cars were flash. We didn’t even hit traffic. It was a good day. As we were leaving, though, we saw something . . . unremarkable. Well, it would have been if not for the commotion of the past few weeks.

The United States wants to do away with the Confederate flag. It represents racism and black oppression and all that is wrong with the world. So they say. Many Southerners — rebels, if you will — resent this. The Confederate flag is, to them, a part of their heritage, a piece of their past. It also does not represent racism. It represents their fight to preserve the states’ rights. They also “just like it.” So they say.

Since its beginning, Nascar has been associated with rebellion. The sport originated in the Appalachia with moonshiners and bootleggers during America’s Prohibition. Bootleggers needed fast cars to evade the police and deliver their “shine.” They modified their own for this purpose, and then, suddenly, one day, Daytona was a race as much as a place.

And Confederate flags were everywhere.

I am not a Southerner. I have never flown a Confederate flag. But even out in California (or should I say, especially out in California), I’ve seen them around. And when I’ve seen them, I’ve thought, “Ohhh, boy,” but I’ve never thought their owners were bringing our nation down.

Because, really . . .

Where have all the thinkers gone? What happened to A leads to B leads to C? The Confederate flag didn’t create racism, folks. People created racism. People in their narrow-mindedness created attitudes and perceptions and biases. People who lacked education or misused their education, who lacked love or embraced hate, who could not or would not see the humanity of their fellow man . . .

Yep, folks, racism is about people. The Confederate flag is merely a scapegoat. As such, you can do away with the “Stars and Bars” all you want — nothing is going to change. In fact, things are only going to get worse. In fact, they already have. Did anyone see the story about the former university cop in Cincinnati in the news today?

The only solution to racism is the opposite — acceptance. And love.

What happened to the love?


The Confederate flag Jon and I saw at Sonoma Raceway.


little by little


Chasing seagulls at nearby Bodega Bay

I’m supposed to be applying for a job right now. The open tab on my computer — “Children’s Fiction/Non-Fiction Writer” — is just to my right. I think I might actually have a shot at this one. I’ve been a teacher, and I love to write. The position is freelance, so . . . What more could they need?

Well, they’d need my application first.

I guess I forgot to mention that we moved. In all of the hustle and bustle of the holidays, and of packing and unpacking, and of apartment hunting and job searching, there was no time to blog. Continue reading

my prayer

San Ramon, California

San Ramon, California, where I work

Sitting in my darkened apartment, listening to the hum of traffic on University Avenue. It’s Saturday evening and my weekend has (finally) officially started. I’ve had thoughts all week about what to write right here. And yet, now, when I finally have the time . . .

the words,

the topics,

seem . . .


Like me. Continue reading

on the road to a new life


Already tired but ready to get this show on the road.

When I was 18, when most of my friends went just two hours away from home, I drove 2,500 miles for college. It was a scary time, and an exciting one. I’d lived in the same small town in Northern California my entire life. I was ready to see something new.

In many ways, that decision was a turning point and a defining moment in my life. This small town girl was exposed to a whole new world — Chattanooga, Tennessee was nothing like Placerville! You see . . . Where I came from, a “hog race” would indicate a pig race not a Harley race. Thunderstorms happened only rarely (and only during winter) at home. “Y’all” and “you’uns” were not in the dictionary. And grits? Fried okra? Sweet tea? Huh?

In many ways, it was like being in a new country, with the only difference being that English (albeit Southern English) was the written and spoken language, and I didn’t stick out everywhere I went — that is, until I opened my mouth.

In embarking on our recent journey from Tennessee to California, Jon and I created something of a reverse culture shock for him — and taken it to a whole new level. If Placerville was nothing like Chattanooga, Chattanooga is on a different planet from Berkeley! From rural Signal Mountain where Jon could recognize friends by the sounds of their cars passing on a two-lane highway, we’ve moved to busy University Avenue, where traffic never stops and our closest friends live several hours away!

The best example I can think of regarding the difference between living in a small town versus a big one, however, occurred while waiting in line at Comcast the other day. Jon and I were waiting to pick up our Internet modem when a large African American woman began a loud telephone conversation in line behind us. “. . . Hey, yeah. Yeah, I’m jes’ out payin’ bills. Yeah, I know. Jes’ remember we can’t affor- no f***-ups. I . . . Yeah, I’d like to see you, too, but I’ve jes’ been so bi-sy . . . Nobody gives me no respect. You hear that? No-body. Everybody is always disrespectin’ me and the way I raise my keeds and trying to tell me what to do. And so you know what? I’m gon’ re-move myself from the situation. I’m jes’ gon’ go away so there ain’t no one can find me no more. If they don’t respect me, I’m jes’ gon’ go away . . .”

Oh, boy.

Below are pictures from our road trip across the country. We drove the northern route, through Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, and Nevada. It was a beautiful drive, but man am I glad that it’s over. I cannot stand sitting in a car for hours on end!


At Jon’s before we left — that’s a scooter and three bikes on the back of that truck!


Hello Illinois!


Can’t forget the St. Louis Arch.


Because my friend Jeff lives in Nebraska, I’ll go ahead and say it’s an awesome place. Otherwise, I’d just say it’s flat!


Old barn somewhere along the way.


Jon contemplating our truck’s sagging hind end at a gas station. That scooter was heavy!


Hello, Wyoming.


Light at the end of the tunnel.


I heart clouds.




Somewhere in Wyoming.




Boulders in Wyoming.




Salt Lake City area.


Salt Lakes, Utah


Wind-blown and worn out


She’s still holding up!


Sky meets salt.


Jon was excited about this.


Getting closer.


Driving, driving, driving.


Almost home.



listen to your heart


What is yours telling you?

I’ve been starting blog posts in my head all week.

“Looking back, I should have stormed out of his office.”

“I got a job offer. I didn’t take it.”

“What does ‘meaning’ mean to you?”

“Does everything have to be a lesson?”

Instead of finishing them, though, I’ve been writing things like this:


My name is Jessica. I am contacting you regarding your ad for a one-bedroom apartment listed on Craigslist. Currently I live in the Sacramento area, but I need to move to the Bay Area very soon . . .”

I’ve then been driving to and from Berkeley (about two hours each way) every day looking at places and realizing that finding housing in the Bay Area is IMPOSSIBLE. Even if you have money (I don’t), the housing demand is so great that no sooner does a person put up an ad on Craigslist than twenty business professionals/students/etc. are banging down their door.

It is a cut-throat fight to find anything around here.

And so days have passed since my eventful “working interview,” which turned out to be a total sham, and which proved to me once again that any time someone is rushing you about something important, it’s time to RUN.

The company was a “direct marketing” firm for big names like the Oakland A’s, supposedly, but what they really were were door-to-door salesman who’d been fooled into thinking they were on a fast-track to management. While they were working tirelessly in a field they hated, another man was reaping their rewards and getting rich. I could go on, but when the CEO tried to make me feel bad for asking questions and indicated that money should be my biggest motivating factor, I knew something wasn’t right.

I left the interview exhausted and upset. I knew I needed a job, and needed it soon, but could I compromise who I am and what I believe in to do a job I hated, not to mention didn’t feel right about?

My answer came that night when I got home. I checked my email for the first time in more than 48 hours, and what did I find? A response from a job I’d applied for weeks earlier and given up on. I won’t say too much more about it right now, but I will say that my first interview went well. In fact, I’ve had three exciting interviews since the marketing interview disaster . . .

And so it really is true: We should always listen to our hearts.


Image: Pinterest

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