love you, mom!

It would be impossible to tell you my first memory of my mom. Mothers aren’t someone you remember meeting. They were just . . . always there. My mom was athletic and fun. I remember she used to go running, and I’d beg to go with her as a kid. Back then we lived on a small court and she often ran on busy roads. “When you’re older,” she said. And when I was older, I did.

Mom always made amazing home-cooked meals for our family. She made it look easy, and our house was always spotless, too. “Does anyone even live here?” my friends used to ask when they’d visit. “Yes,” I’d reply. “Mom makes us clean up after ourselves.” It was true.

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Mom and me on my 2nd birthday. Pretty sure she baked that cake herself!

Mom did her best to try to teach me how to cook; sadly, I was never much interested. I wasn’t interested in sewing, either. “Too much work and too tedious!” I’d say. “I’ll marry someone who can cook and take my sewing to a tailor.” Thanks to her persistence, however, I actually can cook today. I’ll probably never sew a Halloween costume, though.

Mom took us to swim lessons, music lessons, varsity practices, school performances. She took care of us and kissed our “owies” when we got hurt. She worried over us and saved her salary to help my brother and I get through college without loans.

Speaking of college, she drove me across the country — was it twice, Mom? — to go to school in Tennessee. Once there, she bought me a mini fridge and a microwave and new bedding so I’d be comfortable in my new “home away from home.” She always wanted the best for me.

Mom liked to play. I remember people-watching with her at the airport or mall, or any time we had downtime in a public place. “Everyone looks like a different animal,” Mom told my brother and me. “And people look like their pets.” And so we’d sit and determine what animals different people looked like, and especially those who were toting their pets.

Mom was artistic. She had impeccable taste and the eye of an interior decorator. She knew how to make everything in a space “just right,” and to this day walking into her house is like walking into a model home. She could paint and draw, and she created magnificent booths at our school’s Fall Festival every year. She was also known for her amazing gift-wrapping skills. At Christmas we always joke that we don’t want to open our gifts — they’re too pretty!

My beautiful picture

Mom and me at Halloween a few years ago. ;)

In short, Mom was everything a mother should be, and much, much more, and her greatest gift to my brother and I was (and is) the time she’s given us throughout our lives. These days Mom and her husband Ron live in California, my “forever home,” and thus I didn’t get to have brunch with them this morning. I did, however, get to FaceTime them, and I was reminded that there’s truly no place like home — and by “home” I mean family!

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom! I love you!

P.S. Yes, in case you were wondering, my mom and I are a lot alike!

for the love of marketing

Happy Easter!

Oh, wait. You mean . . . That’s still six weeks away?

Oh, thaaaat’s right. We skip from one candy holiday to the next here in the States. It’s Valentine’s Day before New Years, Christmas before Thanksgiving, Halloween before the 4th of July. At least that’s what it looks like in American grocery stores.

The average American eats 22 pounds of candy per year. This is despite increasing evidence of sugar’s negative effects on literally everything, and I have to admit, I’m as guilty as any. Recently I’ve swapped frozen bananas for ice cream, but I still can’t get through a day without fruit snacks or gummy bears.

It’s a sad fact, really, and something that I want to change. In Taiwan (where obesity is the exception, not the rule), people prefer red bean and green tea desserts and typically find American desserts too sweet. This isn’t a biological difference. It’s trained. And it’s marketing. Candy is both the first and last thing Americans see when they enter and check out at grocery stores, and as numerous medical reports and TED talks will tell you, virtually all processed foods are created to be addictive rather than nutritious.

So what are we to do? What can we do? It all comes down to personal decisions. Marketers aren’t going to change their tactics (and products) until we as consumers don’t buy them anymore. It’s also about challenging the status quo. Just because Hallmark said you should buy expensive valentines and candies for your child’s class doesn’t mean you actually should. Simple cards with smiley faces are just fine. They last longer, and they’re healthier, too!

 

Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

the stories we tell

I grew up in a conservative Christian environment. In my childhood church, jewelry and dancing were akin to divorce, and divorce was the doing of the Devil. Imagine my identity crisis, then, when at the age of 26 I learned that my parents were getting a divorce. Divorced? What did that make me? The Devil’s child?

You think I’m kidding; I’m not. My entire identity and foundation were shaken. I now came from a broken home. This was NOT supposed to happen.

The reality is, of course, that 50 percent of marriages in the States end in divorce. My parents’ union was no exception. Sadly, we don’t live in a perfect world, and not all marriages last until “death do us part.” I had bought into a lie.

Interestingly, I get a similar feeling around the holidays. Christmas and New Years are surrounded by so much hype. We have this idea about what they’re supposed to look like — with presents and snowflakes and family and laughter — but the reality is often much darker. For many people Christmas means debt and loneliness and sadness and depression. Suicide attempts increase around the holidays. I myself struggle to feel excited about Christmas every year.

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Why? you might ask. Why not? My life looks nothing like the Hallmark movies or anything it’s supposed to. Why wouldn’t I feel sad?

But perhaps the bigger question is: Why did I buy into those Hollywood narratives? Where did I get these expectations in the first place?

At our cores, I believe we all seek approval. We all want to love and be loved. We’re idealists born reaching for the stars, and we’re hard-wired to seek meaning and connection. This is what binds us. This is what makes us human . . . But life inevitably lets us down; in one way or another, reality “checks” each of us dreamers.

And that leads me to my next question: Once we know life will let us down, why do we perpetuate these expectations? Why do we continue telling false fairy tales?

I think we do for a few reasons. Fairy tales give us hope, and hope gives us a reason to keep moving. We need superheroes and Hallmark stories to give us something to strive for. We need to believe that things can be better than they are. But, but . . . Do these narratives also do harm? Would it be better if the stories we told were a little more realistic? Accepting my parents’ divorce would have been far easier if I hadn’t believed it meant they shouldn’t have gotten married in the first place. Christmas, too, would be a lot easier if the holiday stories we told evoked a sense of normalcy rather than elevated exceptions to “real life.”

Because let’s face it — there is no perfect family. We’re all flawed individuals working through our “stuff,” and family and friend dynamics are never simple. December is a month just like any other. Why would we try to sell it as more?

But I don’t know . . . What do you think? Could we do our life and holiday narratives better? Or are they fine the way they are? What would you change about them if you could?

 

happy haphazard holidays

Well everyone, I suppose I can’t — or at least shouldn’t — put this off any longer. (Actually, I haven’t been putting it off — I’ve been slammed . . .) The time has come to wish you all a happy holiday season. So, Happy Holidays! Merry Christmas!! My holiday decor in Tennessee is pretty simple this year; I flew to California this past Monday, so there was no reason to go “all out” 2,000-plus miles away. Still, it’s nice to do something . . .

 

 
In an effort to get into the holiday spirit before leaving Tennessee (it had/has been a rough few weeks), two Friday nights ago I participated in the Tour de Lights Knoxville holiday bike ride. It was a 5-mile loop in downtown Knoxville for which many people decorated their bikes with Christmas lights and garland and dressed up in costumes, etc. It was fun, but it was COLD! It was 29 degrees and my hands were freezing by the time the ride was done. Next year I’ll cheer from the sidelines.

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Since then it’s been a whirlwind. I went to Santa Rosa on Tuesday to see friends and to work in my office, and, last night, before I headed home (to the fam), I went out to see some of the fire damage. It was too dark to take pictures, but the scene was unreal. My heart is broken for the whole community. Here are just a couple pics from a hike I did at a local park the previous day with friends. These don’t even begin to do justice to the extent of the structural damage in the city. Those who lost their homes (there are thousands) are looking at a rough holiday season this year.

Yesterday (Christmas Eve’s Eve) was eventful, too. I won’t go into details, but let’s just say life tough sometimes. (Or, all the time? The jury is still out for debate.)

In any event, I apologize for this haphazard post, but it’s the best I can do under the circumstances. I hope you all have a very Merry Christmas! I’ll touch base again soon!

xoxo,

Jess

 

the hope of christmas

IMG_0376ed2014 is almost over. Where does time go?

It hardly seems a few days since last Christmas, when I woke up beside a lake in Pell City, Alabama. I was welcomed with open arms by Jon’s family — Southern hospitality in full form — and spent New Years Eve beneath the stars in Santa Cruz. The past year has been a big one — full of changes and surprises, love and laughter. It’s been a sad one on a national and global scale — so much hurt and pain and anger; so many issues that make me sad. But, through it all — the good and the bad — one thing rings clear: HOPE. Continue reading

blessed

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The holidays are a wonderful time. Yo-ho, yo-ho, a pirate’s life for me. Oh, wait. I guess that was supposed to be Ho-ho-ho! — Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.

Or was it?

Something that’s always bothered me about the holidays is — no, not the materialism (although that’s part of it) — the focus on self. When I was a copy writer in Chattanooga, I wrote countless articles on depression around the holidays. The media paints Christmas and New Years out to be such a wonderful time of year, but what if it isn’t? What if you’re single and alone? What if your family lives a long way? What if a loved one just died, or money is really, really tight? It’s a well-known fact that shop-lifting rates go up around the holidays.

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A little girl begging at Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Around my home, Christmas cards from friends always come rolling in around the holidays. Pictures with smiling faces and new babies and fall colors and fancy scarves beam from the refrigerator door. Sayings like “Blessed!” and “Wishing you and yours happiness throughout the holidays and the coming year” jump out at innocent passersby . . . And, as I look at these clean, painted faces, I wonder: Do they even know? Do they know how blessed they really are? Really? Continue reading

the true meaning of the holidays

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My room in Taiwan

Two months after I left for Taiwan, I got a phone call. “Jess, your mom and I have something to tell you . . .” My parents were getting divorced. After nearly 28 years, my mom had made up her mind — it was over.

The conversation wasn’t long. There wasn’t much to say. I couldn’t say I was shocked. I’d seen the disconnect between my parents for years — both of them trying, each in their own way, to bridge the gap. Both of them failing. I’d convinced myself that they were going to make it, knowing, deep down, I was wrong.

After we got off the phone, I sat on my black bedspread and stared at the brightly polished wood floor that I’d scrubbed and scrubbed when I’d first arrived. Outside my window, the dark sky began to rain. I didn’t notice. My mind was empty; my emotions, numb. I wondered, blankly, how my brother would take the news. Continue reading