humor

Carving a Way: Lessons Learned from a Lifetime of Pumpkin Carving

Right now I’m staring down a bright orange, symmetrical pumpkin. “CARVE ME,” he’s whispering seductively. As I consider this new blank canvas, I can’t help but think back on all of the carvings I’ve done over the years decades. Sure, there are the actual carvings

But then there’s the other kind, too. The pathways -relationships, careers, goals- we carve out for ourselves one stroke at a time. Wouldn’t it be great if we always knew the outcome when we set out with starry eyes and orange-handled knives? Or if someone gave us a book of patterns and all we had to do was choose our favorite one?

I’ll take option b(utt), please.

What if pumpkin carving lessons were actually life lessons we could learn from? Oh wait…

WARNING: Heavy-handed metaphors ahead.

LESSON #1 – Give Yourself Room to Breathe

Have you ever cut open the top of your pumpkin only to realize you can’t actually fit your hand inside to scoop out the guts? But you keep trying anyway? Several minutes later, with an aching paw, you face the inevitable and carve a larger hole, hoping it doesn’t infringe on your carving territory.

Lately, I’ve realized how often I say ‘yes’ to things only to later have to backpedal with profuse apologies and gut-wrenching guilt. Instead of knowing ahead of time that I need more space -in order to thrive, grow, and create- I dive into commitments and invitations blindly, not wanting to disappoint anyone. In the end, I wind up bruised and frustrated. The beauty of making this mistake so many times, though, is that I’m starting to learn just where the line needs to go.

Sorry. No can do. Working on a masterpiece here.

LESSON #2 – Prepare to Laugh at Yourself

If you’ve ever carved a pumpkin, you’ve probably had that “oh sh*t” moment when a crucial piece falls inside or your crescent moon winds up looking more like a misshapen croissant. Right then, time and effort (and maybe a few bucks) feel wasted.

Much like the $40 you spent on that pet torture device.

I have an independent streak as wide as Bob Ross’s fro, especially when it comes to pumpkin carving. Only a Jules original will do. Which means…my patterns usually suck at least a little. But I don’t care. Because they’re mine.

One of the very best things about having this blog -besides how it connects me to you- is that it allows me to view every experience through a humorist’s lens. Dating, celebrity obsessions, missing thumbs, more dating… it’s all GREAT. The more embarrassing, the better.

LESSON #3 – The Right Tools Will Help You Succeed

Bigger is always better, right? Yeah, maybe when it comes to your Halloween candy haul, but definitely not when it comes to pumpkin carving knives. Those itty, bitty, jagged knives you find inside the $4.99 carving kits are actually the best! They’re sharper than a vampire’s fangs and handle detail really well.

Even in 2011, Uncle Jesse the Doodle Dog knew he’d score some pumpkin guts if he waited long enough.

Last winter, I was extremely depressed. For months. By the time I started to turn a corner, a global pandemic slammed us. This year, I decided to arm myself with a fully loaded toolkit to combat those winter blues. (It also helps that I won’t be kicking off the season by moving during a ridiculous snowstorm.) I’ve got plans to see family for Christmas (unlike last year), a backlog of exciting creative projects, and a car that doesn’t slide down icy hills. Bring it, Winter 2020.

But maybe don’t bring it too much.

LESSON #4 – There’s ALWAYS a Messy Part

Before you can even start carving, there’s the decidedly sticky process of ripping out your pumpkin’s guts. I hate this part. Everyone hates this part.

If you don’t hate this part, I’m very concerned for you and also will you please come over and help me with my pumpkin?

An hour later, though, the gooey gore is a distant memory as you sit cross-legged in your darkened closet, shouting for the nearest family member to come admire your handiwork.

“Guys. GUYS. It’s UNCLE JESSE. *PLAYING UNO.* …Why? I don’t need a ‘why’!!!”

This life lesson is one of the more obvious, but it bears repeating. Just like the old “caterpillar into a butterfly” metaphor, anything beautiful that I have ever carved -in pumpkins or in life- has only come after “the goo stage.”

LESSON #5 – …And There’s ALWAYS a Light at the End Bottom of the Tunnel Jack-o-Lantern

What’s that? You took your lopsided croissant moon and turned it into a full moon? Your one-fanged vampire has decided to embrace his flaws? Your black cat looks creepier without a tail? You did it! You figured out life!

Because your life IS a work of art.

Even when it isn’t.

Very little ever goes according to plan, even when we have the perfect tools, the perfect pattern, the perfect pumpkin. But if you can roll with it? Your (jack-o-lantern) light will shine brighter than them all.

~*~*~*~*~*~

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

~*~*~*~*~*~

humor

I WANT MY MOMMY (Dethroned: Part Two)

(For part one, click here.)

“Hi, can you hear me?”

“Yes! Is everything okay?”

Babs’s voice came through my car’s speakers loud and clear, surprising me. I wasn’t expecting such strong cell service in eastern Oregon.

Hello…?

“Yes, but I’m, ah, driving east because OREGON IS ON FIRE,” I replied.

“Oh my god, Pop and I were watching on the news. It looks awful. Is Bend safe?”

“Yeah, so far, but the smoke reached hazardous levels this morning and I was like, ‘Nope.’ I’ve been driving east for 90 minutes and it’s still smoky. It feels apocolyptic.”

View as I bolted out of Bend on September 11, 2020. Looks like fog, right? Nope. That’s wildfire smoke (on an otherwise sunny day).

“Wow…well, you know, you could always come here.”

I hadn’t dared suggest it. Not only was “here” still 3,000 miles away, in New Jersey, but my parents were firmly situated in the vulnerable population group when it came to COVID-19. Even though I hadn’t seen another soul in over a week, was it too risky?

“Go see Grammy?!?!!?!” -Uncle Jesse (the doodle dog)

“I was thinking about it!” I laughed. “I’m gonna stock up on wine at Trader Joe’s in Boise and keep you posted.”

Priorities.

That night I made it past Salt Lake City and my fate was sealed: New Jersey or bust. Was it selfish? Crazy? Would state border police stop me and shove a giant Q-Tip up my nose? Send me packing back to Oregon? Put me in one of those cute little jail cells like on Once Upon a Time?

Aw.

I hadn’t seen my family since early December. Before moving to Bend, Oregon in June 2019, I lived mere minutes from my parents, sister, niece, and nephew. Game nights, family dinners, and weekend outings were standard fare.

After a stressful move to a new apartment last November during a massive snow storm, battling severe winter depression, and then, you know, a GLOBAL PANDEMIC, my priorities had fully shifted from “greatest global good” to “DEAR GOD SOMEONE PLEASE GIVE ME A HUG.”

I put pedal to the metal as I burned through 11 states in four days. It felt amazing to have a plan. To work towards a tangible goal. To learn every country song currently topping the charts. To head towards the promise of human interaction – under the same roof! I basked in the glow of those formless, wordless things that turn “existence” into “life.” Hand sanitizer, masks, and pushing doors open with sweater sleeves were tiny prices to pay for the return of hope.

Over the following month, I filled my family love tank to the brim.

“Wow, you drove all the way back to Bend with your mom? How did that go?” several people asked after hearing that I made the long return trip from New Jersey to Oregon with Babs in tow.

Impromptu photo shoot near Des Moines, Iowa.

“You know, any other time maybe we would have gotten on each other’s nerves, but it was great. I just kept thinking, ‘What if this is the only time I ever get to do this?'” I answered.

A new perspective had settled in. A calm acceptance that this might be as good as it gets. A project manager and lifelong planner, I was finally starting to make decisions based on, “What makes sense today?” The ultimate answer, of course, has always been the same -follow love- but the approach was different.

To many of us, “love” equals “security,” and that means planning and preparing to care for our families, communities, and environment in the future. Heck, that’s why I’m vegan. But what if…we can’t? I’ve spent nearly four decades with my eyes firmly planted on the horizon; sometimes a source of comfort, but more often, anxiety.

To operate under the seemingly morbid idea that tomorrow might be worse -or never come at all- brought a strange sense of peace. It turns out that decisions made by asking, “How do I follow love and joy today?” are pretty damn solid.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Happy birthday, Babs!!!

~*~*~*~*~*~

humor

Dethroned: Part One

“How are you?”

Even from 3,000 miles away, I could hear the wry cackle that always brewed beneath my best friend’s words. I adjusted the phone.

“Oh, you know. Situation normal.”

We laughed loudly.

“Honestly, what’s the right answer?” I asked.

“I think you just gave it,” she replied.

It was April 24th. I had been social distancing since March 7th. ‘I was born for this,’ I joked in the beginning. A classic introvert, I’d spent years coming up with convincing excuses to spend Friday nights at home, alone, mainlining peanut butter straight from the jar. ‘I just feel bad for all of my extrovert friends,’ I added.

Do they make one that covers your whole face?

Throughout March, a persistent, medium-level anxiety infused even my most treasured pastimes. Like other single, middle-class, white women in their 30s, I obsessively consumed the news, processed carbs, and every quarantine-themed offering on Netflix. As I flipped between State of the Union addresses, my 401k balance, and Kate Winslet with an American accent, I couldn’t decide which was most horrifying.

Just kidding, Kate. Everything you do is right. Photo credit

“I’m loving this time,” one of my most extroverted friends confessed in an email in the beginning of April. “It’s fascinating to me how taking away the option to go places and DO things lets me just be present and focus on all the other stuff I love to do.”

I stared at my computer screen. “Loving this time”? This was the guy who needed to install a revolving door on his guest room. This was the guy who helped convince me to move 3,000 miles away, from New Jersey to Oregon, to enjoy the community he and his wife single-handedly created! What is happening? 

An extrovert making lemonade out of lemons (or, you know, salad out of kale).

A few weeks later, my phone lit up with a text from The Second Most Extroverted Person in Oregon.

“How are you holding up?”

“I’m two seconds from drawing a face on a volleyball,” I fired back.

“LOL I’m actually getting used to this,” she replied.

Once again, I stared at the screen. Seriously? What is HAPPENING?

Zoom chats. Virtual marathons. Stress baking. Spring cleaning. John Krasinski.

A roster that would have made me salivate in February now looked a To Do list from hell. (Okay, John Krasinski still looked pretty good.) As I stared at my dog, my lone companion and tragically underpaid therapist, I felt my Queen Introvert crown slide from atop my head, hitting the ground with an unceremonious thud. If a throne crumbles in quarantine and nobody’s there to hear it…

My virtual birthday party and slipping crown.

By September, my world was, quite literally, on fire. Record-breaking forest fires raged throughout California and the Pacific Northwest. Entire towns destroyed, lives lost, families displaced. As the air quality in Bend, Oregon reached “hazardous” levels, I cast one last look at my dusty crown and smoke-filled apartment before jumping in the car and flooring it.

To be continued…

humor

What’s the Hardest Thing You’ve Ever Done?

“Sooo, all we have to do is get right up there,” I said, pointing my camera towards the mountain looming in the distance.

“Easy,” Stefanie replied, grinning.

I was already breathing heavily from the first two miles. This central Oregon trail clearly had no intention of showing any mercy.

While the trailhead sign passively proclaimed the summit was six miles away, it didn’t specify the elevation gain during those six miles: 4,900 feet. 490 flights of stairs. Half of which was loose sand and lava rock, meaning you took at least two steps for every one step forward.

Thankfully, I had had several experienced friends and candid AllTrails reviewers warn me:

As Stefanie and I slogged up South Sister mountain this past Saturday, pausing often to catch our breath, I started singing Gnarls Barkley. After that, Maroon 5.

“Songs keep popping in my head,” I explained, realizing that this always happened when I wanted to separate my body from my mind.

Eventually I fell silent, but there was one song that just wouldn’t quit, even after we summited: Justin Timberlake’s “The Hard Stuff.”

Anybody can be in love on a sunny day
Anybody can turn and run when it starts to rain
And everybody wishes all the skies were blue
But that ain’t the kind of love I’m lookin’ to have with you
So give me the hard stuff

The kind that makes you real
I’ll be there when the storm comes
‘Cause I want the hard stuff
When they’re throwin’ sticks and stones
We can cut each other to the bone
I’m never gonna give you up
‘Cause I want the hard stuff (hard stuff)
Yeah I want the hard stuff (hard stuff, yeah)

Sure, my big toenails were currently undergoing a messy divorce with my feet, but you know what was really hard? Actual divorce. Sure, that celebratory beer was now looking to make an encore performance, but you know what was more nauseating? Telling everyone I loved in New Jersey that I was moving 3,000 miles away. Sure, my head was throbbing thanks to a faulty alarm and zero caffeine that morning, but you know what was even more painful? Losing my first real mentor to cancer.

I welcomed pain complemented by sweat, jokes, and lukewarm water. The kind of pain whose reward was almost always immediately apparent.

“I feel so lucky that I have strong enough legs to carry me up a mountain,” Stefanie mused, as if she could hear my thoughts.

I immediately recalled something The Byronic Man had said during last summer’s three day yoga and running retreat (you know, the one with the no clothes or cell service or booze).

“I know it sounds morbid,” he had begun, “But sometimes during a hard run, I’ll think about what it would be like if I couldn’t do this.”

As Stefanie and I slipped and stumbled our way back down the mountain, we gave a breathless hello to a handsome, wiry man perched on a dusty boulder. He, like everyone else, was taking a much-needed break during the final, grueling ascent.

“Not bad for a 45-year-old with two broken hips,” he grimaced.

“Wow,” I replied. I hope he doesn’t mean they’re broken right now. “Yeah, this is probably the hardest hike I’ve ever done!”

“I’ve done harder,” he said.

“Don’t say that!” I teased. “We were feeling really good about ourselves!”

Smuggy McSmuggersons.

As we continued downward, I thought again about the subjectivity of “hard.” As the above AllTrails reviewer so aptly put it, “Super hard for one person might be pretty doable for another.”

“Stef, do you know I’m closer to that guy’s age than I am to yours?”

Stefanie looked confused for a moment.

“Yeah,” I went on. “You’re 30, I’m 38, he’s 45.”

And it doesn’t matter at all, I thought.

Even on a trail notoriously described as, “THE HARDEST F@^*#*@% THING I’VE EVER DONE IN MY LIFE,” there were people of all ages passing us, including mountain goat-like runners shouting gleefully as they slid on piles of lava rock, “This is actually better than if it were all sand!”

So what really makes something hard? Is it simply a matter of perspective?

Because even at 10,000 feet, crossing a slushy glacier is looking, ah, difficult.

And once we achieve that higher perspective, do we always maintain it? Does scaling one mountain mean you’ve, in essence, scaled them all?

Or do we simply return home to a newer, hopefully slightly improved version of ourselves, now ready to find a taller mountain to climb?

If that’s the case, can I at least sit for a while first?

~*~*~*~*~*~

What’s the “hardest” thing you’ve ever done? Would you do it again?

~*~*~*~*~*~

humor

Women Who Drink Tea…And Me.

“And then at night I usually have…”

There it was again. Another toned, beautiful, successful woman detailing her daily routine. It always ended the same way.

“…a cup of tea, or hot water with lemon.”

I picture these women in their perfectly matching, unstained leisurewear (“pajamas”? Ha. As if.), long, slender legs tucked easily under their perky bums, one elbow draped over the arm of a modern yet cozy Pottery Barn sofa.

And of course the couch is white. Photo by Paige Cody on Unsplash

The 2.5 children and Golden Retriever are nestled in bed, and her tall, square-jawed husband kisses the top of her subtly highlighted head before settling in at the other end of the couch, adjusting the glasses that somehow turn him from Jude Law into even sexier Jude Law.

Who’s with me?

On a particularly rough day, Tea Lady still pours her herbal tonic, but instead of picking up the latest [insert impressively topical author here], she turns to Jude Law and says,

“Babe, want to watch a rom-com tonight?”

In my mind, these are The Women Who Drink Tea at Night.

Where are all the Women Who Drink (Too Much) Wine at Night? Are they, like me, wise enough to sign off of social media and devote their attention solely to Netflix and the contents of their freezers?

Second dinner is served.

In a year that’s felt like someone took an adult coloring book and started scribbling WAY the hell outside the lines -and not in a cute, “Oh, look how creative Johnny is!” but more, “Oh, f!&#, we’re gonna have to get this kid tested” kind of way- I’ve decided to make 2020’s pit of despair all about me.

I’m a privileged white woman. With a blog. And a YouTube channel. What did you expect? (Please ignore the lettuce. I have no idea how that got there.)

As each month passes and some new, unimaginable tragedy strikes, I sink a little deeper into the hungry jaws of helplessness. In the absence of anything certain, my anxiety fills the gaps with Worst Case prophecies. In this dark space of unknowing, my default setting takes over. Self-doubt and her cousin, self-loathing, seep through the walls of my subconscious, doing that thing they do best.

If only I drank Earl Grey at night.

My favorite dust collectors.

Tea Woman knows what to do. Tea Woman knows how to ward off demons with a good night’s sleep and breakfast smoothies. Tea Woman has all the answers.

If I lost weight. If I started meditating again. If I made another list. If whoever I am now could just become whoever sips tea, these feelings would find their way from “frightening” to “freedom.”

I pour another glass of wine and stare ahead, bleary-eyed. “Captive,” a new Netflix series about hostage victims, flickers onscreen.

I mean… I guess it could be worse.

~*~*~*~*~

What has your 2020 coping strategy looked like? More “Long Island Iced Tea” than Celestial Seasonings finest? …No? Just me?

~*~*~*~*~

Blonde Moments, humor, Just For Fun, Lists

#NeverInNewJersey Round 3!

#NeverInNewJersey Round 3 title graphic 19AUG20

When I moved to Bend, Oregon in June 2019, I knew there’d be an adjustment period. (See: #NeverInNewJersey Round 1 and Round 2.) What I didn’t realize, but probably should have given that I lived in New Jersey for 37 years, was that my people prefer clothes more than your average West Coaster that adjustment period would continue well into my second year in Bend.

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For a woman who hates dating, I sure have seen a lot of naked butts this year.

Which means it’s time for…

#NeverInNewJersey: Round 3!

(For Exhibits A-G click here and here!)

#NEVERINNEWJERSEY EXHIBIT H – Finders Keepers…Or Not

These photos are just from this summer – that’s how common this central Oregon phenomenon of being…what’s it called…honorable…is. Lost glasses, keys, jackets, and water bottles are constantly placed in logical, visible spots, clearly with the hope that their owners will return. I’ve even seen a $200+ bike helmet.

And things like this [on a local community Facebook page] are far from uncommon:

FB found wallet

#NEVERINNEWJERSEY EXHIBIT I – BEHOLD ALL OF OUR RULES…Or Not

Deschutes National Forest dog rules

I just love this sign so much. This is where my mind went as soon as I read it:

A group of stodgy, suited stiffs enters a windowless conference room, each taking a seat around a long, mahogany table. 

“THIS MEETING OF RULE SETTING FOR CENTRAL OREGON IS NOW IN SESSION,” the woman at the head of the table booms, while her assistant jots down her every word with quill and ink. “RULE ONE: NO ONE MUST PARKETH AT ANY NATIONAL FOREST SITE WITHOUT A PASS.”

“RULE TWO: NO ONE – I REPEAT NO ONE – MAY MAKETH A PEEP ONCE THE CLOCK STRIKES TEN P.M.,” another councilperson adds. 

“RULE THREE: CANINES MUST BE KEPT ON A LEASH AT ALL TIMES,” a third man continues, frowning. “AT. ALL. TIMES!” He clears his throat. “You know…except if the sweet little boofalicious doodle-y wonderfulness gets hot and needs a wittle drinky poo for his wittle mouth oh yes who’s a good boy he is yes he is.”

See what I’m saying? So. Great.

Uncle Jesse Duffy Lake Summer 2020
Uncle Jesse agrees.

#NEVERININEWJERSEY EXHIBIT J – No, Really. It’s lawlessness here.

Look at these rogue cows, on hiking trails, giving zero f*@%s:

img_20200707_180525

Not unlike these these cows:

Cows on trail OR 1

This parking spot shouldn’t be allowed:

img_20200811_153928-1

This beach-all-to-myself definitely shouldn’t be allowed:

img_20200807_134025

And who does this frog think he is?

mvimg_20200804_145302

#NEVERINNEWJERSEY EXHIBIT K – DON’T YOU PEOPLE WORK?

I noticed something strange as soon as I moved to Bend last June. No one seemed to follow a schedule. “It must just seem that way,” I told myself. “Because it’s a tourist town.”

But then I started seeing lots of these:

img_20200709_1928112

That’s right. Mid-week yard sales. They’re everywhere out here. They’re everywhere, and I don’t understand. In New Jersey, yard sales happen on Saturdays and Sundays. You know. When people are…available.

#NEVERINNEWJERSEY EXHIBIT L – That family inside a new picture frame? They live here.

I was scrolling through Instagram the other day and did a double-take. “Wait. Do I know these people?” I thought.

I had to stare at the gorgeous family for several long seconds before realizing it was an advertisement.

screenshot_20200812-1859392-1

~*~*~*~*~*~

Do you live in a place that catches you off guard? Are these examples surprising or commonplace to you?

~*~*~*~*~*~

Blogging, PSAs

Progress Doesn’t Have to Taste Like Bird Food

Go Jules Go title graphic_Progress doesn't have to taste like bird food_29JUL20

*beep beep beep beep*

I reached over and silenced my phone’s alarm, Uncle Jesse barely lifting his head in acknowledgment. As soon as I got out of bed, he stood up, stretched, and curled into a ball right on top of my pillow.

00000img_00000_burst20200313132654888_cover

“Not today, Uncle Jesse, you’re coming with me,” I said, shuffling over to my dresser and yanking out a pair of clean black stretch pants.

Hearing the upbeat tone of my voice, he jumped off the bed and eagerly sniffed the clothing in my hand. Deeming the scent what must have been ‘baked-in exercise funk,’ he twirled in a circle and began his stretching routine.

Uncle Jesse gorge 29FEB20
I LOVE YOUR FUNK.

It was 7:15am on a Sunday and Bend, Oregon’s high desert summer sun had finally worn me down. “I WILL go running before it feels like Satan’s belly button,” I had vowed the night before as I’d set my alarm.

When our run was over, I fixed a healthy breakfast and set to work on my latest project – another course with Plant-Based with Robin: “Is that Bird Food?” I was excited about this one.

Is That Bird Food AD - Aug 2020 promo
And not just because Canva graphics make me look like I know what I’m doing.

By the end of the day, I felt proud, strong, and accomplished. …Until about 9pm. When I wanted snacks.

All the snacks.

Instead of putting myself to bed -for an even earlier, harder work-out the next day- I caved.

Toast sounds great. And those peanut butter pretzels… Ooh and that chocolate Kate just sent from Germany!

00100lrportrait_00100_burst20200723121533132_cover
I mean gifts don’t have calories, right?

I went to bed full, and full of knowing I’d be unhappy with myself in the morning. On the heels of last week’s shame spiral, I wondered how I could let such a good day slip through my fingers in its final moments.

Was it anxiety? Lack of willpower? Plain ol’ fat-sugar-salt addiction?

Or had I subconsciously decided at some point -based on my unique blend of childhood experiences and genetic make-up- that my ‘ceiling’ was this? Living somewhere halfway between my old life and my new, not quite fully realized, new one?

Go Jules Go: Before & After(ish)

Robin and I have talked a lot about progress vs. perfection as we develop our plant-based living courses.

“I get it. We all have those days,” I said in our first course [about easy meal ideas during quarantine]. “So plan for them. Are you going to be running around all day on Wednesday? Social distance happy hour-ing on Friday? Get the frozen pizza, get the margarita. Plan on it. Work with your schedule and preferences instead of against them.”

It was easy to give this advice, so much harder to swallow it myself.

One thing had changed, though. Instead of thinking that all hope was lost (“what’s the point? Might as well eat nothing but fried Oreos!”), instead of making a series of harsh, empty promises (“tomorrow I’ll eat nothing but lettuce”), I laid my head down on Sunday night and thought, just as I had after last week’s disastrous outing: Tomorrow is a new day.

And isn’t that what progress really looks like?

~*~*~*~*~*~

 

Blogging, PSAs

I Cried in a Bar…Twice.

Disclaimer: Names and identifying features changed or omitted. 

Go Jules Go title graphic_I cried in a bar. Twice_21JUL20

Ugh. No.

I pulled off the offending lace tank top and hung it neatly back in the closet, pausing to admire the uniformity of my new wooden hangers. I’d always wanted matching wooden hangers and a closet that looked like a high-end boutique shop. I might not have achieved the latter when I moved to Bend, Oregon last year, but the hangers?

00100lrportrait_00100_burst20200719154538586_cover
Flawless.

I tried on two more shirts, holding a small mirror in front of my face and glancing backwards into my full-length mirror.

Go Jules Go Mt Bachelor 2 June 2019

Do my arms really look like that? And my back? Is it the bra? Oh god. I can’t wear my hair up like this. Look at my double chin.

I yanked the bobby pins out of my side bun. Two months of calorie counting, weight lifting, yoga, and running 50 miles a week, and the reflection in the mirror still betrayed me. I settled on a red floral shirt, dark wash jeans, and a low ponytail.

“I’ll be there at 4:30 to pick you up, if that still works,” I texted my friend, Meghan.

“What are you wearing?” she replied.

I snapped a selfie, strategically cutting out my arms, and surrendering to the fact that this was just as good as it was going to get today.

img_20200718_160433

When I pulled into Meghan’s driveway, she stepped outside in a jaw-dropping maroon dress, her hair and make-up perfect. Playboy bunny meets red carpet knock-out.

“You look gorgeous, as always,” I said, popping out of the car to give her a hug (we had decided weeks earlier that we were definitely “COVID family,” thus able to enjoy embraces).

I hoped I sounded sincere, because I was. Even if I suddenly felt even older and haggier than ever before. We spent the late afternoon enjoying outdoor live music at a lake lodge, every head turning as Meghan walked by, two men even stopping to ask if she was staying at the lodge. The afternoon beer eventually turned into an al fresco “frosé” (frozen rosé) at a bar closer to home.

Frose
Okay then. I guess it’s a thing.

“Those guys keep looking over here,” Meghan giggled, her eyes fixed on a few men behind me.

I tried to casually pivot, turning back to Meghan with a grin.

“You can say that again.”

“They’re leaving now,” she whispered a minute later.

One of them paused in front of Meghan, the final traces of daylight catching his rugged stubble.

“I just have to tell you, you look great,” he said earnestly, staring Meghan down.

“Thank you so much,” Meghan replied, her picture-perfect smile and big, bright eyes shining. “Where are you from?”

“Seattle,” he replied. “I’m here for a bachelor party and leaving tomorrow.”

“Oh, that’s too bad,” Meghan said, a wink in her voice. “What’s your name?”

“Scott,” he answered. After an awkward half beat, he glanced my way.

“I’m Julie,” I heard myself say. “Jules” felt too unfeminine.

Jules COVID mask from Sarah
I’ll just be over here. Behind my mask.

He immediately returned his attention to Meghan and I downed the last of my frosé. After he left, the server started putting up chairs and wiping down tables.

“Want to try The Lot?” Meghan asked, referring to another outdoor bar just two blocks away. “I think they’re open ’til 10.”

It was 9:30pm, which is when most of Bend shuts down on a Saturday night, international pandemic or not. As we headed to The Lot, a young man shouted out his car window to ask where we were going, his gaze fixed firmly on Meghan.

As soon as we reached our destination and approached the bar for a drink, three men descended.

“You have to come sit with us,” they insisted, practically dragging Meghan to their table.

I waited for our drinks and then sat down next to Meghan, tugging my high-waisted jeans over my gurgling stomach. We had skipped dinner and all I could think about was my couch, my dog, and the delicious cauliflower pizza I wished I was eating.

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I’m coming for you, fake pizza.

Within five minutes, the three, scruffy-haired, patchouli-drenched men offered us mushrooms (which we politely declined) and told us about their Pacific Crest Trail through-hiking adventure.

“Because of those six months, we really learned how to read people,” the tallest, and youngest, of the crew said.

The cutest guy in the group had already cornered Meghan, forcing me to face the remaining two intoxicated men on my own. This is so not where I want to be right now.

“For example, I can tell that she,” the scruffiest and oldest one began, nodding towards Meghan, “is way more open and spontaneous than you. You’re really closed off.”

He went on for a minute and now had Meghan’s attention. Is this really happening? Are they going to keep talking about how this bombshell next to me is superior in every way, including her entire essence? 

“That’s no way to live,” they both went on. “You’re clearly so rigid and uptight.”

Meghan took one look at my face and interjected,

“We need more people like Jules. Jules is one of the greatest people I know and I always tell people about the dinner party I invited her to when we first met. She showed up with so much amazing wine and food and even labeled it in case anyone had allergies.”

Soy chorizo roll ups with ingredient card
Yeah. It’s kind of a thing I do.

By then I’d missed my opportunity for a graceful escape to the bathroom. Tears rolled down my cheeks. I am 38 years old, crying in front of strangers. In the middle of a bar. I eventually made it to the bathroom, with Meghan, and found myself saying,

“Yeah, I guess we can go with them to the dive bar downtown.” I can’t ditch you, and maybe I can redeem myself.

An hour later, Meghan was missing and Mushroom Man #3 was two inches from my face, shouting over the blaring music.

“I need you to hug me and prove you can connect on a deep, genuine level with another human being.”

“I’m good, thanks,” I said, staring at the shot of whiskey he had given me.

“Come on,” he persisted, and I wound up with my arms around his short, solid frame. A decision I’d later regret for many reasons, not the least of which involved reeking of incense for the rest of the night.

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WHY DO YOU SMELL SO BAD? (Photo by Milada Vigerova on Unsplash)

He wouldn’t let go, so I eventually pulled away, knowing I had -purposely- not given him what he was looking for.

“See, that still wasn’t genuine,” he said. “You’re so closed off. You’re living your life all wrong.”

“I think we’re more alike than you think we are,” I replied, knowing all of the bold, terrifying leaps of faith I’d taken over the past several years.

“No, we’re nothing alike,” he retorted, staring directly into my eyes. “You’re never going to experience what life has to offer if you don’t open up.”

My eyes filled for the second time in as many hours.

What if he’s right? Why can’t I be one of those women who goes on spontaneous camping trips, seduces strange, stubbly men, and embraces her mismatched hangers?

…Why can’t I be a little less me and a little more Meghan?

As I felt the hot tears trickle down my face, Meghan returned.

“He’s being mean again,” I said shakily, reduced to a toddler’s verbal range. “So I’m leaving, and you can come if you want.”

I bolted out the nearest door and pushed through the 20-somethings scattered on the bar’s back deck.

“How the hell did this night happen?” I wondered as I made the long, solo trek back to my car, choking back sobs and grateful that I’d sobered up so I could get home safely.

As I passed through Drake Park, the midnight sprinklers pivoted, drenching me. I almost laughed. Well isn’t this cinematic. I pictured the scene from The Holiday where Kate Winslet bends over her gas stove range, turning on a burner and inhaling deeply. She quickly chokes, running to the window, cracking it open and sighing,

“Low point.”

Kate Winslet The Holiday low point

Low point, Julie Jules, low point.

As soon as I got home and opened my apartment door, Uncle Jesse lavished me with licks and whines, watching curiously as I sat on the couch and wept – as deeply and fully as I’d wanted to all night. When I ran out of tears, I went to the fridge and fixed my long-awaited dinner, surprised that I had no urge to open a bottle of wine.

The cauliflower crust immediately crumbled into 17 pieces as I tried to flip it and I felt like crying all over again. Why does everything always fall apart?

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Holy melodramatic, Mom.

“I’m home, are you okay?” Meghan texted a little after 1am. “I’m so sorry I didn’t leave with you. I came outside, and you were already gone.”

“I’m glad you’re home safely,” was all I could manage.

I collapsed into bed a short while later, clinging to my favorite life line as I drifted into dream land.

Maybe this will all be funny tomorrow.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Blogging, PSAs

Calling All Creativity

Go Jules Go title graphic Calling All Creativity_8JUL20

“This is one of the highlights of my week,” I grinned, staring at my laptop camera lens. Does it look creepy when I do that?

“Mine, too,” Karla replied with trademark sincerity.

We said goodnight and each retreated back to our respective lives – mine in central Oregon and Karla’s in central New Jersey.

“The tacos here are amazing,” Karla gushed.

“Oh my god, I love them, too,” I agreed. 

We both spoke loudly over the din of a sprawling Mexican restaurant known for their cheap -but strong- margaritas and piping hot, freshly fried tortilla chips. 

“I used to be a cruise ship director,” Karla began once our food had arrived. 

I nearly dropped my fork. Whenever I was forced to dine dined with my Big Pharm colleagues, stories usually began with, “I majored in biology in college” or, “I first discovered my love of Bunsen burners when…” I would smile and nod and wait for the inevitable confusion when I shared my own background: “Well… I have a degree in creative writing…”

Karla finished her story and I stared at her for a long moment.

“You HAVE to turn this into a memoir.”

“You know, I’ve always thought I might do that,” she said.

And thus, a creative seed was planted.

That was 2011, and it would take nine years, but eventually the universe brought Karla and I together with the joint purpose of nurturing that seedling.

It all happened after I began teaching a creative writing coaching class.

Seriously Funny Blog Widget

When Kris Tucker, an instructor from my Masters program and founder of Creative Writing with Kris, approached me about teaching the class, I felt utterly unqualified and certain it would lead nowhere. But before long, someone signed up. And then Karla signed up.

“Oh my god, is it memoir time?!” I wondered.

Karla cheers
You bet your sweet chipmunks it is.

Suddenly, all of the stories that had peppered our conversations for so long began taking form. Karla was turning out page after page. It was happening.

“That’s the thing about dreams,” I said one evening to Karla during a weekly video chat. “They never go away.”

Dreams will haunt us or heal us, and we have the power to decide which one it’s going to be.

Whether or not your dreams feel “artistic,” rest assured they’re steeped in creativity, and our world would be a little less colorful without them. We need them brought to life just as much as you do.

When I started this blog nine years ago -another small, seemingly insignificant act- I had no idea it would change my entire life. And you don’t have to know either. Just start somewhere. Anywhere.

GoJulesGo first blog post
My very first blog post. Don’t be afraid to leverage pets and/or children.

And speaking of helping each other realize our dreams…

If you’d like to help artists struggling during the COVID-19 crisis, here are a few handpicked places where your generosity will be put to good use:

Artists Relief fundraiser logo

Artist Relief

Endorsed by The New York Times, Artist Relief will distribute $5,000 grants to artists facing dire financial emergencies due to COVID-19; serve as an ongoing informational resource; and co-launch the COVID-19 Impact Survey for Artists and Creative Workers, designed by Americans for the Arts, to better identify and address the needs of artists.

Arts Leaders of Color Emergency Fund

Arts Leaders of Color Emergency Fund

Through their GoFundMe page, you can help the Arts Leaders of Color reach their $100,000 goal in support of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) artists AND administrators (consultants, facilitators, box office staff, seasonal/temporary employees, etc.) who have been financially impacted due to COVID-19.

Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS’ COVID-19 Emergency Assistance Fund

If you’ve ever experienced the awe of watching the curtains part on a Broadway (or any live) show, you’re probably having trouble imagining a world where all of New York City’s iconic theaters have gone dark. Help shed a little light by donating here. Your support will provide urgent additional resources for the vital social service programs of The Actors Fund, including emergency financial assistance, health insurance, counseling and the operation of The Friedman Health Center for the Performing Arts.

For more ideas on ways to help artists, check out this wonderful blog post.

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humor

The Rainbow Connection: A Birthday Dedication You Have to Read to Believe

Go Jules Go Title Graphic The Rainbow Connection 17JUN20

Guess what?!

Tomorrow is Dakota a.k.a. Rainbow Cloudjumper’s birthday!

If you’re familiar with Dakota and his world-class blog, Traipsing About, you know that there’s a 98.7% chance he’s out scaling big rocks or van life-ing somewhere spectacular to celebrate the occasion.

Dakota_Rock-climbing-Hells-Canyon-limestone_Oct-2018
He still won’t admit this photo is fake.

Which is why I thought I’d give him a present that won’t spoil:

A BIRTHDAY BLOG POST!

Dakota fruit bowl retreat Sep 2018
That and he’d probably scold me for spending money on presents since we share an identical (food and) financial philosophy.

While I would have loved to have filled this post with a series of Photoshopped images, placing Rainbow Cloudjumper in a number of compromising positions, I thought I’d try something different.

Drunk Birthday Rainbow Dakota 2020
Okay maybe just one.

I have a story involving Dakota, a story so bizarre and cool that you just have to read it to believe it – and even HE hasn’t heard it yet. I kept meaning to share it with him and [his spectacular wife] Chelsea, but it just never came up.

So, what better time than now?!

Two years ago, I was living in a 350-square foot apartment in suburban New Jersey, ferociously squirreling away my corporate job salary, finishing a Masters degree in Humane Education, and dreaming of a different sort of life. One with financial freedom, passion projects, and outdoor adventures galore.

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Tiny living, BIG ideas.

I was willing to do anything and everything to see this dream through. Since I had the practical side locked down (I am a project manager, after all) -the saving, the lists, the planning- I decided to delve into the metaphysical side. Could creative visualization, meditation, and energy work help? I mean, it couldn’t hurt, right?

Jules-gypsy

I started listening to metaphysical podcasts, which eventually led to daily meditation. I immediately began having all kinds of…interesting…experiences. Things like the perfect name for my thesis project would hit me in the middle of a meditation. I’d set an intention to find a friend on a similar journey and POOF, she’d appear.

Jules Janeen Grandeur Peak Salt Lake City June 2019
Hang on, Janeen, you want to change your whole life, too?! And you want to start by almost dying on this mountain in Utah?!

You see, something happens when you start believing in the scientific fact that we’re all just wiggly bits of energy – and that that means we have far more influence over our surroundings than what seems possible.

Fast forward a few months to August 2018, and I was so giddy about the remarkable results of this energy work that I decided to do something REALLY crazy. Something called Quantum Healing Hypnosis Technique (QHHT) – basically a two hour-long hypnosis that can unleash insights from your higher consciousness.

I know. F&@&% weird. Stay with me. (And delight in the fact that, by now, Dakota is probably wondering what the hell is going on. Is this a birthday post or the confessions of a clinically insane -but very cute- blogger?)

Jules-abduction

You can read more about the experience here, but in a nutshell: that shiz was craaaaay. Crazy cool! What most people don’t realize about hypnosis is that you’re fully conscious and aware the whole time, just deeply, deeply relaxed – almost like the twilight feeling between waking life and dreaming. (You also typically get an audio recording of the session, as I did in this case.)

There are several things I didn’t mention about this experience in my earlier blog posts – because they didn’t make any sense at the time. Towards the end of my session, lying down on a comfy bed with a slight breeze wafting through the window, I suddenly giggled and blurted,

“Oh! That’s the rainbow!”

What rainbow? Who cares about rainbows? part of my mind wondered.

“It’s a rainbow. It’s from New Jersey to Oregon. The wholllllle country,” I smiled, my mind’s eye picturing a map of the United States, with a giant, colorful rainbow starting in New Jersey, my home state, and landing in Oregon – a place I’d visited only once, nine years earlier.

Uncle Jesse double rainbow Maston 2020

“One giant rainbow,” I said again, a goofy grin plastered on my otherwise serene face.

My session ended a couple of minutes later, and I spent weeks wondering what the hell that could have meant. While I’m big on signs and symbols, rainbows had never played a significant role in my life.

The following month, I was invited by a friend to a small, five-day gathering in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, organized by Dakota’s wife (who I didn’t know at the time). “A Vegan Creatives Retreat,” they called it, and asked me to present my Masters thesis to a group of seven fellow vegans. My thesis was about conscious consumerism on the path to financial independence. It had first been inspired by discovering the blogging genius, Mr. Money Mustache – someone who, despite his cult following, not many people had heard of.

Nervously, I walked into the beautiful, gray-shingled home where I’d be spending the next four nights, knowing only one person. In the kitchen, an attractive couple with mega-watt smiles greeted me.

vegan retreat tee photo Sep 2018
Admit it. This is exactly what you pictured when you heard the phrase, “Vegan Creatives Retreat.” (By process of elimination, the fabulous Kelsey must have taken this photo.)

“Hi! I’m Dakota and this is Chelsea.”

After a minute of niceties, Dakota said,

“We’re from Bend.”

My jaw dropped. Bend…Oregon? 

That night, using a silly letter code system on the back of a cereal box, we were each given “unicorn names.” Dakota’s name? Rainbow Cloudjumper.

It didn’t hit me until later that night, as I went to bed. Holy forking shirtballs. He’s the rainbow.

Over the next few days, diligently sticking to our unicorn names, Rainbow and I discovered all kinds of uncanny overlaps in our interests, including the fact that he not only knew of Mr. Money Mustache, but was friends with him!

Dakota Mr Money Mustache
I mean come on.

When the retreat was over, I shed a few tears as I bid goodbye to my seven new best friends. Something about that handful of days made my dreams feel more poignant; I realized just how deeply I craved a heart-centered, creative, nature-filled life, yet it still felt worlds away. Moreover, I was afraid I’d never hear from any of them again. (Ah, the never-ending after effects of childhood bullying.)

Dakota, being the Friend Ninja and Inadvertent Life Coach that he is, reached out to me just a couple of days later. He texted a stunning picture of Bend, Oregon. “Move west already!” he wrote.

Card from Dakota
Black Belt Friend Ninja move: a card from Dakota to cheer on my half marathon training.

These kinds of encouraging messages, from a guy who barely knew me let alone my deepest desires, filled the coming months, as did the undeniable signs from the universe. Thanks to them, by June 2019, I had the courage to quit my job, sell all of my stuff, and drive across the country to a town I’d never so much as visited.

Just a mile down the road from Dakota and Chelsea, Bend was instantly the home I didn’t realize I’d been dreaming of my entire life.

Today marks exactly one year here, and I still pinch myself every day.

So thanks, Rainbow – now you know why I can’t help but continue to call you that. I hope your birthday is filled with the kind of awe-inspiring magic that you bring to the world!

Jules-Rainbow-Puke

~*~*~*~*~*~