Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Year of Jess

I'm b-aaaaaa-ckkkkkk.

Oh, by the way, I moved to Oregon.

Anywho, as many of my friend knows, August 11, 2012-August 11, 2013 (pending Mayan doomsday doesn't happen) has been proclaimed the YEAR OF JESS (Y.O.J.) (#yearofjess.  Just kidding, I don't have Twitter, but I like to speak in hashtags just so I look like I can keep up with the youngsters).

To be perfectly honest, I cannot take full credit for the Y.O.J.  My inspiration came from one of my favorite characters from one of my favorite new shows: Penny (as seen here):

Or, one could also reference the ever classic "Summer of George" a la Seinfeld:

So, what is the Year of Jess, you ask?!  This is essentially my re-invention, Jess 2.0 if you will.  For Penny, in a scene not showed in the clip above, it was about taking control of her life, making her own decisions, and doing things her way no matter what might come.  For George, it was about discovering his passions, what makes life rich, and apparently embracing literacy.

If you want to know the truth, the Y.O.J. was inspired because I came to the conclusion that I hadn't really lived.  Well, maybe only half-lived (or I only went "halfsies."  Half-speed.  0.5.  1/2.  You get the point.)  Sure, I had traveled a lot, seen a lot of cool places.  I have done a lot of fun things.  But I realized, as I approached my 27th year that 1) I only had 3 years of my twenties left: *push panic button--I got some ish to get done! and 2) I haven't taken very many risks in life.  I have played it cool, like the obedient rule-follower that has been ingrained in me for years.  I've basically always walked the straight and narrow (boring).  Where was the rebel?  Where was the Ponyboy in me from the classic novel "The Outsiders?" (yikes.  Okay, I just remembered that he murdered someone in that book, so...I was going with the rebel theme and...yikes.  How does everyone feel about The Fonz?!?)  Somewhere along the way, I had lost the girl who had no problem standing up in front of the entire school and belting out a rap about the Presidents of the United States (the father of our country, George Washington was ONE.  TWO was Thomas Adams, then Thomas Jeffer-SON).  I used to be fearless.

I don't know how it happened.  I imagine middle school had something to do with it--it has the ability to really beat the tar out of one's self-esteem.  I blame the ugly vests and barrettes I wore, but I never seemed to feel totally comfortable in my own skin until well after college...(CUE POWER THEME MUSIC).

It's no secret that I watch a lot of TV (and I totally also read a lot of books, not that I had to say that to justify myself, but I felt like I did, so...there.)  Perhaps it is because being a twenty-something and not knowing where you're going in your life is the trendy thing to write shows about, but I'm super into "New Girl", "Happy Endings", and "The Mindy Project'.  And what is the common thread about all of these shows?  Ladies who are trying to figure it all out.  But what else do these ladies have in their lives?  Confidence (and if they get beat down, they get right back up), great friends (BESTIES), and a lot of mishaps along the way (sometimes I wonder if my own life is being filmed).  And not that TV is reality (thank GOD, because I just watched a "Breaking Bad" marathon...yikes), but there is something about watching these characters and identifying with them and seeing that, as much as they stumble along the way, things turn out okay.  At the end of the day, they have people who support them and love them (and laugh at with them.  Perhaps, because in our day to day we don't see other people's lives lived out like our own, we come to believe we are alone, but when you're watching another character, interacting with the world in much the same way that you do, you realize that there is a common experience.  And there is power in that.  There were many other factors involved in proclaiming this THE YEAR OF JESS!!! but in many ways, watching these characters and reminding myself that at the end of the day, everything was going to be okay, allowed me to open up myself to the possibility of taking risks and embracing adventure (and at the end of the day, I can use all of these stories to develop an Emmy-award winning sitcom, so win win!).

So, with my move back across the country, came a desire to live as authentically as possible, tell it like it is and take risks.  For far too long, I could reason exactly why I should or shouldn't do something.  Logic was my crutch, and it was my perfectionism that kept me from trying anything or making mistakes.  (NOTE: This does not mean I am going off the deep end people--Illicit drugs are still not okay, kids!  D.A.R.E.)

This year is about finding the beauty in simplicity, delighting in the unexpected, and the discovering the art of contentment.  To SUCK THE MARROW OUT OF LIFE! (who said that?!  I know someone said that!)  It is about conquering fear and living fully. And it turns out that failing isn't quite as scary as I once thought.

Enjoy this little gem/theme song of the Year of Jess, brought to you by Rachel Berry:

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Dear Clergy, Please Keep Politics Off the Pulpit

Today I went to church for the first time in a long while.  I figured that Year of Jess probably should involve some spirituality, so I decided to branch out and try a different sort of church than the one I am used to.  I settled on one in downtown Salem.  I should have worn a t-shirt to explain these things, but I wasn't sure what the dress code of the church was.  Any who, there I was, finding myself enjoying the service.  The reverence.  The connection with God.  Prayers.  And then came time for the message.  These were my thoughts through the message:

Great point!
Le Sigh.
*wants to leave service and hit head into pew.

The clergyperson had decided to insert a very pointed political statement in the middle of the service.  Dear clergymen, women, priests, fathers, sisters, pastors, etc. please leave your politics OFF the pulpit! I recognize that my own faith feeds what I believe on various political topics--we all do this.  Our faith, no matter what we believe, shapes how we see the world.  However, when I enter a church, I am there to meet with a community that celebrates God/Jesus/Holy Spirit, not the fact that they hold the same political views as I do.  Perhaps my frustration is that, when politics are delivered from the pulpit, there is no discussion.  It is a close-ended statement, and I have no ability to say, "I object!" or, "Can you explain what you mean by that?" This is not to say that I don't think politics should ever be discussed at church--not at all, but it seems that the pulpit is not an acceptable place to do so.  In my experience, I have seen countless people of faith feel like their faith is less than, because I have seen it happen repeatedly.  The pulpit, in my eyes, should be a sacred place to talk about the Holy Text--it should not dictate who I vote for, or my politics.

What do you think?  Should the pulpit be used for politics?  Where is the line between a pastor sharing their opinions about politics, and it being defined as God's law?

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

London Night Bike Tour of Terror

The sky looked slightly ominous as we approached the starting point for our bicycle night ride.  I had been looking forward to this trip the most out of any of our adventures in Europe.  All my hopes and dreams of my European vacation were mounted on this bike tour!!!  All of my life's moments had been simply preparation--training camp--for this!!!

A young muscular guy with a shaved head would be our tour guide.  He greeted us, but I was unimpressed immediately with his (lack of) people skills.  He seemed cold and distant, unlike many of the tour guides I have enjoyed previously, whose charismatic personalities made me excited to be exploring my particular destination.  Wayne, Dennis, Josh, Jenny--all of them had dazzled me with local lore and history of whatever city I was in, potentially preparing me for future pub trivia games.  They had captured my heart with one cheesy pun after another. Their horrible jokes were the sort of thing that I have come to not only expect, but treasure, as a tourist, much like socks with birkenstocks, fanny packs and visors, or making the “peace” sign or giving a thumbs up in photos.  It only enhances the experience.  Our current guide failed to introduce himself, but with his thick German-sounding accent and solid build, he earned the name “Sven” in my head. 

Sven corralled all of us together.  I sat there waiting for the safety talk, the liability waivers to be signed, the instructions about how to use hand signals (which would eventually almost cause a near collision on Tower Bridge due to our lack of education), reminders of what to do if for some reason you got separated from the group, the bright reflective night gear, the helmets.  But Sven wasn’t interested in any of that, and merely offered us ponchos in case it began to rain.  This would prove to be his most thoughtful gesture, and I could tell from his seemingly cold, stand-offish presence that I was going to have to work to earn Sven's affections.  Sven’s motto seemed to be look out for yourself!!!  I am merely here to tell you facts about this city, but your survival is up to you!!!  I shrugged it off, guessing that he knew what he was doing.  As usual, I trust far more than I should.  You know how to cut hair?  If you say so, go for it!  You have car insurance?  Well, I see absolutely no need to call the police after you hit my car!  What's that?  You have a medical degree?  Slice me open, and don't use the anesthesia if you think I don't need it!  MY personal motto might as well be, “If you say so.”

Sven led us on, and we began with a beautifully scenic view of the river Themmes, where he told us about the guy who invented the sugar cube.  “It’s quite interesting really, very veird,” he said through his accent.  It seemed that Sven cut to the chase—he had no need to woo us with dazzling wordplay or delight us with his puns.  No—he called it out for what it was.  Quite interesting.  Very weird.  And that was that.  Moving on.  Chop Chop.

As we continued, it seemed that Sven had no use for any other descriptors except for “interesting” or “weird.”  The Tower Bridge.  Buckingham Palace.  The London Eye.  Cathedrals.  Puke from someone's bad night on the sidewalk.  All of it "quite interesting and very weird."  But my confidence in Sven began to waver not in his seeming inability to utilize other adjectives to describe London’s landmark and their histories (magical, beautiful, fantastic, disturbing, fascinating, illuminating, all come to mind) but in his seeming determination to ditch his tour group.  As the tour progressed, Sven seemed more and more determined to get as far away from us as possible, in fact causing me to yell at him as we raced through the crowded boardwalk along the Themmes River that we had left three quarters of our group behind.  “Hey!  Excuse me!  WE LOST THEM!” 

Unfortunately, mid way through the bike tour, this caused my near fatal experience that would cause my life to flash before my eyes.  I was already concerned about the bike tour, seeing as I didn’t have health insurance, but again, I figured that they did tours all the time, knew what they were doing, so I would be okay, right?  I had forgotten to do any sort of investigation into this alleged "bicycle tour company" to scout out their death statistics.  As we were racing through the streets of London, we had encountered a major intersection.  We all crowded together to cross, but as we began to move, all of a sudden cars began turning into those at the rear of the group, rather than giving us the right of way.  I blame our lack of reflective gear.  I quickly stopped to avoid being hit rather than crossing with the other 3/4 of the group, just in time to see a huge double decker bus looming and honking at me as it turned the corner.   Well, I thought amidst my panic, at least if I am going to die, it is going to be by the iconic vehicle used to represent London culture and not something boring like a Prius.  Additionally, at least the girth of the double decker would get the job done quickly.  I was now on the other side of the intersection, separated from everyone who had somehow gotten across, the lone gazelle waiting to be picked off by the lions.  I finally was able to speed across the intersection, stopping cars left and right, and saying my prayers, but not wanting to be left alone on the streets of London as Sven left me in the dust.  When I finally caught up with the group, I mentioned to Sven that I had almost been hit. 

“The cars were turning right into us!”  I said, panicked by my experience.

“Yeah, they don’t normally do that,” he answered matter-o-factly.

Unfortunately, this experience somewhat tainted the rest of the trip for me, as I kept envisioning my brain matter being splashed across the cobble-stoned streets of London.  It was a gruesome picture, but not a far stretch from what could quickly become my reality with one wrong taxi cab turn.  When the British papers would report my death, the headline would read, “London's iconic double decker leads to American's tragic and untimely death.”  They would interview Sven about the incident.  “It was quite interesting.  Very weird,” he would say.  He would say it in a way that was devoid of feeling.  I was just a number to him--Woman Number 4 on his little tour of terror.

I began to privately curse Sven for his seeming lack of concern about safety and regulations, but it was difficult to be angry with him through all the glory that London at night has to offer.  The city was alive, dressed to impress in radiant colors to celebrate the Olympics that were opening that day.  Tower Bridge was breath taking, moderately reminding me of Cinderella's castle in Disney Land.    Fireworks lit the night sky in celebration of the Opening Ceremonies that evening, and projected images of great British athletes illuminated Buckingham Palace.  The sites were breath-taking, which was ironic in the sense that I had nearly taken my last breath only a half hour or so ago.  Seeing London at night via bike was perhaps one of the most magical moments of my life, and very much worth the near death encounter to see it.  It was a very interesting experience.  Quite weird, really.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Europe Here We Come!

Hi friends! My family and I are headed to Europe:you can follow our trip here! Cheerio!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Jesus Gets Sassy

Every year around my birthday, time I log onto Facebook, I reflect on my life and where it's going.  Perhaps this is because I am in the middle of the waiting game, and I think things to myself like, "Wo, wo is me, where am I headed?!  Who am I?!"  Boohoo Jess.  Get a grip.  I used to reflect annually around these sorts of issues, especially through my mid-twenties.  What did I accomplish this year?  Where am I going?  Who am I becoming?  What were my values?  But it turns out that being in your twenties is a whole tangled mess of shoddy surface-y comparisons  (I blogged about this last year).  Career?  Check.  Relationship Status: Married: Check.  House or at least an apartment in the cool side of the city?  Check?  Traveling the world?  Check.  When we think about other people's lives, we might not pause to think about the quality of that check mark, or we might not have seen the trials and tribulations that came with it.

And every time I log onto Facebook, I am inundated with what everyone else is doing, or what everyone else has, and its easy to get caught up in the gaps.   I find that my unhappiness typically comes with whatever it is that I don't have at the moment, even if its a glass of red wine.  I log onto facebook, and someone has posted of picture of their delicious meal COMPLETE WITH RED WINE.  Well now I'm pissed.  That's a terrible example, but it could be that I'm lonely and I want friends, or a relationship, or a cool job, or a neat place to live, or a new car, or I need a vacation and I can't afford one or I'm too busy.  Take your pick.  And even if I have 4 out of 5 of those things, or even if the very fact is that I have clean water to drink, I focus on the few things that others have that I don't.

Because inevitably, I suffer from relative depravation.

Relative depravation is this crazy phenomenon where, when in comparison with others, we tend to look at what we DON'T have, verses all of the things we DO have--we compare upwardly verses downwardly.  Case in point: Facebook friend Amber (I don't think I have any friends named Amber, so I think this will work) got a cool job.  You sit and think to yourself, "But I want a cool job too!  This whole cleaning telemarketing thing is for the birds!  I'm tired of people screaming at me!"  Meanwhile, we might not sit around and compare ourselves to the gargantuan amount of people who are job-less.  And even being unemployed, I'm thinking more about the fact that I don't have a job, not so much thinking that I'm not homeless or have to worry about where my next meal is coming from.  Maybe we get a 40 percent discount on the things the telemarketing company sells, but we want the 50 percent discount our friend at another company gets, but we don't compare ourselves to our friends who get nothing at all.  It's a whole new meaning to the "count your blessings" saying.  The analogies are endless.  We are a nation that is always in want, and it seems our proverbial appetite is never whetted.  It's very exhausting.  The woes of the privileged middle class I suppose.

I love this little bit at the end of the book of John in the Bible, because Jesus gets really sassy with the disciples, and in my non-Christian script he screams at them or maybe uses some unsavory language (I hope that's not blasphemous).  He's giving all of the disciples a pep talk, you know, telling them "Follow Me!"  And of course Peter, being the complainer that he is (I feel like I would be the Peter of the group, and no one wants to admit that), is like, "Hey Jesus, what about John?  What's going to happen to him?"  And Jesus says, "If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?  You must follow me." (v. 22).  WAKE UP CALL PETER JESS.  Ouch.  Get your life together and stop comparing yourself to everyone else!!!  He says.  I guess things haven't changed much since 33 A.D.  I don't mean to sound preachy, but the parallels are just too strong.

I imagine Jesus told Peter to butt out of John's business, because God had something specific to teach each of them, things that they and they alone needed to hear.  Maybe, later on, their stories would overlap, and they might need to share an experience to help the other along, but maybe it would always be something that remained between Peter and God or John and God (this article I read got me thinking).  So many of our stories are very interconnected, and I love and use Facebook for the same reasons a lot of other people do.  It's not a bad thing, it's just a different entity than we have ever experienced before.  I imagine its just a new and easier way to compare, but comparison in and of itself is nothing new (I feel like I'm better understanding the reasoning behind the whole "Thou Shalt Not Covet" thing).  Perhaps so much of it is looking not at what others are doing and I'm NOT doing, but how other's own stories might seek to inspire me, change me, and move me to achieve my own dreams (which I shall promptly post on Facebook! :)

What do you think?  Has this been your experience with Facebook?  What are you thankful for?

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Quinoa Muffins!

The best part about being fun-employed is that I get to enjoy the fun of baking.  And boy, do I love to bake (and eat my product!).  I've been really into quinoa (pronounced keen-wa) as of late--and it turns out its kind of a "trendy" food right now (or at least I've been hearing a lot about it, but maybe its selective observation?).  It's sort of like rice (at least you make it the same way), but it has more of a nutty flavor to it--it's nice to mix it up every once and awhile, and it's also chalk full of good things for you.  Woo!  It turns out quinoa is very versatile and can be used in everything from black bean burger patties (dee-lish!) to baked goods!  So I thought I would give it a whirl!  I called upon good ol' Martha for some help (here's the link):


  • 1 cup quinoa, rinsed
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil, such as safflower, plus more for pan
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pan
  • 3/4 cup packed dark-brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium saucepan, bring quinoa and 1 cup water to a boil. Reduce to a simmer; cover, and cook until water has been absorbed and quinoa is tender, 11 to 13 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, brush a standard 12-cup muffin pan with oil; dust with flour, tapping out excess. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, raisins, and 2 cups cooked quinoa; reserve any leftover quinoa for another use.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together oil, milk, egg, and vanilla. Add milk mixture to flour mixture, and stir just until combined; divide batter among prepared muffin cups.
  4. Bake until toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool muffins in pan, 5 minutes; transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Cook's Note

Be careful not to overcook the quinoa or to use more than the required amount of water. The grains of quinoa should be tender but separate, rather than mushy and clumped together.

Of course I HAD to make this recipe my own though-Martha just gave me the jumping off point.  I cut out the raisins (not a fan), and I wanted CHOCOLATE in my muffins!  I made the mistake, which actually turned out to be awesome, of adding chocolate chips when the quinoa was still hot.  Of course, it melted all together, making chocolate muffins instead of non-chocolate muffins with chocolate chips in them.  I also didn't have vanilla, so I replaced it with almond extract--so I got a DELICIOUS chocolate almond flavor.  My poor mom better get one before they're gone! :)

It turns out there are TONS of variations of quinoa muffins as you can only imagine, including lots of vegan varieties if you are interested in that (this chocolate avocado one looked particularly dee-lish).

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


Just an FYI that in just a week in a half I will be going to (drum roll) LONDON for the OLYMPICS (I suppose it would have been good to follow sports this year.  I only know who Michael Phelps is from the Subway commercials, so my hope of celebrity sightings might prove more difficult).  So get ready for some kick ass photo collages when I get back!

On the docket:

1. Field hockey/basketball tickets for the Olympics
2. Eating lots of food
3. Bike tour of London at night (note to self: check up on health insurance benefits.  Not so fun.)
4. Paris--The Eiffel Tower!  Croissants!  Thin moustaches, berets and snobbery (stereotype much?!)!!!!!
5. Ireland!  Tour of the Guinness factory and the Jamison whiskey factory! (Matt: "Be sure to pack your extra liver.")  I think we are also touring a castle and kissing the Blarney stone.  WOOT!

I'm going to strap on my welleys, pull up my knickers and get ready to eat a lot of fish an' chips!!  Blimey ho, Brits, here I come!

Why Sustainability?

I don't know if you've noticed, but there are a LOT of problems in the world.  Every time I open up the Huffington Post, I brace myself for whatever depressing news is going to be scrawled across the opening page in giant, huge caps, as if Arianna Huffington herself is personally screaming at me about the horrible tragedy from that day.  It's a rough world we live in, and you've got to be pretty resilient or be a firm practicer of the phrase "ignorance is bliss" to get through.  Have I got you down yet?!

I remember my last week in my Introduction to Sociology class in college.  As many of you know, this was the turning point for me, and was one of the first times that I really began to think about the world in a different way, and the intersection between my faith, justice, and politics.  We had learned about all of the different institutions (i.e. gender, race, class, etc) and by default all of the inequalities/unfairness that came along with them that affected people's lives in deep and serious ways.  The world, it seemed, was a huge shit hole.  Fortunately, my professor didn't leave us all wanting to bury our heads in the sand, and spent our last class focused on what we COULD do--after all, she said, while you may be one person, one person can have a huge impact.  She urged us, that in light of all of the problems we had talked about, to pick just one to focus on.  It is my belief that when people become so overwhelmed  with so many problems, that it actually moves us to inaction, thinking that we have no capacity to make a difference.  But by focusing on one, collectively we can change a lot of things.

My interest in various issues has ebbed and flowed, but, through trial and error, I've found that my issue is environmentalism and sustainability (and gender, though I won't highlight that in this post).  If you want to know the truth, I hate that this is my issue some days.  Mainly because, admittedly, there are a lot of silly stereotypes that come with it, and I feel the harsh eye rolls when the topic comes up or I ask someone to recycle something instead of throwing it in the trash.  I don't like that people immediately think "granola hippie," or joke that "you must not shower" when in fact, I believe it is my civic responsibility, and the call of everyone to contribute to the solution (and my actions ultimately affect YOU).  By stereotyping, people get to remove themselves from being a part of the solution.  I don't like being painted in this way.  Sometimes I think environmentalism gets sort of a bad rap because it's seen as a "trendy" issue--again, this is an easy way to write things off so that they seem less important (if something is "trendy," it means it is not going to be around forever), even though we need to completely re-alter our thought process and actions in order to move forward.

But sustainability is close to my heart for the following reasons:
*It turns out what's good for the planet is good for me! (riding my bike vs. the car, healthier, local, unprocessed foods, spending less money on consuming needless products, etc)
*It allows me to exercise my love for justice.  I've always been concerned about issues pertaining to poverty, women, people of color, etc. and these are all enveloped under the umbrella of environmental justice--that is, those that will be most affected in the long run are those that are currently most societally disadvantaged.  The divides between various groups will only become more exacerbated as resources become more scarce. Exploring the intersection of these things is vital to the sustainability movement.
*It contributes to my overall daily mindfulness in practical ways.  While sometimes justice issues can be more big picture or theoretical, or things that might be more ambiguous or that you don't see every day of your life, environmentalism is something that requires daily action steps, and this keeps me mindful.   Everyday I have to think about things differently than I used to.  Do I need to buy that item, or can I reuse something in a different way (and as a fun-employer, this is important!)?  Do I need to use a paper plate just because it's easier to clean up, or can I spend an extra 5 minutes doing the dishes and creating less trash?  Do I really need to drive there, or can I make one big trip, or ride my bike or walk?  Just because something has always been one way does not mean it has to continue being that way.
*It helps me to be creative!  Sort of similar to my third reason, but a little bit different.  I consider myself to be a fairly creative person, and I love that trying to live a sustainable lifestyle consistently has me thinking of different ways to do things with less overall impact.  I love crafting--can I refurbish an item I already have into something new?  I ran out of ribbon or an envelope--can I find an alternative instead of rushing out to buy new stuff?  Can I find a new way to wear an outfit to avoid purchasing a new one?  Can I find a way to think outside of the box and do something in a different way than I always have or is the cultural "norm" that is greener?

This is not to say that other issues are not vitally important, or that other issues are not near and dear to my heart, or that I will never help out with another cause (silly!).  Gender issues are a point of concern for me as well.  But in terms of my passions, this is the thing that I think about most deeply, and has very radically changed my lifestyle in the past year in so many ways.  So for now, this is what I will keep exploring, keep reading about and keep thinking about!

What's your issue that you are passionate about?  Why have you chosen it?  How have you taken action?

Summer Readz: What I'm Into

Well kids,

As my period of fun-employment continues, let me tell you, I pretty much spend a majority of my time reading, and crafting (with occasional marathons of watching mind-numbing useless television).

I have a fairly hefty reading list (I just bought two books today--thank goodness for gift cards.  You have to careful when you have no income, and it turns out the public library is sub-par.  I miss the Noah Webster Library in Connecticut!), as well as some recommendations, just in case you need one!

Summer Reading List:
1. Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion: Elizabeth L. Cline.  As the title implies,  a look into the cheap fashion industry (i.e. Forever 21, H&M, Target, etc) and the impact it has
2. The End of Food: Paul Roberts  (Echoing food experts such as Michael Pollan, Roberts explores the food industry and its impact on the planet and our bodies, and where we're headed)
3.  Marriage: A History: Stephanie Coontz (WARNING: I anticipate that this book dispels any preconceived notions that you have about marriage--I read the sample.  Sociology always manage to rip anything you believe to shreds...its the nature of the beast)
4.  The Year of Biblical Womanhood: Rachel Held Evans (to be released Oct. 30).  (I loved Held Evans book "Evolving in Monkey Town" about her journey through faith, and hers is a blog that I follow regularly.  She always provides insight, and spends the year following the "letter of law" as the Bible outlines for women--such as covering her head, submitting to her husband on all matters, wearing her hair long, etc.  Her question is "What does it mean to be a 'biblical' woman?"  I'm a sucker for year-long experiment books!
5.  Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays vs. Christians Debate:Justin Lee  (to be released Nov. 13)  (Rachel Held Evans recommended this book on her blog, and from the title it sounds like a fascinating and extremely necessary conversation to have).
6.  Plastic: A Toxic Love Story: Susan Frienkel  (Frienkel follows the history of different household products such as a comb, grocery bag, plastic bottle, etc. and discusses their various impacts)

Woo!  I can't wait to read these!

Books I've Read and Love...(as an aside, I tend to stay away from fiction as a personal you'll have to check out someone else's list for fiction suggestions.  I've heard Harry Potter is cool...)

Memoirs/Books Written By People Who Inspire Me In One Way Or Another:

1. Bossypants: Tina Fey (She needs no introduction.  I love her.  I want to be like her.)
2. Blue Like Jazz: Donald Miller (I read this book 8 years ago and its still one of my favorites and deeply influenced the way I see my faith.  It was one of the books that taught me that things are not very black and white, and I began to see that I could be liberal and a Christian too.  I guess you could say it had a heavy influence in helping me to get the proverbial stick out of my ass for lack of a better term when it came to understanding that faith does not equal legalism.  I like to read this one in small bits every now and again)
3. Anything by David Sedaris: This guy is a freaking hoot.  And he's funny in person too.  A guy I hope I can write like some day
4.  Traveling Mercies: Anne Lamott: Similar to Blue Like Jazz, when I read this book years and years and years ago it taught me that there's more than one way live out faith, and you can not have your life together (i.e. hot mess) yet still find beauty in the fact that you have no clue what you're doing.  I would say that Donald Miller and Anne Lamott laid the foundation for helping me to think about how justice and faith go together, and how things are not black and white.  These books prepared the way for me to understand things later on when I went through a very transitional faith period (read: crisis) my senior year of college.

Justice/Sociology Books:

1. The Working Poor: David K. Shipler  A look at the myths that dictate the ways in which we think about the poor, and the ways in which those ideas shape the way that we form our policies and politics
2. White Like Me: Tim Wise  Examining the reality of White Privilege
3. The Second Shift: Arlie Hochschild  Through her research, Hochschild examines disparities between working men and working women's contributions to household labor
4. The Tipping Point: Malcolm Gladwell  I guess you could qualify this more as a "social psychology" book, but this is a fascinating read on what it is that makes certain phenomenon catch on (actually, anything Malcolm Gladwell writes is extremely interesting).
5. Full Frontal Feminism: Jessica Valenti  (Just a warning, this book contains some graphic language/imagery, but in my opinion totally worth it).  Valenti explores the question "Why do we need feminism" and the different social structures that still reveal inequalities for women--really easy, funny read.
6. I Am America (And So Can You): Stephen Colbert: I'm not really sure if this REALLY fits in this category to be honest, but Colbert covers a lot of different facets of American culture and through political conservative satire points out the lunacies of it all.  SO FREAKING HILARIOUS.  I literally was laughing out loud to the confusion of people at the airport.

Books that Changed the Way I thought About The Environment and The Food Industry:

1. The Ominvore's Dilemma: Michael Pollen  Probably one of the most important texts as related to the food industry, Pollen examines the current state of the industry and explores such issues as the attack on biodiversity, carbon footprint in terms of food transportation, eating locally, etc, and how these all impact our health and the environment.
2. Eating Animals: Jonathan Safran Foer  A look into the ethics behind eating meat and the food industry
3. Food Rules: Michael Pollan  This really tiny, easy-to-read, super accessible little number is one of the foundations for my understanding of how our diets should look
4. No Impact Man: Colin Beavin  About a NYC guy's attempt at living off the grid for one year

Well, that's a start I guess!  Happy reading!

I'm Baaaacccckkk

Hi friends!

I recognize that I've been absent (you know, moving across the country and all).  So here I sit, in Salem, Oregon, back as a [hopefully] permanent citizen of the Pacific Northwest and ready for action!  Of course, the name of my blog will need to be changed soon (cuz I ain't on the East Coast no' mo')...that's still TBD (if you have any suggestions, feel free to share them!).  I anticipate that this phase of the blog shall have more of an emphasis on simple living, and "being green"(please don't label me "granola" and hear me out!), and discovering what the heck it is I'm supposed to be doing with my life and whatever other fun little gems pop into my head.  Expect that I will share with you my adventures in fun-employment (definition: the "funemployed" person has no job and finds the utmost pleasure and merriment in being work free.  The fun-employed fills his/her afternoons with whatever he/she desires, and may silently or verbally delight in the fact that he/she may galavant about as he/she pleases while others are stuck at work.  "Fun-employment" transitions into official "Un-employment" status when the participant's funding runs out and he/she, or the participant becomes extremely board with his/her life after a certain period of time after acquiring employment is attempted repeatedly.  "Fun-employment" is a temporary state).  I recognize the privilege in fun-employment (others do not always get this luxury), and I anticipate enjoying this time to the fullest, and figuring out what my next steps are going to be.  Anyways, my goal is to post once a day, so stay tuned...!!!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Where I'm Going

Well kids, it's official. I'm moving. Yup, back to the Pacific Northwest I go. I've been thinking about it for a long time, and after the end of the school year I will be packing my (hopefully very minimal) belongings and heading to Salem, OR. My parents moved there recently, and my brother and one of my best friends live in Portland, and I've always wanted to live in a land where they have bumper stickers that say "Keep Portland Weird." Weird it is (Remember, the dream of the 90s is alive in Portland...), but I look forward to the endless variety of food trucks, feminist bookstores, independent coffee shops (oh! the coffee!), bike riders, community gardens, and a wide variety of mustaches/facial hair.

If you want to know the truth, my move is not very logical. I'm not going back for a job. I'm not going to have health insurance. I don't know where I'm going, only God knows where I've been. I'm a devil on the run, a six gun lover, a gamble in the wind (OK OK, THE LAST TWO SENTENCES ARE A BON JOVI SONG! YOU CAUGHT ME.). I am leaving behind a special community, a fun and flexible job, and pretty much starting over. But it just feels right, and at the end of the day I am a West Coast woman (as my blog title implies), and at the end of the day I want to be near my family. I've had SO many wonderful experiences on the "right"/east coast, met so many fantastic people who have eternally shaped who I am, learned so many lessons, but at the end of the day home is where the heart is. When you're in a new culture (though does 3 years count as "new" still?), as I was explaining the other day, I imagine I could liken my experience to that of wearing a high heeled shoe--it fits, it works, and I can wear it (and rock it!), but at the end of the day it's not quite as comfortable as your house slippers.

Every few years it seems like I get restless, like I need to mix it up a bit, maybe to remember what it is like to feel alive, what it feels like to completely step out on the edge of the cliff. While I don't know what it is I want my life TO look like, I feel like I'm figuring out what I DON'T want, and I think that's just as important. I've been reading a lot of people who have written about looking back at their lives in their 40s and 50s, only to realize that they've been on a proverbial hamster's wheel, running in circles, trying to make a lot of money to buy a lot of useless stuff, and figuring out that it's all not worth very much at all, and that they somehow missed life in the midst of it. I do not want this to be me. I realize I have the luxury of having this sort of aspiration that others might not due to social class or familial obligations, but its something I'm interested in exploring.

If you want to know the truth, the prospect of moving AGAIN (move #5) is completely terrifying, especially when you're not going back to a concrete job or school. And, with the exception of moving to Connecticut, I've always had a built-in community (i.e. a school of some sort) and built-in network of friendly neighbors to socialize and involve myself with when I've arrived. But Oregon will be different, and I imagine my comfort zone will become increasingly more stretched. But as I said, you have to keep moving forward, into the unknown, and I imagine these are the times when God becomes increasingly more apparent, and faith becomes more and more necessary. It is challenging and terrifying and exciting all at the same time. The world is my oyster.

It will work out, I am confident of that, it's just a matter of "how" and "when."

Also, I am currently taking suggestions of career aspirations. Environmental Sociologist is already on the list. Also, biking educator or activist. Maybe working at Voodoo Donuts to contribute to Portland's weirdness factor. Thoughts?

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Book Review: Evolving in Monkey Town

If I were to write a memoir, I imagine it would be very similar to this one.

Rachel Held Evans is one of my new favorite writers/bloggers (Check out her blog here!). I'm not sure, but it seems we might get along very well.

Held Evans' memoir is about her journey through faith, and as I mentioned, is remarkably paralleled with mine. She was well versed in apologetics throughout high school, could argue why her faith was so logical, went to a Christian college where it seems you would leave with a whole lot more answers than questions...but that was not necessarily the case. Eventually, she began to ask a lot of questions (as the title implies), and through confusion and ambiguity, her faith evolved into something completely different then where she had started from.

If you want to know the truth, I was waiting for a book like this. Because there's a certain part of me that wonders if there is any place for me in the evangelical church anymore. My ideas are often very different from those that I meet with, and it seems that there is no room for questions. I'm talking about the hard questions--what we think about creationism, the current political climate, abortion, poverty, etc. For a lot of people, these might be cut and dry issues. But I have found that the more information I get, the more perspectives I listen to, the more I realize that my very narrow experience is different from a large part of the world. And this shakes you. And if I've noticed anything, it is that when you disagree with general Christian culture, you are labeled a heretic. People smile nicely and nod, but wonder if you have a few screws loose. I know how to "blend in" well enough--that is, I know the jargon, I know what I "should" say. I know the line of reasoning, and I know what the response will be if I were to tell people what I REALLY think. I know how to play the game. And I imagine that is the scariest part--because where does "playing the part" end, and authenticity begin--where differences of opinion are celebrated and embraced and not feared? And why is difference so threatening?

My senior year of college I was beginning to learn about the social construction of gender and this whole idea of biblical equality. I was having a debate with a young man who believed very strongly in complimentary gender roles (the idea that men and women each hold a set of opposite traits that "compliment" each other). I had adhered to this idea for a long time, went to a church that strongly supported it, but when presented with the egalitarian viewpoint, the arguments for complimentary roles seemed, well like a bunch of hooey. During the discussion I raised a lot of my concerns with the complimentary viewpoint, but the end result of the conversation was "Crazy feminist-you're-only-mad-because-you're-a-woman and you're-not-really-a-Christian" sort of a feeling. UGH. I might not have taken it that way if this was an isolated incident, but it turned out a LOT of people I talked to had the same sort of mentality. I went and talked with my professor about it because I was so frustrated with the situation. It wasn't necessarily that he disagreed with me, but more so that he couldn't even fathom the possibility that things might be outside of what he thought. She told me that for some people, they are too afraid to ask questions. Because the possibility that they might have to let go, that they might have to give up everything they know, is too much. Their faith is brittle. Can you even call that faith if you can explain it?

But God is bigger than that.

My professor gave me permission to ask questions. And I did. I asked a LOT of them. And as a result, my faith changed in dramatic ways. And if you want to know the truth, Jesus' face became a lot clearer, but everything in the peripherals--the letters where Paul talks about women's roles, the origins of the human race, what God thought about homosexuality--they became a lot more fuzzy.

Shortly after, one of my other professors came in for a guest lecture in my Sociology of Gender class. He is a Mennonite. He spoke about how the Mennonites believe in a Christocentric theology. That is, Jesus and the Gospels are the center, and all truth and understanding is measured in light of that. They believed in doing what Jesus did. Evangelicals (while they might claim to be Christocentric) tend to be more Paul-centric. That is, so much of our rules and moral code is based off of verses out of Paul's letters (case in point: supportive verses for sex before marriage, women's role in ministry, homosexuality, swearing, etc. can be found). A student raised her hand and asked him what he believed about homosexuality. Was it right? Was it wrong? And he pointed back to the fact that the Mennonites believed that Jesus was the center, and that it was our job on earth to do what Jesus did. And Jesus never comments on it. He spoke in crowds to thousands of people, had ample amount of time to talk about it, or if he did it was never recorded. It all went back to Jesus--and He is the only place I found comfort when it felt like all my questions were going to make my faith-world unravel.

We spend very little time talking about giving up our possessions, feeding the poor, or leaving our families for the sake of Jesus--things Jesus actually spent a lot of time talking about. In fact, we spend a lot of time talking about the "wiggle room" for how to avoid these sorts of subjects--trying to explain them away, or ignore them completely. I imagine that is because it is a lot easier to sit around and condemn everyone else than get up and do something. I am guilty of this as much as anyone.

I understand that people could read the above paragraphs and write me off as full of blasphemy or hypocrisy or whatever code words you want to use for "not really a Christian." Do you not believe that the Bible is the inerrant word of God you might ask? But that's the very point of Rachel Held Evans' book. Our faith must be able to ebb, flow, evolve. Once she began to ask questions, she found that she had a lot more. But the thing I have found is that the more questions I ask, and the more vague and uncertain the answers, it gets a lot less scary to live in ambiguity. In fact, it is so much more exciting. Because it you ask a question that might not have an answer in this lifetime, your faith is not shattered--it is flexible and fluid enough to sustain the impact of questioning. I nearly lost my faith, because frankly, God was in a very boring, explainable box. I find that through admitting I don't know, it takes a lot less work to try to separate myself from "those" people who believe THAT particular dogma (*gasp!*). Difference in opinion is less scary, and becomes more about what I can learn from someone then the "absolute truth" I have to defend at all costs (because we feel like we are at war). If God wants us to find it, we will. But sometimes I think God is a lot more interested in the process and struggle and journey we go through to find answers then the actual answers themselves.

I imagine that ambiguity is scary. But it can also be exciting, because it can be refreshing to know that you don't have to figure it all out. Thank you, Rachel for being honest about your questions, for being okay with the unknown, and ready to embrace what is to come.

"Doubt is a difficult animal to master because it requires that we learn the difference between doubting God and doubting what we believe about God. The former has the potential to destroy faith; the latter has the power to enrich and refine it. The former is a vice; the latter a virtue." (pg. 219)

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Goodbye, Gramps

My grandpa left us last night.

The day before he died, I had a dream. In the dream, I was in a competition of some sort. I was supposed to do something really original to show to the crowd or something like that, and I felt really stressed out because I couldn’t think of anything. While I was trying to think of what I was going to do, I remember feeling really down on myself, like I wasn't good enough. Suddently, someone said, “Jess, your grandpa is here!” I turned around, and there he was. He took my hand, and led me out of the room I was in. We walked outside, and sat down to talk. I woke up knowing that he had come to say goodbye to me, and to tell me that he was proud of me and that he loved me just the way I was. After I woke up, I wanted to keep talking to him, but in seeing him, it was if he was telling me that he would be around to talk whenever I needed to.

I imagine an accurate way to describe my grandfather would be a “surly curmudgeon with a heart of gold.” He was in many ways a paradox, a unique blend of cantankerous stubbornness and warm fuzzies. And we loved him greatly for that. He didn’t give a flying HELL what came out of his mouth or who heard what. He was hilariously inappropriate, crass, and outspoken. He also played Santa Claus at the mall, and brought joy to little kids with his creative stories about the North Pole. He was deeply spiritual, an elder at church. He had a poster in his bathroom with a guy with his pants pulled half way down that said, “Say no to crack.” He had a huge soft spot for his dog K.D. He loved radishes, peanut butter on hamburgers (don’t knock it til you try it), and peanut butter sandwiches dipped in milk. He always had a baseball hat on, and his La-Z-Boy was off limits (though occasionally he let me sit there). He smoked cigarettes despite every person he knew telling him to knock it off. He was quite the craftsman and loved his tools. He loved Big Band music, and sometimes would spontaneously burst into song (he was a deep rich baritone). He said things like, “Fiction or fact from Joe’s Almanac.” He loved lighthouses, and I had always wanted him to come to Seattle, but I imagine he is sitting by the shore looking out across the sea with God right now. While he presented a tough exterior, the man had the insides of a gooey marshmallow. And he always made sure to say, “Well, we’re proud of you kid.” He was who he was, no matter what. And I loved all of these things about him, the complexity of his character and his ability to just be…Grandpa.

I wasn’t there, but from what I was told, when he died, the moment was surrounded by peace and calmness. He was not alone. He told my uncle that he saw the hand of God.

My mom thinks that he knew when he was supposed to go. My brother, mom and I had a chance to talk to him on his last day, to let him know that we loved him, a gift I can’t believe I was so lucky to receive. I was told he cried, because even though he couldn’t talk to us, he knew what we were saying to him.

I always thought about death in a dark and ugly and scary way, but that’s not how it happened. And I’ve always been afraid of death in many ways. But it turns out, that through a tragic, sad, and painful experience, God showed up. Through all the doubts I might have about faith, too much has happened that leads me to believe that there is something bigger than ourselves. God has taken a moment that we look at as horribly painful, but somehow has brought goodness and beauty out of it: the release of someone from pain, the welcoming home for a child of God, bringing a family together, revealing God's self and peace and reassurance to people who desperately need to see it.

Death is frightening because it is the great unknown. No one can come back to tell you about what the experience is like. Someone I knew told me that death is much like our experience in our mother’s womb: when we are in there, we don’t want to leave. It is warm, safe, and it is all we know. And then we are pushed out into the world, a great, big, wonderful world that we never could have dreamt of. And I imagine this is the same way that death works: we cannot imagine anything beyond what we can experience on earth, and while it is frightening to leave what we know here, there is another better world to explore and know. It is the mystery that is the scariest part, but I imagine also the most beautiful.

Love you Gramps. Welcome home.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

My coworker thinks I should write a book. I don't know that I have a book's worth of things to say...well that's a lie. I don't know that I have a book's worth of things people want to read. Anyways, I think it is an interesting idea to entertain, mainly because I immediately leap to who will star as me in the motion picture event. Anyways, I began to think about the many things that I could write about. Do I write Seinfeld-esque minute observances of life? Do I utilize dazzling, hilarious wordplay to write seemingly meaningless events like David Sedaris? Thoughtful insights through the vehicle of eccentricity like Anne Lamott (I'm sorry, her last name always makes me think of Mott's applesauce. Excuse me, I need a snack)?

I'm back. As I lay (or laid?! Or lied?! I NEVER know! This is not a good beginning for a future writer...but nothing that can't be googled I imagine) in bed last night thinking, I imagined the most important part of the book: the dedication page. I finished the dedication page in my head, but I imagine you'll have to read my book to see it. Bwa ha ha (I'm also good at suspense--a key and difficult writing technique).

Monday, January 2, 2012

"I love the city of Portland.

It would be impossible for me to estimate how many times I’ve said that sentence over the last decade and a half of living in the Rose City.

There’s so much to recommend it, but I honestly think one of the things I love so much are the people. At times a bit eccentric, but almost always kind and polite, they are concerned about each other and the world. If you believe in community, in caring for the environment, in taking care of others, especially those on the margins, then Portland is for you.

And interestingly enough, those are also very same reasons I love Jesus."

--I read this on a church website of a church in Portland ( I love this. I have a lot of issues with the church, but this sort of stance may bring me back. I can't wait to be apart of a community just like this one. Thank you God for beautiful places like this.