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Happy Labor Day!
I got to announce some fun news this weekend – I was lucky enough to win a finalist slot as best local blog in Birmingham Magazine’s “Best of 2012″ issue! A big congrats to Trish & Angie over at BirminghamMommy.com for winning the grand prize, they are a fine bunch indeed with lots of great content. Some of my favorite people in the ‘Ham for sure. Also, congrats to Alexis at samechicdifferentday.com for also making it as a finalist!
There’s another reason why you should pick up Birmingham Magazine this month – James & his partner Dan have a nice write-up on The Burger Coalition inside as well! Complete with awesome photographs by the amazing Wes Frazer. If you live in Birmingham or Atlanta and love a good burger, then you should sign up for one of their coalitions soon.
It was a peaceful few days in Atlanta with James, and I got up bright and early this morning to head back into town for work. We are taking on a few mini challenges for the month of September…nothing too big and scary, more for well-being purposes than anything else. Our first challenge is to give up alcohol for 21 days, which should be fairly easy to do. Within those 21 days we will also be doing 7 days as vegetarian, and 2 as vegan. I am really excited about that the most, as I’ve never tried to be completely vegan before. However I do follow a few friends on Instagram who are completely vegan all of the time, so I may be hitting them up soon for meal ideas. It’s also become a lot easier to get vegetarian and vegan friendly food in general at restaurants, and we have several here in Birmingham that specialize in both. My favorites are The Golden Temple and Bottletree Cafe. I love the idea that you can have a well-rounded meal with no meat. I was a semi-vegetarian for about 2 years (I ate fish on occasion) and it was much easier than you would think. It was also during a time where I calculated my nutritional intake, and I always got more than enough protein on a daily basis from natural sources. Our last challenge of the month is to do two days of fruit/vegetable juice, at least 1,200 calories worth. In fact, we do that this Wednesday & Thursday as a mini-cleanse. I am looking forward to it! We’ve already started thinking about doing other fun challenges in the months ahead, just to keep things interesting. Something I’d like to do is eat purely local food for a certain amount of time, inspired by the film Eating Alabama. The filmmaker and his wife take on a 360 day challenge of eating nothing but local food, and it turns out to be much harder than anticipated. You should check the film out if you get the chance, it has a great message and is appropriate for all ages.
I’m just going to make today’s post one big cultural plug and end with Artwalk!! This is my second favorite festival in Birmingham, which just so happens to be this weekend. It’s in the loft district downtown with more local art than you could ever imagine. There will also be live music and great food. Did I mention that it is free??? Pop in and walk around, it won’t disappoint.
Last night I had a glass of wine with my sweet friend Micah Manor at her place in Highland Park. We listened to the last winds of Isaac outside of her open front porch door while she whipped up some homemade spaghetti with wheat pasta for us to munch on for dinner. Her home is very uniquely her, with items from the sea thoughtfully placed almost everywhere you look. Even she looks like a sun bunny fresh from a day at the beach, complete with dark skin and sun highlighted hair. Micah is also very laid back, especially for a Leo, so there is an instant calm that surrounds you once you step foot in her little beach bungalow. She gives you undivided attention while you speak and gives heart-felt advice. Her stories and updates are also quite entertaining, so I love getting refreshed on her life. There is an innocent honesty about her that I admire.
This morning I got up bright and early at 4:15 a.m. to take Vero to the airport for her trip to Austin, TX. What is it about getting up at an ungodly hour that makes it a little fun? It’s almost like bragging rights for the rest of the day with instant sympathy. Waking up that early reminds me of going to Six Flags when I was younger, b/c we always had to get there when the gates opened in Atlanta, Georgia (an hour ahead and a 2.5 hour drive from Birmingham). Anything before 5 a.m. usually means an awesome trip of some sort, which is exactly what Vero had in store. I also enjoy taking people to the airport, because you can feel their enthusiasm before a fun adventure. Of course the second I dropped her off I went back home and snuggled in bed for another hour or so.
Yesterday evening before heading over to Micah’s I had a great solo run. I popped on my headphones and played some amazing music, and got lost in my own head space for about 45 minutes. I found some new alleys to explore, my favorite one being a little cut-through over a field of grass. It was on top of a hill and had an unexpected view of tree tops and the golf course, very close to the downtown area. I had a lot of ideas as well during my run, which inspired the creative wheels to start turning. I love when that happens. Very few things can beat a run at your own pace on a peaceful, windy day.
This weekend I am heading to Atlanta to see James for a few days, which I always look forward to. Today is also the last day of August, can you believe it? That means fall is well on its way. I’m ready to see what the rest of the year has in store, and to spend my time with those I love the most.
My friend Debbie always tells the best stories from her past. When I read her blog posts, I notice how different our styles are. She uses memories to tie in current happenings and feelings. I really like that about her. Her recall is pretty accurate and she can paint a crystal clear visual of past events. I have a hard time remembering 10 minutes ago sometimes, especially spoken words and dialog. I find that I am more inclined to write about things yet to happen and how those motivations impact my life now. Maybe I should take a moment to remember things from time to time and document them in my blog. I will give it a shot today, but first, a quick observation.
Speaking of the past, do you ever look at old photos of yourself wishing that you had fully realized how wonderful you were at the time? That happens to me often. Even looking at pictures from just a year ago I can recall not being able to fully see myself and my surroundings/circumstances. Even though I can’t always remember specific words and conversations, I can always remember how I felt. Looking at old pictures makes me want to reach through time and yell, “Hey, YOU! Jen West! You are awesome. You look really cute. Here is a high-five from the future!”. Which then always inevitably makes me think.. oh gosh, have I lost that time? It’s another year past, what have I missed out on from not being fully self-aware? But… that is exactly the problem. I should never think that, or ask those questions. Thinking that now only puts me back in the same trap, the same loop of thinking. Then once again, a year from now, I will recall feeling regretful. I do not want that to be the case – ever again. The feeling of regret is probably the worst thing you could wish upon yourself. Because regret means that you lost a chance, that you can’t get that opportunity back. Regret sucks, and I want nothing to do with it.
Now for story time! When I was 16 I really really wanted to have a job, so I started working at the Captain D’s in Gardendale, about 15 minutes from my then-home. I would reek of fish and cleaning projects after my shifts, and my mom started washing my work clothes in separate loads from everyone else. I’m pretty sure no one enjoyed anything about my first career choice, except for me. I loved having my own money and being “independent”. Hahaha. One time I even caught a rat under a to-go cup and got a round of applause from my coworkers. Despite all those unique highlights, my favorite memory is my family coming to visit me every Sunday. They would wait until the end of my shift, and we would all have dinner together in the restaurant. I think Captain D’s offered some sort of special Sunday discount, and if I ordered the food myself we got an even better deal. It was really sweet. I only made it there about 9 months before throwing in the towel, but I will never forget my entire family sharing hush puppies and fried fish while I told them stories about angry drive-thru customers after church let out. I’m not exactly sure how this story ties in with anything about my blog post today, but it’s entertaining none-the-less.
On days when I can’t quite articulate my thoughts, or just want to celebrate the good in life, I like to make a Love List. Today is one of those days!
Things I LOVE:
1. Friends – new and old
2. Celebrating joys with others
3. Peel and eat shrimp with lots of cocktail sauce
4. My Baby Kitty
6. Feeling inspired or motivated by others around me
8. Conquering vulnerability
10. The feeling that fall is on its way…
11. A good night’s sleep
12. Riding in the car to Atlanta to see James
13. Planning creative goals
14. Running while listening to the Arcade Fire Pandora station
15. Vegetarians, Vegans, Locavores (even if I’m not any of these at the moment)
16. People who fail from time to time, but never give up…and win more than they think (talking to you, Stephen Vinson!)
17. Hope, endurance, focus, determination
18. A positive outlook
19. Sunshine when I am cold
20. Warm drinks
21. Feeling good about my body
22. Independent filmmakers
23. Mini challenges (I have a few for September that I will tell you about soon!)
24. Working out with friends
25. Alone time
I hope your Wednesday is wonderful. See you tomorrow!
Happy Sidewalk! Today’s post will be short, so I will see you all again Monday morning. If you are in Birmingham this weekend, please come out and see our film Crush play tomorrow night at 10:30 p.m. at the Alabama School of Fine Arts as part of a local short film block. Also, here is a great write-up by my friend Christy Turnipseed on Crush that you should read if you have the time.
James shared an image with me this morning that I want to leave you with below (if it isn’t clear, click on it for a better version). Have a wonderful weekend!
Early this morning, my precious grandmother West passed away. We knew the time was very near yesterday, and I am so glad I got the opportunity to kiss her before she left our existence. I headed there straight after work to spend a few minutes with her. She was pretty aware until the end, even if her body couldn’t respond. She’s been mentally ready to leave us for a while, as her heart yearned to be with my grandfather and her sons who have passed away over the years. She always felt like if she wasn’t able to help another person or offer something to them, then she wasn’t worth anything. But hopefully she listened to us when we said that just getting to see her face and be in her presence was a tremendous gift. Louise was a pillar of strength, hope and love for everyone in her very large family. She gave birth to seven sons in her lifetime, and they went on to have about 23 grandchildren and even more great-grandchildren. Her spirit and legacy will live on indefinitely. We miss you very much Louise, but know you are somewhere right now experiencing more love than we could ever imagine.
Through my grandmother’s death experience, as well as my grandfather Ellis a few years back, I’ve become aware of the wonderful organization known as Hospice Care (or palliative care). These people are really amazing – it is a free service/nonprofit organization that sends out staff trained in caring for the sick and dying. This often allows people to pass away in the comfort of their own homes, just like my loved ones were able to. There are different specialties too, some care for the elderly while others care for children. I rarely say this word, but it’s been a tremendous blessing to have had that service available. They are also trained to help with the emotions of the people coping with the loss of a loved one. I just can’t say enough about these giving, caring souls.
As with any death, young or old, we are reminded that our time is short. Louise lived a big life, full of hard times and good times. She taught us to have values, love others, and keep a positive attitude. I am so lucky to have had her in my life! Love you, Louise.
Some days just zap everything you have. I’ve felt like that for most of today, seemingly combating negative energy from others and even myself at times. That is until about 30 minutes ago. There is a special woman who comes in to my work from time to time to train others on physical healing techniques. She is from New Orleans and calls everyone “Boogie”. I had written her a month or two back about a natural remedy for rosacea, and the first thing she said to me today was that she had found just the thing. I will let you know what that magic potion is in just a minute. Somehow though, she transitioned and started pulling other information out of me. I voiced some current concerns which usually don’t even make me blink twice, but today I was struggling with. She listened attentively. She has such a peaceful spirit, as she absorbs what I’m saying but doesn’t let affect her in any negative way. Then I asked her what her secret was, how was she able to be such a healer for others and not let those emotions factor into her own well-being? Her answer was simple: meditation. She specifically practices chanting, an old Buddhist ritual. She does it in the mornings when she wakes up and in the evenings when she goes to bed. She isn’t a Buddhist, she just practices some of its ideas. This isn’t the first time meditation has been recommended to me, and for those of you who read my blog from time to time know that I’ve tried it in the past with little success. Then she said to me – that is why it’s call practice, because it is never perfected. Some days will be easy than others, but you will always be glad you did it. Some people call it prayer, others call it chanting, others call it meditation – but it’s all the same. It is connecting us with an energy greater than ourselves. Sometimes when life becomes too chaotic or you just need a sense of balance, you have to reach in deep to find your inner voice again. I plan to learn more about her specific practices and see how they might fit in with my life.
As for the rosacea, she recommended lymphatic massage (which is what she was training others for specifically today) on a regular basis. Also, she gave me a secret potion to put on my face: Aveda’s All Sensitive lotion mixed with 2 drops of helichrysum oil, 2 drops of lavendar oil, and two drops of carrot seed oil. She recommended that I start taking vitamin B and B12 on a regular basis as well, and also suggested milk thistle for its liver-protective and regenerative properties. It’s nice to know that I have some options outside of taking a low dose antibiotic for the rest of my life. Once I give them shot, I will report back how they worked for me.
It’s a big week folks – the Sidewalk Film Festival is here and there is a lot to look forward to. Most of the out-of-town filmmakers arrive on Thursday just in time for the kickoff party that evening. So once Thursday is here, it’s almost solid festival time until late Sunday night. Friday I am participating in an all-day panel to talk about fundraising for independent film, which I am excited about. That evening will be the opening night film at the Alabama Theatre (always so much fun), then Saturday and Sunday are fully booked with movies within the Sidewalk Film Festival radius downtown. This is such an important festival for writers and aspiring filmmakers to go to, because no other local event leaves you feeling more motivated and full of ideas. If you don’t live in Birmingham, then I highly recommend going to your own local film festival (or one nearby) to understand what I’m talking about. It’s storytelling in one of its best forms and you will meet some of the most talented well-rounded artists. And… don’t forget to come see Crush on Saturday night at the Alabama School of Fine Arts at 10:30 p.m.!
Sometimes rain can wash away your best laid plans… and that was the case for Vero and I this morning. We had planned on a 6 mile run that I was really looking forward to, but instead I got to stay in bed for an hour and a half longer b/c of the weather. I have to say though, that is always a nice Friday (or any day) treat to get in a few more hours of rest.
The Sidewalk Film Festival is one week away, and I couldn’t be more excited! I can’t wait to absorb in all of the films and be surrounded by artists of many kinds. The festival has an energy that I can’t describe…and the fact that it only happens once a year makes it even more special. We are so very lucky to be able to host an event recognized across the nation as one of the best film festivals. And it’s right here in our own backyard.
This weekend I get to explore Athens, GA with James, a city I’ve never been to before. That will make two visits to Athens this year – one in Greece & the one in Georgia. We will be taking the Megabus from Atlanta on Saturday morning and will return Sunday afternoon. I’ve always heard Athens, GA is a really fun college town full of art, music, great food and history. It’s only an hour and a half from Atlanta, so it will be an easy trip to and from. And maybe I will run into Michael Stipe if I’m lucky…
What is your time worth? Have you ever thought about that? Most of us only think about that concept in relation to work, but really every second has a price tag – monetary or otherwise. If you were to stand aside and look at your life as an ongoing project, would you let it be subject to negative thoughts or emotions? Would you let it watch mindless TV instead of doing something that would let it grow emotionally? Speaking only for myself, I know that I take for granted that I still have many years left, and that time is my oyster. If I don’t do it today, then I can do it tomorrow. Then I think about people who I know that are sick, who have definite limited time left here on earth, and they do not let one moment pass by without taking full advantage. They savor life and its moments like a piece of delicious chocolate. Another thing I’ve noticed about these people is that they express their love unselfishly at every possible chance. They want all of their loved ones to know how they feel, and by doing that they generate this positive energy – almost from another space and time. Like they have a secret that we don’t know. That love is the answer to everything, and truly living is the only way to move forward in this short life we have. Sometimes it’s nice to sit on the couch and have a “me” day, as the body and mind need rest. But if we find ourselves sitting there being unhappy, then we aren’t fulfilling something crucial in our destiny. What is it that you’d like to do with your time on earth? I know my answers to that question. I’ve even started to visualize myself at older ages…something I couldn’t do until recently. I see myself clearly at 35, 40, 45, 50, even 75…as a woman who means something to herself, to others and the community around her. I only want to do important work. I want to create, to write, to accomplish my goals and dreams. I also want to be surrounded by love and people who lift me up. I think the future has that in store, because it’s what I want.
Last night I had dinner with some of my best girls – Vero, Brandi & Demet. Demet is always the greatest host and knows how to put out a spread that you could graze on for hours (…and we did). I always get to try something new with her, and last night I got to add two new things to my list of consumed Turkish foods. The first was Halva, a sweet confection make from ground sesame seed, sugar and pistachios (but looks like chicken salad from a distance). It was really interesting… and I think I liked it. The other treat was rose petal jam, which I COULD NOT GET ENOUGH OF. It was so delicious. You spread it on fresh bread or pastries, and a little goes a long way. It has such a distinct taste, almost like old woman perfume, while still being mouth-watering good. You must try it, I think you can purchase it at Mediterranean stores.
During dinner, I noticed a safety-pin on Demet’s shirt, and I asked her why it was there. She said her mom gave it to her the last time she was in the US to protect her from the evil eye. I had no idea what she was talking about, so I had to ask her to explain further. It is a superstitious belief just like any other – four leaf clovers or black cats. They have different ways of protecting themselves from the bad energy of the evil eye, such as safety pins or a Nazar…and that’s when she presented me with my very own amulet (below). I am about as superstitious as they come, so I was really happy to receive such an interesting gift.
There are few things in the world better than quality time with your friends, people who know almost everything about you and still love you through and through. We had wonderful conversation about the things going on in each of our lives over wine and amazing food. Things change so rapidly, don’t they? Even if it seems subtle, when talking or summarizing to another person you realize just how quickly life phases come and go. I am so glad that I have people to share those moments with.
Yesterday evening I met my girls Brandi & Vero for a group run with three options: 2 miles, 4 miles or 6 miles. I was one minute late for the start, and as I was driving up I yelled out of my car window for them to wait for me. I quickly parked my car and hit the ground sprinting to catch up with the crew going down 7th Avenue South. When I caught up with them about a minute or two later, I learned that Vero had signed us up for the 6 miler. Since my butt has been a casual runner as of late, 6 miles hasn’t been on my radar in quite some time. But I knew I could do it. Also, I knew I would have the option to peel off at mile 4 if I wasn’t feeling it…which was a pretty decent back-up plan. The outside air was almost fall-like as we started on our way. I felt a surge of energy from the temperature and had a solid start. Once mile 2 and mile 4 came around, I was still feeling great. So I decided to go for the 6. The course takes you through Highland Park, 5 Points South and the north side of downtown by Linn Park…. almost exactly the same as the Vulcan Run. Once we hit the downtown area on our last leg, my soul just lit up with happiness. I hit me that the weather was indeed the first sign of fall coming our way, and that the end of summer was upon us. It is always a little sad to say goodbye to a season, but nothing lights me up more than the fall…especially the anticipation of it. It means that all of my favorite festivals are just around the bend (including the Sidewalk Film Festival next weekend, where Crush will debut in B’ham), and also my favorite holidays. If we were in a permanent state of fall, I would be one happy girl.
As we got to mile 5 of our run, I knew mile 6 was within grasp. In fact, I wasn’t even feeling that worn down or tired…it seemed like any other run I do during the week. Then I wondered, is anything perceived as “difficult” or “hard” exactly that – just a perception? I went into that run with a great attitude, then finished with ease. Of course, it is important to say that I do 4-5 mile runs on a regular basis, so my body was prepared for the distance. But besides that fact, I think it was my confidence that pulled me through. I just felt good. Once we were done I was really, really proud of myself. Nothing beats the feeling of accomplishment.
I started reading this amazing book called “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg last night that I purchased at Church Street Coffee and Books in Crestline Village. It immediately caught my eye as I was browsing through the titles, as I’ve always felt like habits literally run our lives from the second we wake up to the moment we go to bed at night. I also believe that we can do almost anything we want if we program our minds in the right fashion in order to succeed. Habits take the form of things that we do, to the things that we say to ourselves. It’s hard to break a habit, and it’s equally as hard to create one. Within the power of true success is the ability to do just that…as needed when goals change. I am looking forward to absorbing every word of this book. Also, if you live in the Birmingham area, you must check out that little coffee shop/book store. It is the perfect place to find a great read without overwhelming you with a sea of options. Just being in there made me want to have 4 books under my arm waiting to be ingested into my brain. You must go by and visit, it is worth the drop-in!