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My nieces have changed my world. I don’t think I quite appreciated the innocence and spirit of a child until they came around. I always said that I felt like I had had enough of babies and kids growing up as the oldest child of four. I remember changing diapers and carrying them around on my hip at a very young age. I was babysitting by age 10 or so and was thoroughly trained in the responsibilities of looking after another human being. But now I feel like it is a much different experience being around little ones. Last night Lily kept asking me to play with her in the sweetest little voice, and just having me by her side made her whole world. When mom put her down to sleep, we could hear her on the baby monitor saying… “I love you, I love you, Goodnight Mimi! Sweet Dreams Mimi! Goodnight! I love you!” After about ten minutes of this heartbreaking chatter, mom let me go and bring her back upstairs. The whole way back I told her how special she was and how much we loved her. She can now understand most of what we say, and it is the sweetest thing to see a child comprehend that they are completely adored. My other two nieces Anna and Lucy are in Disney World right now enjoying all things magical and fun. Keep the pictures coming Christy!
This weekend is the one year anniversary from the first day I met James. I still remember it like it was yesterday – this really nice, energetic, passionate soul sat down next to me at a group dinner at Rojo. We exchanged Instagram handles.. and the rest is history! hahaha I did get to spend a little more time with him that weekend before he continued on his documentary adventure around the south. After he left we talked every single day until he returned home to Atlanta about a month later, where we then had our first official date. Sometimes I think time flies by… but when I think about all that we have done in the last 365 days I realize we have taken advantage of every single moment. We already have so many memories. Thanks James for coming into my life and making it shine.
Speaking of us, as most of you know we are taking on a short film project together in the coming months! You can follow our blog here, or stay tuned to news on our Four x Facebook page. We are launching some pretty exciting things next week that I hope you all will want to be a part of. Most of all, I can’t wait to share the three short stories I have been working on!
Today I blog as a 34-year-old for the first time! I had the best best best birthday weekend, with everything I could have hoped for – time with family, delicious food (thanks Pushstart Kitchen and Rawle Fraser!), time outdoors, adventures and an abundance of love. Throw in a little Valentine’s Day celebration and you have the perfect weekend. Thanks to everyone who wished me a happy birthday!
Birthdays are the start of a new year in a lot of ways, so I thought I would spend a little time updating you all on my 2013 goals. My writing is going very well… I’m not writing an hour every day as I hoped I would, but I’ve made more progress than ever before since the beginning of the year. Not only that, I’ve taken on a new short story goal for the next week or two. My plan is to write three short stories (one of them already done), then possibly choose one to make a short film out of over the course of the next 3-4 months. I feel like waiting until I have a finished novel is just too long before tackling another film project. After talking with Rebecca about the success of Crush (which is showing no signs of stopping), we both feel that independently we should be keeping the momentum up. This weekend at the Oxford Film Festival we plan to do a creative brainstorming session to see which individual directions make the most sense. We will also have Vero & James with us on the trip, so that will double the creative energy.
James and I are still doing really well with our weight-loss. I am down about 13 pounds, and he’s lost 18! I know I’ve said this about 20 times already, but it is so helpful to have him on this journey with me. Mostly because we both get “hangry” at about the same times (a fierce combination of anger and hunger), and we also hold each other accountable. Usually I am a loner with it comes to physical initiatives, but without a doubt we are better as a team.
I have found a significant key to life happiness – and that is doing. Talking and dreaming have their rightful and rewarding place, but actually taking the steps to achieve is where the joy lies. In some ways it’s even better than the final product of your actions. I love being in an active state of doing at all times. There is a thrill in problem solving, a mystery in the unknown and a fulfillment in the tiniest steps along the way. As long as I’m doing, I’m happy.
Do you believe in signs…that the universe or a high power can give you a heads up on important decisions? This morning I am asking for guidance on a decision that could go either way, honestly. When I woke up this morning I asked whoever was listening for direction, a sign that could potentially make me go either way. When asking for signs, do you request a certain thing to happen, or leave it up to chance? I didn’t really ask for anything specific, just enough to give me a little more confidence. I will let you know if I get that sign, and if a certain path is taken I hope to share it soon.
I had an absolutely wonderful holiday with my family. The weekend before Christmas I traveled up to Nashville with James to see our dear friends Emily (artist) and Chuck (owner of East Side Story). James did a Burger Coalition while in town, and my old friend Susannah (southern author) joined with her sweet girl Thalia. It was so much fun to learn more about Nashville, especially the East Side where they live. After James headed up to Cincinnati to see his own family, I came back to Birmingham and spent the holiday with my own loved ones. We had an amazing Christmas Eve dinner, as we always do… then ate the leftovers Christmas Day. We watched the Lily Bean open all of her presents, her favorite being a Thomas train set. That little girl is obsessed with trains. I did a whole lot of reading, knocked out The Linnet Bird and started on City of Eros – both about prostitution in the 19th century (and Christmas gifts from James). I requested those topics as research for my book. Speaking of which…
James told me about a great new iPhone app called Everest. It is free and brand new. It lets you create dreams, then break them down into steps in order to achieve. It also has preformatted challenges that anyone can take a part of. I LOVE IT SO MUCH! I love conquering dreams, and any tool that lets you get closer to them is good by me. If you join, please find me!
Tomorrow I am going to start my 2013 Quests and 2012 Flashbacks, all the way through New Year’s Day…which will give me five total. These are my favorite posts of all to write, as it gives me a reason to think hard about my top moments of the year, and what I want to do with the next. I also love looking back to the year prior to see if I achieved what I hoped I would do. I know there will be a few that I either didn’t get around to or changed in process, so this is a wonderful time to reevaluate my path. I can’t wait to get started…
Happy day before Thanksgiving! I was going to write that I hope your near future is full of food, love and happiness… but I know so many of us will go without tomorrow. Which reminds me of the gifts I received on Thanksgiving, 2011. My family was scattered around, and I was unable to leave town due to work. It was my first big holiday after my divorce, and I felt very lonely and sad to have no plans. That’s when my friends came to the rescue, I got several invitations to join other families for their Thanksgiving meals. I ended up spending the day with my good friend Courtney and her mom, grandmother and brothers. We had mimosas and plenty of food to go around. I left there feeling like I had been included in something important after all, even though it was only 2 in the afternoon. I wasn’t quite up for going home just yet, so I sent out a text to some other friends to see what they were up to. That’s when I got an invitation to join my friends Sam, Demet and Demet’s mother Nigar for a Turkish celebration. We had more wine, champagne, cheese, pasta and dessert than I’d probably had all year combined. I wish I could tell you exactly what I ate, but all I remember is that it was delicious. They shared so much love and treated me like I belonged there with them. That Thanksgiving taught me so much, that family doesn’t always have to be interpreted in the traditional sense. A little kindness goes a long way for others who may not have people to celebrate with. I am so grateful for those memories, and it ended up being one of my favorite Thanksgivings ever.
So my new wish for you is this: that you can make someone else’s Thanksgiving a little better either in a small or big way. Maybe it’s a text, phone call or invitation. Pass on the good cheer, and it will multiple your own.
Today is day one of our two-day vegan challenge! I totally forgot last night that we had moved it up a day, so I’m grateful that I was reminded before I messed it up. Before going to bed James and I briefly discussed what we would have for breakfast, and with my tired mind I agreed to a bran muffin. Of course this morning I realized that muffins are usually made with eggs, and I had no luck in my extra 10 minutes before work finding a vegan variety. Instead I opted for a Kind Bar with no dairy. It was only 200 calories, so I will be sure to have a good lunch. My plan is to eat at the Golden Temple Cafe here in Birmingham, which has a big selection for vegan eaters. For dinner we are making vegan meatloaf, inspired by my friend Tina. Going vegan, even for only 48 hours, has freaked me out a little. It is a pretty different way of life, much more so than going vegetarian. You really have to look at every ingredient to make sure there are no animal components. Just to test your knowledge, check out this list of foods that look like vegan but might not be. Actually, after reading this list… I discovered that I already messed up!! My Kind Bar had honey, and I didn’t realize that was a non vegan ingredient. Dang. I guess the point is the learn! I should have done more homework.
Last night I had a “top ten” moment for 2012. I was at my parent’s house after work getting ready to go on my evening run. The rain had just stopped and the air was cool and crisp. Mom just happened to ask if I wanted to take Lily with me, as she had a jogging stroller I could use. I needed some motivation anyway, and it made me really excited to share a run with my little niece. I even took Jack with us since I trained him to run way back when he was my puppy. The three of us went on a mini adventure together. I turned my Pandora on and let it play for all of us to hear as we moved along. We found a fresh tennis ball for Jack to run with about halfway through, and Lily was singing to herself in the stroller. Once we reached the top of the final hill, I could see downtown Birmingham off in the distance. The wind was blowing a cool breeze, and at that moment I felt 100% happy. All was well with the world.
Since I don’t post on the weekends anymore, I forgot to mention yesterday that Sunday was my mom’s birthday! Happiest of birthdays JamieJean916! Also today is my Aunt Shirley’s birthday (mom’s sister), so another big happy birthday to her as well!! Sunday was a very special day, not only was it the day my mom was born, but it was also my niece Lucy’s baptism in Columbus, GA. My whole immediate family was there, so it was very special indeed. Rachel and her husband David came up from Jacksonville, Florida and my parents and brother made the trip from Birmingham. It makes my heart happy when my family is reunited all at once since there are so many of us now. I’m so lucky to have each one of them.
Last night I had some one-on-one time with Vero over a delicious veggie salad dinner at Silvertron. I still find myself looking at menus thinking that I can have anything I want, until it sinks in that I am still vegetarian for 4 more days. It takes a little practice to remember that meat and fish aren’t options. I know I said this yesterday, but it just feels so good to cut out the animal part of my diet. I’m already thinking of cutting down my meat intake to only a few times a week when I’m done so I can continue on with this lighter feeling after Friday.
You know what I love? A schedule. There is nothing more comforting to me than a good plan laid out in a Google doc. Even if the plan needs to change or gets completely reworked, I mostly love the good intentions behind it all. It’s been especially useful for when I see James on the weekends. We have started to build in time to work on personal projects while also making an agenda of all the things we’d like to do together. This is actually one example of where it’s been a good thing that we have such bad memories, as we are usually pretty diligent about writing stuff down. It’s a nice habit to have and gives you plenty to look forward to.
I’ve been thinking about little things that I’d love to add to my weekly/monthly schedule in the coming months. It would be great to join a book club, as it would hold me accountable to reading as much as I’d like to. Also, I’d love to attend some writing workshops and even a writing group. I think it would be great to learn new techniques for long-form while being around other people with similar goals. There is another really random thing that I’d love to do: start attending more performance art events. I want to see people read what they’ve written or perform spoken word. I feel like that would give me a greater connection to words themselves, and how others relate to their own work. I think there is still a lot to discover and learn from other writers through the art of sharing.
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.
I saw a movie recently called Beasts of the Southern Wild while in Athens, GA a few weekends back. The story circulates around a little girl who lives in “The Bathtub”, a fictional island based on a real wetland area called Isle de Jean Charles, Louisiana. The small amount of people and families who live in this area are unprotected by the levee system, hence becoming a bath tub when hurricanes hit the region. All this news about Hurricane Isaac is making me think about these reclusive people and what they do to prepare for major weather events such as this one. There is something romantic to the thought of staying loyal to your home and land, but also ignorant to the severe consequences and unknown. Cottage Films has been documenting life on Isle de Jean Charles since January 2010 for a documentary film, Can’t Stop The Water. I look forward to seeing it when they are done with the project. In the meantime, you should check out Beasts if it plays at a local theater near you.
There is something magical about Louisiana. Maybe it’s because I lived in Lafayette for five years as a child, or maybe it’s the spiritual connection I currently have with New Orleans. There are so many people there who embrace and live it’s history…while progress is something to be embraced, living in the past can spark deep creativity. There are artists in New Orleans that you can’t recreate or place anywhere else. You can literally feel the essence of the city in everything you do, eat and drink. I hope it weathers Isaac with no significant damage. We are looking forward to visiting in October when Crush screens at their film festival.
Last night I had dinner with my mom and dad, just the three of us. We ate Chinese food and relaxed a bit after the events of the day. It is nice to hang out with them, I feel like our relationship has changed over the years to more of a friendship than a parent-child. Our whole immediate family dynamic has morphed for that matter, especially since the arrival of the grandgirls. It was hard to think of any of us having kids even a few years ago, now I can’t imagine life without our newest additions. And one day the little ones will have their own babies, and so forth. When you are in the middle of life it’s hard to imagine that not being the case, but eventually we all cycle out to give way to the younger generations. It’s sad, beautiful, and perfect all at the same time.
Another weekend for the books bursting at the seams with activity – full of friends, family and love. Man, am I one lucky girl these days. Saturday was full-on family day as my sister Christy and her crew came in town for Rachel & David’s wedding reception/going away party. There was a house full of baby girls – a five-week old, a 1.5 year old and a 2.5 year old. Baby Lucy smiled at me for the very first time, which made me a very proud aunt indeed. The thing about having a large family (and boy, do I have one) is that there are always moments of complete chaos, equally matched with moments of pure happiness. I remember at one point on Saturday almost putting my ovaries into retirement after every single child in that household went into fits of rage at the exact same time…hahaha. But when it was peaceful, it made the other less pleasant parts a distant memory. I love to hear my little nieces laugh and talk, or run around like they have endless amounts of energy. I remember looking at Lily at one point and thinking – I was once that size. I was once that carefree and innocent. We all were. It’s so interesting how our lives change with each decade of life. And you can never go back, you never get a redo. That’s why it’s so important to embrace where you are right this very second. The only way to relive or re-experience childhood again is through a child. I think grandparents especially get that, as they’ve been a child themselves and have also raised their own children. They know how quickly it all goes by, and how special each opportunity is to see life through a child’s eyes.
My mom and dad are such positive role models in their desire to live an adventurous, healthy long life. They still love doing things together…and these days they are off exploring in their RV most weekends when the weather is nice with their two pups. They have tremendous balance – my dad is still running a business that he built from the ground up (now with my brother Dave), they have good relationships with all of their kids and a home that is welcoming and inviting to anyone who needs a roof over their head. My mom still takes full joy in making meals for whoever wants to stop by and fill their bellies up. They share, they love and most importantly they take care of themselves. That’s probably the ultimate lesson that they’ve taught me: Once you’ve taken care of yourself in body, mind and spirit, then you can take care of others. If you show love to yourself, then you have even more to give.
My weekend activities crossed the spectrum, and it seems like Friday was more than just a few days ago. First and foremost – Rebecca and I found out Friday night that Crush got into the 23rd annual New Orleans Film Festival this October! My heart almost jumped out of my chest when I heard the news, as I love NOLA more than words can say. It is so hard to get into film festivals, even with a good movie, so each acceptance letter/email we get is a significant victory. Also the Sidewalk Film Festival here in Birmingham, AL is only 2 1/2 weeks away… so if you are local please come out to watch our homecoming screening! We could use the support & would love your feedback.
Saturday I got to see my brand new niece Lucy Bug again at her Sip & See in Columbus, GA. She is such a sweet baby, good-natured and laid back. She even inherited my sister Christy’s red hair, which is so precious. We knew it was only a matter of time before she had a carrot top clone. Anna (2.5) and Lily (almost 2) were also pretty adorable running around together yelling each other’s names. It’s going to be a fun Christmas this year with those three.
After all of the family festivities I headed over to Atlanta to see James and to meet his two friends from Ohio who were in town visiting him. They were both really sweet and a lot of fun to hang out with. I think one of the best highlights of the weekend though was when James and I explored the neighborhood bright and early Sunday morning. For some reason we woke up at the crack of dawn so we put our tennis shoes on, walked to get coffee (decaf for me, please) and went on mini adventures. We ended our little excursion by feeding the turtles in James’ little hiding spot near his house. The heat quickly caught up with us though within an hour or two, so after that we escaped back to the air conditioning.
It’s been exciting to split my time between two southern cities – Birmingham & Atlanta. They are fairly different, but equally as lovable in their own ways. For now, I will enjoy having the best of both worlds.