Category Archives: transition

Coming back to blogging: NaBloPoMo!


So here I am . I’m ready to a writing practice for the month of November. I have intentionally brought balance to my life with a big tranformation. New job. New apartment. New city. Here I am! I moved back to the Chicago area. Took a grant writing job at a community college. I leave work at 5 (!). I don’t have my work email on my phone or ipad. I never check it on the weekends (may change with big deadlines). I’ve been working for a little over a month at the new place And now that I’m a little more used to everything, it’s time to improve my self-discipline and habits. Before, at my old job, I was so consumed both with work and the emotions necessary to sustain the work (adrenaline for sure) that I just couldn’t do it. Now it’s time. It’s been a few years without discipline. Maybe since grad school? I need to regain myself. That’s my goal for this year. I started this job, appropriately right after Rosh Hashanah.

What am I going to write about? 

  • Who I am now?
  • The trip to New Orleans my sister and I took this year
  • My bucket list
  • Prompts from here
  • My favorite podcasts
  • Thoughts on current events.
  • what I’m consuming from pop culture

Whatever I do, I just want to develop a writing practice. Improve my skills. Foster my creativity.


Graduation (3rd. Cheesey Post of 3)

A letter to Alan, my little cousin, high school graduate

June 3, 2011

Dear Alan,

Wow! You are a high school graduate. As your cousins and substitute siblings, Allison and I wanted to congratulate you on your success and take you on a walk down memory lane. We, your substitute siblings, have been honored to be a part of your life. Even though I was somewhat reluctant to share my birthday with your bris. I was excited to meet you and to learn how to change your diaper. Yes, this letter is going to be a bit embarrassing.

Do you remember that you got glow in the dark underwear for your third birthday?  We hung it on the lamp in the hotel room to charge it up before trying them out in the dark bathroom. We met at Ed Debevics in Milwaukee and you flew out to Florida with us the next day. It was your first trip to Florida with the Jennings clan. You insisted on carrying your blanket onto the plane, so you had your little wheeled suitcase that you so willingly dragged through the airport. We were so impressed. You were a champion flyer from the beginning.

I was always a little concerned about you because you preferred the non-fiction picture books over the story books. But, you loved Harry Potter. I started reading it to you at night one year in Florida. You were so engrossed. I’m relieved that it was just early evidence of your science oriented brain. Could you lend me some math skills?

When you were little, I was your one and only JJ. You would pull my head into your lap in the car seat and comb through my long hair. Oh, you were angry when I cut it off.

When you would have sleepovers with us, you would always be very concerned about sharing your presence equally. You would alternate which room you would sleep in each night. But, sometimes, we would have sleepovers on the basement floor in Onalaska. And in the morning we’d wake up and play drive-thru in the sleeping bags. Your favorite restaurant was McDonalds, of course.

Our favorite memory is from when you were 4 and we were waiting for the bus in Madison. You know this story. You were wearing your favorite Michael Jordan jersey and short set, which had holes. It was raining and you exclaimed “I’m not getting wet! There are holes in my shirt!” We thought you were hilarious.

At our house, you loved to play Wheel of Fortune and with the Knex rubberband racers. It was there that you accidentally cracked the windshield of Grandpa’s car. Which, I know, is one of your major childhood memories.

One year, you came up to Madison with Grandma and Grandpa, and Grandpa got lost. He swore a lot. You listened with open ears. Upon arrival in Madison, you uttered your first swear word, “Damn”. At first, we thought it was funny, but then, you wouldn’t stop using it, correctly. The family reunion was in a few days, and the adults were worried that you would teach it to all the little cousins. They staged an intervention on the phone. It didn’t work. You used it in Galena. Thankfully, I don’t think it caught on.

After I moved to Chicago, I enjoyed going to your baseball games and orchestra concerts. And I was so proud to watch you play Buddy Ball with your buddy. I’ve been so impressed with your leadership skills and the opportunities that you’ve take advantage of throughout your high school career. You have a good, caring heart.

And now, for some advice.

  1. Done is better than good. This is the mantra that I lived by in college. If something is impossibly hard and keeping you up at night, just finish it. Stop agonizing, stop worrying about the A. Just hand it in.
  2. It is ok to fail. I don’t know if you know this, but I had to drop macro economics. I flunked the first test. I studied like a madwoman for the second, but I didn’t seek help. And I flunked the second. I went to the dean (I had already changed to pass/fail) and she said, “just drop it”. So I did, and I don’t regret it. If you fail, there will be another opportunity for success. Simply throw a little pity party, then pick yourself up and try something else.
  3. Seek help. Obviously, the other lesson from that last story is that you should always seek help when you need it. Don’t act all knowing. And don’t feel like a failure. Seeking help is a sign of a smart student. And developing relationships with professors is beneficial in the long run.
  4. Make time for fun. But not too much. Balance is important. You can’t do all school all the time or all fun all the time and still pass school. Strive for balance.
  5. During your first year, cautiously get involved. DO NOT OVERCOMMIT. It is the nature of the high achiever, but if you are cautious and only get involved in things that you are passionate about, you will be much happier.

So there, you go. Another thing. I know that as you entered adolescence and I entered my rocky 20s, we drifted apart. But I will always be there for you, rooting you on from the sidelines. And so will Allison. If you need something—advice, a pep talk, or even just an ear—I’m here. And I’m a good listener. And Allison is a good texter. Just kidding, she listens too.

We are so proud of you stinky boy!


JJ and Allison

29, New Apartment, New Year, New Job

I’m blogging on my phone. My internet, of course, isn’t working. Typical att. I literally have never had an easy peasy install in a new apartment. If the price wasn’t so different, I would definitely use cable.

So, my apartment is close to being put together. I’ve toured some local grocery stores and plan on discovering one more in an hour or so. Right now I’m sitting in what will become my usual coffeeshop, Brothers K. If I had known I was going to end up here I would have shlepped my computer. I was actually trying to simulate a walk to the train and didn’t turn on the right street and couldn’t cross the tracks. Whoops. I’ll try it out on the way home.

This is what temporary feels like

While I was in Chicago yesterday, I went to visit my storage locker yesterday. (I teach religious school there every Sunday). I went with the sole purpose of finding my gluten free crispy rice cereal which I have now determined I gave to my GF friend and neighbor, who I call my Chronic Illness Friend (CIF for short). Anyway, I pulled into my storage unit building and popped into the office to retrieve one of the keys, that wasn’t sent to me. The company I use is called Life Storage, the name of which I love and find totally appropriate. The manager on duty recognized me and greeted me. When I asked if I needed to show ID she said “no, I know your face, you usually come in with someone as short as you. Is she your sister?” I laughed and confirmed that we were indeed sisters.

I took the elevator upstairs and walked down the hallway of gleaming white doors to my unit. I unlocked the door and pulled it up. There it was. My apartment, in all its boxed up glory. I stood there for a moment, just to take it all in. I miss my things. It’s so strange how little you live with when you’re in transition. But here was the permanence, living in a storage unit in Chicago. My childhood dresser, my amazing bed, the comfy big chair. Inside those boxes were the Hebrew books that I should have scavenged for while I was there. I opened the rubbermaid of spices and checked for the cereal. No dice, but it sure smelled good. The tea  smelled good too, and maybe, next Sunday, I’ll bring some tea home for the fall. I looked in the bag of my bathroom products and grabbed a bottle that I’d been missing all summer and slipped it into the bag. And then I took the lock off the dresser at the front of the unit, pulled down the door, latched and locked it and walked back to the elevator. Leaving my permanence behind.

Wordy Wednesday: The Happiness Project and Elul

As I was falling asleep last night, I was trying to remember what I did for fun before grad school–living in Madison and working at Starbucks. I went through the list or organized activities: I played Badminton on Monday nights, I was on the coordinating committee for the young adult havurah, I was the area admissions coordinator for Smith, and I played in a community band. It was a pretty full life. I also went on a search for the best breakfast in Madison with my sister, explored the area State Parks, and did other fun Madison-area activities.

It’s September, which is a natural month of transition here in the states. Most especially after Labor Day, but I feel the the date of September 1 is a bookmark of sorts that reminds everyone to start their engines, prepare for fall! and school! and winter! It is also the month of Elul on the Jewish calendar. Elul is a time when we’re supposed to be thinking about the past year and re-evaluating, asking for forgiveness and setting benchmarks for the year to come. Nearly every year, I find it challenging to be mindful during Elul. Often, it feels like the month and then the centerpiece holidays–Rosh Hashanah and then afterward Yom Kippur sneak up on me and land in my lap. I get wrapped up in finding a free service that I enjoy and making sure that I am where I need to be for family celebrations.  I still try to find some time each year for re-evaluation and setting of benchmarks, but honestly, that time ends up being on Yom Kippur not during Elul proper.

Because it’s the month of Elul and because I’m hanging out in the middle of a huge cloud of unemployed uncertainty, I picked up the Happiness Project at the library. Since its publication in December 2009, the Happiness Project has become hugely popular. In my head, I kind of pooh-poohed the idea of reading about someone’s project researching happiness. But, in the library, I decided that I should try out the book.

I love memoirs. I am a huge biography, autobiography, and memoir fan. Outside of the volumes of fiction that I read, I also tend to read stories of people’s lives. The Happiness Project reads like a memoir. However, it is not a narrative in the same way as Eat, Pray, Love reads–to name another popular book. Instead, the Project, is divided into chapters based on months. And each month contains a particular theme. On the first page of the chapter, there is a short list of happiness “attempts” made by Gretchen Rubin, in a sub-heading structure.

What I instantly liked and appreciated about the narrator, Gretchen, was the way that her mind worked. She is a natural researcher and loves to learn gobs of new information and then apply it to her project. She also appears to like creating new structures for her life and living within them.  All of her choices for self-improvement were based on what she perceived as her weaknesses, all of which could be almost anyones’ weaknesses.

My favorite month of her journey was September, which was entitled “Pursue a Passion.” Possibly, I favored this chapter because it was about books. And I share a passion for books with Gretchen. My favorite page was 234, where she discusses having a debate with someone regarding John Stuart Mill’s views on happiness, which developed into a suitable philosophic nugget on happiness “Of course it’s not enought to sit around wanting to be happy; you must make the effort to take steps toward happiness by acting with more love, finding work you enjoy, and all the rest. But for me, asking myself whether I was happy had been a cruicial step toward cultivating my happiness more wisely through my actions. Also, only through recognizing my happiness did I really appreciate it.”

I don’t think I’m going to embark on my own happiness project, but the book reminded me–in an important time in my life–that it’s important to remember and appreciate happiness.