Wednesday, March 30, 2011

I Hate The Smell of Espresso in the Morning

And the afternoon.
And the evening.

My dogs love it. Random people love it. I can see them sniffing the air when I walk by. I guess it could be worse. Some people, when they haven't gotten a chance to shower after work, smell like sweat, or grease, or horse poo. I smell like espresso. I live for the day when I no longer smell like espresso, and I smell like the piles of money that I've been rolling in instead.

This afternoon, after I was done at work, I drove to the mall to pick up my sister, Savannah, and her boyfriend Brad. We went to eat at Hacienda, then back to the mall to hang out for awhile. I love my sister. She is one of the few people who make me feel good when I'm in bad spirits, and we laugh at the most random things together. We have psychic rock-paper-scissors power, too. And I'm pretty sure that, between the two of us, we could polish off four chocolate mountain mudslides in ten minutes, and you'd better keep your fingers back.

Can I just ask the question? WHAT is wrong with the judges on American Idol? I can't stand James Durbin. I'm sure he's a nice boy, and all, but singing is not for him. I'm not saying his stuff isn't my cup of tea... I'm saying, he should be sitting somewhere drinking a cup of tea instead of singing. Preferably somewhere where singing is banned.

Tomorrow is my "day off" (insert hysterical laughter here). In my language, the words "day off" mean that I don't work at the Daily Grind Coffee Shop. The do not mean, however, that I do not work. Tomorrow, I clean two houses, not including my own. Whenever I do get home, after cleaning two other houses, I will clean my house. I'm tired now, and I'm tired just thinking about tomorrow. And Friday. And next week.

My exhaustion level is at a constant high lately. I wake up tired, I work all day and feel weary when I'm done, and I feel like collapsing when it's bedtime. I almost fall asleep on my way to work in the mornings, I zone out while I'm driving home in the evenings. All of this when I'm on caffeine -- imagine what my life would be like if I gave up coffee!

If your last name is Magia, why would you name your daughter Thea? Thea Magia? Really? People who cannot name their children properly should give them to me.

All right, I find myself completely uninspired. Therefore, I will cease subjecting you to my ramblings, finish watching American Idol, and fall into sweet, blissful sleep. Enjoy the rest of your evening, and cross your fingers for some nicer weather.

Stephanie Jean

Monday, March 28, 2011

Chezz. De Marketingz.

I'm obsessed with the woman, Gloria, in Modern Family. All the time we've had our little dog, we've talked for him. Yes, I know this is a ridiculous notion, and I'm sure we're the only ones who have vocalized the thoughts of their pet. NOT. But I will, however, say that we are probably the only ones who vocalize the thoughts of their pet with a thick accent that sounds exactly like the woman, Gloria, in Modern Family.


(This is all alluding to the title of this particular blog, which should be pronounced exactly as it is written, and then it will sound like you're saying "Yes, the marketings" in a thick accent.)

I stopped in to finally meet Brenda today, in real life. Brenda is my editor for the byline I have in The Good Neighbor News. I've been writing for her since December, I believe, and we've never met in person until today. She knew exactly who I was when I walked through the door, though, so that was pretty cool. My daughter and I chatted with her for about ten minutes, then took off to finish the rest of our errands.

The marketing is difficult. I dislike using all of this 'social network' stuff in general, but it's rather tedious to post, and repost, and link things, and check links, and I just want to write. I just want to WRITE! You know? It's frustrating. This mirrors the whole Amanda Hocking article I read, the one my Very Good Friend Bill sent to me. I wonder if my angst about marketing will also lead me to a $2 Million dollar book deal. That would be totally worth it, I think.

I'm on my way outside to burn things. Fire makes me happy.

There's got to be something wrong with me.

Stephanie Jean

Sunday, March 27, 2011

A Guest Post on ACE OF CAKES!

***"Ace Of Cakes": Quirkey And Spectacular***

(This guest post from Edgardo Rosa)

"Ace of Cakes", is a show I love to watch on the Food Network, on satellite television from DIREC4U.COM. Duff is the owner of the cake shop, Charm City Cakes in Baltimore, Maryland. As his motto suggests, "he makes it bigger, he makes it better, he makes it awesome!" Duff and his quirky crew of avant garde employees, who are also his best friends, take on every cake challenge that comes their way. They can make their custom cakes look like anything under the sun. They make cakes for every occasion, any event and to reflect every mood.

Not only does the program showcase the true talent and artistry of every staff member, but it also gives us a peek inside their personal lives. During each half-hour long show, they usually show how the shop makes three to five unique, one-of-a-kind, themed cakes. Their cakes are made to order from design to completion, with the decoration of the cake being the main theme. It's interesting to see how they overcome problems, both in their personal lives and at the cake shop with some very complicated cake-building techniques.

My whole family watches and loves "Ace of Cakes", which can be seen at almost any time of the day. Something that will never happen on the show, but would be interesting to know is how much Duff's customers pay for their cakes.


Mmkay, so this is Stephanie here ... what do you think of this particular blog? My little sister loves this "Ace of Cakes" show, and she is pretty awesome at cake decorating. For St. Patrick's Day each year, she makes a cake in the shape of a rainbow with colored frosting and everything, and does a lovely job. She's an excellent baker! She could probably take my job at the coffee shop in a heartbeat if I ever make it as a writer, haha!

Anyhow -- let me know what you think of "Ace of Cakes" if you've watched it!

Stephanie Jean


So, I've been sent a very inspiring link from a close friend of mine. It's about a girl who self-published and ended up getting a $2mil+ deal from a publisher last year. The parallels are kind of interesting. Her story says things like, "She's never not been a writer", "Everything else she's done has just been to pay the bills while she writes", and she even has a blog on Blogger, which is what I have (see? You're reading it right now! YOU could help make me a millionaire!) There are a few ideas I've gleaned from reading what she has to say about things, all of which I hope to incorporate in my own marketing strategy. Therefore -- sigh -- I might start a Twitter account (I can feel myself internally moaning even as I type this. The whole idea of joining Facebook annoyed me, and Twitter is just Facebook Light...) But she said that all these different social networks gave her so much exposure, and lowering her book prices helped tremendously. I think I need to put a few more things up on Kindle (which is how she was making her money, too) and just put very low prices. In November, I get the rights back to my first novel, and I'll put it up on Kindle immediately, then. But I also have some short stories and some other things that can be put up for sale as well. If I have a low price point, like $1.99, then I will have many more sales and word will spread if people think it's any good. The goal right now isn't to make millions of dollars. The goal right now is to show the world that I can write and, if they like it, then maybe I can write full time and at least pay the bills that way. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying I'd TURN DOWN millions of dollars. There's plenty I could do with all that. I just want to be realistic, because I'm sick of being disappointed in myself. I know I can write. I know I'm somewhat good at it, most of the time. To say that I think I'm a fabulous writer and that I deserve to be on the bestseller list right now is a flat out lie, and even I don't believe that. I have a long, long way to go. The support of my husband and my family is what I deserve, and I am so thankful that I have that!

Last night, we went to see my brother's new band, Red Hot Voodoo, play in Elkhart. I was so excited for him! I've listened to him play his guitar for years, honing his style. He taught himself how to play when he was a young teenager. Being seven years younger than him, I would follow him around like a puppy dog. I guess you could say I was his first follower, haha! I would ask to play the guitar, and sometimes he'd let me (which is saying a lot for a teenager... I'm so proud when I see our Michael letting his little sister play his guitar!) But a lot of times, he'd just let me sit in the room and listen to him. I'd always request "Stairway to Heaven" because my young ears thought it was so pretty. Now his style has drifted to the rockabilly side of the spectrum, and I really enjoyed watching him perform on stage. I'll keep you guys posted and let you know the next time he has a gig. It would be great to see more people come out to support the band! Besides, who can turn down some Stray Cats? Not me, I assure you.

Aria and Zachary both performed yesterday morning at the Northridge Annual Pancake and Sausage breakfast fundraiser for the band. It's very emotional for me every time I see Zachary perform this year. I keep looking at him, thinking how fast the time went, and how this will be one of the last times I see him up on stage as a high school student. I know he has a great life ahead of him, and I'm so proud of him. But tears well up in my eyes just seeing him up there, how tall he's gotten, how much he looks like a man... I can still see the little fuzzy headed boy with thick glasses looking up at me while we were bowling the first time I met him. My heart aches, but it's excited for him and his graduation and his future, all the same. Thankfully, Michael's still a junior so we have another year before I have to go through it all over again, and Aria will have four years of high school, four years of marching band performances, four years of Heaven and Hell mixed together under one roof for all of us to go through. I wouldn't relive my high school years if you paid me, but living it vicariously through our kids isn't so bad!

I just finished writing an article on being a step-parent, and I have two more articles coming up for the Family Magazines for which I'm being paid, so that's exciting news. It's strange at 34 years of age that my dreams are just now beginning to take some sort of shape. I remember when Steve and I started dating, I had some sidewalk chalk that I think my little sister had given me, and I wrote on the deck of my second story apartment one night, "All my dreams are coming true!" with a little rainbow and cloud. I have a picture of it somewhere. Life has been pretty hectic, sometimes heartbreaking and sometimes fantastic over the last decade, but I'm in a place where I've never been happier, and good things are starting to beat out the bad things. Who would have thought, in a tiny little one-bedroom apartment with sidewalk chalk, I could have been so right?

Stephanie Jean

Thursday, March 24, 2011

A Sense of Honor

Every time my faith in humanity climbs a rung on the proverbial ladder, someone kicks the ladder out from under me right smack into a ditch. I'm aiming for less negativity in my life, but this is one rant that needs to be put into words.

I've been trying very hard to get some more writing jobs, and God is providing here and there. I get the sense that I need to get my feet wet first, which is what I'm doing. I've been offered my second and third PAID writing assignments, and for this I am very grateful. However, I've been attempting to submit a few things, queries and manuscripts for articles, online. The crowning opportunity was this website called (you'll notice that I did not include the link for this... read on to find out why.) will pay writers in their employ up to $16/page for well-written, researched, thought-provoking essays, etc. My assumption (and let me be the first to admonish myself here for my naivete), was that this would be used for website content for start-up companies, or advertisements on blogs, or company profiles, or something of that sort. The website requires that you take quite a long test -- you have a large portion of multiple choice grammatical questions, then an essay portion in which you are timed and given key words to use. After almost three weeks, I finally heard from the site and they accepted me for employment. I started leafing through the assignments online -- ranging from "needed in 24 hours" to "needed in four days", and with pay rates from $13 - $250 for up to 10 pages worth of work. I was in Heaven...

In one of the Piers Anthony Incarnations of Immortality books, I can't remember which one, a character is getting a tour of Hell. In Hell, all of the inhabitants fully believe they are in Heaven. They're on the arms of exotic, gorgeous dates, dining in posh restaurants with lavish buffets of incredible, mouth-watering food. In reality, it's all an illusion. The character getting the tour can really see that the inhabitants are on the arms of hideous-looking demons waiting to tear them apart, and the "food" they're dining on is, in actuality, piles of garbage and feces.

Imagine my surprise when I realized that the Heaven I was in was actually Hell. is a website that anyone over 18 can place an order with. When it got right down to it, every single post that I read (though worded to make you feel as though you were in a safe, legitimate place...) was written from a client who was offering money for someone to do a paper for them. High school students, college students, Master's Degree students, nursing students, law students. In essence, they were saying, "Here I am at college, doing absolutely nothing to earn my degree, but I have a lot of money so I can get good grades."

My blood. It BOILED. Angry, frustrated thoughts spewed over and out of my mouth. The fact that I sacrificed any sort of a social life for four years so I could get good grades, to keep my scholarships and grants, so that I could continue to go to college and earn a degree... that in itself was hard enough. But to know that, while I was there, and even now, there are kids who didn't and don't care one bit for education, they're just there because it's "the thing to do after high school" and they're too lazy and too spoiled to bother doing any work, and they still end up with good grades, probably graduated higher than I did? THAT, my friend, makes me want to vomit. Projectile-vomit, AT those very "students".

I have worked a job of one sort or another, be it babysitting, fast food, office work, housecleaning, or whatever... consistently since the age of thirteen years old. I busted my butt, in addition to this, to get good grades in high school so that I could get the grants and scholarships to GO to college. Then I did the same thing throughout college, all the while working to pay for books, food, rent. To this day I cannot force myself to eat another package of ramen noodles! And I almost worked for a company that played into the sloth of America...

I was asked to send a reason, via email, for my request for termination. Oh, baby... you better believe I gave them a reason.


There is a sense of honor that needs to be upheld. There is a thin veil of hope wrapped around this, somehow. I think this was a test for me. I know that God knew what the outcome would be, but I needed the test. I needed to see if I would do anything to write for a living (because believe me, I could have quit my job TODAY and made a living off of writing essays for these people, that's how many opportunities were available on that site!) or if I was going to hold out for the opportunities that God is putting in my life.

Thank God I passed the test.

I could let this break me. I could give up looking, or I could sink in the mire of the negativity that surrounds this whole ordeal. I'm not going to do any of those things. I'm going to pick myself up by my belt loops (because I don't have bootstraps), and keep plugging along with my "real life", doing what I need to do to pay the bills, and jumping on every opportunity GOD places in my life to do what He has envisioned for me to do.

By the way, if you're so inclined, go ahead and go to that website, but be sure and tell them what YOU think of them, too.

Stephanie Jean

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Sunday, Muddy Sunday

Well, my Wolverines are out of the tournament. It was close, though. Not that close really counts for anything, it just gives me hope and then rips it away in the last three seconds. There's always next year. I'm not that big of a basketball fan or anything, it just really makes me happy when tournament games turn out well for Michigan. It's so seldom, you know.

Yesterday we traveled to Plainfield, Indiana, to watch our sons perform in the state show choir competition, where they came in second place and won Best Vocals. I was so proud of them. They really poured their heart and soul into their performance, and it certainly showed.

I've spent all day today, since waking up around 10:30, working on my writing. I've written a few different things, researched some freelance opportunities online, submitted stories, articles, and one-liners for a greeting card company, and am pretty excited about the prospects. I don't expect all of them (if any of them) to actually be published, but at the very least, I've put myself out there and focused some time and energy on it. The more often I do this, the better I will get at it, and the more likely it will be that I will make some money in this endeavor. I keep feeling like God is positioning me to write full-time, so I'm doing my best to meet Him on the path and keep taking the right steps.

I really want to look forward to this week. I spend Sundays dreading the work week most of the time. I want to remain positive, do my best job at work and know that, no matter how difficult the customers might be, or how the week might play out, that I served others as though serving the Lord. There are customers that I dread, as well, but each opportunity to serve them is another opportunity to spread the light of God. Keep a smile on my face, no matter how difficult they might try to make it for me. I can do this. I can.

No I can't.

But God can, so I'll just lean on Him.

Friday at work was wonderful. Steve played all my favorite music in the kitchen, turned it up loud enough so I could hear it, and turned off the dining room music. I sang all day long, and not just because it was my birthday -- it was because I was actually having a good time, and no one got under my skin. I wish I could say every day could be like that, but I know that's impossible. No one likes their job all the time. I know that, even if I do end up writing full time, I probably won't like it all the time. It seems like I will since there's nothing I've ever wanted to do more, but there will be days when I'm totally exhausted, uninspired, and just want to do nothing at all but sleep and eat and sleep some more. The great thing about writing is, I can probably do that on those days and not lose my job.

Also Friday, I got to eat wings at B-Dubs and a Chocolate Mountain Mudslide at Hacienda. I'm willing to bet that if that could happen every day, I'd be in a much better mood at work as well! And also, I'd weigh over 300 lbs.

I heard some thunder earlier, but it doesn't look like we got a good storm. It didn't get dark, and I didn't see lightning, either. I'm not a big fan of rain just for the sake of rain, but when a good thunderstorm accompanies it, then I can enjoy it. There's something about the wind before a storm actually hits, that warm/cool feeling of intensity in the air, then the sound of the thunder... it just conjures up something primal within me. I think there's something inherent in each of us, something natural that we connect with. I've never put any stock into astrology, signs and whatnot, but I am a Pisces (a water sign), and I always feel good around water. I love to be at Lake Michigan, I love to walk by the river, I love to take long, hot bubble baths. Rain annoys me, but all the drama of a thunderstorm is exciting, and I like the streams of water the next day after the storm, trickling and pooling. The best part of spring rain is: mushrooms! I absolutely love morels, and there are so many more when we get good rain early in the season like this.

Spring makes me feel good inside for another reason. My husband and I just celebrated the ninth anniversary of our first date (yes, we're dorks, and we remember dates like this). Something inside of me always feels good in mid-March, because I remember the heart-racing, "new love" feelings I experienced back then, and how I thought about him constantly, couldn't wait to spend all night with him eating steak and eggs at Callahan's until 3am, drinking coffee, going to movies... even all these years later, the feeling in the air conjures up those memories and puts me in a lighter mood, regardless of what else is happening on a daily basis. He says I'm obsessed with him. He's probably right, but it's way better than the alternative -- usually after nine years of being with the same person, people get so sick of each other they can't even stand the thought of each other, which is why our divorce rate in America is hovering around 60%, sadly. I'd much rather be obsessed with him. He's pretty cute. He's rolling his eyes in embarrassment right now as he's reading this, I'm sure.

How about them gas prices, eh? Yeah, that's how I started this paragraph. Seriously, though, $3.65 a gallon? It'd be cheaper if cars ran on milk. What really irritates me, though, is when we drove to Plainfield (3 hours away) gas was forty cents cheaper a gallon. What makes it forty cents cheaper there? There's no good excuse for why it can't be forty cents cheaper here. I'd only complain once or twice a day if it were $3.25 a gallon instead of the twenty times a day I complain now that it's $3.65! Those Plainfield people don't know how good they have it! (I know, people in Chicago and New York are probably railing on me for complaining about the cheap $3.65, because I don't know how good I have it! Oh, wait... no one as far away as Chicago or New York read my blog. That's a shame.)

I should get back to writing something I have a chance of getting paid for. No offense, ya'll. Unless you want to start mailing me checks every time you click on my website... yeah, I didn't think so.

Stephanie Jean

Saturday, March 19, 2011

It Just Creeps Up On You

BOO! (Did that scare you?) Yeah, birthdays. They lay in rest for 364 days a year, and then all of a sudden they just sort of jump up and scare the crap out of you. This one wasn't horrible, or anything. Not one of those decade milestones like 20 (you're not a teenager anymore), 30 (you have no excuse not to be mature anymore), or 40 (your life is half over, chump). This was birthday number 34 (but thank you to those of you who asked if it was my 29th). It did hit me, in a very good way, that my life has changed dramatically for the better in the last decade, however. Ten years ago I was on the verge of a divorce, living in misery, wanting to be anywhere but where I was in that moment. I was consumed by fear, depression, guilt, and intermittent moments of rage that I'd allowed myself to get to that point. I had no faith, no beliefs, no God, no hope, and no salvation. What a wonder I survived it at all.

Not a wonder, really. God's plan for my life was unfolding even then. I would see an ad in the paper for an audition at an Opera House run by Elkhart Civic Theatre for "Steel Magnolias". On the same day, I would meet my best friend there, and the man who would, a few years later, become my husband. I would make all kinds of new friends, find courage and strength, travel a new and interesting (yet sometimes still heartbreaking) road to become the person I am today, and be happier than I could ever imagine being with my husband and our kids in the po-dunk town of Middlebury, Indiana. I would find my way to Granger Community Church. I would find my way back to faith, but 100% more of it than I'd ever had before. I would find my way back to God, but understand Him in ways that had never been made clear to me. I would find my way back to Jesus, but not to a cold and distant historical figure that may or may not have existed; rather, to a personal and overwhelmingly understanding and loving Jesus who is along for the ride no matter where I am, who I'm with, or what I'm doing.

Yeah, this has definitely been the best decade of my life.

In light of all this, it's amazing that I continue to search and seek the path. I could fall into the trap of complacency, but I choose to believe that there are more wonders and happiness to be found. I could fall into the snare of discontent, forgetting the blessings I already have and wishing for more: money, power, fame, friends, stuff -- but I choose to believe that I have more than I deserve or could have hoped for, so what more do I need than to pass on the generosity that's been so graciously given to me in the first place? I could let myself sink in the mire of fear that I might lose all of this: my job, my home, my family, my security, my life -- but I choose to believe that God is faithful to his promises. Jeremiah 29:11 says he has plans for my future, plans for good and for prosperity, not for failure.

Feeling grateful is so much more fulfilling than allowing myself to be overwhelmed with anxiety. It's all in the attitude. When I let jealousy in, it overtakes me in a heartbeat. When I let discontent in, it pervades every aspect of my being with negativity. It's like opening Pandora's box -- I can't force the top back down, but I can be smart enough to leave it locked in the first place.

Think of a little kid at a birthday party. One guest gives her a $100 savings bond, just a piece of paper that she can't do anything with. She chucks it aside, thankless, and delights in the shiny new plastic charm bracelet that she breaks in a week. At the age of 18, the necklace has been years and years forgotten, but the savings bond that she threw aside and pouted over is now the greatest gift anyone has ever given her.

Every day I have is a gift from God. I have two options: I can chuck it aside and wish for something better, showing my disappointment to the world that I didn't get what I wanted, wishing for momentary distraction and delight in material things that will fade or disappear ...

OR I can embrace the gift I've been given, knowing that my life, my family, and the love and mercy and grace of God are the greatest gifts I'll ever be given on this Earth.

Yep. It's all in the attitude.

Stephanie Jean

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


It was as if the Universe and everyone in it conspired to be certain I didn't eat for as long as possible today, the first day I was able to eat after my fast. We were slammin' busy at work today (no small thing, considering business has been in the gutter lately), so I barely had a moment to even think, much less fix something to eat and actually ingest it. By the time I finally left, (nearly 12 hours after I woke up), I thought, "Forget it, I'll just wait one more day." But, no. I had told the kids I'd do something for dinner, so I did. I met Zachary at Taco Bell because Michael was at work and Aria was still at rehearsal. We had a very nice meal together, and he gave me a birthday present (a couple of days early, but we won't really see each other until after my birthday, so it was nice of him to think of it!) He bought me a bottle of Asian Zing sauce from Buffalo Wild Wings, which I L O V E!!! Then I picked Aria up from rehearsal and took her to get some Subway. I roamed around the dollar store while I waited for her to get her sandwich, and it seemed to be taking forever, so I walked over to the restaurant only to find - literally - 28 people in line, and one person making sandwiches and ringing them up. Aria was second in the line when I got there and it still took another ten minutes. Near the end of that time, the last half of the people in line left to go to McDonald's. This made me laugh for a few reasons: first, they're too busy to wait for healthy food so they're going to go eat junk (not that I should talk), and second... Michael works at McDonald's, so he'll have to wait on all of them!!! I'll have to ask him about it when he gets home.

The meal, you ask? I had part of a cheesy gordita crunch, some water, and a cheesy fiesta potato. This is less than half of what I could normally eat at Taco Bell. Congratulations, fast -- you have noticeably made my stomach shrink! YES!!! I am not hungry in the least right now, and it's two hours later.

Well, it's almost time for Jeopardy. Not much more to say today, anyhow -- hope this weather keeps up, because I could get used to this, for sure!

Stephanie Jean

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Last of the Fast

Tomorrow morning will mark the first day I will have put solid food in my mouth in a week. After fasting this long, I have to say a few things:

1. I never thought I could do it.
2. I have never felt more peaceful.
3. I did not realize I had so much willpower.
4. Not only is God listening, He's talking.
5. I am so flipping hungry I could skip work and spend the entire day at Old Country Buffet.

The clarity I was seeking, I have found. It's not a bunch of answers, only a peaceful sense that whatever the answers might be, I'll be taken care of. It's not a path set in stone, but one which becomes more and more visible each day. Sometimes I'm taking steps into the midst of a bog, sinking slightly, only to be buoyed up by others in my life - my husband, my parents, my sister, my kids. Sometimes the steps are on more firm and solid territory, sometimes barefoot in a meadow, sometimes smack towards crashing waves in my face. But almost all of the steps I'm taking are leading me in the right direction. It's NOT a path set in stone. And I appreciate that all the more. It makes me much more likely to stay on it.

Some other things have occurred to me:

1. Though I want a baby more than anything else, it gains me nothing to be envious of others. My tears should be tears of joy and not emptiness, for I've been given so many people to love and to nurture already. If and when the timing is right, God will give me more.

2. I am likely never going to have the amount of money it would take to stop working and live 'comfortably'. Like the serenity prayer I've been saying each day, I should be 'reasonably happy' in this life, and will be supremely happy with Him forever in the next.

3. I could never have imagined being as happy as I am right now ten years ago.

Thank you for accompanying me on this journey. Not just this recent one, but the whole thing: trying to make myself a better person, accomplish what I'm meant to in this life, etc. It really helps to know that there are people out there who care. It means a lot to me when I've not written in a few days and someone asks me why I haven't blogged! Thank you for listening, for being there, for caring. I am truly humbled by this.

Stephanie Jean

Sunday, March 13, 2011

In The Flow

There's a current in the river. Sometimes you can't see it on the surface, but it's there, pulling and tugging beneath. Sometimes you stand next to the river, wishing for the cool refreshment of the water, wanting to experience the flow, to quench your skin's thirst for exhilaration. Sometimes you dip a toe in to test first, then decide that this might not be the right time, since you're in public, you don't have a swimsuit, and you have to be somewhere "more important" in about twenty minutes.

And sometimes you throw caution to the wind, and you jump in, fully clothed, and feel the most incredible adrenaline rush, and you remember what it's like to be alive. You shiver first with anticipation, scream in delight, shiver again at the temperature change, smile at the tugging and pulling that you can finally feel beneath the surface, and the only thing you want more than to be right where you are is to bring others along with you so they can join in the fun.

That's exactly what it should feel like to be a Christian.

The problem is, most of the time we're so preoccupied with what we call "life", we don't take the time to invest in what really matters. It shouldn't be how many minutes a day we read the bible, how many people we "witness" to, how many prayers we send up, or whether or not we go to church in a given week. It should be the excitement we feel at becoming part of the flow, then living in that flow every day. (Seriously, have you READ "The Me I Want To Be"? Because you need to. Buy it. Nowwwwww.)

I'm finding in this journey that, more often than not, I feel good about myself. That's a big step for me, because I've spent so much of my life feeling bad about myself, and not just because of things on the surface that I don't like, but because of the things BENEATH the surface. Nagging little thoughts, frustrating little temptations, a nasty little voice reminding me of who I used to be and the things I used to do and the people I once hurt. But lately it's been alleviated to the point where I can think to myself, "You know what? I'm somebody completely different than who I used to be, and I don't have to focus on that anymore because I'm focusing on something that's going to continue making me different from here on out". I fail - yes, miserably sometimes. I still hurt people, including myself and those I love the most, from time to time. I make mistakes, I have fear and anxiety, I'm nowhere near perfect.

Remember being a child, attempting something new for the first time and failing miserably? It wasn't until I was eight years old that I started to learn how to ride a bike. Fear of failure held me back. Then, when I did attempt, MISERABLE failure made me feel like I was stupid. I rode a bike up a tree. UP a tree. And we all know that what goes up, must come down. Picture it in a circle... curve up the tree, flip over backwards, fall on back on ground with bicycle on top. My mom, knowing I was all right, just a little bruised pride, hid her smile at my clumsiness and helped me to my feet, wiped my tears, and assisted me while I tried again.

Isn't that what God does?

Every day, I make mistakes, but I'm trying. I'm trying to live in the flow of that exhilarating Spirit. Sometimes I dip my toe in, and, on rare occasions, I throw caution to the wind and hurl myself, full-throttle, limbs akimbo, at the surface of the water, longing with every fiber of my being to FEEL something. Sometimes I miss the water completely and lay, pride bruised, on the bank of the river, tears streaming down my face.

But there's God, hiding his smile and wiping the tears, helping me to my feet so I can try again.

It's the biggest rush in the world.

Stephanie Jean

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Sabbath Sabbatical

I'm taking the day off because God said so.

I semi-slept in today, not as much as I usually do on a Saturday, but enough so I feel refreshed. I weighed myself for the first time today since fasting and I've lost 3.5 pounds, but that's just a nice perk which I'm not going to cling to, since I know the moment I'm done fasting and put one ounce of food in my belly, I'll just gain the weight right back. I do appreciate the lighter feeling to my midsection, though -- I was bloated and uncomfortable before, and this is just one more part of me that feels lighter.

My mind and my heart and my spirit are the focal points, however. And they all feel lighter, too.

Today our daughter has a band performance at the IMEA contest, then we have church tonight and perhaps some karaoke, I'm not sure... I could use a good night out after the weeks we've been having, that's for certain.

I keep hearing that the weather is going to get warmer. I hope this is the truth, because I'm not sure how much more snow/ice/cold I can stand. There is a certain point at which it is beautiful (December) and a certain point at which it becomes annoying (January), and a certain point at which it becomes blatantly ridiculous (less than a week before my birthday). Although the worst was, in Ann Arbor one year, I planted some Morning Glories on May 14th and it frosted overnight. IN MAY. Ann Arbor's beautiful, but, like Chicago, it's one of those places where, no matter where you are or what direction you're walking, the wind is blowing directly at you and it makes it about 20 degrees lower than the actual air temperature.

Thoughts and prayers to all involved in the earthquake/tsunami situations.

I suppose it's time to get myself up out of bed for a shower. I've been up, but it was just to get coffee and lay back down. But it's okay. I'm taking the day off because God said so.

I love Sabbath!

Stephanie Jean

Friday, March 11, 2011

Sweet, Sweet Weekend

This is the third day of fasting for me, which is the most I've ever fasted in the past. Normally by now, I'm chomping at the bit, drooling constantly, and thinking, "If I put chicken and bacon in a blender, that's considered a liquid, right?" But yesterday was the worst day for that. Have you ever noticed... I mean, REALLY noticed... how many food commercials are on television? It's no wonder that America is obese! I think I gained five pounds just watching the Steak vs. Shrimp Ponderosa commercial! But I digress (and not just because I haven't eaten in three days and can't complete a sentence). The point I was trying to make is, today felt good.

I am looking forward to some rest and relaxation, and some meditation. I have reading to catch up on (always, it seems), and some much-needed one-on-one time with the big J.C. I've been praying a lot, but not listening as much as I should. It should be more of a give-and-take, I think. I get caught up in that cycle of listing everything I want and need to God as if it were a checklist (Did I give her provision for her family? Check. Did I take her headache away? Check. Did I give her that baby yet? Mmmm, nope, missed that one...) but I really should be praying about His will for me, and my acceptance of it. I need to pray about being more open and accepting to His plan for my life. About my inability to surrender on my own.

I'm really *not* hungry, if you can believe that. I've passed the crux-point, I think. I obviously can't fast for the 40 days of Lent, but I can make it for the amount of time I've planned (which I'm not telling you, so you can't taunt me for not making it if I don't. Tricky, aren't I?) I'm not fasting for weight loss, although it's not necessarily a bad by-product. I really want to see more clearly, have less to think/worry about, focus on my path. This is helping. It's a sacrifice I'm making, not that I feel I have to make, but that I want to make.

I feel more peaceful than I have in quite awhile, even when things are as chaotic as they were at work today. Fridays are so busy, and I'm especially tired after being there from open until close, but I'm not exhausted, and I'm not starving like I usually am right after work. I feel warm and content, actually. Part of that is the nice furnace register nearby, but another part of it is that I feel I'm achieving something I never have before. Most often, I've wanted to be closer to God, but never made an effort to do anything about it. Check that, I mean I've wanted to FEEL closer to God. He's never the one who's far away, it's me. I know I have so much to learn, so much growing to do, and that there's never really an end to this journey, but I feel at the same time as if I'm making progress, becoming a better version of myself all the time.

I spent so many years loathing everything about myself. My height, my weight, my nose, my hair, my personality, my lack of agility (this list extends for about four pages, so let's just say I named everything and get on with my paragraph). There's a difference, however, seeing myself the way I think the world sees me, and seeing myself the way I think God sees me. One of the things I love about my church is how often they bang into our heads that God loves you, you matter to God, no matter who you are, what you've done, or how you're acting right now in this moment, you are a treasure to God. I've never felt like a treasure to anyone. Not that everyone has made me feel worthless, I have some fantastic people in my life -- my family, my husband, my friends -- but knowing you're all right with a certain group of people still doesn't make one feel like a treasure.

But here He is, the God that created the entire Universe and everything in it... and He knows my name! He sees me all the time, hears my voice, watches me laugh, sleep, cry, clumsily dance, hug my kids, yell at the dogs, cuss like a sailor -- and He loves me, 100%.

That's a relief.

Wanna know the best part?

He feels the same way about YOU.

Stephanie Jean

Thursday, March 10, 2011


What a concept. Instead of giving something up, I'm attempting to completely give up. And not in the bad way, where you're so helpless you can't do anything yourself... in the GOOD way, where you're so helpless you can't do anything yourself. Dig?

(Yeah, I said 'dig'.)

What I'm trying to say is, I am nothing without God. This is gonna get a little Jesus-y for those of you who tend to run in the opposite direction. I'm giving you an out, but I'd rather you hear me out. I was created with the personality that I have for a reason, the look that I have, the talents and interests and abilities that I have, and was meant to serve a purpose by serving Him, exactly because of who I am. The trials I've faced, they are to make me stronger to fulfill my purpose. The blessings I've been given, they are to assist me along the way. The thoughts and ideas and knowledge I've received, they are to guide me. The talents are there to pave the way. The personality -- well, I'm not a big fan of it, but God created me this way, so I have to harness the good points and weed out the bad ones if I'm going to continue to seek this path.

But all my searchings, all my plans, all my hopes and dreams -- they are, as I am, nothing without God. I can say, believing with all my heart, that I'm moving to Las Vegas the year our daughter graduates... but if that's not what God wants, that's not what will happen. I can say that I will be out of debt by the end of the year if I continue to follow the financial plan I've set out for myself and my family, but if that's not what God wants, it certainly won't come to fruition. I can try everything in my power to have a baby, but if it's not a part of the plan for me and my life, it doesn't matter WHAT I try, or how much money I sink into the endeavor, it will not occur.

I have to learn to surrender: my thoughts, my hopes, my dreams, my plans, my will. In this surrender lies true freedom. I don't have to conform to the world's ideals, or to the expectations of others. I don't have to be in control. I don't have to scramble around trying to force circular pegs into square holes, and I don't have to exhaust myself trying to be something, or someone, I'm not. I am free. I can breathe. I can be.

One of my favorite musical artists lately is Francesca Battistelli - here are some of the lyrics to her song "Free to be Me":

"When I was just a girl I thought I had it figured out
My life would turn out right, and I'd make it here somehow
But things don't always come that easy
And sometimes I would doubt...
Sometimes I believe that I can do anything
Yet other times I think I've got nothing good to bring
But you look at my heart and you tell me
That I've got all you seek
And it`s easy to believe
Even though
I got a couple dents in my fender
Got a couple rips in my jeans
Try to fit the pieces together
But perfection is my enemy
On my own I'm so clumsy
But on your shoulders I can see
I'm free to be me."

Whoever we are, however often we fail, in the end, it's His plan for us that matters. The more we attempt to seek and align ourselves with that plan, the closer we are to being the best version of ourselves.

I'm reading "The Me I Want to Be" by John Ortberg. I'm not very far in, but it's got some great things to say and I'm looking forward to finishing it.

I've also found the entire serenity prayer (not just the few lines that everyone knows) and have been re-reading it each day. It says:

"God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.
--Reinhold Niebuhr

Finally, it comforts me to remember Galatians 5:1, which says, "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery." I don't have to be what anyone else on this Earth wants me to be. I only have to answer to One, and he's the only One worth answering to in the first place.

Stephanie Jean

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Ash Wednesday -- Giving Up

Fondly, I recall when people used to ask me what I'm giving up for Lent. Sometimes I would say, "Hope". Sometimes I would say, "Relinquishing bad habits". Then came the efforts to actually attempt sacrificing something. One year I tried to give up caffeine. One year it was chocolate. One year it was Mountain Dew. None of these ever actually 'taught' me anything about sacrifice, because I was never planning to do without them for the rest of my life, all I could do was count down the 40 days until I could have them again, then binge. Nor did I ever make it 40 days, just FYI. A couple of weeks, is all.

This year I'm not really 'giving up' anything. I am, however, trying with all my heart to become the person that I feel God intended for me to be. I'm beginning Lent by fasting a short spell, just to gain some clarity of mind and some focus. I cleaned the entire house from top to bottom, dusting included, to get a cleaner and clearer sense of my surroundings. I'm not forcing anything upon myself that would seem like a chore... not resigning myself to a certain amount of devotional time or prayer time or any of that nonsense, because then it would defeat the purpose. I'm just trying very hard to locate my center.

I often wonder if I'm off-balance both physically and emotionally. I tilt my head to the side at an alarming angle while I'm driving, or riding in a car, and sometimes sitting and watching television. I can't walk a straight line, nor can I do any sort of choreography. Line dancing is difficult for me. My balance is pathetic. But my life-balance seems to have been pretty pathetic most of my life as well. I live inside of this big bubble of stress that feels constantly like it's about to pop. And I think that's because I center myself around outside influences rather than locating God inside of my spirit and focusing on His path for me. I'm so busy running around trying to take care of the life that "I" have put together: the family I have, the job I have, the pets I have, the house I have, the financial struggles I have, the I I I I I I I I... I get sick of hearing that letter, don't you?

Where's the perspective, here? As an outsider looking in, I wonder what people think when they see me. Do I look like I have it all under control? Because I most certainly do not. Most of the time I feel like the world is crumbling right beneath my feet, and I am powerless to do anything about it. And that's because that's the case. No matter how big or bad the problem is, or how facile and minute it might be, I'm still powerless to control it. Whether it's an infertility issue, or head lice, or dog poo on the floor again... I have nothing to do with the problem or the solution.

If I can pinpoint this truth right here and now, why can't I have the presence of mind to seek that central locus and just breathe when times are tough? Why is it that I must run around like the cliche decapitated chicken trying to solve everything instead of putting things on hold long enough to figure out what God wants me to do about them?

Ahh. Because I'm human.

Stupid humans.

I often wonder if He thinks that when He's watching... but honestly, I think He just giggles a little bit.

I need to be gentler. Kinder. More humble. Quieter. Other-centered instead of self-centered. I need to listen more and talk less. I need to be more patient. I need to be loving, loving, loving all the time, even when I don't feel up to it.

My oldest son wrote a wonderful note on his Facebook about love, something I never thought I'd see from him. It made me think about how I act and react towards the ones I love the most. As many (or even most) people are, I feel less tolerant, less patient, and more demanding around those I love the most. Why is this? I suppose that, in part, it is because I know they are the ones who will love me no matter what, but rationalization doesn't work here. God said we should love others as ourselves, and that includes all others. How often have I complained to my husband about how something he did or said has hurt me, but I'll treat him in the same manner that he treats me without a second thought? How often will I yell at my kids for doing something that I wouldn't yell at a guest in my house for doing?

I need to give grace as freely as I've received it. Peace, therefore, should follow.

Stephanie Jean

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Fat Tuesday

Here it is: the day we devote to excess so that we can give something up for Lent, starting tomorrow. Mardi Gras. Which is French, right? For Fat Tuesday. Seriously. I'm not messing with you. It was definitely a day of excess, none of which I will elaborate upon, save that it ended with 1/4 of a peanut butter pie covered in whipped cream and I crumbled some Reese's Cups on top of it, because apparently it was not decadent enough the way it was when we purchased it from the Essenhaus restaurant. It needed MORE.

Tomorrow begins a new leg of the journey. This is my new favorite passage:


v9 "Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

v14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

v17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:

'If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.'

v21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."

So much knowledge, basic humanitarian wisdom, is found in this particular passage. I've heard bits and pieces of it quoted, but not as often as other passages. I spend so much of my life not at peace, that the idea of being at peace seems so foreign. And I don't even know where to begin. Therefore, the new leg of the journey. I won't go into detail yet, but I'll fill you in as I go along. Suffice to say that it includes living sacrificially, being brutally honest with myself, and (God willing) learning quite a lot about who I am really meant to be.

I'd like to take this moment to thank my new follower, whoever you might be. I noticed that my readership went up, and it's because of YOU :) Thanks for stopping by! And all of you, please tell your friends, or post this on your Facebook/blog, too. The more, the merrier. I appreciate having more readers because it keeps me writing, and keeps me motivated and encouraged. And you thought you were just quietly reading along, didn't ya?

Ahh, Parenthood is almost on. What a fantastic show. I do hope you'll give it a try if you've never watched it before. I love every character on there!

Here's to Lent -- to sacrifice, to renewal, to wisdom, to evolution of the spirit. Wishing you all the very best.

Stephanie Jean

Monday, March 7, 2011

When It Rains...

Today was pleasant. Right up until the moment I found out I had a nearly-flat tire, and had to drive it to the gas station to fill it up before I took it to the Tire Star in Middlebury (who, by the way, if you've missed the posts before this one, ROCK!) Hopefully they'll also be able to fix the brake light that's out at the same time, though I'm not sure if they do that there or not. I know, I can probably just buy the ten cent part and do it myself, but I also know myself well enough to know that I'm probably not going to do that because I'll never get around to it.

This evening, I had a coupon for a free meal at Rulli's, so Aria and I went over there and shared some ravioli and french fries. Besides my dad's, they have the best hand-cut fries I've ever had. No ketchup necessary, and I do not say that lightly, my friends. This is a girl who would eat ketchup with a spoon if it were socially acceptable. Anyhow, Aria and I discussed an article that we're going to be working on together for the next submission to Family magazine -- it's for the May issue, which is all about moms. I must admit, I feel left out sometimes on Mother's Day, so I'm taking this opportunity to embrace the relationship I have with my kids. (For those of you not privy to this completely unclassified information, my kids are my stepkids, even though I call them my kids. I'm like the seagulls in Finding Nemo. "MINE!") She and I are going to write a few questions down and sort of interview one another about the stepmom/stepchild relationship... what works, what doesn't, what we appreciate about each other, etc. Then I'll craft it into an article, and she will be a co-author. How cool is that?

The boys are at rehearsal for Northern Lights, Steve's watching Chicago Code (which I tried to get into, but just couldn't). And I have time for one of my favorite things: a nice, hot bubble bath. I have to take it without the coffee I usually have with me, because it's too late at night for me to have caffeine. I'll catch up on some reading and just soak in the happy goodness, because tomorrow I have to open the shop and Steve has to close, but since we have one vehicle until the tire is fixed... that's right, we're both working open to close. Hoorah. (I once again agree with whoever said there should be a sarcasm font.)

This weekend held some massive movie-watching. The following is a quick recap/review/grade for each of the movies we saw:

1. Burlesque: flashy, musical, Cher good, Christina Aguilera great, Stanley Tucci awesome, dancing fantastic, mixture of Cabaret/Moulin Rouge/Chicago/Showgirls, B+.

2. 127 Hours: Better than I thought it would be considering 3/4 of the movie is James Franco unable to move, B-.

3. Due Date: I love Zach Galafianiasdkfljowiakis, and RD Jr. was good as always, not as funny as I was hoping it would be but more sentimental in certain places than it needed to be, and slightly longer than it should have been, C+.

4. Winter's Bone: Very slow, short on storyline, good acting and bad acting combined, but I kept watching despite myself so it must have had some redeeming value, and I didn't hate it, C-.

5. Love and Other Drugs: I LOVED THIS MOVIE 100%, and that is a rare occasion, I say. A++, right up there with Fight Club in my book. Perhaps a tie!?

Thanks for listening, this has been your teeny-tiny movie review.

Mmmm, bubble bath. My little sister often says there are few problems that can't be solved by a nice, hot bubble bath. She is a wise, wise girl.

Stephanie Jean

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Swiss Cheese

Has it really been since February 27th since I posted? That's pathetic. It sure seems like I've posted since then, but it occurs to me that that's probably because I keep sitting down trying to post and then remembering something else I have to do first, then not getting back to it. For instance, right now I should be showering, putting on clothes, doing laundry, and making something to eat. But darn it, I'm going to write to you fine people.

I'm throwing myself into finding writing jobs. Freelance, articles, newspapers, whatever. I need some extra income, and I'm tired of trying to find it in other ways like housecleaning or other part-time jobs. I was meant to write. If I don't look for writing, I won't find it. It's sneaky that way. I applied to an online freelance writing network, and had to take a test which included a fifteen minute writing sample. That was interesting. It was sort of like high school all over again -- standardized tests, panicky feeling of 'how much time do I have left?!', and 'Did I write THEN instead of THE?' after it's submitted. I should hear something this week, and if they accept my application and test, I'll be eligible to take writing jobs for them, and get paid pretty well it looks like. It sure would be nice to do something like that full time.

The weeks at work are beginning to meld together into one fearsome glom. (I don't care what spellchecker says, I'm using glom as a noun.) I'm plodding along, hoping something will occur to bring more business in, to pay our paychecks, to keep us from going under. I do my best to remain positive, but all I can think about is, "I need to have a back-up plan. I need to get in a better financial position somehow". And most of the time, I think, "God's going to take care of this" and it makes me feel better, but sometime in the middle of the night, right before I go to bed, that's when anxieties tend to suffocate me the most. They always have. It's like a breeding ground for fear: darkness, stillness, no distractions. That's when one thought leads to another, to another, to another, and suddenly, I'm drowning.

I've got to take some time out, and just relax. I have to stop thinking about work, money, pregnancy (or lack thereof), cleaning the house, making food, doing all these other things, and just... stop. I need to embrace the stillness in the night, not let it get to me. I need to use it for good, and not let the negative thoughts become fears, and the fears become incessantly chattering evil bugs that live in my brain. I need to breathe, to focus, to smile more and be frustrated less.

Lent is coming up. I have a good friend who is giving up negativity. I'm not sure I can go that far, though I admire her for her efforts. Can I give up anger? Can I give up yelling? Can I give up bitterness? Can I give up caffeine? Can I give up hope? (That one seems the most feasible to me, I must say!) Though it's not really a question of what I can give up, but more of a question of what is getting in my way of being what and who God wants me to be? What barriers am I putting up? What wall is there, waiting to be knocked down so He can come in and live? I have to identify my main obstacle and resign myself to putting it in its place. Its place is out of my life, so what is it I'm going to give up? (There's a big part of me that just wants to focus on Fat Tuesday, let me tell you. I'm thinking B-Dubs...)

This week needs to be about identifying my problem. Well, my main problem. I sure have a lot of them. Weaknesses, faults, flaws, whatnot. I have so many holes I feel like Swiss cheese.

For now, I'll start with putting some food on, throwing the laundry in the dryer, taking a hot bath and catching up on some reading.

Wish me the best, as I wish you the best.

Stephanie Jean