Tag Archives: accomplishments


March 11th, 2007. Ten years. An entire decade since I packed up all my things in my boyfriend’s parents’ minivan and crossed the border with my work visa and no idea whether or not this whole “Jen’s international move” idea might be insane. It was insane, really, if you think about it.

I’m an anxious person: risk-averse and disinclined to attempt anything where my success isn’t guaranteed. I’d never lived on my own. And yet somehow I found it in me to take certification exams and fill out visa paperwork and interview for a job in a foreign country, 500 miles away. Not a decision that anyone who knew me expected me to make. But ten years ago today, I surprised myself by actually going through with an international move.

I signed a lease on my first apartment. I opened a bank account. I bought furniture and groceries and I waited for the cable guy to hook me up with TV. I learned new roads and got used to using money that’s all the same color. I adopted a cat. I missed home. A lot. But I was doing this crazy thing and not actually failing at it.

Ten years later there’s a mortgage and a toddler and a marriage and a green card, and I’m still not actually failing at any of it. I’m actually doing a damn good job, thank you very much. Take that, risk-aversion.

My reality is here now, and after a decade I guess I’ve gotten pretty comfortable with it. I’m proud of myself for taking the steps and for working to build and maintain this life here, and I’m grateful for all the help I’ve had along the way. I’ve grown and changed and I hope that some of what I’m doing every day matters.

I still miss home. But not quite the kind of missing that makes me want to go back there, at least not most of the time. The kind where I wish that here was closer to there and going back and forth could be easier. If I could keep my job and my house and my family but also be able to see Mom for dinner, or pick up Timbits on the way home, or be able to leave the Habs game on as background noise as I fold laundry.

The current situation in this country is discouraging and frightening, and I’ve been asked over and over by well-meaning friends whether I plan to stay here. Barring disaster, yes, I think I will. This is my community now, and it’s my responsibility to lift up everything I’ve discovered that’s wonderful about America, while working to change what’s not. I may not apply for citizenship, even though that would give me a vote. I’m not sure yet whether I’m comfortable with the words I would need to recite in front of a flag which is so often held up in hateful ways. But I’m not leaving. I’ll try to teach my American kid some French in between his lessons about respect and civic responsibility. After all, immigrants make this country great.


October is coming

October is coming. It used to be my favorite month, but after last year, my mind will always associate it with grief and loss. I expect it to be a difficult month, and I’ve tried to do all I can to build up strength to face it. I’ve heard that gratitude is a good defense against depression, so I’m going to try a little exercise here.

A friend started a Twitter game last week, called #inever, in which we confessed to little things we’ve never done. Inconsequential things, like never watching The Godfather, or never getting detention in school. Things that we felt a little silly about having missed out on, because it seemed like everyone else in the world had been there and done that. After an hour’s worth of responses, the game became something else for me. As we connected over the experiences we’d missed, I started to think about how wonderful and uplifting the opposite game would be.

If I look at my life from the perspective of all the little things I have done, it’s such a beautiful picture.

I’ve earned a gold medal raising money for MS research in a Read-a-Thon. I’ve been featured in my local newspaper (I placed 5th in a province-wide art competition). I have been a teacher’s pet. I have been an elementary school valedictorian. I’ve worn out a VHS tape and a pause button trying to transcribe all the dialogue from The Return of the Jedi. I’ve lost my voice at Backstreet Boys concerts. Plural. I have tried out for sports teams and played badminton and thrown javelin with much more heart than skill. I have gotten a tattoo. I have helped to put together a high school yearbook, and I have had angsty poetry published in my university newsletter. I have traveled miles to surprise friends who went away to college.

I have withdrawn from university, signed back up, and graduated. And been back again for more. I’ve saved lives in the lab. I’ve given blood and I’ve taken it from veins. I’ve learned to give myself injections. I’ve asked for a raise. I’ve quit. I’ve fought for change. I’ve started a blog and used it to promote what I do and what I love.

I’ve made pasta from scratch. I’ve dyed eggs and carved pumpkins and thrown a dried-out Christmas tree from a balcony. I have let babies grip my pinky in their tiny hands. I have hugged family more often than I can count.  I’ve started my own holiday traditions. I’ve made Thanksgiving dinner all by myself. I have moved to a whole new country on faith that the relationship was worth it. I’ve installed a light fixture, assembled bookcases, bought a car, bought a home. I’ve rung in the new year with those I love, and I’ve whispered Happy New Year to myself while driving home alone, watching fireworks in my mirrors.

I’ve had lunch in the crater of Mt Saint Helens, and I’ve tasted the salt of both the Atlantic and Pacific. I have volunteered and I have voted. I’ve been caught in the rain and I’ve been caught in the sun. I’ve been caught singing in my car. I’ve walked in the Blue Ridge, the Adirondacks, the Alps and the Rockies. I’ve seen the Eiffel tower sparkling at night. I’ve seen Salzburg at daybreak and Prague at dusk. I’ve eaten croissants in Paris and gelato in Rome. I’ve been in the same room as a Pope, and I’ve been shushed under the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. I’ve snorkeled with turtles on Valentine’s Day, holding my husband’s hand underwater. I’ve ridden a camel, watched whales, and hugged a dolphin. I’ve seen eclipses and transits and Mars landings, and I’ve stood in the cold night to watch the Space Station race across the sky. I’ve been on a giant boat with a thousand friends and I’ve become part of a wonderful community.

I’ve talked people out of suicide. I’ve talked myself out of it, too. I’ve learned when to ask for help. I’ve learned when to fight, when to refuse to accept “no.” I’ve smiled when I was expected to, even when I was sure I didn’t have it in me. I have grown. I have changed. I have survived and accomplished and flourished, and I will continue to do so, whatever may come.

Wine charms

Despite what my Pinterest boards may have you think, I don’t spend much of my time on craft projects. I often have the desire to paint or cut or stamp or otherwise make something, but I mostly stifle those urges because: 

  • Crafting costs money. (Yes, even “upcycling” costs money. Don’t kid yourselves.)
  • I don’t have room to keep all the junk I’d make.
  • I’m not good enough at it to sell the junk I’d make.
  • I doubt anyone else needs junk any more than I do, so it’s silly to give crafty gifts.

The thing is, though, I like to do it. I enjoy making things. I suspect there’s a genetic component to that inclination: my mother paints, and makes beautiful handmade cards. Before her, my grandmother made jewelry and my grandfather worked with wood to make beautiful boxes and carvings. I feel like I should be working harder to keep all of that alive.

I recently bought some beads and wires at the craft store, thinking maybe I could make some jewelry. Sadly, I stayed true to my indecisive self and left the shopping bag in the backseat of my car for weeks as I argued with myself about whether or not to return it and get my $20 back to spend on more important things. It took a visit from my friend Michelle to remind me that things that make me happy are important things, too. Mostly, she played the reverse psychology game with me and bullied me into making things – and I’m grateful that she did.

Here’s the result of that creative push:


I made things! Wine charm things, to be specific. All I needed were a few bits and pieces, a set of small jewelry pliers, and a five-minute how-to video, and I made some pretty little things. These charms did not exist until I decided that they should, and that’s pretty great. No, I’m not going to be opening an Etsy shop for this stuff, and I won’t be unloading them on everyone I know. But it’s a way to get better at this sort of thing. And it makes me happy, which is pretty much the whole point.

Cake With Raspberry Filling and Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting

At first, I told my mother-in-law that I’d bring cookies for Easter dessert. I’ve got springtime cookie cutters and a pile of pastel-frosted flowers and bunnies and eggs would look nice and Eastery on the table. But while cookies were easy to make, cookies were not what I wanted to eat. I just couldn’t shake my craving for a lemon and raspberry dessert. I went rogue.
I’m not really a food blogger, so don’t critique my lousy photos.

The Cake

I made a white cake from a box to save myself a little time and trouble. I made 2 8-inch rounds so I’d get a nice 2-layer cake. I was not adventurous enough to go for 4 this time.

The Raspberry Filling

4-6oz fresh raspberries or frozen (thawed) raspberries
1/4c to 1/2c raspberry jam
Mash up the raspberries and jam until you get a nice lumpy raspberry goo. Spread it on top of one of the cake halves, leaving empty space at the edges for the inevitable oozing when you put the cakes together.

The Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting 

8-ounce package cream cheese
1  cup  confectioners’ sugar
zest of 1 lemon, grated
Splash of lemon juice
I used this frosting recipe from Real Simple but ended up using less sugar than it calls for. I tasted it after one cup was added and decided I liked the balance of sweetness and tartness. If you like a sweeter frosting, then go ahead and add more powdered sugar. Also, be careful with the lemon juice. If you add too much, the frosting gets runny. Mine did, but it went on thick enough to coat the cake and firmed up just fine in the fridge.

The cake was a big success at Easter and it’s already been decided that I have to make it again, preferably soon. I’m okay with that.

The pits

I scored a clementine hat trick today by consuming three clementines in a row without encountering a single seed. Don’t laugh at me. This is a big deal. I remember a golden age, not so long ago, where all the little crates of clementines Mom bought came from “Maroc” and seeds were a rare annoyance. Then I moved here to Maryland and had to adjust to new purveyors of produce. Clementines here are “Cuties” or “Darlings” – still sold in crates made of splinters – and look exactly the same as the old ones did. But they’re not the same. They are evil inside. You would think that a small citrus treat marketed as the perfect snack for children’s school lunches wouldn’t have hard nuggets of doom lodged within them, ready to chip teeth and block lungs, but there you have it. I had to develop a new clementine-eating strategy that involved eating them in a room with a good light source, so I could hold individual peeled segments up and X-ray them with visible light.
I can’t handle putting the whole clementine segment in my mouth when there is a real and present danger of seed content. Somehow, I’m supposed to magically get the sweet juicy fruit away from the hard seeds, and then spit the seeds back out. I am to do this without choking on them or cracking a tooth. I can’t figure out how everyone else is managing to perform this trick, so I have to put my clementines through the full-body-sunlight-scanner to detect seeds and pick them out.
That’s why, when I got three sweet seedless Darlings in a row today, I pulled one of these:

2012 Review

The year is ending.

I think it’s probably more useful, around New Year’s Day, to reflect on the year that’s leaving us, instead of making lists of resolutions to burden the new year with expectations before it’s even begun. Maybe with the perspective gained from examining the good and the bad of the old year, we can approach the new year more constructively.

There was good this year. Much of it came out of my own efforts and decisions, and I can point to many of the joys of the year with a sense of accomplishment.

This year, I settled in at a new job where I never have to work on holidays, never have to skip lunch because I’m too busy to eat, and never have anyone yelling at me to work faster. I sometimes worry that the change was good for my blood pressure, but bad for my brain, who’s going soft without all that pressure to think fast and solve problems before someone dies. Everyone assures me I’ll soon have some opportunity to grow in the new place, and I look forward to starting that growth. I still miss parts of the hospital world. I can’t say I’ll never go back to the craziness, but for now I’m comfortable where I am.

This year, my husband and I went on a cruise so incredible that we’re going to do it again. We visited tropical islands and got sunburned and ate fancy cruise food. We got to touch dolphins and witness some of the best karaoke of all time. We had so much fun and met so many wonderful people and we’ve stayed in touch with many of them. I’m getting better at this “social” thing. Slowly.

We made tons of progress on the house. Paint, wiring, electrical and plumbing repairs, ripping out and replacing floors… we’ve been really busy. Of course, as it always goes with houses, we’re nowhere near done and new problems keep popping up as we fix others, but it’s more “our home” every day and we love it.

I’ve written more than ever this year, dedicating more time to my blog and to commenting on the work of other talented bloggers. I took a writing class, getting over some of my fears of meeting new people and sharing my work in public, opening myself up to criticism. I’ve gotten involved with Twitter and started following and interacting with some fascinating people, who may talk me into joining writing groups who can help me improve at what I love.

I tried new recipes. I finally took my sewing machine out of the box and made something. I played with glass. I visited home and saw my brother’s new place, and I spent a week in the Outer Banks soaking up the sun (and the rain). I got a smart phone. I lived through another hurricane.

I need to be honest with you. I had a very hard time being objective this week when I looked back at 2012. While I could find plenty of good in it to celebrate, it was also a very painful and difficult year for me. As the year ends, I find myself hurting, frustrated, and angry. There have been many tears.

When I examine my pain, though, I realize that everything that hurt me this year was outside of my control. I didn’t fail. I can’t look back and say that I didn’t try hard enough, wasn’t strong enough. That’s difficult for me to accept – when you’re brought up in an atmosphere where you’re reminded daily that you can achieve anything you want if only you try hard enough, it’s hard not to feel guilty as you face your failures.

Life isn’t fair. But life isn’t unfair, either. Life just is. Life is happening and you’re caught up in it and sometimes bad people win the lottery and good people get cancer. That’s very hard for me to come to terms with; just ask my therapist. The little girl inside me with a cape and a strong sense of justice is stamping her feet and yelling that it’s just not right, but my task over the next year will be to try and explain to her that the world doesn’t work that way. She’ll be really mad about it, and she won’t want to believe me, but there are some things that even the most super of superheroes just don’t get to have control over, and that’s important to understand. Of course, giving up any sense of control over anything that happens is equally disappointing, so hiding under the covers and giving up isn’t the answer either. Somewhere between dark fatalism and sparkly idealism is the world of rationality and acceptance. I’ll get there.