Happy Thanksgiving: 10 Things I’m Most Grateful For

Happy Thanksgiving, dear readers! I hope all of you around the world are having a great day, regardless if you celebrate our American holiday or not.

It’s been a difficult year, but I’m blessed to have so much to give thanks for, anyway. I decided to take a quick break from helping with meal prep (a minor assistant role to my Master Chef mother!) to jot down a list of what I’m most grateful for.

Apple pie from scratch! I try to save most of my stomach space for this and the pumpkin pie. ;)

  1. My family.

    They’ve been there for me since day one. I’m so lucky we get along so well. With them, every day is amazing fun like a party, but every second nurtures and fills my soul. They’ve helped me become the woman I am. They’ve believed in me so strongly I’ve had no choice but to believe in myself, and they’ve built that confidence and drive in me since infancy. I love you, guys. <3

  2. My friends.

    Like my family, they have helped me to become who I am today. I can’t believe I’ve had the same best friends for 20 years. How lucky am I? We’ve gone from children to adults together, sharing every important moment together and supporting each other when we needed extra strength. I love them more with each day. We have just as much fun now planning weddings and navigating transitions as we did building snowmen and playing Barbies as kids.

  3. Oreo & Chad

    Even though now, they are both our angel babies, I am grateful for their huge impact on my life (and the world at large, of course). Perhaps our babies belong with #1, but they are a different, more adorable species, so I think they can have their own category. Our babies are guinea pigs–see this poem to read just how much they mean to me. Our babies–both so different and wonderful–have awakened a new type of love in me. Though I can be, um, “motherly” to others I love, there’s nothing like loving a (guinea pig) baby. They have enriched my life on such a deep level; they are the embodiment of love. They have me wrapped around their little paws, if you couldn’t tell.

  4. My Faith & God

    This grows stronger for me each year, as I witness miracles and kindness, even in the midst of tragedy. He has always been there for me, even when I wasn’t paying as much attention to Him as I should have been. He saved me, in more ways than one, and I think He brought me back to do good–and I think that is through:

  5. My Writing & Speaking

    Communication is vital to all of our lives, and we often take it for granted until it’s taken away from us. I’m grateful mine has come back in such a way–I have so much to say, and I can’t wait to share it all. I always feel like I have more to do; it’s a never-ending quest to listen and speak, through voice or written words. Dear readers, you are an integral part of this! Thank you for listening to what I have to say and encouraging me to move onward in this journey. <3

  6. Books

    Books have been an integral part of my life, shaping the way I think and the person I want to be. They bridge continents and eras, connecting our human existence and making sense of this crazy thing called life.

  7. My Job & Coworkers

    I’m so blessed to have a job where I get to do what I love every day: writing, editing, public speaking, and events. I’m doing it all in a place I believe in passionately–Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital–and I get to apply my skills to fundraising and publicity purposes for this wonderful place. The icing on the cake that I did not expect (but should have!) is that I LOVE my coworkers. Several of them have become very dear friends.

  8. Nature

    I’m constantly inspired by nature. It’s as alive and changing as humanity itself, and its unpredictable beauty and nurturing are gifts to us. I’ve been lucky to have several adventures in forests, mountains, and oceans, over the last year, and I’ve truly learned that every leaf, rock, and sky is uniquely awe-inspiring.
    On a less poetic note–or perhaps, since it’s Greek mythology, it is poetic still–I was even a Dryad for Halloween this year, wrapping my limbs in vines and hair in flowers. I feel my full integration into nature is progressing well.

  9. Love

    Life is funny, and relationships don’t always work out how you plan them. Despite the pain of when they end, I’m still grateful to have had the experiences. They’ve taught me what I need and want out of life, and they’ve helped to shape me in important ways. As a writer and reader who adores love stories, I’ve learned to adore true love, even if I don’t know where it will lead. :)

  10. My Health

    Well, this one is pretty self-explanatory, especially with my recent reflective post about my TBI. Against all odds (<5%), I have survived a near-fatal injury, and against even greater odds, I am living a beautiful, healthy life. This is another one we take for granted, and every time I’m having a bad hair day (so many days), I remind myself that there was a time when I had no hair on one side of my head–boy, how it grew back with gusto. I’m looking forward to having it long enough soon to donate. I am blessed and very grateful. <3


Thanks for reading my list of gratitude, readers. What are YOU most grateful for? Have a wonderful holiday season; talk to you soon. I think I smell some pies that are ready for my sampling. <3



Miracle Day: Eight Years After My Traumatic Brain Injury

Jelly-Side Up:

Wow, I can’t believe it’s been 10 years from my first Miracle Day. It was a day my life almost ended–but instead began anew. Sometimes, you have to lose everything to learn what’s really important to you–and it’s all the sweeter to regain it once you’ve had to fight to get it back.
I’ve long thought the 10-year anniversary would feel especially momentous to me, but in reviewing my post on this day two years ago, I feel much the same as then, but more–more grateful, more inspired, more driven. Life has changed in interesting ways, but our life stories should be just like good books, not knowing what’s on the next page until you’re there. And sometimes, it’s a relief just to move the story forward, to turn the page, and to know you’re still there, still the hero(ine) of your own journey.
I’ve been blessed every single year since Miracle Day with a life full of love and joy. It can be hard work sometimes, but it’s worth it. I’m proud to say, since this post two years ago, I’ve worked more towards that “giving back” goal I made for myself, speaking on disability awareness panels, organizing charity donations, and, most importantly–spreading kindness wherever I can. Thank you, dear readers, for your constant support every step of the way. For, as the bracelet my sister gave me in the hospital says:
“A journey of 10,000 miles starts with a single step.” Here’s to many more steps, with eternal gratitude to the loved ones (including you, dear readers) in my life.

Originally posted on Jelly-Side Up:

I’ve put off writing this post until this moment, because I wanted to make sure I enjoyed every. Single. Second. of Miracle Day.

“Miracle Day” is what I’ve decided to call November 21, 2005. It was the day I almost died–but I didn’t. Last summer, Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare asked me to tell my story for their annual report. Please watch this short video to learn about my journey (mobile users, click here):

I feel bad for the video editors, who had to cut down 2+ hours of my speaking about my experience into two minutes. ;) I think they did a great job, though. There’s so much I have to say about all of this; as you may recall, I’m working on my memoir of this experience now.

Words are my gift, my tool, and I had to fight hard to get them back. Initially, I couldn’t speak, except…

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Goodnight, Sweet Oreo <3

I have been dreading writing this post, but I must share it with you, dear readers, because it’s a huge part of my life.

Our darling Oreo passed over the Rainbow Bridge 12 days ago. He had heart disease and lymphoma that led to a sudden, fated eventuality. He has found peace, and we’re trying to find some, too.

We are heartbroken, but we are finding comfort in the MANY beautiful memories he gave us. He inspired love and joy in so many, and I think that’s how we should remember him. I think he still has that job.

We’ve been looking at the thousands of photos he graciously let us take, putting them in frames on our walls, re-ingraining them in our minds. From the first to the last, he was always precious and lovable.

The day after we brought him home <3

The night before we had to say goodbye <3

His many of his fans around the world (!) have sent us condolences, memories of him, and keepsakes that have given us comfort, too. For animal lovers, these babies are more like family members than “pets.” I am forever grateful for the supportive guinea pig devotee community that has shared love and grief with us.

The crematorium made each of my family members a set of footprints from Oreo. What a treasure. <3

Thank you so much to MJ from Caden’s Corner for making this beautiful, perfect painted rock model of Oreo, pictured here with his long-distance girlfriend, Patrice from Australia.

Thanks to the many posts in tribute to Oreo, including this one from his best friend, Erik, the Special One in France:

It hasn’t been an easy time for us, but the pain is worth the enormous love and joy Oreo gave to us. He taught us patience, unconditional love, and strength. Rest well, my darling baby boy, and may you be popcorning in happiness over the Rainbow Bridge with Chad. See you again someday, my angel. <3

Happy Halloween: Monster Legends Gallery from Merriam-Webster

It’s finally here–Happy Halloween, dear readers! My soul is aglow like a candle inside a Jack-o-Lantern!

What are your plans? Handing out candy to trick-or-treaters; curling up with a ghost story; terrorizing the town? I will post some stories and pictures after today, but I’ve already been lucky enough to attend multiple Halloween celebrations (it’s never enough). Tonight, I am going to a masquerade!

I am floating like a ghost over the combination of two of my great loves: Halloween + Merriam-Webster Dictionary. That’s right, folks, it’s not just any dictionary, but my FAVORITE dictionary (instilled into me by rigorous grad school standards of this being the ultimate go-to source).

Besides Merriam-Webster’s level of detail and accuracy, they are my favorite because of the kooky and fun things they do to celebrate holidays in the wordiest way possible (A.K.A., the best way).

If, for some strange reason, you haven’t been following their website every day leading up till Halloween, I invite you to view their gallery of monsters–the origin of the legend, their word etymologies/origins, and their evolving definitions. I promise, it’s lots of fun and good trivia, so you know exactly what you’re dealing with when you hear something go BUMP in the night.

Counting down to Halloween, we bring you the strangest, most elusive beasts in the dictionary.

Source: Chupacabra – Monster of the Day (Final Update!) | Merriam-Webster

Top Ten: Friends’ Favorite Scary Stories

Jelly-Side Up:

Alfred Hitchcock voice: Good evening, dear readers!

*resume normal internal narration voice*

It’s Halloween Eve! It’s crunch time (Nestle or otherwise) for getting into that Halloween spirit (living or non). (Apparently, long work weeks make me heavy on puns AND parentheses…)

This was one of my favorite posts to write, because it involved so much research from people I knew. Like any book recommendations, theirs gave me further insight into their personalities and interests, but it was a very special insight as to what disturbs/scares them. Don’t worry; two years later, and I haven’t used it against them (yet). ;)

I hope you enjoy my friends’ scary story recommendations as much as I have. There’s something for everyone on this list, from silly to downright bone-chilling. So if you have a quiet moment tonight, perhaps you can crack the spine (of a book) and read by eerie candlelight, getting you all set into that delightfully spooky spirit! /end puns

Originally posted on Jelly-Side Up:

I couldn’t resist going with a festive theme for this week’s Top Ten: Scariest Stories. Since I, myself, am a scaredy cat (seasonal pun intended), I turned to my friends for their suggestions. Several brave souls responded with their selections–some, with many! The list below will show both their choices and who chose them. I got such a good response that there will be more than ten; however, since I haven’t read most of these, some will have less description than others. I broke them up into categories of stories: classics (pre-1960), legends, and modern/contemporary. A special thank-you to all who helped me, and a special group huddle for those who were more faint-of heart-like me. ;) (All images from Amazon unless otherwise noted; click to buy or read summaries.)

The Classics

1. “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe

The Tell Tale Heart - Edgar Allen Poe Image from Barnes & Noble; click to buy. Recommended by Jennifer…

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Great Moments in Gothic Fiction: A History in 13 Books

This season puts me in the mood for some Gothic fiction. Some of you may prefer true horror stories–and indeed, I will post a list of your most chilling favorites in the coming days–but as for me, I’ll take a sweeping, gloomy story with just a hint of terror in it.

As it is the witching hour, it seems appropriate to share some Halloween story history with you, dear readers. I found this reflection on horror stories from Flavorwire fascinating. It’s amazing how the grotesque stories were a commentary on how hidden evils/transgressions in society will emerge, no matter how people try to bury them. One tidbit I learned:

The end of the 18th century led to a mini-boom in Gothic novels, which were divided by critics into two categories: horror, which is fear of gore you see; and terror, which is fear caused by the suggestion of something sinister. As a wise professor once explained to me, behind the curtain in horror is a decaying body. Behind the curtain in terror is another curtain.

Isn’t that interesting? I guess that makes me a fan of terror stories, rather than horror. My friend Alex offered to wear a rain coat when seeing horror movies with me at the theater, just in case I lose my mind or other things. (That sounds like a horror story, itself–let’s keep those thoughts away before bed.)

But because it is Halloween week, and because spooky dreams are the most intriguing kind anyway, I suggest you read this list from Flavorwire about 13 (I see what you did there, Flavorwire) influential horror/terror stories and how they both reflected society and advanced the genre. Who doesn’t like to wake up bolt upright in bed, in a clammy sweat, anyway?

Flavorwire’s List: Great Moments in Gothic Fiction: A History in 13 Books

What did you learn? Did you see any of your favorites on this list?

I hope you are having a fun, festive, and frightening (in a good way) Halloween season, dear readers. I’ve been diving into the more innocent side, with pumpkin everything (food, attire, crafts, decorations); but these stories are getting me into that perfectly haunted mood, too.  <| :)

Join me later this week for more Halloween fun!

Happy Halloween: Memories of Halloweens Past

Jelly-Side Up:

Hi everyone! It’s getting close to Halloween, my favorite holiday of the year! It’s not just about the pumpkins or costumes–but those are a big part of it (which I will discuss in future posts!). Tonight, I’m sharing this post from two years ago of favorite Halloween memories. What are your favorite Halloween memories, dear readers? I’d love to hear about them!

Originally posted on Jelly-Side Up:

Happy Halloween, readers! I hope you’re enjoying the holiday. I’m having a rather spooky experience at the moment: our phone line is going in and out, and since it’s on Halloween, that means it has to have a sinister cause.

But perhaps the scariest thing about this is that I can’t “save draft” as often as I’d like, so I may lose my work…

It’s actually the very first year I haven’t worn a costume, and it fills me with a Victorian Halloween-appropriate melancholy, complete with gloomy fog rolling through the moors of my mind. Our friend (pictured below, as Marilyn) who usually hosts the Halloween party had to be in Canada for much of the month for two separate weddings, one of which she not only participated in, but planned. A more than adequate excuse, I think, but we’ll definitely have to make up for it next year with…

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