Saturday, October 31, 2015

Florida: the day after the wedding

I'm in Washington for the weekend and I've just asked my dad if starting projects, leaving them unfinished, and then returning to them months later is a Jackson trait. He said he thinks it's a human trait. And so, in typical human fashion, I am finally blogging some of the photos from our family's trip to Florida back in September.

After my baby brother done got hitched over labor day weekend, the rest of the Jackson clan merged travel plans with our old family friends, the Longs, and partied like it was 2003. Or 1999. Or 1995. Or 1989. We have known the Longs since we kids were wide-eyed, rolly polly little tykes. We've homeschooled, churched, played, hiked, carpentered, gardened, video gamed, pizza partied, and world traveled together as long as we've known each other. It was only natural to turn Marc's wedding into a Jackson/Long vacation. Our only regret was that our dear friends the D's couldn't join us.

The ever-growing Jackson/Long Crew, minus Marc and Jaime

Jake, the oldest of the Long kids, is a year younger than I. He and his wife, Kristin, are the first of our clan to have kids. Their daughter, Lucy, is an 18-month-old bundle of sweetness and spunk, and we absolutely delight in her. We spent the first few hours of our vacation gathered around her in a circle of adoration while she tried on sunglasses, played with stuffed animals, and did the stanky leg. There was also some nae nae-ing. And some whipping. Little Lucy is a daaaaancing machine.

The second of our clan to have kids is Simon, the third eldest in the Long family. He and his wife, Taylor, got married a few years back and then went and had the cutest little blue-eyed baby you've ever seen. Her name is Joanna but we call her Jo.

Our Florida trip was the first time our families have gathered from across the continent since the babies were born, so we adjusted our normal partying style. Normally, we sit around and eat cheap pizza while listening to spoken word poetry recitations, wrestling, solving the world's problems, and taping our noses up. We ALWAYS tape our noses up.

Our annual nose taping, circa 2012ish

In Florida, however, we were too busy playing with the babies to even consider pulling out the tape. No doubt some of the in-laws breathed a covert sigh of relief. 

 The first day of vacation a number of people from the wedding party and guest list partied with us. These are people with whom we've also traversed the years. It was so much fun having so many good friends squished under the same roof.

The whoooole crew

We spent a lot of our time outside chatting...

...and inside adoring the babies some more.

At one point the men got up and made us dinner,

 which was absolutely, 100% fine with us gals.

We managed to visit Florida smack dab in the middle of monsoon season, so the sky dumped buckets of water off and on throughout each day, but that didn't keep us from spending much of our time in the pool. When we tired of plain old swimming, we devised a rather complex game in which we had to toss a ball around the pool from person to person whilst jumping, spinning, etc. Dirk held Lucy's zebra inner tube at the far end of the pool, into which we had to eventually throw the ball. It was much tougher than we thought it would be to get the ball through our human circuit and into the hoop. We attempted it about 25 times, rotating people to different stations along the way, before we FINALLY Pam, the matriarch of the Long clan, captured our winning effort on camera, along with 200 other photos of every failed attempt.

For our winning attempt, Natasha (my brother Aaron's wife) threw  the ball to Brittany right as she jumped into the pool.

 Brittany (Dirk Long's wife) caught the ball and threw it to Jake...
...who caught it mid jump.
 Jake threw the ball to his sister, Jena...

...who threw the ball to the zebra hoop.
 My sister Rebecca and I were present near the hoop in case Jena's throw wasn't perfect.

Fortunately, it was perfect. Jena shot and SHE SCORED and the ball ended up snugly in Dirk's zebra hoop. 

Sweet, sweet victory.

For our second day of vacay we climbed out of the pool, packed up the babies, and headed to the beach. I hope to blog about our beach day soon. And by soon I mean sometime before January 2016.

Happy Saturday, home skillets.


© by scj

Thursday, October 29, 2015


Several months ago I realized that hanging out with little kids could be very good for my health. Their squishy little hugs and wonder-filled spirits are some of the best medicine around. So I asked God to give me lots of opportunities to play with little kids. I can't say I prayed with particularly faithful expectation, though. The previous year had been a dry barren baby snuggle wasteland, and I wondered where the babies would come from.

But like manna from the sky, water from the desert rock, and oil from the widow's jar, they came. Babies started showing up at my work, just to say hi. They showed up on moving day last month. They showed up on vacation. They showed up at Bible study. My life is full of babies, and I am in heaven.

Two weekends ago I drove out to the desert to spend time with dear old friends, J and A, and their baby girl, H.

J, A, and Baby H, this time last year
Everyone, meet Baby H!

I know A from a father/daughter camp my dad and I attended the summer before I went to college at APU. She was in my cabin and her dad was in my dad's cabin. Our dads hit it off, we girls hit it off, and then we discovered the BEST NEWS: A would be a junior at APU and her brother would be a sophomore. I wouldn't be friendless my first day at college after all. A and her brother were my first tribe at APU, and I've cherished their friendship ever since.

I met J when he snatched A up for his wife (smaaart move, J, smaaart move) and I've grown to love him the way I love his wife. They are some of the most hospitable, hard-working, gracious, generous and others-focused people you will ever meet. Their baby girl is the happiest baby I have ever known. She is known at her pediatrician's office as "the smiley baby."

She is almost always smiling and laughing.

Sometimes she ceases her smiling to investigate the big world. She's especially intrigued by the pieces of fuzz she finds when she scootches across the floor. She loves trying to pick them up in her tiny little fingers. I wore a pair of fleece pajamas during my visit that left a trail of fuzz in my wake, and H was very happy about it.

I stayed with J and A for the whole weekend, and think I held baby H the entire time. We played in the garden, had a little piano lesson, and lounged on the couch. We also took about a million selfies.

I am a bonafide baby hog and I ain't 'shamed 'bout it. Not one bit.

What a glorious weekend.

Also, I've not had a drop of caffeine in ages, but I drank decaf coffee while I snuggled that little baby, and GLORY HALLELUJAH, I'd forgotten what coffee tastes like. It is evidence of God's goodness. My body did decently okay with that little bit of caffeine, so I'm praising Jesus for baby steps forward as I work my way up to 20, 30, 40% of normal.

I set baby H down long enough to capture this momentous occasion

Happy Thursday, friends.

Cheering for you,


© by scj

Monday, October 26, 2015

Perfect storm troopers

Today the plumber came. I haven't seen him in five months which is a record for us. For the last two years I have seen him every six weeks without fail. As many of you know, I won the "nightmare plumbing" jackpot at my old place and endured a number of floods, as well as bimonthly almost-floods caused by trees that wiggled their thirsty roots into the pipes. But since I was in Washington all summer and have been living in my new place for two months, I haven't needed my plumber since May. I've missed him. So, when my toilet recently showed signs of leakage, I was delighted to be able to call him up. He recognizes my number whenever I call, such is the intimacy of our friendship.

Ben — that's his name — came over in a jiffy and had the leak fixed in no time at all. I have a habit of standing in the bathroom door-well and watching Ben work. I like the thought of understanding how my toilet works, so I pepper him with questions. But I mostly like talking about life with him. We cover all sorts of topics. Today it was karma, real estate, and my old studio. We also manage to have some good belly laughs together. Toilets are just funny, man.

When he left, I felt happy. Seeing him made my day.

Isn't it funny how some of life's most stressful events give birth to life-giving friendships? Those floods, especially the big one necessitating I move out for two weeks, just about sent me into perma-panic mode. And yet, those floods gave me a crash course in friendship with my plumber.

Remember how my car had a habit of breaking down the same time I'd have a flood or any other sort of natural disaster? I miss my mechanic. I also miss the AAA guys and my tow-truck drivers. And while we're at it, I miss my computer repair guys. My computer had a habit of crashing anytime I had a flood and my car broke down so the IT guys became part of my crisis squad/dream team/perfect storm troopers.

Man, just thinking about navigating that seemingly endless series of perfect storms with a sick body gives me heart palpitations. I don't miss that season. But the people: they will always be special to me.

I've really struggled to understand God's goodness in the face of so many years of hardship, and I'm still struggling. I suppose I will my whole life. But the people I got to know and love as a result of all those perfect storms feel like a sturdy enough reason for the storms. Well, they do today, anyway. I'm thankful for that.

I hope you've had a lovely Monday, friends.

I'm cheering for you as you wrap it up,


© by scj

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Just one more

I love my job.

My school is the best. My grandparents met at this school. So did my parents. And my brother and his wife. Without this school, I would not exist.

My students are also the best. On the days I'm in the classroom with them it doesn't matter that my alarm clock goes off way too early and is way too loud because I know I'll be teaching my students soon.

My colleagues are also, also the best. They are smart and funny and wise, and being with them makes me feel safe and inspired.

But let me tell you something:

Two summers ago I rode a giant inflatable turtle down the Lewisville River. Today, that turtle sits in my parents' garage, limp, squishy, and melting into a big hot wad.

This is how my brain feels this semester.

And this why, despite my love for my students and my delight in watching them work hard and develop as writers, I have a serious case of Grade-itis, a condition typified by the inability to sit down and begin grading essays without experiencing intense, prolonged BRAIN PAIN.

I cannot. I repeat CANNOT sit down to grade without realizing that I have SO MANY OTHER IMPORTANT THINGS TO DO. I need to write a book. Yes, I'll do that today. And then I'll hang my curtains. Those things aren't going to hang themselves. And then I'll organize my closet. I've been meaning to do this for a month, but NOW IS THE PERFECT TIME AND DON'T EVEN THINK ABOUT TRYING TO CONVINCE ME OTHERWISE. And oh wow, do you hear that? The birds sure do seem happy today. I wrote a nice bit of prose about bird songs once. I should probably go find that right now. I can include it in my book. But first, I've discovered three hairs on my big toe. I need to pluck them. I cannot say ANYTHING else about this student's thesis statement until I HAVE PLUCKED THESE HAIRS. My students' grades depend on it.

I wish I could tell you that these are all pretend thoughts I had on a pretend day, but I love Jesus and I cannot tell a gratuitous lie. It has been a major grading crisis over here.

So I told myself, "Self, you have a Skype doctor's appointment today at 2:30. You need to grade eight essays before then. Yes, you may do the laundry. Yes, you may clean your closet. Yes, you  may work on your book. But you also need to have eight essays done."

When I ran college track I discovered a neurotic tendency to want to run "just one more" hill, or set of hurdles, or lap. I'd run till my stomach turned inside out, my muscles filled with lactic acid, and my coach was content. And then my teammates and I would look at each other and we'd say, "We could be done now, but let's do one more." And then we'd do it again. And again.

Now that I am old and mature this neurosis manifests itself when I am eating ice cream. "Oh look! There's a fudge chunk down there in that carton. It looks like it's suffocating from all that thick ice cream pressing in on it. Let me rescue it." And then I look down again and I see "just one more" chunk needing rescuing, and then "just one more," until I've eaten the entire carton of ice cream, which is a rather impressive feat if you ask me. So you see, all those years of running track really paid off.

Today, with my 2:30 doctor's appointment looming, I pressed through 1,2,3,4,5,6 essays. And then I remembered something: once I make it to the 6th essay, I begin grading essays like I eat ice cream. "Just one more," I'll say as soon as I decide to quit. And then: "just one more." And then: another one. It's a blessed neurosis about which I'd forgotten as I've not graded six essays in one sitting in ages.

So the key is getting to the 6th essay. But oh sweet heavens, getting there is so hard.

Also, coming up with reasons to eat unhealthy food is one of my special gifts. Are you craving a bag of potato chips? If you have low blood pressure you should probably eat them. All that salt is exactly what your poor blood pressure needs. Are you hankering for a bacon burger? Go for it. You need the iron from that beef, and you DEFINITELY need the endorphins that will ooze when you eat that bacon. Do you want a tub of fudge ice cream? Eat the whole thing and then say, "Well that was a brilliant object lesson for the best way to grade papers." And then go grade your papers the way you ate your ice cream.

I'd also like to tell you that Skype doctor's appointments are the best. All of my doctors are in Washington and Oregon so I'm doing Skype appointments with them when I'm in California. I like Skype appointments for some of the same reasons I like Skype dates with men I meet online: I don't have to leave the house and I get to wear my sweats. I also like limiting my interaction with really sick people. One of the worst things about going to the doctor is watching all the sick people coming and going. It's enough to make a girl want to curl up in the fetal position and whimper. All that pain. All the mysterious illness. All the bills. All the deflated dreams. It's just too much. But with Skype dates, the only sick person you gotta see is yourself.

My appointment today went well. I feel good about the next phase in my treatment plan. This doctor is being very cautious with me since my body is so fragile, and I have growing trust for him. His next steps align with my intuitive sense of what my next steps should be. I'm hopeful that the next phase of the plan will be as effective as the last phase. We're still in the discovery phase as we try to definitively pinpoint causes for all of the things we've found wrong with me, but I don't feel as much anxiety about finding a diagnosis ASAP because the treatment is helping in the meantime. If you think of it, I'd love prayer as I try to figure out which tests to move forward with next. 

Okay, I told myself I could take a break from grading to write this, but my break is over. So I'm back to the routine: "Just one more essay."

Happy Thursday, friends.

Cheering for you.


© by scj

Monday, October 12, 2015

Big Bear

Dear friends,

I would like to begin this post by telling you why you should come visit southern California:

1. We have some of the best, crispy, hot-out-of-the-fryer tortilla chips you'll ever eat. Also, we have enchiladas. Also, nachos. Also, flautas. Also, flan. Also, arroz con leche. Also: we can stuff our faces with fried Mexican food while watching the sun set over the Pacific ocean. In our shorts. And flip flops. In January.

2. Laguna. Laguna beaches have the clearest, most turquoise water I've seen on the west coast. It's easy for me to pretend I'm in Costa Rica when I'm nestled in a Laguna cove. Although I'm never tempted to pretend this...

3. ..Because we have Nektar juice bars here. You can just walk right up and order a heaping helping of kale juice sweetened with pineapple and apple juice and then drink six servings of vegetables in three short minutes. This is especially compelling if you've ever tasted plain old kale. Sweet mother of Jesus, save us from plain old Kale.

4. The desert. It's just 1.5 hours away, and the stars out there. They defy language.

5. The mountains. They're also just 1.5 hours away and the air up there. It's crisp and clean and smells like dry pine.

And this brings me to my point: I escaped to the mountains this weekend. It was just glorious.

Big Bear Lake is one of my favorite southern California mountain destinations. It's surrounded by picturesque hiking trails, boasts a cute little downtown, and swirls with crisp, pine-y breezes. The smell of dry pine makes me want to dance and sing the hallelujah chorus.

The weather's been hovering around 100 degrees here lately, so a friend and I spent Saturday at Big Bear Lake where it was a nice, cool 70 degrees.

We spent the first part of the day exploring a more populated corner of the lake before settling in our lounge chairs, our legs propped up on a comfy log, in a quieter area. We'd brought poetry (for reading), smash ball (for tournaments), and running shoes (for hiking), but we ended up lounging in the sun and talking all day.

Occasionally, we took breaks from conversation to blow bubbles.

But then we returned to talking. And boy, did we cover a lot of territory. Most remarkably, we've come up with some great research proposals. For one, we'd like to know whether or not gas-passing humor is similar in all cultures in all places. For example, will a tribe in Papua New Guinea respond to high-pitched, startling gas-passing the same way a group of California Americans will? I feel quite certain universities across the country will be clamoring to offer us research grants for this project.

Good conversation and loads of rest under the autumnal suns are some of my favorite things.  On Wednesday of last week I noted my body was feeling better than it has in ten months, so for the remainder of the week I exercised, worked, and socialized more than usual. And my body still felt good. But I was tired come Saturday and was happy to lie under a tree and listen to the birds. I love that I can lie quietly and enjoy the beauty around me without the distraction of hellish symptoms these days. Lately I've been lying under trees as much as possible. On Saturday, we laid under a particularly fine Russian tree named Ivan. He sheltered us until the sun set.

The sun sets entirely too quickly in Big Bear, so we packed up before I was ready (what about the Smash Ball?! The hiking?! The poetry?!) but we decided to have Mexican food for dinner, which made leaving okay.

Also, the stars in the mountains ain't half bad.

It was the perfect fall escape. If you come visit, I'll take you up to the mountains.

Happy Monday, people. Good luck plowing through your to-do lists. And if you need a break from to-do lists, I highly recommend finding a tree to lie under.

I'm cheering for you, Home Skillets.



© by scj

Friday, October 9, 2015

Selfie stories

My selfie game has been strong on Instagram lately. I've have lots of good stories to tell this fall, and it turns out selfies are a happy way to tell stories. I've brought 'em over here today, because these stories highlight the good provisions of God — provisions for which many of you have been praying.

Selfie story #1:

When I returned to California after spending the summer in Washington, a big ol' pile of medical bills awaited me. I was surprised to see so many medical bills since I'd already paid an astounding amount of money for doctors and treatment over the summer. I cringed with each bill I opened, and then set the pile aside to take care of when I returned from my brother's Florida wedding.

After the wedding, there were more bills waiting for me. *Le sigh*. I opened the top envelope and there, instead of a bill, was a reimbursement check from the insurance company. I'm not sure for what they were reimbursing me, but the amount was just enough to cover my growing stack of bills.

Heading to the post office, paid bills in hand

Glory, hallelujah.

Selfie story #2:

A few weeks ago, as I prepared to head home after work, I realized my car keys were not in their usual pocket in my computer bag. Alarmed, I dumped the contents of the bag onto my desk and carefully sifted through everything. There were no keys.

I wish life had a Panic Button we could press in times like these. A sympathetic colleague helped me look for my keys, and when we couldn't find them she suggested I retrace my steps from the day. I promptly followed her advice and eventually found and myself out at my car. And what do ya know, my keys were sitting on my trunk, right where I'd left them five hours earlier when I'd set everything down to adjust my computer bag's strap before heading into work.

Oh Biola students, you are lovely and wonderful, and thank you for not stealing my car.

Also: At the young age of 31, I am alarmingly similar to Dory, our cute blue Disney fish friend.

Selfie story #3:

Earlier this week I sat near my open window grading and I kept ACCIDENTALLY listening to my new next door neighbor's conversations.

And you guys, I love her. She is an older, single Christian woman with kindness in her voice. I can tell she cares about people. I should go meet her.

Story #4, sans selfie, because I started to feel too much like Kim Kardashian:

One of the classrooms I teach in this semester smells strongly of mold. Because I am just now pulling out of a hellish season we think was caused, at least in part, by mold, I do not relish the idea of teaching in a mold-infested classroom. Neither does the professor who teaches after me. "We should sign a petition to have the university remediate this mold," he said a few weeks back.

After my conversation with my colleague I prayed, "God, it doesn't seem very wise for me to be teaching in this moldy classroom given my health problems, but I'll trust that you will protect me as I do the work you've asked me to do."

Then, several days ago, I was reassigned to a new room in a brand new portable. I hadn't said a word to anyone at work about my concerns. Apparently, the university is turning the moldy building into a new science building, and they've decided to begin their renovations in my wing.

And then there's this: next week I have a follow up appointment with a very expensive doctor about a very expensive test he ordered two months ago. The test results should already be in, but this lab is notorious for sending very late results. I've felt nervous that I'd meet with the expensive doctor only to learn the results weren't in. I'd hate to pay for an unproductive doctor's appointment. But today the lab called me to get some insurance information, and when the representative learned I had a follow-up with my doctor next week, she promised to have the test results sent to my doctor posthaste.

I sure am loving these reminders that God is my advocate.

Happy weekend folks. Hoping it's full of selfie stories.

Cheering for you,


© by scj

Monday, October 5, 2015

A happy birthday

Hi there, friends,

When I was sifting through Florida and wedding photos I stumbled across some photos from my 31st birthday a few weeks ago. I'd forgotten I'd taken them. Organizing photos is not one of my special gifts. (Neither is whistling, playing basketball, or keeping track of my car keys.) I have 17,000 photos on my computer and only 300 of them are organized in labeled albums. The rest just get lost in the bowels of PhotoLand, never to be seen again, or, to be seen one month later on my blog when I accidentally find them.

My birthday was on a Thursday smack dab in the middle of moving week, so festivities were pretty low key. I woke up for work and my housemate had a bag of birthday goodies waiting for me. At work, a former student dropped an encouraging card off at one of my classes, and the students in my class burst into a rousing rendition of "Happy Birthday." That class and I enjoyed several particularly big belly laughs that morning. Later I discovered a number of people were praying my birthday would be especially full of laughter. These little things make birthdays sparkle.

After work a friend came over to help me move a desk. When he noticed how dirty my second-story windows were, he set to work cleaning them for me.

Clean windows are a terrific birthday gift.

For dinner, a couple girlfriends joined me for a picnic dinner in the park.

 We have a number of delightful parks here in north Orange County. The park pictured was the sweetest birthday spot, except for the geese that were determined to join our picnic. We took turns chasing them down the hill whilst waving our paper plates at their dumply little behinds. Unfortunately, I do not have pictures of this.

Also, dumply is not a word but it SHOULD be. How else are we supposed to describe geese behinds?

My friend Elizabeth, pictured below on the left, brought roses that look like peppermints. She also brought strawberries and cream for dessert. "It's a very British dessert," she explained. It's always a good idea to try to make your picnics as British as possible.

My diet is still quite restricted, so strawberries were the perfect birthday treat. 

Can you see the pink candle poking out of the middle strawberry?

My strawberry cake satisfied the little girl in me. 

 Conchie, the other of my picnicking friends, gave me the most beautiful scarf. I have it wrapped around my shoulders in the photo below.

The scarf is silky and filmy and I love it.

What a lovely way to begin my 32nd year. 

 I closed the day by Facetiming with family and opening gifts from them. My sister got me a variety of anti-aging creams. Not in a "you need these" sort of way, but in a "you've been wanting these for awhile and my doctor said these are the best creams around" kind of way. And so: my battle with gravity begins.

My sister also gave me this birthday card:

All of my single friends: whenever you find yourself struggling to answer people who ask you why you are still single, just  tell them, "Because I'm a magical unicorn pony."

Boom. You're welcome. 

Happy Monday, folk-a-roos.

Cheering for you, Skillets.


© by scj