The future of love is not fragile

To Luke, with all my love.  Happy Birthday, sweetheart. 

I am so glad my daughter, Clarabella,  will be growing up in this era.  I am aware that is not something you hear too often these days.  I know the world is a god-awful mess and that there are more than enough things that need fixing.  And I know the planet is literally on fire.  But despite all that, I am so hopeful for her future.

There are a number of reasons for this, but today’s reason is “Frozen 2.” Specifically, Kristoff. I saw this movie weeks ago, and while I loved the songs, what has stayed with me is a single short line by Kristoff. He swoops in to help Anna when she is in trouble, but rather than focusing on rescuing her, all he says is “I’m here. What do you need?”

Can you imagine anything more right or perfect?  “I’m here, what do you need?”  I think my jaw dropped at that line and I haven’t managed to pick it up since.  Additionally, Kristoff’s entire role in the film is centered on his love for Anna, which he talks (and sings) about openly and honestly.  What an incredible example for kids to see today.  I’m so grateful to Disney for that.

The fact that this example exists in a film that my daughter will watch (probably so much that I will get sick of it) makes me so happy.  There are glimpses of this sort of moment in other films, like “Wonder Woman” and…ok I can’t think of any other popular films at the moment that have this kind of supportive male role.  So thank God for Kristoff.  And for my husband Luke, Clarabella’s dad.

If Kristoff is a good example in a film, Luke is an example she will get to see every day.  Luke, to me, exemplifies what it is possible for a man to be.  He is unfailingly supportive, joyful, and unabashedly loving.  He is also deeply kind.  The traditional wisdom is that men are supposed to be strong and unemotional, but I can’t think of anything that portrays strength better than supporting another person.  Patience and kindness are an enduring kind of strength.  Frozen 2 gets this right too.  At the end of the film, Kristoff reminds Anna that his “love isn’t fragile.”  Love isn’t fragile. It is a strong and powerful force that can be relied on.  The love of another person should be something to lean on.  Luke’s love is like that.  I have been blessed by it time and again over the last decade, and it has been a constant in Clarabella’s life since the day she was born.

Growing up, I was very interested in love and boys and relationships.  It was pretty much my favorite topic.  I loved the idea of being in love, of falling in love.  I wish I could go back and explain to my younger self was real love looks like, or that I could ensure that Clarabella will know as she grows up.  But I know that my teenage self wouldn’t get it.  My parents set a wonderful example of a loving relationship and partnership, but only so much will get through a 14 year old’s hazy ideas of romance.  What it has taken me a decade of marriage to learn and what I hope Clarabella will understand is that “falling in love” misses the mark.  Love is something to lean on, to be buoyed by, not something to fall into.  Love is not fragile. And a true partner will express the strength that comes from love. 

I am glad examples of this are beginning to exist in films.  I am even more grateful, though, for the daily example of partnership and love that is set by my husband.  Clarabella, I hope that you find someone as kind and loving as your dad.  Even more, I hope you grow up to be just like him.  I hope you are that partner to another someday.  I am truly hopeful.

Hope for the Holidays

My organization, Community Action Partnership, runs more than twenty programs and services for low-income families throughout the year.  This year, I was asked to take the lead on our school supply distribution and holiday programs.  I loved being part of collecting donations of backpacks and school supplies to help kids get a solid start to the new school year.  We were able to give out over 2,000 backpacks to kids in need this year.  The community response was incredible.  We were even able to give older students scientific calculators.  It was such a cool thing to be a part of.

Backpack donations for 2018 Project Student Success

Now the holiday program, Hope for the Holidays, is in full swing.  Through this program, donors can “adopt” low-income and homeless families and shop for them based on wish lists that they submit.  Donors can also “adopt” a senior this year, and can also donate new toys for kids.  Hundreds of families sign up for this program every year, and every year donors step up to meet the needs of all of these families.  Basically, our community is amazing.  I’ve always loved this outpouring of generosity.  But this is the first year I’ve had much to do with the client family side of the program.

Gary Scott Jen reading '91
My dad, my brother, and me at Christmas a million years ago (1991 probably)

I’ve always thought it was so wonderful of donors to adopt these families so that kids can have a nice holiday.  I never gave much thought to the adults in the families.

Today, I’m spending my day going through wish lists submitted by the families and getting them ready to send to donors.  And I am struck again and again but the love and care that goes into these lists.  These parents are often homeless, in crisis, wondering where they will find the next meal for their kids or how they will keep the heat on or make this month’s rent.  They are dealing with things that would break most people.  But they take the time to fill out these wish lists.  They find a way to get to our office to sign up.  The love and care that is evident in these lists is so humbling.  These parents are so connected to their kids.  Each wish list reflects the hope that they have for their children, their desire to protect their children from the stresses that they are facing.

This program is more than a nice thing to do at the holiday season.  I thought the program name, “Hope for the Holidays” was just a nice alliteration.  It isn’t.  This program truly does represent the hope that these families have.  The hope that next year will be better.  The hope that children will find a safe future for themselves.  The hope that even if it is just for one day, troubles can fall away and be replaced by children’s smiles and joy.

I’m grateful to these families for reminding me what the holidays can be.


For more information on CAP, Hope for the Holidays, and how you help, go to

Marathon Motivation

I might be too happy to run a marathon.  Yes, I think that might be the issue.

I’m registered to run my second marathon in October, the Twin Cities Medtronic.  I ran the Chicago marathon back in 2015 and frankly, training went a lot better that time.

My dad checking on me at mile 13 of the Chicago Marathon

I was also in a very different place in my life three years ago.  My husband and I had been separated for a few months, I was living by myself for the first time in my life, and I was doing a lot of work on who I was and who I wanted to be.

I named him Rexacoricofallapatorius.  I get loopy when I run.

Getting up to run at 5:30am every morning seemed to come naturally at the time.  Running was wonderful therapy, gave me time to think, time to escape.  I got to explore Minneapolis in a new way as I ran all over town.  I named a metal dinosaur in a yard along my route.  I was pretty fond of the big fella.  Running was something that was purely and wholly mine.  It was healthy, it made me feel better, and it reminded me I could do more than I believed was possible.  Running helped me to heal so that when my husband and I reunited, I could be a support to him through his healing.

This time around, I am incandescently happy most of the time.  Overwhelmingly content.  I love my work and what I do.  I love the volunteer work I do.  I have great friends that I love to spend time with, and my relationship with my husband is better than I ever could have imagined.  So what the heck do I need to run for?  Yeah yeah, it’s good for me, cardio, fitness, blah blah.  A marathon seems like a bit much.  What is actually keeping me going this time around is who I’m running for.

A CAP Client and her son coming home for the first time

I’m running as a charity athlete for the CAP Agency, the organization that I work for.  I’m running to raise money so that CAP can continue to help people in poverty find their way out.  My life is pretty darn good.  Other people face obstacles every day that I cannot possibly comprehend.  What I can do is run.  I’m working to raise just $1000.  It isn’t really that much.  But $1000 is enough to house a previously homeless family for a month.  It is enough to feed a family, to provide emergency childcare to mothers escaping domestic violence, to provide meal for six home bound seniors for a year.  The good that can come from this marathon will impact the lives of people in need right here at home.


I think that’s more than enough to make me get off the couch.

To donate to my fundraiser, go to  No matter the amount, your donation makes a difference.  Thank you.

And Hilarity Ensues

In two days, I leave for Tanzania with my mom.  I am so stinking excited.  I have no idea what day it is right now, I’m so excited.  I have thought it was Thursday since Monday.  I have never been to Africa, so that will be amazing.  We will be there during the Great Migration, so the animals should be amazing.  It will be warmer than Minnesota, which is amazing.  But honestly, the thing I am most excited about?  The twelve days I get to spend with my mom.

Wales, 2014

Every year, my mom and I go on a trip together.  We’ve been doing this for about five years now.  We have been to Lisbon, Wales, Austria/Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium, and Italy. My mom loves to travel.  My dad, for all that he is a very curious and brilliant person, does not love to travel.  So my mom takes me on her adventures.  We travel incredibly well together.  We go at more or less the same pace.  We like to see the same things, we like to shop the same amount, we both know the value of naps, and we have a similar sense of wonder for the world.   But most important, we both know how hilarious we are.

Each trip starts out with both of us passing a sane and normal travelers.  We get through airport security with cheerful excitement.  We wait patiently at the gate for our plane.  We board, we get settled in.  My mom puts on her airplane booties.  Yeah, she has airplane booties.  We read our books, we watch the movies, we try to sleep a bit.


Somewhere mid-flight, the giggles begin.  Lately, it has tended to involve one or both of us putting our travel pillows on our heads.

I do not know why this happens.  But it is hilarious.  Other people are not always party to our hilarity.  One lady on the flight to Italy was grouchy at us for grooving to some music on the headphones we were sharing.  She clearly did not know how to travel.

By the time we finally reach our destination, the loopiness has set in.  Jet lag is a funny thing.  Travelling is exhausting, but we never end a flight grumpy.  We end it in giggles.  Literally everything is funny.  Especially when it’s nothing.  In Portugal, we dissolved into giggles taking our “after flight” selfie.  We always take a before and after photo.  There was nothing objectively funny about the photo we were taking except that we were both in it and very, very tired.

We have pretty much giggled our way through Europe.  In Belgium, there were always french fries around and they always smelled amazing. After a long day of walking, the smell of fries caused us both to perk up and look for them.  This was cause for a photo, in which my mom somehow managed to look like she had swallowed a goldfish.  I would post the picture here, but she would kill me.  Trust me, it is hilarious.


It is hard to write about inside jokes because, as I have said, not everyone gets how funny my mom and I are.  It’s pretty much just us who get it, really.  But my mom is one of the most unintentionally funny people you could ever meet, and being around her makes me so very very happy.  Travelling with her is one of my favorite things.  I am always excited about the destinations, of course – the places we have been have been wonderful.  But the best part has always been and will always be the laughter my mom and I share.  When memories of the trips have become fuzzy, the memories of the laughter are sharp and clear and present.  I treasure that.  I love my mom and I feel so blessed to share in the joy that surrounds her.

So watch out, Tanzania.  I think accidental photos of zebra butts are about to become uncommonly funny.


Ode to My Sisters

Me and my brother

Growing up, I always wanted a sister.  It was just me and my younger brother.  My brother is amazing and we have always gotten along well and been close, but what girl doesn’t wish sometimes that she had a sister?

We grew up in a girl-heavy neighborhood in the suburbs, so I always had plenty of girl friends to play with.  My brother, I’m sure, spent a lot of time wishing there were some other boys to play with.  Or at least some girls who didn’t insist on playing dress up with him.  He looks very cute in a bonnet, if you’re interested.

.  My surrogate sisters, circa 2000.That orange scrunchie tho

I had my surrogate sisters, the girls with whom I was so close we might as well have been sisters.  My friend Kelly, who I met when I was five, was often mistaken for my sister.  I will always consider her family.

But still, no real life sisters.

When I was 23, I married Luke.  Luke, among the thousands of other amazing things he brought to our marriage, came with a very large family.  In addition to marrying this amazing man, I suddenly had the gift of two sisters. Last year, my brother got married.  Bam, another instant sister.

And in all the years I spent wishing for a sister as a child, I don’t think I could have ever dreamed up three women as kick-ass as the sisters I got.

Luke’s step-sister, Anne, is amazing.  She welcomed me into the family with open arms and an enormous smile.  She is the kind of woman who wears heels even though she is six feet tall already because why the hell not? She does not sit around and wait for life to happen.  She has created a very cool career for herself, and is one of those people who has a dream and then actually works to see it become a reality.  She dreamed of living in LA.  A few years ago, she moved there.  She is loving and joyful and independent and inspiring and one of my favorite parts of spending time with Luke’s family. She falls in love with the quirkiest pets and they love her back fiercely.


 Anne continues to welcome and accept me whole-heartedly into her family, and I love her for it.  I cannot wait to see what this incredible woman does next.


Mindy is Luke’s half-sister and the oldest in a family full of brothers.  Mindy radiates the type of patience that can only come from growing up with brothers.  She spent time in the peace corps and now has an amazing job as an environmental educator.  She is brilliant and creative and thoughtful.  She has spent her adult life making a difference in the lives of others. 

Years ago, Mindy knew that she wanted to be a mom.  Rather than sitting around hoping for the right guy to come along, Mindy became a foster mom.  She fostered a brother and a sister, who I am proud to now call my niece and nephew.  Mindy is one of those people who was clearly meant to be a mom.  She is patient and kind and tender-hearted and just the right touch of sarcastic.  Mindy is the kind of mom that I would like to be someday.  She is Luke’s big sister, an amazing mom, and someone I deeply admire.

Kate is my brother’s wife.  I couldn’t imagine anyone more perfect for him. She is exactly his kind of crazy.  Laid-back, silly, fun, nerdy, artistic, and compassionate.  Kate’s passion in life is animals.  I don’t just mean she really likes dogs or cats or guinea pigs.  I mean at one point they had 17 individual animals living in their home.  She makes these animals her number one priority and gives them a safe, healthy, and loving home.  Kate runs the Northern Colorado Herpetological Society and spends a large portion of her time rescuing reptiles and educating students and the public about them.  I don’t know if there is an animal on God’s green earth that Kate does not find beautiful in some way.  Kate also rescues dogs.  My husband and I foster dogs and give them a loving temporary home.  This is not what I mean when I say that Kate rescues dogs.


Kate works for an animal shelter and will go to humane societies and other shelters and bring back the dogs that no one believes can be saved.  She and my brother foster dogs who are terrified of the world around them.  They teach these dogs that they are loved, that it is ok to trust, that the world has kindness in it.  They truly rescue these dogs.  Kate’s love for animals humbles me.  She has found a way to impact the world around her for good, and I stand in awe of her.

Each of my sisters has made an impact on me, on my life, and on the life of those I love.  My husband would not be who he is today without his sisters.  My brother grows every day with his wife.  And I am shaped by these women who have shaped them.  I am deeply grateful, unspeakably blessed, and full of love for these sisters who have come into my life.

Finding My Magic

Last winter, my dear sweet husband started trying to teach me to play the trumpet.  He played in high school and college and it was and still is a big part of his identity.  I had fun learning the basics, he had fun teaching me, and it made for some very nice date nights.  We eventually moved on to other things.

What struck me at the time and what has stayed with me is the way in which my husband relates to music.  When he listens to music, he hears it in a very different way than I do.  It hits him on a different level than it does me.  I enjoy music.  He understands music.  Hearing him talk about and play music is almost like a kind of magic.  It is something beyond my understanding.

My husband the trumpet player

My dad is a brilliant scientist and thinker.  He is creative and curious about the world in a way that defies categorization.  The way my dad sees the world and understands the science behind it, and the math behind that science, is to me a kind of magic.

sauddering at desk
My dad the scientist

My mom has loved photography for most of her life.  She is very modest about it, but she has an ability to see pictures that others would miss.  Her understanding of light and lines, and her ability to capture them, is a kind of magic.

One of my mom’s photos

I didn’t feel that I had any particular magic of my own.  There were things I was good at, but nothing that came so easily to me that it felt like magic.  And that was that.  I didn’t think much more about it for the last year or so.

Then last week, I published my piece about becoming a grown-up and had more than one person ask me how I write like that.  I had no answer for them.  I just write.  Words come easily to me and flow easily from me.  It brings me peace and calms my mind.  I am able to write honestly and without second-guessing.

And it struck me that maybe I do have a magic of my own.  Writing might be my magic. This is not to say that I think I am a brilliant writer or about to change the world with something I write.  But the ease with which I am able to write apparently strikes others as a kind of magic, in the sense that I use the word.

I know music and math and writing and photography are all things that can be learned. Magic involves learning. The magic is in that thing that lights you up. Once you find the thing that lights you up, you need to learn and cultivate it.

Magic isn’t something you just have and that’s that. It takes work and dedication. Not just learning how to do your bit of magic, but dedication to actually doing it. Your magic doesn’t do you or the world any good if you never actually do it. If you love music and love to make music, but stop making it, then you’re neglecting your magic. I love to write. It inspires and sustains me. But only if I actually take the time to write.


In Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Big Magic,” she discusses the idea of “permission slips.”  You do not need to wait for someone to give you permission to be creative, to cultivate and enjoy your magic.  You do not have to wait for a life or world changing idea or project to come along.  You have permission already.  You do not need to wait for it.  You do not need to be the greatest or most original.  There is no requirement upon your creativity and magic except that you give it a means of expression.  There is an exchange in a song from “Sunday in the Park with George” by Steven Sondheim that goes,

[GEORGE] I’ve nothing to say

[DOT] You have many things

[GEORGE] Well, nothing that’s not been said

[DOT] Said by you, though. George.

I love that exchange.  Don’t worry so much about being the best or being original.  Worry is not helpful in creativity.  Your magic is yours, and yours alone.  It is good enough and original enough simply because it is yours.  There has never been anything quite like it and never will be again.  Isn’t that amazing?  Figure out what your magic is.  You have one.  It could be dance or fixing cars or running or doing makeup or computer programming or invention or painting or gardening.  If it brings you joy and lights you up, it is your magic.  You do not need to explain or justify it to anyone.  Learn all you can.  Cultivate and practice it.  Give it room to move and be.

For me, the hard part of my magic isn’t the writing, it’s taking the breath and finding the courage to share it with the world. I’ve always written. It’s the sharing that’s new.  I hope that as you discover your magic, you will also discover the courage to share it.  The world could use a little more magic, I think.


Wait, when did I become an adult?

If you google “impostor syndrome,” you get a page full of results saying that everyone deals with this and suggestions for combating it.  This is also what comes up when you google “not quite impostor syndrome,” which is what I did this morning.  I don’t know a term for the way I feel.  Impostor syndrome is defined as “individuals who are marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a ‘fraud'” (according to Wikipedia.)  Which a lot of people do struggle with.  But that’s not what I’ve been feeling.  I don’t doubt that I am qualified for the work that I am doing.  I am proud of and deeply attached to my accomplishments.  The work I do and the results I see give me a lot of satisfaction and a feeling of purpose.  But I don’t have any idea how I got here.

There are days I feel like I woke up in someone else’s life. A grown-up’s life.  And I don’t know how it happened.  When did I become someone with a career?  With meaningful work?  With opinions and thoughts that other people care about?  When did I become a peer and not just some kid who works here?  It bewilders me.

I began thinking about this a few weeks ago when I took a meeting with a new marketing coordinator for a local transportation company.  She was looking for ways to partner to serve people with transportation challenges in our area.  The meeting was interesting and some good ideas were thrown around.  But then I mentioned a few projects I had worked on and she suddenly started taking notes.  She asked me for ideas and I was able to give them to her.  I was able to share resources with her that she had never heard of.  I left that meeting feeling for the first time like I had been a mentor to someone.  It was surreal.

Me…and also Me:

The HR director at my organization is someone that I get along with really well.  I often go sit in her office and we chat.  And she asks me how I would handle difficult situations between employees and listens when I answer!  She has told me that she considers us mutual mentors.  I love this.  I love being taken seriously.  I have no idea when this happened.

When I get together with my friends, we talk about work and our homes and financial woes.  We also talk about our relationships like we always have, but it is no longer the drama of dating.  It is the quiet and everyday drama of marriage and in-laws and bosses and coworkers.  Last Christmas I was talking mortgages with my little brother.  When did this happen?

Scott 12
My little brother (1995)

As it always does, writing helps me to process.  As I have been writing this, I began thinking about when this change started to sink in.  I think it was about two years ago that I began to actually internalize the change.  My life went through a huge upheaval two years ago.  When the dust settled, a lot of my old patterns and even my old sense of self had fallen away.  Been shattered, really.  And thank god.  They weren’t healthy.  But what remained was the person I was supposed to be in the first place.  The person I had always been but hid behind ditzy flirtatiousness, extroverted chattiness, and never-ending cheerfulness.  I was happy, but I was only superficially me.  I wasn’t joyful, and I wasn’t content.  I am now.

I allow others to see more fully the person I want to be and am trying every day to realize more fully.  The responsible, intelligent, sarcastic, serious-minded, still cheerful, clever, and hopefully kind woman I was intended to be.  I think that is what people have begun to respond to.  I take myself seriously and treat myself like an adult now.  Only took 30 years.  Others are then able to do the same.

I’m not done yet, of course.  I’m only 30 and I think maybe have only just begun to see what I can do.

Years ago, I met a nun named Sister Peggy.  She was one of the most remarkable people I have ever met.  She was in her 70’s and had lived an incredible life dedicated to God and to serving others.  I could have sat at her feet and learned from her for the rest of my life and been content.  She told the group of us that were with her that day that at 70-something, she was still not fully herself.  Still not fully “Peggy.”  I think I begin to understand her.  She was still just beginning to see what she could do.  I hope I keep that same feeling of exploration and expectation.

I wasn’t expecting this piece to be quite so serious.  Funny how these things happen.  I don’t know what you believe about God and the universe and everything, but for me, I believe that we were created with limitless gifts.  I look forward to the continual realization of these gifts in myself and others. Thanks for reading along with me as I figure this out.


The Community of Community Theater

This past August, I found myself on a middle school stage, auditioning for my first play since 2008.  The play was “Harvey,” by Mary Chase, and I still couldn’t quite tell you what had made me decide to audition.  I had found out about the Prior Lake Players community theater organization through work.  The Players had donated proceeds to our food shelf the previous season.  I was familiar with the play – well, not just familiar, I adored both the film and stage versions.  It’s tough to beat a Jimmy Stewart movie, and the character of Elwood Dowd was one of my favorites.


Anyway, I auditioned.  I wasn’t nervous.  I didn’t have any particular stakes.  If I got in, great!  If not, it’s not like I had lost anything. I hoped I would get in of course, but wasn’t pinning any big dreams on it.

Me as a pie server in Beauty and the Beast

Then I left the country on vacation for a couple of weeks.  I got the email saying that I was being offered the part of Nurse Kelly while I was in Norway.  And just like that, it was the biggest deal in the world to me!  I accepted the part right away.  I was so nervous and excited.  I hadn’t been in a play in almost a decade, and the last part I had played was a pie server in Beauty and the Beast.  I mean the actual utensil, not someone who served pies.  That had been in community theater back in college.  I had never had this large of a part or this many lines!  I had an actual character!  With a personality!

Right after Labor Day, rehearsals started.  We all stumbled through our lines, literally stumbled through blocking the movements on stage, and introduced ourselves to our fellow cast members.

The community created around a show is an odd thing.  You are thrown together with this group of people, with no say in who your fellow cast members will be.  Sometimes cast members know each other, but I had never met any of them before.  And it starts of very professionally.  You show up, you run the scene, you work out the bugs.  Slowly, you might start to have side conversations when you’re not on.  You find out what people do for a living, what their theater experience has been, which musicals they love and hate.  It’s a group of theater lovers.  Musicals come up a lot.

Then, you start rehearsing with the set, and with props, and pieces of costumes.  It starts to take shape.  And you are truly in this world belonging exclusively to the cast and crew.  You sit around together in between scenes or when the directors are arguing over a bit of blocking.  You might have things in common with your cast mates, you might not.  But you find out you like each other.  In this weird little world all your own, you become family.  You joke and laugh hysterically at things no one else would find funny.  You become a family.

I have never experienced anything else like the community one finds in theater.  These people, who a couple months ago I didn’t know at all and who I hadn’t specifically chosen to spend time with, are now dear friends.  They are hilarious and odd and wildly goofy.  I have no idea if I will keep up contact with them once this show is over.  People tend to go their own way.  I’m sure we’ll check in on Facebook now and then.  I hope for more concrete friendships though, with at least a few.  My female costars especially.  Girl friends are frightfully important, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I will never have too many.

Community theater is a funny thing.  We spend hours upon hours of our lives for weeks rehearsing for a show.  We do not get paid.  We do not perform before enormous audiences.  We do not get famous.  We are all there simply because we love it.  A shared love for theater.  Yeah.  That’s more than enough to build a community on.


7 Things that make me happy (That I think other people should do because maybe then they would be happy too)

I, on occasion, have been known to think that I know what is best for everyone.  What follows is a list of things that I have recommended or wanted to recommend that people do in order to be happy.  I am a generally happy person and tend to want to spread that around, whether others like it or not.


So I am aware of the thousands upon thousands of blogs and websites and magazines and books and podcasts dedicated to the joys of running.  And yet, people still don’t believe me when I say that running fixes everything.  I guess maybe they don’t read/listen to those thousands of running dedicated media.  It’s true though.  I took up running about 6 or 7 years ago, starting out very slow with low mileage.  Since then, I have run two half marathons and one full.  And there has never ever been a time when I regretted a run.  There have been runs that weren’t what I expected or hoped they would be, but I have always felt better afterwards.  My friends and family have seen the (sometimes dramatic) improvement in my mood after a run.  And still, there are those who are all like, “Nah, I think sitting on the couch watching TV will be better for my mental health.”  They are wrong.  Dancing also falls into this category.  Dancing and running have never failed to make my life better.

I am also aware that running is not a possibility for all due to physical constraints. To those of you who are not able to run (not wanting to is not the same thing), I am a firm believer that going outside and moving, or sitting by an open window, is a decent alternative.


Books are amazing.  Not all books.  Some books really had no business being written.  Some books have turned out to be a waste of my time.  But books, in general, are fantastic.  Reading is calming, a safe and healthy means of escape, and can actually make you smarter.  I’ve been an avid reader my whole life.  I highly recommend it.  I have also become an avid listener of audiobooks lately.  Thanks, hour long commute.  The best thing I have found to feed my reading habit has been Overdrive.  This amazing app lets you borrow ebooks and audiobooks from the library and download it right to your phone!  It has saved me piles of money and allowed me to make better use of my commute.  Most recently, it nearly caused me to drive off the road from laughing so hard at “Furiously Happy” by Jenny Lawson.

Spending time with kids

Kids are hilarious.  I don’t have my own, which may be why I think so.  But working with or volunteering with or even just hanging out with kids tends to make you check your problems at the door.  Kids do not care that your check engine light is back on for the third time this month, or that your work deadlines are insane, or that your mother in law is driving you bonkers.  (That last one I made up.  Love you Kathy and Debbie!  Yes, I have two mothers-in-law.  It’s a stepmom situation, not a married to each other scenario.)  Kids demand and require all of your attention in the time that you are with them.  Their joys and concerns are the biggest thing in the world to them, and need to be the biggest thing in the world to you too at that moment.  I have taught pre-school and had to say things like “Stop punching the duck,” “We do not make our friends into horses,” and “Nope, that is definitely not food.”  Little ones are a fun escape if you don’t have any of your own.  I can’t speak to what it’s like to have kids of your own.  I’m now a volunteer coach for Girls on the Run and work with 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders.  I don’t have to say quite as many ridiculous things, but their joy and learning is still a bright spot in my life.  Spending time with them makes my day better.

Spending time with dogs

Similar to kids, dogs are hilarious.  And I still get to say “Nope, that is definitely not food” pretty frequently.  Plus, snuggles.  So many snuggles.  And they depend on you, so it kind of forces you to get yourself together.  I’m just going to leave this picture of a dog here to prove my point on why they are fantastic.  Feel free to hear the “Jaws” theme song in your head.


Making things is amazing!  You start with stuff that isn’t anything, and you turn it into something!  Gives one a feeling of accomplishment.  And if it’s total crap you can start over or throw it out.  No pressure, just something to do that has no connection to whatever else might be stressing you out.  Arm knitting and cross stitching have been my latest endeavors.


If you have the means, travel the world.  If you don’t, this site has some interesting ideas on how to travel for cheap. (Disclaimer- I am not on board with their hitchhiking recommendation.)  Travelling is incredible.  Seeing things you’d never have seen otherwise, experiencing other cultures, meeting new people – there really isn’t anything else like it.  I believe some of this experience can be found in your hometown.  I love Facebook’s Events feature.  It is so easy to find things going on near you any day of the week.  A lot of it is free, too.  Art, music, dancing, sporting events, comedians, activism, charitable events, it’s all there.  And if you live in the Twin Cities and can’t afford a study abroad program for you or your child, check out City Stay.  This unique non-profit brings study abroad to the local community level by arranging stays in the homes of families from other cultures.


I’m putting these two together because they are similar in my mind.  For the love of God, if you are having trouble, talk to someone!  Here is a list of 81(!) mental health resources that are low or no cost.  Finding a professional to talk to is the best thing you can do if you are struggling.  But it’s important to have an everyday outlet too.  If you have a close friend you can talk to, that’s awesome.  That can be such a help.  I find that writing helps me.  I try to journal most nights before bed.  This gets all my thoughts out and allows my brain to slow down enough to go to sleep.  This does not solve all my issues or get all my crazy out, but it helps me to be calm enough to see the good around me.

I will continue to recommend these and other happiness inducing activities to my friends and family to the point of annoyance.  I’d love to hear what others do to keep calm and find joy in the midst of life’s craziness.  Leave a comment or contact me!