Archive for the Category » Memoir & Essays «

Monday, May 15th, 2017 | Author:

Two Things:

One: Because Today is Mother’s Day

When I was young, my mom was in her forties. She was on the older end of moms in terms of my peers, and I liked to give her a hard time about it. One time when I was a kid, I was razzing her about being in her forties, and she said, “I don’t feel like I’m in my forties inside.” Which prompted me to ask one of the wisest questions I’ve ever asked: “How old is the you that you feel like?”

She didn’t hesitate: “27,” she said.

All the stories she’d ever told of her college life and young adult life were full of vitality and independence. The mom I knew was always strong, but the stories of her 27 self and younger were almost invincible. The mom I knew was sick, and had to go to the doctor’s and do treatments, and sleep a lot because she had Lyme Disease. She was a mom who sacrificed a career to stay home and raise us, and teach us (we were home schooled for elementary school). She was never a “house-wife.” But she made it clear that she took her “mom” title as a professional status. She didn’t take raising us or teaching us lightly.

But her stories of her younger years had always captured my attention.

One time we were walking through a park and smelled some marijuana smoke. “You smell that?” she asked me.
“Yeah,” I said.
“That’s marijuana. That’s what weed smells like.”
“Oh. Weird. It kind of smells like skunks,” I said.
“Yeah, kind of,” she said.
“I like the smell of that better than cigarettes,” I said.
“Me too,” she said.

I was too young to know to ask how she knew that. But the reality was, I always took my mom’s word for stuff like that. Her childhood, her family, and her career before kids had created one badass woman who had full-heartedly and willingly resigned herself to stay-at-home mom hood, and later, less willingly, to illness.

But the stories she told of her college days, of her days as a probation officer or working in the juvenile hall — those were the stories that showed me the empowered woman she was. She may have to take naps several times a day, she may be on an IV, she may be the woman that cuddled with us on the couch as we read the Little House on the Prairie series, or the Narnia series aloud for the umpteenth time — but inside she was still the 27 year old who wasn’t afraid of delinquents, injustice, poverty, or oppression. Inside, she was independent, caring, free, and fearless.

At least, that’s how I saw it. That’s what I finally understood when she answered that question. That badass from the stories, and that mom standing in front of me — they were the same woman. Still. One just happened to wear horribly-styled “mom dresses” from Costco. (A sin which she has since remedied 100 times over, for the record.”It was the style then!” she still defends…)

Two: Because Today is the Anniversary of my College Graduation

When I was about to enter college, my mom told me, excitedly, that she was praying for whoever I would meet and become friends with. She was so excited for me to enter this new chapter, probably remembering her own seemingly wonderful college years.

“You’ll make some of the friends that you’ll have forever,” she told me.

I’d grown up knowing one of her college roommates, and at least hearing about some of the others. I doubted that it would happen that way for me though, for some reason. Maybe because I had a few solid “life-long” friends from home already. I honestly thought I was set.

But she was right, as moms often are.
While the people who I thought would be forever friends has shifted a little over the years, it hasn’t actually shifted much. The difference has been additions, mostly. The most significant of which happened during my college years.

Of the life-long, day-to-day friends who have stayed in the circle since high school, a few remain. But while college held a lot of fun adventures with a lot of peripheral people, my solid circle of friends I rely on, look to, lean on, support, and stay up to date with has stayed pretty steady. My connections, and my friendships are the biggest gift that college gave me. My education was honestly a close second (because it was also really good).

But here I am, 6 years from the day I graduated college, and my long-time best friends and sisters were made or grew stronger either at my college, or during my college years.

And I’m so thankful to have had this beautiful, diverse, wonderful group that makes up “my people” for the better part of a decade (or in some cases longer).

My mom being excited for my college years was something that helped me embrace moving away from a home I loved so dearly to tread new paths, and to pave new bridges and connections.
So today I am thankful for an empowered, badass mother, and for the ways she empowered me to embrace life and friends along the way. She has left and continues to leave me a grand legacy to walk in.

Today, as I write this, I am 27 both outside (literal age), and inside (the age I feel). And I think I know what my mom meant all those years ago.

I am not a mother. I have no children to arise and call me. But…

I. Am. Blessed.

P.S. Sorry, mom, that I cussed. But you are badass, and there’s no substitute for that term or sentiment. I love you.

Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon

Tuesday, May 17th, 2016 | Author:

Roommate Series #7: Jenna Jan-May 2009  

Roommate award: Sweetest and Best Baker

Jenna and I in Luzern, Switzerland

Jenna and I in Luzern, Switzerland


The first thing I noticed was a jar of buttons sitting on the desk atop a doily.

I’d just arrived to my new school in Switzerland where I’d be studying abroad for the next year. I’d been traveling for 20 odd hours, and I’d finally arrived at the tiny school with four buildings total, one of which was my dorm (slash the church, slash the laundry room, slash the hang out area in the basement, slash the movie room…).

My RA on the hall greeted me first. She was a 29-year-old, commanding Albanian girl, who’s first words to me were these:

“Hi, Jo, is it? I’m you’re RA for the hall. My name is Cezi. It’s short for Cezarina,” and then with a devilish twinkle in her eye added powerfully, “That’s the female version of Caesar.”

She told me that the store was closed, as I’d arrived at night, and would be closed the next day too, since that was a Sunday, but that she and the other girls would share food with me until I could go grocery shopping on Monday.

And then she showed me down the short hall of 6 rooms to mine at the very end. I walked in and the first thing I noticed was the jar of buttons.

My new roommate was in there, with her mom, who’d come with her early so they could travel Europe for a couple of weeks before they’d come here.

Her name was Jenna, she said as she smiled sweetly and excitedly. She was nothing but warmth and welcome.

She was unpacking the last of her things from her two suitcases as I rolled my two suitcases into the room. That’s what I couldn’t get over. We had to pack the earthly possessions that we needed for the next half a year into only two suitcases, and she’d found room to bring a doily and a jar of buttons.

I thought she was so fake.

The hipster movement was just right on the brink of emerging, and there she was. Wearing a scarf. With buttons on her desk. And the next thing I knew, she was unpacking knitting needles and 2 aprons.

Nobody even uses aprons. Who is this girl kidding.” I judged her silently as I unpacked my clothes, my few books, and my couple of picture frames.

I was tired, cranky, hungry, jet-lagged, and pretty homesick and scared about being away from my hometown for an entire semester. I’d always been the girl that went home up to four times a semester. And this too-cute-to-be-true girl that was my new roommate was too much for my mind to take.

I tried to be polite, and just kept my judgey thoughts to myself: Yeah, this is a small school. Pretending to be cutesy isn’t going to last long. She’ll drop the act soon.

She and her mom continued to be nothing but sweet to me. We drank tea together in our room and talked about the west coast, as she was from Washington and I was from California.

Second day in Switzerland. On our walk to town.  L-R: Jenna, myself, Signe

Second day in Switzerland. On our walk to town.
L-R: Jenna, myself, Signe

The next day we all walked to the town (we lived in a small village a few kilometers from Schaffhausen) and went to the large fortress up on the hill. When we got back, she put on her apron and baked something for the dorm.

I rolled my eyes internally a little.

The first few days were fun and exciting, meeting everyone, going to the alps to go tobogganing. And Jenna was nothing but sweet and kind. I still didn’t let my walls down. I was waiting for her to break like an actor who slips out of character.

But then the first week of classes came. We had a prof that was particularly harsh, and we started to share our frustrations and our bewilderment about it. We started to run up against some cultural faux pas with the other students who were from a broad range of countries and cultures. We even started to rub up against differences between us and the few other students who were from other areas of the U.S. Our room became a safe haven to discuss, digest, debrief, vent, and sometimes cry with someone from our own culture.

But even when she was hurt or frustrated, she was always still kind in her words and her thoughts. She seemed to bleed honey.

Signe, myself, and Jenna on a walk the first day it snowed

Signe, myself, and Jenna on a walk the first day it snowed

One day someone needed a button, and Jenna took out her small sewing kit, got a button from her jar (which I think was mostly a sentimental token, like my picture frames), and sewed it on for them.

She baked most days out of the week. And she always wore an apron while doing so.

She showed me how to wear the big scarves that she had so many of, when I stopped being judgmental and admitted I liked how they looked.

My internal walls came down, and I embraced the fact that my first impression and first judgments were totally wrong. She wasn’t too cute to be true. She was super cute, and super sweet, and it wasn’t an act at all.

After our first set of finals (we had four sets of finals through the semester)

After our first set of finals (we had four sets of finals through the semester)

And she was my roommate.

I have never known someone like Jenna before or after her. She is the kind of person who, when she only has two suitcases to live out of for months, brings two aprons, and uses them daily. And I absolutely adore the sweet roommate I found waiting for me in a small dorm in Switzerland, with a jar of buttons sitting on her desk.



Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon

Tuesday, May 03rd, 2016 | Author:

Roommate Series #6: Kate  1) unofficially Aug ’07-Dec ’08/ Officially Aug ’08 – Dec ’08 (1st semester Sophomore Year) 2) Fall ’09 – Switzerland 3) Aug ’14- May ’15 – Denver

Roommate Award: “Most down for adventure” and “Repeat Roomie” 


L-R: Kate, Me, Rose, Lauren, Jules. Freshman Hall

L-R: Kate, Me, Rose, Lauren, Jules. Freshman Hall

Kate made a strong first impression on purpose and on accident. She arrived later than everyone else because she’d been in a car accident on the way down to San Diego from her hometown in San Francisco. When she arrived, she was frazzled, intimidated, had cuts on her neck from the car crash, and she, like many of us, was still figuring out what her “style” would be.

She came across as brash, yet friendly. Striking, but eager. I don’t actually remember most of our interactions in the first couple weeks of college. She was a pre-nursing major (so, super heavy course load), and she didn’t have a cell phone or a computer, so she spent a lot of time away from the rest of us, having to do all of her homework in the computer lab. And without a cell phone, it was anyone’s guess when she’d be back, or if she’d be joining us for meals in the caf.

In that way, I think our friendship developed a little slower than it did with myself, Emily, and Jules at the end of the hall. But she was surely one of us. She was fun, and she made a priority to hang out with us a lot still, and still find time to be a diligent student.

I think the things that drew me to Kate were the ways she was so obviously trying to give off this hard, city-girl impression, and the fact that it was a thin veil for an uncertain, kind-hearted woman who really wanted to have fun and didn’t care about making a fool of herself.

Em, Kate and I with our first college christmas tree

Em, Kate and I with our first college christmas tree

We bonded over our similar childhoods of hand-me-downs and all things church. We bonded over our love of literature, and the fact that we had to be good students because we were both there on scholarships. We bonded over the real-life, dark, hard things that people we were close to were dealing with in our hometowns. It seemed like she was someone who could see the real world with me outside of the bubble of beautiful people and happy life that was our college campus. She seemed to know what I knew from the start — that “Loma Life” was not real, and it would not last.

Halloween Roomie Shenanigans

Halloween Roomie Shenanigans

I think it was those similarities that lender themselves to the foundation of what I knew even then would be a life-long friendship.

But the day that I realized how special Kate came in the spring of our freshman year. It was Kate’s birthday, and all she wanted was a hermit crab (I have no idea why). We had planned to take her to Ocean Beach for the day to go around, look in the shops, get our feet in the ocean, eat ice cream from the best place ever, and finally get her a hermit crab. Once we’d gotten back, we had a few other presents for her. After I gave her my present, she got excited, and jumped to her feet.

“Ok! Can I give you your birthday present now??!” she asked bouncing with excitement.

I hesitated in an awkward moment, before finding words.

“Um, Kate. Do you know when my birthday is?”

This was in April, and my birthday is in August.

“Yes! It’s in August!” She said.

I stared, still confused.

“So, you know that this is your birthday, not mine, right?” I was a littler condescending, and a little concerned about a potential stroke.

“I know! But you love presents! So for my birthday I want to give you your birthday present!”

She ran and pulled a gift out from under her bed.

“Open it!” she said, beaming, so proud of herself.

I unwrapped a hammock that she, with her very limited funds, had purchased for me from one of our favorite shops in Ocean Beach. She knew I’d love it, and I did.

That’s when I knew I’d never met someone else like her.

She pays attention to the people in her life. She pays attention to whats important to them, to what they enjoy, and she makes a point to care for them in ways that really meet them where they are.

It is rare that I am truly blown away, and that day I was. Kate showed me what it looked like to really think about others more than herself. She still shows me that often. And it’s a lesson I hope to continue to learn and emulate for the rest of my life.

She is, to this day, the only person I’ve ever heard of giving someone else a present on her own birthday.

I still have that hammock. And I still have that friend. And neither of those are coincidences.

Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon

Tuesday, April 26th, 2016 | Author:

Roommate Series #5: Emily  | unofficially Aug ’07-Dec ’08/ Officially Aug ’08 – Dec ’08 (1st semester Sophomore Year)
Roommate Award: Most Spontaneous and Best Wardrobe 

Emily and I on a run to Ocean Beach

Emily and I on a run to Ocean Beach

Emily was a part of our little crew of four at the end of our freshman hall from the start. The whole first week we hung out when we weren’t in class. The whole hall did. We’d wander into each other’s rooms and talk about grand plans, and about where we were from, and what we liked to do.

Somewhere in the first few days someone started talking about getting piercings. I’d wanted the cartilage of my ear pierced for a long time, but had never been allowed to before. I’d wanted to since I’d turned 18 two weeks before, and was just looking for a time. Lots of the girls on the hall started to voice similar desires.

“Let’s go do it this next weekend then!” someone suggested. We all said that’d be great.

But when the weekend came, some people were busy, and others were not sure they wanted to anymore, and others were just not interested when it came down to it.

“Well, I still want to do it,” I said, semi-annoyed. “I’ll do it still,” Emily said.

“Really? Ok, let’s go to the mall.” I said.

So we went up the hill to wait for the freshman shuttle (cars were not allowed for freshman, so to get around San Diego we had to get a ride, or take the freshman shuttle that went to specific drop off points).

We went to one mall searching for a place to get our ears pierced, but after searching high and low there, there were no piercing options.

I called my brother and asked him to google if there were any at another mall nearby. He said there were, and he gave me directions over the phone to get there. The freshman shuttle didn’t go to that mall though, so we had to walk a few miles.

“That’s ok!” Em said. “I want to do this today.”

“Ok! It’s this way!”

So we continued our hunt. When we finally made it to that mall, we walked around the whole mall only to find that they also didn’t have a place to get our ears pierced. Defeated and tired, we started our trek back to the original mall a few miles away, and dejectedly took the shuttle back to campus.

“At least we tried,” we said to each other.

By the time we got back to campus, we’d been gone nearly the whole saturday on our unfulfilled quest.

We barely made it back in time for dinner at the caf, and when we got there we saw some of our hall mates. We told them our tale when they asked if we’d gotten our ears pierced.

“We think we just need to find a tattoo parlor and get it done there. I guess we’ll just have to get a ride a different day,” we said, accepting the day as still a success of effort at least.

One of them at the table was a sophomore with a car who’d been working that whole day and had just gotten off. “Do you still want to try to do it today? I could drive you.”

“Really?” we asked, semi-tired. “But do you know of a tattoo parlor that’s open that would do it?”

“Yeah, I think so! We could at least go and see,” she offered.

“OK,” Emily and I said, looking at each other, ready to try again.

We found ourselves at a tattoo parlor later that night, getting our ears pierced as we’d set out to nearly 12 hours before.

It was a long day of dead ends. And when we finally got it done, they pierced Emily’s ear far lower than she wanted. And they pierced my cartilage at a super awkward angle. But we were happy. We’d done what we wanted.

That’s what I learned with Emily — that some of the best friends to have are the ones who are willing to stop talking about doing things and just start doing them.

Through the three semesters that I lived near and with Emily, most of our adventures were birthed out of that same desire. She helped me develop my skill for jumping into action, for jumping into life. And sometimes when you do that you walk all day, and you hit dead ends, and you end up with piercings in places you weren’t intending to get them — But somehow, that’s all still better than just sitting at home and talking about doing things someday.

Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon

Tuesday, April 19th, 2016 | Author:

Roommate Series #4: Julianne Jan – May ’08 (2nd semester Freshman Year)
Roommate Award: Most Honest and Direct

L-R: Kate, me, Em, Jules

L-R: Kate, me, Em, Jules

If you’ve ever met me, you know that I can be kind of bossy. Or take-charge-y, you could say (that’s how I think of myself, but let’s be real, it can also be bossy).

So when I entered college, I didn’t really have any concept of compromise in my mind. I came from a group of like-minded friends with similar needs and similar interests. I’m not sure that there’d been a real need for compromise in my life before, but I’m wise enough now to know that there may have been, and I may have bulldozed my way through anyway.

When I moved out of my dorm room with Jane* (not her real name), I moved across the hall into my new room with my already-established friend and hall mate, Julianne.

My first memory of Julianne was in the dorm bathroom on the first day of Freshman orientation. We’d met prior, I know, but the first memory I have is of her coming into the bathroom, holding up an entire sheet of temporary tattoos, and saying excitedly, “Let’s convince Kate to let us put these all over her!”

“Alright,” I thought, “I’m down for that.”

We did put those tattoos all over Kate (sorry Kate), and that was the start of the beautiful friendship that existed amongst four of us at the end of the hall.  There was Kate and her roommate Emily, who lived next door to me. then there was me, because my roommate never left the room. And then there was Julianne, who lived directly across the hall from Kate and Em. Her roommate backed out of coming to college there at the last minute so her whole first semester she’d had the room all to herself.

When I moved in with Jules, I already knew her well enough to know that she needed some space and time to herself. She went to sleep earlier than the rest of us. She ate earlier than the rest of us. She needed more peace and quiet than the rest of us. Which is all OK. I’m totally ok with people getting the things they need to be happy.

I either went to bed earlier, or I would stay out of our room and try to sneak in quietly much later on. We’d try to be quiet on the hall once she’d headed off to bed. We let her do her thing and we did ours.

But somewhere through that freshman year together, a pattern formed pretty quickly. We’d all be back at the dorm, hanging out in Kate and Em’s room, watching TV or doing homework or whatever, and then around 4:30 or 5 Jules would start asking if we were hungry yet and wanted to go eat dinner at the cafeteria (“the caf”). We’d always say no, we weren’t hungry yet.

She’d try to wait for a little bit, and then she’d get frustrated and hungry and she’d decide that she was just going to go on her own. “OK,” we’d say, like the lazy friends we were.

Soon, we were hardly eating with Jules at all anymore. Which was sad. Meals together at our college were a huge staple of our community life and time together. They could last for an hour or more and that’s where we met people that we didn’t know and where we talked without our cell phone and computers and TV’s on and distracting us.

I’m not sure when it was exactly, but I started to notice that Julianne was never getting to be a part of it. She’d started having snacks in our room that she’d eat at 4:30 or 5 when she’d initially get hungry to try to last longer. But we weren’t catching on, we’d still wait until right before the caf closed to think about going up to dinner.

But I remember having that moment of realization that we were missing out on time with Jules, and she was missing out on time with us.

So we changed. We started to go up to the caf everyday about an hour earlier than we had been. And Jules was with us most of the time after that. She’d occasionally have a day where she’d get too hungry waiting, and she’d decide, “Ok, never mind, I’m going to go now,” and we’d all kind of look up and go, “Oh, ok, well then we’ll go now.”

It was simple. It wasn’t something we talked a lot about. But that’s where I first started to learn how to compromise for the sake of people you live with and care about.

Jules left to study abroad the next semester, and we missed her greatly at meals (and other times) while she was gone.

I can’t even count how many roommate and life compromises I’ve learned are worth making because of that one simple cafeteria revelation in my freshman year of college. I hope my time with Jules has made me a better roommate overall with that in-tow.

Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon

Tuesday, April 05th, 2016 | Author:

Roommate Series #3: Jane* (Not her real name) Aug. 2007 – Dec. 2007 (Freshman year, 1st semester).

Roommate Award: Biggest Disney fan AND Most Unique

Spending time with my neighbors (and future roommates) outside of my room because... well... you'll see.

Spending time with my neighbors (and future roommates) outside of my room because… well… you’ll see. (Jane* not pictured. Here or anywhere.)

The boxes of disney movies, romance novels, and pajama pants should’ve been my first sign.

When I moved into my first college dorm room, I was freshly 18, and for most of my life I’d shared a room, so I wasn’t intimidated by the thought of a random roommate. I was pretty confident I could live well with anyone.

In the weeks before, Jane* and I had been sent each others names. She’d found me on Facebook and started a conversation. Her photos were of her traveling with her sister throughout Europe. “That’s cool, I just started traveling, too!” I thought. I had just come back from my first big travel experience — a short two-week trip to the continent of Africa — and I was eager for more travel and adventure in my life.

She also said she liked to read, as did I, and watch movies, as did I.

Sweet. I thought we sounded like compatible roommates. Good job, college roommate appointer people.

But when I arrived at the dorm and started to unpack my books which consisted mainly of classic literature, and she unpacked her two-shelves worth of romance novel after romance novel, I started to see the best friendship potentially fade.

As I unpacked my movies like Gladiator, Blood Diamond, and Batman Begins, she unpacked her mostly-disney-channel-originals, and lined them up on her shelf above her romance novels.

As I set up a little place on my counter for my coffee and coffee pot, she set up the microwave which she’d agreed to bring, and which she promptly began using for large quantities of microwave bacon daily. (The kind that doesn’t even have to be refrigerated.)

As I unpacked my too-large collection of swimsuits, shorts, and tank tops, she unpacked two drawers full of Pajama pants. Though her chic-fil-a PJ pants were mostly all she ever wore.

Mostly, we co-existed. She watched all three High School Musical movies on a loop while I came in and out of the room as needed to sleep, eat, or get my books or clothes.

We actually did have the same cleanliness level when it came to our room — not to our bodies, but that’s neither here nor there.

One day, though, it was a beautiful, sunny, afternoon and I needed to do some homework at my desk. My neighbors’ room was too distracting, and the hallway didn’t provide the desk space I needed to research and write and article for my journalism class. I had come in and she was in bed, eating bacon, with the lights off, watching the disney channel or abc family or something of the sort. I’d told her I needed to turn the lights on and do some homework.

“OK.” She’d said, not looking at me.

I went to my desk next to the window, opened the blinds and started to work.

Soon, my neighbor, Kate, called my name out. I went to go see what she needed, and promptly returned. The door was shut. The lights were off. The blinds were closed.

“Hey, Jane, can we please leave the lights on and the blinds open? It’s 2pm and it’s gorgeous outside, and I need light to do my work. Is that fine, or do I need to go to the library?”

“OK,” she said.

I turned the lights on, opened the blinds, and resumed my work.

An hour later I went to the restroom down the hall. When I returned two minutes later, the lights were off, blinds were closed, tv was louder.

“Hey, Jane. I’ll tell you when I’m done, and I’ll leave. But for now, I’m in here, got it?”

She finally looked at me with such denial and innocence as if to say she didn’t know how the blinds got shut and the lights turned off.

“I’m turning the lights back on, ok?”

“That’s fine,” she said.

Once again, I left the room for a moment, and came back to the darkened cave. I fixed the problem silently the last time, stayed until my work was done, and then I left for my neighbor’s room.

By the end of the semester, Jane and I had actually found an OK rhythm. I didn’t spend much time in the room aside from sleeping, but I found other spaces where I felt at home, and when I did need to use the room or do anything, I voiced what I needed, and I did it.

Nearing the end of the semester, the staff member serving as the residential director for our dorm approached me, and offered me a different room. “I think it’s OK for me to stay. I was frustrated at the beginning, but I think we’ve worked it out ok now,” I responded, “unless she doesn’t want to live with me anymore.”

“No, she’s fine with living with you. We’re just concerned about you having to live with her. You can stay on the same hall, live with one of your friends, and Jane can live by herself. We don’t think it’s fair for anyone to have to share a room with her. You’ve handled it well.”

I was taken aback. In living with Jane, I really found my voice to ask for what I needed or wanted, and I stretched my ability to be flexible and go with the flow in other ways. I was convinced I could live with anyone and make it work.

But, I also knew that for Jane, having her own space was probably a healthy thing, and I thought it might be nice to have a room I actually felt OK spending time in every now and again. So, I started the long-standing pattern that would follow of moving places and living with someone new.

To this day, I can see how ridiculous some of mine and Jane’s interactions were, but still, when I look back, I didn’t hate living with her. I learned about myself. I learned about her. And I learned how to make it work.

I still think that’s a valuable roommate lesson.

Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2016 | Author:


Roommate Series Episode 1: Jason (Roommate from 1989-1992, Ages 0-3)

I was two years old when I got my first watch. The youngest of three, I’d been fascinated by watches for a long time as my parents, and then my older siblings had gotten theirs in their own time.

I don’t remember asking for one (though I probably did), or specifically wanting to own one, but one of my earliest memories is of how incredibly excited I was when I first got my very own watch.

Grandma Gentry had come down from Oregon on a visit and she’d brought me what must have been a flea market/garage sale/dollar tree watch. (She was always good at finding nicknack gifts for us for no reason at a bargain so as to be able to afford to give us stuff whenever she saw us. Gifts are one of my love languages, so this always went over really well with me.)

It was plastic, and bright orange, but the band was kind of see-through.

At the time, I still shared a room with my older brother, my first roommate. He had a bed on the side wall of the room, and my crib sat along the end wall, so our heads were near each other when we slept.

It was nap time when the drama occurred. Both my five-year-old brother and I were in the room, supposed to be napping, but I was so distracted, so excited about the watch that I couldn’t settle down.

I wasn’t wearing it, just holding it up, looking at it in awe. My very own watch. It had buttons on the side and everything. I wouldn’t stop talking about it — or probably talking in general, since I was so wound up — and I may or may not have been kind of shoving it in my brothers face that I had such a cool gift from Grandma.

Insistent that we were going to get into trouble, he demanded that I give him the watch so I would lay down and go to sleep.

I said no.

But I had no reason to distrust him, so a few minutes later when it seemed like his jealousy and admiration for my fine orange digital watch had won him over, he asked if he could just see the watch for a moment, to check it out.

I was all about showing off my new bling, so I reached through the bars on my crib over to his outstretched hand and handed it over.

I’m not sure how the following events unfolded, and I trust his intent was not malicious, but in a moment, my watch was broken. One half of the band had suddenly come unconnected from the face. My watch was destroyed forever.

Panicking, Jason swore he could fix it, but as it became clear that he couldn’t, my cries rose louder and louder.

Soon, a parent was in the room scolding and I tattled loudly through my tears: “Jassooonnn. *Gasp* BROKE *Gulp.* My NEEWW WAAATCHHHH.”

I was inconsolable. My first great grief in life. I had been given the most wonderful gift ever and within the day, it was snatched away from me.

Soon, Jason was allowed to get up and leave the room, and I was left alone to cry in the dark about it. I was determined to not be done easily with my sadness. I screamed and cried and cried — which was not at all normal for me. And eventually, I started to feel sick, which made me cry harder.

Finally I remember my Grandma coming into the room, and through sobs I told her, “Grandmaaaa. I feel like I’m going to throw up.”

“I’m sorry honey. But sometimes that happens when you cry too hard. If you keep crying, you might actually throw up. I’ll get you a bowl in case you do get sick. But you can’t come out until you’re done crying.”

I tried to tell her I was crying because Jason broke my watch and that it wasn’t fair.

She said she was sorry he broke the watch, but sometimes when you share with people (which you should do), accidents happen and stuff breaks.

“He should have to buy me a new watch. The same exact one.”

She said the store was in Oregon, and that he couldn’t get to it.

Then you could buy me a new one?” I begged and manipulated (or tried to).

She said sternly that I didn’t sound very grateful. And that for sure after I handled the accident so poorly she wasn’t inclined to get me a new one.

I cried more for a little while, but when I was done and I had “adjusted my attitude,” I was allowed to come out and enjoy the rest of Grandma’s visit without incident.

Even at that young age, I wasn’t really mad at Jason, because I trusted that he was a good big brother, a good person to share a room with, and that he probably would never break my stuff intentionally.

And I wasn’t mad at my Grandma for not demanding that Jason buy me a new one, or for promising to buy me a new one herself.

I was just mad and sad at the situation — because it was the first time I remember really learning the lesson that sometimes, life’s not fair. And that we have to adjust our attitude and move on.

My Grandma’s wisdom about the fact that when we share things, sometimes they break — that has served me well in my expectations ever since. With family, with friends, and especially with roommates.

I’ve learned that when you share life, sometimes life gets messy.

And as long as you adjust your attitude, and adjust your expectations, messy is OK.

*This is the first installment of a series chronicling tales and lessons from most of my roommates I’ve had throughout my life (of which there have been many). Check back for more stories next week.*

Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon

Tuesday, March 08th, 2016 | Author:

Sunday March 7, 2004

The next morning our family friend drove Jason and I and her two daughters (my friends) back to the hospital early in the morning. It was a Sunday and we arrived just in time to say goodbye to Julie before her heart monitor beeps went to a flat line.

I held her stiff bloated hand one last time. I kissed her bloated, ashen face one last time, telling myself it really was her face — the fiery, stubborn, life-filled face I knew.

And then we all looked at each other and I went around the room, hugging everyone in turn. Some of our pastors were there with us, but the other pastors were all at church as it was a Sunday morning. Within the hour, they’d be announcing that Julie O’Hanlon Karabats had passed away unexpectedly. I’m told that people would gasp and cry, and whisper things about her being too young. And they would be right. She’d turned 21 three days before.

My mom and dad and Julie’s husband stayed in the room with her body while I went out into the hallways. I and my friends, the girls who’d come with us that morning, walked through the halls of the sterile hospital singing church songs and holding hands like the church-raised children we were.


We leave the hospital and the sun infuriates me. What is it thinking, shining so brightly, so cheery and warm? If the skies rained, it would make our grief poetic.

We get home and I go down the hall to my bedroom that I’ve shared with Julie until she moved out three years before. The walls still have the paint and wall paper that’s been on them since before I was born. I still have the bunk beds in there. The whole house seems foreign, wrong, like we’re trespassing.

As I go to my room, I pass the door to my parents’ bedroom. It’s open and I see my dad balled up on the bed, in the fetal position, crying, weeping, saying through gargled breaths, “Her birthday cake is still on the counter… her birthday cake…”

It’s the first time I’ve seen my dad cry.

Eventually, after crying in my room that I’d shared with her for so long, I go to the kitchen, and I see he’s right. There it is. Birthday cake with light blue candles, on the counter partly eaten, covered in plastic wrap. We’d celebrated her birthday that past Wednesday night when she was in town for church worship band practice. That was the last time I’d seen her alive and well.

And it’s too much, so I go outside and climb our old climbing tree — a mulberry tree whose bark has been worn smooth in each place we’d step on our way up it’s large trunk. All three of us siblings had been climbing it since we could walk. I climb higher than normal, as high as I can, until I feel alone, and high, and far away. And I look down on those worn, smooth patches of bark and I see my childhood — hours of climbing trees and building forts and swinging, and jumping out of trees, and jumping off of swings, and picking blackberries from those bushes just over there — and I yell as loud as I can.

That’s the last of it, I know. My childhood is over. “I will remember this as the day I grew up,” I say softly to myself through a tightening throat as tears fall on the tree branch beneath me. I know I’m being dramatic. Trying to bring some poetry to my pain. But it’s the only thing I can say. It’s the only thought I can formulate. And it feels true at the time.

12 years later, it still feels true.


Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon

Tuesday, March 01st, 2016 | Author:

When I was a probably four or five years old, I really wanted a horse. I’d been praying for one for a long time. Our next door neighbors had a pasture with horses in it. Our next door neighbors on the other side often had horses in their pasture. And while we didn’t have a pasture of our own, we had a sizable yard, and I thought a horse would really complete my already pretty good life.

My parents had told me that we couldn’t afford a horse, unfortunately. But I also was always taught about miracles and bible stories and I figured praying for a horse was the best way to possibly get one.

Then one day, my dad and I were home together for the afternoon while my mom was out with my other siblings. It was my nap time, and my dad decided to take a nap during that time as well. I woke up mid-nap because I was thirsty so I decided to go get a drink of water.

When I went into the kitchen, I looked out our big bay window in the dining room and in our backyard, under our big climbing tree, I saw a horse. I was so excited I immediately ran into my dad’s room and woke him up.

“Dad! Dad!” I shook him awake. “There’s a horse in our back yard! I’ve been praying for a horse and now my horse is here!”

He asked me if I was sure. So I ran back to the kitchen, and double checked. There he was, brown and mighty in all his splendor. My long awaited horse. I ran back.

“Yes! There’s a horse! It’s not a cow, I double checked,” I told my dad.

I was ecstatic. Prayer worked. Miracles happened. Life was good. And I had a horse.

My dad got up, still not believing the word of his ever-wishful toddler, until he too looked out the window and saw that there was a horse reaching up and eating leaves from our mulberry tree, just as I’d said.

“There’s a horse in our back yard!” he said, smirking at me. He told me to get my shoes on and we’d go out and investigate.

It was the first time that the harsh realities of life broke in and broke down my childhood whimsical belief that anything was possible — God didn’t just manifest this horse in our backyard to answer my prayers, my dad tried to explain to me. The horse, he said, belonged to someone else, and we had to try to find out who was missing their horse. It wasn’t ours.

“But what if we can’t find any owner and it really is an answer to my prayers??” I pleaded. He explained that if that was the case, unfortunately, we still couldn’t keep it. Apparently the cost of buying the horse was not the main cost we couldn’t afford — it was having a horse that we also couldn’t afford. (Information I would have addressed in my prayers prior if I had been privy to it.)

My dad spray painted a very red-neck looking sign on a sheet of plywood: “Horse Found.” We propped it up against our mail box pole so that anyone passing by could see it. Soon, a neighbor from down the street came and claimed his horse. His fence was broken and she’d wandered away.

My answer to prayer was led home to the her rightful place four houses down. And I learned that sometimes, even when you get exactly what you’ve prayed for, it isn’t actually an answer to prayer.

Ten years later, when my sister was in the hospital, in a coma, I was terrified to pray for her to live, because I was afraid that if I did pray for that, and she still died, my faith in God would be irreparably shaken.

Instead, I prayed like a politician: “May your will be done,” is all that I could bring myself to pray. And then Julie died. She turned 21 three days before, and then she died.

That prayer caused more turmoil in my faith and my theology than I think praying for her to live would have, because for years after I was left wondering if God had answered my prayer — if it was actually his will for her to die.

It’s been 12 years since then, and my prayers look very different now. They’re not often requests, and they’re not often political pleas. They’re just conversations. They’re just me talking to someone who’s been there with me through it all. I don’t bullshit God anymore and try to dance around things that I want or things that I want to pretend he doesn’t know. I just talk to him. Because at this point, I’m not sure that he answers prayers in the ways that I used to think he might. I haven’t prayed for a horse since I found one in my backyard and learned that it still wasn’t mine. I also haven’t hidden what I want in vague, maybe manipulative pleas, pegging my desires on God’s will. If I want someone to live, I say it, like I would to a friend.

In some ways, I think my faith in God has gotten smaller, but not less magnificent. Smaller like when a crowd gets smaller. It’s become more personal, and less majestic. He’s less the genie granter and more the father that I share my confusion and frustration with because I thought the horse could be mine. I thought my sister could live. I thought that life was good. He’s the one that I cry with because of these disappointments and tragedies. And for me, that’s enough. I don’t need a God who grants wishes. I just need a God who lets me know I’m not alone, and that he hears me.

Whether he answers or not, I think he hears me. And that’s enough.

Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon

Tuesday, January 19th, 2016 | Author:

I’d just told my uncle that I wanted to move.

I was living in an area that I’d only moved to for two reasons.

The first was that I wanted to move out of my hometown. I’d spent enough time there as an adult, and enough time there after some major life changes to feel ready to leave without feeling like I was running away. I felt released from the place that I had once loved, and I was looking for a new place to begin the long rebuilding process.

The second reason I’d moved to this small suburban city was that I was offered a job there, one which I happily took.

“I know you might know this, but I want to iterate that you haven’t really been here that long,” my uncle began. He has a good way with words, and it’s always been clear to me that he cares for my best interest.

“You know, we moved around a lot when the kids were younger, and what we found was that it takes at least a year to really assimilate into a new town. And you’ve only been here a little longer than that.”

He was right. I knew that I could probably assimilate more there if I stayed longer. But that’s not what I wanted.

“I know,” I said, “It’s just that I don’t know that this is the place that I want to settle into.”

“OK,” he said, relenting, “that’s fair.”

What I’d started to see in the people around me there — at work, at my apartment complex, and at the church I was attending — was that a lot of people end up somewhere forever just because they never had any instigating event that made them move. (And not because they had lack of resources or potential opportunity.) As I started to be aware of it, I realized that for a lot, if not most people, the same was true for many of their relationships, their careers, their family culture, and ultimately their whole life.

And I saw that I was on that path. It would be easy to let that happen in my life as well. My uncle was probably right — the longer I stayed there, the more involved and connected I would’ve become. The more complacent I would’ve been with my life. And truly, I think for many people, that’s how their lives play out and they are really content with it. Which is great.

But I knew, for my own happiness, I needed more than that.  And I had the means and the will to make it happen.

I didn’t want to end up in Rocklin, California 30 years from now simply because I never happened to move. If I was to stay there, I wanted it to be because I wanted to be there. But that was the thing — I didn’t want to be there. I didn’t not want to be there either. Which is why I stayed as long as I did. I was traveling. Wandering. Looking for somewhere else I wanted to be. Lingering while figuring out that this was not where I wanted my forever home to be.

And when I was still not sure of where I wanted to live, I had finally come to know that that suburban city was not it. Which meant, for me, that while it would be comfortable and easy to stay, it was time to do the hard work and the leap of faith of moving forward, elsewhere.

I’m not sure why place has always been such a big deal to me, but I’ve always felt very strongly about where I decide to live. I feel like I could live anywhere for a time. But to make any sort of commitment to living somewhere — I have to choose it.

If it hadn’t of been for this conviction in me about places, I don’t know that I would’ve moved on when I did. I may never have. It’s easy to stay where you’ve got your life set up. It’s easy to stay where it’s comfortable and safe. Where it’s familiar. Even if it’s not really somewhere you’ve ever really chosen to be — just somewhere you’ve ended up.

Since that conversation, and that decision to move, I’ve made it a commitment in my life to make choices. To choose my own happiness and situations over what’s familiar and safe. To choose contentment over complacency.

I’ve spent a lot of my life envying the people who never move, who marry their high school sweethearts, who have 2.5 children and a dog and a cat, and who stay at the same job their whole lives. Not because that’s what I’ve really wanted, but because it seemed easier. And it seemed like they were happy enough.

A lot of them, I’m sure, are truly happy.

But I didn’t have a high school sweetheart. I’ve moved a lot. I don’t have any kids yet. And I’ve already switched careers once since college. And in all of those start-overs that take so much energy, I think I’ve learned that when in my desires to settle down, I’m no longer willing to settle. I learned that I have the capacity to happen to life. I don’t have to just let life happen to me.

I’m willing to give up what probably would’ve been good enough in exchange for what’s specifically great for me.

End Note: I know y’all are sick of reading about Wichita. But I’m really glad that I moved and found a town that’s great for me. I’m proud to call it home.

Disclaimer: I realize that it is a privilege to be able to choose some things like these about one’s life. The observations mentioned in this post were not of those who truly have no options for change of their place, career, or sometimes even relationships, which I know is a reality for many. The piece is about my own personal convictions about how I have been able to and have chosen to live my life here forward.

Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon