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Tuesday, February 02nd, 2016 | Author:

Now that it’s February and the New Year motivation is waining, let’s talk about goals! (If you don’t know, I love goals… check out my list of 27 goals to complete before I turn 27 in August HERE.)

wholesale insurance broker CA MGA

photo credit: Lomax Dashboard via photopin (license)

“I have a grand plan for life,” a date told me once.
“Oh?” I said. “And what is this grand plan?”
“To make millions and have a lake house,” he said simply.

“And…?” I asked, confused.
“And what?” he asked.
“And what is your plan to achieve that?” I asked.
“That’s the plan.”

The problem with his logic is the same problem many of us have that gets in ways of achieving what we want in life.

Our last business tips blog post dealt with 4 tips to creating effective goals as we begin a new year. This week, we have some tips for you to help you actually achieve those goals.

4 Tips for Achieving Your Goals This Year

1. Plans are different than goals. Goals are what you want to achieve, plans are how you get there. This man’s “grand plan” was actually a goal (and not a strong one that is probable to be achieved as he had no set parameters like when he wanted it accomplished by, where the lake house could be, etc.). First you need to define your goals, then the next step is to start figuring out your plan of action as to how you can achieve those goals.

2. Break your plan into parts. If your goal is to be able to do 3 pull-ups by your birthday (ridiculous, I know, but I’m seriously working on it), break it down. How will you achieve that goal? Probably not by focusing in hard on it the week before your birthday. In this instance your plan might include a several parts. It might involve choosing to buy one of those above the door apparatus’s that allows me to do pull-ups at home. It also probably involves joining a gym. And then, of course, it involves actually working on exercises that build the muscles needed for pull-ups.  And on and on. Your plan could be simple and be put into place right away, or it might involve several different aspects that will all work together to help you reach your end goal. But you won’t know which it is until you sit down and start to actually break out your parts of your plan.

3. Define the tasks that comprise your plan.  To keep on with the pull-up goal example, first you might look at your budget and schedule and think about workout options and gym locations. Next you might go with friends to several gyms to check out the facilities and see which ones have options that you like for working out the muscles needed for pull-ups. Next you’ll choose one and sign up for the gym. Then you have to work out consistently and measure your progress. You might even have to buy some strength bands to use for assistance in being able to do the full motion to help your body practice by actually doing (assisted) pull-ups. Every part of a plan is comprised of several tasks, and the most accomplishable plans are those with defined tasks.

Evaluate your status several times throughout the year. How many times have we set up goals for ourselves for a year, only to then in November revisit that list and see that we’ve completely forgotten to attend to some of them throughout the year? Many times. That’s how many. Keep your goals visible, go back to them often, and keep track of your progress evaluating whether you need to put other plans in place, change course, or change goals altogether. It’s ok if midyear you decide that a goal you’d made in January is not longer as important or viable in August and you want to change. But do it as a conscious decision, not just decided by the fates because you forgot about it in the midst of the everyday hustle.

What are some of your goals for the year?  Share with me in the comments!

This article was originally featured on Abram Interstate’s blog. If you are an insurance agent or a small business owner, check out the weekly business tips blog posted there every Thursday.


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        storyofjoblog@gmail.com

Tuesday, November 04th, 2014 | Author:

Here’s a throwback from the archives! Story takes place October 2012. First published in the Enterprise Record.

It was a Friday afternoon and my friend Stephanie and I were shopping in The Salvation Army, looking for fun and funky dresses for a photo project. As it goes in second-hand shopping, our options were slim (and by slim, I don’t mean there weren’t a plethora of plus-sized options, because believe me, there were).  But, two wedding dresses caught our eye. I picked the more modern, princess-esque one, and Stephanie picked up the Laura-Ingles-got-married-in-this-exact-dress-on-the-prairie one, just for kicks and giggles.

It turned out that there wasn’t a dressing room. There was, however, a few full-length mirrors for sale in the back of the store, so we proceeded to do something that should be embarrassing, but because it was in Oroville, wasn’t even given a judgmental glance: We began trying on dresses over our clothes for all to see.

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We were having fun trying on the ridiculous get-ups, and laughing at each new choice. People walking by noticed us, but didn’t give us a second thought until it came to trying on my full-skirted, strapless bridal gown with a hot-pink corset.

“Oh my gooooodness.” A woman at the costume rack 15 feet away was gawking at me. “That looks so amazing on you!” she said boldly.

“Me? Oh, um. Yeah, thanks,” I offered kindly, a little taken-aback.

“Are you getting married? You must be. Oh, you need to get that dress, you’re so pretty in it, isn’t she pretty in it?” she asked, bringing her under-20-year-old son into the conversation.

“You do look very pretty in that dress,” he said, tipping his cowboy hat up so I could see his face.

 

“Thank you,” I said again, trying to convey politeness, yet curtness. Apparently the curtness didn’t translate.

“So you are getting married?” the woman persisted.

Now, I don’t commonly lie except to strange men in foreign lands – to them I always have a large boyfriend who is meeting me at any moment. But for this woman, my split decision to try to end the conversation and continue the day with my friend led to the following lie slipping out: “Yeah,” I said, vaguely. Not so polite. Curt.

“Oh! When are you getting married?” Her excitement had gone up four notches.

“Dangit,” my mind said. “Probably next year,” my mouth said.

And then, it seemed the curtness worked, and she mumbled some sort of “That’s nice,” as she turned back to the costume rack. Stephanie and I continued our shopping, giving up on the dresses. But then, with no warning, the woman was there by my side again.

“Are you engaged?” she asked, putting her face almost down to my waist level to get a good look at my hand before I could hide it.

“Not yet,” I said. That was true. “But probably soon.” Lie.

“Oh good! I hope you get that dress,” she said. “You know you can save it in the closet. It’d be worth it!” Her son sauntered by us again, lingering awkwardly.

Finally he offered, “I really do fancy that dress.”

“Thank you,” I said, still genuinely, still politely, still curtly. Again, Stephanie and I went on with our trip, stopping by the book section quickly.

But before we made it to the check-out line, the woman approached us once more. Before she even spoke, my desire to be honest or kind were battling it out.

“Just real quick before you go,” she begins, “so, you do have a boyfriend then?”

“Yeah,” I sighed.

“Oh, darn,” she breathed dejectedly, yet still fishing, “because my son over there, he really thinks you’re pretty.”

“Oh,” I said, “well, thanks. But yeah, I’ve got a boyfriend.”

It was one of those moments where I felt like this white lie was more polite than the true, “There’s no way I’m going out with a boy whose mother asked me out after they saw me in a wedding dress in a thrift store, and I lied to them saying I was taken, but thanks anyway.”

As we left though, I decided maybe being honest and semi-rude from the start was better than being dishonest and semi-polite. That’s why when I ran into the same mother-son duo at Walmart three days later, I looked him in the eye and blatantly turned around and walked away.

 

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

storyofjoblog@gmail.com
Monday, February 17th, 2014 | Author:

B&W

A Tale of Two Strippers: Horse Trainer and Ministry Leader (PART II)

by Joanna O’Hanlon

Originally Published in the Point Weekly in Spring 2011

Part II:

“And there’s a lady over there she’s acting pretty cool. But when it comes to playing life she’s always playin’ the fool.”

As Scher began dancing here years ago, she too was constantly on her game.  For the first six months of dancing, she never drank on the job. But there came one night where she decided to have a drink.  She felt like she was looser, more comfortable, and more enjoyable to the customers when she had alcohol in her system.  Soon her whole group of friends had changed, and drugs and alcohol became more regular parts of her life.  She heard about the money that could be made in Las Vegas, and began working there every other week, while her ex-husband had his week with their son. Then Scher’s fellow Vegas dancers mentioned how much money escorts could make.

She was still convinced she needed more money, even though she was making more than she ever had before, so she began escorting as well.  As her income grew, so did her spending, her depression, and her drug use. Some of the clients she saw were powerful and famous, some were just low and lonely.

Contrary to popular belief, Scher says that most of what she was expected or asked to do as an escort wasn’t sex.  Still, her whole experience in the sex-industry was a game of justification.  After all, she started out with good intentions, just trying to earn a living. And her drug use was just to get her through her shifts and calls. Looking back though, Scher now estimates that she spent her last two years in the industry perpetually high.

As an escort she found herself in dangerous situations numerous times.  She would get a call in the middle of the night and be given an address. She never knew exactly what she was walking into.  At one of her calls when she was still employing a body guard, she was greeted by a man who looked truly insane.  Scher’s instincts told her to run, but before she could get to the door, he locked her in. She screamed and her body guard was able to get in and help her escape.

Another time Scher had to run out on a call so fast she left her shoes behind. At some point she substituted a body guard for a taser to cut down on costs. Looking back, Scher can’t believe how many dangerous positions she put herself into, all in the pursuit of money.

This kind of danger of violence isn’t abnormal for this industry. In 1978 the now well-known local ordinance was created by the city of San Diego which added a few regulations—most notably, the rule that an adult entertainer must be six feet away from costumers while performing – in an attempt to reduce “crime in and around adult entertainment businesses.”

However, a study in the Journal of Sex Research from 2006 found that the areas in the immediate vicinity of three San Diego Sexually Oriented Businesses had crime rates that were more than twice as much as in the surrounding community. A Yelp user who goes by MaryJane C left a review in early February claiming that the bouncer had physically assaulted her as she was leaving from her shift at the Pure Platinum Club in Little Italy. She writes about being wrestled to the ground and then being kneed in the face and thrown outside.

Even now, in the back of the club, near the dark velvet bar stools with STAR WARS embroidered in the back, stands the manager, checking out the bruise on a dancer’s upper buttocks. She’s telling him it hurts.  And she’s not the only girl here with bruises sprinkled over her body. Maybe they’re from climbing the pole.  Maybe they’re not.

“London boys are staring as the girls go hand in hand. With a pocket full of innocence, their entrance is grand.”

Rose comes over and sits on the arm of my dark purple chair. “What’re you writing down?” she asks. I mumble something about it being general notes about the people in the room, the music playing, and other insignificant details. I’m just trying to avoid explaining any potentially uncomfortable descriptions I have jotted down.

“So what details are you writing specifically? I’m never sure how much I should put in my writing,” she says.  Rose goes on to share that she’s been working on her writing craft in her spare time, and has a writer she’s acquaintances with who is helping to encourage her and refine her writing abilities.

I rest my arm on her bare thigh as she goes on, and it’s as if a mask has been lifted off her whole countenance.  She’s coming alive talking about how, a few years ago, she discovered a love for horse training. More recently she has uncovered a love for photography, and she’s currently starting a business that incorporates her horse training, horse photography, and writing about horses and horse racing.

This new business is the reason she’s moved back down to San Diego on a more permanent basis.  “I am only going to be here as long as it takes for me to get enough money to just do my business,” she says. “I just can’t let it get out that I’m here, because I have a lot of people in my life, especially with this new business with the horses, and they just can’t know this part of me. They just can’t.”

Rose gets a big, completely non-sensual smile on, different than the one she’s been wearing all night.  “And you want to know what’s funny?” she says. “A lot of the tips and techniques I’ve learned about how to handle horses, they work with the guys in here too. I know how to tame them.  It’s F-ing crazy how well it works!”

For Theresa Scher, this path through the sex-industry went strictly downhill as far as her personal and emotional health were concerned. One night, as she sat in a Los Angeles hotel room waiting for a call from a client, her dad called. He asked, sadly, “What are you doing to yourself?” And that was the phone call that broke this call-girl’s spirit. She knew she couldn’t do this anymore. It wasn’t a clean break from the industry, but that phone call set determination in motion in Scher’s life to leave this industry behind.

Within a year of making her break from her previous employment, Scher saw a CNN report about a church ministry for strippers.  So she started a branch in San Diego. It seems more fortuitous than ironic that Scher still goes to strip clubs. But instead of making a profit, she and the other women in the ministry go in to give gifts to the dancers, to show them love and care, and to let them know that they’ll be there if they ever need anything.

A part of the JC’s Girls ministry is a bible study that meets once every other week, and the women involved almost all come from backgrounds in the industry. For these women, everything is not perfect now that they’re out of the industry, and now that they know Jesus.  Many of them still deal with depression, low self-esteem, and the temptation to run back to the industry that hurt them. But like the father welcomes the prodigal son, the clubs are almost always willing to accept dancers back at a moment’s notice. This makes the temptations to return much more prominent for women who have somehow gotten out. Though they are out, the consequences of this lifestyle unfortunately still run deep. But together they hold one another up in prayer, love, encouragement, and accountability.

Most, if not all women enter this industry because of financial need. But it’s rare that they foresee the long-term effects this job could have on the rest of their lives. But JC’s Girls exists to help women who have to deal with the consequences of this career, and they want to offer the hope of Christ’s healing grace.

Honey, the dancer who just started this week, says she wants to do this forever.

Rose has been doing it for ten years, and she’s looking forward to the day she can call it quits. She’s sitting in one of the two lounge chairs in the bathroom. Her leg is crossed square over the other, her stilettos are off, her eyes are closed and her head is tilted back, resting on the chair. She’s not smiling—she’s just sucking on a heart-shaped sucker, slumped down in the chair taking a minute to break from her act.  It’s now almost 1:00 a.m. She still has an hour left on her shift, and there’s a group of nine guys that just walked into the club.

“I want you to want me. I need you to need me. I’d love you to love me. I’m beggin’ you to beg me.

Rose is back on the stage, dancing, looking sexy as hell: shoes back on, smile back on, bra coming off. The man sitting at the tip rail at the side of the stage is gawking at her while his pals laugh and call out from behind him. His eyes only move between her crotch and her breasts as he lays down dollar bills one by one on the rail like he’s laying bait for his prey. His eyes are glazed and his mouth is open. He’s mesmerized by her movements. And he doesn’t have a clue that Rose is treating him as a trainer treats an unruly horse.

Joanna O’Hanlon is an adventurer and story-teller. 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

storyofjoblog@gmail.com

Friday, February 14th, 2014 | Author:

A Horse Trainer and A Ministry Leader: A Tale of Two Strippers

By Joanna O’Hanlon

From the archives: Originally Published in the Point Weekly, in Spring, 2011.

Part 1:

The air is thick. The music is blaring. The lyrics are suggestive.

“Oh you look so sweet. What, you work in Paris? Look at your physique. Girl you are a beauty. Well I am a beast. They must have been trippin’ to let me off the leash.”

Jazelle comes onto the stage wearing a black bra, a black thong atop a pink one and a pink see-through teddy. The hues of pinks don’t match.

It’s just before midnight on Valentine’s Day at Pure Platinum, “San Diego’s Premier Gentlemen’s Club,” and there are fewer than 20 cars in the parking lot. The front of the establishment is a seeming mesh of holidays — the palm trees and the awning of the building boast white and blue icicle lights, and arrangements of red and white Valentine balloons decorate the sides of the double door entrance.

Inside, several couples (Valentine’s Day is the biggest night for couples to come in together) and a few other men are milling about, going in between the stage and table area and the connected hookah lounge, carrying the scent of the flavored smoke in with them each time they re-enter.

Establishments such as this are known as gentlemen’s clubs or strip clubs. The women inside call themselves dancers, but the “gentlemen” more often call them strippers.

A dark-haired beauty walks over to a table of customers who have just arrived. Rose (not her real name) is wearing black lingerie with a small pink lace accent over her panties, and she smiles warmly as she walks toward them. Her smile does not look pasted on, nor does it look loose from too much drink. If her smile says anything about her, it says she knows what she’s doing.

She’s the most professional and most experienced of all the dancers working here tonight. She’s not here for fun — she’s here to make enough money to live.

After she’s done talking, though, as she walks away from the table, her smile slips, and her eyes glaze a little. It’s only for a second before she makes eye contact with another group and smiles, heading their way. But it’s enough to tell — Rose wants to get out of here.

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Twelve years ago there was another dancer here, a young girl named Theresa Scher, who wanted this to be strictly a job.

“You know how, in movies, everyone looks so happy and like they’re having a great time, like it’s a big party at every strip club?” said Scher. “It’s not like that in real life. It’s a lot of blank stares and glazed eyes. In real life, there’s a lot of sadness and desperation.”

Scher is now the founder and leader of a ministry at The Rock Church called JC’s Girls, which reaches out to women in the adult entertainment industry. But when she was in the industry, it was that sadness and desperation that paralyzed her life.

When her marriage ended, leaving her a son to provide for and bills she couldn’t pay, dancing became her best option.

She was 22 when she first started at the Kearny Mesa club, and she saw it as the ideal job. She could be with her son during the day, and afford to hire a babysitter while she worked at night. Soon she was making as much money in one night as she would have made in a week at her old job at Qualcomm stadium.

The DJ in the corner booms with a radio-announcer voice: “Up next we have a treat for you. She’s feisty, she’s lovely, sheee’s Honnnney.”

Honey just started dancing this week.  She comes onto the stage with more energy than anyone in the joint, and proceeds to jump around and to swing from the overhead ring like a kid on the monkey bars. The only thing that suggests she is of age is the strong smell of alcohol on her breath.

“She take my money, well I’m in need. Yeah she’s a triflin’ friend indeed. Oh she’s a gold digger way over time that digs on me.”

Rose struts through the table section, laughing at the men’s jokes, and complimenting their girlfriends and wives on their taste in men. She’s the only woman in the club who is getting more tips than the obligatory dollar after each dance. And she’s earning every last bill.

Like Scher, Rose only got into this business because of her need to support her child after her husband divorced her. She began working in the industry in 2001 and ended up working most of her time in San Francisco’s financial district.

Successful businessmen on their lunch hours became the suppliers of her income. On a good daIMG_3816y, Rose would earn $900 to $2,300 while working a midday shift.

The state of the economy over the past three years has caused more women than usual to start dancing and posing for sex industry venues, but it has also caused a major loss in revenue all over the nation.

Though she is from San Diego, Rose only started dancing here last month, and she can already tell the San Diego scene isn’t going to cut it financially.

“On a good night here, girls make $200,” she said, trying to be heard over the loud lyrics (I ain’t sayin’ she’s a gold digger…). “That’s crap. But they think it’s gold.”

Rose is trying to establish a life in San Diego again, but when she looked practically at her bills, and at the expenses of the business she’s trying to start, she realized she’ll have to work in San Francisco one week every month in order to get by.

Honey comes off the stage and approaches a table. She’s so drunk she’s zig-zagging in her nine-inch stilettos. She seems like she’s just won the lottery.

“It’s amazing that this is my work!” she said, her words slurring together. “I just got outta the Marines and I didn’t know what I was gonna do, and then I found this, and it’s amazing. One night last week I made $200 on my shift. Two. Hundred. Dollars. It’s amazing.”

Unlike Honey and several other dancers, Rose doesn’t want alcohol to affect the amount of money she’s earning. It’s a fine line to walk, because favor is earned when the dancers drink with customers. When a dancer is drunk, she might be looser, but she doesn’t dance as well. She might enjoy herself more, but if she’s having too much fun, she can lose focus.

Rose recognized these trends early on in her life as a dancer, so she established a two-drink rule for herself. Now, if men want to buy her drinks when she has already had two drinks on that particular shift, she uses a code with the bartender: “With a cherry on top” means no alcohol. As the men drink more, they’re more likely to tip, and as Rose has her secretly virgin drinks, she doesn’t forfeit her sole reason for being there — to make enough money to be able to quit and do the job she really loves — working with horses.

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These are a few of the Sexually Oriented Businesses that exist in the Point Loma Area

*Look for Part Two on Monday, Feb 17.


Joanna O’Hanlon is an adventurer and story-teller. 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

storyofjoblog@gmail.com

Thursday, December 26th, 2013 | Author:

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North State Voices: The year I showed up (again and again)

By Joanna O’Hanlon

Posted:   12/25/2013 09:45:39 PM PST

I was sitting in an apartment that is no longer mine, in a town that I no longer live in, on a couch that I no longer own. It was the end of 2012, and I was writing a letter to the new year.

“Dear 2013,” I began, full of hope for the new year and some phony, feel-good, end-of-the-year reflections. I asked hypothetical questions that sounded good at the time: “What will you bring me this year? Will you bring the best or the worst of times? Will you shatter my world in a moment? Or will you bring the beginning of new things?”

I didn’t know then that in two days’ time, I would collapse in a mess of anxiety, grief and dry-heaving behind that same couch. I didn’t know that my smile would disappear for months. I didn’t know that the hypothetical question about my world shattering would be exactly what this year would bring.

In the latter part of the letter, I made some commitments to 2013, promising what I would bring to the table in the new year. The first flippant promise I made, the one I thought least about before typing it onto the page was this: “I will bring all of me for 12 months, no less and no more. I will be present.”

What I meant was that I would smell the roses and wouldn’t be on my phone at the dinner table. Quickly, though, this promise began to be a theme on a very literal level.

The hardest thing I did this year was to continue to show up to places and spaces in which I didn’t want to be.

It has been a year of great loss. There were many, many days where I didn’t want to get out of bed because life seemed too heavy to handle. But I got up.

It has been a year of great pain — my own, and the pain I’ve caused and seen in others. There have been many rooms I did not want to walk into, phone calls I didn’t want to make, confrontations that I would rather avoid for eternity. I wanted to run away, but I walked into those rooms, I voiced the words that made my gut churn, I was physically present in the hardest of situations I’ve yet to know.

It has been a year of great change. I moved into a new community where I knew exactly one person. I finally got the courage to put in the effort to start over and get to know new people. I took enough deep breaths and talked myself into going to a group function at church, only to find out they were not there — they were having a barbecue at a park.

While a voice inside said, “Oh thank God, I can just go home,” my hands looked up directions to the park, and I went, looking for a large group of people I had never met. I found them eventually, and it was not comfortable. But I went back the next week, and the next, and the next.

It has been a year of growth: Spiritual, emotional, mental and physical. I was able to climb my first 14,000-foot mountain this year because I started to run several times a week. I have never “felt like running” in my life. But I put my shoes on, and put one step in front of the other until I was done with each run. And you know what? The more I run, the easier it gets.

These things only happened, though, because of one decision.

I told 2013 that I would give all of me for 12 months. I promised that I would show up. So I have. As a result, I have traveled farther in every atmosphere of my life than I have in any year prior.

It has been the hardest thing I have ever done. And I intend to do it again next year.

Dear 2014: I don’t know if I can offer much, but I’ll bring all of me for 12 months, no more, no less. I promise to show up.

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Joanna O’Hanlon is an adventurer and story-teller. 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

storyofjoblog@gmail.com

*You can read the original “Dear 2013” letter here

Thursday, November 28th, 2013 | Author:

North State Voices: Thirst and Thanksgiving

By JOANNA O’HANLON

POSTED: 11/28/2013 01:29:43 AM PST

It is June 2007, and my legs are sweating under my long skirt, courtesy of the hot African sun.

It is the wet season in Malawi, but the grass is dry. There have been three droughts here in the past 10 years.

Her name is Monica, and she looks at my 17-year-old face as a Malawian man translates her words into broken English. She has led me so we could gather water.

Before us is a small pool of gray water, no more than 6 feet across. A young girl is squatting in the inches of water at the edge of the shallow pool, washing her garments. Cattle are crossing the small feeding stream up ahead. One cow pees as it tramples slowly across the water, its feet churning the mud.

And we dip our containers into the shallow water to fill them.

Malawi water 2

The man translating tells me not to drink any of this. That there is clean water for me back at my team’s vehicle. That it will make me very sick. So I have to ask: “Does it make you sick?”

He says it does, but it’s OK. They live with it. It’s only the young and the old that they worry about.

Monica asks what we are saying. When told, she responds, telling me, yes, do not drink the water. “Many in our village have died from it,” she says. And now she’s saying something as she points over to a clump of trees. Her voice seems urgent, or pained maybe, but I can’t be sure.

“She says, ‘Under the trees, that’s where we bury the ones who die from the water.'” The man explains. “‘That’s where my children are,’ she says.”

The man goes on to tell me that the freshly dug ground in front of the trees is the new expansion of the cemetery. They’ve run out of room in the trees.

Monica says they are grateful for the water they have, because in the dry season, sometimes it dries up altogether and they have to travel several more miles to find another scarce source.

Later, we walk a narrow red dirt path back to the other Americans with whom I’ve been traveling. I have my arm around Monica’s shoulder. Her arm is around mine. My other hand holds my Nalgene bottle of clean water. The whole day, no one ever asked for a drink. And as we pass by that plot of trees Monica pointed to earlier, there are people gathered. They are burying a boy in the newly tilled red dirt in front of those trees.

Jo and Monica 1

*     *     *     *     *

It is July 2011, and I am in Haiti. The dirt here is red, too. I am standing near a cistern and I can see the larva of insects floating on the top of the water gathered there.

haiti water filterNext to me is a woman named Modlin. The look on her face is half excitement and half concentration. We’re watching as a man explains to the pastor of Modlin’s church how to use and clean a water filter that hooks onto a 5-gallon bucket. Modlin has several technical questions. She will be the appointed caretaker of the filter for their community until they get more than one.

Now she asks another question, disbelieving what she thought she just heard: “No more cholera?”

The answer is affirmative: The filter is able to eliminate the cholera contaminants. As I look back to Modlin, her face is lit with joy and hope and she’s dancing now … she’s singing hallelujah. No, not singing, she is shouting hallelujah and dancing. She’s dancing and singing and praising God for clean water.

*     *     *     *     *

It is 2013. I am sitting in an office writing this, drinking hot tea. For six years now, each time I refill my glass, I thank God for clean water, a life-changing gift that not all have.

I think that’s the “giving” part of Thanksgiving. I’ve given thanks, and it’s changed my heart. When I am most thankful for what I have, it makes me want to share the blessings with others, too.

Even if the blessing is just a drink of clean water. It can still save lives. It can still inspire songs of “hallelujah.” I’d like to have a thankful heart that joins that song.

Joanna O’Hanlon is an adventurer and story-teller. 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

storyofjoblog@gmail.com

Thursday, October 31st, 2013 | Author:

North State Voices: Walking the Tight Rope of Polite Lies

It was Friday afternoon in October and my friend Stephanie and I were shopping in the Salvation Army, looking for fun and funky outfits.

As it goes in second-hand shopping, our options were slim. But, two wedding dresses caught our eye.

I picked the more modern, princess-style one, and Stephanie picked up the Laura-Ingalls-got-married-in-this-exact-dress-on-the-prairie one, just for kicks and giggles.

There wasn’t a dressing room. There were, however, a few full-length mirrors for sale in the back of the store. So, we proceeded to do something that should be embarrassing, but because it was in Oroville, wasn’t even given a judgmental glance: We began trying on dresses over our clothes for all to see.

We were having fun trying on the ridiculous get-ups, and laughing at each new choice. People ignored us until it came to trying on my full-skirted, strapless bridal gown with a hot-pink corset.

“Oh my gooooodness.” A woman at the costume rack 15 feet away was gawking at me. “That looks so amazing on you!” she said boldly.

“Me? Oh, um. Yeah, thanks,” I offered kindly, a little taken aback.

“Are you getting married? You must be. Oh, you need to get that dress, you’re so pretty in it, isn’t she pretty in it?” she asked, bringing her under-20-year-old son into the conversation.

“You do look very pretty in that dress,” he said, tipping his cowboy hat up so I could see his face.

“Thank you,” I said again, trying to be polite and curt. Apparently the curtness didn’t translate.

“So you are getting married?” the woman persisted.

Now, I don’t commonly lie except to strange men in foreign lands — to them I always have a large boyfriend who is meeting me at any moment. But for this woman, my split-second decision to try to end the conversation and continue the day with my friend led to the following lie slipping out: “Yeah,” I said, vaguely.

Not so polite. Curt.

“Oh! When are you getting married?” Her excitement had gone up four notches.

“Dangit,” my mind said. “Probably next year,” my mouth said.

And then, it seemed the curtness worked, and she mumbled some sort of “That’s nice,” as she turned back to the costume rack. Stephanie and I continued our shopping, giving up on the dresses. But then, with no warning, the woman was by my side again.

“Are you engaged?” she asked, putting her face almost down to my waist level to get a good look at my hand before I could hide it.

“Not yet,” I said. That was true. “But probably soon.” Lie.

Her son sauntered by us again, lingering awkwardly.

Finally he offered, “I really do fancy that dress.”

“Thank you,” I said, still genuinely, still curtly. Again, Stephanie and I went on with our trip.

Before we made it to the checkout line, the woman approached us once more. Before she even spoke, my desire to be honest or kind were battling it out.

“Just real quick before you go,” she begins, “so, you do have a boyfriend then?”

“Yeah,” I sighed.

“Oh, darn,” she breathed dejectedly, yet still fishing, “because my son over there, he really thinks you’re pretty.”

“Oh,” I said, “well, thanks. But yeah, I’ve got a boyfriend.”

It was one of those moments where I felt like this white lie was more polite than the true, “There’s no way I’m going out with a boy whose mother asked me out after they saw me in a wedding dress in a thrift store, and I lied to them saying I was taken, but thanks anyway.”

As we left though, I decided maybe being honest and semi-rude from the start was better than being dishonest and semi-polite. That’s why when I ran into the same mother-son duo at Walmart three days later, I looked him in the eye and blatantly turned around and walked away.

It just goes to show I’ve got some more living and learning to do.

Stephanie Wedding dressjo wedding dress

Joanna O’Hanlon is an adventurer and story-teller. 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

storyofjoblog@gmail.com

Thursday, October 03rd, 2013 | Author:

North State Voices: A grandmother’s legacy of love and life
by Joanna O’Hanlon

She didn’t want my sister’s grave to be alone.

She was nearing death — she had been nearing it for over a decade — and yet as she was thinking about her final resting place, she was thinking not of herself, but of her late granddaughter.

Because that’s who she was: My grandmother, Evelyn, was a woman who loved people, and loved life. She was feisty and gentle, and somehow, in her, they were not separate like oil and water, but blended like a smooth peach sorbet — both sweet and tart in the same bite.

In the story of her life, her plot-turns read like tragedy, but she breathed vitality. She was born into the Depression, the youngest child in her family. She was young when her brothers went to war. She saw the death of her son, siblings, granddaughter and husband. And ever since I was young, I’d been told “Grandma’s dying.”

She’d had serious health problems: illnesses, surgeries, on and off of oxygen tanks for her emphysema. It’s as if death had been trying to take her, and she kept saying “No.”

With her stubbornness against death, she chose to love life.

I remember shopping with her for hours, until her strength would give out. She loved a good sale and cute clothes.

I remember watching TV with her — her brushing my long hair, working gently through my tangles.

I remember going through the misty gardens on the Oregon Coast with her. We pushed her through in her wheelchair, but she loved to take her time to literally smell the roses and take in the beauty.

I remember when I was a little girl, when everyone in my family would give me a hard time for having to stop for “potty breaks” often on the nine-hour ride to her house, she’d just say to me, “It’s OK, Sweetie. You drink a lot, you go a lot.”

I remember eating dessert at her house — this woman is where I inherited my sweet teeth (because all my teeth are sweet). We’d have raspberry ice cream, peach ice cream, cobblers, cakes and candies. She’d say “just serve me a little bit” by which she meant a portion three times larger than normal people would have. Sometimes when life is sour, food is better sweet.

But in the end, her body was exhausted. She was still fighting to live, but it was clear, with the pain she was in, her body just couldn’t do it anymore. She’d had several close calls over the previous months but when we gave her our blessing, she decided that it was time. She took her last breath not even 24 hours later. Even Death seemed to have to take her on her terms.

It’s been a few years since she passed away now, and we finally scattered her ashes this past month. After being reassured that my sister’s grave would not be alone, she decided that she’d like her ashes to be scattered together with my grandfather’s.

“But I don’t want you to dump mine and then dump his,” she frankly told my mom. Her solution: She instructed my mom to put both her and my Grandpa Buzz’s ashes into a brown grocery bag, shake them up, and then scatter them. She wanted to truly be with him forever. And she was unashamed of the means of getting there.

When our family was together on the boat, after we’d laughed at her somewhat bossy and unconventional instructions, we said our goodbyes, each dropping a flower onto the water of the gray San Francisco Bay. The rain had subsided to a drizzle, and each of us with our wet jackets and wet eyes went for a round of hugs.

My mom, after their hug, looked down at my cousin’s pregnant belly and said through tears and rain that somewhere in storage was a blanket that Grandma had instructed my mom to give to the first great-grandchild.

She died in 2008, and she’s still taking care of the people she loves.

That was my grandma. With a life of heartbreak, a family with life-aches, her legacy is resilience. Life weighed its heavy hand on her, so she held it and walked on.

Evelyn and Buzz Gentry

Evelyn and Buzz Gentry

Joanna O’Hanlon is an adventurer and story-teller. 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

storyofjoblog@gmail.com

Thursday, September 05th, 2013 | Author:

North State Voices: Letter to the church: Stop singing louder
By Joanna O’Hanlon

wailing wall

An open letter to the Christian church:

I heard a story recently about a church in Europe during the Holocaust. The church was situated right in front of the railroad tracks. They would meet for Sunday services and the parishioners could hear screams as the trains chugged closer, approaching their house of worship. They were the screams of human beings being lugged like cattle to the camps — to their deaths.

So the congregation would sing louder to drown out their screams.

I heard this story at a conference tied to an outreach opportunity on a recent Saturday in the Tenderloin area of San Francisco — a place known for being home to many who are down and out. Local legend says the Tenderloin even gets its name from the corruption that pervaded the area back when the police’s blind eye to what was happening there could be bought with a choice piece of meat. Now it is “home” to most of the city’s homeless.

In the closing conference session, a local pastor and nationally acclaimed Christian author, Francis Chan, related the above story of the church on the railroad tracks.

He told the simple truth that once he saw the lives of the people living on and around the streets of the Tenderloin, he couldn’t handle the idea of just singing louder, so he stayed there and is doing something about it.

Unfortunately, much of the Christian church still has the habit of ignoring the injustice of the world. In fact, we often use religious things to excuse or make up for our complacency.

The problem in the church is our love of comfort. It drives us to choose to remain ignorant because it’s easier on our minds, our lives, our time, our wallets.

I’ve done it more than I can stomach. You may have, too.

But more than anyone, Christians are very clearly called to care about social injustice. The Jesus of the gospels was not one to ignore oppression. He called injustice out. He cared about the cast-outs, the dropouts, and the not-good-enoughs. If I know anything about the God of the Bible, it’s that he cares about people. All people. Deliberate ignorance has to stop.

Why do people dislike the church? Because when victims of injustice scream for help, we have historically stayed inside and drowned them out with our hypocritical melodies.

The next day after the conference in the Tenderloin, I was sitting in church in Granite Bay, and a pastor was speaking from the pulpit about an organization that fights against sex trafficking in Asia. He was saying, “They are pulling girls out of brothels and liberating them and rehabilitating them. But do you know how young some of these girls are when they are first trafficked? As young as 4 years old.”

As he said that last part, the woman sitting next to me closed her eyes tightly, made a foul face and plugged her ears. She waited until he was done talking before she tentatively opened one eye, saw that he was through, and then unplugged her ears, letting her face return to a relaxed smile.

Maybe, like Mrs. Bennett in “Pride and Prejudice,” the harsh truth was just too much for her nerves.

But maybe if she had listened, that vomit-inducing, heart-wrenching truth about 4-year-olds being sold and raped repeatedly would’ve been too much to ignore. Maybe she would’ve been disturbed as some of us were for the rest of the day. She would’ve thought about it that night as she tucked her daughter into bed. Maybe it would’ve been enough to spur her to do something about it.

But because she plugged her ears, when the next song was played, she just smiled, and she sang loudly.

To those who have been the victims of injustice while the people of God did nothing, my heart breaks for you, and so does the heart of God. There is no excuse. To those in the church, let’s write a new story of the church where we are willing to abandon comfort for the sake of people, because people matter to God, and they should matter to us.

Joanna O’Hanlon is an adventurer and story-teller. 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

storyofjoblog@gmail.com

Wednesday, August 07th, 2013 | Author:

birthday

North State Voices: Choosing to Celebrate
By Joanna O’Hanlon
Posted: 08/07/2013

Today is my 24th birthday. I ended up in the ER on my last birthday. Fortunately I had already gotten to eat my dessert. Unfortunately, I threw it back up in the examination room.

Thankfully it was nothing too serious – an ocular migraine – something I had never experienced before, but not very worrisome. It had been my loss of vision and my unresponsive pupils that had made my family decide I should go in.

However, it was that migraine that started my having migraines everyday for months. It’s something I still deal with a year later. My 23rd birthday has become tainted in my mind as the first entry in my headache diary.

As my 24th birthday approaches, I’m tentative. I don’t really want to celebrate. Life is good, yet hard right now. It would be easier to just let it slip by unnoticed. I’d rather just declare this year of headaches and heartaches “over and done.” But to do so would be to disregard the fact that I have so much in life to be grateful for – that’s what birthdays are about – celebrating life. Sometimes it’s hard to celebrate though.

When my older sister passed away, the timing was really terrible. That seems an insensitive thing to say. I suppose it is. But really, it feels like it couldn’t have been a worse time in her life or in the year.

She died three days after her birthday. We still had the leftovers from her family birthday dinner in the refrigerator when we returned home from the hospital, our family suddenly smaller by one. The leftovers of celebration were an assault on our grief.
My dad’s birthday was two days after the funeral. My brother-in-law’s was not even a week after that and my brother’s a couple weeks following. In the first three months of our grief and loss, we had been through one major holiday and everyone’s birthdays except mine.

We were left with the bitter feeling of loss lingering on our heads, not wanting to celebrate life because we did not want to be alive like that.

Each holiday was an obstacle that we had to find a new way to hurdle over. The things that used to be cause for celebration seemed like salt in the wound reminding us that our traditions were missing a member, that life was not sweet at the moment, that celebration is not something that always comes naturally.

It’s not that people or holidays were not worth celebrating. It’s just that it took so much strength and discipline to climb out of our grief and to choose to celebrate what is good when so much seemed broken and painful.

In time, we found that there is healing to be found in choosing joy, in choosing to participate in the discipline of celebration. We came to believe that it is not a denial of the pain, just an acknowledgement of the good that still exists.

I’ve had many times when I simply don’t feel like celebrating. But I think that cheapens the fullness of life. To only celebrate when I feel like it, to only mourn when I feel like it, to only be kind when I feel like it, to only love when I feel like it – these are the rhythms of life and I have decided to play along with the melody, practicing each in it’s own time, and recognizing that I may need to play two notes together.

I can be in a season of mourning and rebuilding at the same time. I can be in a season of desert and drought and still celebrate the breath in my lungs. I can be in a season of loss, and still celebrate all that I’ve found along the way.

It is not easy. It is a discipline. But the discipline of celebration itself helps to bring me back to life again. I believe life is always worth celebrating.

And in the midst of life being hard, I intend to choose to celebrate what is good.

Joanna O’Hanlon is an adventurer and story-teller. 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

storyofjoblog@gmail.com

photo credit: Aih. via photopin cc