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Tuesday, October 13th, 2015 | Author:

A few of you know that I’ve been in the process of house-hunting, and while technically I think something could still fall through, it looks as though I will be closing on a house here in Wichita soon.

As I’ve told a few friends this as we’ve been catching up recently, their response has all been a rendition of “Wow, you must really love it there, then.”

Which I do.  I think for many people who don’t know me quite as well, or don’t really know what Kansas or Wichita are like — the thought that crossed their minds as I moved here is that I would enjoy it and then move on, as I have a tendency to do.

And maybe I will someday. But I moved here with the desire to find a new hometown, and with an inkling that this is what Wichita would be to me.

I have commitment issues in life, that’s no secret. I remember the knot in my stomach as I signed a 10 month lease in an apartment in California. “10 months?? Who knows if I’ll still want to be here in 10 months!” was the thought that crossed my mind.

But, while my spirit is still a wanderer, and I still want to travel and roam the world, my spirit likes roots. It’s like a wave that likes a shore to come back to. That’s what home has always been to me. The place for roots, the place to come back to for real life. And that’s what Wichita feels like to me. The first day I ever spent here was two and a half years ago, and I had the distinct, surprising thought: “This feels like a hometown.”

It still does. So I have no anxiety or qualms, no question of “Who knows where I’ll want to be in 10 months.”  I want to be here. And that is an amazing feeling of peace and place that I’ve been lucky enough to find again.

With that, I’ve made a list of things I love about Wichita:

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  • It’s the friendliest place I’ve ever been.
  • It has a great local arts scene. First fridays. Final Fridays. Second Saturdays. A cool art museum that’s free on saturdays. Tons of public art all around. Stores that sell art from local artists (Like the Workroom where even yours truly gets to sell her art). And so much more.
  • They’re on that trendy food bandwagon. There are great cafes. Great coffee shops. Great food trucks.
  • Better antique stores and garage sales/estate sales. No surprise, they’ve got better, older stuff here than California tends to have.
  • HUGE skies. BEAUTIFUL skies. I was lucky enough to have gone to college in a place where I watched the sun set over the pacific ocean as I ate dinner every night. I grew up in a place with big skies where the sunsets were magazine worthy. But the sky here competes with the best of them.
  • There’s water. Rivers, state park lakes, private lakes, fountains, ponds. Plenty of places to spend time on or around the water.
  • There’s water. As in, there’s no drought. As in, it rains and lawns are naturally green.
  • Trees. It’s a very treed city. Which I really like and appreciate. I think that’s part of why it reminds me a lot of Chico.
  • Cost of living. I’m buying a house. I think that should speak for itself.
  • Entertainment. Stuff happens here. Entertainers actually come through here. Including comedians, which is a big plus in my book.
  • People know each other, and run into each other, even though it’s a city of approx 400,000 people. I had only been here a week the first time I ran into someone I knew.
  • Outside spaces. There are beautiful (and surprisingly really clean) paths along the river for biking/running/walking. There are tons of random tree, grass, and water type parks as well as urban park places with seating and fountains, etc. There’s a beautiful disc golf course that I frequent regularly. Wichita rocks the outside spaces.
  • I know my neighbors at the house I’ve lived in since moving here. Partly because their dogs are the worst and so I’ve gone over to ask them to do something about it several times. And partly because I slack line in the front yard and probably call too much attention to myself. But partly because it’s that kind of culture. I met a lady down the way the other day when I went to a garage sale a block up and she came up to me, asking, “are you the girl that does the tight-rope walking?” I like her.
  • Location location location. Wichita is so central. You can get to Oklahoma City, or Kansas City in a couple of hours. Dallas is only a little further. And it’s only a 7 hour drive to Denver.
  • They have GREAT Mexican food. Seriously.
  • In general, getting hit on here has been a much more gentlemanly/proper experience and a much less creepy/degrading one than anywhere else. Though the cat-callers are still out there.
  • Again, people are so friendly and kind. Several of my friends here are my friends because I met them and they said, “Do you want to come over to my house tonight at 8:30?” or “I’m going to yoga tonight if you want to join” or “I’m getting married this saturday, what are you doing then? Want to come? Want to come to my bachelorette party thursday?” or “I want to be friends with you. Want to hang out this afternoon?”
  • It feels like a hometown.

Dear Wichita, it’s earlier than I would usually feel this or say this to anyone, but, 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        storyofjoblog@gmail.com

Wednesday, August 19th, 2015 | Author:

A quick story: I was out disk golfing (courtesy of my Jo’s 26 before 26 list I’m now a regular disk golfer). We came up to a pin and there was something in the pin.

“What is that?” I asked my friend Brian who was closer to it.

“It’s a crabapple.”

As I came closer I inspected it. “Ohh. That’s what a crabapple looks like. I’ve never seen one before.”

“You’ve never tasted one?” he asked seeming incredulous.

“No,” I said, surprised. “They’re edible? What do they taste like?”

“I don’t know… They’re pretty good.”

I retrieved my disk and we walked toward the next hole in silence for a minute until he looked at me with a smirk on his face. “They’re not edible, just so you know. Don’t go eat one.”

“What!? It’s good you told me!”

“I know. I realized, you’d bake a crabapple pie one day and I’d be like, “why on earth would you do that?” and you’d say, “I don’t know. I didn’t know what they tasted like so I put it on my Jo’s 26 before 26 list. I’m trying to get the most out of life.” “

“Yeah. I would do that,” I conceded, content.

I may be somewhat gullible. But at least I do try to get the most out of life. Hopefully I won’t die eating crabapple pie. But if I do, it’d be alright. There are worse ways to go.

And with that, I give you this years new goals:

Jo’s 27 before 27 List:

  1. Play a disk golf game w/ 4 holes at par
  2. Buy a house
  3. Walk a marathon distance
  4. Be able to do 3 pull ups
  5. Make 30 pitches for articles to be published
  6. Smoke a cigar
  7. Leave the country again (so far age 24 is the only age since I was 17 during which I haven’t left the country.)
  8. Go to a new state
  9. Go to a professional football game
  10. Learn to play tennis
  11. Run through or picnic in a field of sunflowers
  12. Do Lumosity for 30 days
  13. Take a pottery class
  14. Ride a camel or elephant
  15. Watch all of Seinfeld
  16. Finish watching Lost
  17. Watch the Matrix Trilogy
  18. Read another Steinbeck book
  19. Read Harry Potter Book 1
  20. Read 3 memoirs
  21. Read Catch 22
  22. Go on a backpacking trip
  23. Do “morning minutes” every day for 21 days (where you write for 10 minutes straight first thing upon waking)
  24. Try fruitcake
  25. Complete level 1 of Rosetta Stone for Italian
  26. Try Gin
  27. Learn to play poker

If you’d like to support the Story Project (to cover travel expenses, costs of Stories for those who can’t afford it, etc.) you can do so below or contact me at storyofjoblog@gmail.com if you’d like to send a check. Thank you for your support! 

 To Donate to Stories By Jo: The Story Project click below


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, July 07th, 2015 | Author:

storyofjo Joanna O'Hanlon Mt Quandary Peak, CO

I wanted to climb another 14er. And I wanted to climb it alone.

Colorado calls mountains above 14,000 feet in elevation “14ers” and they have many of them in the state.

The previous fall I had climbed my first — Mt. Bierstadt, 14,060’ at the summit, 2840’ elevation gain from the trailhead, and a 7-ish mile trail. I say “ish” because Kate and I climbed it in the first weekend of Nov. 2013, and snow covered the entire mountain. There were many times where we had no idea where the trail was, let alone if we were near it.

A mountain that normally has thousands of hikers ascending and descending at a time in its summer days sat solitary and snow covered. We saw 6 other hikers on the mountain the entire day.

But we made it to the top, and back down again, despite very serious thoughts from Kate on how I was going to have to cut her frostbitten toes off. And despite the fact that my lips were literally blue by the time we got back to the car, and took about an hour of full-blast heat to get them to purple. All in all though, the trail was manageable for us (because we were in good shape to prepare for it), but the snow had made it difficult.

It had been a year since then and I’d wanted to hike another 14er, but had been told I shouldn’t go by myself. So I’d waited and tried to find times when Kate or someone else could go with me when there wasn’t snow on the roads and wasn’t too much snow on the mountains. But the season winded down and I still hadn’t gone, so I decided I wanted to go it alone.

I’d read “Wild” (which I would highly recommend, both the book and the movie) where she hikes the Pacific Crest Trail alone and it’s a soul journey for her as she works through her grief, through her brokkenness, and does hard things with her body as she processes the hard things of her heart. I’d thought about it and I really wanted that physical hardness to accompany the hard stuff I was wrestling through.

So I decided to climb Quandary Peak, 14,265’ summit, 3450’ elevation gain, and 6.75 mile trail. I thought, OK this mountain looks like it doesn’t have too much snow on it right now (which it didn’t for much of the trail, thankfully), and it looks like a similar kind of climb to Bierstadt, so I should be fine.

I knew I wasn’t in as great of shape as I had been. I’d been running much less since arriving in Colorado and I knew my lungs had still not really adjusted to exercising at the higher altitudes. But I had to have acclimated somewhat, right? And I’m a generally fit person. So I decided one night the next day was it. I packed myself some snacks, some warm clothes (which I didn’t need), and I went.

The parking lot had one other car in it, as it was again, one of, if not the last week of the season. That car had 2 hikers in it that I passed back and forth, leap frogging one another for the first mile or so, and then I said, “I’m gonna sit and take a break,” and they went on ahead. I wanted to be alone.

IMG_2717I saw one other hiker, a woman photographer who I passed about 2/3 of the way up the trail. She was distracted and hanging out photographing these beautiful mountain goats that were right there next to her. She stayed there the entire time it took me to summit and come back down.

Which was a long time. The last mile or so was extremely difficult. The trail up until that point had been fine, I’d even say easy. But the last mile is where you gain the majority of that elevation. Steep rocky step after steep rocky step led to me having to stop for breath every 15 or 20 steps. The last half mile was downright suffocating. That last bit felt like I was just going straight up. At that point I was stopping every 3-5 steps to bend over briefly trying to catch my breath. I hadn’t eaten since leaving the car and my plan was to eat my lunch at the summit, and then eat a snack on the way down.

This part being as difficult as it was, was taxing me though. Thoughts of “I don’t know if I can do this,” started to crawl into my brain as my throat began to feel swollen from all the wheezing I was doing. Soon I began to cough, and my throat went raw. Each breathe was laborious and painful. I finally compromised, I’d stop there where I was, near to the top, and I would eat my lunch there, take a bit of a break, and allow myself to get some energy to get the rest of the way up.

But when I opened my backpack and started rummaging around, I realized there was not a single ounce of food to be found. Before I had left the car I had taken my bag of food out to remove some of the excess warm layers I’d stored in the bag underneath the food. I knew I wouldn’t need those layers, but somehow I’d managed to accidentally not put the food back in.

I was most of the way up a mountain, exhausted, wheezing, starting to shake from hunger and low oxygen, and I didn’t have any food. And like I had set out to be — I was alone. No one was there to offer a part of a power bar or a stick of sugar-filled gum.

Despair and a bit of panic started to rise in my hurting throat. My raw, red nose ran as I was now in the snowy part of the mountain, and my head pounded from the cold. A single tear rolled down my cheek as I thought, “OK. I guess I’m not going to do this.”

I took a couple minutes sitting there on a snowy rock, watching a couple of mountain goats on a ridge farther down, and decided I’d at least take in the view before admitting defeat and beginning my shaky decent.

But somewhere in those moments, I started to think of the hard life journey I’d been on over the past 2 years. About the nights where breathing under the weight of grief was harder even than it was now. When I was alone for days on end, feeling shaky. Feeling dizzy. Feeling defeated. And I thought about the long, hard, arduous task of pulling myself out of the hole of brokenness and starting to rebuild. And how much of that — most of that — I had had to do alone.

And I looked up at the rest of that mountain, all the way to the summit, and I said out loud, “I have done harder things alone than this. I can handle a little mountain.”

Which was probably not wise. Emotionally, it was true. I had handled harder. But I may have been a little more driven than I ought to have been.

Either way though, I found a piece of sugarless gum and hoped maybe it would trick my mind into thinking that it was some sort of food and have it summon some energy. I took one treacherous step after another. By the end of the ascent I was taking a short pause after every single step to breathe. And then All of the sudden, I was there. At the top of the mountain. It was done.

It was also freezing, and my body was still wanting to shut down, so I only stayed a few moments. There was nowhere un-snowed-on to sit, so I crouched for a minute by the summit placard, I looked around at the 360 degree view, and let my breath finally, finally catch up with me, and then I did what you have to do in life — I got up, took another deep breath (as deep as I could) and I put one shaking step after another and started walking again.

The way down the mountain was much easier, but still not easy. I ended up rolling my ankle on a large rock and spraining it pretty badly about a half a mile down. That slowed me quite a bit.

By the time I had gotten back to the car, I was down at a warmer elevation and had been moving briskly enough that I was hot. I got to the car and stripped down to nothing and just sat there for a second. No one else was nearby and the one other car in the parking from earlier had left already. I took a drink of water. I ate a bite of salami. And then I redressed in fresh clothes I had brought along.

I was still shaking, but I felt good. My body had caught up to my heart, and together, they had proved that I somehow, deep down in the places you don’t want to have to summon strength, I have the strength to do hard things alone.

People may pass you or leap frog with you on the journey. They may even walk with you for a while. But there are some paths in life that you are forced to walk alone. It is those paths that reveal our deep guttural reserves of strength and resilience.

Should I have climbed that mountain alone? Maybe not. Was I in good enough shape and prepared for it? Definitely not.

Physically, nothing had changed, other than my throat being sore and having to cough often for a few days after. I walked with a slight limp for about a week. But it got my heart and my body back on the same, resilient page. It changed me. It reminded me that when I have to, I can climb the hard mountains of life, even if I have to do it alone.

Jo O'Hanlon storyofjo.com


If you’d like to support the Story Project (to cover travel expenses, costs of Stories for those who can’t afford it, etc.) you can do so below or contact me at storyofjoblog@gmail.com if you’d like to send a check. Thank you for your support! 

 To Donate to Stories By Jo: The Story Project click below


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, June 23rd, 2015 | Author:

storyofjo san diego friends

I convinced her to do the hike with me.

It’s called the Devil’s Punch Bowl.  Some of the reviews and bloggers were surprisingly dramatic about how hard of a hike it is and how much water you need to bring with you. (One blogger suggested something like 5 gallons per person. Which I still stand by the fact that that’s ridiculous.)

Reading a bit further on the matter, though, I found plenty of people who had said the hike itself is easy-moderate, it’s just hot and unshaded. Perfect, I thought. Work on my San Diego tan while we hike. Win win.

I asked Lizz if she was down for it, and she expressed concerns about having heard similarly scary reports of how hard it was. But I told her what I’ve just told you and she agreed to try it.

You hike three miles downhill in desert areas outside of San Diego, get to the Devil’s Punchbowl, hangout in the shade and/or water, then you go three miles back uphill in the sun. In the summer it averages around 115 degrees. But in March, when we were going, it was only 85 or 90. Totally doable.

We laughed and made jokes about the huge signs at the trailhead that say in big, capital block letters: “CAUTION. HEAT STROKE KILLS!”

“Hey Lizz, I don’t know if you’re heard, but you should really be cautious. There’s this thing called heat stroke, and it’ll kill ya dead.” We have a very dry, sarcastic humor with one another. For some reason we find it hilarious to just repeat obvious things in dumb voices. At least we entertain each other.

We hiked down with ease, though Lizz was starting to get really hot. Which probably should’ve been a tip-off. We were trying to conserve our water, though, so she drank little on the way down. When we got to the water, we stayed for a good 30 or 40 minutes, just trying to get her back to feeling OK. We still made jokes about how she was dying from heat stroke. But of course, she didn’t have heat stroke, she was just hot from hiking in the hot sun. She was fine. It did take her a long time to feel like she got her temp back down though.

When she finally did, we began the hike back up. About 2/3 of the way she was really struggling and started to talk about feeling light headed, nauseas and having a throbbing headache. Having worked at summer camps for many years, I know that means dehydrated, so we made steady slow effort up the trail and I kept having her drink more. More. More.

Here, drink my second water bottle. Here drink the rest of my last water bottle. With no cell service I was starting to get concerned, but near the end she said she was feeling a little better, so I went on ahead to get to the trail head and get myself some water, and bring some back for her if she had to stop.

But I didn’t have to go back for her, she was close enough behind me. She got to the trailhead, drank an entire liter of water, and then went and laid in the shade until she cooled off.

Sorry I almost killed you with heat stroke I apologized, still snarky.

She cooled down, we got in the car and headed for our next item for the day. On the drive I got cell service back and received a text message my mom had sent earlier that morning: “Hi Jo. Give me a call when you have a chance.”

As I was driving and Lizz was all heat-strokey, I decided I would call her once we arrived somewhere. I had a feeling in my gut that she was going to tell me my childhood cat had died. He was old, I knew he’d been potentially nearing the end for a while now, but if it was that, I didn’t want to know just yet.

We got into the next town and were almost to our destination when Lizz said, Pull over. Pull over right now I’m gonna throw up.

I pulled into a parking lot and she couldn’t get the door quite all the way open before she puked in the most projectile way of “projectile vomit” I’ve ever seen. Some of it hit part of the door, splashing back on her, and the rest drenched the hot asphalt.

All of the water I’d made her drink shot out like a water cannon. It was really quite impressive if it weren’t so sad.

After she seemed to have finished, she sat up, I handed her a napkin, she wiped her mouth and the door, and said I think I just need to sit here for a bit.

I decided I might as well call my mom and face the sad news if thats what it was while I waited.

Hi Jo, she started. It’s about your cat. 

My tear ducts got ready.

Is he dead? I asked.

He went missing yesterday, and Dad went out to look for him today because we hadn’t seen him, and I’m sorry Jo but he found him in the pool. He drowned.

Tears. Falling. Throat. Catching.

He drowned??? I balked.

I’m so sorry Jo…

I cut her off. I felt the grief assaulting me. Ok, I’m sorry. I have to go. Bye.

I hit the “end call” button with a messy punch of my thumb before my hand just dropped the phone and I cried ugly, loud sobs while strangling the steering wheel. And then I wailed. The sounds guttural. Moans of distraught youth. Cries of old, old life officially gone.

Because he hadn’t died of old age he had drowned.

Because he’s the only pet* that’s ever been mine.

Because we only got him because me and my now dead older sister begged for him on our knees on the sidewalk outside of the froze yogurt place when we saw the lady with the box of free kittens. And while Julie would typically be far too proud to do anything like that, she’d done it with me.

Because he was just like me — he was independent and feisty and wanted to be loved, but only on his terms. He didn’t want you to hold him all night, he just wanted to touch base and come and go as he pleased. Unless you didn’t want him near you, then he’d work his way into your lap and your heart.

Because he had been a constant when everything else in life seemed to change. Not just once, but twice.

Because it was still with a child’s heart that I loved him.

After my loud cries and then silent sobs subsided, Lizz projected more vomit out the door while I blew my nose and wiped my eyes. She wiped her mouth again and we looked at each other.

Well, we’re a sad pair, she said.

And we laughed.

I’m really sorry about your cat, she said.

I’m really sorry I made you hike and throw up, I said.

And we laughed again.

That’s officially the ugliest crying session of mine that anyone has ever witnessed. And again I reiterate that I’ve never seen such quintessential “projectile vomit” ever before in real life.

But we didn’t judge each other. We laughed at ourselves. And we were there. In the ugliest parts of life, that’s the most I could ever ask for in a friend, I think. No judgement, some laughter, and just being there. That’s the majority of what true friendship is. Not grand gestures and bff bracelets, but being someone who can sit in the ugliness of life and call it what it is.
Also, be cautious, heat stroke kills.

storyofjo san diego friends *I had a desert tortoise when I was young that my dad had found as a kid, and his mom had kept after he was grown, and she had given the tortoise to me when I was a kid, but then Pickles ran away one day. So one, Pickles was not just mine. And two, she ran away. And three, she was a tortoise, and it’s hard to connect with a tortoise. Just saying.

 


If you’d like to support the Story Project (to cover travel expenses, costs of Stories for those who can’t afford it, etc.) you can do so below or contact me at storyofjoblog@gmail.com if you’d like to send a check. Thank you for your support! 

 To Donate to Stories By Jo: The Story Project click below


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, June 09th, 2015 | Author:

6248742474_997d54ee34photo credit: Lower Floor. via photopin (license)

I met a man in Seattle recently. His name was Sean.

He was in Pike’s Place market, his worn backpack and layers the only things suggesting he was without a place to stay. I may have taken him for a wary tourist if he had not been asking loudly, in the general direction of the crowds passing by, “Can anyone spare enough money for a cold drink?”

I passed right by him, and when I looked up to meet his face, he was looking elsewhere. My eyes didn’t linger, didn’t spend any extra energy trying to meet his gaze. I passed on, and his tone got louder, his voice hoarse and raspy. “Can anyone spare some change? Please! Does anyone have enough money for a cold drink?”

I sauntered by another flower stand. Then by a produce section. Then by a small fish stand, not the famous one. Then by another artisan’s table.

All the while I could hear him. He was shouting now. Not an angry shout, but a sad, desperate shout. By the time I got back to him, his dry voice was shaking and begging the crowds that just kept passing by.

Regardless of my issues with the church, my wounds and my past, my distrust of people, and my serious questions about the Bible, I still would call myself a Christian. A God lover. And there is one thing I don’t have questions about from the Bible and the character of God. He says clearly, “I will say to you, you saw me naked and you clothed me, when I was thirsty you gave me a drink…as you have done to the least of these, you have done to me.”

And I know I’m undoing any karma or glory or whatever by telling you this, so believe me, I know it — it’s not to brag, and I’m fine with not getting anything from this. That’s not why I did it.

I did it because I had those words pop into my head, and I had this vision of this thirsty man, yelling with his parched voice, and no one, myself included taking the time to even acknowledge his humanity. Even if they didn’t give him anything, he was literally yelling for help and everyone was walking by ignoring him. He was thirsty, a basic human need that hits very, very close to my heart, and I hadn’t paused as I had walked by.

I’m telling you this because I’m ashamed of it. I’m pained that my first response was to ignore that tug in my chest, that churn of my gut, and to keep walking. To keep ignoring the yells for help right in front of me.

How will I ever pay attention to the yells for help that I can’t hear around the world — the “Please, I need something to drink” pleas around the world — if I blatantly and heartlessly walk past the one shouting in my ear at the Pike’s Place market in Seattle?

I don’t know.

As I was in front of the artisan’s table several shops down and I could still hear his soft, but urgent yelling, desperation in his voice, I had a serious moment with myself where I said “What the F— do you think you are doing??”

I’ve had moments like this before. Where I feel the urge to help, the nudge to engage, and I walk by. And I still feel it as I walk farther and farther and I’m too embarrassed to turn back, so I continue to ignore it. I still think about several of those moments years later.

This time, I was more disgusted with myself than ashamed, and I had to fix it.

“Hi,” I said, as he stopped his pleading to the crowd when he saw me approaching.  “I don’t hand out money,” I said apologetically.

“No, no, that’s ok,” he cut me off. “I just need a cold drink.”

“Sure. So, let’s go somewhere, and I’ll get you whatever you want,” I finished my first thought.

I again reiterated he could have anything he wanted. He literally got a $2.50 fountain drink. He filled his glass with cold water first and downed it, and then filled the second with ice and soda.

We did not have any significant interaction as we got his drink. I learned a little bit of his story. He a little bit of mine. We’re both from near Sacramento, and we’re both on journeys that we didn’t want to have to begin. We’ve both missed what we thought we’d find, and are trying to figure out what’s next.

My life right now is asking people to talk to me, to share their stories. It is my life to listen and then write and validate.  But I passed by a man literally crying out to be heard and helped.

It cost me $2.50 to fix someone’s thirst. But more importantly, it cost me nothing to look him in the eye, speak to him, and validate his existence.

When I think about it, I’m still extremely frustrated with my reactions. I still have a long, long way to go on this journey. And if I get thirsty along the way, I hope there will be people quicker to hear than I was.

Sometimes the people or circumstances around us are mirrors, and this moment was a mirror in which I saw that what’s in there is still kind of ugly. That I still have a good deal more work to do to be the person I want to be in the world. They’re not fun moments — those mirrors — but they’re necessary.


 

If you’d like to support the Story Project (to cover travel expenses, costs of Stories for those who can’t afford it, etc.) you can do so below or contact me at storyofjoblog@gmail.com if you’d like to send a check. Thank you for your support! 

 To Donate to Stories By Jo: The Story Project click below


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, May 12th, 2015 | Author:

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Things I love about California/Northern California:

  1. Mexican Food
  2. Avocados
  3. Radio stations that play good (and fairly varied) music. (Side note to towns like Denver: If I hear the same song within an hour on the same radio station, you’re doing it wrong.)
  4. Radio commercials about California Avocados or just other things that we do well. Where else do they have “commercials” that are actually just us patting ourselves on the back for being an awesome place?
  5. The fact that no one from here calls it “cali” (at least no one from norcal)
  6. The fact that drivers drive well, drive fast, drive (mostly) aware of their surroundings, and know how to merge.
  7. The fact that we can drive forever in the left lane of the highway as long as you’re not going slow. None of this “Stay right except to pass” nonsense.
  8. The fact that we don’t need “minimum speed” signs. (*Cough Denver Cough*)
  9. People who say “hella” and “hecka” a hecka lot still. And that’s it’s normal to say “dude,” before proceeding with some mildly serious statement. (Ex: “Dude. Did you hear it’s supposed to rain tomorrow??” )
  10. Mexican food.
  11. In N Out
  12. That you can buy booze at the grocery store
  13. That girls wear “short shorts” and it’s not scandalous. And that they’re not considered short. (I remember being in Europe wearing shorts that were almost as long as my fingertips with my arms at my sides and being told by other Americans that those were “booty shorts”. Not that we don’t also have true booty shorts, but our definitions are clearly different.)
  14. The acceptability of wearing flip flops. Almost everywhere. Almost all the time. Unless you’re barefooted.
  15. Despite the drought: all the bodies of water. Oceans, Lakes, Rivers, Ponds, pools. We love the water.
  16. The variety of lands and people. San Francisco is not LA is not San Diego is not Chico is not Bishop is not Lake Tahoe is not Humboldt. So many options.
  17. Fresh sea food. And the fact that a shack that says “fresh sea food” doesn’t make me wary.
  18. Mexican Food.
  19. That people (outside of SF) look you in the eye, smile and say hi, even when you’re out running on a trail somewhere.
  20. That you would be out running on a trail somewhere. Anywhere. Everywhere.
  21. Being outside.
  22. Raley’s (the best grocery store ever, for those non-northern californians)
  23. The trees. The wildflowers. The dead grass over all the hills in summer, and the green rolling hills of winter. The orchard blossoms in the spring.
  24. The fact that even “conservative California” is pretty liberal & progressive in thought comparatively. (But shhh, don’t tell them that. They want to think they’re really conservative.)
  25. Our public education standards. Maybe they’re not what they should be, but they’re better than many places. I’m thoroughly grateful for my excellent public education experience despite being in a small, poor town.
  26. The frequent use of spanglish scattered through everyday conversations.
  27. Blackberry bushes growing wild everywhere. Even when you don’t want them.
  28. Diversity of wildlife. (Amount of deer seen in the past 12 hours: 3.)
  29. My people there.
  30. Did I mention Mexican Food?

If you’d like to support the Story Project (to cover travel expenses, costs of Stories for those who can’t afford it, etc.) you can do so below or contact me at storyofjoblog@gmail.com if you’d like to send a check. Thank you for your support! 

 To Donate to Stories By Jo: The Story Project click below


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, April 28th, 2015 | Author:

Dear Denver,

I came to you 8 months ago with my life packed into my Toyota Camry.

It was a long drive. 18 hours of leaving my past behind. My own tears surprised me as I drove away from my family standing on the porch of my parent’s house, waving as they watched me go. That’s become our tradition. And I’m always the one on the leaving end.

I was ready for you, for this new, temporary chapter of life. I was excited to leave the past.

But while it was a new town, I wasn’t a new me. I quickly realized that by changing states I was not changing stories. My past was mine to own. My story was mine to tell. My life was mine to live.

So I came to you, and I told you who I am and where I have been. I told it to church members in diners. I told it to distant family members in the mountains. I told it to dates in bars. I told it to neighbors in hot tubs and living rooms. I told my story to you, and you didn’t grimace. You didn’t run away. You listened and you welcomed me.

You let me play on your trails, exploring your mountain peaks and your forests and your waters. You let me make friends in fun restaurants and pubs and venues. You let me sit in peace, overlooking a lake with the mountains beyond, and the setting sun beyond that.

You have given me the space and time to become more myself. And while I’ve always known you would be a temporary dwelling place, you’ve been a good one. Most importantly, you’ve given me an atmosphere to learn how to be at home within myself.

Aside from your horrible drivers, you’ve been nothing but lovely to me. Thank you for being such a big playground for life. Thank you for housing me while I felt at home here. I’ll come back to visit.

-Jo

(I’ll be on the go for the Story Project for all of May and then moving to Wichita, KS Beginning of June)

Favorite Denver/CO things:

– Hiking

  • Mt. Bierstadt
  • Mt. Quandary
  • Colorado Trail
  • Hanging Lake Trail
  • All of the trails during fall
  • Paddle boarding on our lake and slack lining in our “yard”
  • Food/Drink
  • The fries and cocktails at Williams & Graham
  • The atmosphere at Linger
  • The atmosphere at Crema cafe
  • The chocolate at Dietrichs
  • The eggs benedict and the beignets at Lucilles Creole cafe
  • Blackeye coffee
  • Pie and cocktails at the Green Russell
  • Cheap movies at the Century Aurora 16 Theater
  • Eggs benedict and sweet potato pancakes at Snooze Eatery
  • Burgers & Brews deals during MNF at Stoney’s bar & grill
  • Atmosphere & coffee at Roostercat
  • The view from outside the dome on the Capitol building
  • Being at Redrocks/ the view from Redrocks
  • The river in golden
  • Stranahan’s whiskey (both the product and the free tour & tasting)
  • The Denver German Christmas Market on 16th St. mall
  • Even though it’s not just a Denver thing, I discovered & fell in love with it here: Waffle House

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If you’d like to support the Story Project (to cover travel expenses, costs of Stories for those who can’t afford it, etc.) you can do so below or contact me at storyofjoblog@gmail.com if you’d like to send a check. Thank you for your support! 

 To Donate to Stories By Jo: The Story Project click below


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, April 21st, 2015 | Author:

We’re taking a detour from the normal posts for a week, because sometimes, I love to play tour guide and help people find good stuff!

Sometimes I travel for fun, and sometimes because of how my life has gone, I get to travel for school, business, etc as well.

I went to San Diego a few weeks ago to write a few stories down there (see the first one up now!).

But, while I was there, I tried to also hit as many of my old favorite things (foods, places, people, etc.) and to try a couple new ones. SO… If you are going to San Diego any time soon, these are officially my suggestions:

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Where to EAT:

  1. The chips and queso dip at Miguel’s Cocina

IMG_7193Go to Miguel’s for the best white queso dip in the world. And if you want to argue with me about somewhere that you think has better Queso, then I’m gonna need you to fly me out there so I can try that place for myself. Until then, All Hail Miguel’s amazingness white cheese sauce and fresh fresh chips.

  • What to eat there: The Flautas, the Tacos, or the Enchiladas. These are all great, but not out of this world. Really, the queso is why.
  • Where: There are 4 locations, all great, the one I’ve been to is at: 2912 Shelter Island Dr, San Diego, CA 92106
  • Price Range: $$
  • Nearby: go for a quiet walk along the Bay (See #8 in places to go/things to do below). Get coffee and hang out at the living room

2. California Burritos or Carne Asada Fries at Santana’s AKA Fresh MXN Food AKA  Eat MXN Food

Ok, so the current and most recently passed names make it seem like perhaps you should gloss over this place. Do not. Sanatana’s is the original name, and while they have added locations, (I like this location best), and changed names, their menu has stayed largely the same. Santanas is rumored to have invented the california burrito.

  • What to eat there: California Burrito or Carne Asada Fries.
  • Where:1578 Rosecrans St San Diego, CA 92106
  • Price Range: $
  • Nearby: The Starbucks next door has many outlets if you need to re-charge. Otherwise take your burritos to go and eat them at #1, #2, or #3 under places below)
  • Similar places: Adalberto’s (same suggestions), Cotija’s (California Burrito and Bean and Rice Burrito), and Ortiz’s (for any burrito)

3. Sea Food at Point Loma SeaFood

If you want the freshest sea food perhaps in the continental U.S., come here. It’s right on the water, and it’s both a market where you can buy your fresh seafood to go cook it at home, or you can order from their menu to get something delicious right there. To order, just muscle your way up to the counter, and shout your order. You can eat inside (you have to go outside and around the building to enter the enclosed patio) or outside at the stone picnic tables or the tables right along the water. Be wary of seagulls who will try to steal your food.

  • What to eat there: You can’t go wrong. I like their fried shrimp, fried calamari, or traditional fish and chips. If you’re not a seafood person but you’re with seafood people, I believe they do have chicken strips as well.
  • Where:2805 Emerson St, San Diego, CA 92106
  • Price Range: $$
  • Nearby: It’s close to the airport so a perfect first or last stop on your way in or out of town. It’s also close to Pizza Nova, which is delicious. It’s close to Miguel’s, The Living Room, and Shelter Island as well.

4. Anything at Extraordinary Desserts

The name says it all. I’m a dessert person. I partake whenever possible in the dessert genre. Which is often. And this place is the best dessert place I’ve ever found (Sorry gelateria in Rome with the best-known ice cream to man). Eat anything there. Pieces are always very rich, so it might be best to share. OR do what I do and get a couple choices to share. P.S. If there are flowers on your dessert, they are edible, but you can choose not to eat them.

  • What to eat there: While I love ice cream, don’t settle for the usual here (though it’s an option). Get one of their delectable creations. Whether it’s cake, pie, tart, whatever.
  • Where: Two locations.     Little Italy has a larger, more open space indoors: 1430 Union Street, San Diego, CA 92101. But I like the ambiance better at the Balboa location (plus has outdoor seating). 2929 Fifth Avenue, San Diego, CA 92103
  • Price Range: $$
  • Nearby: Little Italy location is obviously in Little Italy which is a great place to wander around and explore. Also, if you’re there during business hours, stop by the art gallery of Grant Pecoff (See Little Italy Entry below for address). Amazing, colorful work plus wonderful children’s books for sale!

5. Acai Bowls in Ocean Beach —Quik Stop Liquor/Convenience Store 

  • IMG_7260What to Eat: Probably the small is enough, but if you’re a big eater or you’re sharing, go full-bore. Also, their coffee is not bad for it being equivalent/priced like gas station coffee.
  • Where: Newport Ave, on the left hand side as you head West. About 2-3 blocks up from the beach. 4921 Newport Ave San Diego, CA 92107
  • Price Range: $$
  • Nearby: Walk Newport Avenue for fun shopping. The Closet has cheap, cute clothes (and nose rings for $.99!). There are antique stores galore. The Little Chef for fast, cheap, great Chinese food. The Light House has the best ice cream. Hodad’s has great burgers (let the long line be the testament to it. It’s worth it, but bring cash). Plenty of new bars and breweries seem to be popping up in those blocks. And of course, go walk the beach.

6. Ice Cream in a Waffle Cone at Light House Ice Cream 

As you walk up you can smell the cones being made, because, yes, they’re made fresh and they’re amazing. The ice cream itself is from a company based out of San Francisco and it’s The. Freaking. Best. (Outside of Italy.)

  • What To Eat: I am personally a fan of the two scoops of varying flavors in the fresh waffle cones.
  • Where: 5059 Newport Ave Ste 102, San Diego, CA 92107
  • Price Range: $$
  • Nearby: All Ocean Beach spots.

 

Places to Go/Things to Do:

  1. Sunset Cliffs.

IMG_7271Great for walking along, sitting on the benches, or driving down. There are absolutely incredible houses on one side with varying architectural styles and then the beautiful ocean on the other. Go down the stairs to the tide pools for an extra fun excursion. You can find crabs, sea anemones, sea snails, and sometimes sea cucumbers and starfish!

 

2. Ocean Beach (OB)

Some of my favorite food and shopping suggestions are here, and it is, hands down, my favorite beach, and my favorite place in San Diego. It’s kind of a dirty area — lots of homeless people and hippies, sometimes one-in-the-same, but it’s also a local hangout. If you’re a surfer, it’s a great area, but the locals can be territorial so stay out of their way.  It’s a great beach for families with kids that want to play in the water and get some decent IMG_7167waves with boogie boarding or body surfing. Life guards on duty. I suggest the area around lifeguard Tower 2 or 3. Browse through the shops, eat at the restaurants, get some coffee and stroll down the beach or the pier. Watch people slack lining, playing frisbee, fishing, surfing, and more. If you want to go to the restaurant on the pier, I’d suggest going for breakfast and getting the mango or blueberry pancakes.

  • Where: Take Newport Ave. West until you hit the sand. If you hit the water you’ve gone too far. That’s just ocean. Not ocean beach.
  • Tips: If you can’t find parking along Newport Ave., there is a parking lot at the beach end of Newport Ave, and one right by the large Life Guard Tower with the cross on it. If it’s a holiday, or sunny weekend, parking may be a struggle, so take whatever you come across.

3. Shelter Island

Great place if you want to have a bonfire at night, or just have a picnic or a stroll in the daytime.

  • Where: Shoreline Park, 2204 Shelter Island Drive, San Diego, CA , San Diego

4. Little Italy

If you want to get the taste of downtown without going to a Mall, go stroll through Little Italy.

  • Where: It’s the general vacinity, but here’s the address for the Pecoff Art Studio 1825 India St., San Diego, CA 92101
  • Highlight: Grant Pecoff’s art studio
  • Nearby: Extraordinary Desserts
  • Balboa Park

5. Balboa Park

Wonderful for strolling, hiking, picnicking, or going to the museums. Balboa Park is one of the city’s greatest gems.

  • Where: Enter on El Prado Street and either park right in street parking there and enjoy the park area/walk in, or drive in and find parking inside to be closer to museums. El Prado begins at where Laurel St. and 6th Ave. make a T: 2500 6th Ave San Diego, CA 92103
  • Highlights: Museum of Man (costs). The Timken Art Museum (Free). The Botanical Gardens (free). The Zoo (costs).

6. Hike to The Devil’s Punch Bowl:

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Lizz and I did this hike together and while it is 3 miles down hill there, and 3 miles uphill on the way back, it’s not the strenuousness of the hike that’s hardest, but the heat. They say to bring plenty of water, and I’d reiterate that plus, make sure you start the hike hydrated already. The punchbowl itself was pretty incredible though.

  • Where: All info including purchasing the required permit ($6 for up to 5 people) can be found HERE: devils-punchbowl.com

7. Coronado Island

It’s the fun, throw-back place in San Diego. It’s easy to feel like you’re a great Gatsby character on vacation here. Enjoy the soft sands of the beaches, rent a bike to jot around the island, and get ice cream at the famous Moo-Time Ice Cream Shop (same idea as Cold Stone, but better).

  • Coronado Beach: 838 Ocean Blvd Coronado, CA 92118

8. Walk along the Bay

There is a public path (Bessemer Path) along the bay in the back of some gorgeous houses. Find street parking nearby and start at the address below (on the curve where Talbot St. curves into Anchorage Lane). Start there and turn right, heading south along the Bay. Go as far as you like, but there is a precarious swing along the bay a bit farther down. Be careful though, apparently it has broken several times before.

  • Where: 1001 Anchorage Ln., San Diego, CA 92106

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If you’d like to support the Story Project (to cover travel expenses, costs of Stories for those who can’t afford it, etc.) you can do so below or contact me at storyofjoblog@gmail.com if you’d like to send a check. Thank you for your support! 

 To Donate to Stories By Jo: The Story Project click below


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, March 17th, 2015 | Author:

I found myself wandering down the shoe section aisles at target about a week after I first had the idea for the Story Project.

And there they were, the snow boots I had looked at the year before and decided I didn’t need them, as chances of me going up to the snow enough times to merit buying snow boots had been slim.

It was the same situation this year (2013), plus the California drought. But I had just been to visit my friend Kate in Denver, and we had hiked a 14er (Mt. Bierstadt) in far too much snow, and as I soaked through my non-waterproof hiking boots, I had thought that snow boots would’ve been a good thing to have.

And the story project idea, though new in my mind, was unrelenting. I had spent every lunch hour and after-work hour for the past week sketching out ideas and researching highway routes through the country and looking up cost of living in various middle-of-the-US cities. I knew one thing: I would move East for the project. Far enough East that I’d need snow boots.

So I bought them. In faith. A week into the idea of the Story Project. With no firm plans, just a firm will. Though a little purchase, it felt like I was investing in myself, that I was taking the first small step to putting my money where my mouth (and heart) were. That I was willing to bet that I was really going to do this thing.

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I find myself doing that more and more these days. When I have an idea that I’m firm on, a desire that I’m sure of, even if I don’t have a plan, I announce my intentions. Now, I always reserve the right to change my mind, but this out-loud and out-of-wallet accountability makes sure that I don’t end up never having done something just because I never got around to it.

I used to not announce my intentions until I had a plan. I was afraid of people’s questions. “Well, when are you going to do that? How are you going to? Where will you live? With whom? What college will you go to? What will you major in? What do you want to be when you ‘grow up’?”

Those kinds of questions used to paralyze me. I was always concerned about making the wrong decision on the plans, that I forgot to even let myself uncover what I wanted my intentions to be.

It’s taken changing course a couple times, taking some detours, and letting some bombs blow up my plans — but I’m finally to a place where I don’t have to have a plan to start telling you about what I want to do. And in that, I’ve found that I find help, advice, and connections along the way that I never would have if I had my plan completely figured out already.

It took a lot of rerouting of the way I thought about life to finally allow myself to let go, and to enjoy the process of discovering what I love and am passionate about, discovering what I want to do, and then finding the plan as it comes. It takes a lot of security in knowing that I am who I am, regardless of the paths I take, and that it’s OK to share myself with the world before I’m a finished, polished, well-planned person. I have ideas, I have dreams, and I’m starting to believe the creative minds who say that it’s best to start talking about them right away. It doesn’t just give you a finished product, it lets you in on the journey.

With that said, I’m heading to San Diego this week for the first stop of the Story Project. I have a couple stories lined up, but am hopeful to find a few more while I’m down there. More practice in living unplanned when we have to. Please keep me and the Project in your good thoughts and prayers as I search for people whose stories need to be told.

I’m hopeful to find the gems in the journey.

 

If you’d like to support the Story Project (to cover travel expenses, costs of Stories for those who can’t afford it, etc.) you can do so below or contact me at storyofjoblog@gmail.com if you’d like to send a check. Thank you for your support! 


 To Donate to Stories By Jo: The Story Project click below


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, December 23rd, 2014 | Author:

If I’m honest — which I am — homesickness is the cause of my current wandering-life phase. I’ve been saying that I’m searching for a place that feels like home. I didn’t know of any that still existed for me until one night not too long ago.

I was staying with my parents in my hometown one night, but I was coming in from an appointment in the next town over. I had a lot on my mind and I was just driving on autopilot. When I had arrived and parked my car, I went to reach for the handle to get out when I realized where I was — I was at my old apartment.

An apartment I haven’t lived in now for a year and a half. I have lived 4 places in 4 cities since I left that apartment.

It was the apartment I moved into when I had graduated college and moved back to my hometown. It was the apartment where I first paid for my utilities, where I first learned where I got the best reception with my TV antennae, where I first furnished and decorated a home from top to bottom on my own.

It’s the apartment where I first lived alone. Where I first made all my meals for myself – no dining hall, no cafeteria, just me and my printed out recipes.

It’s an apartment down the street from the jail, with sketchy neighbors who are on parole, and some parolees whom I had gotten to know and become friends with. It’s an apartment with security screens on every door, with the cops coming by several times a week for some call or another.

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It’s an apartment with blue walls in one room because I painted them that way. With extra shelves in the closets because I built them myself. With a doorknob that I bought on the front door because I locked myself out and had to have the locksmith come and drill the lock through and replace it. With a small exposed nail on the front of the kitchen sink where the tiling had broken off before I moved in. I used that nail as peg to hang my pot holders from.

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It’s an apartment with a view of Table Mountain and the Oroville O, with a view of the trains that chug by in the distance. It’s both walking distance to the Oroville forebay where I learned to sail as I was moving in, and to the Feather River, where the stone picnic tables served as my desk as I journaled through some of the hardest thoughts of my life.

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It’s 1.3 miles from the Youth Center I helped open, and 4.4 miles from the church I used to work at and belong to. It takes 7 minutes to drive to my parents house from this apartment. Always. It is a 2 minute drive (including the time to walk down the stairs and to the car) to the nearest Red Box at 7/11, allowing me to watch a rented movie until 8:58 before I had to pull it out and leave to return it before I got charged again.

It’s the apartment where I first defined home as being anything aside from my parents house. The town was always my home, but in terms of within Oroville, it was the first place of my own that I meant when I said “I’m going home now.” The dorm rooms of college had just never felt that way to me, and I’d been intentional about my vocabulary — I don’t know if my college roommates ever noticed, but I never referred to those dorm rooms and college apartments as home. “I’m going back to the room,” I’d say, or “Are you at the apartment?” Never, never, “I’ll see you at home.” Because home was somewhere in a podunk town in Northern California. Period.

And this apartment, this afforded me the chance to both be an independent adult with a home of their own, and to still call my hometown home.

But then life changed. Old normal in that Oroville life feels like a long lost memory. I’ve sold most of my possessions that filled that old apartment.  I’ve had different jobs since then. I’ve moved to different cities. I go to other churches. I rent movies from different Red Boxes and I have different people sitting in my apartment during movies and game nights.

 

But in the midst of getting lost in my thoughts as I drove, my internal compass took over and led me here. It led me home. Only it wasn’t my home anymore.

And while I have felt homesick for a couple years as my life changed so drastically, this moment as I sit in the parking lot in my old usual spot looking up at really the only last remnant of my old life, I feel sad. I feel more homesick than before. Because there it is, my home, in the most literal sense of the word. The place where I lived and slept and cooked and bathed and let me body and mind and heart rest and take shelter from the world.

And I hadn’t realized that my heart, that my internal compass still believed that, still missed that. But here I am, and it’s not my home anymore. It’s someone else’s.

I take a few moments to just look up at the front door before I turn the car on, back out, and drive away, tears rolling down my cheeks, grieving another loss — this time of a place I didn’t even know I missed.

Because the reality is that the places where we do life — where we share moments and let our hearts settle in with our bodies to a place we embrace as home — those places mean something. They’re just a place, but they’re the setting where our lives unfold.  And when the rest of life may change or be gone, you can still accidentally “drive home” and end up in those old places. It’s like visiting the grave on a chapter of life once it’s passed. But sometimes it’s good to have those monuments.

Maybe that’s one of the most beautiful parts of the world — that the land itself keeps on existing — despite our times, despite our pains and gains — it continues on, one of the only constants available to us.

Grief for people is of course the most powerful, the most full of agony and meaning. But grief for places — places we lose, places we leave, places we see change — that is still grief in it’s own right. It’s taken me a lot of life to realize how true that is.

As I’ve been back in Oroville this month for the holidays, it has been hard, and feels foreign in a lot of ways, but it’s also been healing to drive the streets that I know well enough that I know every curve, every pot hole and patch where it floods. To be in the place where I know which post office to go to for what things. The place where I know someone everywhere I go. The place where I walk into a hamburger joint I’ve been going to since I was born and they ask “Where have you been? We haven’t seen you in a while!” and the Mexican restaurant where they know that I’m the one in the family that changes up my drink order every time while the rest stay the same.

It’s a place that I love. While the sense of home is gone, the memory of it in this place is not.

 

I’m beginning to understand that in the Christian tradition, the meaning of Christmas isn’t just about the fact that God so loved the people in the world that he sent his son, Jesus.

God so loved the world — the place too. He could love us from afar, but only in a physical place could he walk with us, cry with us, touch us, heal us. The fact that the birth of Jesus happened in a place – in a feeding trough, in a stable, at an inn, in Bethlehem. And that while time and the world have changed, the place remains. That is a holy thing. And it is a human thing. Because places are the stage where the intermingling of our hearts and bodies and lives and time all take place. And that means that places matter. To God and to us.

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And the story says that some day there will be a new heaven and a new earth, and if that comes to be, I hope to walk with God down my old street by the jail, and to say, “that, that right there, that’s where my home was,” and I imagine he’d take my arm, and let me rest my head on his shoulder as he sadly, nostalgically says, “I know, Jo. I was there with you. I know.” And then like the other night, we’ll turn away and keep walking toward the hope of a new home someday — except that someday will have arrived.

 

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

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