Tuesday, March 15th, 2016 | Author:

Over the next few months I’ll be working on a small e-book project about the things no one talks about when they talk about grief. Obviously, I write about grief a lot, and I wish when I was first experiencing grief that I could’ve found some pretty brutally honest, but maybe slightly funny book about the different aspects about the grief journey. I didn’t find such a book. So I decided to have a go at trying to write it. It’ll be pretty short, because I, at least, when I’m in grief, don’t have a lot of energy to consume or process outside information.

That being said, this is the intro chapter to the book project…


You May Vomit

What I remember most about the car ride to the hospital where my sister, Julie, would die is that I wanted to puke. Want is the wrong word, I guess. I needed to puke.

We’d just left the Carl’s Jr. in Grass Valley, California, and we had to make our way to a hospital a couple of hours away. My mom had gotten the call that changed our lives on her cell phone. My brother-in-law’s name, Chris, came across the screen of the cell phone that still had an antennae she had to pull up before answering.

I saw her face as I watched her through the glass doors that she had exited to take the call in a quieter place. Something about her face told me and my body that grief was on its way. That’s the moment — the moment my stomach dropped and started tying in knots, telling me it didn’t want anything in it anymore.

I poured out my drink and held my empty cup in my hands as we drove, sure that I would need it at any moment.

When we arrived at the hospital a couple hours later, my mom asked me how I was doing. “I feel like I need to throw up,” I said blankly.

“That’s ok if you do. That’s a normal reaction,” I remember her saying.

It wasn’t normal to me, though.


I was 14, and I’d experienced one death prior. A girl a year older than I, who had cerebral palsy, had died a few years before. I’d always had a soft spot for her and been kind to her. She couldn’t say any words, and her mouth was permanently open with drool streaming out, but man. I could make her laugh. Cackle, actually. Her name was Julie, also. I’d known her my whole life. She died on a summer day, and I was swimming at my best friend’s house when my sister showed up, walked down the path to the pool at the end of the yard and told us the news.

I was sad, really sad, but not nauseous.

Julie (my sister) played piano at the other Julie’s funeral. It was the first time I’d heard the church song “Better is one day.” The chorus says, “better is one day in your courts, better is one day in your house, better is one day in your courts than thousands elsewhere.”

I watched my sister play and sing this beautiful song about a promise of hope and newness, and I thought of this younger Julie, who had never been able to walk or run or play, who had never been able to speak, or argue, or do anything except laugh or cry, and I saw her in those courts, in that house, being free and running and talking and I was glad for her.

But a few years later, as I walked into the hospital where my siblings and I were all born, and where Julie would soon die, I wanted to throw up. The thoughts of the courts and house of God being better than a thousand days here had no consolation. I wanted to puke all over that hopeful song.

I didn’t though. I went to the bathroom several times thinking I would. At one point I shoved a finger down my throat because the nausea was so painful. Still nothing.

I didn’t realize that this was not just an isolated incident, but rather how my body handles the blows of grief until nine years later when I found myself in my apartment, alone, collapsed and dry-heaving in the hallway in another instance of knowing my life would never be the same.

Literal dry heaves. The only time I’d experienced that before was when I had an ugly, ugly bout with the norovirus (the very violent and contagious cruise ship stomach flu) and I’d thought I really might die, because I was so weak and so violently ill. I’ll spare you more details.

After I got to a point where I could get up from the floor and get to the bathroom, I remember thinking, “I guess this is what I do when life breaks. I want to throw up and I can’t.” I showered and laid in bed, my body reeling in a way that doesn’t make sense from an emotional blow.

I was nauseous for the next 3 weeks that time.

And every instance of forceful grief since, I find myself jealous of those of you who do actually vomit with grief. Which is a very odd and petty thing to be jealous about. But that’s what this project is — admitting the odd, petty, and other things that no one talks about when they talk about grief.

So just know, you may vomit. Or, you may not. And that’s OK.

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 08th, 2016 | Author:

Sunday March 7, 2004

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12 years later, it still feels true.


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

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon        storyofjoblog@gmail.com

Tuesday, March 01st, 2016 | Author:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon        storyofjoblog@gmail.com

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2016 | Author:

Well, as someone who loves to be celebrated (because hey, I’m a youngest and maybe slightly egotistical) I always keep track of my half birthday, and that was earlier this month. Which means it’s time for a 6 month update on my goals list for the year! I have a bit further to go…

  1. Play a disk golf game w/ 4 holes at par
    • When I made this goal, my friend that I played with a lot then told me I needed to up the ante and make a harder goal. I didn’t believe him, but it only took a month after my birthday that I accomplished this goal. I updated the goal to playing a whole round of disc golf at bogie par (4 strokes instead of 3), and accomplished that in October. So I’m now working on the goal of a whole game at par. That goal is taking a while still.
  2. Buy a house
    • This is one of those things that you put on a list and don’t expect to necessarily complete it. But it turns out, this goal is like any other goal — I just had to break it in to parts and steps, and then do those one by one until it was done. It’s actually one of the bigger accomplishments I’ve made, but one of the easier ones accomplished. I was at the right point in life and in the right place in the world.
  3. Walk a marathon distance
    • (I have plans to do this next week. Pray for the least amount of blisters possible.)
  4. Be able to do 3 pull ups
    • (I joined a gym. Still embarrassingly weak. But working on it regularly.)
  5. Make 30 pitches for articles to be published
    • (I’ve been slacking on this. I’ve done maybe 5 or 6. Need to get serious soon here on this.)
  6. Smoke a cigar
  7. Leave the country again
  8. Go to a new state
  9. Go to a professional football game
    • (I missed the boat on this and won’t be able to accomplish it as even the pre-season doesn’t start until the week after my birthday. BUT I’m making it a point to go soon after.)
  10. Learn to play tennis
  11. Run through or picnic in a field of sunflowers
  12. Do Lumosity for 30 days
    • (I’ve started this goal numerous times and always miss a day within the first week or two. Need to find a better system to keep me consistent and accountable.)
  13. Take a pottery class
  14. Ride a camel or elephant
  15. Watch all of Seinfeld
    • Currently on season 5
  16. Finish watching Lost
  17. Watch the Matrix Trilogy
  18. Read another Steinbeck book
  19. Read Harry Potter Book 1
    • Started it. Put it down during a busy season. Need to pick it up again.
  20. Read 3 memoirs
    • I have read “Home is Burning” by Dan Marshall and it was irreverent, crass, hilarious, and honest about grief and death and hard life.  I laughed hard. I cried softly. I loved it. I’m currently reading my 2nd — “The Glass Castle”
  21. Read Catch 22
    • Didn’t care for it. Didn’t need to read it. But I would’ve continued to want to read it until I figured that out for myself. Now I know.
  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
    • I thought I’d missed the boat on this one also, but as I was at a party after christmas, they had some! It wasn’t bad. I’ve always thought I might like fruitcake. I have the palate of a 90-year-old woman.
  25. Complete level 1 of Rosetta Stone for Italian
    • In process
  26. Try Gin
  27. Learn to play poker
    • Technically I learned to play. But I haven’t really played a full game. I think this still needs to happen.

Also, it’s been exciting to me that since I’ve started these lists, I’ve seen some of my friends get inspired to make their own lists which I think is incredible!! It’s so fun to see people define and work on their own goals. If you have any lists like this or just any goals that you’re working on, I’d love to hear about it!

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, February 09th, 2016 | Author:

When my sister died I was 14 and I thought I’d have to marry someone I already knew.

Let me explain: I was overwhelmed at the thought of creating a life eventually with someone who hadn’t walked with me through the hardest times. I thought my only life-long, tried-and-true friends that I would ever have were the ones showing themselves in the mess of grief that year.

The ones who walked around the hospital halls with me in the moments after her death. The one who called me from his military assignment and said the best thing that someone could say to me at the time: “Talk to me.” The ones who ditched classes with me to stare at the sun or walk to the cemetery and talk about the depths of pain, or talk about nothing at all. The ones who knew me, and who walked with me while I grieved.

Four years years went by, I left my hometown for college, and I began to share myself with the people around me (because, if you hadn’t realized, that’s who I am). As I did, I started to realize that my new friends, while new, seemed to be compassionate and understanding. They seemed to be able to grasp, mostly, who my sister was and what she was like through my stories that I slowly shared.

At some point soon after, I was no longer concerned about needing to marry someone who had known my sister or walked with me in my grief. I was my own person enough, and I’d lived enough life after death to not be concerned about it anymore.

I was still skeptical about if my “new friends” — these fun college hall mates and classmates — could ever become as close to me as my friends and people from home were, though.

While these new friends were wonderful and seemed supportive, they hadn’t been there for the worst parts of my life. They were incredible, but a part of me seriously doubted if they could ever be as close to my heart as the ones who’d been there through “it all.”

Later, after college had ended and I’d still stayed close to these college friends, I had accepted that they were true, even if they’d never been tried. They had never proven it to me (never had to… I only had one sister and hey, she’d already died, so they missed that boat). But their constant friendship, love, and lack of judgment led me to believe they were there for me, for better or worse.

In January 2013, my life changed tragically overnight for the second time, and I was exposed, left sitting alone, humiliated, hurting, and grieving. But, I was left with a supportive net of friends literally around the world.

My “new friends” from college (who at that point I’d known for at least 5 years) stepped in.

One drove to me immediately to sit with me through the initial blasts as we watched my community grieve and watched my life change. One sent me a care package from Germany. One invited me to visit him and cry in a bar in Kansas City as we talked about it. One wrote to me from Korea. Two called and texted regularly to check in from San Diego.

It’s hard to explain the hard things in our lives. And after the dust had settled from this second life explosion, I was left with no “new friends” — they were all grandfathered-in if they stayed. Not all of the “new friends” stayed. Frankly, not all of the “old friends” stayed, either. But some did, and some is more than enough.

As I started to move on again in life this second time, I moved to new communities, and I again found myself closed-off and skeptical about how I would make new friends who could possibly know me and support me like those who had “been there through it all” once or twice now.

I found that as I opened my heart to the possibilities, though, I’ve met some of my favorite people who I believe are made of that tried and true friendship material that sticks.

A couple of my best friends now are people who haven’t actually “been there through it all” for me, but I’m learning to accept that that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t have been, doesn’t mean that they can’t be there for me now, and visa versa. And I’m learning that just because people are there for you, doesn’t mean you have to be best friends, either.

I think I’m learning that sometimes grief binds us — sometimes in ways that enhance healthy relationships, and sometimes in ways that keep unhealthy ones going. Sometimes the only thing you have in common is that you have been there through it all. And while that’s valuable, I don’t think you have to hold onto that forever, either. Life changes. We change. And sometimes, those relationships should change, too.

I’m starting to believe and uphold the idea that just because I have many good friends who have bound themselves to me in the throws of messy life, it doesn’t mean that the new people who come into my life have to do the same to have the same caliber of friendship.

At the end of the day, I want healthy relationships. And some of those will be with people who have been there with me through it all. And some will be with people who merely hear the stories of “it all” and accept me as I am now. And both of those are perfectly good and as they should be.

When you’ve been through life-altering events, it’s hard to open yourself up to new people. But I still think it’s healthy and worthwhile to do so. Even if it takes a while.

To all of you, old and new, who are my dear dear friends — Thank you and 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

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, January 26th, 2016 | Author:

Sometimes days are hard. Sometimes life hurts. Sometimes it’s just heavy.

Sometimes it’s hard to wake up in the morning. Not because you didn’t sleep long enough, or didn’t sleep well enough (though those also may be true) but simply because being awake means facing the day. And facing the day means facing your current situation. Means your thoughts racing endlessly, at a pace that would tire marathoners. It means acknowledging that you are exactly where you are, and that that place feels heavy right now.

In my phases of grief in life, I’ve had months on end filled with what I call “grief fog,” where I can’t totally tell you how I spent my time. Most of it was spent trapped in my own head and chest, trying to make it through another hour, another day.

And honestly, though I am content in life, and things are going well, I still have times of the year, and just random days that are harder to face. Nothing like the excruciating beginnings of grief. But the days where the weight of life still seems heavy. Where I have to inhale a bit  longer to lift my chest up to get a full breath. Where it still feels sad to be living inside my skin.

Recently I was having a hard day, and I started to make a list of the things I’ve continued to do in life despite hard days that seem inconsequential, but that have helped me put one step in front of another and make it to the next day. I thought I’d share them with you. If you have any things like these that you do to help yourself through these types of times and days, please share them too. We all could probably use some suggestions.

  1. I wake up, get out of bed and get ready for the day, even if I’m staying at home and may not be seen by anyone. I wash my face. I brush my teeth. I put on make up and I do my hair nicely. I put on clothes that I feel good about or good in.
  2. I make my bed. There’s something about having a clean, organized, made-up space to bring a tiny piece of order to my mind.
  3. I pray. In short bursts. Sometimes with cursing. Sometimes just confessions like “God, I’m sad today.”
  4. I reach out to others. Sometimes to say “hey, I’m having a hard day.” because I’ve found that the key to breaking my loneliness is to be honest and vulnerable with the ugly shit. Or sometimes to just see how they are doing. Caring about others is good for my soul too, I’ve found, and often makes the days a little lighter.
  5. I write about it. If I have thoughts racing so fast that I feel overwhelmed, I try to write them out. The writing forces me to slow down my thoughts enough that they become coherent and, fortunately, less overwhelming.
  6. I go on walks. I’ve always loved walking. When I was little, my best friend and I would go on walks and bike rides and scooter rides everyday. Somewhere along the way I lost that practice. But finding it again in my early adult life has been a life saver. Especially when I’m lonely or sad, going on a long walk outside is a huge help.
  7. I drink coffee in the morning. I try to stick to the same routines I have in normal day-to-day life. Routine is a helpful tool for getting me through what otherwise does not feel routine.
  8. I eat healthy foods. If I feel like crap, eating healthy at least helps my insides feel less like crap.
  9. And sometimes I eat my best comfort foods that are not healthy at all (this is much more of a un-sustainable coping mechanism) — hello mashed potatoes and dessert.
  10. I cook. I find that doing something productive yet semi-mindless where I have a physical product to show at the end is a helpful release for me.
  11. I watch, read, or listen to something that always makes me laugh at the end of the day before I go to bed. For me, my go-to’s are sitcoms or standup comedy.

And I remember that I only have to do this one day at a time, one hour at a time.

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, January 19th, 2016 | Author:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon        storyofjoblog@gmail.com

Tuesday, January 12th, 2016 | Author:

“What do you miss most about home?” he asked me.

I paused. How to answer that this time? I often feel like a politician when I play the “get to know you” game of life.

“I miss the people,” I started. “And I think it’s beautiful there. And I’m partial to the way everyone drives in California.”

The question pin balled through my mind: What, now in 2016, now that I’ve found a new home that I’ve started to love and assimilate into, do I miss about my old home?

Then I piped up again with an addendum that surprised myself. “That’s most of what I miss. I’m really content in Wichita.”

It was the first time that someone asked something about “home” and my first inclination had honestly been, “wait, do you mean Wichita? Or California?” and in the split second of realizing the context realized they must mean California. It was the first time that I knew that it had really sunk in. That Wichita is home, not in theory or in choice, but in reflex.

But then, as the question continued to prod me, I added one last honest bit.

“I guess I miss being in a place where everyone knows me so well. There’s comfort in going around town and running into people who have known me since I was a child. For the good and the bad, the happy and the sad. That’s priceless to me.”

——  —–

Later in the day I was sitting next to one of my old roommates and best friends for years and as I saw some really sad news about someone I cared about from home, all I had to say was “look.” and she took my phone, read the news, and knew exactly who those people were to me and what the news meant. I didn’t have to explain. I’ve been telling her about the things, events, people, and places in my life for close to a decade. She’s never lived in my hometown. And she’s only even visited overnight once. But she knows me. And she knows my people.

Earlier in the week I was sitting on a different couch next to another close friend as I got some great news from a friend from home. When I shared the news, again, I didn’t need to explain who this friend was, or why it was so exciting.

While I might miss running into people around town who know me so well, I realized as I sat in those spaces with those good friends who are not from what “home” used to be, that I have somehow in life been given the gift of figuring out early how to share my home and my life with anyone that I’m around. It takes time to build up that rapport, it takes time to explain the nuances of who people are and how they fit together and where everyone is from and all of it, but eventually, it comes.

While I might no longer live in a town where I have a lot of people like that (yet), I have those people. And it gives me a lot of joy and peace to know that now, in this space in life, I am still well known. In that sense, what I miss about home is not isolated to a specific place — those people are around the country and around the world — and it’s not something I have to miss.

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

Category: Everyday Stories  | One Comment
Tuesday, December 29th, 2015 | Author:

In O’Hanlon Family Christmas Letter Tradition, here is mine:

2015 was another full year for me. Somehow full, but not too busy, which I think is my favorite kind of fullness. There were enough spaces and places that were slow, quiet, and solitary that I was consistently faced with myself, with who I want to be in the world and what I want to get out of life.

I traveled a good deal in the first half of this year for personal trips and for the Story Project.

Trips included:

  • Various trips to Golden, CO and other surrounding mountain areas of Colorado.
  • Oroville, CA
  • Denver, CO (lived here)
  • Kansas City, MO
  • Hutchinson, KS
  • Lawrence, KS
  • Colorado Springs, CO
  • Pueblo, CO
  • San Diego
  • Aptos, CA
  • New York City, NY
  • Sacramento, CA
  • Paradise, CA
  • Chico, CA
  • Seattle, WA
  • Portland, OR
  • Eugene, OR
  • Wichita, KS (Moved here!)

I launched The Story Project and have been able to give several people their written stories while I still have a few more to finish before the project is officially complete. Overall, I think I’ll continue with something like this but a different model. I’ve learned a lot about what goes into being a freelancer and being my own business head in the process.  And I’ve been touched by the stories of numerous people I otherwise wouldn’t have known. I have had to stop writing mid page on some because their story felt too personal, and the tears were coming too freely.

I set out to write people’s stories to let people know they’re not alone, and while I may have done that, I also found myself knowing again and again that I am not alone.

The biggest thing I have learned from the stories I’ve heard and written is this: I think that most of us are doing the best we know how, most of the time.

This spring I finished up my time living with my friend Kate in Colorado and it was a bittersweet closing on a very sweet chapter. But I moved away so I could move to Wichita, KS, which I was so excited about.

I lost my health insurance and gained a puppy. I read lots of books. Well, lets be honest, I read half of those books and listened to the other half as audiobooks.

I started selling my artwork in a local store here for the first time ever making me feel like a more “real” artist.

I started slack lining and disc golfing both in this year and they are two of my favorite hobbies now. A lot of fun and exciting big and little things happened in 2015.

I’m really, truly thankful that nothing particularly bad happened this year. It’s been a year of rebuilding, not of breaking. But in the interest of being real and not just talking about the shiny things, these were a couple hard things for me this year: I had a serious concussion this past spring which really took a toll on me for the months to come. I moved to a new town, which is always hard and takes a lot of energy (read: Is still hard and still takes a lot of energy). I faced some past demons, and realized I still had more serious anxiety and emotional turmoil to work through that popped up this year in unexpected places. I swapped financial stability for a house, which was not a bad move, but pushed me pretty far out of my comfort zone financially.

And I started to tell my story out loud and on the page. It’s been a hard year of accepting my past as part of my story, but not as what defines me. It’s been a year of openness and wrestling. It’s been a year of walking in and out of churches and deciding to remain out of them for the most part. It’s been a year of asking God hard questions and not getting a lot of answers. It’s been a year of searching for the community I used to know in the church, and finding it in bars and in living rooms instead.

Overall, I think this year has been a time where I’ve unlearned a lot of the things I’ve learned in the church, and re-learned a lot about God. About loving people. About loving the world. About letting people be where they are. About letting myself be where I am.

IMG_0346And at the end of the day, and the end of the year, I’m more proud of who I am now than I was at the beginning of the year.
There’s more that I could have done, and done better, and I’m OK with that. My hope for the end of 2016 again is that I will be more proud of myself and the ways I’ve engaged and pressed into life than I am now.

May I continue to wrestle and grow and learn. May you, too.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you!

Love, Jo and Phoebe (the puppy)


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

Category: Everyday Stories  | 2 Comments