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Tuesday, September 16th, 2014 | Author:

I was at the post office. It was 4:40 and I needed to mail a stack of about 7 envelopes all registered mail (meaning, apparently, that I have to fill out a form for each of the already-addressed envelopes with to-from info as well as estimated value included inside, and then they have to be specially sealed, then stamped all around that seal, then addressed again and sealed with an additional sticker of authenticity, and then weighed and posted). I’m tired just writing that.

So I filled out my portion of the form for each of my 7 envelopes hurriedly while I was in line, letting several people go in front of me. By the time I reached the counter it was about 4:50, 10 minutes until the closing. A tall, thin man in his 50s or 60s waived me up to his empty station at the far end of the counter. His name tag told me his name was Ike.

I came up and told him, apologetically, that I needed these 7 envelopes sent by registered mail and the rest sent regular post. He turned and walked away without saying anything. I wasn’t sure if he was getting something or heard me or just decided that enough was enough and it was close enough to closing.

I hung in the balance for a good 45 seconds, not knowing, until he turned around the corner with a roll of brown sealing paper in his hand. As he re-joined me at the counter, he set to work slowly, but not dawdling, just taking his precise time, still not saying anything. His face was kind, though, so I started: “How’s your day been today?”

“It was pretty good, then you showed up,” he said dryly, looking up at me with a glint of humor in his brown eyes. A beat. Then he smirked, softly.


photo credit: TheeErin via photopin cc

We began chatting, slowly at first, with long pauses between conversation topics. But the process to complete my request was long and I was with him for literally 30 minutes, and we chatted about his work, his life, where he’s lived, that I just moved to Colorado…

“When did you move?” he asked, still looking down, busy with his work.

“Last week,” I said, a little too peppy.

He paused. Looked up. “Last week!?” he exclaimed drawing out the emphasis like Bill Cosby would when talking to his kids.

“Yessir,” I said, smiling, friendly.

“Man. Well, I think you’ll like it. It grew on me, but it’s home now. I think that you’ll find that people are kind here. And if you meet the few who have bad attitudes, just tell them to go smoke a bowl and chill out,” he sat flatly, then looking up at me with that same sly glimmer, he let his full grin slip and laughed.

“Just offer them some cheetos to compliment their necessary high?” I joked. He laughed and then coughed from laughing.

We parted ways and I told him my name and told him he may see more of me as I seem to mail things often these days. “I’ll run the other way next time,” he said, winking. And then he silently waived the next person in the still very long line up to his desk as I walked away, 20 minutes after closing time.

He’s been at his job with the USPS for 30 years now, and been in this particular post office for 20 years. Never had a mail route: “Heck no. I like to be indoors with the controlled temperatures. If I’d have had a mail route, I’d have made a liar out of their ‘through sleet hail and snow’ motto real fast.” And he was not just patient, but pleasant as I came in with my lengthy request at almost closing time.

“Sorry again that you had to do this,” I said. “I promise next time it’d just be a simple “Hey Ike, can ya ship this for me,” request.”

“Nah, nah, it’s alright Jo. It was mighty fine closing out the day getting to stand around and chat with you. Have a good one.”

I may have moved to a pretty big city, but so far, I feel like the connections I’m making are these small-town type connections. Getting to know my post office employees and the workers at my local Costco. I’ve become well acquainted with my maintenance guy now — he’s been to my apartment to fix and re-fix issues with the gas in my fireplace about 5 times now over the past week.

I went to church last night and was fortunate enough to have a friend let the pastor know I’d be coming, so I got to go to dinner afterward with the pastor, his wife, and several others from the church. And I found myself telling my story, and crying in a restaurant as I am so familiar with doing now in public places when I get real and share my past pain.

And I’ve been to two family dinners — one with a cousin of mine and one with my friend Kate’s Aunt and Uncle who live here.  And I spent part of an afternoon giving a ride to Kate’s little sister who goes to college here now and doesn’t have a car.

Like I said, I may have moved to a big city, but these connections don’t feel like it. In a week I have had more honest and real interactions with people than I had in probably the first several months of my time in my previous town. Which doesn’t say as much about Denver versus Rocklin as it does about me now versus me a year ago.

I am opening up again. I’m coming alive again and being vulnerable again and it’s opening up some beautiful doors of connection. Even at the post office at closing 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

Tuesday, September 09th, 2014 | Author:

Last October, I had a realization that in less than a year I would be turning 25. I remembered that your pre-frontal cortex supposedly becomes fully developed by the time you are 25 years old. Meaning that it’s harder to learn new instruments,  new languages, or new technical processes (I think).

“Crap!” I remember thinking. “There’s so much I had planned to do to develop my brain by then!” (Yes, I actually think things like this. I’m weird. Whatever.)

I quickly decided that I needed to create some sort of goal list to help keep me on track for what brain-developing things I wanted to do before my pre-frontal cortex said “yeah, we’re good enough. We’re done. Thanks.”

So I, somewhat panicking, started to write down some things like that. “Learn italian. Play more piano. Create more paintings…” I began. But then I had the thought, maybe I should make a list of 25 things to do before my 25th birthday.  I firstly was thinking of those pre-frontal cortex related goals. But I realized that I may not be able to start learning Italian, become fluent in Spanish, Learn the cello, play more piano again, write a book, read ALL of the classical literature out there, and more items that I deep down wanted to do while it was still “easy”.

So I started a list of 25 things and I chose a few of the pre-frontal cortex developing options that I could fit within the year, and then I filled the other 25 slots with some times from my bucket list, and some from my “I really would like to accomplish this this year” unofficial list, and the last just from what sounded like fun things for the year.

This is what I came up with:
25 Things To Do Before I Turn 25:
1) write a book Started but have not finished. The book has changed shape and direction a lot in the past year, which is a good thing I believe. More on this below.

2) learn italian (took my first class at least)

3) play piano more (I said I wanted to learn at least 5 new songs well. I didn’t But I learned 3 new songs and re-learned 2 old songs)

4) climb a 14er Mt. Bierstadt, Colorado, Nov. 2, 2014 — hiked in halloween costumes with Kate. Completed despite being on a beta blocker that keeps your heart rate low at all times and makes exercising a light-headed affair.

5) go to the batting cages my friend Justin went with me to accomplish this.

6) take a dance class My roommate Brianne went with me to a line dancing class

7) be in some sort of acting production I met my friend Dan through this process. He filmed me in a promotional video for a luxury apartment complex. He posted on craigslist looking for actors. So I call him Craigslist Dan.

8 ) read Anna Karenina (Started it, should be finished within the next week. Though in the meantime I met actor Stephen Fry (ask me about this in person) and we talked about literature and I said I was reading Anna Karenina currently and his response: “Ahh, the greatest work of literature there is.” “Really? You think so?” I replied. I’ll have to see if I agree by the end.

9) read one more jane austen book Read Emma. It was pretty good, but more predictable than I would have liked. Pride and Prejudice will probably always be my favorite work like that.

10) publish an article in a magazine I got to write an article for my work and have it published in the Insurance Journal which is a national trade magazine. You can read it HERE

11) get fit Was in the best shape of my life this fall. I slacked a bit after that, but still feel in pretty fit. A couple days ago I moved all of my possessions from my packed car up 3 flights of stairs up to my 3rd story apartment in Colorado, and really, it was a lot of work, but I wasn’t even really huffing and puffing, and I’m not sore at all 2 days later. I’m impressed by this. PLUS, see #4.

12) get off beta blocker This was one of those “I want to do this, but realistically it won’t happen” goals. And I did it. Through a lot of chiropractic work, and dieting in ways that helped my neck heal properly, I was able to get off this nasty drug that I needed to prevent my migraines after a bad car crash. When I started the drug I was having migraines literally every day. When I got on the drug, I started to have only about 8 per month. I am now off of it for a few months and have only about 4 or less migraines a month. Which I’m ecstatic about! I can also sleep normal amounts, I have energy, I can work out normally again without blacking out, and that is Fan-FREAKING-tastic in my book!

13) run a 5k I ran the Courage Run 5K in Granite Bay with my friend Theresa. Theresa had also done a similar goal project of 28 goals before she turns 28. We found out that we both had these lists, and we had this goal in common, so it was great to get to cross this one off together!

14) go to a standup comedy show My friend Justin’s little brother is a comedian and had a comedy show in Sac so it was awesome to go with a bunch of our friends to support him and to also get to cross this off my list. He and the others were really quite funny. It was a blast. I want to go to more of these.

15) watch casa blanca This has been on my life list since I was in high school and a teacher I very much respected and who wasn’t the artsy, literature-reading, romanticism, old-movie watching type told me is was his favorite movie. And you know what, for someone who has resisted watching old movies for my whole life, I loved it. I’d buy it.

16) watch The Office series I had seen couple episodes here and there, but never gotten into it. Many friends who had similar entertainment tastes to me loved it, though, and my friend Jessica in college had convinced me to try it. I had put it on my life list then. And I completely watched the series this year and it is SO GOOD. I love it. I want to own it. I already re-watch it sometimes. And as I watched through the seasons I would send my “Oh my goodness!! Jim kissed Pam! Jim kissed Pam!!!” comments to her. It was a lot of fun and almost felt like we were in college again watching something for the first time together.

17) watch breaking bad I have begun, but not completed this. I will be doing so this fall, though.

18) milk a cow Theresa also went with me to accomplish this. It took a lot of asking around trying to actually find a cow someone would let me milk. I hit a lot of dead ends in this search. BUT, at the state fair I met a farmer who told me there was an exhibit (mostly for children) where they demonstrate how to milk a cow or a goat every hour and then let you do it too. SO we totally waited in line and milked a cow, AND a goat at the state fair.

19) catch a fish This was another life list item that I was very intent on completing at some point. I’ve fished and tried to catch fish many times in life and had NEVER been successful. My brother Jason and our family friend Tim took me out on Tim’s boat though on the lake for a fishing day and I caught not one, but FIVE big mouth bass! Tim is a fishing pro, so that helped to have his guidance of how to cast and where to cast, etc. But FIVE Five freaking fish!!! I think this was the goal that I was most excited about completing. I couldn’t stop smiling and I would’ve felt like a parade to celebrate wouldn’t have been entirely over the top for my giddiness.

20) write a good fiction short story I struggled with this one and I knew I would, which is why I made it a goal. I don’t know how to write fiction. Never have. I asked friends for topics. Which I couldn’t turn into anything. But my brother-in-law Chris posted a story that he wrote on the spot for inspiration, and that did get my juices going. I ended up with THIS STORY which I’m actually pretty proud of.

21) Go to Georgetown falls (near auburn) This was awesome. They are natural water slides in the river. A large group of friends all went together, headed up by my friend Amy which was super helpful, because I didn’t know where they were. My friends Lizzy and Theresa drove and hiked there with me, which was a bit tedious because of getting lost, and traipsing through the forest, but we came out alright. =)

22) start writing a 2nd book Through the process of blogging every week since January, I have started to realize that I have some thoughts on grieving and death and my honest experiences with loss that I want to share. I’m compiling some of the blog posts as well as other not-yet-published material for a short book on Loss and Life, and how to hold both together at the same time.

23) paint at least 5 more pieces. This year kind of exploded art-wise for me. Since January, I have painted and drawn over 50 completed pieces and sold many of them. to be fair, when I made this goal, 5 new pieces in a year was way more than I’d ever done. Crazy how life changes.

24) stick to a budget Did this. It isn’t super fun. Never has been. But you know what, when I went to the Dentist last week and had my first cavity and needed to pay for the filling, I had the money to do so because I budget for stuff like that, sad as it is.

25) Try snowboarding I went snowboarding for the first time ever, on the last day of the season when there was not even snow covering the whole mountain. It was a LOT harder than most things that I try for the first time. But I had a lot of fun trying and I want to go again next year, and hopefully get to the point where it’s not QUITE so hard and so much work. This is actually how I got to know Brianne who ended up being my roommate my last few months in Rocklin. I had met her once before at church, and then saw her the night before and said, “hey! Do you want to go snowboarding on Saturday (two days away)?” I had decided that I had to go, whether I went alone or not, because I wanted to complete this goal. And she said “Yeah, that sounds like fun!” So it ended up that she, myself, and another girl, Lindsay, all drove up and snowboarded together, and my brother met us up there for the day too!

After my 9 months of goal-oriented living from late October, 2013 to early August, 2014, I’ve realized that it was so much more of a fulfilling project than I thought it would be. Those goals in red are the only ones I didn’t complete all the way, though I was satisfied with the fact that I started everything. And that I still intend to finish them all.

One of the things I’ve been learning about is to dream big and create and work toward big goals. I think this type of challenge brings me to life and helps me live more fully, even if I sometimes fall short of those goals.

One of the things I didn’t think about when I started this is how this list would help me to foster friendships and create camaraderie with those around me who got excited about the list for me and wanted to help me accomplish things. This is why I’ve listed who I completed these goals with. Because it became a pretty continual conversation topic that invited people not just to know about my life, but to participate in things that I wanted to do, and that they maybe wanted to do, too.

And the bottom line is that I ended up starting work on 25 goals, and completing 23 of them that otherwise might have been nice, “I want to do this sometime” thoughts that may not have happened for a long time, if ever. And that, friends, makes me happy.

Which is why I’m also deciding to do a goal list for this next year of life too. Check out my 26 before 26 list HERE.  Look for posts about it on Facebook and Instagram as I start in on another year of living intentionally and fully.

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

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon

Tuesday, September 09th, 2014 | Author:

Here are my 26 goals to accomplish before I turn 26 on August 7, 2015

1. Climb another 14er

2. Do a cartwheel

3. Read a Graphic Novel

4. Write/Draw a cartoon/comic series (short or ongoing)

5. Return to Büsingen, Switzerland

6. Read the Brothers Karamozov or Moby Dick

7. Read another Hemingway novel

8. Continue learning Italian (complete work books on my own, take another class, or some tangible effort like this)

9.  Start a book project writing biographies on regular everyday-Joe people in the US

10. Write 12 more poems

11. Go to another concert/show

12. Go to a new country

13. Make 4 new oil paintings

14. Get something published in a non-trade-journal magazine

15. Try slack-lining

16. Play disk golf

17. Learn a new card game (and remember how to play it later)

18. Try a completely new food

19. Learn 4 line dances well

20. Try 6 new whiskeys

21. Go to an Imax movie (real movie, not science/museum movie)

22. Read Twilight

23. Read the Psalms at least 30 days in a row and meditate on them

24. Learn all the US Presidents, memorize them. (I’m embarrassed to put this on here, but seriously, this needs to happen now, as it’s way overdue).

25. Learn more about current politics and news and voting schedules.

26. Watch the sun rise over the ocean

Note: I created this In the first week of being 25 and have since already begun accomplishing some! Updates to follow.

Tuesday, August 05th, 2014 | Author:

In 2 days, I will turn 25. Kind of a big birthday in my eyes.

On my last birthday, I wrote a column about the discipline of celebrating what is good, even if life is hard. It was a good piece that I still think I should abide by. The thing is, I wrote about how life is really hard sometimes, and that in those times, it’s easy to want to just ignore the opportunity to celebrate. When birthdays come after a death, it’s easy to just want to skip it. When holidays come after divorce, it’s easy to just want to ignore them. But really, we should celebrate. Even when we don’t feel like it.

I wrote: “It is not easy. It is a discipline. But the discipline of celebration itself helps to bring me back to life again. I believe life is always worth celebrating. And in the midst of life being hard, I intend to choose to celebrate what is good.”

But then when the actual day came, it was easier written than exercised. I had horrible hives on my birthday all over my back and stomach, and by lunch time they had crawled their way up on my neck and face. (For perspective, to me, the ninth level of hell would be itching without ceasing.) I ended up leaving work to go to the doctors because I was so miserable and it continued to get worse.

My family came together to have dinner with me, and I couldn’t even tell you where we ate. They talked about things and I was miserably distant, not able to think of anything but the itching, my migraine, how tired I was from the shots the doctor had given me, and how my sucky broken life was hard enough to try to celebrate without all of this.

We got back to my parents and were about to open presents when I started crying and canceled my birthday. “Can we just not?” I said. “I don’t want to open these presents. I’m miserable. I have no idea what you guys talked about at dinner. I just can’t do it. It’s too hard.”

And I sobbed as my dad and brother waited, unsure of how to proceed, having gathered in traditional O’Hanlon family places for birthday-present opening. My mom came over to the side of my chair and told me it was OK. We didn’t have to do it if it was too hard. They wanted to celebrate my life, but not if it was too hard for me.

So after writing about celebrating what’s good, and deciding that’s what I was going to do, I instead canceled my birthday with itchy, drowsy tears.

But, through those tears, I asked if we could have a re-do the next week. Which we did. It wasn’t really a special thing, just family dinner again. But at least I was mentally present that time. I wanted to try my hardest to celebrate what was good in life. But to be honest, it was a real struggle. And I flat-out failed the first time I tried.

But the thing is, I tried again. I asked for a re-do.

And that’s how I’m trying to live my life these days and years now.  I’m trying to identify the ways I think it’s valuable to live, but sometimes those are hard ways to really live out. So I try. And when I fail, I try again. And even when I succeed, sometimes it’s not glamorous. It just barely qualifies.

But as I’m getting older, that’s actually one of my things I’m trying to do more — I want to fail sometimes. I want to be trying to do the hard things. And that means failing sometimes. And sometimes it means making it — barely — and not in the way I thought I would. That’s what my life is about these days — trying to dream big dreams, tackle big goals, and have grace for myself along the way. Because it’s true, sometimes I will fail.


As someone who always accomplished what I’d set out to do before, this has been a different approach to life for me in the past year, and I think it’s been a really healthy shift. I’ve failed at more things this year than maybe any other year. And I’ve also grown personally this year more than in any other year.

So, the world can know that I started off my 25th year by failing. And by the end of that year now, I’m OK with that.

I’m going to celebrate my 25th birthday by playing mini golf, which I have never done. So I’m betting there will be a fair amount of failing on this birthday as well. But I’m excited to try!

Joanna 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