Compromise Is Worth It | Roommate Series #4: Julianne

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

L-R: Kate, me, Em, Jules

L-R: Kate, me, Em, Jules

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon

Make It Work | Roommate Series #3 Jane*

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

Roommate Award: Biggest Disney fan AND Most Unique

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“OK.” She’d said, not looking at me.

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

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

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

“OK,” she said.

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

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

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

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

“I’m turning the lights back on, ok?”

“That’s fine,” she said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I still think that’s a valuable roommate lesson.

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

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon

Worm your way in – Roommate Series #2 – Julie

Roommate: Julie – From 1992-2001, (my) Ages 3-11. Award: Roommate I lived with Longest

When I was born, I was told that my older siblings had fought over whether I would be a girl or boy, because they each had wanted me as a roommate.

But when I spent the first three years of my life living in my brothers room, my sister was more excited about the prospect of getting bunk beds than she was about having an addition to her living space.

Julie and I right before I moved in.

Julie and I right before I moved in.

It’s understandable. I’d just turned three when I moved in, and she was already nine and a half. I went to bed much earlier than she did, which cramped her style. I played with toys on the floor, which cramped her style. I needed my own dresser and my own half of the closet, which literally cramped her style.

She quickly asserted herself as the alpha dog. I mean, she already was the alpha dog of our little sibling pack, but with me coming into her room, the assertion was more aggressive. At some point in her early high school years, she’d be staying up late with homework and I remember her jumping off her top bunk with force, flipping on the main light again (after it’d only been off a minute) and saying — I need this on for homework. You have to sleep through it.

Which was fine with me. I could sleep anytime, anywhere. I played hard and long outside everyday, and I was always a sound sleeper. Before that since I was a tiny kid, she’d started to listen to audiobooks or music every night as she’d fall asleep — which I really enjoyed, and I still do often to this day.

Ages 5 and 11 -- Julie teaching me how to "roller blade"

Ages 5 and 11 — Julie teaching me how to “roller blade”

But she was always grumpy about these things. I think she just felt that I was there, impeding her style, and she’d get frustrated by the fact that she she felt like I would mind the things she wanted to do. Which actually, I didn’t mind, because I was easy-going, and she was my idol. If she wanted to keep the light on until 2AM, that was probably the coolest way I could think of to go to sleep.

She often had migraines, as well, she developed a serious health condition which rendered her bedridden for much of the day for the better part of a few months. As I was still a homeschooled child at that point, that made my room off limits to me for the daytimes.

I’d have one of my best friends over and we’d be playing, and we’d need something from my room. We’d traps down the hall like normal, but right as we’d get to the door, I’d say, “Ok, be quiet, because Julie’s in there,” which they knew meant that she was in there home sick with either a migraine or a desperate need to sleep, or both. I’d see a look of panic and terror wash over their face as I’d say, “No, it’s fine, just don’t say anything.”

Quintessential Julie face. Ages 8 and 14.

Quintessential Julie face. Ages 8 and 14.

I’d open the door as quietly as possible, but that door always creaked, and we’d tip toe in. When the light from the hallway would wash over the top bunk we’d inevitable hear a groan and she’d turn over — a bear adjusting her sleeping position during hibernation. Once in a blue moon she’d yell at us to get out. At the moan or the yell, my friend would scamper out into the hallway, but I’d stand my ground. She was like a sleeping bear.  But I shared the den. I wasn’t afraid. Maybe I wasn’t wanted there. But I wasn’t afraid. And I knew my rights.

I’d find whatever I was looking for in the dark room with my keen night-vision, and then I would tip toe back out, and again, as quietly as possible, shut the door.

But amid the tip-toeing in the dark, amid the going to sleep in the light, amid the endless “My room is clean mom, that’s all Joanna’s stuff.” tattling that was absolutely not true. Amid all of that, in the quiet moments here and there when no one else could see, she’d share things with me. She’d let her guard down. She’d let me into her world for a brief moment. And sometimes, for a long moment.

I was a midnight confidant. I remember when I was five, I was asleep on my bottom bunk, and she’d just turned off the light and hopped to the top bunk. With her shaking the bed as she climbed up I woke up, and told her goodnight.

“You’re awake?” she said.

“Yeah, just now,” I said.

“Wanna talk a little bit?”


“Do you like any boys?” she asked me.

I gigged. “Nooo…. Do you like any boys?” I asked her.

What followed was a 20 questions type deal where she eventually revealed to me who she had a crush on, which at the time, was the ultimate sacred secret to keep for any middle school girl.

“Don’t. Tell. Anyone. Or I’ll kill you,” she threatened when I’d finally guessed.

I wasn’t scared of her. “I won’t,” I said truthfully. She didn’t have to scare me into knowing how valuable of a secret she’d shared. I was the most special 5 year old I knew in that moment. I had a cool older sister, who told me secrets that mattered to her. I wouldn’t blow it. I promised I wouldn’t tell anyone.

“OK. Good,” she said.

And even though it was dark, and she was laying in her bed on the top bunk out of sight, I’m sure she was smiling.


To this day, I have a tendency to gravitate toward the hard-exteriored, grumpy people of the world. Maybe I don’t gravitate toward them, I just don’t run away as everyone else does. Because my time living with Julie taught me many things, but mostly, it taught me that grumpy people aren’t necessarily mean people. And if you stay secure in yourself and your rights, if you aren’t afraid and you don’t run away, you just stick around, eventually, they may just let you in. Probably just in small moments at first. But dams cave with fewer cracks in them than you’d think.

Ages 13 and 20. Two years after she moved out.

Ages 13 and 20. Two years after she moved out.

By the time right before my sister got married, she admitted that she missed living with me, and that she considered me a friend. I count that as a personal win.

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

Life’s Not Fair: Roommate Series #1- Jason


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I said no.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon

Things No One Tells You About Grief: You May Vomit

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

The Day I Grew up | The things I tried to forget

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

A horse and My sister’s death: About God (not) answering prayers

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

Half Way Update: Jo’s 27 before 27 goal list

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

Old and New: Finding New (Good) Friends After Tragedy

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

Plans vs Goals | Jo’s Tips for Doing What You Want To Do

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