Tips for getting through hard days

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

Making choices | The Art of Contentment over Complacency

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

Being Known Well — Part of Home

“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

Jo’s (belated) Christmas Letter: About 2015

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

3-year-old Jo’s Guide to Gift Giving – Christmas edition

One of my family’s favorite stories to tell at Christmas time is about my 3-year-old self’s guide to gift giving:

No Gift? No Worries! 3-year-old Jo’s guide to gift giving

  1. Who do you need to give the gift to? (Specifically, you need to know their name for this to work.)
  2. Go out into your back yard and search around. If you don’t have a back yard, go to a park with trees.
  3. Look for and find a good piece of bark. Now, this step is crucial. Your bark needs to be breakable into a smallish size (about the size of the really big iPhones). And it needs to be thick enough that you can carve into the face of it without it breaking apart.
  4. Hand the bark to your older siblings, tell them to carve your person’s name into the bark with their super cool swiss army pocket knives.
  5. Once they are finished, inspect their work.
  6. Wrap present.
  7. Sign it with you name and your siblings name.
  8. Be cute enough that you get most of the credit for the gift.
  9. Try not to suggest this gift giving method to the recipient of your gift before they’ve opened your gift. It may ruin their surprise.


I’m not sure how successful you’ll be with this method as grown adults, but it was very effective as a toddler. My mom still has her piece of bark that says “MOm” on it sitting on her dresser 23 Christmases later. So, obviously, it works sometimes.


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

When Christmas isn’t Merry & Bright

I remember being in college, and learning that one of my old junior high students from the youth group I helped with had had his mother die. On Christmas day. Their dad was already out of the picture and life was already hard.

For a story I wrote earlier this year (which will be published at a later date), I sat in an interview with a man who told me his mom and his dad sat them down to tell him and his brother that his mother was having an affair with their friend’s dad. It was Christmas day when they told the boys this. “We took the tree down after that,” he said. “Christmas was over.”

Just this past week, a guy I know from my hometown had his dad unexpectedly pass away. And the week before that a gal I went to school with had her little four-month-old baby die in his sleep.

But here comes Christmas and while no one means it in a confrontational way, the messages all around us tell us that everything is, or should be “merry and bright.”

Ideally, our families would all get along and our Christmas days would be Merry and Bright — our tree would shine with the hundreds of starry lights, and our front lawns would be covered in snow, and our bellies would be full from good food and would laugh heartily, merrily, if you will, from all the joy of the day and the good news that Jesus is born and Santa came.

But sometimes Christmas — like many other days that have no name aside from “monday” or “today” — is a hard day to get through. Sometimes the whole Holiday Season is hard to get through. When everyone is bustling around looking joyful in their instagram pictures and you are hurting and aching inside and you feel like you just want to hide under a rock until January when it’s finally acceptable to be “hard and dull” again.

Sometimes, our worlds are quite dark despite — sometimes because of — Christmas time.

But this is what I know. Christmas is a symbol of light in darkness. The bright does not have to be merry, it is simply hopeful. It doesn’t even mean that things are going to be fixed now, better now — it just means that there is hope of brighter days ahead.

Whether you are religious or not, or whether you believe in God or not — that’s what Christmas is meant to be — that’s what Christmas is to me — a hopeful light in the dark sky that says, “You are real, your hard-life crap is real, and while it’s maybe really dark right now, and it feels like you’re alone, that everyone has forgotten you, that you just cannot catch a break, there is hope. Maybe not tomorrow, maybe not the next day, or even the day after that, but this pain, this sadness, this aloneness gets better. There will be better days ahead. Please, know that you’re not alone. Please, know that there is hope.”

The story goes that 2,000-some-odd years ago, actually not in December, not with snow, or trees, or any brightness or merryness, a young girl completely shamed by a sex scandal, pregnant, married to a man who thought she was a liar for a time, and on the road for a last minute tax census started to go into labor. They couldn’t find a place to stay. They tried and tried, and could not catch a break. Until finally one generous (read: I think he was probably an asshole trying to do his minimum standard “good deed” for the year. Who doesn’t give up their bed to a pregnant lady in labor??) inn keeper says, “Alright fine. you can stay in the barn. Don’t mess with the animals.”

And she has a baby. Away from home. Young. Afraid (I’m certain, because who, when giving birth for the first time isn’t). Practically alone. Her mom isn’t there. The women of her village who she always had thought would be there when it came time weren’t there. And she probably had the sadness to realize that even if she was home they might not have been there, because, again, she was shamed by what everyone considered a sex scandal.

And yet there, there was this little baby. His formal name was Jesus. But they called him “Immanuel,” which means “God with us.”

That’s what Christmas is about. If you believe the story, know that it’s about God being with us. If you don’t believe in God, know that it’s about the fact that still, you are not alone. That there is hope. Hope, even in the midst of dark, dark, nights where you can’t catch a freaking break.

For those whose Christmas times are feeling Merry and Bright — please try to reach out, spread that brightness to those in the dark nights.

For you for whom Christmas is a hard time, I believe that God is with you. My prayer is that you will feel that to be true, even when it feels hard and dull.


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

Books Books Books: What to read this winter

My parents and brother just came out to Kansas for Thanksgiving and they drove the last of my earthly possessions here with them. Which means, I finally have all of my books with me again.

As I unpacked the 6 or 8 boxes of books and started to sort them into piles to put on the shelves, a definitive sense of comfort came over me.

My whole life I’ve loved books. I’ve always had more books than I have had toys or anything else.


I’m not a fast reader, or a voracious reader by any means. In my adult life, I have to be intentional to spend time reading books because, well, Netflix is easier. But I want to be a reader, I like being a reader, and most of all, what I love about having my books back with me is that I love to SHARE what I’m reading.

I’ve said that for a long time to those who’ve scoffed or smirked at my full arms at used book sales (or my many boxes while moving so many times — which by the way, I sadly now only have about 1/4 if that of the books that I once had do to purging for moves).

I like to own the physical copies of books so that I can tell someone about a book and then offer, “I own it — do you want to borrow it?”

My mom actually even brought a copy of the Kite Runner with her in her suitcase, “I found this and I know that you leant it to me at some point but I think this is your copy.”

“Oh, you can keep it!” I said. “I have another copy right now. I’ve given it away several times to people because it’s so good, so I just bought another copy, so you can keep that one.”

There’s something about sharing the story that makes it even better.

So, as I was looking through my books, I thought I would share some of my favorites with you in case you’re in the mood to read this holiday season and need some suggestions.



Crime and Punishment — I’ll preface it this way: Most Russian novels are long, sad, and have lots of characters so they can be hard to get into. BUT, this is one of my favorite classics. If you’re a sucker for redemption in non-fairy-tale ways, and you want to feel the hardness and sadness of the world along the way to that redemption, read this. Tell yourself at the start that you’re going to read the whole thing. I’ve only read two classics more than once, and this is one of them.

Pride and Prejudice  — If you want something much lighter than C&P, go for P&P. Men, this one is more of a woman’s pleasure (though if you like witty banter and well-told angsty love stories, please do read). “What are men to rocks and mountains?” Elizabeth Bennet asks. I ask that every time I climb a mountain. It’s a fun one, a great one. And it’s the other classic I’ve read more than once.

Brave New World — If you read 1984 and loved it, read this, it’s better. If you read 1984 and hated it, you might not love this, but again, this is better. If you read the Hunger Games or the Giver and loved it, go ahead and read a dystopian novel actually written for adults and see how much better they are. Still compelling. Still haunting. Still really, really good (and important). It’s a fast read.

Lord of the Flies — Another fast read, and largely a similar premise to the TV show LOST. What happens when a plane full of prep school aged boys crashes on a desert island? Find out. It really is thrilling.

The Old Man and the Sea — If you’ve never read any Hemingway but you want to, (and/or maybe you want to be able to say you have), this book is a great, super short intro to Hemingway. Also, if you love the sea (in a sailor kind of way, not a lay-on-the-beach sort of way), this is gonna be a good one, and much more palatable time-wise than the monster of a book, Moby Dick.

Farewell to Arms — If you’re ready for more Hemingway, I love this book. It’s centered on the story of an ambulance driver for the Red Cross in Italy during WWII and it’s painfully good.



Our Town by Thornton Wilder — You’ll be faced with the thoughts on what matters most in life and death, and what your town, your community means to you.

The Incident at Vichy by Arthur Miller — Miller is definitely best known for 1) being married to Marilyn Monroe and 2) being the author of famed plays Death of a Salesman  and The Crucible. But this little known play I stumbled on in a used book sale, and it has haunted me ever since. It’s a short, simple read, that poses the question through the characters: If you could switch places with someone and spare their life by giving yours (in this case for a Jew in Nazi controlled France), would you?

Newer Books that will be Classics soon:

The Kite Runner — I’ve probably given away more copies of this book than any other. The story feels so real, so true, so compelling that I couldn’t stop thinking about it while I was reading it. So many times I went to the author’s bio online to see if this stuff actually happened to him because it was so well written  and such a good, gripping, crazy story. Also, it really helps paint a picture of how Afghanistan changed hands to the Taliban and what that meant for the people on the ground there. Important read and really really good read.

The Things They Carried — This is my favorite book. Period. It’s set in the Vietnam war, told by a character that shares a name with an author, Tim O’Brien, who also served in Vietnam. But throughout the book, the narrator tells you “This is not a true story.” Just when you read something that is so crazy vivid, so specific that you swear this had to have happened for real, the narrator says, “I’m lying to you. This is not a true story.” Read it. It’ll drive you crazy and you’ll love it. It’s that good.

The Life of Pi — A kid and a tiger are on a life boat at sea trying to survive. It’s a story that touches on all the themes of humanity, including sanity. It’s really, really good and easy to get caught up in.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close — A kid loses his dad in the 9/11 attacks. He then goes on a secret mission through the burroughs of New York trying to find the lock that matches a mysterious key that his father had. He meets the city through his quest, different people all affected in different ways by the attacks and by life, and also, they meet him. It’ll grip your interest and your heart.


Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris — Most of Sedaris’ work is nonfiction essays and they’re all amazing. So read anything by him, and it will all be funny. But this anthropomorphism book is not strictly nonfiction because he uses animals as the personas for his incredibly funny stories, but it’s amazing. And a fast read, too. I read it in two sittings at a Barnes and Noble, and then still bought it because I knew I’d want to re-read it again and again.

The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs — Jacobs, an agnostic Jew who lives in New York City and writes for Esquire magazine decided to follow the Bible’s laws for a year. All of them. Like even the ones about not sitting where a woman has sat when she’s had her period, or not wearing mixed fabric clothing. What ensues is really funny, really educational, and really eye-opening to christians and others alike.

Into the Wild — This book is the best book I’ve read in the past decade. And it’s the best non-fiction I’ve ever read. Period. John Krakauer delves into the story of a young man who set off into the alaskan wilderness on a quest to find himself and experience nature but who dies while he’s there. Like a detective working backward through the clues, Krakauer, a journalist for Outside magazine, tries to find out what happened and to make sense of it all — for the world, for the young man’s family, but most of all for himself. I saw more of myself in this book than I was comfortable with, and that is always compelling.

Fun Books/Thrilling Books/All Others

Angels and Demons by Dan Brown — I read this book while studying abroad, about to go to Rome (where it’s set) and you actually learn a LOT of true historical information while just reading this thrilling tale of murders, secret society conspiracy, and papal scandal. I read the last third of the book laying on my friend Sara’s bed while she studied and I was so distracting with my exclamations of “WHAT??!!” and “Noooo!” that she made me leave the room. It’s Dan Brown’s best, even still.

Gone Girl — You’ve heard the hype. It’s true. It’s so well written and I did NOT see some of the plot twists coming. I actually listened to this one on audiobook and the version that’s on is really, really well done.

The Time Traveler’s Wife — Men, disregard probably. Women, um, read this now if you love a good love story. I loved it. Loved  it.

Private by James Patterson — I also listened to this mystery novel on and would recommend it. Typical but well done murder mystery. Really enjoyable.

The girl with the dragon tattoo/who played with fire /who kicked the hornet’s nest: This trilogy is incredible. I will give you this disclaimer though, the author was Swedish and, like the Russian novels, it has a lot of characters and so it takes a while to pick up steam (and they’re long). I listened to the first one as an audio book on an 8.5-hour drive down to college after a break and the first few hours were slow. But by the time I got to school, I couldn’t stop. The next few days I was listening every single chance that I got until it was finished. The other two books went very similarly.

Happy reading! And if you have book suggestions for me, please fire away!!


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

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon

Giving Tuesday — Let’s be the remedy

“Name ten people you met this week,” he said to us. We were sitting in a dining room in South Africa. We’d just come back from a couple weeks in Malawi, Africa, and we were debriefing in Johannesburg before returning home.

They’d sent us — 5 teenagers from North America — to Malawi to meet people, to see projects that were happening, to see the ways people were living and to see how things like fish ponds and irrigation systems could change their lives. Sometimes save their lives.

Malawi was in a severe state of drought. And statistically those people in the fourth poorest country in the world (2007) would run out of food half way through the dry season. Let alone running out of water.

Dave, our leader, had told us again and again — “You are the eyes and ears of 10,000 youth. Take it all in. Don’t miss it.” We were to return to the states and speak to 10,000 of our peers at a conference, trying to relay the need that existed in the world and the ways we all could help.

He said it to me as I was about to leave alone to follow a woman named Monica down a dirt path to her village. What I saw and heard for the 10,000 was that Monica doesn’t have clean water. She has a mud puddle to provide for her family, which sometimes makes them sick, and which then dries up and leaves them with nothing. I saw the trees under which her children that have died from the water-born illnesses are buried. I saw a young boy being buried there presently as I walked by. The red dirt they dug up for his grave stained my shoes and my memory.

“Name 1o people you met,” he said. So we did. The five of us went around in a circle and named 10 people we’d met and connected with in Malawi. Names like Monica, Mwabi, Immaculate and Gloria.

I went last. And when I’d finished, with tears in his eyes, he spat, “pick one that dies.”

We looked at him with hatred and confusion.

“Pick one that dies. Every one of you. Pick one that dies.”


“Pick one that dies, because if they don’t get this help, the statistic is that one in ten won’t last this dry season. So one of your people will die. Remember that when you speak. This is not about people buying fish ponds and feeling nice. This is about people who will die if nothing changes.”

Those four words have always haunted me. Pick. one. that. dies.

It’s easy, when things are out of our face, out of our minds, out of our lives to ignore the need in the world. But when I look into their faces. When I know their names. That changes everything.

One of the men whose name I listed in that room actually did die. He died two days before I said his name. I didn’t find out for a couple of months. He had AIDS — we’d met him at an AIDS support group and he’d taught us a song about God’s goodness. It was enough to make me want to believe in God’s goodness in the face of sadness, too.

Today is giving Tuesday. If you want to give, if you want to help be the change in the world, here are some ideas how to do it.



  • Charity Water — This one is awesome. Clean water is probably the thing that is nearest and dearest to my heart. AND, I found this guy in san diego that you can follow on instagram (@thepancakedad) who is raising money for charity water. If you donate through his link HERE, 100% goes to Charity water, PLUS he’ll make you whatever customized pancake art you want (you only get a picture though, the actual pancakes go to feed his own children). It’s pretty awesome and fun.
  • World Vision has a sponsor who is matching any donations made today. You can donate a general gift that they will use where it’s most needed. You can Sponsor a child. You can help the refugee funds. Or you can purchase something from their gift catalog — as big as a well or a fish pond, or as small as a chicken. All these gifts help people in communities like the ones I’ve been to in Malawi. Donate HERE
  • World Relief — $40 provides winter wear for refugees entering the United States. “Many refugees come to the U.S. from countries with hot climates. Prepare a refugee for their first cold winter with warm coats, gloves and scarves. In light of #GivingTuesday our goal is to provide 250+ refugees with warm winter gear. Your help in giving warmth to the most vulnerable is appreciated.” DONATE HERE
  • Salvation Army — at this time of year most of your local salvation army locations do a coat drive. Donate new or gently used coats to your local store.
  • Donate/Help/Love on people around who have recently lost loved ones. The first holidays after someone passes away are incredibly tough anyway — especially if they’ve passed during this season. If you don’t know of anyone to help in this category but feel that tug on your heart, a girl that I went to middle school and high school just lost her couple month old baby who passed away in his sleep earlier this week. You can donate to her gofundme account for their funeral expenses here.


  • Hand out socks and blankets to those you see who have to sleep on the streets. This is a cold time of year and socks are some of the least donated, yet most needed items while on the streets. Other items that homeless individuals have told me they often need and don’t get — clean underwear, a towel, something healthy to eat that lasts (like a protein bar), and feminine hygiene supplies like pads and tampons.
  • Invite a struggling family (struggling with life, finances, grief, whatever) to join your family for different events and activities throughout the season. Inviting people in is a huge gift this time of year.
  • Look into your town’s local services for the homeless and what volunteer opportunities they have during this season (and beyond). Maybe you can be a greeter as people come in for a meal. Or maybe you can be the one who chops all the onions for the soup beforehand. There are lots of options with varying degrees of personal interaction so you can still be helpful without being too far out of your comfort zone if you’re wary.
  • Go buy a coffee for someone whose super busy this time of year. Seriously. Get them their cup of coffee of choice and bring it to them midday. The caffeine and your kind generosity are sure to be a help.


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 most thankful I’ve ever been — About The Resilience of Thankfulness

If you told me 12 years ago that my world would change forever in a few months, I either wouldn’t have believed you, or I wouldn’t have been thankful at Thanksgiving. Not really.

I probably would’ve said that I’d be grateful — good, strong church kid that I was. But I wouldn’t have been. I’d have tallied it up with my chronic illness in the category of “things in which I just can’t get a break.” There would’ve been nothing sincere left in the “Thankful for” column as I was already an angsty teen.

I was 14 and I was thankful. Until my sister died. Then I was mad at the world and wore a fake smile.

Through many years, though, we rebuilt a “new normal.” I found people inside my family and out that felt like home. We created a good life together. A great life together.

In time, I was thankful again. So thankful. Abundantly thankful. My line was, “There’s not anywhere else in the world I’d rather me, nor anything else I’d rather be doing, than being here now, doing what I do.” And I meant it. I meant it down all the way through the drain pipes of my soul.

Three years ago you could not have wrung more thankfulness from my heart on Thanksgiving than I freely gave.

I had pre-thanksgiving thanksgiving (my brother’s term — friendsgiving to the rest of the world) the week before with some of my dearest, life-long friends. On the day of, I woke up, played football with many people that I loved and did life with everyday, while others in that same vein watched us play, then I spent the mealtime with my family. We watched all of the Thanksgiving episodes of friends and went to a movie — new traditions since Julie died. I remember thinking I could die then and still be happy. I was so thankful for my life. it was beautiful in so many ways.

If you had told me then that 40 days later I’d be alone, broken, with an inability for thankfulness again, I’d have believed you — but I probably would’ve hit you, too. Because I knew life was so beautiful, but so fragile, that I wouldn’t have wanted to know ahead.

But you’d have been right. 40 days later, I’d be holed up in my apartment, alone, broken, not just ungrateful, but stunned altogether. Once the dry heaves and violent sobs subsided, I was a zombie of grief and brokenness for a while. Then, after a few months, like the 14 year old me, I learned how to pretend to smile sometimes.

It would be four months before I smiled again for real. It would be a year and a half before I felt hope again. It would be two years until I felt free again. And it would be this past summer that I felt at home again.

But I do. I feel at home. I drive down the road and like a woman in the first stages of love, I see life in a rose-colored hue. The trees on the side of the road shine. The grass in the Kansan fields seems majestic. The cashier at the grocery store’s friendliness is energizing. The river water soothes my mind as I walk along its same course.

I have retained friends that I was sure I’d lose along the way, but they stayed. They came back. And they say things like “hey, just so you know, even if you f*** up big time and it’s completely your fault somewhere in life, I’m still here. I’m with you.” I have people that are my people that live scattered around the country and around the world and I know that they love me.

I am in love with life, and the people in it, and every day I’m in awe because of something.

I’m in a new town where I still don’t know a lot of people. I create marketing plans and serve sushi for a living, and I spend most nights watching Netflix with my dog, but even still, I’m in love with life again. I feel alive and free and at home again.

And once again, this is the most thankful I have ever been. I am thankful for new normals. For old and new friends. And especially thankful for new homes (*cough* Wichita *cough*).

When it comes down to it, this is what I’ve learned about life — Joy is a choice. You have to choose it. And keep choosing it. And thankfulness comes with it. Or visa versa, not really sure, I haven’t achieved yoda-level yet. I’m still learning.

Happy Thanksgiving. I’m thankful for it all. I’m thankful for you all.


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

“Some Guy In Boston” | About being a part of someone’s story

He was the first one to buy my work.

Two years ago, I started to make art pieces. It happen kind of overnight. I got the idea for one piece — an Audrey Hepburn portrait on book pages — made it, and then I just kept creating. Two weeks later I’d already made 10 fine art pieces, and then one saturday morning, when I was thinking about Saturday morning cartoons, I decided to replicate a Calvin and Hobbes sketch I’d seen recently.

It says “True friends are hard to come by,” and after I posted a picture of it on instagram, two of my close friends asked me to make them copies as well. And then this guy that I didn’t know, Kevin, messaged me. He’d seen the instagram post because of the #CalvinAndHobbes hash tag I’d used. He wanted me to make him a copy of the art piece as well.

More accurately — he wanted to buy a copy. This was the first time I ever realized that maybe my art was good enough that people might want to buy it. Maybe I was an artist.

I made the piece for him and it was my first art sale. He posted a picture of it on instagram when it arrived, and tagged me in it. I was officially an artist, and he was so excited to get the piece to decorate his home. “Thanks,” he wrote, “and congrats on being a great artist.” I have been selling my art ever since this encouraging interaction. Kevin helped me see myself as an artist and embrace it.

Two years went by, and one day recently, I got an email from a woman out of the blue.

“You are the one who made the attached drawing for my brother, Kevin (I’m assuming since he tagged you in it). I’m not sure if you knew him as a friend, too. If you did, then you probably already know that he passed away in February 2014.

Your photo was one of his last posts, he was really excited to get it.

He died a couple weeks after he received the artwork. He was 30.

This news hit me like a slap in the face. I had referred to Kevin as “some guy in Boston” semi-frequently when people ask me about my art work. I tell them that he sought me out and that that sale helped me realize that I really could do the artist thing. He was a significant part of my story without fully knowing it, and because of the time of his death, I was a part of his story, too.

It is a reminder to me that you never know how your interactions with someone could be parts of their story, and could even be some of the last interactions that they have.

Thank you, Kevin, for being a part of mine. Rest in Peace.



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