Tag Archives: Thanksgiving

My Birthday Project


I posted an ad on Craig’s List earlier this week for a pair of Nine West black winter boots in size 11.  I posted the ad a year ago, too, and never even got any inquiries. Probably because they’re a size 11, which is not a common size for women’s shoes. I bought them in hopes that they would fit my size 10 wide feet, but it turned out they were just too big. They were expensive – I think $90 – and they were my birthday present from Eric that year. I was bummed that I had spent so much money on them and then only wore them a few times, but not bummed enough endure sore heels. After putting them back in the box and storing them in the basement, I really didn’t give them a second thought. The money had been spent. It didn’t work out. Oh well.

On a whim, I reposted my Craig’s List ad on Tuesday. I was asking $25 for the boots. On Tuesday evening I had an inquiry from Lisa. She was interested in purchasing the boots this week. She didn’t live near me though, and we agreed to meet in Menomonee Falls on Friday when I would be out shopping after Thanksgiving. But then I found out that she actually worked in Brookfield, near the mall, and would be trying to make it to Menomonee Falls and back to work again on her lunch hour on Friday – on her lunch hour on Black Friday, from one crazy traffic shopping mecca to another. I just didn’t think it was going to work. Lisa and I talked on the phone this morning and I realized that I was taking the kids to Betty Brinn Children’s Museum today and could meet her even closer to her work – today, instead of Friday. She sounded stunned when I offered to meet her today so that she wouldn’t have to drive so far. She said, “Really? Are you serious? That would be so awesome.”

Then she went on to tell me that she just really wanted to get these boots because she had been looking for winter boots for two years and these were really nice quality for such a reasonable price, and in her size (!), and she was afraid that if she waited longer to get them from me, that another person would buy them before she could.

I was thinking that I doubted that anyone else would have wanted to buy the boots given that I got exactly zero inquiries last time I posted them. But she so excited about them.

I hung up the phone and immediately knew what I was going to do. I was going to meet Lisa, and I was going to give her the boots. I just felt like it was the right thing to do. I sensed that Lisa didn’t have a lot of money and I didn’t need that $25. I decided it was going to be the first thing on My Birthday Project list.

About nine months ago I discovered a group on Facebook called The Birthday Project. The group was founded by a woman who decided that on her birthday she would give the gift of herself to others. The project has exploded (more than 20,000 people like the page), and all over the country people are celebrating their birthdays with intentional acts of kindness and by loving others. And, you don’t even need to go out of your way for someone on your birthday. The group encourages people to be intentionally kind and to love others whether it’s their birthday or not. It’s kind of an amazing group. Gratefulness, kindness, love. All things our world could use more of. The project wants to change the world one birthday at a time.

This year is a milestone birthday for me, I guess – 35. It seems like it should be a milestone, anyway. I decided nine months ago that on my next birthday I would do 35 Intentional Acts of Kindness.

And today was the first one.

It was amazing.

I met Lisa in a parking lot and right away she started opening her wallet. I said, “You probably should try them on just to make sure they fit, right?” And she said, “Oh, okay. I’m sure it will be fine.” She tried one boot on and said, “Yep, they fit!” As she was putting her shoe back on, I bent down to put the boots back in the box and stood up while Lisa was going through her wallet again.

“Lisa, don’t worry about it. I just want you to have these.”

Her face. Stunned.

“Are you serious?”

I told her that my birthday was coming up and that I had decided that I was going to do intentional acts of kindness for others.

I said, “You were just so excited about these boots when we spoke on the phone and I just felt like you were meant to have them.”

And then she gave me the biggest, hardest, longest hug I’ve ever received from a complete stranger. And then she hugged me again.

I told her that she could pay it forward some day and she said, “I will! God bless you.”

After I pulled away, I got a text from Lisa: “I’m just in shock Jen, that anyone would do such a generous thing for me. I don’t know how to say thank you enough. I have been looking for boots for so long.”

To be able to do something like that for someone else and have them appreciate it so much, makes me feel amazing. I’m getting teary right now thinking about how grateful Lisa is to have warm boots on her feet and I’m so happy that I was able to help her.

In keeping with my birthday theme this year, I also decided a few months ago that I wanted anyone who would normally have purchased a birthday gift for me to instead donate it to a worthy organization. I had a short list of organizations, and then a few weeks ago as I was sitting in a church committee meeting, I knew. Exploit No More.

The State of Wisconsin, and Milwaukee in particular, has one of the highest recovery rates for child victims of sex trafficking in the United States. Yes, sex trafficking is a horrific problem in poor foreign countries like India, Congo and Iran. But it’s happening here, in Wisconsin. And it’s not just an urban issue. It’s happening in every county in Wisconsin. Including here, in Washington County, because no one is looking for it here. Sex trafficking is roughly a $32 billion dollar industry worldwide.

The traffickers make very strategic moves to form relationships with vulnerable girls. Many times the girls feel like the pimp is their boyfriend. The girls are manipulated to think that their pimp is the only one who loves them and that the girl’s family will never want them back once they know what they’ve done. The pimps regularly ply the girls with alcohol and other drugs because they don’t want the girls to be thinking much about what they’re doing.

Again, it’s not just an urban issue. There are websites and message boards where pimps brag about their ability to lure young affluent white girls.

The youngest girls get the highest price.

Girls as young as 10 or 11.

It just makes you sick.

I started following this issue on an International level about a year ago, and when my church started a committee to address the issue locally I felt like it was something I was meant to be a part of.

Exploit No More was formed in May 2013 by a number of Milwaukee-area churches wondering how the church could impact local children affected by sex trafficking. This summer the group hired its Executive Director. She is the only paid staff person. You can read more about all of Exploit No More’s goals, but their biggest effort right now is to raise funds to purchase a home for long-term residential aftercare for girls rescued from sex trafficking in the Milwaukee metro area.

What Exploit No More heard most from law enforcement was, “Why should we keep rescuing these girls if they have no place to go afterwards. They just end up going back because they don’t know what else to do.”

Exploit No More is hoping to change that. Exploit No More wants to have a safe place where these girls can live and recover for at least 18 months. A place where the girls can be deprogrammed and learn that they are loved and they do have value.

I realize this is an awful issue. Everyone involved realizes it’s an awful issue. It’s not easy to talk about. Certainly not something to discuss at your Christmas party or the dentist’s office.

But my God, I just cannot imagine a world where my three daughters could end up victimized and enslaved that way. I just cannot imagine it. And I don’t want anyone to have to endure it.

Which is why this year I’m asking all my friends and family members who would have gotten me a birthday gift to instead donate that money to Exploit No More so they can get their house and start helping girls.

When I was thinking about doing this, I asked myself – “Are you really sure that you want to give up the fun of getting gifts for your birthday? Are you going to be disappointed?”

Because believe me, I’m no martyr. I love my birthday. I love getting gifts. Who doesn’t?

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized – I have everything. I don’t need anything. And with Christmas right around the corner, would I really rather stockpile gift certificates for massages and facials, more jewelry and scarves, over giving some girl a warm bed and a positive person in her life telling her she is loved? No. I would give up all the facials in the world if it meant someone could be freed of sex trafficking and taught that they have value.

If any of my friends or family members who wouldn’t ordinarily have gotten me a birthday gift feel inclined to donate to Exploit No More, that would be wonderful. In fact, right now they’re giving away these awesome Christmas ornaments to everyone who donates a minimum of $25.

I really wish there was a way to track the donations people are making on behalf of my birthday, but unfortunately there’s no way to do that unless I use an outside organization that would take a percentage of the donations. I think it would be fun to know the final tally, so if you donate and you feel inclined, send me a Facebook message or email at jenovotny(at)gmail.com and let me know so I can keep track!

I still need to make up the rest of the things on My Birthday Project list. I have a few ideas and I’m going to scour The Birthday Project Facebook pages for other ideas. If you have any idea for me, let me know!

I know sometimes I feel like the problems of the world are so overwhelming. That there’s nothing I could possibly do to change or impact anything.

Exploit No More’s Executive Director left us with this quote:

“I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.” – Edward Everett Hale

When it feels overwhelming, I will remember Lisa’s face and her hug. I will think about her wearing those boots in this cold and snow. I will remember her gratitude and how easy it was to make her feel valued for nothing more than the fact that she’s human.

Love and peace.

Happy Thanksgiving.

P.S. Literally, just as I was proofreading this and getting ready to post it, I got an email from Lisa:


Still in such amazement. Just got home from work and looked at my new boots again. Wow. I believe it must be the Lord God you hear leading your heart to be so generous. You really understand every syllable of “thanks” & “giving”.  May He return the blessing 7 fold.

Hope you & children had a terrific afternoon at the museum.


Love wins.

Donate to Exploit No More

Donate for a Christmas Ornament




For me and many people, the month of November is a time to reflect on what we’re thankful for. A time to count the blessings that have been bestowed upon us over the last year. Something about THANKS-givin’ (as my friends from the South would say) does that to a person.

There are moments, okay some whole days, where I’m just so frustrated with my kids’ belligerent behavior, sassy attitudes, the mess, the lack of organization, the mounds of laundry and the overall list of things to do.

And then I remember the premise of a book that my BFF recommended, which is, this is the life I asked for. This is the life I wanted. I wanted a house I could call my own. I wanted a big yard with room to run. I wanted a husband and children. I wanted a family. And I got it. AND, those things come at a cost — yard work, lawn mowing, home improvements, spending money, and oh yeah, RAISING kids.

Kitchen table or craft table? Don't forget the baby and its bottles!

Two coats, four gloves, two pairs of boots, a backpack, a scarf, a hat and a piece of play broccoli!

Books, books, babies, books, baby clothes, books.

Just more typical mess.

For the past 12 months when I feel like I’ve reached my limit I try to remember to take a breath, pause and remember that this is what I wanted. And I’m grateful.

I am thankful for:

  • Girls pulling each other’s hair
  • Girls pushing and hitting each other (usually the small one hitting the big one)
  • Girls pile driving one another (usually the big one pile driving the small one)
  • Girls fighting over toys
  • Girls shrieking, screaming and making the most annoying mouth noises (gah, where do they learn that!??)
  • Girls invading each other’s personal space
  • Cleaning food off the floor after EV-ERY meal (uugh, I think this is my most hated parenting task)
  • The utter disaster of my living room
  • The utter disaster of my older daughter’s room
  • The mad rush of getting two lazily playing, daydreaming girls dressed, fed and out the door on time
  • The annoyance of realizing you bought the next season’s clothes in the wrong size (Why didn’t I anticipate Bean would be in 3T winter clothes when she’s been in 2T since last spring!!?) — and then having to switch over her entire wardrobe. Again.

I am thankful for all of these things because they mean that I have two healthy children and a happy home. It’s so easy to get overwhelmed by the minutia; by things that don’t really matter. But when I do that, I lose sight of that fact that all of these things mean that I have what is most important to me.

And I am grateful.

Resolution Me This


I’m 32 years old and I finally get why people make New Year’s resolutions. It’s because for the last month and a half of the year, everything is f-ed up! Schedules are gone, budgets are non-existent, any semblance of a normal life or routine is thrown out the window. Kids aren’t napping when they’re supposed to, or they’re not napping at all. They’re staying up way too late. We’re running, we’re baking, we’re wrapping, we’re spending. All in the name of the holidays — Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s. It’s madness.

And I know that it all goes back to the holidays. How? Because I’m 94 posts behind on ALL of the blogs that I used to read every day. Do you want to know the last day I read a post? November 25.

It’s January 28 and I’m still not feeling like I’m back to any sort of routine. I feel like I’m still responding to whatever is thrown in my lap at the moment. The thing with the highest priority. The flashing red light, or whatever is directly in front of my face.

But it would make my life easier to have a routine. I thrive on it. I like structure. I like to have a plan and follow it. Lately I just have been failing to MAKE the plan. And I’m sick of it. It’s exhausting and disorienting to always be reacting to the “next thing” instead of accomplishing things in an orderly way. It’s not that things aren’t getting done — well, blogging and exercising aren’t getting done on a consistent basis — they’re just not getting done in a way that makes my life more organized and easier to manage.

So I finally get it. I think one of the reasons people make New Year’s resolutions is because they too, are maybe sick of the lack of organized, day-to-day routine that results from too much holiday merry-making. Don’t get me wrong — I LOVE THE HOLIDAYS. I absolutely love the unfettered, mass chaos, have fun all the time, holidays. To a point. It’s the same reason people look forward to coming home from vacation — they want to get back “home” where they have a routine.

I’ve never really made a New Year’s resolution. Actually, I’ve always kind of scoffed at them. Why do we need a pre-determined day to necessitate a life(style) change? I can make a change whenever I want. I’ve always felt like there’s too much focus on “it” (the resolution) or “the day” (that your resolution starts). I still feel that way, but I get it now.

So I guess I’m making a resolution of sorts. To reengage my normal routine. Because if I don’t? If I wait until things “get back to normal?” Well that will never happen. Because next weekend we have Bean’s first birthday party, followed by the Super Bowl (where surely we will be celebrating a major victory), and then a month after that Husband and I will be taking our first vacation in six years. And then the month after that is Monkey’s third birthday, followed by the month in which Husband and I celebrate our 8th anniversary, Mother’s Day and Memorial Day.

Do you see what I just did? I just fast-forwarded four months — I just erased winter and got through spring to the beginning of summer. I could keep going.

June will bring a bridal shower, bachelorette party, and then it will be time for my brother’s wedding. So, I guess I could just wait until things get back to normal — IN AUGUST!

So, I’m calling today resolution day. I’m making a plan, I’m setting a routine, and I’m writing it down.


I feel so much better.

How do you keep your life organized? How do you stick to your routine? Did you make a New Year’s Resolution?

Random Holiday !!!


I know, it’s been a long time since I blogged. In part because we’ve been gorging on turkey, stuffing, pies, cookies and chocolate! I totally missed the boat on a Thanksgiving !!! post, which would have been so appropriate given the nature of !!! (!!! = intentional happiness), which is to celebrate things that made me happy and to be thankful for. One of the things I was most thankful for at Thanksgiving was to celebrate with my brother, his fiancée and his fiancée’s  sister. The last time my brother was home for Thanksgiving was … 2006 maybe??

And while we’re welcoming my brother’s fiancée into our family, it’s nice that her sister is becoming my (pseudo) sister-in-law too. Even though she’s not really my sister-in-law, my kids feel like she’s another aunt, and let’s face it — you can never have too much family around.

So Thanksgiving was wonderful. Especially the part when after a delicious dinner my mom asked Monkey, “So, Monkey, did you enjoy your dinner,” to which she immediately retorted with a resounding “NO.” She was going for comedic effect of course, and we all delivered by busting out laughing.

And now we’re in the full swing of Christmas — shopping, baking, Christmas cards and wrapping. I still have SO MUCH to do and in just FOUR days we’ll be celebrating our first family Christmas gathering. Aaah!

In honor of the season, here’s some random Christmas !!!

The Grinch


It all started at the beginning of November when I introduced her to The Grinch Who Stole Christmas book. She liked it, but she didn’t love it.

Then I was at the library and checked out an audio CD of classic Dr. Seuss books — and one the tracks was, you guessed it, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. As soon as she realized she was listening to the same story that I had been reading to her, she was hooked.

The recording is approximately 12 minutes long. Therefore all of our car rides hence are measured in number of Grinch listenings:

  • Church or my parents’ house — approximately two listenings
  • Nana’s house — approximately half a listening
  • Grocery store — approximately 3/4ths a listening
  • Library — one listening
  • Target — approximately 1.5 listenings

And now there is the Grinch trifecta — the original 1966 animated cartoon. You wouldn’t believe Monkey’s face when I told her she could ALSO watch the Grinch on DVD.

So every morning we listen to the Grinch on the way to Nana’s house, she asks to watch it on DVD when she gets home in the afternoon, AND, we read the book before bed.

I’m pretty sure I could recite most of the story by heart.

And there’s this one line where the Grinch is talking about the Whos’ singing and he says, “For 53 years I’ve put up with it now.” Except Monkey thinks he’s saying, “For 53 years I’ve put up with a cow.” And she gets this big grin on her face and starts laughing. Every. Single. Time. Now it’s to the point where she looks at me to see if I’m looking at her to check her reaction.

But honestly I don’t mind. The original TV special was probably my favorite holiday programming event when I was a kid. In fact, when I was in college I bought it on VHS tape, and then a few years ago (still before we had kids!) I upgraded to the DVD version. So I think it’s pretty cute actually that we share a love for the story and cartoon. And bonus — she’s not scared of him! Oh, and double bonus! It’s got a great message about what’s really important at Christmas.

Splitting Hairs

Some days and nights in our house are particularly chaotic. More chaotic than others. Especially now because Bean is a walking menace.

Monkey calls her “Willer.” I have no idea why, except maybe because Monkey intuitively knows that Bean lives by the motto of “Where there’s a will, there’s a way” because that kid DOES NOT — GIVE. UP. Bean in a bathroom is just out of control. If she’s not pulling the toilet paper off the roll, she’s flushing the toilet, or grabbing the Kleenex box, or going through the garbage. Hmm, this scenario is familiar to me for some reason (except it’s happening about five months earlier than I expected).

If I kick her out of the bathroom, she knocks over the small Christmas tree in my room, or pulls the ornaments off the tree in Monkey’s room, or unloads her clothes hamper. Needless to say, she doesn’t have a tree in her room.

And when you tell her “No,” she just gives you this great big grin.


I call her “Crusher,” but I may change it to “Bruiser.”

I’m sure you know what I mean.

So on one those particularly trying days, Husband said “I’m going to be gray by the time I’m 36.”

He’s 35.

That is all.

Starbucks Peppermint Mocha

I’ve been saying for years that I don’t like coffee. And theeeeeen … here and there I would give in to the peer pressure of my coffee-drinking friends and to the marketing machine of Starbucks. Eventually I started to like iced mochas. But only mochas. Which, let’s be clear, have lots of chocolate syrup and milk added. And only iced. Every once in a while in the last five years I would try a hot mocha (too strong!) or a something with a flavor, like hot salted caramel (too sweet!).

And then this year I decided to try the peppermint mocha again. It was by accident really. Starbucks was running a promotion for four days where you could buy one drink and get one free to share with a friend. But I work by myself, and none of my friends are close by. I didn’t have anyone to share with.

So I hatched a grand master plan. I would order an iced mocha for myself and then take a hot one home for free. The hot one, I rationalized, I could refrigerate and then reheat the next morning, whereas a second iced one would just melt and be watered down. I didn’t really like hot mochas, but it was free after all.

What I didn’t realize, until I started to place my order, was that I could only choose among three drinks for the buy one share one deal. Three holiday drinks, to be specific, and one of them was the peppermint mocha. Sooo, being the opportunist that I am and not wanting to miss out on a great deal, I amended my order to one iced peppermint mocha and one hot peppermint mocha. What the hell, right? Well, the iced peppermint mocha was pretty sweet. But good.

The next morning my reheated peppermint mocha was goooooood.

And right there, a peppermint mocha obsession was born. A Starbucks marketing coordinator appeared to me and I saw a great light and was terrified. But the marketing coordinator said to me, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. You have joined the coffee-drinking masses and your friends will be so happy. This will be a sign to you. Turn over all of your discretionary income and find pleasure in peppermint mochas.”

(Which by the way cost $0.70 more than a regular mocha to accommodate for the shot of peppermint. Who came out on top of this little marketing scheme?? Not me! What would Alanis say?)

I think I’m going to have to reverse my position on coffee to: I like it — a little.

Separation Anxiety + Teething + Cold = Sleeping with me

My little Bruiser Menace girl. She’s going through another round of separation anxiety. AKA, “OH MY GOD, WHERE ARE YOU, WHERE ARE YOU, PICK ME UP, PICK ME UP, PICK ME UP, DO NOT LEAVE MY SIGHT, OH MY GOD, PUH-LEASE, I AM DY-ING HERE, CAN’T YOU SEE????”

On top of it she has a cold and is doing some teething just to mix it up. She’s been waking up 4-6 times a night looking for some extra comfort. And honestly, sometimes at 4 a.m., after you’ve already rocked with her three times, tiptoed out of the room only to have her wake up again 10 minutes later? It’s just easier to bring her into bed with you.

And shhh, don’t tell anyone, but I actually don’t mind. I kind of love it.

She’s so sweet isn’t she? I just can’t get enough of her.

Hey, where’s my peppermint mocha?

Intentional Happiness 

Bad Mommy Moments !!! Momalom !!!