Aug. 31: August in review

August 2014 is just about done. Septembers in the Northwest are usually quite lovely—still warm and sunny, but not god-awful hot. Also: KIDS IN SCHOOL AGAIN FINALLY OMG I’M SO GLAD I THOUGHT THEY’D NEVER GO BACK.

special days i celebrated this month and how:

  • We had Victor’s birthday party. It rocked, mostly. We know a lot more nice/fun people than assholes, and that’s good when it’s time to throw parties.
  • Katie registered for high school. Eek. I’m happy for her, but GEEZ, it seems like just a few days ago that we were trying to teach her to count.

i saw things with my eyes:

  • We went up north to see our niece, Abby, perform in a musical. It was big, silly fun; Bellevue Youth Theater has a cool program.
  • Welcome to Sweden and The Hotwives of Orlando are semi-amusing time-wasters.
  • I think I would be soooo good at doing a Drunk History episode. Not actually being on the show, just recording one. My great-great-great grandchildren will be so very, very proud. What a legacy. :) 
  • The Simpsonsevery episode ever” marathon has been playing almost non-stop at The House of Manullang for the past ten days. LOVING. IT.
  • This is exciting pretty much just to me: I got new dishes, and the full kitchen sink never looked so pretty. My mom gave me ten of the cheeriest, colorful-est gifts EVER:


  • Sweet Maya. She’s adjusting so well in her new life as a Manullang. I think she loves us pretty good:


  • My rock star nephew started a new band, Tetherball. They just released a single on iTunes. He’s also a goofball—check out the video teaser he stars in for the song (below). And if you care, the guy who sang lead for The Rouge has a new band too: The Almanacks. Stephen produced their album. Stephen, apparently, can do anything and is pretty much the greatest.


    this month’s good and bad:

    • We spent a LOT of time in doctors’ offices this month. I don’t know how all the appointments got scheduled like they did, but there was one week where every morning we were out the door EARLY to see one professional or another. None of them gave us bad news, so YAY!
    • One of the appointments was an eye exam for Jack. You’ve probably noticed in photos that he wears his sports goggles as regular glasses, which has never made me very happy but at least I don’t have to worry about girls chasing him. ;) Since he’s been ready for a new prescription for a while now, we encouraged him to get regular glasses in addition to a new pair of goggles. He couldn’t find frames he liked, though, and I knew if I forced him to choose a pair he wouldn’t actually wear them. And THEN the optician suggested we check out the Nike line of frames. Jack’s grin went ear-to-ear, and $300 later he was wearing normal glasses again. (I have several four-letter words in my head over this, and the last one is “Nike.”) He was disappointed that the swoosh sticker on the store lenses weren’t on his prescription lenses, but there are swooshes on the temples, so that’ll do. <cue this mom’s eye roll>
    • A new season of football has begun. Jack is on a junior varsity team this year, and practices until 9:30pm several days a week. Crazy. I am sooo glad Dina’s kid and mine are on the same team again this year. I’ve got our flasks all filled and ready for the first game next weekend!
    • I worked quite a bit in June and July, but not at all in August. I really haven’t minded all that much. The free-ish time let me concentrate on other things, like…
    • Katie decided to switch bedrooms. You think it’ll be a pretty simple, quick project, but then it goes all week long and you regret ever suggesting it when she complained that her room was too small. I think we’re finally done moving, but somehow a bunch of stuff ended up in the master bedroom and I hate when our room becomes a dumping ground. Grrr.

    i likes to share the silly stuff:

















    For all the people who complain that smart phones have killed decent communication:


    Well, that’s it for August. Bring it, September.


      Aug. 18: I can read.

      read I’ve been making my way through a huge stack of books this summer, thanks to not being especially mobile. While I do enjoy reading, I also enjoy walking around, and this has not been the most adventurous summer for me personally/physically. It’s been VERY adventurous if you count living vicariously through stories other people write.

      And I totally do count that.

      This summer I not only visited spots around the world, I traveled back in time to do it. Here are my most recent reads in the category of historical fiction.

      I was on the Titanic for The Girl Who Came Home, by Hazel Gaynor. Here’s the review I left on Goodreads:

      I've been a bit of a Titanic geek for as long as I can remember--my dad was fascinated by the story, and I was too after the wreckage was found when I was in high school. I'm still intrigued by new and different spins on the disaster, so when I saw this book I knew I had to read it. You don't hear much about the *families* of Titanic victims--what it was like to say goodbye or prepare for arrivals, hearing the first reports of the sinking, waiting for the final list of survivors, etc. I enjoyed that part of this fictional account of the event. I appreciated the glossary of Irish terms/expressions, and that it was necessary--dialogue seemed genuine. As for the rest, I say "meh." The book reads like a first draft in some ways; there is a lot of repetition that a good editor would have cut. With little exception, the characters were not very interesting, but they could've been with a bit more development and better details about the immigrant culture of that era. Readers unfamiliar with Titanic facts will be left wanting more, as this book is pretty much "the ship shook, people panicked, first class was full of dumb jerks, lots of people didn't make it to a lifeboat, sad sad sad." I certainly wouldn't expect a minute-by-minute account of the sinking, which has obviously been written about extensively elsewhere, but it was definitely not given the pages it deserved. Overall, the fictional parts all seemed a bit too tidy in an effort to give the book a happy ending.

      I was in Guernsey to read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. I didn’t review it on Goodreads because I couldn’t think of anything to say about the book that hadn’t already been said. However, it is an absolute delight, and I recommend it highly.

      I was in Afghanistan for And The Mountains Echoed, by Khaled Hosseini. I truly enjoy Hosseini’s writing style—it has an Amy Tan/Anne Tyler quality to it—but I did not love this book as much as his others. Here’s my Goodreads review:

      I give this four stars because although the book was fascinating and beautifully written, ultimately all its separate parts felt disjointed to me. The stories of Parwana, Markos, Adel, and Idris seemed unnecessary. It was jarring to have the narrator's voice change because it sometimes took several pages to figure out who the voice belonged to and what the connection was to the story at the beginning of the book. It's quite possible I thought the book should've been about Abdullah and Pari (and their ancestors/descendants), but Hosseini's intention was to tell a broader story, in which case I just didn't "get" it.

      Right now I’m in China. It’s taking a very long time to get through Imperial Woman: The Story of the Last Empress of China, by Pearl S. Buck, because it’s approximately eleventy billion pages long. The story is mostly fascinating. I’ll keep at it.

      My to-read list is very long, but I don’t mind adding to it. What do you recommend?


      Aug. 14: Back, baby.

      imback For a while there, my blog was dying a slow death. Blogging frequently is a habit that has to be developed, for sure, and my habit has gone in waves over the 15 years I’ve been writing—there are times I have so much to share that I can’t hit the “publish” button soon or often enough, and other times when most of what’s happening in my life is not write-about-able.

      In the past several months I’ve opted to considerably filter my writing, which I’ve never been all that careful to do. I started journaling on paper again because putting my thoughts into words is so therapeutic for me—I realized I needed to get them down, whether anyone else could read them or not. And now, as I look back at the things I felt I couldn’t/shouldn’t share on my blog, I see that some weren’t really that big a deal anyway; I plan to write about those in coming weeks. Others were a big deal and still are, and those will stay in my journal for now.

      It is not my intention to be all mysterioso and vague, so I’ll give you an idea of some of these things—though I think most of you already know.

      • Now that I’m nearly four years post-treatment, I try to keep the cancer talk to a minimum here. When a person is told their cancer is in remission, it’s easy for an outsider to think of celebrating and being done with it—y’know, move on, next chapter. But it’s not that simple, because cancer doesn’t just end. Follow-up tests go on and on. Side effects linger. Fear and frustration are enemies that like to hang out on the fringe of everything I do. While I have welcomed the return to many of my pre-cancer ways of life, there are some things that have been forever changed by my experience, and I deal with them regularly. Some of it really sucks and because I don’t want it to suck, I try to fold those things in with the rest of life—because I am alive and I do know how fortunate I am for that and I am moving forward—but there are always challenges. You would tire of hearing about them as often as they come up—trust me on this. That’s why I don’t write about it often. But to the people who might think GEEZ, SHE’S STILL TALKING ABOUT CANCER???, I have a middle finger I’d like to show you. Maybe two. And I know other people who’d love to show you theirs too.
      • A few years ago my relationship with a person who had always been—and I thought always would be—in my life came to an abrupt end. She made accusations, I tried to explain myself, and she said she refused to get in a pissing contest. I took that to mean there was no sense in me arguing (that is what that means, right?), so I backed off. She then decided I did this because I was angry, and now blames my anger as the reason we don’t speak. I find a tiny bit of comfort knowing that I am not the only person she’s done this to. But ugh—it’s like dealing with my grandma all over again: nothing is ever her fault. So, if this is such a big deal, why don’t I write more about it publicly? One, because it would annoy the hell out of whatever audience I have here. And two, because I feel an unreasonable duty to protect this person. I know it makes absolutely no sense, but there you have it. 
      • I’ve occasionally mentioned that I deal with depression and anxiety. It’s surprising how many people still think these are not diseases but “moods” (oh, they are soooo not moods), and that they’re a choice, that it’s just a matter of deciding to be happy and deciding not to worry. Some of the people who think depression/anxiety = psychopath are people I love, and when they’re vocal about it, I take it personally. These illnesses are complex and un-fun to deal with, and it’s not exaggerating to say they affect EVERY part of one’s life. I am able to keep my head above water and am generally living a normal human existence, thanks to things and more things. winky
      • Partly related to the above item, I have been trying to avoid blogging about whatever is inciting my latest rage or concern (though I will make exceptions for topics like, oh, OUR HEINOUS HOMEOWNERS’ ASSOCIATION). These triggers push me up on a soapbox that can get me in trouble or make me seem highly unlikable. That ain’t good. Worse, my triggers can send me into a funk from which I find great difficulty to recover. For instance, I’m not writing about Robin Williams, even though he’s been on my mind so much this week. I have thoughts, I do. They could be spread across several posts and I’d still have more. But for purposes of self-protection, I just can’t let myself dwell. (I do want to share, though, this beautifully composed sentence I read on a fashion site, of all places, immediately after the cause of Robin Williams’ death became public; I think it is such a realistic way to describe the tragedy of suicide: “There’s such agony in the fact that a person’s delivery of joy to everyone else can be so inversely proportionate to what they find in themselves.”) Sooo… rants? Only sometimes. 

      Looking back to 1999, when I first started my blog, I remember thinking it would be a great way to keep family and friends up to date with our lives. It certainly has served that purpose well over the years, and I suppose that’s the biggest reason I can’t just chuck the whole thing. (Pssst: If you read Stuff Jen Says from 1999-now, really fast, it’s like a flip-book in which you can clearly see the route I took to bonkersville. Yaaaaaay.)

      heartI also remember what a powerful tool my blog became while I was fighting cancer. I often wonder how else I would’ve felt such a strong sense of support and love—it really was an amazing thing to behold. That’s why, when I was diagnosed with cancer again in January, this was the first place I came to share the news. Many of you sent positive and  uplifting messages, and I felt ready to face the fight with a big ol’ army behind me. And THEN. Then I was incredibly embarrassed to pull it all back when, in March, my doctors decided that I didn’t have cancer after all. Happy news, yes, but humiliating to share. If it seems ridiculous that I would be embarrassed by such a thing, please just put yourself in my shoes; I felt like people would think I announced a recurrence just to get attention. (People do shit like that, y’know—I know someone who calls herself a “cancer survivor” because she once had a suspicious mole tested. It was benign, but BOY, does she like to act as though she knows what it’s like to have fought cancer.)

      When it was time for getting re-tested for all the cancer stuff this summer, I shared with just a few people what was happening. Three weeks in June and July were spent in pretty much non-stop appointments and phone calls related to this testing. Now that they’re over, I feel okay to blog about the results, which are really quite simple in summary, and YES, SHE IS STILL TALKING ABOUT CANCER:

      I had a PET scan mid-June and the same spots that lit up in January lit up again. It was scary and pissed us off. There were only slight changes in the size of the spots from the last PET, so that was good. They decided to do another needle biopsy (owie), which, just like the one in March, came back negative for cancer. Hooray! But don’t celebrate just yet… The radiologist wants to test again in six months because he thinks it’s very strange that these spots continue to act like cancer on scans. If they light up again, my oncologist says we’ll do an open biopsy, which is a surgical procedure. Pfffftt.

      So we wait.

      I hate the waiting. Waiting for these things is a trigger. My mind goes to dark places when there’s waiting. These places are deep and gloomy and it’s easy to get lost on the paths that lead to even more murkiness. Dark places are not fun or funny or light or silly or cheery or anything of the things I prefer in life. They’re dark. (And they’re places.)

      I don’t think I should blog from the dark places. I really try not to.

      Moving forward, my plan is to make blogging regularly a habit again. I would like my blog to do what it was originally created to do—keep our family and friends up-to-date with our lives. And yes, that means it won’t always be fun and happy, because life is not always fun and happy. But I have always tried my best to turn the dark stuff a teensy bit lighter. “We laugh to survive,” right?

      And we avoid some topics to survive too. winky


      Aug. 8: Big ol’ milestone

      My husband celebrated his 50th birthday a couple weeks ago. Fifty! Fiiiiiifteeeeeeee! I am married to a very old man.

      I had planned on throwing a monster-huge party for him, but then came The Summer of The Broken Ankle; I feel absolutely useless in this cast. For a while I thought we’d still have a party, just a couple months late. Victor kept reminding me it was no big deal, but I say that’s just ridiculous—you can’t let a 50th birthday go by unpartied for! The subject came up again two weeks ago and we both kinda decided to just plan a last-minute thing and hope our nearest and dearest could make it.

      And most of them did. Yay! We got together last Sunday in honor of the elderly guy who lives in my house.

      Sonya and Victor

      Dina, Vic, and Val = The Trio of Pure Spectacularness™

      Theresa, Tina, Dina, and me

      Blaine can almost do a pushup with Val sitting on him!
      I love the crowd of kids around them, in complete awe of Blaine’s strength.
      (That’s what he thinks, anyway.)

      Two of my neighbor-friends, Cristina and Trudy. Ring pops!

      Randy, Jim, and Jeremy.
      I have no idea what they’re doing, but I see the tequila is still sealed...

      Cassie’s got her hands in the air like she just don’t care.
      Is Tina sleeping?

      The kids lined up chairs all across the street and waited for a car
      to come so they could blow horns at it.
      Good thing our street’s not busy; they got tired of waiting and gave up.
      <cough> Idiots! <cough>

      My BFF April couldn’t join the festivities, but her mom did!
      Pat and Darlene are friends from college. (I love that.)
      I think they’re talking about how they can’t possibly have children 50 years old.

      Theresa, Dina, Val
      (I love these girls so much)

      Some o’ the kids.

      More kids.
      Randy’s still barely taller than Blaine (who sooo looks like Dina in this pic, BTW).
      Jack is a dork.
      Mack is blurry.

      Happy recent 20th anniversary to Randy and Dina!
      She got a gorgeous rock, sure, but Cassie’s got the real ‘spensive bling.

      I asked guests to write out an answer to this question, and
      the slips of paper are saved in a jar that we’ll treasure forever.
      Or at least until Victor goes senile and forgets his name.

      The cupcake picks were colorful and sarcastic and fun.
      We also had big jars of candy with pun-ny signs and DIY goodie bags:
      “thirty sucks” (lollipops)
      “forty blows” (gumballs)
      “fifty rocks” (chocolate rock candy)
      “kiss middle age goodbye” (Hershey’s Kisses)
      “treasure your youth” (candy necklaces, ring pops, gold chocolate coins, etc.)
      I hate puns, but I do love cute birthday party décor and excuses to have candy.

      I was thrilled to have a great turnout of our family and friends in honor of Vic’s big birthday. The kids were a surprisingly lot of help in getting things ready, and so were several other cool peeps. Extra-special thanks to:

      • Kristen and Matt, who helped with the last few prep duties and, most importantly, figured out how to use the automatic corkscrew. The people who were happy about that were REALLY happy about that.
      • thanksSonya, Chris, Julianne, and Jacob, who made the trip from Issaquah. It wouldn’t have been the same to celebrate Vic without them.
      • Darlene, who brought homemade goodies. She always makes such good stuff—it’s, like, almost too pretty to eat.
      • Dawn, who said she’d bring delicious treats as long as I didn’t give her credit but guess what? I’m totally doing it anyway. Thanks, Dawn! I’m so appreciative of your bacon-wrapped jalapeño poppers that I’m not posting the pic of you and the potato salad.
      • Alec (our nephew), who gave up a chunk of his weekend to attend and represent his part of the family. It was nice to have him with us.
      • Mother Mary. She couldn’t actually be at the party, but she happily shared purchases from across the state line.
      • Cristina, who let us borrow important party supplies.
      • All the people who brought refreshing bottled beverages. We have a few parties’ worth in leftovers—there’s an FYI that ought to get us on a guest list or two.
      • Val, who took most of these photos.
      • Nikki, Mack, Lauren, and Phoebe, who helped Katie and Jack decorate and do last-minute setup.
      • Everyone who was super-sweet to Maya. This was her first big group, and we were pleased to see her do so well.

      Party guests whose true identity I shall protect to the grave until someone asks me who it was:

      • The person who lost track of her kid. Like, it was midnight and we were yelling up and down the street. Because I lost my kid too.
      • The person who stood in front of the open freezer for five minutes looking for ice. She couldn’t quite focus on the tiny 20-pound bags at eye level until her son pointed them out to her. And then she looked at him lovingly and said, “Thank you. I love ice.”
      • The person who forgot her shoes at our house. How does a person leave a party barefoot? Maybe after you’ve stared at 40 pounds of ice for five minutes…
      • Friends and family who wanted to be at the party but couldn’t make it, as well as the friends and family who didn’t want to be at the party but came anyway.


      Here’s what the kitchen floor looked like the next morning.
      It was so, so disgusting.
      I blame the kids, their soda, and whoever opened the tequila.


      As I’ve cleaned up and put away party supplies this week, I’ve taken extra care not to destroy any of the age-specific stuff—we’ll need it again in four short years when it’s time to celebrate me turning the big 5-0. Yikes. Really, that is all I have to say about being so close to 50: YIKES.


      But congrats to YOU on making it to 50, Victor! And thanks for giving us a reason to party.


      Aug. 7: Meet our sweet Maya girl

      Sometime in the next few posts I’ll explain my long absence from the blog. For now, though, I want to introduce you to our newest family member.

      First, watch this story:

      This video was especially touching to us, given our fondness for the beagle breed, and after watching it several times one evening, I looked online to see if any local rescues had beagles to re-home. Within minutes, I found these photos and description:

      maya1 maya2

      Maya is about 2 to 3 years old, a super sweetie pie and a cuddly. She loves respectful children! She has learned to be good with other dogs and mellow cats. She was treated badly and tied outside by herself for 12 to 16 hours a day in her previous home but despite that she is very loving. She needs a gentle family that will understand she needs some time to trust. Maya would do best with another friendly dog, lots of exercise, and a family that is not gone for too many hours each day.

      Every pup we’ve ever adopted has come home after I’ve worn Victor down with my constant begging. With Maya, though, we both felt an immediate sense that we were exactly what she needed, and that we could give her the home she deserved. We hadn’t even been looking for a second dog; it was seeing that video that made us want to take action. I contacted the agency—Pound to Posh Dog Rescue, which I cannot recommend highly enough—and after applications, verifications, and evaluations, we arranged to meet Maya at her foster home.

      We were put in touch with Ute, the owner of Pet’s Point of View, who coordinated our meeting, as well as the method of introducing our crazy Lucy and Maya. Ute was amazing—I’ve never met anyone so dog-intuitive; within minutes, she showed us how to give Lucy treats without getting our hands chomped off. We felt like such dog-idiots. Ute shared more details about the ways Maya had been abused (heartbreaking), and her foster dad, whom she’d been with for six months, told us what he had done to rehabilitate her. He was incredible too; we loved how he spoiled her rotten while helping her heal.

      While the four of us human Manullangs fell in love with Maya almost immediately, Ute recommended a couple more visits between Maya and Lucy before we took her home to stay. Lucy is uninhibited no matter where she is, but Maya—like most beagles—needed time to smell every little thing before she can relax.

      [As we arrived home from that first visit, I broke my ankle—my clumsiness knows no bounds, nor does it have a considerate sense of timing. For me, the injury has made developing a relationship with Maya go slightly slower than it might be otherwise (I haven’t been able to take her on walks or play chasing games), but she’s a cuddler and so am I. We’ve spent LOTS of time cuddling.]

      Maya came home on May 31. She fits right in to our lifestyle, just like Scout did. We love seeing a white-tipped tail running around our yard again, hearing her beagle arooooooo, seeing the huge begging eyes during every meal. She shows almost no hesitation in meeting new people or pets, and her energy level is similar to Lucy’s, making them perfectly-matched playmates. The only real issues we’ve had with Maya are her occasional potty accidents upstairs, and the fact that she will bolt out the front door if given a half-second. Where is she going? We have no idea. There could not possibly be a home where she is more loved than ours.

      Meeting Katie

      I love this play pose :)

      Worn out, and lovin’ on Tina 



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