Sunday, April 25, 2010


I had that “I don’t wanna go to the gym” thing going on a recent morning. I really should have washed my hair, but I was being lazy about everything, and it looked passable to me. I thought maybe if I worked out hard right away that I would just look sweaty.

I’d forgotten the rule that you will always run across someone you know when you try to just dash somewhere without being noticed.

So I walked into Curves. I tried to slide by the main desk (after signing in) without anyone seeing me. I wanted to get right into sweating to disguise the lazy state of my hair.

One of the Curves employees says hello, all smiles. I must not have been hideous, because she didn’t shrink back in horror. Then again, they’ve seen a lot of Bed Head and legitimately sweaty hair. Oh well, she’ll forget me in a second.

But, I forgot I’m “The Winner.”

I jumped on a jogging board and started a marching in place to get the whole target heart rate thing going. About 10 minutes later I’ve moved about halfway around the room. There are a million signs on the walls. Bulletin board, charts, motivational sayings, policy notices, or whatever. So, it took awhile for me to notice the large sign by the desk.

Jen Kelly
The BNI Mother’s Day
Makeover Winner!

My name up in colored paper.
I almost cried, but you can’t cry when you’re doing bicep curls. That’s so not cool.

There were cut-out flowers gamboling around my name and the letters themselves were all different colors. This was a lot more work than slapping the words on poster board with a Sharpie and calling it a day. I was touched that someone had done that for me, and I was suddenly gushing gratitude for everything I am receiving because of the makeover. I closed my eyes, pretending to be overcome with exertion instead of merely trying to hold it together before my eyes started to water. It might have been fine to be seen crying, but what if they come over to comfort me and noticed the rest of me wasn’t sweaty enough to warrant the condition of my hair? The whole ruse would be over.

More people gradually joined the circuit. A blonde woman sat on a machine near me and I glanced at her. It was Jean, one of my favorite receptionists from Weight Watchers. She had been there every week while I lost the 90 pounds and was someone I looked forward to seeing at the weigh-in and meeting. But I have never seen her outside of Weight Watchers. Of course I would see her then, because of the rule. We chatted as we rounded the circle. Oh well. Surely no one else would notice me.

Then the woman from the desk walked up to me, smiling.

“You’re Jen, right?” she asks. “The BNI makeover winner?”
The winner who, she’s now probably thinking, could really use a makeover. Or shampoo.
“Yeah.” I said uncomfortably; I never know what to do when I’m identified as “the winner”.
She introduced herself and told me that she wanted to take a picture of me for the Welcome sign before I left.
“Does my hair look terrible?” I asked.
“You won the contest?” Jean asked, looking from the poster to me.
“Yeah.” I said. It’s still hard to tell people without feeling sheepish. I should practice in a mirror saying “Yes! I did!” I feel sheepish about feeling sheepish at this point.

I agreed to the photo. At least I had one of my favorite t-shirts on. It says "Jenius" which made me laugh out loud when I saw it in the catalog. But people who know my name tend to mentally pronounce it like Jen-ius, not Jean-ius. And the funny gets a little lost when it seems like it's purposely spelled that way as a nod to my name. I like the way it was intended. Like I'm a self-proclaimed genius who misspells the title. It's a t-shirt that says "I'm with stupid" but you don't need to be standing next to anyone.

The Curves employee moved on, and Jean turned to me.
“I know you’re not the kind of person to be all about the prizes, but… what prizes did you get?” She asked eagerly.

But I am all about the prizes. I’m only human. Sometimes I catch myself daydreaming about them. What will my smile look like without that gap between my front teeth? I hope the Miche Bag shells are pretty. I wonder if I should get some Spanx before they take me shopping for the party outfit; I must control my Mommy Muffin Top.

“Well, you deserve it, Jen. You’ve been working so hard, and you look great now.” Jean said. She was on her back, her calves nestled in the machine where you open your legs and then bring them back together.
“I have a friend who used to call this the ‘Good girl/bad girl’ machine.” She laughed.
Now I’ll always enjoy that thought when I’m using that station. At least until my thighs start fatiguing.

I finished my workout and the woman took my picture. At first I stood there, arms hanging. I felt totally lame. I put my hands on my hips, to make myself look more alive. Isn’t that called ‘arms akimbo’? I wondered to myself. What a funny phrase. I remembered my daughter’s preschool pictures where she had her hands on her hips and was glaring at the camera with a hint of a smile. She looked impatient to get back to whatever activity she was doing before they pulled her away, combed her hair and washed her face. She had a look of indignity and fraying tolerance, but also enjoying the attention. It was sassy, so perfectly her.

I was legitimately sweaty now, in a baggy t-shirt, hair in a sloppy pony tail. I had definitely looked better. But I didn’t glare. I’m not three years old anymore.
When I pulled my smile into place, it melted all the anxiety. The happiness was suddenly Jenuine.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Becoming Grace Kelly

It was small talk, I had just been introduced to Nancy.
Nancy asked me what I did.
I told her I taught drawing at Penn State.
“Oh—I wish I could draw.” She said, smiling.

I began the dance I always do when someone tells me that.

“You could. I could teach you.” I said, smiling back at her.
“No, I don’t have any talent.” She said, smile fading.
“How do you know?” I asked, smile in place.
“I can only do stick figures.” She said, her eyebrows growing closer, lifting.

Now, if I had thought of it I would have said, “That’s how I started” but I didn’t think of it.

“It’s easy. Anyone can learn.” I said.
(Yes, Mom, it IS true. Drawing’s actually pretty simple, it’s just learning what to look for, and then practicing a lot.)
“I would love to learn, but I just can’t.” She said.
“Have you had lessons?” I asked.
“Just what I learned in high school and college.”
“You had a drawing class in college?” I asked, still looking as friendly and non-threatening as I could.
“No, I just drew things, you know, stick figures. My sister-in-law can draw. She can do beautiful things in pen and ink.” She said.

I thought of the stuff I’d been drawing lately for my class, pen and ink, ink wash, pencil.

“I can do beautiful things. I can teach you how.” I said.
“I bet you can do beautiful things.” She said.
After a couple more volleys back and forth she stopped deflecting my assertion and just looked at me. Her eyes looked troubled, battling fear and hope in equal measure. Her face shouted 'Dare I try?'

“You really can learn. I’ll give you a free lesson,” I offered, using a total drug dealer tactic; it’s free until they’re hooked.
“I would like to do pen and ink.” She said, hope taking over. “You know, my grandfather didn’t start drawing until he was 70.” She said.
“See, you’ve got tons of time.” I said.

I witnessed how being afraid to really try—if nothing else— is a ridiculous thing to cling to.
What would happen if she failed miserably? The Ministry of Drawing would come and break her pencil? It’s not rewiring a house or fixing car brakes. No lives are at stake.
Likewise, of course, why am I afraid to get wonderful free stuff? Why all the doubt and shame?

I imagine Kanye West will jump up and say, “I’m sorry, but Heather is one of the best mothers of all time!”
And then I’d feel stupid that I actually thought I might deserve it after all. And if front of all those people!

I told a friend about all the makeover jazz and the accompanying confusion. She knows I’m a believer (and not just in the Monkee sense).
“Doesn’t God give His grace whether you deserve it or not, for just believing in Him? Trusting He loves you?” She asked.
That stopped me.
“Uh, yeah.” I said. Always the eloquent speaker.
“So can you look at this as grace? Your friend went to the trouble of writing and submitting an essay so that you could maybe win some wonderful things. She loves you and wanted you to enjoy them."

Does my pride matter more than accepting her love?

It's a gift. You don't earn gifts. You just accept gracefully.

Sunday, April 18, 2010


Could this really be for me?
All I've done is lose 90 pounds. It's not as impossible as people think. I only did what Weight Watchers recommended more often than not, and then waited long enough for it to add up (or drop off, depending on how you look at it). Presto.

I sat in my car in my driveway, staring at the phone in my hand. My iPhone. A gift for reaching my goal weight. I have so much already, why should I get more?

But most of the prizes are things I have wanted...a gym membership I couldn't justify, thinner replacement clothes which weren't in the budget.
The housecleaning--who wouldn't need that? More to the point, I need that.
On the shallow side, I'd wanted a Miche bag for about a year, but not quite enough to fork over the money. That was icing on the can-you-believe-it? cake.

Is it too good to be true? I wondered. I stared out the windshield at my white garage door. When will the other shoe drop? The Lord giveth, right? Should I brace for it to be taken away? Especially since I couldn't deserve it?

Heather had called me an hour before "just because she had a few minutes between classes." She'd seemed oddly guarded or preoccupied. Now I see she had been gauging whether I had been notified yet.

I speed dialed Heather.
"Hello, Jen Kelly!" She said.
I just screamed. That seemed to articulate everything the best.
She squealed in unison.
I laughed, imagining her Squealing-with-Joy expression. It's easy to conjure because I see it so often. It doesn't even matter if she knows you or not, she'll celebrate even the smallest accomplishment.(For example, read her blog about her cheering for someone collecting trash-

It's difficult to mope very long around Heather.

I don't remember most of what we said after that except that she had asked Kelly from BNI why specifically they had selected me as the winning mom. Kelly said it was very hard to choose, but that they liked how I had inspired so many people.

Crap. What exactly did Heather write in that essay?
Who are these inspired people?
What if the BNI people meet me and are disappointed?

"You deserve it." Heather said.
Right. Okay. Whatever.

Clearly, I bring Extreme Insecurity to this Extreme Makeover. Perhaps it's the perfect match :)

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Winner

“You’ve been selected as the winner!” Kelly told me, excitement in her voice.

What do you imagine I’d think at that moment?  Uh huh, right…no.  I was a touch peeved.  They were supposed to pick my friend Heather.  Why didn’t they?

Heather started it.  She came across a flyer for a Mother’s Day Makeover Contest. (“We are looking for a deserving Centre County Mom over the age of 18 to win her own “Extreme Makeover”)  It would bestow one lucky mom with a gargantuan list of prizes.  It was just like What Not to Wear but without the cameras hovering in your face as someone throws away your clothes and insults you.  At least, I hope it’s without; the clothing makeover hasn’t happened yet.  Everyone with the contest has been genuinely sweet.

The prize list is mind-boggling and long. (

But near the end of this list is a prize that screamed my name: housecleaning.  Heather saw that prize and I popped in her mind. I moan about struggling with housecleaning all the time.  She only needed to write a 300 word essay telling them why I deserved the makeover.  Luckily for me she is an English professor, a writer (4 novels), a blogger (, and an all around cheerleader.  She loves to brag about her friends, kids, husband, and students) to whomever is standing next to her.  It does not matter who is standing there, she will tell anyone under the sun about the greatness in you. There will be a lot of Heather in this story.

So she wrote an essay about me and my 100 pound weight loss (she exaggerates—it’s only 90 lbs) and how I started a neighborhood fitness group  (To which I ALWAYS say, “No, you started it!”  And she replies, “No, if you hadn’t loved the idea it would never have happened.”  Whatever.  She started it.) She wrote about how I overcame a bunch of hardships to get where I am now.  I’m not sure what those hardships are yet, I haven’t read the essay.  I can’t wait to find out what they are.  My hardships are the problems of the incredibly blessed: I can’t get my kids to do things the third time I ask, I have too much work to do, my house is a mess, I don’t have enough time to do art. What kind of problems are those?  I have healthy happy kids, I have a job when some don’t, I have a house when some don’t, and I’m talented but don’t make the time to use my gifts.  I shouldn’t complain, but only God knows why I do.

She attached a picture, sent off the essay, and then told me about the contest.  She said I’d totally win.  I thought if they knew about her, she’d win.  So I wrote and submitted my own essay about how great she is, thinking she’d outshine everyone.  If you know her, you know she is lit with love and enthusiasm.  Like, way beyond anyone you’ve ever seen.   How could she not win?

A couple weeks later I got a voicemail message from Kelly at Premier Promotions. The message just said to call her back. The thought electrified me; Heather had won! How cool! She’s going to flip!

When I got on the phone with Kelly from Premier Promotions she explained the contest. I fidgeted in my seat, waiting for her to say Heather had won.  And then she didn’t.

“And you’ve been selected as the winner!” Kelly told me, excitement in her voice.

Dumbstruck.  Then peeved.  No, that can’t be right, I thought.  My mind worked to right itself.  Luckily, Kelly kept talking.  She talked about Business Networking International (BNI for short), the organization that created the contest.  She told me about Bridge of Hope, a charity for homeless mothers in Centre County, who would receive the proceeds from the “Unveiling party” cover charge and silent auction.  She told me about some of the prizes.  I already remembered the big ones: the one-year membership to Curves, the Smile Makeover. (This is from Carnicella & Associates. Three words: Massaging Dental Chairs!)

It became clear she was talking to me as the recipient.  She was asking me when I could meet the next week to get the ball rolling on my Smile Makeover since that took time.  I made the appointment and something started to grow in me: