7 Quick Takes about cool book moments, bestseller bling, overcommitting myself (again), and doing a 5K in a palanquin

February 21, 2014 | 36 comments

— 1 —

For those of you who missed it, we’re writing a post every day next week!

I am one of the people who missed it and needs a reminder. I dashed out the announcement in an unfortunate spasm of optimism in which my connection to reality was temporarily severed and I lost all understanding of the realities of my life. I was looking at next week’s calendar this morning and thought, Good thing I’m free of plans, because I’m going to be crazy busy. And then I remembered with a mix of dread and confusion that Spasm of Optimism Jen committed me, Insane Life Jen, to writing seven blog posts in seven days.

Nevertheless, I remain firm in this commitment. I shall indeed write all of those posts, because if I didn’t I would have no choice but to commit seppuku in the face of such dishonor. (Sorry. I’m still reading Shogun and I’m really into it.)

— 2 —

I had lunch with Melanie Shankle again this week, in part to celebrate her status as a two-time New York Times bestselling author. Her new memoir, Antelope in the Living Room, took a well deserved spot on the list last week, so that definitely called for some onion rings in Gruene.

I kept asking her how it feels to be a New York Times bestselling author, and kept rejecting her answers when she would insist that nothing really changes. Finally she said with a shrug, “It’s not like they give you a jacket or anything.”

I realized that therein lies the problem. Super Bowl winners get rings and Olympic winners get medals, so why shouldn’t writing winners get something too? We need to make this a thing. I’m going to take the initiative and propose a design. I took the liberty of Photoshopping my vision onto one of the catalogue shots from one of Melanie’s recent Fashion Friday posts, so that we can get a feel for how it would look in the sartorial schema of a real author:


I dunno. Is it too subtle?

— 3 —

It’s that time of year again: SXSW is about to start up, so I’ll spend a full week feeling like I get an F- at life for not being part of it and and not wanting to be part of it.

I’m a black-tie gala introvert, meaning that I’d go to elegant parties every night if I could, but I see no reason to leave the house other than that. So going to a noisy bar where all conversation is haltingly shouted over drums and guitars is misery for people with my temperament. I love music and I love conversation, but I can’t mix the two.

Live music is a religion here in Austin, so it was a long time before it occurred to me that not enjoying it was an option. I can’t tell you how many nights I spent sitting in some bar, occasionally touching my ears to see if they were bleeding, as I thought, Nobody can have a conversation because it’s so loud, trying to get a drink at the bar is like being in a WWF match, and the band is playing stuff off the new album instead of the popular songs everyone knows. But there are so many other things to enjoy! Like…like… and then some drunk guys would run into me and I wouldn’t be able to tell if they were apologizing or cursing at me since I couldn’t hear anything they said, and I’d never return to the train of thought in which I tried to figure out what was awesome about this.

It was a great moment of self-acceptance for me the first year that I put on headphones and listened to dance remixes of Top 40 rap songs in the comfort of my home instead of trying to go to any SXSW shows. But every year when I’m driving around the first week of March and I see that all lifeforms in the universe have descended upon my city for the sole purpose of enjoying its live music scene, I have this pang of wanting to do the cool thing that everyone else is doing, and I must remind myself anew that this is not an activity for fragile nerds.

— 4 —

Actually, wait. I misspoke in #3. There is an activity that is less suited to my personality, and it’s also a big Austin thing that’s about to be back in season: organized physical activity.

Joe and some friends have been twisting my arm to get me to do something called a “fun run” with them. We had a particularly circular and futile discussion recently in which, yet again, I could not get a satisfactory answer to the question I have always had about these kinds of things: Why not just run around on your own? I enjoy jogging now and then — a fact that many a startled neighbor can attest toΒ — but why would I get up early and do it with a crowd when I could sleep in and do it by myself in my neighborhood?

The answer they kept coming back to is camaraderie. “There’s nothing like being out there among the group, seeing people on the sidelines cheering you on, then joining in celebration with everyone afterward, ” one friend said.

There is something about being around crowds and chaos that makes me want to do anything but exercise. I guess it’s the black-tie gala introvert thing again: When I’m wearing sweat-drenched workout clothes I tried to avoid, not seek out, opportunities to socialize. Nevertheless, Joe and some of our friends are insistent that I must experience one of these things. In pondering how to get out of it, I came up with a brilliant idea:

They could carry me in a Roman litter.

Think about it! The group exercise people could all be outside sweating together, so they’d be psyched, and I could get 90% of this supposedly amazing experience of seeing people cheer you on as you move down the racetrack. (I may occasionally doze off as I recline onto my satin pillows, but I’d get the gist.) Plus, they would burn extra calories from shouldering the weight of my palanquin. I would even wear a number on my back if that were important to them.

This idea delights me endlessly. I am not much of a bucket list person, but if I were, “Doing a 5K in a Roman litter” would be at the very top of the list.

— 5 —

I love discovering small businesses with great products, and my latest find is the Portraits of Saints shop. I actually found it because the artist left a comment on one of my posts. I clicked through and was amazed by her beautiful portraits. In particular, I love how real each saint looks. Each person has a nuanced expression on his or her face that reminds you that this saint was a real person with fears and struggles and concerns just like the rest of us.

I ordered a wooden print of the saint that was chosen for me this year, St. Martin of Tours, and it’s been a lovely addition to my desk.


— 6 —

If you want to do more spiritual reading during Lent but don’t think you’re up for heavy philosophical tomes, I highly recommend The Shadow of His Wings. It’s the true story of a priest who was drafted into the SS during World War II. The book contains one jaw-dropping story after another of how God worked in this priest’s life as he tried to stay true to his faith despite being surrounded by evil and destruction. It’s a page-turner that will inspire you to trust God on a new level. Love, love, love that book.

— 7 —

Last weekend I had the amazing experience of presenting my grandfather with an advance copy of my book. He was born in 1914, the book will be published in 2014, and it’s dedicated to him.


It was a very special moment that I’ll treasure forever.



  1. Tania @ Larger Family Life

    I love this photo of you and your grandfather. How proud of you he must be!

  2. Meghan

    If you do find yourself unable to resist the live music be sure to bring some earplugs with you! The Swedes do it, so it must be trendy(:

  3. edie

    I’m DYING over the necklace.

    I can’t think of a better, more suited accessory for Miss Melanie. She’ll be stunning!

    Also? LOVE the photo of you with your grandfather. What a moment.


  4. Renee

    I never understood, why I loved music but hated concerts. Same reason.

    Then if you went to a large venue it took two hours to leave.

    My neighbor is in a classic rock cover band, we just open the window and listen to him practice.

  5. christine

    I didn’t like the band scene when I was in college, and I like it even less as an old fuddy duddy. Why do they have to be so loud?? I get more than enough “so loud I can’t think let alone carry on a conversation” at home with the kids.

    Good luck getting them to carry you in that run. I’ll be looking for the photos.

    What a great moment for you and your grandpa.

  6. Anne McD

    Wow- forget being a NYTBS- handing your grandfather your book was probably the best thing, ever.

    But while we’re on the topic of NYT, maybe shorten it to read, “NYT, BABY” because, really, everyone should KNOW what it means. πŸ˜‰

  7. Julie

    There’s so much to love about this post.
    The pic with your grandfather is absolutely priceless.
    I love the book recommendation, the saints’ portraits recommendation, and the Bestseller bling is hilarious.
    Thanks for sharing your talent!

  8. Christie Purifoy

    “Not an activity for fragile nerds.” The first twenty-five years of my life would have been completely different if I had weighed each activity/opportunity through this lens.

    For starters, I never would have attended “Fish Camp” as an entering freshman at Texas A&M University … however, I might also have thought twice about having four children, so maybe we’re sometimes better off forgetting about what we can reasonably handle? πŸ™‚

    Thank you, again, for helping me begin the day with snorting, inelegant laughter. The baby is still looking a little startled, but worth it – totally worth it. πŸ™‚

  9. Nikita @TheUnpavedPath

    Your last take for this entry was my favorite. My great-grandmother who was born in 1921 is still alive and I thank God everyday for the gift he gives me with her alive. She has taught me so much and raised me a good part of my life. That picture just reminds me of her so much.

    God Bless,

    P.S. I hope soon to purchase your book!

  10. Jules

    Totally agree about the live music!

    I would have totally agreed about group running two months ago. Running is hard enough as is, why in the world does it need a social element?! But I signed up for a couch to 5k group so I’d feel compelled to go run since I paid a (very minimal) fee to the store hosting it. I figured I’d drag myself there twice a week out of obligation to the money I’d spent. I was delighted to find the money was actually for a t-shirt and entrance into the race. I love a good deal! And then I also discovered running was so much easier with other people! I also love easier! I’ve met several introverts, and we run in small packs or pairs. It seems to be just like what I’ve found at CrossFit in that everyone is as happy about the walkers coming in at the end of the group as they were about the people done first. I’ve even found an abnormally high percentage of Catholics in the group for my area. Who knew?

    Thanks for the read this morning!

  11. Mary

    Hilarious about doing a 5k in a litter. When you hit the best seller list you can drape that bit of bling over your litter so all the people will, um, want to talk to you. Or maybe just stare.

    I hear you about not enjoying noisy venues! (Ba dum bump.)

  12. LittleWife

    I actually really like concerts and bands… Hubby does not. Not at all. So I’m glad I got that concert thing mostly out of my system before meeting him.

    #7? What an amazing moment! Made me totally tear up. It won’t be long until you’re going to have, what, 15 pounds (?) of NYT Bestseller bling around your neck!

  13. dweej

    Your grandpa is 100 years old????? I know you put a lot of work and stuff into the other stuff in this post, but I just…wow. That is AWESOME.

  14. Nichole

    Oh, Jen. You have an initech mug. Just when I thought I couldn’t love this blog more…

  15. Roxane B. Salonen

    Hey Jen! That last one is precious. Wow. When my North Dakota alphabet book came out, I read it to each of my children, who were within the age range of the intended audience, one by one. It was such an amazing moment to me to be able to share this treasure with them, so personally rewarding. I just don’t have a photo to prove it! But like your moment, it will be forever in my heart. And by the way, my grandma turns 100 in June! Plans for a party are underway. πŸ™‚ God bless yoU!

  16. Julie @ Connecticut Catholic Corner

    Your #7 brought tears to my eyes!

    How lucky you are to still have your grandfather – I miss mine dearly.

  17. Caroline M.

    That photo with your grandfather is amazing. Congrats on his 100th birthday!!

    I love live music – under certain conditions. So an outdoor concert standing up with the band right there, and the ability to move around, sounds like a blast. Live music in bars can be good, but it’s tricky to get it right. Some friends of mine used to play in a blues cover band doing old favorites at a BBQ joint and bar, and everything worked together. The worst is when the music doesn’t fit the venue, which happens all too often.

  18. Smoochagator

    That picture of you and your grandpa… just amazing. Makes my eyes water a little πŸ˜€

    I think I’m going to try the seven posts in seven days thing. Maybe. I dunno. Maybe. We’ll see.

  19. Sarah Damm

    Funny you should mention running as a social event in your QTs, because I also talk about it in mine! I have a similar experience to Jules (in the comments). I don’t think I’d be running if it wasn’t for my group and the encouragement they give me.

    My favorite is your last one with your grandfather! What a blessing to still have your grandpa! I’m sure he is SO proud of you!

  20. Kayla

    Thanks for the book recommendation for Lent! I will keep it in mind. πŸ™‚

  21. Christie Martin @ Garden of Holiness

    How sweet to be able to present your grandfather with your book. That is simply a treasure.

    I also recommend the book, The Shadow of His Wings. It’s an awesome story.

  22. Gina

    What a lovely, lovely moment with your grandfather. Mine would have been 100 this year, too! πŸ™‚

  23. Laura

    Love that NYBS necklace. I don’t think it is overstated at all! What a great moment for you and your grandpa. Can’t wait to read the book.

  24. Tracy Bua Smith

    I love that saint portrait…beautiful! And I just downloaded the priest’s book onto my Kindle…sounds great! Thank you for the recommendation! This is my First Quick Takes and I mention wanting to hear you speak (and meet you) at the IBT Catholic Conference in March πŸ™‚
    I look forward to reading your book as well! That picture with your grandfather is priceless! WOW! 100 years later…he must be so proud! God bless!

  25. Bonnie

    WOW! Your grandpa is (or will be) 100 years old this year! AWE-SOME!!!! YOU are so, so lucky, and he looks like he still is pretty savvy. God bless him (and you!).

  26. the other Becky

    I am wondering how you could be thinking “It’s a good thing I don’t have any plans” and “I’m going to be super busy” at the same time? I mean, doesn’t being super busy count as having some plans? Doesn’t having no plans count as not being super busy?

  27. Lena

    I agree that doing a fun run in a Roman litter is the way to go.

    I like listening to live music in bars because I can just focus on the music and not bother with making conversation. For some reason there is pressure to converse when a d.j. is playing music, but not when a live band is performing. At least that has been my experience.

  28. Lisa Schmidt

    Haha! Re: the 7 posts in 7 days … after my husband saw the blogpost I published detailing my grand plans for next week, he looked at me like, “What the $@*@! are you doing?” Better yet, “And WHY?!” And he’s right to be alarmed by my impulsivity. He and I are leading a parish mission next weekend, and we still need to finalize two of the three talks. Can you guess who’s the more level-headed spouse here? πŸ™‚

  29. Trisha Niermeyer Potter

    I really needed a great LOL experience, so thank you for coming up with #2! Your #7 is incredibly exciting, humbling, and sweet. I’d love to hear about his response upon receiving it as well as once he reads it!

  30. Lindsay Boever

    I love “In the Shadow of His Wings.” If you love his story, you will certainly fall in love with Fr. Emil Kapaun and Fr. Walter Ciszek if you’ve not read them. Be still be heart! God Bless.

  31. Stephanie

    That picture of your grandpa brought tears to my eyes. I miss my grandparents SO much. What a gift to share your book with him.

    As for the running with crowds, I will echo what someone already wrote: it’s much EASIER running with people in a race. Super supportive community? With people cheering you on? You feel like a rockstar…and almost always there’s a medal at the end!

  32. Jesabes

    My husband and I are exactly like you and Joe regarding races. He runs several a year and looooves the energy of the crowd and extra adrenaline that makes him run faster, etc. I…can’t stand to be watched running. Why would I PAY MONEY for people to watch me? And the races start so early! Why would you get out of bed that early just to run? No thank you.

  33. Elena

    That’s awesome about your grandfather! He looks great and I’m sure he is so proud of you!!

  34. Michelle

    I like your grandfather and the way he handled the book.

    Some of his age (some not even up to) can’t read no matter what glasses they use neither can they think well.

    You guys rock !


  35. Lisa

    My favorite: you presenting the advanced copy of your book to your Grandfather. And that you dedicated it to him. So very neat.

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