Did You Notice The Elephant? (Reflections on Grief)

I’ve been asked a few times write or talk about my personal experiences with grief. It feels like there should be a lot I could say but whenever try I my mind fills with questions.

What can I say?
What should I say?
What if I say the wrong thing?
What if my words offend someone?
What if my thoughts aren’t as valuable as someone else’s?

Ironically, as I reflect on those questions I’m struck with a realization.

Those are the exact questions that paralyze us from talking to others who are grieving.

But the thing is– it seems to me that more times than not, when it comes to those who are grieving, it’s better to err on saying something rather than nothing. Even if it’s not quite right. Even if it’s cliché. Even it’s stupid. Acknowledgment goes a long way in showing support to someone who is in pain.

When you suffer a profound loss—like the loss of a child, in my case– it can entirely consume your thoughts, flavor every conversation, color every observation. It’s really like that old elephant in the room. It’s big, everyone knows it’s there. There may be many concerns or varying perspectives on how or what do do with the elephant but it’s ridiculous to not address it. However, obvious observations (the elephant is there), may not always lead to congruent conclusions, or similar solutions (how and what we do about it). By not addressing the elephant of grief, we are often making a lot of assumptions, or we are fearful. We are fearful of causing more pain, or fearful of being uncomfortable. But, are assumptions or fear ever the most helpful ways to deal with people?

So I’ve decided–I’m just gonna write about the things that come into my mind. I’m not going to let the questions paralyze me. I’m going to hope and pray that something I say, at some point will resonate with someone, will help someone, even if it helps one person dealing with loss, especially the loss of a child, to realize they are not alone. The pain is real, it is hard, it is horrific.

I’m also acknowledging two things.

1) Grief is a feeling or an emotion, and thereby subjective. Emotions are allowed to be subjective. No two people feel grief the same way, just as now two people experience fear, anger, or love the same way.

2) Grief is non-linear and unpredictable. And that’s so darn hard for us finite humans. We want to know the plan, when the pain will end, but yet, if I stop grieving, will I stop remembering? We have good days, and then out of nowhere a trigger causes your eyes to burn and fill with tears.

So that’s my introduction to the revival of this blog.

For those of you who are finding me via google or pinterest, because that is where the majority of my traffic is from—welcome to the place where stuff is about to get real.

You can read about the loss I’m referring to here.

And I’m not apologizing—just informing: I have no idea how many posts I will do on this topic. There are a lot of reasons why I’m no longer a reliable blogger, but maybe those are for another post. 🙂

I know I have at least one post to come. And it’s about this plant—or part of a plant—and the oft misapplied concept of “letting go.”

reflections on grief, grieving mothers, loss, hope

Did You Notice The Elephant? (Reflections on Grief)


Chasing Sunsets

We went on a bike ride tonight. Just me and the two oldest after the two youngest were in bed. We biked a few miles to the south and east when I realized, we should have gone north and west—to chase the sunset.

I glanced at my phone, checking the sunset time, and current local time before announcing to the boys I had a new plan. They were excited at the prospect perhaps only to match the exuberance with which I pitched the idea.

We changed our course slightly, looped quickly around the park (our original destination) and picked up the pace. We only had 20 minutes until the official sunset time, and about three miles to go.

There was a clear spot, a vacant lot, which is somewhat westward facing. That was my goal. I watched the sky grow dimmer as we traveled the blocks, and without spectacular color like I wanted. We went on–a hopeful 8 year old leading the way.

We got to the clearing. There was nothing spectacular. With optimism my son said, “If we bike up further, to the bridge, we might have a better view.” So we did. It wasn’t much better.

It was a plain old, ordinary sunset. No streaks of purples, pinks, oranges or reds. No rays of sun erupting through clouds. Just some greyish clouds, and faint pink streaks, or maybe they were beige.

So-so sunset

But really, what sunset is truly ordinary? What is plain or dull about our light source, which remains ever faithful, perhaps in reflection of its Creator. It never leaves us, it simply leaves our view for awhile, and when it does, it illuminates new extraordinary things—things that are just out of our sight. It continues to warm lands, and peek through the cracks of curtains while people miles away are beginning their days as we end ours.

There’s beauty in every sunset. The most profound beauty is in the fact that we were even able to witness it another day. Even in the midst of a thunderstorm the sun sets– we just can’t see it. The colors in the sky, the clouds, or the reflections it can produce are indeed beautiful and enjoyable, but those are the times it’s not hard to notice and point out the beauty. In fact, it’s hard to miss. But when the colors are dull or seem ordinary, the consistency, the faithfulness remains. The fact that while the sun sets, it most assuredly rises, is the beauty we are temped to, and often do, miss.

The boys and I discussed concept briefly when we reached the new vantage point, with little change in view. we praised the Creator with our words, then biked home.

And I reflected on these things as the warm, sticky, late August air moved the hair on my brow up and down. As the locust hummed, the frogs sang, the crickets chirped, and the evening birds tweeted while chasing their dinner, I pedaled. It was beautiful—the end of summer, the edge of autumn. And I watched my children bike ahead with the joy and exuberance that comes from the of chasing sunsets, and the added pleasure of being able to ride on the path as the street lights turned on.

Riding with street lights

The View From the Pool

It’s been some time since I’ve blogged. It’s been so long I wonder if people still blog any more. If people still find them relevant. It’s probably been about a year since I’ve started to lose a grip, not like I ever had one (or cared), on what’s hip, cool, or trendy in this realm.

Although, Bright Shiny Things has never been about what’s hip, or trendy, or cool, or even about best blogging practices. What started as a little place for me to exercise writing, grew into a place for me to exercise all kinds of creativity. To create recipes, share ideas, and receive a shocking amount of, what I would consider, success. Even when my posts got “popular” and media came, and went, and came, I chose to keep Bright Shiny Things—solely my random world. No sponsored posts, no ads but my own, no attempts to make money.

I loved Bright Shiny Things as it existed for a season. I love that people are still finding and pinning my food creations, that people are using my Jesse Tree ornaments, that people around the world, amusingly enough, connect with me over coloring, of all things.

But the season has changed. It’s summer and I’m thinking about pool time. Bright Shiny Things has hung out in the shallow end. Maybe dipping it’s toes once or twice from the edges of where it starts to get deep. But mostly staying in the shallow waters. Shallow is safe, it doesn’t require much energy, you can sit, and splash, you can cool off and relax. Shallow is where you can touch–where your feet rest on something tangible and solid. Shallow sometimes gets a bad rap—shallow isn’t bad, shallow is nice sometimes, maybe even necessary. Staying in too long in the deep waters is exhausting and can be dangerous.

But my life as of lately hasn’t been spent splashing in the shallows. My life has been tossed in the deep end, sometimes life is bobbing up and down sputtering as I am tired of treading water. Life is sometimes sweeping, strong, front crawls. Life is sometimes, maybe most of the time, an inefficient doggy paddle.

The past 18 months I have experienced the joy of adding three different children to our family through adoption, I’ve experienced the pain of losing one. I’ve learned to live with grief, and trauma. Learning that the impact of either never goes away. And am hopefully on the road to broader understanding, even flourishing, within difficulty. I’m learning to look at life differently as I now parent my second child with “special needs.” I’m learning about the brain, about learning about bonding, learning about sensory processing, about people, relationships, about all kinds of things I didn’t think of prior to fall of 2014. I’m learning how to be a girl mom. After spending such a long time as the only princess—I’ve been promoted to queen.

From the deep end my perspective has changed, and everything in my field of view is drenched in new light. That, of course, includes Bright Shiny Things. I’m dissatisfied with shallow writings but there’s a problem. I’m not sure I have the energy, or more logistically, the time to write from the depths. I may still find time for some silly, fun, or even food posts—but I just don’t know.

I want to write of grief, I want to write of trauma, I want to write of the daily challenges and joys parenting children with needs can bring. I want to write of faith and of what the Lord has done, and is doing.

And as if we haven’t experienced enough change here, we just moved. Well, perhaps the past tense is a little premature. We are moving—I mean, we are staying and living in a new home, our address has changed, but it feels like it will be quite sometime before we are truly moved. It’s funny–when you double the amount of children in your home the square footage stays the same, possibly even shrinks. But we now live in a home where we can walk a little more freely. It’s been a tremendous blessing. It’s another thing I could write of—how God provided the perfect space for us, giving us things we’ve always wanted, but didn’t bother to ask him.

Like this porch.



It might seem silly but we’ve always wanted a porch. We didn’t think we’d ever find a porch with a farmhouse feel in the suburbs– we didn’t even bother to ask. And now, perhaps, the Lord will give us a brief respite, perhaps I will find time to sit here, and reflect and write from the depths. Perhaps.

Thank you for reading, thank you for pinning, thank you for sharing, thank you for allowing Bright Shiny Things to exist.

Until we swim again …


Spaghetti Squash Lasagna

HOLY COW! I’m here! I’m blogging! It’s astounding! (Maybe not the content, but the fact that I’m doing it at all.)

Bright Shiny Things has been on hiatus because we’ve had some big life changes here. About 6 months ago we were matched for another adoption placement, actually two. We were blessed to have 1 and 3 year old siblings join our family. And that’s really probably all I need to say. The hiatus is probably pretty self explanatory.

They are a delight, we love them, they are busy, and when you add homeschooling a 2nd and 4th Grader to the mix–it’s even more clear why this blog has taken a back burner.

But today. Today, I am going to attempt a post. I don’t know how long it will be before I have another one. I can’t even guarantee I will finish this one. It’s not that I don’t have ideas, it’s the time to sit down and write that seems to escape me.

I am writing this because I have a problem with vegetables. I love salad. I love baby carrots. I enjoy almost all raw vegetables. However, there aren’t a lot of cooked vegetables that I enjoy, and this has seemed to transfer to my children. In case you are unaware, it gets a little chilly here in Minnesota during the winter, and when it’s chilly I have a harder time enjoying salad and raw, cold, vegetables.

Enter spaghetti squash: a produce selection I have heard much about, but never made myself. So I decided to give it a whirl, and bake it into a lasagna type dish. And you know what? It turned out delicious, and as a bonus all of the solid food eaters in my house love it!

Now, let’s see if I remember how to write a recipe …


Spaghetti Squash Lasagna

1 Spaghetti Squash
15 oz of Ricotta Cheese (I use low-fat)
2 1/2 cups Shredded Mozzarella Cheese (divided)
1 cup Shredded Parmesan cheese (divided)
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon dried parsley
a dash or two of nutmeg
1 1/2 cups spaghetti sauce

Cut squash in half length wise and scoop out the seeds. Bake, cut side down, on a cookie sheet at 400 degrees for 30-45 minutes, or until the skin is easily pierced.

Allow to cool, and carefully scraping a fork across the squash, create “noodles”.

In a medium mixing bowl combine ricotta, garlic, parsley, and nutmeg. Add 2 cups of shredded mozzarella and 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan.

Place approximately 1/4 cup of sauce in the bottom of a large pie plate. Layer with approximately 1/4 of the squash, and 1/2 cup of the cheese mixture.

Repeat layering and place 1/2 cup of mozzarella and 1/2 cups of Parmesan cheeses on top of the final sauce layer. The layers should be like this: sauce, squash cheese, sauce, squash, cheese, sauce, squash, cheese, sauce, squash, cheese, sauce, shredded cheeses

Bake at 350 for 30 minutes or until hot, bubbly, and slightly browned on top.

Tips, Tid Bits, and Photos

I didn’t want to do a whole write up about how to cook spaghetti squash, so if you don’t know how, and my directions aren’t clear enough, here is a nice tutorial.

Spaghetti Squash

And, if you’re short on time (like I often am) you can cook the a day or two before and put it in the fridge. I didn’t even shred it up until right before I assembled the dish–just cooked it and threw it in a Ziploc bag.

Whenever I make lasagna, or stuffed noodles, I add nutmeg to my ricotta. I don’t know why. I think I decided it was in a lasagna I ate once and I liked it so I always add it because it tastes good.  See the brownish stuff? That’s how much nutmeg I added on this day.

Spaghetti Squash Lasagna




I like to set up a little, neat assembly line, like this.

Spaghetti Squash Lasagna

You can layer it however you want, just is just how I like to do it. It’s not an exact science, and the measurements aren’t precise.

Spaghetti Squash Lasagna

I assembled this in the morning, and kept it in the fridge until it was closer to supper for baking. So, this is a great recipe to do in steps or make ahead.

Spaghetti Squash Lasagna

I often serve it with garlic bread, and salad, even though I kind of implied it wasn’t salad weather anymore. Sorry to send mixed messages.

Spaghetti Squash Lasagna

So there you are and I feel SUPER accomplished for getting this out. I have so many things I’d like to write about … we’ll see what I can get out in the next year.

Until we meet again,

An Open Letter of Thanks to DailyMail.com

As one of the earlier media outlets to cover this coloring phenomenon that we (my friends and I) have unexpectedly found ourselves a part of, I want to send you a letter of gratitude. I know this letter is a bit tardy in coming—I’ve had a big chunk of life land my plate recently and it’s been taking quite a bit of my time. It should be noted, however, I am getting this out much sooner than I did my wedding thank yous. So, yay for me, I got marginally better at something over 13 years.

Back to the load of thanks I would like to bestow upon you–in response to the load you have offered to the masses. I am going to systematically go through your article and offer up my thanks on various points.

We will begin with the title.

Thank you for giving the Ladies Coloring Club a cult status.“The Cult of Crayola” is what you called it. Thanks for capturing the true spirit of what is going on here. Although, I wonder, which definition were you implying for us. Religious beliefs regarded as strange or sinister? Or, misplaced or excessive admiration? Either one is fine, and I’ve decided it’s the perfect excuse to serve and drink Kool-Aid. Next we will seek to build a remote compound—probably moving our families and loved ones in with us. I think we will don tinfoil hats for good measure.

Calling me out as a cult leader has given me cause for introspection, and I’m always in favor of self-evaluation. I discovered that Psychology Today has an article on Dangerous Cult Leaders. In an effort to check myself, I read through the 50 qualities of a pathological cult leader. I only have about 40 of the characteristics, maybe 45 if it’s pre-coffee on a Monday, either way I’m well in the safety zone, wouldn’t you say?

Thank you for introducing me with the phrase “Meet the Woman.” It was so clever of you to write that in a way that would imply you yourselves had met me, or spoken to me, or emailed me, or Facebooked me, or had any connection with me whatsoever. (And hold on to that Facebooking thought—I owe you a thanks on that as well.) I suppose I owe a similar thanks to New York Magazine, but they will not be receiving a letter because they did not bestow as many gifts upon me as you did. They too had the element of surprise (no prior contact) but they were so very stingy with the embellishments/misrepresentations. How tactless.

Thank you for emphasizing “judgment free zone”—it proves that you at least skimmed my original post, and found an agenda-like quote. Cults should have agendas. Why else offer the Kool-Aid? I do like how it makes me sound so much more open minded than I really am. It also helps affirm in my heart that I am not a dangerous cult leader (since being judgment-free would seem incongruous with quality number 13 on the list, “Makes members confess their sins or faults publicly subjecting them to ridicule or humiliation while revealing exploitable weaknesses of the penitent.” (Complete article here at Psychology Today.)

I believe that’s all of my thanks in regards to the title. I won’t bother mentioning that we don’t meet weekly.

Now, we move on to the body of your piece, where I also have many thanks to offer you.

Thanks for implying we are a group of New York women. One can never be too careful when leading a cult. You don’t want scary people following you around (and I mean that in the least judgy way possible, of course.) It’s good to throw people off the trail a bit. I mean, people have to really search when they’re on my blog to get any idea I’m not in New York. It’s not like I have the word Minnesota in a big yellow header right in the middle of my page.

Thanks for creeping through my Facebook profile pictures and finding one that makes me look somewhat charismatic (an invaluable trait for cult leaders). There are other pictures you could have chosen. Pictures that would be less likely to attract cult-members. At least the type of cult members I am hoping to recruit.

My other hobby--not squatchin but taking selfies in Target.

It was a nice touch to leave off Facebook as a source and add the caption, “Setting up: Blogger Jenny Fenlason (pictured) held the first meeting of Ladies Coloring Club in February and was thrilled with the response.”

The Daily Mail article about me, that I knew nothing about, and was really, really wrong.

Again, really top notch job implying that you had something to do with me or this picture, and that this is how I get set up for my meetings. I can often be found standing with my hands on my hips, surveying my progress toward worldwide domination, internally uttering something like, “Gee golly and boy howdy, am I pleased with how this cult is coming together.” It would have been better if you photoshopped my Kool-Aid grail into the photo. Maybe next time.

Thanks for your inability to read tone—particularly that which leans more tongue and cheek. I know that any time one sees a meme of the Most Interesting Man, it’s hard not to take things to 11 on the serious-meter. Most of my regular readers know I often use hyperbolic statements as part of my style, but not knowing that about me, it’s much more reasonable to assume a person truly hopes coloring will be a worldwide phenomenon. Although, I suppose there’s a little egg on my face here because it appears that it has indeed become quite trendy.

I hear the music playing–the music that ushers people off of the stage when they become too lengthy in their thanks. So, before I get to thanking the Academy, I have two more thanks I’d like to make sure I get in.

Thanks for teaching me about modern journalism (you’re not the only teacher in all of this, but your example has been most striking). In all of this I’ve learned that journalists can (even if it’s ethically questionable) take pictures off of your personal Facebook page (and I understand privacy settings–but what about the settings on ethics?). They can twist and take quotes out of context. They can re-hash a story they read somewhere and post it as truth they’ve discovered and researched. They don’t even have to contact you and let you know that they have plastered your name, and face, and misinformation on an largely circulated “news” outlet. Ultimately, I have learned to not trust a blasted thing you read on the internet (something I long suspected but have now confirmed from by this first hand experience). And for sure, anytime I see anything being circulated by Daily Mail, I immediately wonder how many inaccuracies there are.

And, even though this isn’t your letter I’d like to add …

Thanks Obama. It was fun to show up in the “news” with you. Thanks for sharing face space with me. I’m sorry that on this particular news day I look happier than you. Consider the hands-on-hip stance for a mood brightener.


Yours Truly,
(Supreme Potentate of the Crayola-Cult)

In all sincerity, I am truly thankful that even with this grossly inaccurate news piece, good things are happening with coloring clubs. I never really imagined a fun and somewhat silly post I wrote would spread like this, and result in so much (any) media coverage. I honestly didn’t think it would take off like it has. Right place, right time–I guess. I love connecting with people from all different places in life and something seemingly simple, like coloring, has allowed that to happen. I’m so happy that people are actually getting together and enjoying an encouraging, relaxing time together. There is so much negativity, and busyness in the world—this is refreshing.

That said, I do struggle with misinformation, I like truth. I also like being sassy. So, this letter has been building in me for a quite sometime. I hope you know I am not bitter, and I can find humor in this, but it is wrong to misrepresent people like this. I forgive you Daily Mail—but consider changing your practices. A simple email would have gone a long way.

Here is the article this letter was written regarding:


Here is the piece by New York Magazine. It was written without my prior knowledge, but is more factual.


I only discovered these articles had written been when Google analytics revealed blog traffic coming from them.

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