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Guest Posts, Family

A Fridge Photo and a Texas Tradition

October 24, 2023

As blueberry season ends, here’s what I’ve learned about legacy, tradition, and fake-family. 

I took a video of my daughter yesterday. In it, she’s crouched under the branches of a blueberry bush. July marks the end of blueberry season in Texas, and my daughter is taking full advantage. Her plump face hovers over a bushel basket and she’s popping fresh berries into her mouth, one after the other, with the fervor of a ravenous woodland creature. But that’s what two-year-old’s do; they find something they love and indulge with abandon. Plus, they like snacks.

The record-breaking East Texas heat seeps through the lens and I’m sweating again just watching her. Behind my daughter, her fake-cousins each swing their own basket and root through the bushes in the shadow of their mom, Courtney. Out of frame, their baby sister rides on dad’s shoulders. She bounces, her head bobbing up and down as the two walk the well-worn rows of Blueberry Hill Farm.

I’m hot and miserable, but Courtney’s kids keep picking blueberries (and my kid keeps eating them). It’s tradition. I’m not a kid anymore, so after capturing the memory on camera, I retreat to the corrugated tin shop at the edge of the farm where they sell blueberry lemonade, blueberry donuts, blueberry ice cream, and queso fresco (sans blueberries). This is Texas, after all. The proprietor tells me the just-baked blueberry-zucchini bread is her favorite. I buy a loaf for the drive back to Dallas. Like my daughter, I like a good snack.

Back at the house, Country’s parents have a photo on their fridge—one that’s been there for 25 years. I’ve never paid it much attention, but like the quirks of a roommate or spouse, I’ve grown to know it without even trying. It’s a photo of us—me and my siblings, Courtney and hers—on a hot summer day under the East Texas sun.

My brother stands on one side of the photo in an oversized, early 90’s t-shirt. I’m next to him, holding onto my little sister. She’s in a blue checkered bucket hat and overalls. Courtney’s oldest brother carries the littlest. His grip is slipping; the pink, plump baby threatens to slide from his brother’s grasp, but the boys are smiling in the oblivious way little boys do. Courtney is last in line and wears a shy smile. She was always the quiet one. We squint in the blazing sunlight, our backs against the unruly bushes of Blueberry Hill Farm. Off-camera, our bushel baskets present a paltry offering of fresh-picked berries.

Courtney’s not the quiet one anymore. As an adult, she can befriend a tree. And more miraculous, she seems to always have the emotional energy for fresh befriending. After my daughter was born, it felt like I only had just enough heart to hold me and mine inside it. Courtney doesn’t feel that way. Three kids later and her heart is still open to all. She’ll overshare with the cashier at the gas station and chat up the vendor at the farmer’s market. She’ll spill her life story to fellow berry-pickers at Blueberry Hill Farm, and she’ll get theirs in return.

Courtney is self-assured. She has a presumptive confidence that says, “Of course you want to hear my story. Why wouldn’t you?” Like my daughter when she shows me the berries she’s picked. “You want to see this, don’t you? Of course, you do.” It’s the faith of a child, an earnest faith in vulnerability, in friendship. She always extends the invitation.

Courtney and her family, they’re our fake-cousins. We don’t share a family tree, but Courtney and her brothers can be found in every one of my birthday party pictures. Their little voices can be heard in the background of home videos from my childhood. Her parents are in my parents’ wedding album, and their faces grace our Christmas tree every year in the form of homemade photo ornaments. They’re our adverse possession family.

When Courtney was in labor with her first child, I gave my boss 10 minutes’ notice, then left the office and drove to Houston. Courtney and I hadn’t been spending much time together then. But that’s how it is with fake-cousins sometimes. You grow up, you grow apart. But you show up—graduations, bachelorette parties, weddings, funerals. You don’t talk in months, but you leave work with 10 minutes’ notice and drive through the night for the birth of their kids.

I hadn’t been to a hospital in years. I remember seeing Courtney reclined on an oversized hospital bed, swollen from preeclampsia. Even then, when she was told of her son’s complications, his rare syndrome, surrounded by wires and screens and strangers, she opened herself up to the nurses as casually as if reclining at her favorite coffee shop with an old friend. At the time, I was concerned she was disassociating from the trauma, but now I see how she—with all her flaws and gifts—was so perfectly meant for this little boy. When I gave birth to my daughter years later at the height of the COVID pandemic, I remembered Courtney’s self-assuredness, her confidence. And I realized just how miraculous it was.

Before leaving yesterday, I stopped by the fridge for a glimpse of that photo—the one of us when we were kids at Blueberry Hill Farm. It was stuck to the fridge in the same acrylic frame, in the same spot, for 25 years. After a quick look, I grabbed yet another bottle of sunscreen, then helped load our crew in the car—the third generation of blueberry pickers.

We got the blueberries, the blueberry-zucchini bread, some videos, and a fresh sunburn. But we also got a new fridge photo. Maybe the picture we took yesterday will be the one my daughter grows up with, the one that’ll stick to the fridge for the next 25 years, the one she glimpses just before she loads her crew in the car to go blueberry picking with their fake-cousins.

Having kids is like that. You can’t help but see the world through the lens of legacy. When that first photo was taken, my parents stood where I stand now. And the way I feel when I look at my daughter—it’s a well-worn row that my own parents walked. And still walk. It’s strange to realize that we may only understand how loved we are through the lens of loving someone else. Miraculous, even.

Courtney’s three kids took up most of the photo frame this year. We still only have one, though not for lack of trying. (And the one, the ravenous woodland creature, keeps us plenty busy). Conversations with fertility specialists, the endless stream of suggestions, the overwhelming weight of uncertainty. It’s miserable. I wish I were self-assured, presumptively confident. I wish for the faith of a child.

As I write this, I’m enjoying the last of the blueberry-zucchini bread. It’s fluffy but decadent. There’s a gooey zing from the blueberries, all sunk to the bottom. Baked and caramelized, they add a jammy-ness to the otherwise light bread. But I prefer my blueberries like my daughter does—fresh from the bushel basket.

I scroll through yesterday’s videos and photos, and I see the legacy grow. I see bushel baskets heaped high with blueberries and more empty bottles of sunscreen. And maybe next year or the year after, there will be more kids in the photo—more pink, plump babies. We’ll dress them in bucket hats and overalls and line them up in front of the unruly bushes. We’ll buy more acrylic frames and make room on the fridge.

I don’t know who will be in those photos, or whose faces will show up on our Christmas tree in the years to come, but I know that we’ll be back. We’ll be back to walk the well-worn rows of Blueberry Hill Farm in the record-breaking Texas heat. We’ll be back because Courtney will extend the invitation, as she always does. And her family—they’re our family. Our fake-cousins.

I’m confident we’ll be back, presumptively so. It’s a Texas tradition, after all.

A marketing professional for over a decade, Sarah has experience in media, the creative arts, and writing for brands. Whatever she works on—from talking points to television commercials—she works through the lens of narrative. She is constantly urging her clients and peers to consider: What’s the story? Who’s the protagonist? How does it end? 

Sarah has an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin McCombs School of Business. She lives in Dallas with her husband and two young daughters — a toddler, and a (new) baby.


Wondering what to read next? 

We are huge fans of messy stories. Uncomfortable stories. Stories of imperfection.

Life isn’t easy and in this gem of a book, Amy Ferris takes us on a tender and fierce journey with this collection of stories that gives us real answers to tough questions. This is a fantastic follow-up to Ferris’ Marrying George Clooney: Confessions of a Midlife Crisis and we are all in!


Statement on Black Lives Matter and support for social change

Guest Posts, Inspiration, poetry

Being A Fan by Naomi Shihab Nye.

January 16, 2014

**Note from Jen: It’s a huge honor to have one of my favorite poets in the world guest post on my site today…

Being a Fan by Naomi Shihab Nye.

Maybe we could pay more attention to this subject. We’re so full of ourselves, but it’s much more fun to be full of others. Who do we deeply appreciate and how does this help us when the going gets rough? Or, if we’re feeling a little dim or faded, who’s someone new we could love?

At age 20 I stepped into a falafel joint in Austin, Texas and heard Tom Waits singing from a speaker behind the counter for the first time.  Who is that? I asked the Arab guy who looked like my cousin. That’s Tom Waits, he said. And he handed me my hot wrapped sandwich.

I went straight to a record store and bought 2 Tom Waits albums. I basked in them, listening over and over, playing them

for all prospective new friends, watching their reactions. If they responded strongly to Tom’s songs, I was more interested in being friends with them.

Over the years, the songs of Tom Waits have circulated in my cars and rooms more than the work of any other artist and I continue to love his music in all of its phases.  Every song, every album – even the clankier songs on “Frank’s Wild Years,” for example, have grown on me as I got clankier myself – he and later his wife Kathleen Brennan alongside him have written music to live by and I feel deeply companioned, comforted, whenever his voice is present, and especially at top volume, and even when a song has just been played 50 times in succession. His songs are homes to live inside.

Who would I have been without these homes? I have no idea. Someone lonelier, for sure. I urge you to watch the videos for Tom Waits’ songs, “Hold On” and “Hell Broke Luce” –- both made by the visionary Matt Mahurin, if you have a chance.

Attending only one Tom Waits concert in my life, in a weird overly warm “standing only venue” concert hall in Dallas, the Palladium Ballroom, I consulted with the guy next to me who had also arrived 2 hours early. Somehow I attempted to establish the fact that I was a bigger fan than this guy was. In fact, who were all these other people? They had no right to stand in front of us.

The guy casually said he had been to Houston the previous night to hear Tom’s concert there.  “They had seats,” he said. “It was a nice hall.” I was thunderstruck. All the Deadheads of the world might be surprised to hear how shocking it was to me to realize I could have followed Tom around Texas and attended even the concert in El Paso, for goodness’ sake. I had made a big mistake. One concert only. But, it would certainly be the best musical night of my life and by the time Tom ended his encore, repeating, “And it’s time, time, time” as in – time to go home, maybe – I was mesmerized, rhapsodized, utterly confirmed in my fandom.

Out in the parking lot (a grassy field behind the ballroom), I stood a long time by my car to be the last person to leave. That seemed important. I phoned my son and husband back home in San Antonio to describe in detail how great the concert had been. Though it was past midnight, they were kind enough to listen to this.

The next day I was so disgusted with the Dallas Morning News reviewer’s word  “demented” in the concert review headline – okay, so it appeared alongside another agreeable word like brilliant – that I wrote a letter to the editor, which was never published.

Tom, Tom, Tom. Time, Time, Time. To be a fan is a lucky thing.

(I know a 22 year old writer named Vincent who has been to 40 Dar Williams concerts since he was 12.)

Right before Thanksgiving, I went back to Dallas, and read a Dallas Observer review of someone who had played a concert in a giant arena the night I arrived – someone named “Macklemore” along with his pal “Ryan Lewis”  – there was a picture of these two fellows, both wearing black, the main man staring off to the side. The reviewer said something like, “If anyone had ever told me I would be writing a wildly positive review of a rapper, I would have been shocked,” then went on to say what a captivating concert it had been. He mentioned a song called “Thrift Shop” and some others. Hello, YouTube.

Why did Macklemore in those blue footie pajamas even singing the M-F word which many people my age do not feel comfortable with send me to the moon?

Since that first viewing, I have watched all his other videos, repeatedly, his Tiny Desk Concert for NPR, his radio interviews, the interview in which he takes us on a tour of some of his thrift shop clothes and big coats on a rack in his living room, etc. When he turned up on the stage at Times Square on New Year’s Eve, I was stunned. Is this the most in touch with popular culture I’ve ever been? Probably.

Thanks, Ben Haggerty aka Macklemore, for reminding me how great it is to be a fan. It’s invigorating. I get in my car and there’s Tom Waits at full blast. But when the day sags (between 4 and 5 p.m. usually) I turn on Thrift Shop and do a little dance to it. The world is bright again. ~Naomi Shihab Nye

*Naomi Shihab Nye says “I am a fan of Jennifer Pastiloff and her blog!”



Naomi Shihab Nye

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

Biography of Naomi Shihab Nye 

Naomi is a poet, songwriter, and novelist. She was born to a Palestinian father and American mother. Although she regards herself as a “wandering poet”, she refers to San Antonio as her home.

Her first collection of poems, Different Ways to Pray, explored the theme of similarities and differences between cultures, which would become one of her lifelong areas of focus. Her other books include poetry collections 19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East, A Maze Me, Red Suitcase, Field Trip and Fuel; a collection of essays entitled Never in a Hurry; a young-adult novel called Habibi (the semi-autobiographical story of an Arab-American teenager who moves to Jerusalem in the 1990s) and picture book Lullaby Raft, which is also the title of one of her two albums of music. (The other is called Rutabaga-Roo; both were limited-edition.) Nye has edited many anthologies of poems, for audiences both young and old. One of the best-known is This Same Sky: A Collection of Poems from around the World, which contains translated work by 129 poets from 69 different countries. Her most recent anthology is called Is This Forever, Or What?: Poems & Paintings from Texas. 

She has won many awards and fellowships, among them four Pushcart Prizes, the Jane Addams Children’s Book award, the Paterson Poetry Prize, and many notable book and best book citations from the American Library Association, and a 2000 Witter Bynner Fellowship. In June 2009, Nye was named as one of’s first peace heroes.


Manifestation Retreats, Manifestation Workshops, Travels

From Austin, With Love

February 27, 2012

A more apt title would be: To Austin, With Love.

I led my first workshop in Austin this past Saturday.

Just look at their faces! Joy!

It was the second time I’d been to this fantastic and charming little city.

The first was about ten years ago when two of my best friends were living here and I acted in a short film they were making in Austin. Needless to say, the short film is probably somewhere in short film heaven, but one of the girls, Shana Feste, has gone on to write and direct The Greatest and Country Strong.

I didn’t really remember much of that first trip. Those were sort of the Dark Years for me, I was deeply unhappy and I have somehow managed to unglue most of those memories from my mind from that period of time.

Most of my 20’s fall into that category. TDY= The Dark Years.

I remember I had liked Austin. I had covered a few shifts from my waitressing job so I could fly out and ‘star’ in a short film being shot somewhere near the University. I remembered that the people were really friendly. We had gone out and listened to music. I think we’d eaten good Thai food. I remembered my character’s name in the short film was “Jane.” I think.

I was excited to come back to Austin during this particular period of my life. I am more alive and present and, as far as I can tell, doing my life’s work.

I figured it would make for a different experience.

I was right.

My Manifestation Workshop on Saturday was at Black Swan Yoga (which is now my yoga home in Austin, Texas.)

To be clear: I had no students to speak of in Austin, prior to this workshop. I knew only one person: my beloved friend Amy Esacove, who happens to be an incredible teacher at Black Swan Yoga.

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What can I say about the workshop last Saturday?

It was like coming home.

That’s how I described it to someone last night. The first thing that came to my mind was: it was like coming home.

The students were so receptive, so open-minded, so gracious, so full of beauty and humor that it was hard for me to process the fact that I had never met them before. That I hadn’t personally picked all my favorite people on the planet and asked them to come support me at my first ever workshop in Texas.

After the workshop ended, I jokingly suggested that I moved here. I won’t move (not yet) but I will be back. Often.

The workshop itself was beautiful, heart-achingly so. I wish I could describe it to you in words but it doesn’t work that way. As most experiences go, you simply have be there, body and soul to understand what transpired in those moments. You can get close to an experience, through words or music or art, but in order to fully live it, you must be there.

And boy, were we we ever there.

They laughed and cried and sang and danced. They did handstands and worked with partners and journaled and meditated. It was like a full experience of “Life” condensed into two hours.

It’s hard for me to describe what it is that transpires in my workshops and retreats. Here is what one student said of the workshop: “it was a blissful self immersion. Like being wrung out and reawakened.” Another said it “was a a forest of love love love.”

One woman who showed up after reading my blog said “workshop was incredible! Tears, laughter, singing, dancing, asanaing and loving every minute of it!”

(As a side note: this is what is great about social media. You can touch people you might never have touched before and profoundly affect their lives. And vice versa.)

What struck me most about this group in Austin was their willingness.

They were willing to show up and go on this journey with someone they had never met. They were willing to trust, themselves, the others in the room, and me. They were willing to leave fear and judgement at the door.

They were willing, and this is perhaps my favorite, to play.

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Regarding our dance party, one person said “I didn’t exactly expect this out of a yoga class…and yet, it was just a small part of a hugely awesome, totally perfect, much needed class. Thank you so much!”

They were true yogis, through and through.

I am honored I was able to lead this group on this journey. I am honored to say “I taught at Black Swan Yoga.”

I am not sure what is going on down there. I am not sure what sort of Awesome they’re drinking but I do know this: I want some.

I am going to steal a bit of of their Awesome and bring it back to LA with me.

Hope y’all don’t mind.

Dear Austin, I love you.

I thank you. From the bottom of my heart, I thank you.

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Dear Black Swan Yoga, keep singing and dancing until I return.

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Alli Akard  “Austin is a little better after such an amazing workshop. manifesting, laughter and yoga…three of my favorite things. love, love, loved it!!!”

Michael Grey, the amazing owner of Black Swan Yoga

Black Swan Yoga, Austin, Texas.

The lovely and talented Amy Esacove who teaches regularly at Black Swan Yoga

Lilyana ( who manages Black Swan and teaches there), Amy and Michael

I am proudly wearing my OMIES tshirt! " I am a Giddy Omie" The lovely Dahlia, who owns the Austin based company with her husband Rick, stands with me and 8 year old Jen, who also attended my workshop. Love both these ladies! In fact, at one point as I read a quote, this 8 year old was the only one who picked up her pen and paper to jot down what I was saying! OMIE-indeedy!

You can order your OMIES shirt here.

You can learn more about Black Swan Yoga by following them on Facebook here.

To learn more about me or to book a workshop with me email

Or visit my site

I lead workshops and retreats around the world.