Thursday, December 31, 2015

35. Lunch at Ibby's on Washington University's Campus - CHECK

Curiosity, more than anything, put this activity on my list. There was also a sense that if it wasn't on the list, I wouldn't ever take the time to check out this “fancy” restaurant on campus. It only seemed right to make a trip to campus (I work in an office building a mile from the main campus) with my two favorite work friends. We'd scheduled it once only to learn that Ibby's wasn't open on Mondays, and had to reschedule. 

Christa, Jana, and I chose another day about a month later. We each had something to celebrate: it was Jana's birthday, my 40/40 list, and Christa's upcoming new job in a different department.
There's not too much to say about this list item. I ate gourmet food with two of my favorite people, and Christa captured the meal with her big, non-iPhone camera. We chose the buffet for time's sake, and enjoyed the meal. Ibby's, named for the previous chancellor's late wife, was an interesting place. Not as fancy as I had expected—there were no cloth linens as I'd imagined—but also a high-priced lunch for students. I had imagined the restaurant would be filled with university dignitaries—administrators, parents, donors—and there were some. But the primary clientele was the student population.

Our conversation centered on our own college experiences. How college was long ago enough to not have swipe cards for meal plans—only for after-hours entrance into the dorms. I remembered for the first time in a long time the women who greeted us, marked off our Student IDs and clicked our appearance into the metal counter around her thumb.

When I talked about college like this, I felt like I was talking about pre-historic times. I was feeling my age again. Forty was feeling mentally old. That hasn't happened too often in the course of marking items off the list. 

I miss my college days and revel in how far I have come since those same days—all in the same moment. I often daydream about having an occasion when I can gather all the important people in my life from different stages and places into one room. I would make introductions. Help friends place names and faces. I would breathe in their love and affection. We would tell stories and we would laugh. 

We ordered three plates of bread pudding, which made me think of number two on mylist. Ibby's bread pudding was good and a great way to end the meal. I'm glad I added this to the list. It was a low-stress activity to cross off, and I had the best company.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A Few Words about 365 Days

In some cob-webbed corner of my heart and imagination, the uniform of a writer was draped limp and lifeless over a chair waiting for me. I walked around in that room for years. I saw the uniform. Sometimes I even approached the chair and touched the uniform's fabric. But I never put it on. I wrote professionally for years, but because writer wasn't in my title, I didn't give myself permission to call myself one. I wrote in journals since my sophomore year of high school. Still I did not call myself a writer.

Slowly over the past few years, my heart and imagination have nudged me closer to that uniform. One year ago today, I finally yanked the uniform off the chair, stepped into it, and I haven't looked back. One year ago, a perceptive friend encouraged me to write a page a day. “A page a day for a year will turn into a book of something.” He was right. That visual helped make writing a book not seem so daunting. I was like the Forrest Gump of writing. I started writing and kept writing and writing. I have written through confusion, heartbreak, exhaustion, wordlessness, and fear. I have written through a stomach bug, house guests, and the day I ran my first 5K. I have written whilst working full-time and mothering full-time.

I have written my way into understanding this: Writing is what I was put on earth to do. It's why I hand write letters. When I stopped considering my letter writing a quirk, I owned the letter writing as my space in the world, and things changed. It's also why those letters repeatedly find themselves in the hands of people who need a little extra love or support. That letter writing was the preamble to my every day writing habit. Both have changed my life.

I understand now that being published doesn't make me a writer. Writing every day makes me a writer.

So Grandma Steele was right. So were Tammy and Christa and Dan. I do have stories inside me that need to come out, and every time I write one, I feel more myself than ever before.

I am excited to think what another year of writing every day will bring. But I also know that the only important thing is that I write today. Tomorrow and the next day will take care of themselves.

Today's page is done.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Parenting with Technology

We've had a wonderful Christmas break, Cadence and I.  I took off a few days before Christmas and we spent our time together in a lovely mix of leisure and last-minute Christmas to-dos.  Her cousins are here and she's getting extra time with them, which makes her very happy.  

She spent last evening at home with her dad.  She called me; she was crying.

 “I want to see you,” she sobbed. I talked to her and reminded her that our time apart wouldn't be as long as it felt. Then I suggested that we Skype. She liked the idea, so she turned on her Kindle, logged into Skype, and voila! We could see each other's precious faces. Her tears turned to smiles. I suggested I read “Annie of Green Gables” as she calls it and she agreed. 

She interrupted me once to suggest that after I read a page or two that I pick one of our Christmas books and read that to her.

I selected one of our favorites, Willy and May - A Christmas Story by Judy Schachner. I read to her and then placed the pages up to the web cam so she could drink in the illustrations. We discussed details of each one and elements of the story. She even commented on the artwork by describing the foreground, middle ground, and background that made up one of the illustrations. Art education at work!

I continued reading.

“I think we should do this more often,” Cadence said.

Those words were music to my ears. In the six months of our new arrangement, I haven't heard from her very much on the evenings that she's not with me. I always took it as a sign that she felt safe and secure in both homes, but I'll admit I missed her and hated the notion of her not needing me.

Last night I was reminded that she does need me, and I am grateful. I am also so grateful that we have technology like Skype that bridges the six miles we're apart several times a week. When we finished our story, I told her that it was time to go to bed so that we could sleep and see each other soon. She gave me a quick tour of her bedroom and other features of her home with daddy. And then she seemed more settled. Her smile returned. 

I am grateful that I can parent her even when we are apart.

Friday, December 25, 2015

A Few Words About Tradition

I've given extra thought to the idea of traditions lately as I embark on my first Christmas season with my daughter living in two households. I have pondered the purposes of traditions and what they bring to our lives. I know for certain that they are an essential part of life. Important to adding richness, texture and meaning. But what I know now in a brand-new way is that it is possible for traditions to run their course, and when they do, it is best to accept their expiration date and let them go. A tradition that once felt good and right, but is now past its prime, brings undo strain, unrealistic expectations, and the threat of a heaviness which undermines its intended purposes. 

When my sister and I were first married, we took to creating new traditions that could be well-established by the time our as-yet-unconceived children came along. Our traditions took the form of sending our Christmas lists to our parents in creative ways and thus competing in a contest for most imaginative presentation; playing Christmas trivia before opening presents on Christmas eve; someone writing a Christmas poem or sentiment to be read aloud before opening presents. With two new men in the family, we had a veritable crowd now, and we wanted to have more outward expressions of the holidays than when it had been just the four of us with our grandparents.

In our enthusiasm, we MAY have gone a little overboard. One Christmas my then-husband asked, “Can we add a tradition to delete a tradition?” We laughed and I wrote his quote in our Christmas memories book. But I was crestfallen. I wanted these traditions to stick. To mean something. To add meaning to our families' times together. 

What I understand now that I couldn't then was that traditions work best when they are organic, living, breathing things. They don't work so well when they feel forced. And some of what my sister and I had devised wasn't working for our husbands. I know now that it's okay. We had fun doing the things we did while they lasted. A few more years down the road and those babies came. And that first Christmas with the newest members of the family, we were too busy chasing after crawling infants, dispensing medicine for earaches, and trying to get overstimulated babies to sleep to worry about the traditions we'd started years before.

We let them go. And then in time, our children ushered in the real traditions: watching Home Alone and cackling their way to silent giggles as the bad guys got pummeled by Kevin; scaring Aunt Julie with plastic mice until she screamed hands covering her face; or the Heisman pose photos that are taken every time we see each other. These are the traditions I can already tell are going to stick.

And so as I sit on my couch alone to watch White Christmas, a movie I introduced to my three-year-old and was amazed when she sat through the entire movie, I tell myself it's okay that she's not here to watch it with me. Even if she was here, she might choose playing with her best friend over watching it with me and it's okay. I love reading the picture books in our Christmas Library Collection. My daughter is enthusiastic about them in spurts. She's much too busy to sit for long, and so I've reminded myself this season that reading them is part of what makes the season merry and bright for me. I can read them regardless of whether she's on the couch or snuggled next to me in bed.

I've thought a lot about how I will spend this first Christmas Day alone. I have devised plans that will fill my day with joy. A different kind of joy than the kind that comes with a house full of family and presents and food, but alas, it's still joy and I will revel in it. 

This is the year to re-calibrate. To sit quiet. To enjoy memories from the past. To mourn the things that no longer remain.  But it's also the year to ask what feels right now? How do I want to celebrate the season in new ways?  I know now that I can ask that question every year and make adjustments as circumstances ebb and flow.  My two grounding traditions are the Willow Tree nativity, now placed on the piano, which takes up prime real estate in our living room, and the "baby" fir tree Cadence and I choose together when we visit our grandfather after Thanksgiving.  That tradition may not last forever, but I will relish it as long as it does, and when it's time for a new tree seller, we'll tweak the ritual again. 

I am learning to let go of so much. And in the letting go, I'm also gaining so much more: peace and freedom and the willingness to try new things. When I concentrate on what is rather than what was or what will be, I have the opportunity to create new rituals and activities that will infuse my life with energy, joy, creativity, and possibility. In that spirit, new traditions usher in new adventures, healing, and hope for the future.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

39. Stay in a Swanky Hotel Solo to Read and Write – REVISED - CHECK

When I put this item on the list last October, I didn't yet know how our custody arrangement would be settled and the idea of time alone felt novel and needed. Since then I've had a lot of time on my own, and I decided I wanted to check this item off the list with Cadence.

In the spring, her elementary school had a carnival with raffles. Among the raffled packages was a one night stay at the Fairfield Inn. My creativity and resourcefulness kicked in. I figured that there weren't going to be a lot people wanting a free hotel stay in their own home town, so I put two of my six tickets into the Fairfield Inn raffle. Fairfield Inn and swanky may not fit in the same sentence, but I was fond of the idea of getting this more costly item for free. As luck would have it, later that afternoon I got a voicemail message telling me that I had won!

In the spirit of knocking off items in pairs, I reserved the room for the evening after our ice skating adventure. We packed light since we were only a few miles from home. We checked in, checked out our room, and then walked over to the “Crackle Barrel” next door for dinner. I could feel the fatigue of the day sinking in as we looked over our menus, placed our orders, and then waited for our food. We enjoyed our meal, and then headed back to the “Farfield Inn” as Cadence pronounced it for the evening. “This is the best hotel ever!” exclaimed Cadence. She has short-term memory when it comes to hotels. She thinks every one of them is the best one.

We changed into our bathing suits and headed to the pool. I had every intention of getting into the water with Cadence, which was going to be a huge treat to her because I rarely get into any pool. I spend so much of my life feeling chilled or downright cold that the idea of willingly jumping into cold water does not appeal to me in the least.

I dunked my toes in and immediately changed my mind. It was the low moment of the day. I really wanted to honor my promise to swim, but Lord have mercy, the water was so cold. I sat out and watched her splash and play in the water solo. I wasn't proud of my decision, but I wasn't changing it either.

She swam a little longer. I counted her laps as the wind down before we returned to our room. She showered and then got into bed. We set the timer on the television. I climbed into my bed and settled in for the night. It didn't take us long to fall asleep.

The next morning we got up and got ready for her dad to pick her up. She had a fun day planned. She was headed downtown for the Thanksgiving Day Parade. I hugged her tight, told her I loved her, and she left for the day.

I returned to my hotel room. I had some time to adjust to being without my daughter on this sunny, warm Thanksgiving Day. I showered, listened to the Avett Brothers as I dressed, and packed my few things away.

The timing of this hotel stay was perfect. I had the distraction of a different place to keep me from being sad on this first holiday without my daughter. Again, this list continues to be a companion and to help form a bridge from my old life to my new.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

23. Take a figure skating class. CHECK.

Lessons 3-7 Recap

Lesson 3: I left the back and forth from one side of the rink to the other and graduated to the circle to practice the preliminary steps to the crossover. Skate right, left, glide lift right leg. Skate left, right, glide, lift left leg. My balance was wobbly at first but with more revolutions, my moves smoothed out. My body began to recognize the moves and weight adjustments, so I could relax and not try so hard.

As my body went around in circles I could feel my mind wander in a wonderful, meditative way. I reflected on the surprise comfort and enjoyment all of my physical activities on the 40/40 list have provided me in the past year. It turns out there IS an athlete inside this body. This bookworm does like the experience of being in her body after all. I needed a framework and an excuse to trick me into trying out these new adventures.

I marvel at how much I have liked each one (minus the trapeze) and how I can see incorporating them into my “regular” life at different times in the coming months and years. I really believed that I would do each one of these things, check them off the list and never revisit them. I cannot believe that I want to keep learning and improving.

Lesson 4: That night was a reminder about not being a perfectionist in the early stages of learning something brand new. I am benefiting from being in a class with women who are more advanced than me because my teacher brings me along to learn what she's teaching them. She drew two half circles on the ice with a thick tip marker and wanted me to practice edges and turning while edging. I felt really awkward and not at all like I was going to get it. I heard inner monologue chatter away about how I wasn't getting it and how I should do it better and then I stopped and reminded myself that it wasn't reasonable to get this skill mastered after just a few minutes. My teacher can do it beautifully and make it look easy because she has done it for a long time. There was a time when her moves were not smooth and graceful and controlled.

She came along and watched me fumble through the edging drills. She smiled and said I was getting it. She moved me back to the big circle where I began to practice the crossovers for real. Again the first few times were wobbly and clunky and not at all pretty. But then things started clicking and again my moves smoothed out and I felt steadier on the ice.

I am adding ice skating to the list of physical activities that can become forms of moving meditation just as I found running and rock climbing.

Lesson 5: I was introduced to spins! With each class I'm getting closer to having the tools to look like I really know what I'm doing on the ice. I still haven't fallen, but I came closest to wiping out in lesson five. Spin practice lends one to feeling dizzy and less steady on one's blades.

Laurie arrived and took photos and one video of my practice. As with each class, when I'm first introduced to the new skill or drill I think, “I'm never going to get this down.” And then with steady practice, I begin to feel my body doing what it's supposed to in the sequence that it's supposed to. 

This class reminded me of tennis lessons. There are just so many things that have to be considered that I never knew before I stepped on the court or the rink. It's this realization that makes what the pros or at least the proficients do look so easy. And why when I've made any progress at all, I feel so accomplished.

I have a cold and it lingers and will not let go of me. I wanted so much to leave work and go to bed, but then I thought about skating and I didn't want to miss my class, so I persevered through the day. When I was on the ice, I mostly forgot about the cold except for my chapped lips caused by the congestion and mouth breathing.

It's so nice to have hobbies that for a little stretch of time helps you forget about real life. When I'm on the ice I am singularly focused. Do not fall. Improve my awkward moves into something that looks graceful.

I love how these activities continue to encourage a meditative practice. Moving meditations. The best thing for minds that will not quiet. That chatter away. On and on. 

My teacher reiterated that I'm doing advanced level work. I've moved through five levels and the spins fall under the category of freestyle level one.

Lessons 6 and 7: These last two classes have been the most challenging. I'm finally entering what feels like the “fancy moves,” but there's nothing fancy about my moves. The front crossover is still vexing to me. I have this curious little bad habit of digging my toe into the ice, which doesn't feel right, but so far I haven't been able to correct it. 

I'm going to have to up my yoga game to help me on the ice. There's a great need for a strong core for executing the moves I'm learning now. In lesson seven, we determined that I am an ambidextrous skater. This means that some moves are comfortable in one direction while other moves are more comfortable in the other direction. 

With the completion of lesson seven, I can officially cross this item off the 40/40 list. I have signed up for another eight-week session, so this should help me stay active during the cold, dark winter months and then I'll be ready to begin running regularly again.

My Thoughts as the 40/40 List Winds Down

I have been trying to write this post for more than a week. I've been quiet here on my blog because this month feels heavy. I am certain that the anticipation of my first Christmas post-divorce will be harder than the actual day, but since I haven't lived it yet, it's still hard to wrap my brain around. I am working hard at putting on a brave face on Christmas morning when my girl will get picked up for a fun day with her daddy's family. All of this mental effort makes me feel sluggish. I'm tired. I still haven't missed a day of writing, but the writing hasn't energized me as it usually does, and in the spirit of being gentle, I'm letting that be okay.

This month is always the busiest of the year at work. I will write hundreds of letters in the space of a few weeks. This is draining. I get further wiped out in my efforts to be as efficient and streamlined as I can be. The fact of the matter is hundreds of letters is a time-consuming task. I put undo pressure on myself each December. I hope that soon I'll get the “be gentle with yourself” memo at work.
I also haven't been blogging much because I am beginning to gear up for writing draft two of my novel. I had an epiphany recently that the best way to approach the book is to start from scratch. I feel really peaceful about this approach, but it's still daunting to plan and think about. It turns out that there isn't an off switch for this kind of creativity and rumination. 
December always meets me with a mixture of melancholy and nostalgia. I especially miss my Grandma Steele around Christmas. I have vivid memories of times spent with her around Christmas both while we lived in Kansas and in the years after we moved away and returned for the holidays.

As if the above items aren't enough, I know that my low energy also has to do with the fact that I can see the finish line of this year-long pursuit I have affectionately called completing my 40/40 list. In just under two weeks, I will turn 41 and just as I planned, I will have accomplished everything on my list. This is an amazing feeling. I am so grateful for the role this list has played in a year of transition, but I'm also sad and a little anxious about what shape the coming year will take.

I was discussing this first with my friend Tammy and later with my counselor Tamara. They both agree that I must make space in the coming days and weeks to grieve the end of this list. It's been a constructive and healthy way to pass the time. I have called it a companion of sorts. But Tammy has dug deeper. She says I pursued my list like a military operation. She gently and firmly reminded me that I do, in fact, have control issues, and the 40/40 list was just another way for me to exert control over my life. I reminded her that the 40/40 list was a better outlet than say vodka and cigarettes.

She agreed, but also gently encouraged me to try my hand at letting go of needing to control what happens next. To let life happen as it will. This suggestion both excites and terrifies me. But it is not the first time I have heard it. Other wise friends have made the same suggestion, and so with a deep breath and massive doses of prayer, I am going to rest, read more, and write my manuscript in 2016. Those are really my only goals for next year. I'm not going to make a lot of plans (other than the Avett Brothers concert in June—tickets already purchased!) I'm going to let life come my way for a change. 
I've been pretty weepy through all of these conversations and contemplations. I have a lot of time on my own now and a lot of space to think and cry and breathe and heal. I stumbled on this quote the other day: “Tears, movement, and sound are part of your emotional digestive system. These things help release blocked energy in the body. Moving through pain by feeling your way through it is “the pain that ends the pain.” This struck a chord with me. I'm glad the tears are flowing. I do feel them releasing blocked energy. I'm especially grateful that I can cry when I'm alone. That's been something that I've had a difficult time doing in recent years. I think it comes with the self-love and self-friendship territory. I consider myself good company now. So when I'm crying alone, I remind myself I'm not really alone.

The prayers I say and the prayers that continue to be said on my behalf are also doing powerful work on me. I feel fragile and strong both at once. My heart aches and it soars both at once. I feel anxious and confidence all at once. Through all of these dichotomies and varying energy levels, I know I'm going to be all right. I know that really I'm already thriving. And that feels SO GOOD.

Thank you for your patience while I've been quietly making my way through all of this. I am grateful for the friends who have told me they are ready for a new blog post. You cannot imagine how grateful I am for your readership. 
2016 and being 41 are going to be amazing. Thank you for reading and encouraging me through your reading and your comments. Who knows what the coming year will bring for all of us? I'm thrilled we get to be on each other's journeys together.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

My Low-Stress Christmas Card Mailing System

Sending Christmas greetings is my favorite ritual of the year. It's an extension of my year-round letter writing to people I love and cherish and people for whom I get the sense might need some stamped encouragement.

I believe that anything we love doing should be done without stress attached, so I'd like to share my secret for making my Christmas card mailing low-stress: I address next year's envelopes as I receive them. Yep, you read that right. As this year's greetings arrive, I hand address the sender's cards for next year. With this system, I only have a few to do at a time. The process is spread out over an entire month, and by the end I'm ready for next year!

I've shared this brilliant idea with others and received a couple objections, which I can easily refute.

Objection one: I don't know what envelopes I'll be using next year. 
Solution: Make the decision now. Work a year ahead. To get the ball rolling, this January, pull out the after-Christmas card boxes you bought half-off (or more) and address them. Next December, you'll have your addressing complete. Moving forward you just buy cards ahead, so you're always prepared.

Objection two: What if a family moves after you have addressed the envelope? Isn't that a waste?

Solution: Nope, no waste. I simply slap a label over the old address and rewrite the new address. It may not be the fanciest approach, but I figure the relabeled envelope is going to be disposed of anyway (hopefully recycled), so it doesn't have to be a show piece. It just has to get the card to the recipient. Plus, most of the people on my Christmas list are settled into the address they currently reside at for the long haul, so this objection doesn't occur much.

For Christmas cards themselves, I go the frugal-girl route. I love the beautiful card stock and professionally produced cards I receive, but my Christmas card list makes those beauties cost-prohibitive. (I send nearly 150 cards each year.) So I came up with own homespun approach. I choose this year's Christmas photo. I order reprints of the photo online at Walgreen's. I write a message that will fit on a 3.5 x 4 inch shipping label and have them copied at Kinko's or wherever. (This year I copied them at the UPS store in my grandpa's hometown.)

I put the printed shipping label on the back of the photo, and voila, my Christmas card is ready. I then take my pre-addressed envelopes and begin stuffing them with one of the photo cards. 
I love hand-addressing my envelopes too. The physical act of handwriting is a soothing activity for me. I haven't used an excel spreadsheet for years because I don't print labels, but this year I decided having all the addresses in one place would make it easier to update and keep track of the process.
This year, I stuffed envelopes over several evenings while watching Netflix and Christmas movies. I felt no stress, only joy! I love reading the names of the people on the envelopes, remembering cherished memories, and saying a silent prayer for them as I seal their envelope.

This is also the part of the process where family members could pitch in—creating an assembly line and the task would be done even quicker. One person stuffs, another licks, and someone else stamps.
In addition to the names and addresses in my worksheet, I've created a column for “Mailed in 2015” and another one for “Addressed for 2016.” At the end of the season, when the mail slows then I can review the list and write addresses for any of the recipients who didn't send a card, but for whom I still want to keep in touch. 
I love my system. It works for me. It helps me stay organized. It helps me keep my costs down while also keeping my stress low at the busiest time of year. This system helps me keep the joy in a beloved tradition. 
PS: I've offered for several years to barter addressing envelopes for stamps. I can't seem to get anyone to take me up on it. If you are interested, let me know. I'd love to help you get your Christmas card list ready for next year.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 11, 2015

Notes from the sick bed

I am writing from my sick bed.

Two days ago my daughter stayed home from school after a rough night with a stomach bug. We lounged, watched Netflix, and slept. All day. Besides her not feeling good, it was glorious. A break in the routine. Extra snuggles from my ever-growing, ever-changing girl.

Now I'm sick. My vulnerable position made her feel vulnerable, so she called her dad and he came to take her home for the night. It's probably for the best, but I miss her. And I feel alone.

I have texted my neediness to a few friends, and they have responded with kind words and well wishes for a quick recovery. I think of the nameless people who have no one to text at times like this. And I am grateful.

My stomach bug comes at a bad time. When does getting sick ever fit into the schedule? We've had to cancel our participation in tomorrow's Santa Dash 5K. We've agreed that when I feel better, we'll put on our race wear and run our own 5K. Silver linings. I'm teaching my daughter how to make the best of what comes our way and to think nimbly and with flexibility.

I'm sad our weekend has taken this turn, but I am remembering that it really isn't so bad. This is manageable. I've reached out to a friend who will take my daughter shopping for her $5 gift for a girl scout party tomorrow night. I've reached out to others asking for her to carpool with someone to the party. I'm learning the importance of reaching out and asking for help. People want to help! They can't help if we don't ask.

I'm fading fast and praying that this wave of sickness will be brief and I'll be back to my self again soon. I have written for something like 346 days straight without missing a day. I'm writing through the nausea. I'm going to skip yoga and do it another day.

Hoping for a quick recovery and that you don't get it.

With love,

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

14. Sing Sara B. song at Karaoke with Friends - CHECK.

Pre-concert notes:

It's just under three hours until my appointment with destiny otherwise known as my first public karaoke performance. I wasn't so worried about it when I put it on my 40/40 list more than a year ago, but in recent months I have really got myself worked up about having to go through with it.

I've dissected my reasons for the freak out. I can actually carry a tune. I sing at church. I sing in my car, and I sing in the shower. And in all of those places, I'm amazing. (wink wink) I sing all the time. I love music. I am uplifted by it and my life is enriched by it. But generally never sing for an audience (except Cadence and whomever else may ride in my car with me.)

I know myself well enough to know that I WANT to be a great performer, but that when the moment comes, I'm likely to get shy, sing softly, and wow no one.

I have been practicing for months. In my car. And again, in the car singing with Sara Bareilles, I sound amazing. But best I can tell, Sara B. will not be there tonight, so I have to go it alone.

A dear group of friends has scoped out the karaoke bar (and insisted that I follow through with this event) and they are looking so forward to the evening. I am trying hard to catch their enthusiasm. This list item is reminding me just how far I have to go in the “take oneself less seriously” department. Oh my, I still have so, so far to go.

And so tonight is just one more baby step in that direction. I'm going to be BRAVE and sing Sara Bareilles's song of the same word. Because the lyrics. Have you read the lyrics? They're amazing.

You can be amazing
You can turn a phrase into a weapon or a drug
You can be the outcast
Or be the backlash of somebody's lack of love
Or you can start speaking up

Nothing's gonna hurt you the way that words do
And they settle 'neath your skin
Kept on the inside and no sunlight
Sometimes a shadow wins

But I wonder what would happen if you

Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave
With what you want to say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave

I just wanna see you
I just wanna see you
I just wanna see you
I wanna see you be brave

Everybody's been there, everybody's been stared down
By the enemy
Fallen for the fear and done some disappearing
Bow down to the mighty
Don't run, stop holding your tongue

Maybe there's a way out of the cage where you live
Maybe one of these days you can let the light in
Show me how big your brave is
Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave
With what you want to say
And let the words fall out

Honestly I wanna see you be brave
Innocence, your history of silence
Won't do you any good
Did you think it would?

Let your words be anything but empty
Why don't you tell them the truth?
Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave
With what you want to say
And let the words fall out

Did Sara write this one for me? She captured so beautifully the ways I have struggled. I have held my tongue. I have lived in a cage of my own creation. I do have a history of silence. And yet, in this my 40th year, I summoned the courage to let the light in in ways I never thought I could and I am thriving.

That's why it was so important that for this first selection, I chose to sing this particular song. For my second selection, I chose Whitney Houston's I Wanna Dance with Somebody. This song has been a part of my life's soundtrack for nearly 30 years, so there wasn't as much practicing to be done. The words would come easier, and since I'm no Whitney Houston, I didn't feel any pressure to live up to her performance.


It is true what is said about anticipation of dreaded events. The anticipation is almost always worse than the actual thing one is dreading. Such was the case with #14 on the 40/40 list.

I jzhujed my hair, borrowed my daughter's glitter eye shadow, applied a temporary tattoo that read “Love rewards the brave,” and put on an outfit I feel comfortable in. When I arrived at Timothy's Irish Pub, two of my friends were getting acquainted.

This 40/40 celebration has reinforced time and again what an amazing tribe of friends I have. And the karaoke event was the latest indication. One writer friend, one church friend, and four girl scout friends plus one of their friends made up my entourage for the evening. One friend bought me a fancy drink and the other took the lead in getting me signed up for my performances.

Because I was a karaoke newbie, I did not have to go first, thank goodness. This was helpful because watching others sing gave me confidence that I did not need to be great at it to get through it. My heart raced and I could feel my legs shaking—partially from the chill in the pub but mostly from nerves.

This venue became its own character in the story of the evening. It was cold, dark, and smoky. Once the music started playing, it was loud too. To say that my table's worth of friends “classed up the joint” doesn't begin to describe how out of place we were, and yet this evening it didn't seem to matter. My friend, Greg, who was sitting next to me sent me the funniest texts throughout the evening, since the music was so loud it was hard to carry on conversation.

“Oh my word what. is. this. Music.” What this music was was a lot of death metal and stuff that made Sara Bareilles and Whitney Houston selections very out of place. 

I heard my name and was called to the stage. I walked to the microphone, took it from its stand and stood in the dark waiting for the lyrics to load on the screen and the music to start. I practiced yoga on that stage. I breathed and tried to relax the tension I felt throughout my body.

My entourage cheered for me and even the strangers at the other table got into my act. I was shy and scared and messed up throughout the first song, but as I heard myself sing and recognize that no amount of practicing was ever going to result in me sounding amazing like Sara Bareilles, I gave up and owned sounding okay. There were several silent places where I lost track of the music, but then when I caught up, I threw caution to the wind. I started dancing, gesturing, and embracing my not-so-great singing. I remembered thinking, “I sound terrible, but I don't care. I'm doing this thing and soon the song will be over and I'll be able to cross it off the list.”

When the song ended, I curtsied like I had in dance recitals thirty years ago, replaced the mic on the stand and rejoined my tribe who were beaming. They scooped me up in hugs and “great jobs.” Even the strangers at the next table shouted congratulations to me.

I sat back down in my seat, sipped my red solo cup of water, and waited for my heart rate to slow. I was relieved it was over, but also a little bit exhilarated. But mostly relieved. 

Another text from Greg: “I want to record this dude and make him my alarm...I would never oversleep again.”

We spent the evening cheering on all the other performers including some among our group. And then I heard, “Well, she's not a virgin anymore, let's welcome Julie back to the stage.” I returned to the stage a little braver and sure that I could tackle the lyrics of I Wanna Dance with Somebody better than I had my first song
I started dancing to the music immediately and had a lot more fun with this song. Again, it was such a departure from the other song choices. I projected better and even looked at the audience more.

During the second verse my friends came up on stage and danced and provided back up singing, which added to my confidence and my performance quality.

The song ended, I curtsied again and stepped off the stage. This time I was elated. I'd gotten the hang of this singing badly in public and #14 was officially off the list. 

I started making my way toward the door around 11:00, but then a stretch of good songs began playing and my friends and I just kept singing along to the music and dancing. 

Half an hour later, I headed out the door with two friends. We stood in the dark parking lot. We talked about the 40/40 list and how it was almost complete. We also talked about writing because that's what we do and who we are. While we stood there, a man came out of the pub and approached me. “I wanted to let you know there's someone inside that would like to meet you if you're interested. If not, no problem.”

I looked at my friends, laughed, and said, “Well, that's lovely, but I don't think so. Thank you.”
The messenger was gracious, and returned into the warm, smoky cave. I looked at my friends somewhat in disbelief and thought, “Well, this just made my blog post much more interesting.” I was flattered, but knew there was no way a successful match could originate from Timothy's. I thought as this was happening, there is not a single person in that pub who would want to discuss Millard Fillmore, the next president on my reading list. I'm looking for people who are interested in talking about the presidents.

Days later I am still relieved this activity is over, but also reflecting on just how much FUN I had. My friends made the evening very special. I was impressed and delighted by the way they loved me by befriending each other. It was really wonderful to witness and be a part of. It was also good for me to be out of my comfort zone too.

Unlike Trapeze, I really do think I would do karaoke again, and next time I would not approach it with so much trepidation. 
The next morning this text arrived from Renee: “So fun last night! You are now OFFICIALLY a Rock Star!!! 

Fluffed hair and temp tattoo, "Love rewards the brave."

Greg and me

Waiting nervously on stage.

Blurry, but proof that I was on stage.

Renee and me

The whole group

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

36. Ice Skate at Steinberg Rink in Forest Park - CHECK.

I was tempted to cross off #36 on my own over my lunch hour. I am so glad I decided against such a practical, bland option. As we approached the ice, Cadence kept saying, “I'm scared. Oh, I'm scared. Hold my hand. Stay close to me.” But then she got on the ice and pretty much didn't look back. She took to ice skating the way she has taken to almost everything else—immediately. 
It would seem that as we skated on the Steinberg Ice Rink in Forest Park to cross the item off the list, a new tradition was born.

I took the day before Thanksgiving as a vacation day because I was getting close to losing vacation days and because Cadence was out of school and I wanted to spend the day before our first holiday apart with her. I envision us spending the day before Thanksgiving on the ice in Forest Park in coming years. I love new traditions!

I didn't spend much time practicing what I've been learning in my classes. There were too many people with too many varying skill levels. I was determined to be available for Cadence and to not fall down myself. But I do look forward to when I have more skill and tricks on the ice. 
We spent nearly three hours on the ice. She kept looking up at me with a smile on her face. “I am having such a good time. This is the best day. Thank you for paying for our skates.” That girl, and her awareness of things like cost of skates, takes my breath away constantly.

The warm temperature (upper 50s) created a layer of water on the ice so when Cadence fell, her mittens, and then the mittens I loaned her got soaked. Luckily it was warm enough outside that we could go without them (though you know I would have preferred warm dry mittens.)

While it was warm for November, the wind was strong and made the day feel cooler than it was. 
We took a break for hot chocolate (nothing warm about the hot chocolate—tongues were burned and ice obtained to cool down the drinks), and then we walked to the firepit outside the rink. The giant fire pit was cozy, and would be a welcome relief on a day when fingers and toes sting with frigid temperatures.

We stopped two other times. Once to approach a local reporter and her cameraman to cover the season opening of the rink. Cadence was ready to walk right up to the reporter. She stood by as she watched other little girls talk with the reporter. The camera was positioned just outside the rink. I never dreamed we'd be seen in the background b-roll of this newscast, but we were! You can see a fuzzy pink coated girl with a teal stocking cap and her black vested mama in a denim skirt skating a few feet behind her. That's us!

I marveled at how quickly she picked up the skating. And how tough she was when she fell down. She hit the ice pretty hard with her knees a few times. That night she lamented the bruising and how tender her knees were, but she still smiled hours later. 
My child would still be skating if I would have let her. Three hours on the ice wore me out, but man, did we have a good time. I've promised her we'll go again this season. “And let's not plan to do anything, but skate all day,” Cadence added.
My list has expanded my horizons, but it's also expanded my daughter's. And for that I am deeply grateful.

Two days later, we were in the car headed to visit our grandfather. She was sitting in the backseat with my computer on her lap.  "Whatcha workin' on?" I asked her.  

"I'm writing about my ice skating experience." my girl answered.  She agreed to share her account on my blog. Enjoy!

on wednesday I got to go ice skating with my mom . It was so much fun. I fell a couple times but it did not really hurt. I got a lot of bruses on my knees. A lot of people dropped their phone and got wet. My mom taught me some tricks, like the swizzle, that she has been learning at her ice skating classes . The people dropped their phone because they were acting crazy and fell and dropped their phone in the puddles on top of the ice. There was also a fire pit. Me and my mom got to have really good hot coco. It was really GOOD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! It was really fun.

On our way to the ice. Look, she's still standing!

My brave girl trying something new.

I can see the future teen and young woman in that face.

We added this pin to our travel collections.  Tourists in our own town.

She wanted so badly to talk with the news reporter.

That smile says it all.

30. Take a Dierberg Cooking Class – REVISED & CHECK.

I have attempted to schedule two separate cooking classes at two family-owned grocery chain cooking schools in the past two months. The first time the class was cancelled and the second time the class was sold out. I had one tiny moment of panic as I thought about my January 3 deadline to complete all the items on the 40/40 list, and then I thought about Nicole's kitchen.

I have spent a lot of time with my friend in her kitchen over the past year, and what I realized is that I have learned so much from watching her ably and joyfully create healthy, simple meals for her family of six without great distress or overwhelm. My daughter has eaten with her children and come home and said, “I don't mean to hurt your feelings, Mom, but I love eating Aunt Nicole's food. She's a good cooker.”

Being mentored by Nicole has taught me more than I could ever learn in a three-hour class with a $45 registration fee, and so since I am the creator and keeper of the list, I'm counting #30 completed with revisions. It's not how I envisioned crossing this item off my list, but I see now that the main objectives—to feel more confident and more skilled—have been achieved gradually over the course of the year.

Cadence is absolutely right. Nicole is a wonderful cook. Being in her presence in her cozy kitchen has been healing for me. I have experienced peace and gained confidence that I could be a good "cooker" in my own kitchen just by spending time in hers.

I spent Thanksgiving afternoon being her sous chef and head dish washer. I think of that afternoon with pure joy. I asked questions as the afternoon ticked by and as she worked her way through her menu.

This decision also marks an improvement in my ability to not always follow the arbitrary rules I set up for myself, which might be the greater lesson or accomplishment to come out of this item.

I have loved spending time in kitchens this year. They don't feel so foreign anymore. I'm comfortable in my kitchen in a way I've never been. I have a much more playful, adventuresome attitude and that has been refreshing and reassuring to experience. I have goofed up some recipes in this year too, and I have not loathed myself the way I have in the past.  I've done what I could in the moment to improve the mistake and reminded myself it's okay if the food wasn't salvageable.  Progress, I tell you, progress.

This new-found confidence and joy has opened up the opportunity for me to welcome four college students into my home and my kitchen. Just the other night, I baked an egg casserole (and tweaked it to be vegetarian-friendly all on my own), made a cranberry side dish, and served toast, juice, and tea for these sweet students. I accomplished that on two days notice, under the weather with a cold, and working full-time. My ability to plan ahead and choose recipes that I know I can handle in varying degrees of difficulty and time constraints is a skill I have honed. Our guests had positive things to say about the food, and I experienced the joy of expressing my love and affection through a prepared meal. I have come so far.

Christmas dinner & decorating with "my kids."

It makes me think of the quote from Glinda in the Wizard of Oz, “You've always had the power my dear, you just had to learn it yourself.”

I had to stop telling myself what I couldn't do, allow space to make mistakes, and breathe in the possibility that preparing food could become a source of comfort, peace, and joy. My confidence building was helped along by the 40/40 items to bake bread pudding and make pie crust from scratch.

I have identified two areas in cooking that I'd like to learn more about: how to grill and and how to bake fish. If I can find a course, I'll consider signing up for one of those, but I'll also just keep asking questions and trying to learn on my own and with the help of my beloved cooking friends.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

The View from my Kitchen Table

I haven't blogged much lately. I've still written every day, but just behind-the-scenes pages that won't likely ever see the light of day.

I caught a cold I can't even remember when and am trying to be quiet and restful. But life keeps marching a long asking me to participate.

We bought our tree at a lovely tree farm on the outskirts of the town where my Grandpa lives. We gravitate toward little trees that can fit in the back of my Pathfinder. The Americana picture of a tree strapped to the roof of a car and driven six hours home makes Cadence anxious. She has visions of it blowing off the roof and onto the road. So little-tree-in-the-back it is.

I have boxes of Girl Scout nuts and chocolates labeled and ready for delivery piled up on my kitchen table and another box waiting to go to school with Cadence today. “Am I being a good Girl Scout?” Cadence asked this morning as she cut yellow and orange peppers for our breakfast casserole we're serving tonight. We're having our college students over for breakfast-for-dinner and they're going to help us decorate the tree for Christmas. I assured her that she WAS a good Girl Scout and that I appreciated her help in the kitchen. It was making it possible to do the other things I needed to get done before we leave for work and school. (Including writing this post.)

I've whipped up this Christmas Decor Extravaganza on two days' notice. We had invited the college kids two months ago and I really wanted to make it happen, but our schedule is pretty booked for the next couple weeks. This Thursday night worked best for them AND it meant that most of December we'd have the d├ęcor up. For a moment I thought, “What am I doing??? I don't feel good. How am I going to make this happen?” Then I took a breath and made a plan. Breakfast casserole, toast, and a cranberry side dish I learned to make at last week's Thanksgiving will be tonight's menu.

One of our students has two exams the next day, so we're going to be efficient with our time. I'll put the casserole in the oven. We'll turn on our Pentatonix Christmas album. I've already carried up the four Christmas tubs of decorations. With six of us at work, this place will be looking festive very quickly.

I'll be grateful for the help. Our sweet little tree has a lean that Cadence and I couldn't seem to correct on our own. (We were also putting it in its stand after a long day's drive home. I bet if we hadn't been so eager to get in our jammies and get to bed we might have got it right the first time.)

I have pared down my Christmas decorations in recent years. I have kept only what I love and use. I have passed on other items that didn't have a story and didn't make me gasp with joy. That makes the process less daunting for me.

Cadence wrapped the presents that we're giving our students tonight. I love her willingness to do things on her own, and I love even more her willingness to let me show her how to do it before she gets started.

This morning as I made the casserole, and she chopped the peppers, she discovered a better way to do it than how I'd shown her. This is because I AM NOT AN EXPERT in the kitchen. I am a student too. I'm just older. I was thrilled when she described the way she found it easier to remove the seeds. I implemented her technique and she was right!

I am so grateful that I can help cultivate confidence in the kitchen while she's young. I'm certain she won't feel the same helplessness in the kitchen I felt for all those years before.

The rainy, dreary weather and this dang cold have had me feeling puny lately. But this morning, I feel good. The evening is going to be a success because I planned it out and prepared for it. I chose things that were easy to accomplish and could be done ahead of time.

Now it's time to dry my hair, get dressed, and get to school and work.

Thanks for reading my rambling thoughts. I've missed meeting you here. I've got a list of posts in varying degrees of readiness. Stay tuned. I can't wait to share the last few 40/40 items with you!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thanksgiving - Rebooted

The day I've been mulling over for months has finally arrived: my first Thanksgiving without Cadence. In just a couple of hours I will hug her, tell her how grateful I am for her, thank her for our really awesome day together yesterday, and send her on her way to spend the day with her daddy and his family. This is one of the real-life consequences of choosing a healthy single life over a miserable coupled one. I made the decision consciously for her to spend every Thanksgiving with her dad. I know it's best for her. He has family here. I wanted her to have memories of turkey and dressing, aunts doting over her, board games and football in the background. I couldn't promise her any of those things on my own. We have amazing days together just the two of us, but I didn't want her Thanksgiving memories to seem lonely.

She and her daddy will continue the family tradition we started by going to the Thanksgiving Day Parade downtown. They will have an awesome time. I know this.

The holidays haven't been so merry and bright for me for a lot of years. This year, knowing that my girl is happily settled into a day of fun, food, family, and friends, I can begin to rewrite my holiday narrative. I have been invited to the home of one of my dearest friends—family of choice as I call her. Her children call me Aunt Julie. We will love on each other. I will be able to be me. To not worry about smiling when what I'm really feeling is sadness, disappointment, and loss—like in days of old.
I will bake my pumpkin dessert in her kitchen. We will watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade (a tradition I gave up when I moved to St. Louis). I will feel their love and extend mine right back.

But let's be clear: I am making the choice to be joyous, to be thankful. It would be really easy to be sad and ache over my daughter's absence. But that choice wouldn't serve me, my kiddo, or anybody else. 
Today, I am praying for the other mamas who find themselves packing up their children to spend the day with other family members. It's hard, and not how it's “supposed” to be. I am praying that we can all breathe in what is and make it good and whole and healthy. And breathe out the “supposed tos.” To let go of what we'd dreamed for our families that didn't work out as planned.

I am praying that in the midst of missing our kids, we can have some space to heal and grow stronger. To rest from the expectations of a holiday that carries with it the weight of tradition and high expectation and be restored and revived for when we see our children next. 
Our kids are watching us today. Are we sad? Are we joyful? They are taking their cues from us. I want my daughter to feel good about today. I want her to see me happy and full of gratitude. After all, I'll see her again tomorrow. And for that I am grateful.