Balance: My One-Word Resolution for 2017

I think it all started with a running injury. Then I noticed my hair was falling out. Later it was the tightening of my clothes. Sprinkled in there was the increase in debilitating headaches. Before I knew it, I was ending 2016 waiting for the results of my third cancer scare within six months and overwhelmed with stress.
Thankfully, none of those cancer scares resulted in a cancer diagnosis. But as I celebrated those medical results, I realized it was a wake-up call. The universe was telling me I needed to take better care of myself. And what better time for new goals than a new year, right?
I gave up on the idea of New Year’s Resolutions a long time ago. Those grand plans and bulleted lists I once wrote down and promised myself would come to fruition throughout the new year did nothing but leave me with a sense that those resolutions had set me up for failure. The specificity left me with an all-or-nothing mentality. The lack of wiggle room I unknowingly built into those resolutions ultimately led me to abandon the resolutions altogether.
That’s why the trend of one-word resolutions appeals to me. Instead of bulleted lists of precise resolutions, I could start with one general concept to trickle down and touch upon multiple areas of my life. All I needed to do was come up with one magical word to encompass how exactly I wanted to go about taking better care of myself.
Choosing one word is no easy task. In fact, a couple years ago I chose 50 words because I couldn’t settle on one. But when a word popped into my head clear as day at the end of a yoga session, I knew that word was the perfect theme for my 2017.
That word is…

Once the word found me, I immediately started working out a plan to apply it to as many areas of my life as possible.
So why am I writing about New Year’s resolutions in March? Because I’m pretty sure I’ve never made it this far with a New Year’s resolution. But more importantly, it’s because my mindset has improved, I’ve created lifelong habits and I am healthier and happier in just a few short months because of that one little word.

Balance.

So how has my word affected my life? I’ll break it down into 3 main categories: body, mind and space.

Body

Unbalanced: I’m 40 years old. I am no longer at the point in my life when I can run nearly 30 miles a week with absolutely no cross training and expect to stay uninjured. My legs were overtrained and tired from doing all the work, while the rest of my body was undertrained and weak from doing none of the work. 
I also have multiple autoimmune disorders that I’ve been pushing to the periphery for years. I take my meds, but I can no longer pretend they don’t exist, that stress and poor food and drink choices don’t affect my health.
Balanced: Physical therapy for bursitis in my hip stopped producing results, so I switched to massage therapy. It was when massage started working and I resumed running that I implemented my balance plan, cutting my mileage in half and giving some love to other muscles. Thanks to my boyfriend’s old P90X DVDs, I alternate workouts and muscle groups, including yoga and kickboxing. I joined our local rec center and swim laps, sweat it up on the rowing machine and lift weights. I’m finally losing some of the weight I gained from my thyroid issues — my first 2016 cancer scare — and my upper body is getting stronger while I remain injury-free.
My massage therapist also suggested I rethink my office chair. I work from home. I work a lot. In a chair, in front of a computer. So I took her advice and ditched my office chair for a balance ball (see, there’s that balance word again!). It was life changing. My pain is gone, and it works my core and posture. I will never sit in an office chair again.
As far as those autoimmune disorders, well, they will always be with me. However, I have finally listened to my rheumatologist and other doctors I have to see on a regular basis. No more three cups of coffee a day. As doctors have warned me, my body doesn’t like that. I now have one cup of coffee first thing in the morning, and the other two cups have been replaced with tea. And you know what? I don’t miss that coffee one bit. In fact, I LOVE tea. 
You know what else I surprisingly love? Vegetables. Because balancing my body wouldn’t be complete without the inclusion of a better balanced diet.

Mind

Unbalanced: Like most people I know, stress is a constant in my life. My most reliable stress relief has always been exercise. But when I got injured, I couldn’t rely on a long run to release the pressure valve. So the stress built up, and I found myself with headaches that rendered me nonfunctional, chronic fatigue and an inability to figure out how to relieve my stress in other ways.
Balanced: My body wasn’t cooperating, so I decided to let my mind take over. That’s when I discovered the joys of meditation.
I don’t claim to be a great meditator. In fact, I can’t sit still for more than about 15 minutes at a stretch, and I need the help of guided meditations. But my meditation practice has produced so many positive results with my stress management, both throughout the day and at night when I need to turn my brain off to sleep. I even set the alarm on my phone for various times throughout the day to remind myself to take a deep breath. Now, using breathing techniques, mantras and mindfulness, I have tools to not only relieve existing stress, but also to work toward stopping the stress where it starts to prevent snowballing.
My mind also needed something I had stopped making time for: books. I’m an avid reader, and for me, reading for fun is a mental break. So now, instead of spending too much time scrolling through Facebook, I use free time to read a book. Many afternoons when my work day is done, you can find me on my couch with calm music, a cup of tea and the latest on my Goodreads “Want To Read” shelf.

Space



Unbalanced: Every area of my house I moved into last August was allocated for something or someone. Sure I had an entire room I could call my home office, but I never felt as if I had made it my own. I used it for work and storage. It screamed stress and clutter.
Balanced: As Thich Nhat Hanh wrote, “The key to creating a home meditation practice is to create a space where the busyness stops.” 
So I created a space.
I moved all the furniture in my home office to create my Meditation Station. In one corner of the room sits my “Thinking Chair,” and next to my meditation cushion stands a little table with candles, stones and a chime. It’s not a big space, but it’s filled with positive energy. Although I can still see my work area, no stress or to-do lists are allowed in that corner. It’s where the busyness stops.
I have a long way to go before I feel the balance I’m hoping to ultimately achieve, but I’m thankful for the strides I’ve made so far and I’m confident I’ve laid down some pretty strong stepping stones to continue on my path toward a healthier, more balanced lifestyle.

To Whom It May Concern

Dear Meditation,
I thought I’d be better at practicing you by now. 

I’m about to finish the book Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation, which is a four week program to learn all about meditation. I all read about the benefits of meditation, and I’ve practiced breathing meditations, body scan meditations, letting go of thoughts meditations and lovingkindness meditations. I’m now on the final week, and instead of being able to ease through the recommended five to six meditation sessions a week, at least one of which is over 20 minutes long, I still find myself wiggly and itchy and fidgety and peeking at the timer to discover that only two minutes had passed since the initial chime.

My massage therapist encourages me to keep it up, that meditation is like exercise and I just need to keep practicing so those meditation muscles get stronger and can be used for longer stretches of time. So I’ll keep trying, finishing this week’s lovingkindness focus with the mantra, “May you be safe. May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you live with ease.” And I’ll make sure that, in addition to sending those vibes out to those I’m fond of and those I’m not-so-fond of, I’ll include myself in lovingkindness wishes.
Namaste,
An Improving Meditator 

Dear Commercial Airlines,

Thanks for making your flights ridiculously expensive during Spring Break. At first I was totally bummed that flying four people to sunny Florida would require me to auction off my internal organs, but as Facebook friends continued to offer fun suggestions for road tripping with kids, I’m kind of looking forward to being trapped in a car with my family for many, many hours. I think back very fondly to the family road trips my parents took me and my brother on when we were kids, and I know one day my little ones will appreciate the time spent together as well.
V/R,
A Mom Ready for the Family-Friendly Version of Spring Break
Dear Parents of Teenage Boys,

I have less than a week until my boy enters his teenage years. He is almost as tall as me, his voice is suddenly so deep I barely recognize it, and the other day he received his first love note from a young lady requesting to be his girlfriend. None of that really scares me though. That’s pretty typical. It’s all that other stuff that teenagers face these days that my generation didn’t have to deal with that really scares me. Snapchat. Cyberbullying. Internet porn. 
So parents, how do I get through these teenage years with my sanity intact? How do I get him through his teenage years with more wisdom than rebellion? How do I not screw it all up?!
Send some prayers,
A Parent About to Join the Club of Parents with Teenage Boys
Dear Lady in the Grocery Store Checkout Line,

I saw you out of the corner of my eye. I saw you look away when I looked at you. You and your husband were overdressed for Food Lion, likely picking up some essentials after church. You were an older couple, older than my parents, and I figured you averted your gaze because of my pink hair. And while pink hair isn’t as wild and crazy as it was once considered, I don’t think older generations get it. In fact, just minutes before, another older woman looked practically frightened when I passed her in the international foods aisle. So I thought I was about to get handed some harsh judgment when you tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Excuse me, but I just have to know…”
Here it comes, I thought. She’s going to ask me why I would do such a horrible thing to my long blonde hair. I braced myself and prepared to brush her off.
“Which came first: the hair or the shirt?”
Huh? I looked down and realized I was wearing a pink shirt, a shade that almost exactly matched my hair.
“Because you’re perfectly color coordinated,” she continued with a smile.
I laughed, and she gave me a wink. “I just love the hair,” she said to me, then linked arms with her husband and said to him, “Don’t you just love her hair, honey?”
I waved to the couple as I left with my groceries, hit with the realization that not only had this couple NOT passed judgment on me or make assumptions about me based on my appearance, but I had done exactly that toward them. 
With everything going on in the world right now, it sure is easy to pass judgment on others and brace ourselves in a defensive stance. My brief encounter with this sweet woman in Food Lion was a great reminder to keep an open mind, avoid jumping to conclusions, and by all means, take the time to share a laugh with others, even strangers with pink hair in the grocery store.
With thanks and appreciation,
The Stranger with the Pink Hair in the Grocery Store

What Motivates Me: Time To Go Back to the Beginning

I haven’t been writing.
And when I say I haven’t been writing, I mean it’s been months. Not just days or weeks. I’m talking months since I’ve written much more than a Facebook status update.
I tell myself the noodling around I did on my novel in November for NaNoWriMo counted as writing. But it didn’t. I spent so much time revising while getting reacquainted with the characters I had abandoned since the previous year’s NaNoWriMo attempt that the actual writing of new words wasn’t really happening. And then I abandoned it again.
I tell myself I don’t have the zen writing spot in the house I moved into six months ago or the house doesn’t seem to have the right juju. But I have a whole office to myself (with a door that closes!), and I smudged my house to evict bad juju (twice).
I tell myself that I’m blocked because the last piece I wrote, a piece that was quickly accepted and published by the Washington Post, left me dealing with horrible internet trolls whose comments I had to stop reading, whose tweets I had to ignore, whose snap judgements made me question why I bothered to open myself up like that.
I tell myself I don’t have time. But I could make it.
I tell myself I don’t have the energy. But I could find it.
I tell myself I don’t have anything to write about, but there’s ALWAYS something to write about.
I tell myself that my hair stylist is right, that I’m not writing because I’m happy. And while it’s true that my most prolific periods have been during challenging times in my life, I can’t rest on that as an excuse because I plan to be happy for a very long time.
So what the hell is wrong with me?! Where are the words?!
Well, it turns out I might have finally found them hidden within a deeper message in someone else’s words.
I recently finished reading the book, “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us” by Daniel H. Pink. It’s a research-based theory of motivation that explains how businesses attempt to motivate their employees in all the wrong ways. Most people assume that external motivation like money is the best motivator for hard work. But that’s not the case. In fact, studies show it often diminishes intrinsic motivation, decreases performance and kills creativity. So what does work? An approach that includes autonomy, mastery and purpose. Hmmm, I totally dig that.
I also liked the author’s explanation of the “Sawyer Effect.” Based on a fence whitewashing scene in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, this theory asserts that (1) rewards can turn play into work and (2) focusing on mastery can turn work into play.
As I read the book, I tried to apply this theory of motivation to various parts of my own life. First, I realized that’s probably why the promise of a weekly allowance no longer motivates my kids to exert much effort into their household chores. And then I realized it might be why I’m not writing.
One of the reasons this blog has collected so much dust is because I started writing for other outlets. At first I wrote for free, because let’s face it, everyone knows what the Huffington Post is and it’s a great addition to a writing resume when you’ve never gotten paid for freelancing gigs before. But then I branched out and started writing for cool websites that not only shared my work, but also –oh my gosh! — gave me money too.
So I wrote more. And got paid more. It’s not that I needed the money from freelancing. I already have a full-time job that pays the bills. No, it was the rush I got thinking I had turned something that was once a hobby into something worth being paid for.
But that rush is gone. Because just as the Sawyer Effect states, those rewards turned my play into work. I had to research media outlets, figure out what kinds of angles they wanted, how much they paid, how to submit pitches, how to write a pitch, re-submit pieces with suggested revisions. I found myself using a voice or phrases that weren’t quite my own because I was writing for a certain audience, a certain editor. I found that editors were altering my work more than I wanted, moving things around that I had placed for very particular reasons, changing headlines to get more clicks. And now with so much politically charged material out there, it took another step for me to figure out if I want to be associated with certain outlets that have veered in a more political direction than I’m comfortable with.
I’m an editor myself so I get it. I understand that’s all part of the game. I just feel like maybe it’s time to bench myself from the game for a bit so I can find my voice again.
One day during a recent meditation session my mind wandered to my writing, and I decided to follow it. At the dead end of those thoughts, I saw a big sign: Go back to the beginning.  
So I took that sign, combined it with the Sawyer Effect and ended up back here. At my blog. That I started over seven years ago with no writing background, no audience, no voice that I knew of yet, no clue whatsoever. What I did have was a desire to direct my own path (autonomy), an urge to make progress and improve at something that mattered to me (mastery), and the yearning to do something in the service of something larger than myself (purpose).
Autonomy. Mastery. Purpose. 
Those three motivators were the reasons I wrote every single day. I didn’t earn a dime. For a long time, my only audience was my parents. I wrote quickly, yet from the heart, without the fear of editors chopping my words. I actually enjoyed writing, to the point that I craved it, that something felt missing if I went a day without writing something, whether it was published publicly or journaled privately.
I want that back.
So now that I’ve had my aha moment, that I realized rewards might have turned my play into work, it’s time for me to focus on turning that work back into play. I want to enjoy writing again. I want to find my voice again. I want to use that voice to work on different projects, namely, that novel I’ve had written in my head for years but only pay attention to every November. I want to get back on the roller coaster that started it all.
Here I am.

What the First Day after a Summer Co-Parenting Pass Off Looks Like

At 5:30 Saturday morning I left my children at an airport with their father. The kids are spending the summer overseas with him, and I won’t see them for 10 weeks. Pass offs never get any easier, especially when the separation is so long, and my emotions are like a ping pong ball bouncing all over the place. This is what the first day after a co-parent pass off for an entire summer looks like:
5:30 am: I stand by my car at curbside drop off with tears streaming down my face, waving at my 8-year-old daughter through the sliding glass door as she cries and waves back. Her father must have called her name because I watch her turn and walk away. I stare at the empty space for 5 long seconds before walking to my car and driving home alone.
5:45 am: My drive home parallels the beach where I frequently go to watch sunsets, and the colorful sky reminds me how early it is. I have nowhere to be, so I pull over and watch the sunrise. Sitting in my normal sunset spot but facing the opposite direction, I realize I had never seen the sun rise from this beach I had been to a hundred times before. It is awesome.
6:00 am: I cuddle with my boyfriend and my dog, and I cry.
6:15 am: I call my mom. And I cry.
6:30 am: Time for action! Strip the kids’ beds. Start a load of laundry. Put away Xbox remotes and school backpacks and stray Nerf darts and dirty socks. Start a list of things to buy in 9 weeks before the kids come home. Throw away all the random clutter the kids told me not to throw out “yet” because they’re gone now and in 10 weeks they’ll never remember the shoebox filled with cut up pieces of cardboard or the year-old Dave and Busters tickets they found two days ago or the paperclip necklace that kept mysteriously showing up after I disassembled it. And pencils. Where did all these pencils come from?!
7:00 am: I’m exhausted. Crash on my deck with coffee, a book and Facebook sympathy and support.



8:00 am: I have to get up and move! Another load of laundry. Tidy daughter’s room. Trash more random kid junk. 
8:15 am: I’m exhausted. Crash on the couch with a book and my foot spa. Is this day over yet?
9:00 am: Kids call during a layover. They sound so far away.
9:15 am: Have to get up and move! Another load of laundry. Hang Nerf guns on designated hooks. Clean son’s bathroom. Trash more kid junk.
10:00 am: Have I eaten anything since the banana at 4:30 this morning? Tropical Smoothie run. Surely this super healthy smoothie and questionably healthy breakfast wrap will energize me and put my day on track for mega productivity!
10:30 am: The food failed to energize me or generate mass productivity. Back on the deck with more coffee and a book. My brain isn’t processing what I’m reading. I watch the kids swimming at my apartment complex’s pool below. Just two days ago it took me 15 minutes to drag my daughter out of the water. As we walked home she said, “I don’t want to leave.” I told her I realized she was having fun with her friends but it was time to shower and get ready for bed. “No, Mom,” she said. “I don’t want to leave you for the summer.” That was when the real tears started for both of us.
11:30 am: I’m taking a bubble bath. Not a typical Saturday morning activity for me, but today hasn’t exactly been typical.
12:30 pm: Overheated and totally relaxed from the bath, I let myself take a snoozer. 
1:45 pm: Feeling a bit more human after a nap and a gooey grilled cheese sandwich. I look at my planner and sigh at the extensive list of to-do’s I created for myself days ago, anticipating I would need distractions from the emptiness I knew I would feel. But I know not a single item will be checked off that list today.
2:00 pm: Back on the deck with coffee and a book. I contemplate going to the pool, but it’s crowded and my introverted tendencies are on high alert. 
2:30 pm: Deck to couch to kitchen to bathroom to deck to kitchen to deck to couch. TV on, tv off.  I should go somewhere, leave the house. I should stay home, I’m exhausted. Music on, music off. It’s not so much the silence that makes me unable to sit still. It’s the lack of their presence. 
4:30 pm: Boyfriend and I settle on the couch for a night of binge-watching the new season of “Orange is the New Black.” After the first episode, he picks up sushi so we can eat and watch in our comfy pants. I’m not going anywhere the rest of the day.
7:30 pm: On our way to the beach! I realize I’ve never watched both the sun rise and set in the same day from the same spot on my favorite beach.
7:50 pm: Daughter FaceTimes! The kids reached their destination safe and sound. Tween son is too cool to chat, but daughter looks tired, happy and beautiful.


8:26 pm: Sunset.
8:45 pm: Back in comfy pants. One more episode of OITNB. Wine.
10:00 pm: Time for bed. This tough day is over, and tomorrow it’s time to end my pity party. Daughter’s room will become the staging area for vacation packing. Meal planning will begin that includes more grown-up food and less chicken nuggets and squeezable yogurt. A new routine that includes exercise, guitar practice and writing will fill the hours I’d normally spend wearing my mom hat. 
I know the summer will fly by. I know my kids will have fun. I know I’m allowed to have fun too. And I know I need to spend this time reenergizing and doing things I can’t do when my kids are around. Let the summer begin!

SUNRISE
SUNSET

This is How to Crush a Bucket List: A Year in Review

(function(d, s, id) {
var js, fjs = d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0];
if (d.getElementById(id)) return;
js = d.createElement(s); js.id = id;
js.src = “//connect.facebook.net/en_US/sdk.js#xfbml=1&version=v2.6”;
fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js, fjs);
}(document, ‘script’, ‘facebook-jssdk’));

Ask just about anyone you know if they have a bucket list of awesome things they want to do before they die, and chances are, they’ll say yes. 

“I want to travel the world,” some will say.

“I want to start my own business,” others will say.

“I want to win the lottery and retire at 45, never to work again,” other (delusional) friends might say.

But how many do you know who are actively working on their bucket lists? It wasn’t until I finally started knocking items off my own bucket list that I realized how long I’d been hiding in the category of all talk and no action.

People tend to reevaluate their lives when they go through major transitions. My divorce was no exception. It was during the dismantling of my marriage that I started on my bucket list. And if I’m being honest, I didn’t even know that’s what I was doing. At the time, I was just in need of a distraction, a goal, a reason to get out of bed and move. My bucket list came knocking on my door, telling me it was time, promising that the only way I could fail was by not trying.

That was three years ago. So how am I doing on that bucket list? I’m proud to say I’m kicking its ass. 

What all have I checked off? Well, a year ago I wrote a piece for the Huffington Post called, “How a Divorce Bucket List Helped Me Move On,” listing six big-ticket items on my bucket list. Here’s how I’m doing on that list:

1. Run a marathon


This is what kicked everything off. I decided to run the Marine Corps Marathon during one of the most difficult times in my life, and that decision didn’t just get me in amazing shape, a cool medal and the bragging rights to put a 26.2 magnet on my car. It also made me realize that I’d been talking about running a marathon for years in the same sentence as “bucket list” and “some day.” Crossing that finish line made me realize my some day had come. And I wondered why I waited so long for it instead of making it happen.

And just like that, I wanted more of my “some day” wishes to become “now” realities.

2. Remove a tattoo

When we’re 14 we think we know it all, don’t we? Well, we don’t. And I have a regrettable tattoo to prove it. (Click here for the story on that.) The tattoo is small and privately located, and I probably could have lived the rest of my life keeping it hidden and simply ignoring it.

But I wanted it gone.

What originally cost $40 and 20 minutes of my time is now a continuing project that has taken well over a year and over $1,000. At the end of this month I’ll undergo my 12th laser treatment, and it won’t be my last. Fingers crossed for lucky 13!

3. Write a novel

I’ve had a novel written in my head for as long as I can remember. The tricky part it seems is transferring it from my brain to my computer. I can’t say I’m accomplishing this bucket list item in a timely fashion, but the novel has officially made a home on my computer with several chapters completed. I don’t know when it will get done, and I’m trying not to put too much pressure on myself with a deadline. Right now, the fact that I’ve started gives me hope that I’ll finish. Write on.

4. Learn to play the guitar





I’ve always been really good at listening to music, but not so good at making it. A million years ago, I played the drums in middle school, but I quit for fickle middle school girl reasons. My dad picked up the guitar after he retired and listening to him reminded me that I’ve always wanted to learn. With his help and encouragement, I set out on this acoustical journey that has proven to be way more challenging than I expected. But I take weekly lessons, try my best to practice at home and take pride in my efforts and accomplishments.

5. Sky dive

When I turned 39 last year, I had an overwhelming itch to do something epic and a new boyfriend who was more than willing to be my partner in epic-ness. What started as an outlandish suggestion over coffee one morning turned into a plunge out of a perfectly good airplane. It was a extreme lesson in overcoming fear with a bonus shot of adrenaline. It was pure awesome.

6. Go on a solo vacation

When  my ex and I first split up, I had a hard time going out to dinner by myself. I felt like people were staring at me, wondering why I was alone. I felt awkward with no one across the table to talk to. It was lonely and boring. 
But the more I started doing things alone, the more I embraced it. So when I found out that my kids would be spending last summer overseas with their father, I decided to take advantage of that time to go on vacation. By myself. 
I spent seven amazing days in Turks and Caicos. I swam, walked, biked, shopped, read, wrote, collected shells, snorkeled, sailed, flew on a trapeze and totally de-stressed. And I ate every meal alone, a concept I never would have entertained three years ago. I treasured every second.

BONUS BUCKET LIST FUN


7. Go on a hot air balloon ride

This one is a relatively new idea and wasn’t on my list a year ago. In the months leading up to my 40th birthday, I wondered how I was going to top my last birthday sky diving adventure. And one day it hit me out of nowhere that I wanted to go on a hot air balloon. 

The logistics were a bit more complicated for this one because it required traveling, working around a university’s graduation and obsessing over weather reports, but it all came together in a chaotic, perfect kind of way. That new boyfriend of last year was once again my partner in epic-ness, plus my best friend who was also celebrating her birthday. 

Although both birthdays revolved around an up in the air sky theme, the experiences were totally different. Unlike the blurry rush of falling from 14,000 feet, hovering in the middle of the sky at 1,100 feet in the balloon was calm, peaceful and beautiful. I have to admit I had moments of frozen realization that I wasn’t wearing a parachute and one false move could hurl me over the side of the basket. But when we started descending, I felt myself trying to stop time so the flight wouldn’t end.

So what’s next on my bucket list? I haven’t figured that out yet. I think generally speaking, I want to continue trying new things, especially cool things I never thought of doing before. Since my boyfriend kindly amuses me by participating in my birthday adventures, I try to do the same for him. Last year we went camping in Shenandoah National Park, and I scrambled up rocks and bagged a peak when I didn’t even know what that meant. 

This summer, when the kiddos are once again with their father for 10 weeks, we’re heading out to Costa Rica for zip-lining adventures and sloth sightings. Other than that, I’m not quite sure what’s next.

What I do know is that I refuse to sit around and wait for things to happen. I’m going to keep getting up and making things happen.

                                                                                  *****


Despite the tight squeeze in the hot air balloon basket and my fear of losing my grip on my phone and watching it plunge to its death, I did manage to take a Facebook Live video while up in the air. Check it out.




40 Things I Learned By 40

Four years ago, I wrote a blog post on my birthday called “Today is My Birthday…And I’m Turning Beautiful.” And for the last three years, I returned to that post, reread it, shared it and reflected on my life and the twists and turns it’s taken.

But this year, as I celebrate my birthday — the big 4-0 — I thought I’d take one step beyond mere silent reflection and jot down the lessons I’ve learned from the last decade of those twists and turns, lessons I plan to keep in my back pocket as I embark on my fabulous 40’s.

So what did my 30’s teach me? Here are 40 things I learned by 40:

1. Enjoy your own company.

2. Friendships require effort on both sides. 
3. You’re never too old to dye your hair pink. 
4. Don’t skip dentist appointments.
5. “Fake it till you feel it” isn’t good enough. It’s no way to live your life.
6. The longer you plan for something, the less likely it is to happen as you planned.
7. Life isn’t a competition. 
8. Trust your gut.
9. When someone offers help, take it.
10. Be a person who makes things happen.
11. Read voraciously.
12. Pursue passions, no matter how small or silly they may seem.
13. Laugh. A lot.
14. Always accept your children’s hugs when they offer. One day they won’t offer.
15. You never know what goes on behind closed doors.
16. Stop repeating bad patterns.
17. Dancing it out really works.
18. Don’t let your people-pleasing tendencies dictate your decisions.
19. The grass is always greener on social media. Don’t compare your behind-the-scenes reality to other people’s highlight reels.
20. Don’t talk for the sake of talking. Have something to say.
21. Wear the red lipstick.
22. You won’t always get the apology you feel you deserve. Don’t waste time chasing it.
23. If something is important to you, you can find the time for it.
24. Done is better than perfect.
25. Listen to your body.
26. Be careful what you say, but not so careful that your life is censored. 
27. Sometimes knowledge is power. Sometimes ignorance is bliss. Know the difference and plan accordingly. 
28. Everything happens for a reason, but there’s a good chance you may not ever find out those reasons.
29. Pets can help you get through the toughest of times.
30. You never know until you try.
31. Take the time to snap photos, but not so much time that you’re not living in the moment.
32. Learn forgiveness.
33. Your children see and hear everything. Be a good role model.
34. If people want you in their lives, they’ll find a way to keep you there.
35. There are two sides to every story.
36. Don’t feel guilty about taking time for yourself.
37. Be thankful for unanswered prayers.
38. Travel to another country at least once when you’re old enough to appreciate it.
39. Learn how to cut unnecessary expenses to save money for big adventures (like traveling to another country).
40. It’s never too late.

To Whom It May Concern

Dear Writer’s Freeze,
You are Writer’s Block’s less famous cousin, the one who lurks in the corner of the party because, despite the fact that you are bursting with things to say, you’re overwhelmed and paralyzed by all those words. 
Unlike Block, you don’t need ideas or inspiration or motivation. You have plenty of that. What you need, dear Freeze, is your confidence. All those ideas are frozen in a state of “I’ll write that later” or “I don’t know where to pitch that” or “I’m rambling and I’m not sure I have a point in all this mumbo jumbo.”
Right now you’re lurking in the corner of my brain, clutching onto all those words even though your arms are so full of them that they’re about to drop all over the place. Honey, I need those words. So go ahead and drop them. Let yourself melt and drop those suckers right onto my computer screen. Don’t worry where they fall. I’ll be sure to put them in the right order. Thanks for collecting them and keeping them safe.
Best,
A Writer Who Misses Writing
Dear Body,
For most of my life, I’ve asked more of you than most people ask of their bodies. I’ve asked you to swim to national rankings and college scholarships. I’ve asked you to run to state championships and half marathon finish lines. I’ve asked you to create, grow and deliver two human beings. I’ve asked you to respond to treatment, heal from injuries, recover from surgery, strengthen from physical therapy and dodge proverbial bullets. I probably don’t thank you enough or show my appreciation by pampering you with frequent massages or eating less chocolate, but as I stare down yet another health issue, I hope you know I don’t take you for granted.
So I ask you for help now, Body, as I get ready to have an MRI on my hip tomorrow to figure out why, after being able to consistently run 20 plus miles a week, I can now barely walk. I scratched the half marathon I was training for. I got a cortisone shot that offered little relief. I rested, iced, Ibuprofen’ed and hobbled on crutches just like the doctors told me to. It’s time for answers and a plan. Can you give us a hint on that MRI? Show us what the doctors and X-rays are missing? Sometimes it’s the not knowing part that’s the most frustrating.
Love you,
A Runner Who Misses Running
Dear 40th Birthday,
Now that April has rolled around, I can say that I will be meeting you next month. And I have very mixed emotions about our introduction.
I have 43 days left in my 30’s. If I was looking to shake things up in my life, I certainly used this decade to accomplish that. A baby. The loss of a dog. An overseas move. A blog. A new dog. A career path. Another career path. A divorce. A boyfriend. And more twists and turns than I can count. In a way I’m ready to leave this decade behind, claim that I tried my best and jump headfirst into this new decade that I keep hearing all these great things about.
I’ve been watching the last several months on social media as friends I went to high school with hit their big 4-0. With a May birthday, I was always one of the last of my peers to age up. Now I’m thankful for that lag because I can watch how these friends handle the transition. I love the photos from their 40-themed parties and the status updates reflecting on their past and their excitement for the future. Seeing that and talking to my friends who have already passed into the next decade makes me think this might finally be the age where we are beyond the overriding angst and self-consciousness of that part of our lives when we’re still trying desperately to figure out who we are. Maybe by 40, we have it all figured out.
Oh who am I kidding…will we ever have it all figured out? I’ll probably be writing the same exact thing when I’m 43 days out from my 80th birthday. But even if my 40th birthday doesn’t bring total enlightenment, at the very least I have a super cool celebration in the works to greet this new decade. 
Cheers,
A Believer That You’re Only As Old As You Feel
Dear Spring,
Thank you for making a brief appearance last week so we could enjoy our Spring Break in Washington, DC. The weather was perfect as we hung out at monuments, the zoo, and my favorite, the Tidal Basin, where the cherry blossoms were waiting for us. We may have missed them peaking a few days earlier, but that also means we missed the massive crowds. Cherry blossoms hold a special place in my heart after living in Japan for 3 years, and despite the kids’ whines about having to “look at some dumb trees,” I’d like to think they too appreciated our lucky timing.
Although I had to pull my winter jacket out of my closet again this week, I’m looking forward to your final push to overtake winter. 
See you soon,
Not a Fan of Winter
Dear Riding the Roller Coaster,
I neglect you, I know. You are the reason for my writing career, yet I’ve done little recently to keep you in the loop and show you some love. But I still need you, old friend, and I’d like to hang out with you more. I admit that I now save what little personal writing I do to pursue freelancing opportunities, but maybe you and I can chat over coffee every now and then. Maybe what Writer’s Freeze (see above) needs to thaw out a little is some random free association that isn’t going to be chopped by editors. Maybe I need to go back to my roots and remind myself how this all started, back when the words flowed with ease and a daily blog post was a reality, not a laughable daydream. 
I miss you, RC.
Love,
Me

To Whom It May Concern

Dear NaNoWriMo,
November is almost here and so are you. National Novel Writing Month. Writing a novel in one month. I attempted you last year, but after the first half of the month my energy and motivation dwindled to zero and I completely abandoned you. Time to redeem myself this year.
Of course I worry about adding one more plate to the lineup of plates I already have spinning. I’m a single mom with 2 kids, a full-time job, a boyfriend I want to spend time with, a need to exercise daily, a passion for the guitar that requires practice, and all the other unexpected life surprises that pop up, like flat tires and lingering sinus infections.
But I can’t sit here and make excuses for failing before I even start trying. It all boils down to creating time where I thought time didn’t exist, asking for help and accepting that some things just won’t get done. Restricting my social media check-ins throughout the day, taking my boyfriend up on his offers to cook and being okay with a messier than usual house will all create pockets of time for me to write. My schedule might need a little rearranging, but the time is there and waiting for me to use it wisely.
Plus, I’m kind of cheating. The novel I’m working on this year was already started last year, and I’ve noodled with it here and there since then. So technically I have a 3-chapter head start, which feels like a much smoother jump off than a completely blank page.
So please be kind to me, NaNoWriMo. You are both my muse and my nemesis. You gave me the gift of the beginning of my novel, but you also slapped me with the bitterness of failure. Let’s be friends this year.
See you in 6 days,
A Writer Hoping to Call Herself a Novelist
Dear Sinus Infection,
Please. Go. Away. And. Never. Come. Back. You are killing my productivity, and I have no time for you. (See above.)
Thanks,
My Eye Sockets

Dear Residents of My Apartment Complex,
You know that movie “Good Luck Chuck,” where Dane Cook becomes a relationship good luck charm because every time he breaks up with a woman she then meets the love of her life? Well, it seems I am the Good Luck Chuck of real estate. Over the weekend I helped with the move of my fourth friend to leave my apartment complex after finding a cool house. I will miss my across-the-hall neighbor and girls’ night out wine gal pal, and Gunner will miss his canine play dates.
So if you’re in search of your dream home just start hanging out with me, and I’ll be helping you move out in no time!
Sincerely,
Good Luck Heather

Dear Halloween,
I’ve never claimed you as my favorite holiday, and I’m not one of those adults who goes crazy decorating my house or dressing up in anything more elaborate than a witch’s hat with black hair attached to it. But as I watch my kids grow up in the blink of eye, I realize that your special magic that I get to experience through the eyes of my children won’t last must longer. 

My 11-year-old son may be dressing up for you this year, but he refused to participate in the pumpkin carving, I practically have to chase him and hold him down to snap a picture of him, and worst of all, he had no desire to join in the annual viewing of “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.” It’s only a matter of time until he announces he’d rather stay home while I take his little sister out trick-or-treating.
Thankfully I have several more years of entertainment with my 8-year-old daughter. And she never fails to entertain. The same girl who wanted to change her name to Cannonball in preschool decided she wanted nothing to do with princesses or anything else that might be construed as remotely girly. Nope, this year Cannonball is dressing up as Captain America.
Happy Halloween!

Love,

Halloweeney Sweeney

Middle School 2.0: 7 Tween Anxieties that Don't Age

Last month my son started middle school. I thought I’d be hyperventilating the first day he ventured out into the world of tweens, but I was surprisingly calm.  It wasn’t until I went through a mock school day at the back-to-school night last week that everything I hated and feared about middle school the first time around came back to haunt me the second time around.

Check out my list of those fears in my latest over at the Huffington Post:

Middle School 2.0: 7 Tween Anxieties that Don’t Age

1 2 3 4 61