Day 76: Love the ordinary.

You never know when some small thing will lead to a big idea. Travel is very inspirational – but it’s in the ordinary that I find my themes of love and work and family.  (Adriana Trigiani)

Everyone who knows me knows that I (we) love to travel. We are always planning our next trip — whether it is to a nearby beach or a far-off destination. We love the whole planning process about as much as we love the travel itself; learning about the places we will visit, reading about the history and the culture, imagining the sights, sounds and tastes we will encounter there. Travel is inspirational — it challenges us to be more than we are right now.

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Visiting the Palace in Versailles, France.

But at the end of every trip, every adventure, I am ready to return to the ordinary, the mundane, the quotidian. I love the rhythm of our daily lives. There is comfort in getting out of the same bed every morning, having coffee with my spouse, exercising, working, writing, cooking, doing the laundry. There is something special about even the most mundane aspects of our lives.

Through this rhythm, I have come to more and more appreciate, and even love, the ordinary moments of our lives. As I get older I enjoy the ways in which these rhythms mirror life itself. Indeed these are our rhythms, the drumbeat, the pulse that echoes through all that we do and all that we are.

I have learned that these rhythms are not bound in time or space. They are not determined by location. They stem from our heartbeats — regardless of where we live. As I have mentioned in previous posts, my husband and I move every couple of years, and in our short marriage have already lived in two places. But the rhythm is more dependent on us and how our life flows than it is about where our life flows.

Traveling is inspirational, but I truly have come to love the ordinary in every place we have lived. I appreciate the small joys in life: hot coffee in the morning, a long walk, time and space to write, clients who are a joy to work with, a set of tennis with my husband.

What do you love about your day to day life? Who do you share that with? Do you celebrate that love? If so, how does that come about, and what does it look like?

Day 71: Stronger than you know.

 “A woman is like a tea bag – you never know how strong she is until she gets in hot water.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

Most women are stronger than they know they are, and certainly stronger than they think they are. They just don’t realize it until they must. They keep households running, raise children, and more often than not, work — in both professional and blue collar jobs. Women do what needs to be done to take care of their homes, their children and lastly, themselves.

Just this morning, I was watching Morning Joe and they had an interview with the “Princeton Mom” who stirred controversy when she wrote a letter to the editor of the Princeton University newspaper encouraging young women to spend 75% of their energy in college on finding a husband. Her rationale is that you will never have better access to a pool of men who are worthy of you. She said that in this environment that is too often “career first” that women need to be planning as much for their personal lives as for their professional lives. She basically said that as women get older, regardless of their professional accomplishments, their personal “stock” goes down — that men are looking for young women to marry, regardless of their own age. She basically said that if you aren’t looking for a mate until you are in your 30s, it’s probably too late.

This woman obviously married well and stayed married. That’s great. It’s probably what the majority of us would have liked to do. But life doesn’t necessarily work that way. I married at 28, was divorced at 36 and then married for the second time at 46. I’ve never had children. I think I got married the first time because I was beginning to feel the pressure that she was talking about — my stock going down; the only child in my family of origin that was not married either in college, or immediately thereafter; the feeling of “what if I never find anyone else?”

Needless to say, I survived the divorce and the ten years post divorce. I got a second master’s degrees. I bought a condo. I was ordained into the ministry. I had great friends and a happy life. I didn’t need a husband to be happy and fulfilled in my life the way that I thought I would. I didn’t know that I could do it on my own until doing it on my own was my only option. I was stronger than I knew.

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I came to my second marriage in a much different place, knowing that I could make it on my own and knowing that I had done it all by myself. I didn’t have anything to prove to myself or to anyone else. That enabled me to make a better choice. I choose everyday to be in this marriage because I want to share my life with this person, and for no other reason.

I didn’t plan this path, and I’m pretty sure that I wouldn’t choose it again, but if I knew that this path was the only way to end up where I am right now, I might. This is a good place to be.

Life is hard, and doesn’t come with an instruction manual. Planning will only get you so far. As one of my favorite sayings goes, “If you want to make God laugh, tell her your plans.” Life is what happens when we are busy making plans.

Just know that in the end, whatever it is — you can do this. You are stronger than you know.

Day 63: Make a friend.

The best time to make friends is before you need them.  ~Ethel Barrymore

Some say that the older that you get the more difficult it is to make friends. You see they believe that there are only so many relationships that we can have, only so many connections that we can make, and once our quota is full, we simply are not available to be a new friend or to make a new friend. While I’m sure that this theory is valid to a point, I don’t want to believe that I am too old, or too connected, to connect to someone new. I want to make a friend.

I find that I am always adding people to group of folks who I call special — my friends. People that I share history with, even if that history is measured in days and not years; people who are kindred spirits, or sisters/brothers from another mother. I collect friends as I would precious stones.

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But they are not stones, they are people with needs and loves and pains. I sometimes get to meet those needs, and sometimes I come up woefully short. I pray that when I do there is grace, forgiveness and love.

I have learned that I cannot be all things to all people; I cannot meet everyone’s needs. But I can reach out and I can try to meet them where they are — with the give and take that comes with all friendship. And yes, it has to go both ways. I cannot always be the giver or the taker.

So thanks, friends. You know who you are. Thanks for staying friends, or becoming my friend, before I needed you to be there, and walking with me through some challenging times. I appreciate that you were there before I needed you.

Day 60: Delicious ambiguity.

“I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next.
Delicious Ambiguity.”
― Gilda Radner

I grew up on Saturday Night Live — I was old enough in 1975 to stay up and watch early SNL broadcasts (so long as I could get up without complaint to go to church on Sunday morning.) For those of you who don’t know, Gilda Radner was an original cast member and one of the funniest people I have ever seen on SNL. I remember laughing until I cried when she would do a sketch as Rosanne Rosannadanna (in particular the one about Dr. Joyce Brothers) Lisa Lubner (with Bill Murray as her boyfriend, Todd) or one of the Coneheads.

Much of what Gilda learned about life, she learned as she waged a very public battle with Ovarian cancer. She died at age 42 on May 20, 1989. She may have wanted the perfect ending, but she didn’t get it. I doubt that many of us do. But she went out with style, and with grace. She once said that, “Having cancer gave me membership in an elite club I’d rather not belong to.”  

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Earlier this year a friend of mine from childhood lost her battle with cancer. She was 48. She said to me last September at our 30th high school reunion, “I know I’m going to die, and I’m pretty sure what’s going to kill me. Other than that, I’m just like everybody else — I don’t know when. Probably sooner rather than later, but who knows? Life isn’t promised to any of us.” Delicious ambiguity.

She also said something that I will always remember: “Cancer sucks. Period. I’m not stronger than anyone else, and I’m not a hero for surviving this long and for keeping going. Really what are my choices? I’d never choose to have this, and if I could get rid of it, I do it. I’m not brave, I’m not a hero, I’m not any of that. I’d just like to live long enough to see my youngest daughter graduate from high school. But that’s probably not going to happen.”

Cancer is a fact of life for so many of my family and friends that I’ve begun to wonder when (not if) it will be my turn. We don’t ever know. We can’t. We do what we can to stay as healthy as we can for as long as we can — and then we die anyway of something, or nothing but growing old. Eventually we all pass from this world to what’s next.

What would you do if this were your last day(s)? How would you spend them? Who would you want to see or talk to? What would you eat, watch, do? Where would you go?

Tomorrow isn’t promised for any of us. So don’t waste today. Each and every day, today is all we have. Use it or lose it. Go big or go home. Take a risk. Live a lot. Love more than you think you are capable of. Understand that life isn’t fair and often the best we can do is to simply make the best of it.

Delicious ambiguity.

Day 59: Fall in like.

Friends can be said to “fall in like” with as profound a thud as romantic partners fall in love.  ~Letty Cottin Pogrebin

I’ve had a number of women friends over the years who I knew the minute we met we’d be great friends. I fell in like. But just as with the men I have quickly fallen in love with, some became real relationships/friendships and others did not. Perhaps it was not the right time or season in our lives, or we did not have the opportunity to deepen that bond that was made in the first few minutes of meeting. But to you others, thank you for falling in like with me.

Friendship is a true joy in life. There is little in life more satisfying than having a dear friend who you can call at all hours if you are in trouble, or to share a joy or just to talk — and to be able to pick up where you left off the conversation, days, months or years ago.

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It’s important to me to be able to maintain long-distance friendships because we move so often. If I relied only on making new friends with every move, it would be far too exhausting for this introvert. But often I do make new friends — I’ve made wonderful friends in NY, and I hope to make wonderful friends where we move next.  But those friends who stay close over the miles have become more and more important the older that I get.

Do you have a story of falling in like with a friend? What did that look like for you? I’d love to hear your stories and what those relationships have meant to you.

Day 31: Don’t be afraid to live.

“Don’t be afraid of death; be afraid of an unlived life. You don’t have to live forever, you just have to live.” ― Natalie Babbitt, Tuck Everlasting

 I’ve had a lot of folks in my life die lately. Too many. I’m tired of considering death. I’m tired of feeling the loss of people who I love – the spouses and partners and children who are left behind. I don’t fear the Reaper (so to speak) but I wish he’d take a break.

Enough already. I’m ready to live.

No waiting for me. I love travel and seeing the world and experiencing other cultures. I hike and bike and spend time in my own backyard. I am blessed with a career that gives me maximum flexibility to set my schedule and make my hours and it doesn’t matter where I live to do it. My husband and I move for a living (ok, so that’s not quite true, but we do move every couple of years; in order to make our living.)

When we moved to Manhattan in 2011 we made a decision that we would try to do as much as we could while we were there, because we knew we wouldn’t be there forever. And then 7 months ago we moved to the Hudson Valley – and now we are trying to “conquer” this area as well. We want to experience all that life has to offer while we are still young enough and healthy enough to enjoy it. And we will likely be moving again in 2014.

People live life fully in different ways. We travel and live an active life – hiking, biking, enjoying the blessingings of  friends and family, drinking good wine. Other folks love to hunt or fish, do martial arts, paint or draw, write and speak, go to movies, walk their dogs. But we all have to find those things that give us joy, and then do them. Live life full out

As I’ve mentioned before, I turn 50 this year. I’ve likely lived more in the years that have past than years that I have left. But I plan to keep on living until I die.

If I think too far in the future, I get afraid – of illness, of diminished capacity, of death. So generally, I don’t think that far ahead.

But I was challenged to do that last evening by an acquaintance of mine Geradine Sweetman. Gerry invited me to become an “elderette.” As we spoke she shared how she loved to consider herself and her friends as “wise older women.” The word “crone” has far too many negative connotations, so she’s come up with “elderette.” It sounds sassy and a bit sexy and very energetic – a lot like a 60’s girl group — not unlike the Supremes. Who doesn’t want to be Diana Ross in their older age?

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So let Gerry and I know if you want to join the party. And it will be a party. Bring your wisdom, your experience and your love. And your music. What would a party be without music?

But leave your fear at home.

Day 28: Give up perfectionism.

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.” ― Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

My name is Jennifer and I am a perfectionist. (Hi Jennifer!)

If there was a 12 step program for perfectionism, I would write the Big Book. Maybe I should. As catharsis, if nothing else. I could lead the meeting, recite the Serenity prayer (what could be more perfect than that??), and give the talk. I get high on being the perfect cook, the perfect coach, the perfect wife, the perfect minister, the perfect writer, the perfect speaker. I want it all to be perfect. And the more I cling to my perfectionistic notions of what life should be, the more my very soul withers and dies.

This blog is one way that I am fighting my perfectionism. I can’t write the perfect blog if I am writing everyday. Some days, my “shitty first draft” (SFD) is as good as it gets. Thanks for reading them. Other days, the SFD isn’t really so S. Thanks be to God. Either way, don’t tell me which you think are which.

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I think that most people’s perfectionism gets thrown out the window when they have children. Since I never did that, it’s taken me a bit longer to solve. But as life goes on, I am realizing a number of things:

  1. There are people who are better at the things that I am my best at. Ouch.
  2. There are people who aren’t better at the things that I am best at, but they are better at getting attention for it. Double ouch.
  3. There are people who will never like me no matter what I do.
  4. There are jobs I will never get, no matter how perfect I am for them.
  5. There are books that I will never publish because I will never write the SFD to begin with.

Life is less a puzzle to be solved than a drama to be lived — fully and completely with all the gusto I can muster. Try as I might to keep the doctors, the diseases, the wrinkles, and the pounds at bay — they will catch up with me. And I don’t like it. I don’t like it one bit.

So enjoy today’s SFD. It’s all I’ve got the energy for. But come back tomorrow; it just might be perfect.

Day 25: Life’s a beautiful thing

“This life is what you make it. No matter what, you’re going to mess up sometimes, it’s a universal truth. But the good part is you get to decide how you’re going to mess it up. Girls will be your friends – they’ll act like it anyway. But just remember, some come, some go. The ones that stay with you through everything – they’re your true best friends. Don’t let go of them. Also remember, sisters make the best friends in the world. As for lovers, well, they’ll come and go too. And baby, I hate to say it, most of them – actually pretty much all of them are going to break your heart, but you can’t give up because if you give up, you’ll never find your soulmate. You’ll never find that half who makes you whole and that goes for everything. Just because you fail once, doesn’t mean you’re gonna fail at everything. Keep trying, hold on, and always, always, always believe in yourself, because if you don’t, then who will, sweetie? So keep your head high, keep your chin up, and most importantly, keep smiling, because life’s a beautiful thing and there’s so much to smile about.”

Marilyn Monroe

That pretty much sums it up, don’t you think? (No, really. I want to know what you think.)

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Day 19: Eat chocolate.

“I’m pretty sure that eating chocolate keeps wrinkles away because I have never seen a 10 year old with a Hershey bar and crows feet.”
― Amy Neftzger

No question. The world needs more chocolate. It makes you feel good eating it, or giving it, or smelling it. There is something about chocolate that makes things better.

As women we are told that we must keep the wrinkles in abeyance. To be beautiful means to have smooth, taut skin — no wrinkles, no age marks, no sun damage. Beauty is inexorably equated with youth.

But as many have said, youth is lost on the young. I wish I knew then what I know now. I wish that I had believed that I was beautiful just they way that I was. But I didn’t. I never felt like I measured up to the unrealistic standard that I set up for myself (and that was reinforced in the media). I was never thin enough. If I had a dollar for every time I thought or said to myself, “If I could just lose 10 pounds…” I would be rich. I’m guessing there are more than a few of you who are reading this that that would also be on the receiving end of a multitude of those dollars.

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Why is it so hard for us to accept ourselves as we are, in every stage of our life? I’m not saying that if you need to change your life by eating more healthfully or walking more to become less sedentary that you shouldn’t do that. Healthy is one thing. Skinny is another. Even when we are healthy, we are all too often not willing to be satisfied because we aren’t skinny.  Skinny = beautiful for too many of us in our society.

So go ahead. Eat chocolate. Not pounds of it. A little. Share a piece with a child. Feel good about it. Love yourself.

No, it won’t make your crows feet go away. It won’t be the fountain of youth.  But for most of us, it also won’t hurt us to eat a little chocolate every now and then.

Day 11: Don’t set limits.

“I think the key is for women not to set any limits.”
— Martina Navratilova

“I could never do that.”

“We’ve never done it that way before.”

“Not a chance. Not me.”

We put limits on ourselves. Everyday.

What would you become if you really believed that you couldn’t fail? What work would you do if you knew that it would support you and your family and made your heart sing?

I would love to play tennis. But I have to be realistic. That ship sailed years ago. And truth be told, as much as I  love to play tennis, I would have never wanted to be a professional tennis player. So perhaps that’s not the best example. But last year I made a major life changing transition to working for myself. And I’m making it work. And I love what I do. (Don’t tell my clients, but I’d do it for free. Wait, are you one of my clients? Let’s just say that I’ll do it free as soon as I win the Powerball or the Publisher’s Clearing House Giveaway.)

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What is the activity or work that you do where you literally lose time? The thing that you can do for hours on end. Is there a way for you to do more of that in your personal or professional life?

We often feel like we are too old to make a change. One of my husband’s parishioners (he’s a pastor of a church) recently learned that I do personal development and spiritual coaching — often helping individuals determine what is next in their life, where they are feeling called to be. The woman (who happens to be 94 years young) told my husband that she was interested in speaking to me — because she needed to determine what was next for her.

You’re never too _____ (old, young, settled, crazy, adventurous, etc — you fill in the blank) to do something new.