#30 30 Posts in 46 Days

Made it!!!

As of this writing, I have completed 30 blog posts in more than 30 days. My last post explains why it took so long. Even though life got in the way and I put other needs and activities before this, I really learned a lot and am grateful for this experience. I have learned that:

  • the challenges that my dear friends, Alex & Emily, put before me are definitely worthwhile in accepting
  • I have a voice
  • I worried a little bit about people’s reactions, but not enough to become paralyzed or self-censoring
  • people appreciate honesty
  • being vulnerable can open my heart and soul to unspeakable, unnameable, uncountable quantities of grace and love
  • writing is an important exercise for my personal growth
  • creating community by sharing fears, stories, concerns, ideas, and dreams will continue to be an important way for me to show up.

I am so grateful to The Scientist & The Hustler. I need their bravery and prompts to be reminded to live fearlessly and fully. Thank you both. Get back to Ann Arbor soon so I can scoop each of you up in a big bear hug.

#29 Me First

I’m calling myself out.

I have been putting everyone else’s needs before my own and it’s got to stop. Here’s the deal: there’s plenty of time in the morning for me to accomplish the most important activities of my day BEFORE I rally to support my family. So why have I relegated myself, once again, to the bottom of the list? Because it’s easy. Because it’s familiar. Because I have NOT been putting myself first and getting right with the day right after I wake up. Because that’s how I have been conditioned.

It took me a long time to learn to be selfish in a healthy way, to make small investments in self-care that have yielded massive returns in balance and joy, when I take the time to make that happen. My muscle memory for caregiving is deep, requiring vigilant observance and conscientious effort to retrain it in a kind of spiritual Rolfing that I have been successful in maintaining until recently when I changed my work life to focus on the family business and invest my energy at home. It’s been revealing.

When I found myself thinking of all my self-care activities that I was not doing, in the middle of activities in which I was serving someone else, I realized that I was stuck in an old, unhealthy pattern that no longer serves me. That’s what’s gotten in the way of blog posts, in the way of my morning meditation routine, in the way of exercising and eating right.

The flip side of this revelation is that I also need to remember that rest and relaxation are important aspects of my self-care and the fact that I have made time for them has been nurturing and soothing as well. Progress not perfection. And yet progress requires effort. It’s a joyful conundrum – an easy challenge to embrace.

I think I will make a coin that I can carry with me. On one side it will read: GO HARD! and on the other: GO EASY! Maybe that’s my million dollar idea. I imagine that I’m not the only one who lives between the two and could use each reminder.

#28 Farm School

Ideas are cheap. Everyone has ideas, some good, some ill-considered. It’s the effort it takes that brings them to life that matters, and that’s how the billions are made, revolutions are sparked, and lives are changed. I have lots of ideas – some of which I can channel my considerable energy into, some which I wish someone else would take up and make real. Like this one…

I have been exceedingly disappointed in the public middle school options that were available to my kids. They were not inherently problematic, they just weren’t the places where their unique spirits were engaged and flourished. And it made me long for a truly different kind of education transition from elementary to high school. Having discussed the experiential and spiritual gaps that many of my friends were feeling as well, I fantasized about a place that I hope will be widely available someday: Farm School.

It appears to me that we have lost something significant in terms of offering (dare I say mandating) opportunities for children to be of service, to make it clear to them that they have inherent value and a meaningful role to play in both the success of the family and society at large. Having also been through the machine of highly scheduled sports activities that consumed our afternoons and weekends – on different calendars for each child – I am exhausted just remembering those days.

Farm School. The idea would be that kids could either board or have a day school experience that would mostly be farming. Most of their energy would be channeled into nature, they’d learn natural sciences, math, creative problem solving – all as part of a day in the life. Foreign language, art (multimedia) and music are required – maybe more on winter days when the fields are dormant, or the greenhouses are less demanding. Service outside of the farm would be mandatory – they would have to volunteer at charitable organizations or intern at businesses related to their interests. They would have to move, move, move. They would have to live slightly outside their comfort zone. They would be valued for their active contributions and receive praise for developing grit and persistence. They would be required to learn global history – both sides of big stories. They’d learn compassion and conflict resolution.

Maybe I’m not a city girl. Maybe I’m a socialist.

#27 A Broad. Abroad.

I was lucky enough to be invited on my first trip overseas at the tender age of 17. One of my best friends from school, Michelle, was also an only child (yay us!) and her dad wanted to visit distant relatives in Northern Spain. Somehow he worked out the details with my Mom, and we were off. While I know memory is mutable, I will share the most vivid ones from the trip and leave it up to Michelle and Dick to correct me, or allow me creative license, as they see fit.

It’s So Old

I remember being very aware of the deep historical record on display before me – from the architecture in Madrid, to the landscape in the countryside as we drove North – I really got how young America was, and how wide and shallow our roots back home. In Spain, I witnessed farmers plowing (with animals pulling the machinery!) around the smallest of ancient brick walls out of respect for the memory of the building that once stood there. Americans would have dynamited the shit out of it and put up a strip mall.

The Great Gear Grinder

The only cars available to rent were manual transmission – something I didn’t even know existed til we arrived. The challenge was that the adults, Dick and Helen, had limited experience with stick shifts – and there was no way Michelle and I were going to try to figure it out. I think maybe Helen had a gentler touch, but Dick was definitely the self-appointed primary driver. Regardless of his ability. I love this man, and he will forgive me for telling the story this way, but it was a rough experience riding in the back seat of a teeny Euro car, careening around the tightest corners, flying along streets on which people’s front doors allowed them to spill out right in front of us (no sidewalk!!! WTF???), bumping up maddeningly steep roads, with the Great Gear Grinder at the wheel. I think Michelle and I were mostly terrified during the days when we had to put some miles on the car. But we made up for it at night in our room, creating new episodes in the legend of the Great Gear Grinder from America who practically dropped the trans everywhere he went. We laughed til we almost puked or wet the bed. It was a great release.

The Meal That Changed Me

When we arrived in Oviedo, we hosted the entire Menendez clan for dinner at our hotel. Michelle and I spoke rudimentary French – I don’t recall if Dick and Helen spoke Spanish. I remember a lot of gesturing and smiling and hugging. We all certainly tried our best to communicate. It was most fun with the small cousins, they were totally up for many games of point-and-say-the-word. They loved laughing at our terrible Spanish. For this meal, Dick went all out and catered a remarkable feast – the best the hotel could prepare. I only remember the champagne and caviar from that night – first time for each. After dinner, the family invited us to their place the next day. And that’s when it really got good.

The family lived in the country – hard core country – rough, hardscrabble landscape, with little storage buildings up on stilts. Imagine a 1960s film about a Mediterranean countryside, shepherds and cowherds walking with staffs and moving animals across the land. Amazingly beautiful. That. And, if I’ve got this right, the family worked all night and day to make the meal that I will never forget.

There was bread unlike anything I had ever seen. It was shaped like a UFO, round and moundy in the middle about as big as I could put my arms around, with a smooth dark brown crust. And the inside was white as snow with the tightest, most tender crumb, like angel food cake. Stunning. Moist. Scented like the fresh cut grass. I have looked for images or recipes everywhere in order to find out what that miraculous manna was and find out if I could attempt to replicate it. I may have made the whole thing up.

There was a soup, a thin and light tomato-y broth, with pale beans as big as a man’s thumb and corn kernels the size of nickels. It was creamy and fragrant and heartwarming and tasted of the earth and love. There was homemade sausage and rice pudding and other wonderful dishes that have melded into a jumbled blur at this point.

We ate other wonderful dishes on our trip that I will never forget and was so glad to have as part of that experience – blood sausage, cafe con leche, roast suckling pig, and a steaming hot broth ladled onto baby eels that you suck down really fast – all of them have a special place in my food memory. But THAT soup and THAT bread at THAT table. It lit a spark in me that makes my heart flame roar just thinking about them. And I’m sure it’s not the ingredients that get me – it’s the way they were so lovingly prepared, the manner in which they were harvested and served, the family that brought out their best for their extended American family and the skinny, naive, kid from Brooklyn who realized she won the lottery that Spring in 1983.

Thank you Dick and Helen and Michelle. Thank you, Mommy. Thank you Menendez family. From the bottom of my heart.

#26 Office School

Tomorrow ends my latest engagement at a remarkable company formerly known as Enlighten, founded by a remarkable man, where I shared somewhere in the ballpark of five thousand eight hundred something days over the past 20 years with a remarkable group of people. The company motto was Do Good, Be Good, Have Fun. It was easy to live in to given all the amazing, smart, funny, curious, creative, and talented folks that have walked through those doors. Here’s just a sampling of what I have learned in all the years:

The responsibility of a message lies with the sender. I think that it’s important to understand how each individual receives and processes information. There’s no one way to communicate that gets the message across to 20 different pairs of ears or eyeballs. It’s worth taking the time to know people, their quirks, their preferences, their strengths, and the things that are important to them. I think humanizing each other is one of the best ways to learn to communicate effectively. Also, it reminds me to be thoughtful as much as possible.

Our peers are our clients, too. Sometimes I think it’s easy to forget that we serve each other inside the office walls, as much as we are serving those who hire us. Being kind, supportive, thoughtful, generous, challenging, accountable, and loving to each other is key to enjoying the day – especially when it’s more of a grind than a party.

Start with structure or cry trying to impose it later on. I’ve worked on projects that were well organized and structured from the outset and those that flailed and thrashed along for months before we attempted to tame the beast. The former results in happier people, better work, and less stress every time. The latter sucks.

Love and humor wins. This might just be my personal attitude or philosophy, but I can’t say that I have regretted being loving towards anyone even if they didn’t love me back. I also get closer to the divine when I make someone smile, and I have done ridiculous things like lift up my shirt and smash my pasty, pouchy old lady belly against a conference room window full of people trying to get through a meeting to make that happen. I will look like a fool to see that smile flash across your face. Even if you think I’m an idiot which I’m not. I just love you in a weird way and I like to be mildly inappropriate by acting the fool. My Momma may have taught me that. The comedienne.

I have been so lucky to have grown up in this place, to have been offered creative and challenging work and been paid in return. I have been loved and held through family crises, and loved and held others. I have been a friend, a confidante, a peer, a support, a disciple, a chaplain, and a goofball. My life has been made richer, my spirit made stronger, and my light shines a little brighter as I go on to the next phase. I leave some of me behind. Stuck to a conference room window or two.

#25 I Don’ Wanna, But I’m Gonna

 

I have been having the worst (I might exaggerate a bit) time trying to rally after losing momentum for this series of 30 posts in 30 days. At 24 posts in 35 days, I’m feeling behind and tired and maybe a teeny bit like I want to drop this. But I don’t like leaving things unfinished. I don’t like open loops. Ok, rallying….

My Mom says, “we scheme, God plans” paraphrasing the saying that “the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry,” with or without divine intervention as you choose to believe. In the past few weeks, between business travel to NM, a 50th birthday (yay!), completing my last week at work, and my husband’s freshly broken foot, I am at cross-purposes with myself trying to find space, time, and energy to do things that are important to me while working for and helping those around me. Same old same old.

All I need is an attitude adjustment and to refresh my thinking occasionally throughout the day. This evening was jam packed with activities and I am managing to type a few lines to fulfill this commitment. What makes one day any more challenging than the next? Hard to tell. Mostly it ends up begin about how much mental energy I have left. I haven’t had much recently. I am getting better sleep the past few nights. That makes a big difference.

That’s not really all I need. I do need a little space. And I need to ask for it and create it and commit to it. I’ll be reaching out for help – that’s something I have finally learned to do with a little more frequency. Easier said than done some times. One of the sure signs of adulthood, I think.

#24 Food Matters

I was a student at Oberlin on a visit home to NYC in the late 80s when I caught a cab to go uptown. I got to chatting with the driver – as I tended to do – and asked him to tell me about himself. He said that he was enrolled at the newly opened French Culinary Institute in the village, studying to be a chef.

WHAT? That’s a THING?

It was the first time I’d learned about a professional career in food founded on education. Education that was available right there in my home town. And it scared the crap out of me. Which was a sign. A sign that I ignored, buried, hid from, rejected, and stuffed away for many years. I was so attracted to and terrified of the idea of going to culinary school that every few years I would request brochures from the CIA, the FCI, Cordon Bleu and others and then promptly file them away in the “never gonna happen” drawer in my desk.

I was 38 when I finally made this dream a reality. There were a combination of factors that led me to leap:

  1. I had a metal sculpture on my desk at the office that read “What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?” and burned a hole in my resistance
  2. I felt that I had maxed out my opportunity in the role I was in
  3. My best friend’s little girl (same age as mine at the time) got cancer which reframed my thinking about priorities and how precious and fleeting life is
  4. Having children made me as brave and ferocious as a momma grizzly
  5. My husband was super supportive
  6. I discovered an amazing program at Schoolcraft College run by a variety of Certified Master Chefs (that’s a very big deal for those who aren’t aware) about 20 minutes away from my home. In Michigan. And it was a community college. Which means I could afford 2 years without re-mortgaging my home.

During my time in school, I created “Skip to My Roux” a kind of professional at home chef and culinary services business. I fed my first – and longest and dearest – clients (a family of four) dinner twice a week for four years and I only repeated a couple of meals because they asked. I lived the dream. I did this for 5 years. And then my husband got sick and I shut it all down. But that’s another story and not mine to tell.

After closing STMR I grieved for a very long time. Fortunately, I worked at a terrific company (the one that I’d left for school) with many people I love dearly doing intellectually stimulating and challenging work. It was the best distraction possible and the best way to channel all my (considerable) energy into something meaningful. And then my son got sick. And it was the safety net and support system that we all needed. And then things got better. And then it was time to think about creative pursuits again.

But what could I possibly do AFTER having lived my dream life? Wasn’t it dead? Wasn’t it a case of one and done? Turns out no, it wasn’t. I’m going back to food in a new way. On my own terms. In a way that supports the amazing business my husband has been creating all these years since STMR. In partnership. And I’m pretty fucking excited about it.

 

#23 Parenting Is Hard

When my kids were little, before things got really challenging and sometimes scary for all of us, there were people who would have had me believe that if I just followed some simple parenting rules, I would be guaranteed the outcome of well adjusted, disciplined, creative, mild-mannered, musical, ambitious, selfless, valedictorians. If only I had:

  • strictly enforced bedtime and ignored them while they cried themselves to sleep
  • put them in a playpen for 3 hours a day, in my line of sight, while I ignored them
  • fed them organic food that we grew in our yard
  • had a dog
  • had a farm
  • sent them to private school
  • sent them to Suzuki music lessons
  • played only classical music in the house

the list goes on and on and on. And each parent that was invested in each of the items on their particular “How to Parent, Duh!” list was 100% certain that the reason their kid behaved the way they did, was because they followed those rules. Whatever they were. And maybe that was so, for them. But it certainly didn’t hold water in my house.

It took me a long time to understand that I don’t deserve all the credit or all the blame for the choices my children made and for who they are in their souls. As a young mother, I tried everything – I tried VERY hard to be compliant in as many ways possible with these various and sundry rules – to raise my kids to embody an ideal that I had no idea I was even harboring. And the hardest – and most important – lesson that I had to learn as they grew up was that their lives would unfold in ways that I could not have ever planned or prepared for – not on my timeline, not to my specifications. And they ended up just fine.

I wish I had understood and embraced a way of  parenting by detaching with love and letting go of their outcomes so much earlier in their young lives. I wish I had given myself a break and gone easier on myself and my husband. I wish I had behaved like a kind, curious, generous, and easy going Grandma rather than the tough mom I thought I was supposed to be. I don’t wish I had followed someone else’s rules. I wish I felt comfortable enough to make my own.

Many of my friends are now sending off their first borns to college or other destinations. And we are high fiving each other at every graduation party in solidarity, in appreciation for what each of us has been through. There are many stories of ease and success, and just as many of tremendous – and ongoing – challenges. And we’re all talking about it. And we’re all wishing someone had written a book about the ugly, scary, heart-wrenching, nasty parts of parenting so that we got a heads up.

Parenting is hard. My children are 19 and 17 now. They are unique. They are similar, They are smart and compassionate and ready to lead. They are mature and immature. They are hilarious and curious and committed to their beliefs. They take action. They are confident and naive. They are pretty fucking awesome. And my husband and I have had something to do with helping shape them – provided some guidance and some clarity on our family values in the hope that they will take them for their own – and add to them and shape them for themselves over time. Our family motto is: Love, Effort, Humor, Trust. Those are our guiding principles. That’s our North star.

Parenting is hard. And my latest revelation is this: I have finally figured out how to be the parent that each of my children needs me to be. For them. And I can be flexible enough to be present in a way that serves their journey, to help them become the best THEY want to be. And to watch them grow and thrive as I love them through whatever comes their way, in whatever way they live their lives.  Parenting is hard. And it’s not about me. I hear being a Grandparent is way easier.I bet someone wrote a book about it.

#22 Co-Dependent No More

There was a time in my early 20s, well before I met my beloved husband, when I was expending an enormous amount of energy trying to figure out how I had become frighteningly and deeply enmeshed with someone who wasn’t healthy for me. Not that he was inherently a problem – more that we were a toxic combination that brought out the worst in each other. We were trying too hard to be grown ups, we had not yet understood our family influences, and we were too young and naive to know it. We were living together as if we were fully committed each to the other, but I began to suspect that only one of us was. Once a new “friend at work” entered the picture, I slipped into the most ferocious emotional downward spiral one could imagine. I became physically ill from my desperate desire to be his one and only. It was dreadful.

At that time, Co-Dependents Anonymous meetings were just beginning in NY and I hit up about one per day. I hoped to find relief, support, and a plan to feel like (to know that?) I could live without him – as that seemed to be the direction in which I was headed. Melody Beattie had just published Co-Dependent No More and rumor had it that this was the go-to source for shifting my attitude, my life, back to center. I NEEDED to buy that book.

On the way home from work, I stopped in a little bookstore that I passed each day on the way to and from our summer sublet. They had a paperback copy available for $10. I reached into my wallet – only a 5 and some change. Damn. Fuck. Damn. I left the store with my head hanging low and walked down the busy avenue. I was awash with shame. Shame that I wasn’t enough for him. Shame that I was broken and I didn’t know how to fix myself. Shame that I didn’t make enough money to carry around a measly few dollars. I REALLY NEEDED THAT BOOK!

I looked just ahead of me and saw a crumpled up note on the busy sidewalk. I walked a few steps, reached down, and picked up – a 5 dollar bill. I turned right around and ran back to the shop, clutching my miracle, and shoved open the door and squealed my joyful story to the startled clerk. I really needed that book.

#21 – Attitude Of Gratititude

On this special day, I am full of gratitude. I am grateful for all my friends, near and far. I am grateful for my family – my genetic relatives and my chosen tribe. I am grateful for all challenges that brought all the lessons – and the ones yet to come. I am grateful for my health and my energy which I hope to use for good (mostly). I am grateful for this opportunity/ challenge to write daily, to think about my voice and my story, and grateful for the encouragement to share.

Cheers. And thank you for being in my life.