Joy…and Pain (or rather Pain…and Joy?)

Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.

-Brené Brown

As a kid, I remember complaining to my parents about my various aches and pains – and my parents would often say “that’s just growing pains.” Man I didn’t realize back then what they really meant – that growing up is literally painful – not just physically, but emotionally. How do you tell young people what is ahead of them? That becoming an adult is incredibly hard. That change can be excruciating painful. That growth is HARD WORK and no one can do it for you. That each one of us is going to face heartbreak, loss, and hardships that we never thought we would be able to handle. And that even when we get through a tough time, there is going to be another one down the road, and then another, and another.

I think it’s like what some people say about childbirth – that if women actually shared how painful it truly is, no one would choose to be a parent. If children knew how hard it is to enter adulthood, they would likely try to join Peter Pan in Never Never Land where no one grows up!

I remember when one of my best childhood friends lost his best friend in a tragic accident during our freshman year of college. A few short years later, he lost his father to cancer. I remember him telling me the day of his dad’s funeral that maybe his best friend’s death helped him prepare in some way for his father’s. Over 20 years later, what he told me has stayed with me all this time. I have often thought about how strong he was at the young age of 21 to try to cope with his grief by relying on what he had learned about himself during what had previously been the tougest loss he had faced. He taught me something about how to grieve, how to cope with pain, and how to grow.

My friend Erin and I had drinks together this week, and as we often do, we spoke about our lives, our struggles, and the lessons we are trying to learn. I did a terrible job trying to re-tell this wonderful story that teaches a great lesson about overcoming pain. I looked it up later to share with Erin, and decided I wanted to write about it in my blog, so here it is!

I hope that the author Sofo Archon of The Unbounded Spirit blog doesn’t mind if I share his story. His entire blog post can be found here.

The story begins when a young woman who is going through a very painful experience and reaches out to her wise grandmother for help:

“Her grandmother took her to the kitchen. She filled three pots with water and placed each on a high fire. Soon the pots came to boil. In the first she placed carrots, in the second she placed eggs, and in the last she placed ground coffee beans. She let them sit and boil; without saying a word.

In about twenty minutes she turned off the burners. She fished the carrots out and placed them in a bowl. She pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl. Then she ladled the coffee out and placed it in a bowl.

Turning to her granddaughter, she asked, ‘Tell me what you see.’

‘Carrots, eggs, and coffee,’ she replied.

Her grandmother brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots. She did and noted that they were soft. The grandmother then asked the granddaughter to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard boiled egg.

Finally, the grandmother asked the granddaughter to sip the coffee. The granddaughter smiled as she tasted its rich aroma. The granddaughter then asked, ‘What does it mean, grandmother?’

Her grandmother explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity: boiling water. Each reacted differently. The carrot went in strong, hard, and unrelenting. However, after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak. The egg had been fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its liquid interior, but after sitting through the boiling water, its inside became hardened. The ground coffee beans were unique, however. After they were in the boiling water, they had changed the water.

“Which are you?” she asked her granddaughter. “When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?

Think of this: Which am I? Am I the carrot that seems strong, but with pain and adversity? Do I wilt and become soft and lose my strength?

Am I the egg that starts with a malleable heart, but changes with the heat? Did I have a fluid spirit, but after a death, a breakup, a financial hardship or some other trial, have I become hardened and stiff? Does my shell look the same, but on the inside am I bitter and tough with a stiff spirit and hardened heart?

Or am I like the coffee bean? The bean actually changes the hot water, the very circumstance that brings the pain. When the water gets hot, it releases the fragrance and flavor. If you are like the bean, when things are at their worst, you get better and change the situation around you. When the hour is the darkest and trials are their greatest, do you elevate yourself to another level?

How do you handle adversity? Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?

May you have enough happiness to make you sweet, enough trials to make you strong, enough sorrow to keep you human and enough hope to make you happy.

The happiest of people don’t necessarily have the best of everything; they just make the most of everything that comes along their way. The brightest future will always be based on a forgotten past; you can’t go forward in life until you let go of your past failures and heartaches.

When you were born, you were crying and everyone around you was smiling. Live your life so at the end, you’re the one who is smiling and everyone around you is crying.

May we all be like the COFFEE.”

Here are some painful truths.

  • When we live a life where we are open to love (any kind of love – not just romantic love), it is certain that we will experience pain at some point in the future. Not just possible. CERTAIN.
  • We are each responsible for how we cope with that pain, how we grieve, how we heal, how we grow. It is up to each of us to decide if we want to be the carrots, the egg, or the coffee.
  • There is no “pain contest” where anyone wins because their hardships are greater than one another. Who would want to win that anyway?? Each of us has our hardships, and it doesn’t help anyone to try to compare whose burden is greater.

I kind of hate the phrase “Everything happens for a reason” because it is too trite. I rephrase it to say “Everything happens for a reason if we take the time and put in the hark work to make meaning out of our experiences.” Too long to inscribe on a coffee mug, but still true. coffee

My intent is not to bring everyone down with this post – sorry that if it’s a bit intense! My intent is to speak the truth, and to encourage everyone to own your choices. I have not always made the right choices – that is FOR SURE. And you know what – I am CERTAIN that I am going to make more mistakes, and I am certain that I am going to experience more pain and loss in my future.

What I have tried to do is stop being a victim, and to own the decisions I made – or didn’t make – that got me to where I am, so that I learn my lessons and can move on with my life. One of the best compliments I received recently was from a friend who told me I was “wise.” Wisdom is healed pain. It hasn’t been easy – and it has been a lot of work up to this point. I have worked with a therapist/coach for years, and my work is ongoing and never-ending.  And it has been so incredibly worth it.

Just like the grandmother says in this story, when we are like the coffee, we change. We grow. We are able to let go of our heartache and our painful pasts. We are able to heal, and we remain open to love. We have the ability to experience joy. We can be happy with what we have, and we can look forward to a bright future. It won’t be perfect – but it will be ours.

“I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.”

From the poem “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley

 

 

 

The Unforgettable Fire

January 10, 2016

To be sure my head and heart are firmly planted in 2016, I decided to try my “burning ritual” with Jerry this week in order to let go of what weighed me down last year.

Jerry and I sat down to brainstorm about what to burn…it wasn’t too hard to come up with a good list! I am pretty good at figuring out what we need to work on (Jerry is used to this by now – and he’s happy to be along for the ride). It’s doing something about it that is the hard part – that is work.

Here’s the thing. I know that I will continue to struggle with these things this year like I did last year – that is because of my wiring, because of past painful experiences (i.e. baggage), and mostly because I am an actual human being that is most definitely not perfect. And I am certain that more stuff is going to happen in 2016 – and I am sure some of it will be hard – and that some of it will be painful.

Just because I decide that I don’t WANT to feel a certain way doesn’t mean that I can say “poof” and make that feeling disappear. It takes work to process feelings. It takes practice. It takes raising my awareness – getting curious, noticing, acknowledging, and feeling, processing, re-framing, and understanding of my choices – to cope when I am triggered. This is work – and it is work I recommend to anyone who finds oneself constantly negatively reacting to triggers.

This is why I decided on a ritual…I know I can, if only for a moment, remember the feeling of letting go. Combine that with the physical exercise of seeing that trigger turn from a solid piece of paper to ashes in a matter of seconds, and now I have a powerful visual when I need more help.

The hope is that once one of us is triggered, we will remember the paper turning to ash, that we will remember our intention, and channel the “letting go” feeling.

fire

Burning my “co-dependent” & over-fixing tendencies

We are off to a decent start. I found myself triggered almost immediately after publishing my post a few days ago. It was a great test to see if I meant what I said wrote about in that post. Jerry and I were in the car a few days ago when he caught himself – I was delighted when I heard him say – “wait a second – I burned that!” We high-fived each other and moved on with our day instead of getting bogged down in the muck. It won’t always be that easy – but that is why we need to practice. It’s like exercising muscles you never use.

My wise and wonderful friend Kelly recommended The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz to me back in December.

From the Four Agreements:

“Everything we do is based on agreements we have made – agreements with ourselves, with other people, with God, with life. But the most important agreements are the ones we make with ourselves. In these agreements we tell ourselves who we are, how to behave, what is possible, what is impossible. One single agreement is not such a problem, but we have many agreements that come from fear, deplete our energy, and diminish our self-worth.”

The Four Agreements are:

  1. Be impeccable with your word
  2. Don’t take anything personally
  3. Don’t make assumptions
  4. Always do your best

I already know #2 and #3 are HUGE challenges to me. They appeared on those pieces of paper that were burned into ash a few days ago.

I am about to dig into this book in hopes that it will help me in my efforts to let things go. More to come!

 

You say goodbye, I say hello

January 3, 2016

I don’t know about you, but I have been seeking some inspiration and guidance to start my new year off right. It’s 12:15 pm on Sunday and I am still in my pjs, so no, I didn’t start a new diet or an aggressive new workout routine. I am not creating a long list of resolutions that will wane as the year progresses. I am looking for a more meaningful approach – focusing more on a way of being rather those godforsaken SMART goals that ensure I achieve whatever is on my list. Or to remind me when I don’t.

I have closed the door on 2015. Before I jump into 2016, I want to leave some things behind, and letting go is not a great strength of mine.  But I know the best way to make room for the new is to purge the old – whether it’s in my closet or in my heart. I know that it’s much easier to find that perfect blouse when it’s not buried among 4 seasons and 3 sizes of old clothes. Just like I know it is much easier to feel love in the present when it’s not buried in regrets about the past or anxiety/fear of the future. And I know that the best way to find the energy to make this effort to clear out the cobwebs is from a place of love – because love is a renewable energy that not only replenishes on its own, but also multiplies and spreads to others. It’s literally catching!

So to get some help, I perused my favorite blogs (Marc and Angel, and “Momastery” Glennon Doyle Melton) and  listened to some of “The Bloggess” Jenny Lawson’s audio book “Furiously Happy”. I followed my favorite spiritual icons on Facebook and Instagram (Maria Shriver, Brene Brown, Elizabeth Gilbert, Anne Lamott, and Kid President) and I completed reading  “The Shaken Snow Globe”by a new author Kristy Dominiak, who I discovered is practically my neighbor and fellow Notre Dame alum.

My first thought is that I could really use a cool nickname for my blog persona (I am open to suggestions!). Mostly though, I am marinating in some pretty amazing content.  I think that one of the consistent threads throughout my favorite writers is that in order to live an authentic life – one that is open, vulnerable and full of love, it is certain that I will experience pain. Not just possible – certain.  Ouch. And sometimes big time OUCH! I reminded myself that even though I was experiencing pain and sadness due to the issues my family faced last year, that same family has brought me immense joy and happiness. I relied on what was in my heart – and on my faith that I was in the right place – to remain hopeful and quell the anxiety that always plagues me at my low points.

Another result of this “marinating” is that I am reminded that even though life is messy, that there can be joy in even the smallest moments. The important thing is to be present – to pay attention – to notice, and to STOP and soak the joy in. For example, I stopped writing for about 30 minutes so that Eric, my significant other Jerry’s son, could climb in my lap to snuggle for a little while.

ericlap2

This is me and Eric snuggling in my office chair. Jerry caught us snuggling, and as usual, he had his camera ready.

He discovered that my office chair rocks. I have a feeling that this could become a favorite snuggle spot in the future, and I am totally fine with that! It made my day – and had I decided to keep going so I could finish my “task”, I would have missed out on a joyous moment.

So when I think about last year – I want to let go of that anxiety. I want to let go of the paralyzing fear that destroys my self-confidence and clouds my heart. I want to let go of my co-dependent tendency to over-fix and focus on other people’s feelings at the expense of my own. I want to let go of the need to cross things off of lists. I want to let go of the self-criticism that happens when I am not at my best.  I will no longer say “I wish I wasn’t wired this way” when I feel pain. I am who I am because of how I am wired – and you know what? I kind of like myself this way. In fact, I have worked really freaking hard to figure myself out – and I have come to accept that my greatest strength of empathy can also be my greatest weakness if I don’t pay enough attention to myself and my own needs.

Thanks to Liz Gilbert’s post on New Year’s Eve, I am reminded that I do a better job of letting go when I take part in some sort of ritual.  I am writing these things on pieces of paper and burning them one by one so that I can physically see them disappear. That way when I am sure to get triggered at some point in the future, I can remember that visual and allow myself to let that feeling go.

And thanks to Liz Gilbert’s post on New Year’s Day, I started my first Happiness Jar. The idea is to write down the things that happen in your day that made you happy on a piece of paper – they can be small things or big things. Liz says “When I say that happiness is a consequence of personal effort, this is kind of thing I’m talking about. I’m talking about showing up, paying attention to the instances of good fortune in your life, putting a spotlight on the small good things, and creating a body of evidence that you are (on ALL days) brushing up against grace. Look for it, and you’ll find it.”

happinessjar

This is my Happiness Jar.

 

Moments like this will help fuel me with the energy and love I will need to endure the painful times ahead.

Welcome 2016! Presence is my mantra. My heart, my eyes and my arms are wide open. And PS – Eric is back on my lap, and I am happy.

 

To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before

Did that get your attention? Now don’t get your hopes up, this post is not a tell-all of my secret past. It is a musing about friendship and what I have learned (and am still learning) about the joys, lessons and power of my female friendships over my almost 44 years.

I have been reflecting about this a lot lately. I used to say that the early twenties are the time when people go through the most change. Now, I am no longer sure that is true…I have been through more change in the last four years of my life that make my early twenties seem easy. Dramatic change can happen at any stage of our life – this I now know firsthand. With so much change, close relationships are bound to change too, ebbing and flowing over the years.

As an adult, I have never been one for large crowds or parties. I actually loathe “networking” because it feels like speed dating. How can I get through three minutes of chit-chat to determine if I have enough in common with this person to use them for job-networking or a potential friendship? Are they going to try to sell my essential oils or something else? Are they trying to get a job at my company? I am just not good at casual relationships – probably because I don’t want to be good at them. I would much rather have great conversation with one or two people than be out in a group of casual acquaintances trying to make a connection of some sort.

So, having close friends has always been important to me. I once said to my friend Maryanne that I collect people.

This is the only picture I have of me and Maryanne. We need to get together Maryanne!

This is the only picture I have of me and Maryanne. We need to get together Maryanne!

Going all the way back to grade school and throughout the various phases of my life, I have “collected” close friends many of which I still connect with today.

Some friendships are as strong as ever with frequent contact. With my local friends, it is fairly easy to regularly get together for lunch, happy hour and an occasional night out. With many of my long distance friends, we meet up for a girls weekend once a year or two, grab dinner when in town, and keep up over Facebook, texts and an occasional phone call. Just this morning, my friends Mary, Beth and I exchanged a few texts about a very hilarious memory we share – a perfect way to start our Sundays with a good laugh.

Me, Beth and Mary at our most recent girls weekend at Beth's cabin, "Lazy Bear"

Me, Beth and Mary at our most recent girls weekend at Beth’s cabin, “Lazy Bear”

Some friendships are strong with infrequent contact. These are the kinds of friends that I may not speak to for many months at a time, but can pick up like it was yesterday. There are no apologies for any lapse, just joy that the connection is still authentic and worthwhile. My friend Megan moved away over a year ago, and she has 2 small children. We are literally having a conversation over a few months via voicemail, texts and Facebook, trying to plan my visit next month. I miss being involved in each other’s daily lives, but I know in my heart (and I hope she knows in hers) that I would be there in an instant if she needed me. Many of my friends fall into this category, and I am so blessed to know we can count on each other to share a joy or a sorrow when we need each other.

Megan and Me at a rally for Elizabeth Colbert-Bush.

Megan and Me at a rally for Elizabeth Colbert-Bush.

Going through so much in recent years, I have grown as a person, and though I have changed, I feel I am more “me” than ever. I know myself a little better, and because I have a very full life with family, friends and career – I am a lot more discerning about where I place my time and energy. I have realized that as I get older, I have less in common “on paper” with my older friendships. Most if not all have never divorced. Most if not all have kids. Some put their careers on hold to take care of their children. I am divorced and never had my own children. I was single for several years as a 40-something, and have been very focused on my career. I am now building a family with my significant other and his wonderful children. One of these things is not like the others…and that thing is usually me!

This means that my friends and I have had to make an effort despite our differences. For most of my friendships we have figured this out. I think one of the keys is that we stay connected through the special memories that we share, and we keep making new ones when we have the chance. We collect more stories to laugh about and share the  next time we see each other…which leads to more stories and so on, and so on.

Another key I think is the respect we have for each other. None of us has walked in the other’s shoes, so it is incredibly important that we reserve judgement and notice, accept and appreciate both our differences and our commonalities.

Finally, we give each other the space to change. When my life was more simple a few years ago, I had more time to be “Auntie Laurie” to my friends kids. I remembered their birthdays and holidays and would send gifts and cards. As they have continued to “multiply” and now I that have my new blended family, I am barely getting out a like on their Facebook or Instagram pages when I see I missed a child’s birthday. I trust that they know how much I still love them and their children – and that I will bring presents when I visit! As my nephew Joseph teases me, he and they are “still in the circle” – I am just redefining what happens in the circle because I know my limitations.

Any effort I put in to these kind of friendships comes back to me many times over. I truly cherish these women, and know that I am a better person because of them.

For all of these women who have had a place in my heart over the years, I am grateful.

I’ve heard it said

That people come into our lives for a reason

Bringing something we must learn

And we are led

To those who help us most, to grow

If we let them

And we help them in return

Well, I don’t know if I believe that’s true

But I know I’m who I am today

Because I knew you…

Like a comet pulled from orbit

As it passes the sun

Like a stream that meets a boulder

Halfway through the wood

Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better?

But because I knew you

I have been changed for good

-”For Good”, WICKED

#MakeItHappen

Today is International Women’s Day, and the theme this year is #makeithappen. I haven’t blogged in a long time – and today I felt inspired to put my thoughts on “paper” (aka cyberspace) for the first time in a while.

To celebrate the day, I want to recognize some pretty fabulous women who inspire me with their wisdom and with their actions to help make the world a better place.

1. Maya Angelou

“People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.”  – Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou’s beautiful prose describes the Golden Rule in a new way, making this my favorite quote all of time. It’s such a powerful reminder to not get stuck in the “he said/she said” – and to really focus on the bigger picture. It’s a tool to help me communicate in a healthy way with my friends, family, and coworkers.

2. Eleanor Roosevelt

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

I can’t hear this one enough – and I can’t share it enough with others. This quote was above my chalkboard all year when I was a middle school teacher, hoping that all of my students would absorb these words into the fiber of their beings by seeing them every day. This quote reminds me that not only am I in control of how I feel about myself, I am also responsible for how I feel about myself. No one else is. It is entirely up to me. This doesn’t mean it is easy to do – it’s not…but when I fall into self-pity, martyrdom and blaming, I try to remember to be accountable to myself…and to do the work that it takes to feel better.

3. Mother Theresa

“In this life, we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love.”- Mother Theresa

These words remind me be intentional with my actions…to stop being so “busy” that I forget why I am doing what I am doing. It also reminds me that I can make a difference in someone’s life with one act of kindness, one phone call, one word, one hug…one whatever – no matter how small it is!

4. Brené Brown

“Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to and embracing who we are.” – Brené Brown

This quote is front and center on my vision board this year (check it out here on Pinterest if you are interested: https://www.pinterest.com/lauriet93/2015-vision-board/) Authenticity has become so important to me that I now call it one of core values. I went through many years not being true to myself, not taking care of myself, and living with a lot of shame because of it. Brené reminds me that I need to do the work – if I practice, I will improve.

5. Ellen Degeneres:

“I stand for honesty, equality, kindness, compassion, treating people the way you want to be treated, and helping those in need. To me, those are traditional values. That’s what I stand for. I also believe in dance.” – Ellen Degeneres

Here’s another authentic rendition of the Golden Rule, along with a reminder to have fun. Earlier this year, I started recording Ellen every day, and I have enjoyed watching immensely! She makes me laugh, cry and think with each episode (shout out to Jimmy V even though it’s International Women’s Day).

6. Oprah Winfrey

Here’s another one from my 2015 Vision Board – because I can’t have a Vision Board or a blog about International Women’s Day without an Oprah mention:

“Biology is the least of what makes someone a mother.”- Oprah Winfrey

Rather than biology – being a mother encompasses all the things I mention already…authenticity, action with intention, making someone else feel loved…these things make me a “Mom” to my significant other’s beautiful children. I don’t need a DNA test, a wedding ring or any other proof for what is in my heart.

And finally I want to mention Patricia Arquette’s speech at the Oscars this year. I know I wasn’t the only one to be completely surprised that her moments on stage were by far the most memorable of the evening. Her shout out for wage equality for women touched a nerve in me. I have heard some pretty frightening stories from my female friends in the workplace lately that have made me burn with rage…usually burning rage is a sign that I care about something deeply and need to do some work to figure out what it is.

In this case, here it is: there are more women than men in the workforce, yet women are paid less than men in all 50 states. I am not suggesting that there should be as many female CEO’s as male (well…maybe as many as male CEO’s named John if you happened to see that crazy story on Facebook that went viral a few weeks ago..If not, check it out here: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2015/03/02/1368049/-More-CEOs-are-men-named-John-than-are-women#).

I AM suggesting that women should be paid the same as men who do the same work. Is there really anything to be argued here? A woman should not be punished in measuring her quota attainment in a sales job because she was on maternity leave. A woman should not be told she can’t be considered for a certain sales territory that requires travel because she has children at home. It is 2015 people. Let’s demand what we deserve. Let’s be authentic, intentional, loving and accountable. Let’s be examples to the children we are raising or helping raise. Let’s #makeithappen.

Take Care! (of yourself)

I started this post on 9/11 and have been struggling crystallizing my thoughts into a cohesive post. Today is the eve of the anniversary of Sandy Hook, and I am determined to finish and post it. I am not sure that it will meet my standards of cohesion, but I decided that I don’t really care. For me, these two events, 911 and Sandy Hook, have touched my the depths of my heart and soul in ways that are impossible to describe. As a result, cohesion is not important to me at the moment. What is important for me is to use my writing to cope with my feelings, and to help me do something about them. And to hopefully inspire someone else out there to do something too.

There is something about this time of year that is so stressful. So many of us make ourselves insane trying to do EVERYTHING to make the holidays incredible. We put an incredible amount of pressure on ourselves to be happy, to make everyone around us happy, to be productive, to be excellent in every aspect of our lives at work and home.

Maybe there is also something about this time in our lives overall. Many of my friends are balancing having their first or second children, contemplating having children, advancing their careers, and/or dealing with illnesses and loss. I suppose it’s mid life crisis time for a lot of us. I seem to have conversation after conversation with friends about the realization that life is hard, and how it gets harder to pause, to be present with ourselves and the people around us. Harder to take care of ourselves. Harder to put ourselves first. Harder to have hope for the future. Harder to stop and find meaning and purpose amidst the busyness, stress and chaos in our lives.

We set ourselves up to fail with the notion of having it all – whatever that even means these days. But this is not a post about Sheryl Sandberg or the debate her book ensued. This post is about how the deep sadness of Sandy Hook and 911 make me pause in a way that no other events in my lifetime have done.

So I am sitting here on my couch, reflecting on what I want to share. And it’s this. It’s the same thing I have said to my friends in these deep conversations, and to myself when I am present enough to pause and catch myself: You are not crazy. What you are feeling is completely normal and legitimate. Don’t listen when people tell you to “stop feeling” a certain way. That’s impossible. How do you stop a feeling? Stuffing feelings is like playing Whack-a-Mole – a “stuffed” feeling pops up in other places over and over again until they are dealt with. The best thing you can do for yourself is to take care of yourself.

I have written these words before – but I am writing it again because I feel it’s a universal truth worth repeating over and over again. Self care is not selfish. It is essential. It’s the key to my peace, my sanity and my hope for my present and future. I didn’t really know how to do this until I got help for myself a few years ago. My coach Sherry has taught me to create an achievable goal for each area of my life. This is my most recent list from this week:

  • Emotional: Take time to journal this week about what is happening in my life.
  • Physical: Get a massage.
  • Mental: Finish reading my most recent book purchase, “Selling with a Noble Purpose” and execute on my business plans at work for 2014.
  • Spiritual: Perform an “Act of Kindness” on the Sandy Hook Anniversary this Saturday with my mom by sponsoring a family in need for the holidays.
  • Relational: Bring my Grandma’s homemade soup to my friend who just had a beautiful baby girl.

When I take the time to make my list and to complete them, it’s amazing how momentum builds. Don’t forget about wise Newton and the laws of motion. An object in motion stays in motion. An object at rest stays at rest.

So – do something to take care of yourself today, and better yet – do 5 things in each of those areas to really practice self care. And ask for help if you need it because you are not alone!

“We need to give up on what no longer works and find new ways of being that keeps us close to what matters.”

-Mark Nepo

13 Going On (Insert your age)

Yesterday I returned from a trip to New York City with my niece Jana, where we celebrated her 13th birthday. We had a blast! This was Jana’s first trip to New York – where she experienced some other firsts including her first cab ride and her first Broadway show.

We saw Wicked, did the NBC Studio Tour where we saw the SNL and Today show studios, took amazing pictures from the top of the Empire State Building, met LOTS AND LOTS of celebrities (statues that is…at the Wax Museum)…and shopped until we dropped. Jana even got to meet a bunch of famous “Viners” in the Village and wound up in one of their videos. If you don’t know what Vine is…sorry – that would take way too much explaining and is NOT what this blog post is about. And if you aren’t a teenager, or don’t have a teenager – you don’t want to know anyway.

The 82 Floor Observatory at the Empire State Building

The 82 Floor Observatory at the Empire State Building

I stole the idea of taking my nieces and nephews on a trip for their 13th birthday from my friend Megan. When she shared the idea with me a few years ago, I immediately starting making plans with my oldest nephew Joseph, whom I took to Chicago last summer.

In Chicago, Joseph and I saw the Tigers play the Cubs at Wrigley, went to the Adler Planetarium, the Field Museum, the Museum of Science & Industry, the Lincoln Park Zoo, the Shedd Aquarium AND the top of the Sears (technically the Willis Tower – does anyone even call it that?) Tower. We also saw at least three 3D movies (fell asleep during one of them) and got free Conan shirts from a vending machine on the street. All in three days. Aren’t you tired just reading about it??

From the top of the Sears (aka Willis) Tower

From the top of the Sears (aka Willis) Tower

Because I don’t have children, I have showered my nieces and nephews with my maternal energy since they were born…and as many of my friends can vouch – I have also adopted their children as my extended niece and nephew family. These special trips with the kids are just as much for me as they are for them. Part of me is probably subconsciously making sure the kids don’t forget me about me eventually in my old age if I don’t end up with children of my own…But truly, these relationships are so important to me that they truly are a big part of who I am.

Turning 13 is a big milestone for a kid. I remember when I turned 13 myself and can vividly recall the challenges of middle school. Are you cringing like I am remembering what it was like?? Yikes I don’t want to do that again! And I didn’t have to deal with a fraction of what kids have to deal with today…

A major reason I do this trip is to recognize the kids for this rite of passage, and to strengthen our bond before they enter a tough phase of their lives. I want to be sure that they know they have another person who cares deeply about them – someone that will be there if they find themselves in trouble and need help or advice. Plus, I want to have the right when/if they act out in their teenage years to call them out in a way that is different than a parent. Both Joseph and Jana have experienced this with me already – and I think they know what I mean!

I remember the first time I went to New York City with my family when I was 15, and remember taking pictures from the top of the World Trade Buildings, and seeing the Statue of Liberty for the first time. I remember seeing my first Broadway show, A Chorus Line, with my mom and sister, and going to my first Yankees game via the Subway. I also remember my first time in Chicago during my freshman year of college at Notre Dame. My roommate Diane and I took a bus to Michigan Avenue for a day of sightseeing and shopping. I had never seen an 8-story department store before!

New York and Chicago became my favorite cities to visit over the years, and I wanted to Joseph and Jana to have similar experiences of their first trips that they will hopefully remember when they are my age and much older. Through these trips, I want my nieces and nephews to start to see the world as a big place that is entirely accessible and full of possibility for them.

I can’t wait (though my pocket book can) for when my younger nephews and niece Dillon, Bridget and Trevor are old enough for their trips. I look forward to making similar memories with them, and to re-living my trips with Joseph and Jana over the years.

And in the meantime, as always, I look forward to my regular day to day lives with ALL of my nieces and nephews – Sessa’s and Cugliari’s, and all of my adopted ones too. I hope they know and feel how special each one of them is to me.

Signed, Auntie Laurie