When Kids Get it And We Don’t

Over Easter weekend, I heard some real horror stories about adults at Easter Egg hunts. Two people I know actually witnessed an adult take an Easter Egg from a small child! A parent told me disgustedly about a woman at a big local event who hoarded eggs on behalf of her toddler, and was then visibly angry when her child, having “collected” the most eggs, was only awarded the same “participation prize” that all the other (obviously less savvy) toddlers received. People were walking away from these events completely disheartened, surprised that fights hadn’t broken out! Needless to say, I went into the weekend a little leery and nervous. You see, this year was the first year that my own daughter, age 4, had expressed any interest in Easter Egg hunting. And let me tell you, she’s been all about it! So, even though we didn’t plan to go to any of the big public events, I was still concerned about how egg hunting might go just between her and her friends. I didn’t want the experience to be negative, for the kids or for the adults.

For our first hunt, we went to a friend’s house who has a 3 year old boy. We did the old fashioned egg dye, and then she and I hid the 2 dozen freshly colored eggs in their back yard for the kids to find. Simple fun. The laid back hunt threatened intensity, however, when the early on, the two kids went for the same egg at the same time! We both cringed when her son’s face showed the classic signs of being crushed, as my daughter got to the egg a moment before he did! But what happened next changed the course of the entire weekend for me. Her son bounced back from his temporary setback pretty quickly and went for another egg. But rather than grab and keep running, he stopped. And called out my daughter’s name. He pointed the egg out to her and wanted her to have it! All the damn feelsThis kid single-handedly turned the egg hunt from a Hunger Games style competition into a share fest. The kids hunted the eggs together, then when they found them all, they insisted on hiding them together for my friend and I to find. How did it change my weekend, you ask? Because the same thing happened the next day. We went to another friend’s house and hid probably 100 eggs in their yard for our 3 girls to find. Only this time there were plastic eggs filled with toys, candy and coins. The stakes were higher! After one potential confrontation over an egg, though, the girls started hunting together, calling each other for the eggs they had found. When all was said and done, the girls ended up with about the same number of eggs. And better yet? They opened them all together and shared what they found inside.

I walked away from Easter weekend feeling completely renewed in my hope for the future, if these kids have anything to do with it. I was so proud of our kids, and convinced for once that we might be doing something right. These kids get it! Even when we sometimes don’t. I took the following away from these little darlings, which I share with you now:

  1. Disappointment is not the end of the world. Sometimes it’s just the beginning of an even better story. Think of all the things you never thought you’d make it through. Yet here you are, making it through. If we never experienced disappointment, then our sense of appreciation would be so diminished, and we would have so much less opportunity to experience empathy and growth.
  2. Caring for others is sometimes the best way to care for ourselves. Sure, we all have crappy things happen to us all the time. But so does everyone else. We can make it all about us, or we can see an opportunity to do something nice for someone else. Even when we don’t necessarily have everything we want. Sometimes that ends up being the thing that makes it better for all of us, ourselves included.
  3. Pay it Forward. What if we only got what we deserved? I’m not sure I would have much! But I have been the recipient of the grace of God and others on more occasions than I can count. So, anytime we can gift that grace to someone else, we’re only increasing the presence of goodness in our world. So, when you see, receive, or love something awesome, share it. Make it bigger, because good should grow.

Have you learned any important life lessons from a child? Share you story in the comments!

This post also appears on HuffPost Blogs

Treat Them Like You Did When You Were Dating

My ex-husband and I had two wedding anniversaries. The long story short is that we got engaged, planned and paid for a gorgeous destination wedding, then he found out he had Crohn’s disease, but didn’t have health insurance. So, on a rainy weekday, on very little notice to anyone, we got married in the Courthouse so he could be on my health insurance before his next doctor visit. We went ahead with the destination wedding, too. So, we celebrated both. In our years together, we created the most beautiful creature I’ve ever seen, our daughter. We had some amazing times. But we also struggled. Hard. So hard in fact that just as suddenly as we married, I stopped fighting for our marriage and we got divorced. On another weekday, seven years later than the first one, I abruptly said that I wasn’t coming home that night, and I never came back. A week later, I filed for divorce. I think back to when I was willing to marry this man on a moment’s notice in the rain, and I think about where we are today, virtual strangers who can barely get along well enough to co-parent our gorgeous daughter, and I wonder how we got to such a different place.

I can say this: At times, we were the ones to hurt each other the most deeply, and the ones to crush each other’s spirits in ways that no one else quite could. Those moments are the ones that change the dynamic forever and destroy the bond. I spend a lot of time now thinking about how people can prevent these moments and keep their bond intact. I’m no expert, obviously, but I’ve learned some things over the course of marrying and divorcing that I’d like to share. You may be surprised to know that I actually wrote most of this piece right before I left my marriage and filed for divorce. The fight we had over me writing this story was the one that made me realize I didn’t want to fight anymore. So, this advice was gathered by me too late to save my own marriage, and maybe even contributed to me knowing that what I had could not be salvaged. But I still write it in the hope that I can learn from it moving forward, and that others, who aren’t past the point of no return can also.

Last year I shared a story on my personal Facebook page about an encounter I had at the grocery. I saw a little old man pushing a small cart with a gorgeous bouquet of roses on top. I told him they were beautiful and asked him if he was planning on making someone’s day? “Yeah, my wife!” he says, “She’s been my princess for 43 years now!” I thought about how, after all those years of marriage, this man was treating his wife: like his princess, like the girl he fell in love with, like the girl he was working to keep. That’s the way we all treat our spouse when we’re first dating them. But, life and jobs and mortgages and comfort levels start creeping into the relationship and wearing away at that magic. Before we know it, if we aren’t careful, we can end up in a place that we aren’t sure how we got to. I started thinking that if we all made the effort, like this wise fellow, to treat our spouse like we did when we were dating, that maybe things wouldn’t be so hard.

So that might look something like this:

Be willing to listen and talk. You know the feeling when you first meet someone special. You talk for hours and hours on end. You’re dying to know everything about the other person and tell them everything about you. You are delighted by the similarities and the differences. You are inspired and enamored by each other’s hopes and dreams, so much so that you want to be a part of them. But as the years roll on, we stop listening. We talk over each other. We stop really talking at all. It’s not a good time, there’s too many other things to do right now. I don’t want to hear all the negativity I know will come if I speak my mind. We don’t open our ears, hearts, or words to each other in that free flowing way that once felt so natural. We lose sight of each other’s hopes and dreams, and we stop getting to know each other. But it doesn’t have to be so. People often say they married their best friend, so keep being that best friend. Talk, long and often. Yes, you have laundry to do, so talk while you’re folding. Listen when your partner wants to daydream about whatever topic it is he loves that you stopped caring about 3 years ago. Get back to making your spouse the first person you really talk things through with, and really listen when they talk it through with you.

Fight fair. Was there ever a time in our relationship when my ex-husband and I didn’t fight? Hell no! We are both extremely opinionated and head strong people, and one of us is a lawyer, for Pete’s sake. We argued. We always argued. But when we were dating it was different. We had better boundaries. When one of us said something completely irrational and ridiculous, the other just refused to engage, without hurting the other person. There was no spiraling downhill in a race to outdo each other with the most meaningful insults and the deepest wounds. No drudging up of sins of the past and old hurts. There wasn’t this compulsive need to over engage every word. We would just let the other person know that whatever was happening was not ok and we found a way to make it stop. It didn’t have to be more complicated than that, and it really doesn’t now. We’re parents now. We’re 40. We take ourselves more seriously, but that doesn’t mean we have more of a right to be right all the time. We have more of a duty to preserve the peace, if anything, and that simply means that we return to knowing how to live within appropriate boundaries, knowing when to engage and when to let go.

Make the Effort. If there’s one thing I picked up from my friend at the grocery, it’s the effect of continuing to make the effort. I was blown away by those beautiful flowers. I can only imagine how his wife felt when she saw them. When we’re dating, there is nothing we won’t do to try to impress the person we love. We connect with them physically as often and as thoughtfully as we can, buy them gifts, take them out to their favorite places, introduce them to all the things we love, do lots of big and small things that we think will mean something to them and make their life easier. There isn’t so much of a focus on hitting or missing the other person’s love language, because we are speaking every love language. Doing everything in our power to show that other person how we feel and gauge how they feel. And they receive every kind gesture from us with beaming admiration and gratitude. Fast forward a few years and we are skating by doing maybe the minimum we know is required at special occasions. Our efforts are expected rather than appreciated, or are looked upon with criticism and cynicism. If we don’t read our partner’s mind exactly, they harshly assume that we’ve fallen asleep at the wheel. When you’re at the point now that you’ve built your lives around each other, you have so much more invested than when you were in the honeymoon phase. So, why not see that for what it is, the greatest gift you’ve ever been given. And treat it accordingly. If you’re willing to hang the moon for your boyfriend or girlfriend, be willing to make the moon from scratch for your husband or wife.

This is one divorced gal’s take on how love can be improved upon and sustained. What would you add to the conversation? What have your relationships taught you?

The Magic of Support

I’ve been a bit intentionally quiet on social media and the blog for a few weeks. So, I’ll just bite the bullet and say it: *deep breath* I filed for divorce a few weeks ago. I haven’t said anything, because frankly I don’t know what to say. There are very few ways to handle divorce diplomatically, so I don’t want to make a bad situation worse by inviting in the world. But, I finally decided to write because there is one aspect of this situation that deserves to be discussed right now, and that I couldn’t afford to fail to mention. That’s the unbelievable support of my friends and family. As we age and our relationships change, evolve, die and grow stronger, I think each of us struggles with how to be a great support to the people we love the most. I struggle with it often, and have found that at times I’ve been extremely helpful to people in their hour of need, and at other times I’ve really dropped the ball. So, in my attempt to both thank the folks whose support has kept me afloat these past few weeks, and to offer some thoughts for those struggling with how to be of real help to others, I offer my thoughts on how the support of my family and friends has been the most magical and helpful thing in my life lately.

Go with your strength

I always admire the one friend who is super organized about bringing exactly the right, perfectly timed, easy to heat dinner dish to their friends who have just had a baby, or suffered a loss, or whatever they’re going through that renders them unlikely to prepare meals in the way that they should during this stressful time. I try to be that friend sometimes, except that I can’t cook that well, don’t have too much free time on my hands, and am generally awkward with my timing. So, I usually just end up feeling guilty that my effort is a few days too late, doesn’t look like a Pinterest win, or is not quite as organized or helpful as I intended it to be. I made this great plan to try to come up with easy casserole recipes so I could just be ready to go when the next birth or funeral rolled around, and then I finally realized I’m not that girl! I can’t cook that well. I don’t have much free time on my hands. I’m generally awkward with my timing.

So, where does that leave me? Well, let me tell you what I can do: Paperwork. I’m a lawyer for crying out loud. If you have forms that need to be filled out, companies that need to be contacted, big blurbs of legal words that need to be interpreted, stuff that needs to be arranged, I’m your girl! I can research like nobody’s business. So, I’ve finally realized that the best things I have to offer my friends and family are the things I’m good at. And people need those things, too! (Yes, I would love to research setting up a trust for your baby while you eat Susie’s delicious casserole…)

The same is true for you. Whatever kind of friend you are – be that friend! I am blessed 1000 times over to have a diverse enough group of friends and family that somebody in the group has everything covered. I have friends who call and text religiously to just make sure I’m doing ok. They are literally willing to talk and listen until every freaking word about this situation has been said. Twice. I have a few who aren’t as hands on, but are so ride or die that when I call and say I need something, they’re on it. Like when Marcellus sends out “The Wolf” in Pulp Fiction. I have financially savvy friends who have helped me rework my finances so I can hang on to my house as a single mom. My mom isn’t one to have long, emotional conversations, but she sure is letting me, my daughter, and my dog(!) live in her house for a few weeks. If every friend was the same, the benefits of friendship would be limited. So, embrace your strengths as a friend and do the stuff you’re good at. Don’t beat yourself up for not being what someone else is. It’s all needed, and it is ALL appreciated.

Just Say It

I’ve had a lot of trouble opening up about this divorce because I’ve honestly been afraid of the feedback I would get from people. I expect to be judged, even if only through underhanded suggestions or questions about why we didn’t try harder. Honestly, I often feel that way when I hear about other people getting divorced, so why wouldn’t people feel that way toward me?  So, imagine my surprise when I’ve heard several people say to me that they are proud of me for making this decision for myself and for my daughter. It stops me in my tracks every time. It takes my breath away. I wouldn’t do something this drastic if I didn’t think it was the right thing for all of us, but I don’t expect other people to see it that way, and I certainly don’t expect them to say it.

The point of this rambling? To let you know how important it is to say whatever little supportive things you’re thinking to the people you care about. It makes a huge difference. And if you don’t know what to say, but you know something needs to be said, that’s ok, too. Just say something. People aren’t stupid, we’re trained social media specialists, and we can sense when something is off. Many of those people have taken a moment to drop me a message or call just to see if everything is ok. They don’t know what is going on, but they know something is. When I tell them I’m getting divorced, they don’t always know what to say, but they say something. Sometimes it is meaningful and brilliant, other times it’s just letting me know I’m on their mind. When you’re feeling like a fish out of water, those little drops of rain feel like everything.  So, if someone you know is going through something and you’re thinking a thought that you’re debating whether to say, say it. If you’re debating whether to say something at all, say it. You never know when your words give someone the little bit of confidence, love, courage or strength they need to face the day.

What would you add to this conversation? Let me know in the comments.

 

 

12 Tips for Awesome Travel with your Kids

Disclaimer: my posts contain affiliate links, which means I might receive a commission if you click on a link or purchase a product. I only endorse products which I have used and enjoy!

In my last post, I gave you all my best arguments for why I think you should travel with kids. To further convince that you it’s doable, I’ve put together 12 tips for how to make traveling with kids easy and stress free.

Be Prepared. Traveling with kids is not necessarily different than traveling with anyone else. Preparing is the key to ensuring a smooth trip. Here are some essentials for prepared travel with kids:

    1. Children of any age need a passport for international travel. Read up on the State Department’s rules so you don’t waste your time making more than one trip to the passport office.
    2. Look for travel gadgets that make traveling with kids easier. If there is something you’re having a hard time planning around, I guarantee someone else has had this problem and invented a solution. My new favorite is one I learned about from another mom friend. I dread lugging a car sear around a long vacation where I’ll only need it sparingly. This vest offers safety in 1000 times more convenient fashion. I can’t wait to use for my family’s upcoming cruise!
    3. The only time you’ll probably be pressed to entertain your kids is during the “travel” leg of the trip. So, bring stuff to do for the car or plane ride. New toys will entertain them the most.
    4. Research your vacation for kid-friendly amenities. Know what food options are available. Know what kids’ activities are offered. Know the minimum ages for kids to participate in activities so they won’t be left out of things they are looking forward to. Tripadvisor reviews typically offer a ton of behind the scenes advice from other travelers, as well as parent forums. Also consider using a travel agent if this research seems daunting. (Travel agents typically receive their commissions from the companies you book through them,  so you don’t pay them directly for their services.)

Set the Vibe. Your kids will react to your energy. If you’re nervous and stressed, or really worried about how your kids are going to behave, you can guarantee they will act like donkeys. Here are some ways to keep yourself calm, which will in turn add to your kids’ calm:

  1. Tell them and yourself what to expect as you’re moving through the trip. The uncertainty can be unnerving to you all. Letting everyone know what is happening and what is coming next can go a long way in soothing anxiety.
  2. Enjoy the process. Relax and take in what’s going on around you, even if you don’t consider it the “fun” part of the trip. My daughter’s excited “oooooooh!” as the plane lifts off the ground is pure joy for me, and relaxes me into enjoying the anxious parts of take off.
  3. Take your time if you need to. If you think you’re holding other people up, invite them to go around you. We all know that kids move way slower than we do, so giving yourselves the extra time will help you keep your head on straight without getting frustrated with yourself or your kids and losing your cool.
  4. Prepare for the people around you. If you think your baby may cry during a flight, and it may stress you out, consider what you can use as a peace offering to your fellow travelers. Maybe a set of ear plugs with a note and some candy for those seated near you. Chances are, the other travelers won’t be as bothered as you think they will, but you will be calmer feeling like you’ve connected with them a little, and they will undoubtedly appreciate the gesture.

It doesn’t have to break the bank. Adding one or more kids to your travel mix definitely adds up, but you can save money in several places if you’re deal saavy.

  1. Sign your kids up for travel rewards. If you’re paying for them to travel, they are eligible to receive the same travel rewards you are. My 3 year old has her own Delta Skymiles account, so she’s racking up miles just like we are.
  2. Shop for credit card rewards. Many “travel” credit cards will offer a one time or recurring benefit for opening the card. You might get a free companion airline ticket every year with your paid ticket, you might get enough bonus miles or points for a hotel night or plane ticket, etc. Then with every purchase on the card, you earn additional points or miles. I use these often and strategically to plan all my travel. When I’m gearing up for a trip, I will use one of the travel cards to start banking points on a particular hotel or airline.
  3. Familiarize yourself with your airline and hotel offerings for traveling with kids. Some examples? Kids under 1 can usually fly free if you hold them. Most airlines don’t charge you to check a car seat or stroller. You can also check your stroller free at the gate if you want to use it in the airport. Many hotels will provide a roll away crib or pack n play of some sort for free.
  4. Find out if there is a free or reduced price amenity for children under a certain age. This can save you hundreds of dollars when you’re traveling with young kids, from plane fare to park or excursion costs to meals. Many places allow kids under 1, 2, 3 or 4 to participate for free, so always make sure to check a website or ask.

I’ve put together what I consider to be the most important thoughts for traveling with kids, but I know you have more! What tips or questions would you add to the list? Let me know in the comments.

Don’t be Afraid to Travel with Kids!

Disclaimer: my posts contain affiliate links, which means I may receive a commission if you click a link or buy a product. I only endorse products which I have used and enjoy!

Have you ever considered traveling with your children or someone else’s? Is the idea a bit daunting to say the least? I love to travel, and generally include my 3 year old daughter on most trips that I plan these days. I’ve had people tell me that she won’t remember the trip, it’s too much trouble to take her, she won’t enjoy it and neither will I. People think I’m crazy to take her on big trips. When asking for advice on traveling with kids, several people have advised simply, “Don’t!” I disagree, and have found the following huge benefits from traveling with my daughter.

Taking in the majesty of the ocean for the first time with my daughter
Taking in the majesty of the ocean for the first time with my daughter

Why travel with kids?

It allows you to really relax and enjoy yourself alongside the kids. Even though traveling with kids can have hectic moments, if you’re prepared, there will also be many moments of enjoying all the things you came to do. That’s essential for family bonding (even extended family or friend bonding if you’re traveling with someone else’s kids). As a parent, your only relaxed, happy time shouldn’t be when your kids aren’t there. They will relish in having you laying back, basking in the sun and playing, as much as you will adore seeing them do the same. If you travel with kids, you will learn to relax together, and get to see a different side of each other. You’ll get to know each other better. The same benefits you reap from travel will also extend to the kids. My husband and I took our daughter on a cruise when she was 2, and we all came back very relaxed and recharged together. We all slept great on the trip and some of the sleep and behavior issues we had been seeing with her before the trip completely disappeared.

Nap time in our pool cabana in Orlando
Nap time in our pool cabana in Orlando

It will help you and your kids learn to travel without fear. If you can travel with a baby, you can travel with anyone. If you travel with your kids when they are babies, you’ll become an old pro. So by the time they are old enough to really be aware of the travel, things will go much more smoothly because you’ll know what you’re doing. So will they. My daughter is 3 and she has been on 4 flying vacations, 1 driving vacation, and a cruise. She has zero apprehension about getting on a plane and is pretty well behaved in flight. We got the nerves and uncertainty of traveling together out of the way when she was an infant.

Ready for Take Off
Ready for Take Off

Even if kids don’t remember the trip, you will, and you’ll have pictures to for you and the kids to look back on. People have a terrible tendency of wanting to put off things until the “right time.” If you try to wait until kids will understand and enjoy every aspect of your vacation, you may be old and tired, you may be divorced, heck you may be gone. The fact of the matter is, your memories matter, too. And if you remember watching the sun set over the Caribbean while your beautiful baby slept on your chest, that is a powerful memory in your story. If you have a picture to show your child of this later, you’re also able to show her how it’s part of her story. I’ve already taken my daughter to Disney World with one of my girl friends who had also never been. Will my daughter remember it when she’s 10? Who knows. But, it was a great opportunity for my friend and I to spend some time together that we had been missing since I started a family, a great chance for her to get to know my daughter. My daughter also has a hard cover photo book to look back on, and if there comes a day when I’m no longer here to take her to Disney, thank God that we went when she was too little to remember, and that she can look back on those photos. (Want to make your own photo book? Here’s a coupon from the site I used, Walgreen’s, to help get you started 40% OFF Photo Books w/ code CREATENEW)

Happiest Place on Earth
Making Memories

It’s better than any formal education you can provide for a child. I had a teacher say this to me, and I couldn’t agree more. We can see the world on tv, we can read about it in books, but nothing compares to experiencing it in real life: tasting the food, meeting the people, hearing the language roll off the tongues of the natives, drinking in the landscape with our own eyes. As a kid, one of my biggest mindset problems growing up in a small town was that the whole world seemed as small and limiting as my town. The boundaries of the world seemed to start and end in my town. I found out that the world was big and the possibilities within it were bigger by traveling. I didn’t see many people who looked like me in my town growing up, but I’ve seen people who look like me in the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Italy and Greece (though none of my background is from those places). How’s that for feeling like a citizen of the world? Want the kids in your life to understand the similarities and differences between themselves and others? Show them. Want them to appreciate the majesty of God’s undyingly beautiful creation? Show them. Want them to believe the sky is the limit? Show them!

Delanie on the beach in Roatan, Honduras
Delanie on the beach in Roatan, Honduras

So, have I convinced you to travel with kids? Share your experiences or philosophy on traveling with kids in the comments, and stay tuned for next week’s follow up piece with practical tips for traveling with kids.

Cruising the High Seas
Cruising the High Seas

This post also appears on Huffington Post.

How to Turn 40 on Your Own Terms

Today is my 40th birthday. If you ask people their thoughts on turning 40, you’re sure to get a lot of strong and varied reactions. Of them all, I think I was the most surprised to hear how much fear and disappointment my own friends expressed when they talked about 40. I heard it in deep conversations about our lives, and I read it in seriousness and in jest when I asked my Facebook friends their thoughts about turning 40. I collected those feelings here, both to honor the struggles of my friends in turning 40, and to find some commonality among us all. I hope that by realizing we’re all in this together, my friends and I can conquer 40, on our own terms, regardless of where we are in our journey.

One of the most common fears people expressed to me about turning 40 was the physical reality of getting older, their bodies falling apart. Some are battling cancer, while others worry more seriously that it’s coming. We are increasingly losing our parents, friends, and the icons of our youth. We still feel young on the inside, but our skin, hair, and bodies look and feel a little older on the outside. We don’t have the time or energy we once had, and it scares us.

With the fear, many expressed disappointment at the realization that they weren’t where they thought they’d be, or that things hadn’t turned out the way they thought they would. Some friends are working at a job that isn’t making the most of their skills or dreams. Others thought they’d be married or have kids by now. Changes have happened that they don’t know how to bounce back from. They don’t know who they are or where they’re going, when they thought they would by now.

The things I loved hearing, though, were people fighting through the fear and disappointment to start living at 40! Some of the most inspiring stories involved people really putting themselves out there when they realized their story wasn’t playing out the way they thought it would.  One friend started practicing law at 40, while another became a nurse. A single, professional gay friend, expecting that he’d have already settled down, found the courage to publicly enter the gay dating scene and met the love of his life. One friend found herself feeling lost as her daughter grew up and neared leaving home. She reinvented herself, starting with her hair, and went back to school. I have friends running their first marathon, or finally losing the weight they’ve been trying to shed for years. People are finding the courage to get pregnant, adopt, or bring “fur babies” into their home, when they thought 40 would look very different than this. Perhaps because they thought 40 would look very different than this.

So, why such different reactions to 40? Having talked to many people, it’s definitely not the absence of fear or disappointment. I think we all have the same fears and disappointments, just about different things. We’ve all loved and lost, gotten some of the things we wanted and sorely missed on others. So from what I’ve seen, the people who are crushing it at 40 are just choosing to do something different about their fears and disappointments.


What does this look like for me? Well, when I was in elementary school, I decided I was going to write a book. I’ve always loved to write. I thought by 40 I’d have that book written. But somewhere along the way, I lost the habit of writing for fun. In college, writing poems turned into writing papers. As a new lawyer, I only wrote legal briefs. In my 30’s, I still wanted to write something else, but I was out of practice, struggling to find the right place or voice to express myself meaningfully about things other than the law. Approaching 40, I feared that I wasn’t devoting enough of myself to following my passions and making an impact. I was disappointed that I hadn’t done more with my personal potential. Writing came to back to my mind. I realized that in blogging, I could do something I loved, that would also help me grow personally. I could share what I was learning along the way with others who might benefit or just enjoy reading. As a result, my blog was my birthday gift to myself! Best. Gift. Ever.

What can this look like for you? It depends. Assess your current base. What fears, troubles, items on your bucket list, or goals are gnawing at the back of your mind? And more importantly, what is holding you back?!  Once you know what direction you want to go, here are ways to get there:

Take Care of Yourself

One of the funny, sad realities of 40 is that we’re generally at home in bed by 10:00, even on the weekend nights. We can view that as yet another indicator that we’re getting old, or we can recognize that that we’re taking care of ourselves! 40 is a great time to get serious about our bodies. We have enough life experience and wisdom to know how to tackle it. We have enough fear of our mortality to have the real motivation to do it. Hopefully, we have more resources and ability.

Love Others

One great lesson people are learning at 40 is gratitude and appreciation for their loved ones. We love our family more fiercely because we’ve learned how important family is. We’ve loved and lost, so we hold on and enjoy the moment. We cry with each other because we know how it feels. Our friendships have weathered the tests of time and the changes of circumstance, so our friends are like family. Really like family. If you worry about losing people or not being around for them, do yourself the favor of giving them your best now.

Be Yourself

So many people expressed to me how old 40 sounds to them, and how they just can’t believe they are turning 40. The people who are making the best of it are wearing that number 40 like a badge of pride. We can take what we’ve learned in these years and allow ourselves to just. be. ourselves. We can let our awareness of time cause us to smell the roses and let go of the bad. To know when to say no and when to say yes. The beauty of finding yourself truly manifests when you find the courage to be yourself and do the things you’ve always wanted to do.

Let your Path Change

The one thing I hope more than all the others, is that we’ll be kind enough to grant ourselves the grace to change our path.  To simply rewrite our story when we realize things aren’t the way we thought they would be. And to write it with love and forgiveness for ourselves and others. We can incorporate the wisdom, humility, gratitude and self-trust we have collected over these years into our new goals. We can abandon the needling opinions of others, or the judgey voices in our heads, for something more compatible with our 40 year old reality. As a result, our new direction will be meaningful, realistic, and kind.

I’m excited about turning 40. For me, each decade has been better than the last. Since 30, my career has grown to include personal and professional freedom. I’ve started a family, so the loneliness I often felt as a young professional has been replaced with busy love. I’ve taken a more active role in my health, and am feeling better than I have in a long time. I’m in a generally good place, but I’m also really ready to grow! Share your thoughts – what did 40 bring for you, or what are you most anticipating about it?

This post also appears on Huffington Post.

How Quitting Sugar Changed My Life

Disclosure: My posts contain affiliate links, which means I may get a commission if you click a link or buy a product. I only endorse products or brands which I have used and enjoy!

You hear people talk about getting older and how your body starts to fall apart, like it’s inevitable. For me, the falling apart really started when I had my daughter at age 36. I put on a whopping 65 pounds during my pregnancy. Though I took care myself otherwise and felt pretty decent during those 9 months, the aftermath was another thing. Lack of sleep, body deprived of nutrients, and hormones out of whack was a recipe for disaster. I spend the next 3 years never feeling great, struggling with fatigue, carrying around an extra 5-15 pounds, and constantly battling the nagging notion that I felt down. I felt more irrational and a little more emotionally volatile than ever before. My medical tests said I was healthy, but I just didn’t feel good.

So, right after Christmas when my mom suggested that I read the book The Body Ecology Diet: Recovering Your Health and Rebuilding Your Immunity and do the diet with her for 90 days, I figured what the heck? What do I possibly have to lose at this point? I can’t feel much worse than I do now. This diet sounds strict and hard to follow, but it’s not easy feeling this way, either.

I won’t go into all the details about the diet itself, but the main premise that the diet focuses on is building up the health of your digestive system, since all your health originates in your gut. You cut out foods that take a toll on your digestive system, like wheat and sugar, and eat whole foods and foods that promote healthy digestion, like fermented foods. You can read more about it here: About Body Ecology

The kicker for me was giving up sugar! I have the worst sweet tooth in the world. I crave sugar like nobody’s business. But reading through the book and seeing some of the symptoms sugar addiction can cause in our bodies, I realized that I was definitely addicted to sugar, and it might be the reason for many of the negative symptoms I was experiencing that I mentioned above.

I’ve made dietary changes a few times over my life, and have found several things that work, so long as you are ready to commit to them and follow through. However, that commitment is often tested, so you have to have support in place to help you through the weak moments. My motivation for this round was simple: I wasn’t focused on losing weight, looking a certain way, or being a certain size, I was only focused on how I would feel. I read somewhere that focusing on how you feel provides much stronger motivation to stick with a dietary change than focusing on how you look or how much you weigh. I found that to be very true in starting out this journey.

So, how did I feel?

I’m not going to lie, the first few days, I felt like I was detoxing off drugs! (Or so I would imagine, having no actual experience there.) I had a headache, craved sugar like my life depended on it, and even came home from work and went to bed early. But then, on the third day, I felt glorious! I felt like I had enough energy to conquer the world! My sugar cravings decreased so dramatically that when I would cheat and have a taste of something sweet, I often found it too rich to finish. This was a true first for me! What’s more, without sugar in the mix, I found that my cravings for all foods diminished. I could eat a meal to satisfy my body’s nutritional needs and stop eating easily as soon as I started to feel satisfied, rather than constantly giving in to some craving or always still feeling a little “hungry.”

Over the next month or so my energy level had waves of good and just ok. So, I watched some of the podcasts in Body Ecology’s free 30-Day Detox Challenge to get other ideas of things I could do to boost my health along with the diet. One in particular that resonated with me, was the use of the supplement Taurine (I used this particular brand) for its potential to increase the energy level and help regulate calm moods.

Into the second month of the diet, I found myself feeling consistently energetic and good! My moods completely stabilized, to the point that I was no longer feeling the huge emotional waves and nagging bouts of sadness. I felt very even keeled and level headed. The fog had truly lifted. On top of that, I lost 15 pounds without using any portion control, counting any calories, or even exercising very religiously. (Although, I do have to say, when I’ve worked exercise into the mix, it has always made me feel even better.)

So what now?

It’s hard to make a permanent lifestyle of a diet that cuts out sugar, wheat, and dairy. But, because of the great results I’ve seen, I’ve put a lot of effort into incorporating these changes into my lifestyle as consistently as I’m able. Here are some of the tools I’ve found to help make this a lasting change:

  • Know that it’s ok to cheat sometimes. If you’re going to a party, you can have a piece of cake. Just observe how that cake makes you drag and feel not quite your best, and remember that so you don’t make a regular habit of it. If you’re really just struggling with temptation, ask yourself how eating this thing will make you feel afterward, really think through that, and try to find a healthy alternative. If you slip up, just get back to doing what makes you feel best right away.
  • Speaking of healthy alternatives, the one product I couldn’t have made it through this diet without is Stevia. (It comes in many forms, liquid, powder, or tablets for hot drinks, but this is my favorite every day version.) Unlike sugar, Stevia won’t raise your glycemic index. It is calorie free, and it is not an artificial sweetener. It comes from the Stevia plant, which is naturally much sweeter than sugar. So, I find that I use much less of it. Stevia works perfectly for curbing sugar cravings without any of the adverse side effects of sugary foods or artificial sweeteners. I carry it in my purse at all times so that I can have a “sweet” iced tea anytime a sugar craving hits. (Another similar product that I like for baking is Lakanto Monkfruit Sweetener, which you can use like sugar in measured quantity.)
  • When you’re used to eating bad on the go, or even just eating like you always have, finding and preparing healthy foods can be a real challenge. You will also likely find that eating whole, organic foods can get really expensive, really fast, if you’re not careful. I’ve tempered both challenges by finding go-to foods that I can find easily, keep on hand, and afford. This process will likely involve trial and error for you. The first few weeks involve a lot of label reading and maybe going through the grocery stores or restaurants with fresh eyes. Looking the options over like you’ve never seen them before, so you can see what options might fit the new lifestyle. A great resource Body Ecology makes for recipes is the Body Ecology Living Cookbook (free with Kindle Unlimited, which you can try free for 30 days with this link).
  • Have an accountability buddy. For me, this was my mom since we decided to do the diet together. My husband was interested in the diet, too, though not fully willing to commit, so he was able to offer support and help with the aspects of the diet he was interested in. He helped shop for more fruits and vegetables and was willing to join me in eating healthier dinners. Your buddy can help talk the cookies out of your hand when you’re feeling weak, but more importantly, can help you navigate the nuances of a completely new diet. My mom and I exchange recipe ideas, let each other know anytime we find a new product that meshes well with the diet, pick up necessities for each other at the specialty stores, and encourage each other to try new things, like fermenting foods. Having someone to do the diet with has really kept me going, and reinforced my belief in what I’m doing, as we’ve seen the same results.

Quitting sugar has been a game changer for me. I feel better turning 40 than I have in the several years leading up to it. If you’re struggling with not feeling your best, I encourage to you to do some research and see if making some of these changes might work for you! You have nothing to lose and everything to gain!

feeling victorious

The New Thank You Note

Disclaimer: My posts contain affiliate links, which means I may get a commission if you click a link or buy a product. I only endorse products or brands which I have used and enjoy!

Thank you notes. Basic etiquette dictates that we send them. I’m a believer myself that an old fashioned handwritten thank you note is that perfect chivalrous gesture that is both extremely polite and wholly effective at expressing gratitude and genuine interest. I always enjoy getting them, and when I can get my act together to keep up with sending them, I love the thought of going a little extra distance to let someone know I appreciate them. That said, do I always take the time to write them? No. Is it because I am ungrateful and uninterested? No. Like most people, I’m pretty busy, my mind is going in 1000 directions, and if I don’t take the time to stop and do something right when I think about it, it might not get done. That’s no excuse to miss an opportunity to give sincere thanks to someone who has taken the time to select a gift for me (or my child) or to do something nice for us. So in today’s world, where a camera phone is always in hand and our lives are shareable in a click, I’d like to offer a new way in which we can modernize and enhance the notion of thank you notes. I think you’ll find that this idea will both allow you to correspond better in your busy lives, and also really give back to the person who was kind enough to give to you!

The Thank You Photo/Video

Thank you photo

Confession: I’m 40 and my mom still buys me clothes. I’m not ashamed of that, because my mom is gorgeous and she has wonderful taste! How many times have you put on a favorite bracelet that your parents bought you, or dressed your child in the outfit Aunt Susie was so proud to give her, and immediately thought of that person? If they were standing there, you’d turn to them and say “Hey look, here’s the ___ you bought me! Doesn’t it look great?! I love it and I’m so glad you bought it for me.” But, since they don’t hang out in your closet, or maybe even live in your town, that moment is lost.  While I’m not great at writing thank you notes (especially to my closer relatives), I have really tried to make an effort to catch these moment with a photo or video.

For example, I recently spoke at a conference in the lawyer segment of my life, and I wore a suit that my mom had just bought me (because she’s awesome that way). The suit looked great and I got several compliments on it. I thanked my mom when she bought me the suit, but I also took the time to snap a quick photo of myself wearing it for the speaking event, text it to her, and let her know that I got complimented in it.

A traditional thank you note for a monetary gift might let the giver know how we plan to use the gift. Today, we can take this notion a step further by showing the person what we’ve done with their gift using a photo or video to show the final outcome. If you’ve saved all your wedding money to buy a new house, why not send a thank you photo or video of your family in your new home to the folks who helped get you there? Even snapping a photo or video of your slightly less-stressed self enjoying the gift card someone sent you is bound to put a smile on their face and yours.

A video can really enhance the would-be photo with more detail and emotion. Shoot a quick video of your child saying thank you to grandma for the birthday money that will go into her piggy bank, or twirling in the new dress like a ballerina.  All the immediate reaction and genuine gratitude remain intact forever in a video that can be watched any time the giver is missing you or feeling down. It takes the photo experience up a notch by letting the giver hear your voice, see your expressions in action, and adding more life to an otherwise still moment. The occasional video can really mean the world to someone who keeps up with you and/or your kids primarily through still photos and rarely gets to see you in person.

Things to think about when using photo thanks:

  • You can quickly filter, edit, sticker and caption your photos and videos to get your message perfect and add some tone and character. There are lots of free apps and software so tinker with them and see what works best for you.
  • Photos and videos can be a quick way to express your gratitude on the go, or they can be your way of taking your thanks to the next level by really making a unique and meaningful display. Consider which is the best fit for your message and use accordingly.
  • Keep your recipient in mind. There are lots of ways to deliver your thanks – text, email or a social media post tagging your benefactor, to name a few. Choose a method they understand, are comfortable with using, and which will allow them to enjoy the message more than once. Some people are very private or would be easily embarrassed by a public shout out. Think about what appeals to the person you’re reaching out to so the message is best received.
  • For some folks, technology is not a good fit. For instance, my grandmother’s phone is not set up to receive picture texts and she is not on social media. If I want her to be able to really enjoy my messages, I may have to take the extra time to print photos off and mail them with a little note. If your recipient is very traditional, this may ring true for them as well. Walgreen’s is my favorite spot for this. Their app lets you print to your nearest store choosing either pics from your phone or Facebook account.  (Here’s a coupon if you have some photos to print now 41% OFF Prints w/ code PICS41NOW)

The Takeaway. When someone gives you a gift and then has an opportunity to see you enjoying it in real time, with it positively affecting your life, their gift to you becomes a gift back to them. They get the joy of feeling good about something they did for you, which is really the ultimate thank you for their nice gesture. Get creative with your thanks, the effects will be felt ten fold!

 

 

Traveling Well With Others

Disclaimer: My posts contain affiliate links, which means I may get a commission if you click a link or buy a product. I only endorse products or brands which I have used and enjoy!

Vacationing is my happy place! I love to travel, so much so that I would venture to say that I need to vacation regularly in order to stay sane. And nothing makes me happier than sharing my travel bliss with my very favorite people. The first time my husband saw Times Square or the Las Vegas strip all lit up at night, I was right at his side taking in his overwhelmed joy and fascinated awe as if they were my own. To me, the magic is only magic if you’re sharing it.

My husband’s first trip to New York City

However, every well-intentioned vacationer learns the difficult lesson that no matter how much you love your friends and family, not everyone travels the same! I learned this lesson as a Spring Breaker in my early 20’s. I had a lot of friends, I was dating somebody who had a lot of friends, so we decided to travel with all of our friends: his, mine, and some of theirs. What could go wrong?! Well, by the end of the week, I wasn’t really speaking to anyone else on the trip, and the dating break-up happened not too long after. I wore myself out trying to plan with and for very different groups of people, didn’t factor my own (or anyone else’s) wants or needs into the trip very well, and ended up unable to just relax and let the good times roll.

Since then, I’ve managed to take many wonderful vacations ranging from traveling with people I barely knew, to one or two close friends, to up to a dozen mixed family and friends. Here are some of the essentials I’ve found for traveling well with others:

Know your fellow travelers

For every moment of excitement I have in planning a vacation, my husband has a moment of anxiety. After all, excitement and anxiety are essentially the same emotion. The only difference is whether we express it in the positive or the negative, right? Inevitably, two weeks before every vacation, his anxiety peaks and he decides not to go. In the beginning of our relationship, I would panic, scream that everything was already paid for, not talk to him for a day, and try to figure out what the heck to do until he calmed down enough to get back on the travel wagon. Now, I know him. I expect this. So, I stay calm, quietly remind him that everything is already paid for, and try to find ways to turn his anxiety into its happy sister excitement. For him, this means helping him learning about the area, showing him the money shots from travel blogs, filling him with enough information to make the unknown seem a little more known. For him, feeling secure means having a slight lay of the land. I think most people can relate to that.

I say all this because it is equally important for you to know your fellow travelers and know their interests and limitations. Nothing kills the vibe on a trip quicker than misaligned travelers in the same group. So, think carefully about where you want to go, what sorts of things you’ll want to do there, and who would be a good fit for those things. Consider what your fellow travelers like and don’t like, what makes them uncomfortable, and what opens them up to really enjoying themselves.

Compromise

My mom likes to travel as much as I do. That said, she is much more of a “tourist” than I am. She likes to travel the beaten path, do lots of souvenir shopping, and ask lots of questions. Under the right circumstances, this can make for a perfect trip for us both! My favorite example, I asked her to come to New York City for a job interview with me back in 2000. I was a nervous wreck, so I needed her support. Neither of us had ever been to New York, so we decided to make a weekend of it – in true tourist form. We got on the double-decker bus, took in all the sites, and had an absolute blast! As it turns out, the double-decker bus is now my “go to” favorite for touring with anyone I take to the city for the first time. It’s the perfect way to see everything on your own schedule, because the busses travel a loop of the landmarks on a 20 minute schedule. So you can stay on the bus if you aren’t interested in something, hop off the bus at the sites you want to explore in more depth, and hop back on whenever you’re done at a particular place.

I’m sure you didn’t come to be the awesome person that you are by only surrounding yourself with like-minded people. If you’ve been accumulating friends and family over the course of your life, you’ve probably got a mix of folks you love who are similar to you in some ways, but very different in others. If you’re going to travel with them, you have to be open to doing some of their things in exchange for wanting them to do some of your things. If you approach the compromise with an open mind, you’ll get the best travel benefit of all – the chance to really learn about yourself and others by seeing and trying new things. By being open to my mom’s style of travel, I’ve discovered a favorite travel method that is a huge hit with everyone I’ve shared it with since.

Roll with the punches

Flexibility is also crucial in travel, because unexpected things happen. My husband and I did a destination wedding at Sandals Grande Antigua , and I knew my luggage might get lost. So I carried on the one thing I couldn’t replace when I got there – my dress. Sure enough, my luggage got lost. But, I had my dress, I bought a new swim suit at the resort, and I enjoyed myself until everything else showed up the next day. You can’t control most of the factors at play when you travel, but you can always control your reaction. You can have a basic contingency plan for bumps, and consciously choose not waste your vacation energy stressing over things you can’t control.

A great example that I’ve seen in my own husband was on our last big family vacation. We booked a cruise to several Eastern Caribbean destinations, leaving from Miami. As our ship set sail, the Captain came on to announce that a hurricane was threatening our would-be destinations. We were heading to the Western Caribbean instead, and a new itinerary would be delivered to our rooms later that evening. I’ve told you how my husband needs a lay of the land to feel comfortable. He had read about our stops, looked at the pictures, and we had at least a vague game plan of what we would do at each stop. We were comfortable with those stops. Now we had no idea where we would be stopping in the morning, or what there would be to do there. We didn’t even have affordable Wi-Fi to read about these places once we figured out what they were. I expected a full on freak out from my husband, but I was wrong! Maybe it was the fact that we were already out in the middle of the ocean, with no real viable option for turning back. Maybe it was the fact that “vacation mode” had already kicked in, so we were already relaxing on our balcony watching the waves with a cocktail in hand. Whatever it was, my husband took the news in stride. We found out what we could as information was delivered. We talked to other knowledgeable travelers and staff on the ship, at every opportunity we had, to get recommendations for things to do, and we had a great time!

The best thing you can do when the unexpected strikes on your vacation is to do your best under the circumstances. Before you go, identify any must-haves and figure out how you’re going to ensure that are with you for the long haul. For everything else, have an idea of where you might get it, what you might do, and how you might do it. But be willing to adjust as the circumstances change. The time you have on vacation is short, so enjoy yourself and step back from trying to control everything and plan too much.

Know how much planning to do

Putting together what I’ve said about my mom and my husband, there are several truths that apply to traveling with them both. Since they both appreciate the known and the familiar (though for different reasons), I plan accordingly. We need to have airport transportation arranged at our destination. Arriving in a strange place and not knowing how we’ll get to our hotel won’t work for either of them. We need to plan our activities with reputable, commercially identifiable companies. Hopping into an unmarked “cab” with a stranger and winging it is not going to work for either of them. If we are going the local route, it needs to be with a local, who we trust, and who can guide us to things we will enjoy and answer our questions. Remembering these things about my travel companions and planning accordingly avoids a lot of unnecessary angst for us all. We can all relax and enjoy each other and the ride without  fretting the details.

Along the same lines, I have friends who are a little less extroverted than I am. So, I know going in that they will want to do some “big crowd” activities, but then will also need substantial quiet time to recover. If your group are explorers, don’t over-book them with a pre-arranged itinerary. If they are planners, don’t get there and have nothing booked ahead of time. Put your knowledge of the others in your group to work. Don’t forget it when you get excited and started planning. Talk about expectations before hand, and try to strike the right balance of planned activities and free time to do things that pop up, so that everyone in the group goes in feeling good about the trip.

The End Result

The end result of taking the time to be a mindful travel companion is having a great trip! I’ve had a great trip with an old friend who brought along another friend I had never met. Our mutual friend thought about our personalities and interests enough beforehand to correctly guess that we would want to do the same things and would get along well. We literally met in the airport boarding our plane and have considered ourselves friends since.

The best, most magical trip of my life was to Italy and Greece with my brother and some of our friends who are pretty diverse in age and interests. None of it would have worked without us making the effort to be good travel mates to each other. We were wise enough to take a tour that allowed us to see the popular sites, with plenty of free time built in to focus on our individual interests or have alone time. That was key, because everyone’s focus was different. I like literature, so I wanted to spend time at sites with literary significance. My brother likes to people watch and socialize. One of our friends really likes high-end shopping. Another couple were really into art and architectural history.  The only interest we shared without fail was eating, so we always ate together! It was a great way to come back together and share the highlights of our day. Everyone’s needs were met and we all had a great time. It was exactly the opposite of my college Spring Break experience.

I have to end this post by giving a shout out to my brother, who is the ideal travel buddy. He is the example of everything to do and be to make for the perfect travel experience. He is compromising, up for anything, and always a good sport (not to mention he’s charming and lots of fun!). He is an adventurer by nature, but he will spend just as much time shopping and viewing landmarks as he will daring you to try new foods or to try an adventure sport. He’s willing to go with a plan to accommodate others in the group, or go on a completely unplanned adventure when the opportunity presents itself. Most importantly, when he senses that the vibe is off, he goes out of his way to tap into whatever will bring out the best in people and put them at ease. As a result, every trip I take with him brings us closer as siblings, allows us to learn so much about other people, places, and ourselves, and truly have an amazing time together! On my 32nd birthday, he and I stood in St. Marks Square, spinning around like little kids, completely marveling in the fact that we were there – living out a dream. Those magical moments are what it’s all about! I hope my experiences help you to maximize your own vacation magic.

Me and my brother in Venice on my 32nd birthday