In This Moment

My Top 50 At 50

I was never much of a birthday person, even as a kid. I’m notoriously terrible at remembering peoples’ birthdays (just ask my husband, sorry honey!) And I’m pretty low-key when mine rolls around.

But this one has stuck in my gut for months. Maybe it’s because 50 sounds like such a big freakin’ number and today, my moment of truth has finally arrived. Maybe it’s because this same year my two sons are 21 and 18…what???

Or maybe it’s because I’ve reached a point in my life where I’m so incredibly grateful for so many things – and I want to celebrate!

There have been a lot of thoughts swirling around in my head – realizations, beliefs, memories, opinions – that I have formed into the following list.

But first, I respectfully offer one qualifier. These thoughts are my own and not meant to impose upon your own beliefs. Please know the sentiments I share come from my heart and life experiences. Hopefully some will make you nod, chuckle and maybe give you a boost of self-awareness to live today with even greater meaning.

So, drum roll please…”My Top 50 at 50″:

  1. We are each born with a purpose. It’s our job to figure out what it is and live it.
  1. I am alive by the grace of God.
  1. My Mom was the most influential person in my life. I stand in her shadow and am grateful for the shade.
  1. Cancer sucks.
  1. Prayer works because it puts you in touch with your inner spirit and keeps you balanced so you can live your best through life’s ups and downs.
  1. Losing people I love dearly changed me forever, deepening my faith and appreciation for every day.
  1. Stop for a moment and consider the many blessings in your life. You have more than you may realize.
  1. Because we all get hurt along the way, emotionally and physically, healing serves an important purpose. Be brave and face the pain. Time and an open heart will heal your wounds.
  1. My life’s greatest accomplishment is being Mom to two sons who are beautiful inside and out.
  1. My life’s hardest and most important job remains striving to be the best Mom I can be.
  1. My life’s greatest privilege was being there for my Mom in her time of greatest need until her final breath.
  1. My Mom’s best advice – Take a day at a time. I hear her say it in my head often. It’s as if she’s speaking the words right out of my mouth when I say it to my kids.
  1. My best advice to anyone who cares to hear it – Be true to yourself.
  1. Be creative when giving your children advice – teach them how to make meatballs.
  1. Teenagers are a parenting right of passage – send them outside to weed the garden on a hot summer day.
  1. Everyone should be so lucky to have an Aunt Betty. (Mine turned 91 this year.)
  1. Be still in the quiet of your moments. The seemingly simple things can mean the most.
  1. I love sitting in a beach chair, watching and listening to the waves crash on to the shoreline and feeling the warm, salty, misty, sunny breeze on my skin.
  1. I love taking walks in the fall and inhaling the fresh air laden with the scent of fallen leaves that rustle across my feet.
  1. I love sitting on my front porch with a glass of wine at dusk and watching the sky turn from light to dark.
  1. Quiet walks with my dogs open my mind to the possibilities.
  1. I believe we all have souls, including my doggies.
  1. The Untethered Soul is the best book I’ve ever read. I highly recommend it.
  1. I’m still married because we never let go at the same time.
  1. Marriage is really hard.
  1. Sex keeps getting better with age (at least so far!)
  1. I love my husband.
  1. Wine is yummy.
  1. Fresh juicy garden tomatoes on a BLT sandwich slathered with mayonnaise that drips down my chin when I take a bite makes me happy.
  1. They call the Golden Rule “golden” for a reason.
  1. I believe in working hard, being humble and not complaining.
  1. Say thank-you and please. Good manners go a long way.
  1. Be giving with your gifts and talents.
  1. Smile and laugh easy and often.
  1. Cry when you need to.
  1. Keep your heart tender and you’ll always know love.
  1. Some of my closest friends were first my bosses or co-workers. Developing mutual respect for each other at work can result in amazing relationships for a lifetime.
  1. Your next forever friend may be right around the corner. Pay attention and keep your heart and mind open, even if first impressions are “negative.”
  1. Bohemian Rhapsody is the perfect song to sing with the best of friends when everyone is tipsy and packed like sandy sardines into a F150 after an awesomely fun, hot, sunny summer day at the beach. (You know who you are!)
  1. Jameson shots at the local Irish pub with friends before Noon is liberating after being told your position has been “eliminated” that same morning. (You know who you are too!)
  1. Hug and say I love you to the people you care about. You might not get another chance.
  1. People who struggle with addiction are lost sheep. Don’t leave them behind.
  1. We’re all in this together!
  1. I am not happy every day, but I am joyful.
  1. As long as we have breath in the present moment, we have the opportunity to try, fail, learn and improve.
  1. The first and last breaths we take are the bookends of our lives.
  1. Ava Maria is my favorite song.
  1. My faith is my foundation.
  1. Live your purpose in the present moment.

That’s my list, as of today. It would probably look similar but different if I had the opportunity to write it tomorrow.

And that’s how life goes. Now, off to the beach. There’s a beach chair with my name on it waiting for me…

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Riding and Remembering

Original post published on https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/cycle-survival-dun-bradstreet-team-members-ride-remember-kofroth?trk=mp-author-card

Rarely does a moment in life happen so surprisingly, heartwarming and purposeful as when a convergence happens for helping others, being part of a cause close to your heart and having fun doing something you really enjoy.

That snapshot experience happened for me – and I expect more than 1,000 other people – who came together in February 2016 at the Equinox Gym in Summit, NJ. The event was Cycle for Survival, one of a national series of indoor team cycling events to beat rare cancers – with 100% of all donations directly dedicated to rare cancer research.

Our Dun & Bradstreet Teams Raised More Than $4,500!

I learned about Cycle for Survival by pure chance. I was checking my Salesforce.com Chatter feed at work one day and discovered Dun & Bradstreet was participating in this cause by committing to fill teams to ride a bike for the event. The Chatter post struck an immediate chord with me. It was a fundraiser in the form of “spinning,” which I love doing – and it supported cancer research at Sloan Memorial Kettering Cancer Center (MSK).

It was an easy and immediate decision for me to volunteer to be part of the team. My Mom had been treated at Sloan for Stage 4 lung and brain cancer. MSK’s modern treatments and best-in-class doctors and nurses kept my Mom alive a year longer than any other doctor we spoke to said was likely. They offered us hope. Anyone who has had a loved one diagnosed with cancer knows that every extra day to live and love is a day worth cherishing. That’s what MSK does every day by treating people with more than 400 subtypes of cancer.

CHECK OUT OUR VIDEO! Thirteen people on morning and afternoon teams rode the Dun & Bradstreet bike – and we raised over $4,500 toward the cause!

On the Day We Rode, More Than $12 million Had Been Raised Nationally – It’s Now More Than $30 million and Counting

Cycle for Survival started 10 years ago as one ride in New York City. Since that time, the organization has raised more than $80 million dollars, directly contributing to more than 100 clinical trials and research studies for rare cancers. In 2015 alone $25 million was raised and bikers “spun” nationally in more than 20 Equinox gyms.

According to the Cycle for Survival website, there were an estimated 1,658,370 new cancer cases diagnosed in 2015 – and about half those people are fighting rare cancers. Rare cancers are more familiar than you may realize and include brain, pancreatic, ovarian, thyroid, and stomach cancers; leukemia and lymphoma; all pediatric cancers; and many others.

Research on many rare cancers is drastically underfunded, often leaving patients with limited or no treatment options. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center—the world’s oldest and largest private cancer center—is committed to changing that reality. MSK’s close collaboration between doctors and researchers is a unique strength: new drugs and therapies developed in the lab can be moved quickly to patients’ bedsides.

Participating in Cycle for Survival was an amazing experience. Row after row of riders packed into a high-energy room with a center stage where five instructors led us through hour-long workouts. Loud, pumping music, pom poms, cheering, laughing, crying, celebrating and remembering.

I’m so glad I looked at my Chatter feed that day and learned about this event. It’s a day I will always remember – and I’m already looking forward to spinning next year!

Special thanks to Stefanie Stuart, our team captain and organizer. She did a wonderful job and always with a smile on her face. Also thanks to my employer Dun & Bradstreet, a company that provides the opportunity for its team members to help others. Our collective energy is generous, kind and loving – we’re lucky to be part of its beating heart.

 

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Back in the Saddle

Opening Our Hearts to Healing

I’ll be honest, I really struggled writing this blog post. 

The idea of things “getting back to normal” has been swirling around in my head recently.  Like the story of the great hero victoriously returning home from war, I originally created the title of this blog with a grand declaration in mind:

I was back!  I had fallen off my horse, but I had gotten back on and now everything was better.

But something about this proclamation didn’t “sit” well with me.  I just didn’t know why…

After all, three months of being unemployed was over.  I recently got a job offer I was super excited about (not to mention I would be able to keep paying the mortgage which was a huge relief!)  Four plus weeks recovering from a sprained ankle had passed.  I could again take my two labrador doggies for our three mile walk, and head back to the gym for an hour long spin class.  Yes, these recent events pointed to the trappings of being back on track.  Life was finally as it should be…

The weather was so beautiful a few days ago, sunny and in the low 60s.  At last, my ankle was feeling well enough that I could take Asha and Sampson on our ritualistic 60 minute walk along a path that used to be a railroad line, and ran along farmers’ fields and patches of trees.  These walks not only cleared my lungs, they also cleared my mind.

I wasn’t five minutes down the path, walking with no limp or pain in my ankle, when I realized that this blog wasn’t at all about “being back.”  It was about the value of the healing process I’d been going through – and which we all need to experience after we’ve been hurt.

Losing my job was traumatic.  So was spraining my ankle.  While each event was certainly recoverable, they required time and perspective to heal well.  But both times, my immediate reaction was to “get better” fast.  I wasn’t interested in waiting for the process of healing to unfold.  I needed to find a job as quickly as possible so I could support my family.  I needed to put weight on my foot and make myself walk so I could get back on the bike.

In truth, I didn’t want to admit to myself, family and friends that I had fallen down, literally and figuratively.  These incidents showed that I was weak.  In retrospect, they provided the opportunity for me to become stronger, physically and spiritually.

Everybody has a personal list of injuries and injustices they’ve been subjected to in their lives.  Whether self-inflicted or at the hands of/treatment by others, physical or emotional, we’ve all got them.  And they aren’t inconsequential.

That’s why I believe healing is a natural part of the human condition. Because we all face hurt at different times in our lives, healing serves an important purpose.

Yet so may of us resist the recognition that our hurts need to heal, and when we do take the steps to heal, we think we need to hurry to get better.  Why?

Because healing in itself hurts!  Accepting that bad things have happened to us, and opening ourselves up to the pain of recovery can be very difficult to contend with, especially with the hearty egos so many of us drag around – denial, fear and anger are sharp inner thorns.

Another reason we resist healing is because it requires time – time we often tell ourselves we don’t have.  While I don’t agree with the phrase “time heals all wounds” (at least not JUST time), I do believe time is required for healing.  It’s what we do with that time that will dictate how well we heal.

Healing is a matter of time, but it is sometimes also a matter of opportunity. Hippocrates

One thing I’ve learned is universally essential for “good healing” is an open, loving heart.

I’ve been participating in an online 21 Day Meditation Experience hosted by Oprah and Deepak.  The focus of this series is “Become What You Believe.”  The essence of the message is that our core beliefs (love, self-worth, safety, fulfillment and wholeness) are what will help us reach a state of true knowledge.  When we release resistance, we realize our truest, deepest, purest beliefs.

In my last post, I talked about seeing the light through Sampson’s eyes.  Oprah and Deepak reaffirmed that our light is always there in the seat of Self.  It is eternal and ever present in our daily lives.  We don’t have to search the light out – it is our source.  We just need to remember who we really are.

Deepak says at the beginning of the path, a person has forgotten what the true self is.  At the end of the path, the true self is as close as the next breath.  In between is where faith is needed.  The most powerful journey we take is to the heart of ourselves.  There we will find a promise that’s constant – an endless array of beauty and truth, possibility and potential.  This is where we heal.

So I come back to the beginning of this blog and my struggle with announcing I was back in the saddle.  The thing is, I never fell off my horse.  I’d been sitting there all along.  It was a matter of opening my heart and letting the light shine through so I could see the path to heal.

My father-in-law recently passed away at the age of 83.  He was a wonderful man and I loved him dearly.  At his funeral, his daughter recounted how after he retired, he often joked about finally getting the horse he’d always dreamed of having.  As I listened to her recollections and the beautiful memories shared by his other children and grandchildren, I saw in my heart a man who lived his life in the saddle.  Sure, he faced challenging times.  What he learned along his personal journey was that the faith he always had brought him closer to the light everyday.  When he took his final breath surrounded by his loving family, he was completely healed.

Healing is part of humanity.  Healing is necessary.  Healing happens everyday.

As Deepak says, “Your heart already knows what to do.”

We just need to let it.

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Through Sampson’s Eyes

Soul to Soul Relationships Should Be Our Aspiration

Sampson is his own dog.  He has no filters.  He is his true self.

Michael Singer, author of “The Untethered Soul”, calls this sitting in the seat of Self.  He describes it this way:

“Now you are in your center of consciousness.  You are behind everything, just watching.  That center is the seat of Self.  From that seat, you are aware that there are thoughts, emotions, and a world coming in through your senses.  But now you are aware that you’re aware.  That is the seat of the Buddhist Self, the Hindu Atman, and the Judeo-Christian Soul.”

I often marvel how naturally Sampson lives his life’s purpose.  When he interacts with me, there is no pretense, or trepidation, or premeditation.  When I interact with him with an open heart, the energy of our connection is so powerful.  He listens, he understands, he responds. He loves and wants to be loved.  He makes eye contact, communicates with his paws, body language, barks and grunts.  I do the same thing back, except I don’t have paws and rarely bark or grunt.

When I work from home and have been on my laptop for too long, he will pin my hand down on the keyboard with his chin and look me deeply in the eyes.  If I don’t listen, he will press his chin down harder.  If I still don’t listen, he will paw my arm.  If all else fails, he will lift up his front paws and upper body onto my lap and lick my face.  Obviously, it’s time to play.

Nothing brings Sampson greater joy then playing.  Watching him retrieve a ball from the ocean reminds me of the simple joys life offers.  He isn’t thinking about his next meal.  He isn’t concerned that the sun is setting and it will soon be too dark to play.  He isn’t upset that he got yelled at an hour ago for digging a hole in the yard.  He is running wholeheartedly into the water, swimming to his ball, retrieving it and bringing it back to me so I can throw it – again, and again, and again. 

Sampson epitomizes the saying, “The eyes are the window to the soul.”

The origin of this phrase is found in the Bible verses Matthew 6:22-23:

“The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light.  But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness.  If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!”

In other words, when we allow the light of life to flow through us naturally, then we are living our true purpose as soulful beings with open hearts.  When we allow emotions or situations to become barriers to life’s energy flows, we are blocking our light. 

Singer calls these blockages inner thorns:

“People let the fear of their inner thorns affect their behavior.  They end up limiting their lives just like someone living with an external thorn.” (Think of the Aesop Fable “Androcles and the Lion.”)  “Ultimately, if there is something disturbing inside of you, you have to make a choice.  You can compensate for the disturbance by going outside in an attempt to avoid feeling it, or you can simply remove the thorn and not focus your life around it.”

My entire career has been spent working in the business world.  Common terms used to describe the relationship between a business and its customers include B2B (Business to Business – like Intel to Microsoft ) or B2C (Business to Consumer – like Apple to an individual.)

In a highly regarded 2014 book written by Bryan Kramer titled, “There is no B2B or B2C: It’s Human to Human #H2H”, the author essentially makes the case that we should communicate with each other human to human.  Businesses established the terms B2B and B2C to segment and market to their customers.  The problem is the resulting language used to communicate with customers has gotten so far away from how “normal people” talk to each other.  Words like “synergy”, “low hanging fruit”,  and “seamless” have become so common in business marketing speak, that the intended essence of the message is getting lost.   

As a business marketer, I relate to Kramer’s reality check.  I believe he is saying that regardless of the work, home or play environment, we are all humans, and we should treat our relationships at a human level.  We should talk and interact with each other as people, complete with our emotions and imperfections. 

I wonder if there is something even more aspirational all of us can achieve with our relationships.  As I am inspired by Sampson, and Singer’s and Kramer’s teachings, I have taken a step back as I think about communicating and relationships, no matter where, when or with whom.

I see the light through Sampson’s eyes.

Surely, if people can connect with non-human animals, than nurturing amazing relationships is deeper than the human element.   There’s something even more special that allows us to find purpose, build lasting relationships, achieve goals and bring about changes for the greater good.  I know this because I have a beautifully pure, open, honest relationship with Sampson.  He is not a human.  But he has a soul.  And so do I.

What if we could connect soul to soul – in any situation and with any soulful being?  The soul now becomes the lowest common denominator – yet the most meaningful, enlightening, and exponential. 

I believe that inherently we’re each born with a soul.  It’s pure.  There are no conditions or conceptions placed on it.  It exists to be, allowing each of us to live our own purpose and experience the world in our own unique way. When we interact from what Singer calls the seat of Self, we are being true – with ourselves and others.  This is the best place for open dialogue, honest evaluation and sound decision making.

It doesn’t mean that emotions, challenges, and “real life” factors don’t come into play as we travel our life journeys.  Of course they do.  The difference with a soulful aspiration is that we allow all of these dynamics to flow in and out of us, sitting behind them as a witness, in the seat of Self, as we experience life.

When we are open to life without the filters of preconceived notions, judgments, or biases, then we are operating on a different playing field.  Then we have the best chance at realizing success, in whatever form is most meaningful.   

Singer says, “You can look deep within yourself, to the core of your being, and decide you don’t want the weakest part of you running your life.  You want to be free of this. You want to talk to people because you find them interesting, not because you’re lonely.  You want to have relationships with people because you genuinely like them, not because you need for them to like you. You want to love because you truly love, not because you need to avoid your inner problems.”

Sampson sure is a great teacher.

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300 Miles in 31 Days

Why Rapid Failure Works – Just Keep Your Eye on the Ball!

My goal was clear.  I would bikeride 300 miles in October.

I am a member of a casual friend group on Facebook that sets a shared monthly physical fitness challenge.  We post progress over the course of the month to encourage each other.  People come in and out of the group and there’s no serious pressure to perform.  Admittedly, there are months I don’t participate at all and other times I go all in.

October was going to be an “all in” month for me.

I’ve had a lot of time on my hands recently, so one of the things I determined I would do more was exercise.  The October challenge was dubbed “Octoberbest” and the intent was for each person to set her/his own exercise goal that exceeded a previous personal best.  I recently discovered I liked going to spin class at the gym, which was like an aerobic class with an instructor in the front and everyone was on stationary bikes. This was an aerobic exercise I enjoyed that wasn’t too hard on my knees, which have developed osteoarthritis resulting from running track in high school many moons ago.  I relished the challenge, blasting music, camaraderie, and accomplishment of traveling about 25 miles after the class hour ended.  I figured if I went to three spin classes a week and averaged 25 miles a class, achieving 300 miles in October was well within my reach – and certainly a personal best for me since I had never done this kind of challenge before.

I was pumped!  I was motivated!  I was ready!

The first week started off really well.  I completed my first two classes, totaling 61 miles.  I had one class to go on Friday morning for Week 1, and assuming I did 25 miles, I would be well over my 75 miles per week goal.  Always the planner, I wanted to have a few extra miles in my back pocket in case I had to miss a class or two over the course of the month.

Then, on Thursday night, it happened…

Like most accidents, the series of events unfolded so quickly that it would have been very difficult to alter them.  I was walking across the kitchen at the same time my husband threw a ball in my path.  Before I could react, Sampson (our beautiful, sweet, ball loving, 95 pound black labrador retriever) came charging with maniacal focus after his ball at full sprint speed.

You can probably picture the result.

I went flying into the air and landed on my back – and Sampson stumbled and fell on my legs.  In his frantic rush to right himself and retrieve his ball, he rolled over my left ankle, causing it to twist at a very unnatural angle.

And that’s when the howling started.

No, not Sampson.  Me.  Howling, screaming, crying.  The pain was immediate and fierce.  I couldn’t move.  Sampson became distraught and starting barking incessantly.  My husband lifted me off the floor and carried me to the sofa.  I was on the verge of hyperventilating. Sensing my continued distress, Sampson’s barks became more urgent. My poor husband was the hero.  He remained calm, took off my shoe, applied ice, and gave me ibuprofen.  I gasped for another 45 minutes until the pain finally became the least bit bearable.

Suddenly it seemed I couldn’t achieve my Octoberbest goal.

It’s been a week and a day since “the incident.”  While proven not broken after ER x-rays, my foot is still purple, swollen and too painful to walk on.  I’m on crutches and hobbling around the house like a lost soul. I’ve never been on crutches before and have been feeling quite sorry for myself.  My foot hurts, my armpits hurt, and the joints in my thumbs hurt from grasping the crutches.  I fell again in the kitchen today while trying to kick a bag of finished laundry across the hall so I could fold it and prove my productivity.  As I lay on the floor, alone, with my crutches flung on either side of me, I thought to myself, “I just can’t make any progress!”

The thing is, I can.

I’m actually quite capable of achieving a personal best physical fitness goal this month.  I hit a snag in my original plan (or rather it hit me – Sampson being the snag.)  But that doesn’t mean I can’t adjust and set a new goal.  In the world of business, especially in software and online solution development, this is what’s called “rapid failure” – and it’s embraced as a best practice iterative design approach.

Fail early and often.

This rapid failure concept is used when developing a new or major upgrade product. It allows product dev teams to test and learn with a target set of customers, gather their feedback incrementally, and then “sprint” to implement a set of improvements. Rather than doing all the possible development upfront and waiting to bring a “Cadillac-level” product to the world, complete with all the bells and whistles, this method allows for a minimum viable product to be launched faster, learning as you go.

I realize that this is exactly what I need to do!

I am the product and have just failed (very rapidly.)  But it shouldn’t deter me from achieving a personal Octoberbest.  Yes, the 300 mile bike goal may be out of reach (yet to be determined.)  Maybe at this point in my development, that isn’t the ideal outcome.

Maybe, there is something better to strive for in this iteration of me.

Perfection is not the goal.  There is always uncertainty in life.  The goal should be to adjust as we go, relish each step of progress, and be open to the unexpected learnings (and blessings) that rise from our failures.

As long as we have breath in the present moment, we have the opportunity to try, fail, learn and improve.

Pablo Casals was a world-renowned cellist who at the age of 93 was still practicing three hours a day.  When asked why, he stated, “I’m beginning to notice some improvement…”

My new Octoberbest sprint goal is 50 abdominal crunches every day for the rest of this month.   Let’s see how it all works out on Day 31.

I predict it will be for the best!

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Lunch with Aunt Betty

The Best Lesson of a Lifetime

Everyone should have an Aunt Betty.

Maybe you do, but her name is Mary or Alice. Maybe, your “special aunt” is really an uncle, long-time family friend, or neighbor.  Regardless of the person’s name or official relationship to you, Aunt Betty represents a person who you always remember being an important part of your life.

For me, she is someone who sends me a birthday card every year, is part of my special family functions, calls me “honey” whenever we speak, greets me with a hug, and then holds me close to look me in the eyes and see how I’m doing.  My Aunt Betty is a step away from my mom, loves me nearly the same, and treats me like her own.

Aunt Betty is actually my great aunt.  She is my grandmother’s sister, and she turned 90 years old this year.  She lives in her own house, drives a car, and volunteers at her church.  Born in 1925, Aunt Betty is the seventh of eight children, wife for 53 years to Uncle Bill and now widow, mother of four, grandmother of 10, and great-grandmother of three.  She was a wonderful aunt from the day my mom was born to the day she died five years ago.  She has been the most special great-aunt to me and great-great aunt to my two sons.  They too call her Aunt Betty and hug her whenever they see her.  Even my friends call her Aunt Betty and think she’s amazing.  Well, that’s because she is – amazing that is.

I love spending time with Aunt Betty.  We always have so much to talk about and the time goes by in a snap.  We catch up on what’s going on in each other’s lives since we last talked.  She knows me so well because she’s known me forever, so it’s always easy to pick up where we left off.  We click through what’s going on with our children, grand-children, and great-grand children.  We talk about career and marriage.  We check on each other’s health.  We discuss current events.  We share perspectives about our faith and how it carries us through our days and the challenges we face.

Recently, Aunt Betty and I had lunch together.  I took her to a local ski resort with a new restaurant open year round that offers deck dining next to the slopes and amazing views to the valley below.  I was excited to take her there since it had been over 30 years since she’d been to this place and a lot had changed since then.

As luck would have it, the day was beautiful – temperature in the low 70s and a clear blue-bird sky.  The 30 minute drive to and from lunch was just as special as the time we spent on the restaurant deck.  As I drove along the Pennsylvania rolling country roads, Aunt Betty gazed at the passing scenery in nostalgic pleasure.  She hadn’t been in these parts in years and commented on landmarks that triggered memories from years gone by.  We drove by a local grove and she recalled family picnics there when she was a girl.  She reminisced about weekend drives with Uncle Bill who loved to explore back country roads.  There was no GPS back then, so it was exciting for both of them to see where they would end up, ultimately coming to a crossroads that they recognized.

As she recounted these stories, her voice carried memories of happiness and wonder.  There was also a hint of sorrow, remembering by-gone times when her husband, parents, and many of her siblings and friends were still alive.

“I remember when I was young and thought about what it might be like when I got old,” said Aunt Betty. “It seemed like so far in the future.  Now here I am and so many people I knew and loved are gone.  It can make me sad, but I don’t let myself think about it for too long. I need to live for today.”

Live for today – her words struck me, so simple and wise at the same time.  They were words similar to ones my mom had often spoken to me when I was growing up and confronted with challenges.

“Take a day at a time,” she would say. 

I took those words for granted as so many of us did when we were kids and our parents tried to give us advice we didn’t think we needed.

It wasn’t until I was in my early 30s that I really started to understand the wisdom of living in the moment.  For the first time ever, I found myself in a depressed state after a succession of heartbreaking life events across a five year time span, including the deaths of my dad, grandmother, two uncles and a divorce leaving me a single mother of two little boys.  As has been said many times before, sometimes bad things need to happen in order to open your heart to real change.  This was the case for me.

It was around this time that I read the book “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle.  It had a dramatic effect on me.  Since then, I have become more self-aware, learning to value the gift of the day. 

There are many writings from “The Power of Now” that I appreciate.  Here is one excerpt that I especially like:

“Nothing ever happened in the past; it happened in the Now.

Nothing will ever happen in the future; it will happen in the Now.

Past and present obviously have no reality of their own.  Just as the moon has no light of its own, but can only reflect the light of the sun, so are past and future only pale reflections of the light, power and reality of the eternal present.

The essence of what I am saying here cannot be understood by the mind.  The moment you grasp it, there is a shift in consciousness from mind to Being, from time to presence. Suddenly, everything feels alive, radiates energy, emanates Being.”

Aunt Betty and I had lunch that September day, sitting in the far corner of the deck overlooking the green grass ski slopes and distant valley.  It was such a beautiful day and Aunt Betty marveled at the view in front of her.  We chatted through lunch doing our normal catch up.  I felt so blessed to have this time with my dear aunt.  Her words and outlook came from a place of love, acceptance, experience, and faith.

After lunch, we stood together at the deck railing for a few final moments and looked out over the valley below.  The day was clear and we could see for miles.  We both commented on a distant bright red barn that stood out among the trees like a shining star in a pitch-black sky. 

It just seemed to both of us that we had hit the jackpot, being there on that day, in that moment, looking at that scene, breathing in the warm fresh air, together.

As Tolle stated, “The only thing that is ultimately real about your journey is the step that you are taking at this moment.  That’s all there ever is.”

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Weeds and Whiskey

How to Find Order Among the Clutter and Chaos

It’s inevitable.  Every year in late May, my husband and I rake up the crusted-over ground in our garden, clean out the decayed leaves and roots from last season, lay down fresh topsoil, and plant a variety of tomatoes, peppers and herbs.  When done, we look over the baby green plants in the bed of dark brown fertile soil like proud parents.   

And then, within two weeks, the hint of tiny sporadic weeds begin to sprout among our toddler plants.  We quickly pull them like first time parents, and foolishly think we have the weeds in check.  And then, within another two weeks, the weeds begin to spread out and become more assertive among our teenage plants.   Again, we  pull the weeds, focusing on the most prominent ones and leaving the stragglers be.  And then, to be honest, it’s not within two weeks but after more like four weeks of thinking all is well, we grudgingly concede that the weeds are plentiful among our young adult plants and we need to dedicate time to pull them. The work gets done, and the rest of the summer we pull weeds here and there.  But we’re not so terribly concerned if a few weeds cohabitate with our grown up plants which have begun bearing fruit.

I’ve always been a big planner – great at project management, mapping processes, connecting task dependencies, and anticipating next steps.  When I was a young business professional, I would get upset when tasks, which others were assigned as part of a project I was managing, didn’t get completed on time (based on my timetable.)  Over the years, after leading many and more complicated projects, I  learned the best laid plans could change in a minute, and I couldn’t always control them.  In fact, it was to be expected.

So how do we handle unplanned, and sometimes undesirable in our opinion, life events?

The key is to evaluate the best options based on a pragmatic assessment of the current situation – and then pivot with informed intention that is consistent with our own belief systems and goals. 

Acceptance of present-day reality can be harsh – but necessary.  How can we make smart decisions on next steps without objectively recognizing where we stand in the moment? 

It can be very difficult to set aside emotions, and quite frankly ego, when things don’t go our way.  At the same time, sometimes letting go of what we want and accepting what we have can bring peace of mind – and amazing outcomes we could not have anticipated.

In my last blog, I wrote about losing my job.  Talk about thinking my garden was in order!  I had a strong command of my job responsibilities.  I had a good working relationship with my boss.  I had the respect of my peers.  I had just completed a research project and the findings were well regarded.  I was invited to speak and share the results during a company-wide global meeting.  The presentation went great, my boss was pleased, and several of my co-workers gave me positive feedback.  Three weeks later at 10 am, I was told my position had been eliminated.  It wasn’t performance related, rather the company was taking a different direction.  And just like that, I was unemployed.  I guess there were more weeds in my garden than I had realized.

I left the office that last day around 11:30 am and went with a friend to a local Irish pub. We decided a shot of whiskey was in order and toasted the future.  (I should note that I have never done a shot, let alone Jameson Irish Whiskey, on a week day before Noon.  These were extraordinary circumstances.  I then promptly drank a big glass of water and ordered lunch.)

Since that fateful day, I’ve been focused on the go-forward based on my situation. My pivot has been multi-pronged – updating my resume, reaching out to my professional network, applying for jobs, interviewing, starting this blog, exercising, making more home cooked meals, taking long walks with my two labrador retrievers, cleaning out closets and cupboards…

For me, getting my garden in order has been a balanced approach between nurturing myself spiritually and physically, taking extra care of my family, appreciating my friendships, and influencing my career direction.

My last blog talked about advice I gave my first son as he prepared for college. This blog includes a story about my second son.  Son #2, who is 17 years old, got caught last month sneaking a bottle of whiskey out of the house (which a friend had given him and he’d been hiding in his closet.)  He was almost free and clear, getting in the back seat of his friend’s car in my driveway on their way to a baseball game.  I don’t know what possessed me to call out to him to hold on a minute so I could inspect his backpack, but motherly intuition came over me.  I unzipped his bag, stuck my hand in, grabbed the neck, and pulled out a whiskey bottle filled about a third high.  I pointed to the front door and he went back inside. I looked at the two boys in the front seat and waved them good bye.

After considering the situation, I gave my son his discipline the next day about 10 am. It was August, the temperature was rising into the high-80s and the air was humid. We sat down in the living room where I lectured him on the foolishness of his act and potential dangers that could have befallen him and his friends.  Then it was time to face the consequences.

Our vegetable and herb garden was filled with weeds.  I sent him outside with a garbage bag and told him not to come back in until they were pulled.  About an hour later he sought me out, sweaty and flushed, to tell me he was done. We went to see his handiwork.  There were a few stray weeds here and there, but he had done a great job getting the garden back in order.

I can live with a few weeds.

(And the whiskey got dumped down the drain.)

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Making Meatballs

The Key to Happiness is Inside

Kids love meatballs.  People love meatballs.  To many, they’re a simple, meaty bite of circular happiness.

The beauty of meatballs is there’s no one right way to prepare them.  For the meat lovers out there, the traditional ground beef or a pork, beef, and veal combo is the only way to go.  Exotic foodies might be eager to sample buffalo, lamb, elk, or other protein-based mixtures. Vegans experiment by forming tofu, tempeh, beans, nuts, and other veggies into tasty, meatball-like morsels. Then there are binding agents to consider, like breadcrumbs and eggs, and the vast seasoning options.  How big – small, medium, large?  How to prepare – boil, bake, stew?  Ah, the possibilities seem endless…

By a stroke of epiphanic luck, a few years back I had this great idea to give my soon-to-be college freshman son some sage advice, as he was indecisive about selecting his college major.  Like many 18 year olds just starting their journey into adulthood, there can be varying degrees of naive, fanciful, and nonchalant readiness about embarking on their first “post nest” flight path. And so, as the momma bird seeing my not-so-baby-anymore bird perched at the edge of our nest, on the verge of spreading his wings to jump and fly into the great unknown, I felt compelled to offer him the following analogy.

“You know,” I said, “declaring your major is like making meatballs.”

He looked up at me from his phone a little dazed as if he hadn’t quite heard me correctly through his half listening ears, “Huh?”  

But I knew I had peaked his interest – because I knew he loved meatballs!

I went on to explain, “Well, yes.  It’s really quite simple.  Think of it this way. When you pick a focus of study in college, you are setting yourself up for a job once you graduate. Just like making tasty meatballs, there are three critical considerations.

First and most importantly, do something that is very interesting and enjoyable for you.  This is the “meat” – and it’s the most important ingredient.  You’re a smart young man and could do well at several things.  Pick something you like and can be good at, not something you’re good at but don’t like.  There’s a good chance you’ll have to go to work five days a week and put in eight or more hours a day.   Even though it’s hopefully a job you really like, there will be days you don’t like it.  Imagine doing something you don’t like to start with just because you’re good at it – and then having to do it every day.  So, if you don’t like pork, don’t use it in your meatballs. If you love bison, that’s the main ingredient you should start with.

Second, do something where you can make enough money to live comfortably.  I’m not saying you need to become a brain surgeon or an astronaut, just because you can (unless of course you want to!)  I’m saying that you want to be able to relish life.  You may put in a lot of hours at work and you want to be able to balance that with a quality of life you define.  You know, like a house, a car, a phone, food, clothes… Money is required for all that stuff.  Only you know what you’ll need to support the lifestyle you desire.  It’s like the mixing ingredients used to make your meatballs taste good – and to make your meatballs more than just balls of meat.  It’s the flavor only your watering taste buds can discern.  

Third, do something where you have a good shot at landing a job after college.  While it’s great to strive for doing something you love and which has lots of earning potential, you should also consider some level of practicality about securing employment. I don’t mean to burst your bubble, but let’s face it. As much as you admire Peyton Manning, and you know he makes a lot of money doing what he loves, it’s probably unlikely you’re going to land a multi-year multi-million dollar contract and be the next NFL star quarterback.  It’s like mixing the perfect batch of meatballs and then leaving it in the bowl.  You can’t eat them until you roll and cook them.

Now, you might change your major one or more times over the course of your college career, and that’s perfectly fine.  You may take a different direction once you graduate, and that’s fine too.  Or, you may take a first job related to your major and then decide you want to do something completely different after a period of time.  That’s also okay.  You can mix up a new batch of meatballs when the time is right – use new ingredients and new cooking methods.  This is just your first batch so follow these three steps to get started.  You’ll perfect them over your lifetime.  You may always love your first recipe the best.  Or you may change it up over and over again as time goes by.”

This past week, I was standing in the kitchen with my hands immersed in a bowl, mixing a concoction of ground turkey, breadcrumbs, eggs, white wine, veggie broth, Worcestershire sauce, fresh basil, parsley, thyme, onion, garlic, salt, and pepper.  It was the first time I had combined these particular ingredients, but I had a feeling they would taste good together based on years of making varying meatball recipes and learning to trust my instincts. I had just lost my job the week before and at a point in my day when I’d normally be on a conference call or preparing a presentation, I realized as I methodically rolled and laid out the meatballs on a baking sheet that even a 25+ year business veteran needs to mix it up once in awhile.  Using the same recipe over and over can be methodical and efficient.  It can also get boring and antiquated. We all need to be brave and open to trying new recipes and experiencing new flavors when the opportunity presents itself.

So, once again, I had the epiphany, but this time it was for me and not my son, that happiness really is like making meatballs.  

I looked at the neatly rolled meatballs on the cookie sheet waiting to go into the oven.  It was time to finally start the blog I’d been thinking about for the last few years.

I gave my son the “making meatballs” advice three summers ago.  Today, he’s a junior in college, has evolved his major three times, and is now settled into Mathematics course work in which he excels and enjoys.  He’s focused on the present and also thinking about the future – possible research, an internship and post-grad studies.  

Already a fine meatball maker, I can’t wait to try his next batch!

By the way, here’s my most current meatball recipe, if you’d like to try it.  It turned out really yummy. After they came out of the oven, I dumped them into a big pot of homemade spaghetti sauce I had made recently using four varieties of freshly-picked tomatoes from my garden.  

Ah, but that’s a recipe for another day.

Turkey Meatballs

1. Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees.

2. While oven gets to temperature, whisk together the following ingredients in a large mixing bowl:

• 1 egg

• 1/4 cup wine (I like white wine or sherry.)

• 1/4 cup vegetable broth (Sometimes, I use milk instead.)

• 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

• 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil (or 1 tablespoon dried basil)

• 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley (or 1 tablespoon dried parsley)

• 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme (I didn’t have fresh, but if you do, use it.  Fresh herbs are always better!)

• 2 minced garlic cloves (What the heck, add a third if you’re feeling feisty!)

• 1 finely grated small onion and the juice

• 1 teaspoon salt

• 1 teaspoon pepper

3. Hand-mix in 1 lb. ground turkey. (Yes, that’s right, get your hands in that bowl!)

4. Gently hand-mix in 1/2 cup bread crumbs, just until combined.  (I like Italian flavored bread crumbs for an extra level of flavor.)

5. On a cookie sheet, loosely roll meatballs.  (I prefer them bite-sized – a generous 1/8 cup. But, in this case, size doesn’t matter!  Whatever you like best!)

6. Place cookie sheet on a lower oven shelf for 30 minutes.  Flip meatballs after 15 minutes.

7. When done, let sit for 5 or so minutes.

8. Then, plop one in your mouth straight from the cookie sheet…or put them in a pot of sauce and heat some pasta for traditional spaghetti and meatballs…or come up with your own final preparation.

9. Most importantly, enjoy!

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