Wednesday, November 19, 2014

This is 45

Source: The Cake That Ate Paris

I'll admit it. I entered my 40's begrudgingly. I ushered in the decade sipping some bad wine while the NYC commuter trains roared by, shaking my newly acquired rental house as if it were made of paper. The stock market crash had stolen my life, and on top of that my face was showing its age. It seemed like my best years were behind me, and I wasn't happy.

That day seems eons ago, but just 5 years have passed. I've settled into my 40's, and things aren't quite so bleak. In fact, I've learned quite a bit. Here's what 45 looks like:

  1. I've learned that life paths are fragile and unpredictable. Today's normal may be shattered by job loss, death, or illness tomorrow. Today I strive to embrace each moment I have.
  2. The older I get, the more I realize I don't know. My life isn't figured out, nor do I know better than my neighbors or friends. This realization has made my life fuller, as I am open to more ideas and I don't judge.
  3. I've relaxed in my parenting. My children have taught me not to judge their progress with charts and compare notes with other parents. I love and support and push when necessary. That's what they need.
  4. I've moved beyond panic and dismay when I confront my wrinkles in the mirror. No, I haven't decided I like them, but I do realize they are part of the aging process. I will do my best to fight aging, but I will not break the bank or waste my precious time fretting about the inevitable.
  5. Marriage has stretched me. It is bumpy, exciting and not at all as I envisioned it when I said my vows. Marriage is compromising and arguing, but it is also laughing and partnering. Having a person who has my back when life is throwing seemingly insurmountable hurdles my way has been worth every struggle. Marriage is the soft pillow I lie my head on every night, no matter what.
  6. Life provides opportunities to reinvent ourselves time and again. These opportunities most often arise at life's milestones: when we go to college, get married, have children. They also come about when crisis enters our lives. These are key moments to assess wants, needs, and talents and forge a whole new path for ourselves.
  7. Crisis will come. I've learned to allow myself to grieve and be angry. I won't let anyone deny my struggle by pointing out a silver lining they think I ought to desperately hold onto, but after I've taken my time to grieve, I know I have to use that crisis as an opportunity to become a better version of myself.
  8. I spent many years pretending I was okay when I was not. Today I go out in the world acutely aware many others do the same. I am by no means perfect, but I try to offer a smile and a nice word to those who cross my path.
  9. I don't waste my time being angry. When I confront road rage and rude people (who are everywhere) I take a breath and shake it off. I thank my lucky stars I'm not as angry as they are, and I move on.
  10. I learn whenever I can. I read books, watch instructional YouTube videos, attend classes and seminars. Learning keeps me young, interesting, relevant, and informed. It makes me excited to get up and see what the day has to offer. 
  11. I ask questions, all the time. In the past I spent a lot of time telling. Asking allows me to better understand my friends, family, and clients. It opens the door to another person's heart. It puts my focus on others, not just myself.
How does life look at your age?

Monday, November 3, 2014

It's the little things

It's often the smallest gestures that have the greatest impact

It really is the little things that count.

How do I know?

I've spent a fair number of years in the dark. Perhaps you've occupied that space yourself, where life is a heavy burden that presses down on you a little bit harder each day. It's a lonely and fragile place, making it a time when the impact of small gestures is magnified.

The gestures I'm referring to are so small that it's easy to overlook them. They are seen in the cashier who raises her eyebrows and shares a joke about the outrageous price of organic milk. They are seen in the man circling the crowded parking lot who gives up his space to a stranger, for no apparent reason. They are seen in the woman at the checkout who winks and smiles at the mom, even though her child is fussing.

Though these actions may seem inconsequential, they rarely are, because a small act of kindness can envelop the jagged and lonely heart. It can reach in and pull those in despair into the light.

As we go about living our lives, we often focus on ourselves and our endless "to do" lists. Our interactions with people at the bus stop, in the library, and at the sub shop down the street are rarely top of mind, because they don't seem important.

But they are. There is meaning in every encounter we have with others, and that meaning is often much greater than we realize. There's no need for grand gestures. Just kindness.

Friday, October 31, 2014

The cocky painter

Using chalk paint to transform furniture

There's nothing more exciting than unleashing an idea I've been carrying within. I love to transform raw ideas into physical things that can be touched, savored, read, worn, admired. It might be a favorite restaurant dish I recreate for my family. It might be an article that shares the emotion locked deep inside, that I was able to coax to life with just the right words and rhythms. It might be a newly painted room, with the perfect eggshell finish, the quintessential modern, slate color.

When my friend suggested I refinish a tired, moldy piano I'd inherited from my mother, then, I became excited about transforming the grotesque into the beautiful. As I tiptoed into the world of salvaging and refinishing, I reached out to my friends, who held my hand, giving me advice on paint colors, technique, and waxes. When completed the piano was stunning.

That's when it happened. I fancied myself an Annie Sloan protege. I began giving others advice. I became a bit cocky.

I was on a roll. What else could I paint, I began to wonder. How could I make the world around me, in my little new house, more beautiful?

I have the dream of refashioning a tiny room, perhaps originally a sewing room, into a dressing room. I have a fabulous gold mirror, and a decadent sheep skin rug in it. A chandelier, an antique desk, some beautiful shelves to complement my armoire, and my vision would be a reality. So I decided to try a two color distressing technique with my bland old desk chair. I'd paint it gold, then white, then wax, distress, and wax some more. It would be the first step toward creating a room I could call a masterpiece.

I painted, sanded, waxed, distressed, and waxed again. And, as my son aptly described it, when I was done my chair looked like I'd smothered it in dog doo doo. It wasn't pretty. No. It was a complete disaster.

I was crushed. Had my piano project been a fluke? Had I experienced beginner's luck? What would I do now?

Naturally, I decided to cover up all evidence of my art project gone awry. I sanded the chair to the bone and started over. This time I skipped the dark wax and made sure the gold color showed through at the marks of distressing.

The result?

It's better, but I'm no distressing aficionado. I think I'll focus on writing down words for the next few weeks. They are easier to make beautiful.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Who are you?

Who are you?
Who looks back at you from the mirror?

Who are you? Could you write a tag line or elevator speech about yourself as they suggest you do in professional development seminars?

I've always had a difficult time bundling my skills and interests into a concise yet still coherent sentence, and I've decided that's a good thing.


Being in your 40's doesn't mean you've made all your major life decisions and the road is clearly paved. In fact, this time is exciting for many of us, who've worked in corporate America, paused to raise children, and now have the opportunity to reinvent ourselves. It's an exciting fork in the road that I must admit I sometimes travel with exhilaration and other times with great fear.

I have no idea who I am, and I'm happy about that, because I'm just now discovering new interests and skills. 20 years ago I ate cereal for dinner because I could barely put in the effort to heat up soup. Today, I chop, sauté, and braise. I come home from restaurants and try to recreate dishes. 15 years ago I did nothing but eat, sleep and breathe technology. I worked 16-hour grueling, yet mind-bending days at a consultancy in Boston. If I had interests, I had no idea what they were. Today, I'm painting pianos, researching fascial tissue, teaching Pilates, writing books, blogging, and selling skincare products. Each activity opens doors, exciting new places to experiment and learn.

Not everything leads to success, and I've had my share of duds (calls for takeout when my meals flop, rejected books and blog posts, DIY projects gone horribly wrong, lackluster starts to new businesses).

These bumps can put a wrinkle in my confidence, and they require reflection about my own skills and interests. But all of this is crucial if I'm to truly understand who I am and what I can offer while living in this world.

Funny. When I was in my 30's I thought I had it all figured out. I knew what I wanted. I was climbing the corporate ladder and enjoying success. I did not have open questions. Today, I've learned that I'm far from figuring anything out. And when I think I have, something (a recession, an illness, or some other calamity) is likely to blow that understanding to pieces. Today I know I'll be working on developing an answer to that above question for some time. In fact, I'll worry if I ever arrive at a concise answer. How about you?

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Urbanites and the pull to earth

A retreat to nature restores the spirit and the mind

My husband is such a smart aleck. After I painted a picture of familial bliss this past Saturday, complete with blue skies, fiery red foliage, happy children picking apples, and satisfied husbands eating savory applesauce and home baked pie, I thought I'd convinced him he'd enjoy a retreat from city dwelling.

But right before getting into the car he sent this tweet to his gazillion followers:

Wife tells me that apples grow on trees and you can go miles away and pick them. 
Seems easier to go to the grocery, but whatever… 

Clearly, he doesn't get it.

A result of today's plentiful concrete and skyscrapers, today's urbanites have acquired a thirst for the land, for rustic living, and fresh air. This is evidenced by the chicken coops, beehives, and ambitious organic vegetable gardens that now occupy my neighbors' backyards. And, ever popular farmer's markets cater to our new found desire to see dirt on our vegetables and embrace the unwaxed and not so perfect looking, yet still delicious, tomato.

Because somehow we know, intrinsically, that a communion with nature and the earth will revive our spirits and senses. 

My yearly apple picking adventure has nothing to do with convenience. Instead, it's a retreat for the soul, an opportunity to marvel at the clean air and feel the powerful sun warm my body. It's an opportunity to walk the fields and smell the fruity scent that travels down each row of trees. It's an opportunity to savor  that first, crisp bite of fruit and laugh as the sticky juice runs down my chin. It's an opportunity to teach my children that food grows from the earth, not from color coded bins in the supermarket.

That's why the grocery store just won't do.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Busy-ness and its risks

Don't let busy activities distract from enjoying the moment

Silly me. I thought things would slow down a bit when school commenced this fall. I thought I'd have a moment to collect my thoughts, to sit down at my computer and write some beautiful blog posts I could share with you.

But no. Work, school activities, extracurricular activities, and housekeeping chores have crowded out space not just in my schedule, but in my mind. Clearly, this year's challenge will be to carve out time to slow down, reflect, and make sure life doesn't skate by without my taking notice.

Being busy is good.

In fact, I feel gratitude every day, because I wake up to a full schedule of clients and stacks of books that are challenging me to think and teach in different ways. I relish the enthusiasm my children display towards math, science, reading, art, basketball, speed skating, choir, and piano. I marvel at the way they are slowly revealing to me who they are, answering the questions about their passions, their creativity, their unique talents that I asked when I held them in the hospital on the days they were born. I thank my incredibly committed husband, who works 7 days a week and lately travels often, for persevering against all odds and building a business from the ground up, something many don't have the stomach to do.

But this busy-ness. It comes with risks, risks of focusing on getting through the day and the task to the exclusion of actually noticing what happened and enjoying it. Perhaps this blog will help me avoid this risk and enjoy the crazy days. I hope so, because they aren't going to end. Any. Time. Soon.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The neglected piano

This summer I found out there's a chalk paint cult following. There is a small group of people in your community that is, right now, painting, waxing, distressing, and buffing chairs from flea markets, beds from grandma's garage, forgotten attic mirrors, and other items they once thought they detested.

These people will transform these items, ohh and ahh over the amazing results, top them with flowers and pictures, then quickly search for the next item to tackle. They cannot stop…

I jumped into this creative and crafty community with trepidation because, although I love art, and I love to make things with my hands, I'm also terrible at it.

But a friend of mine, who knew I had a tight decorating budget, pushed me. Because she has exquisite taste, and because she owns a home that ought to be plastered on the front page of a decorating magazine, and because her design aesthetic is a perfect model of gorgeous, affluent, yet comfortable living, I responded.


During the four years I lived with my parents, my mother introduced my son to the piano. A former teacher, she taught him until he was hooked, then found a fabulous teacher to carry on from there. My son loves to play, and he excels in his ability to hear tunes and rhythms. The expression he plays with astounds me. He is definitely a natural, in a way that, to my mother's chagrin, I never was.

Upon moving, my mother announced that we could have her second piano because, really, a 74-year-old and her husband don't need 2 pianos. This piano was mom's original, later replaced by a grand piano. It sat, neglected, in the basement, only occasionally banged on by a bored grandchild in between play with Legos and Lincoln Logs. It had traces of mold traveling along its bottom and wore years of wear and tear on its chipped and scuffed frame. The color of its keys were stained, like an old smoker's yellow teeth.

That piano was going to ruin my living room. I knew I had to take it, for my son's sake, but I abhorred the idea of its sulking in the corner of a room where celebrations and intimate gatherings take place.

So, I decided, despite my lack of skills, I'd join the cult. I simply had nothing to lose: I could not ruin this piano. My friend held my hand as I agonized over colors, waxing, and technique. But, it looks pretty darn good right now, don't you think? I actually like the charm it adds to my living room. And you know what? It was easy.

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