Welcome to 40 by Design

I’ve got exactly 40 weeks until i turn 40…

It’s January 2020, and here I am, looking at my planner and realizing that it’s showtime in this thing we call LIFE. What I mean is: 40 is what I’ve been waiting for. It’s the age that I’ve imagined that I’d have it all together, and come into my own…

I design customer/client experiences for a living. And my life isn’t all that messy or anything, but I definitely thought I’d have my shit together before now, you know? By 40, I should have this adulting thing down!

I decided that I’m going to do something different this year. Not exactly a resolution, more like a project. A LIFE DESIGN PROJECT. For 40 weeks, leading up to my birthday, I’m going to examine 40 different aspects of my life and the lives of women I admire, and make adjustments for maximum living.

Why do this?

  • Because I want to do something to honor this milestone—something to celebrate it. I want to bring more JOY into this year!
  • Because the more I work on improving aspects of businesses and brands, the more I see the connections you can make to improving your life. I like this idea, and I want a way to explore the concept.
  • Because it’s a creative project, and I’m a big giant nerd! I’m not sure what this will look like in the end, I’m just jumping in and seeing what happens, and that’s exciting because all my other projects are results-oriented. This is just for the doing!

I’m going to share things I’m working on (including organizing my closet, trying to do a better job at managing my household, fun things I want to try, and other goals I’m working towards); I’m going to share personal stories; and I’m going to explore deep issues. I invite you to follow along with me.

Before I get started, let’s answer a few questions:

  • Why are you blogging publicly, rather than keeping a personal journal?
    Because I did the research—there aren’t many interesting resources that discuss the topic of being a woman about to turn 40. I don’t care about “Anti-Aging Techniques to Keep You Looking Young” or “40 Things Women Over 40 Shouldn’t Ever Wear”. I’m interested in growth, depth, and insight. Maybe this will be a resource for other women looking for the same kind of thing.
  • What topics do you think you’ll write about?
    Cooking, Style, Decorating, Art, Managing My Schedule, Health, Being a Woman Business Owner, Being a Woman, Deep Soul Stuff…cats…
  • Who would you love to connect with via your blog?
    I want to connect with you if you’re a woman working to find her way in the world with intention. I want to connect with you if you care about character, grace, being a good person while doing great things…and how to manage all of that without going flippin’ crazy!
  • If you blog successfully throughout the 40 weeks, what would you hope to have accomplished?
    I hope that this will be a record of an amazing journey. I hope that I step into my 40s with a well-designed life that suits exactly me!

NOTE: My blog probably won’t be for everyone and that’s okay. I’m learning that you can’t make everyone happy, and this is ultimately for me. I’m exploring my life, so the topics I cover and my opinions are by no way anything you have to agree with me about. If you don’t agree, I invite you to stay anyway if you like. Or, you can stop reading and write your own blog! What we’ll agree upon now is this: negative, mean-spirited comments will be erased and ignored.

So, that’s the plan. 40 Weeks to evaluate, revise, and redesign my life. I’m happy you’re here to follow along!

Accounting for leopards

I’m sitting in my living room with my coffee, and the cats, watching the snow melt. In mid-April.

My husband is outside looking for a hammer he set down while doing some yard work before the storm, which he can’t find now because it’s covered in snow. I’d laugh at this, but he’s been distracted with so many unexpected circumstances hitting from all sides that it’s no wonder he forgot the hammer at the end of the day. We’re all a little out of our minds.

We’re coming up on two full months in quarantine. Life has changed completely as trips are canceled, projects put on hold, other projects come into focus, family gatherings are moved to online video chats and birthday card mail showers. Spring clothes were brought out in anticipation, then set back aside for sweaters and cozy socks. Again. Friends in the medical and senior care industries provide us with updates that are hard to comprehend.


I had a plan for this project. There were supposed to be challenges and weekly updates. I was supposed to make great “progress” in the last year of my 30’s.

I had a plan for my business this year. There were going to be speaking engagements, and meetings, and conference business trips.

Instead, my planner is gathering dust on the nightstand…


I am, however, very lucky. I keep getting client work. It’s giving me a baseline of productivity each day. And I know that there are only about 30 percent of us in the country who are able to do their jobs from home, so I’m counting huge blessings. I don’t have kids, so my work days are comparatively easy and disruption free (if we don’t count my husband in the other room, swearing at his computer).

I also have time each day to sit quietly and come to terms with everything going on around us. I can read and meditate, drink the coffee or tea, eat an entire bag of jelly beans. Take an hour in the middle of the day to zone out and watch some tv before finishing my next task. There are ways to cope. I’m making it through.


But—and I know I’m not the only one, here—the sense of anxiety and dread kept taking over, spilling from the subconscious into my main thoughts, keeping me up late. The list making and planning I did I the mornings felt useless and wrong by the afternoon. My sense of control dwindling as days passed and things just seemed further and further from normal.

I kept wondering, “Why am I not adjusting to this situation? Why am I not able to take control?”

Look at everything that has failed this year:

  • January: New Year’s Party—Canceled. Reason: Flooded basement.
  • February: Trip to Florida for Valentine’s Day and Conference—Canceled. Reason: Family death.
  • All events in March and April, maybe more: Canceled. Reason: Pandemic.

And then I stumbled upon a quote, and it shook me out of my current understanding of the world, and it changed things.

Leopards break into the temple and drink to the dregs what is in the sacrificial pitchers; this is repeated over and over again; finally it can be calculated in advance, and it becomes a part of the ceremony.

Franz Kafka, “Leopards in the Temple”

Chaos. My world view is based on my ability to control my surroundings. My ability to create the daily ceremonies that I depend on to feel in control. I haven’t accounted for the measure of natural chaos that is always a part of the world.

Chaos. Control.


I’m still mulling over what this might mean on my way to run errands—an unexpected sense of luxury just to get in the car and go to the tax office! I am at a stoplight, daydreaming. Watching three geese take off from the grassy median in v-formation, flying up, up, up.

The first two geese soaring, and then I see it. The third goose, in trying to keep up with his crew, fails to notice the light post the other two have cleared. He hits it full force with his neck. He swings, flailing through the air, and falls dead to the snowy ground.

My mind flashes to the leopards drinking the ceremonial water.

Chaos.


We think that we can control our environments. We think that we can make anything happen with enough planning and hard work. We get frustrated, angry, and scared when things don’t work out in the timeframes we set, or if they don’t happen at all. We think of the injustice that the third goose didn’t make it. We get irritated when our ceremony is put on hold because the leopards drank all the water. Again.

Chaos. Again.

I don’t know if we can say that the universe is trying to tell us anything. I don’t think I’m supposed to use this time to try to learn a lesson or better myself in some way. I don’t think any of us need to come out the other side of this collective storm with some sort of measurable, some productivity-driven goal achieved. I don’t think we were all put through this so that we could demonstrate new and better ways to control our surroundings.

Instead, I’m wondering what happens if we get comfortable with less control. Fewer deliverables. Less productivity. Less DOING.

What if we incorporated a little bit of chaos into our plans? Or at least, took the time to notice and note the chaos instead of trying to ignore it. I think it’s time to experiment. It’s time to drop the reigns, let go, and see what happens.

I have no idea what this looks like, and I’m pretty sure there’s no way to control any part of it, but I think it’s time to include the leopards in my ceremony.

Keep Calm and Carry On: The Tradition of Sunday Suppers

Earlier this week, as I gathered my usual groceries, I had comfort foods in mind. I knew that we would be home for the weekend due to Coronavirus and possibly longer, depending on if my husband’s work unit asked his team to teleconference or not, and we’ve been experiencing sunny, but cold days. These things, as well as the fact that I’ve been re-reading Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, inspired me to bring home ingredients for a roast chicken with vegetables, cabbage and leeks for a St. Patrick’s Day meal, and enough other random produce to create any soup—carrots, celery, and onions will take you a long way to dinner!

The chicken and veggies, ready to go into the oven.

Sunday morning after breakfast, my husband and I sit in the living room with our coffee. We watch the cats wrestle in the sunbeams on the carpet. We chat about future plans, current family events, and what we want to plant in our garden this summer. As the coffee cools and the day really begins, he asks me what I want to do today…and the answer is pretty much my standard reply. I love to cook on Sundays, when the lazy hours stretch before me in uninterrupted potential. I gather my supplies and let my mind fly. 

Usually, I’ll listen to NPR, but the usual Sunday program didn’t fit my mood today, so instead I put in a Loreena McKinnett CD, “the book of secrets”, and begin on my chicken. 

As I cut vegetables and apply the rub to the chicken, my mind wanders to my great-grandmother. Whenever I cook chickens on Sunday, I think of the stories my mom tells of the days of her childhood when her parents sent her and her two sisters to live for the summers with her grandmother in the mountains of West Virginia.

My great grandmother, Glennis Carter, lived in a mountain community so small that you didn’t bother with a house address when you sent her letters. She married young, and she and her husband were expecting their third daughter (my grandmother) when he was killed at 25 years old in a mining accident. Glennis never remarried, and raised her daughters alone while running a general store. Her life was hard and she struggled. But she also found joy. Every Sunday, she killed a chicken and the town gathered at her house for dinner. She was renowned for her cooking. Even when I was a child, when we went to visit, she still baked little individual pies for each of us—she knew each of our favorites. 

My great-grandmother with almost all of her siblings: Nellie Reed, Glennis Carter, Hallie Lambert, Gene Hardway, Carol Hardway, Irene Lambert, Brooks Hardway (Not pictured Casto “Doc” Hardway)

I learned to cook by watching my mom, and she often shared stories of Grandma Carter on those occasions. They were her happiest memories of childhood, and I know that I was influenced by their simplicity: stories of swimming holes where kids swam with cattle on hot summer days; the one room school house that was open in the summer; my mom meeting her grandma after school to have a NeHi and a MoonPie on the front porch of the general store. Stories of my great-uncle Brooks, who went to the war and returned “shell-shocked”, became a hermit further up the mountain, and spent his days writing poetry. Stories of outhouse runs in the middle of the night. 

These stories often remind me that much can be made with very little. Grandma Carter made abundance from whatever resources she had on hand. Brooks only came down from his cabin once or twice a year for supplies. People grew gardens and shared their bounty.

I chop carrots, and peel potatoes. I slice onions—tears pouring down my face, sensitive not only to their aroma but to the feelings bubbling up inside as I think about how much I have, of all the abundance that surrounds me everyday. 

I don’t need to, but I start a pot of water boiling on the stove. I throw in the scraps of vegetables and spices that I’d normally throw away. The tops and ends of carrots and celery, a partial lemon, the potato peels, smaller stems of thyme and rosemary. A bay leaf and a knob of ginger. And, made from what we now could consider garbage because we are so bountifully blessed with grocery stores and restaurants, fridges and freezers overflowing, is a fragrant vegetable broth that I can use as a base for a more elaborate soup, or eat as it is. 

My kitchen is filled with the smells of roasting chicken and bubbling broth. The CD begins to play a Scottish ballad, “The Highwayman”, bringing back memories of my own country childhood with my sisters, playing Anne of Green Gables. The sun shines through the windows, and the birds and groundhogs dance through the backyard on various missions of their own.

And I know, no matter what our future holds, there will always be Sunday supper, as long as we are able to look around us and find—then share—the bounty in what we have.  

Roast chicken and vegetables.

February: Closet safaris and the unexplainable nature of grief

I am standing in front of my closet, trying to figure out what to wear to my father-in-law’s funeral. Over the next few days, on top of a writing project that I need to complete, I will now be traveling to Illinois to meet with family and begin the process of wrapping up his life, and all I can think about is how disorganized the closet is.

I pack two dresses, and an assortment of casual clothing to manage the ever-changing weather (we will arrive in Illinois to 0° temperatures, but by the day of the funeral, it will be in the mid-30’s, and I will drive home without a coat on a sunny 50° day). I throw in jewelry and makeup, a hairdryer, toiletries, and a few pairs of shoes. I grab my work bag and throw in the laptop—mid-project, the writing will just have to wait. I fill my purse with tissues and chocolate because these are the things I’ve come to realize are a necessity at all funerals. At the last minute, I throw together a tote bag of things I think I might need. I take one last look at the closet, close the doors, and meet my husband at the car.

On the road, we look at each other in that first moment you have after the whirlwind of activity when news like this sends you flying out the door, realizing that our Florida vacation isn’t going to happen.

I look out the window at waves of brown empty fields, at shivering naked trees, at the steel grey sky. I look at my husband again. Are you okay?

“I’m fine,” he says, good midwestern stoicism masking his face. “I just need to get things squared away, get the funeral arranged, and start dealing with the estate.”

I know what he’s really saying is that he’ll have time to grieve and process later. I also know he handles grief in ways that I don’t understand. We are opposites when it comes to working through emotions. After 10 years of marriage, I know to give him space.

In Illinois, we stay at an aunt’s house, in his grandparents’ master bedroom. The quiet room is a time capsule of my husband’s family. Pictures of the boys in 1980’s turtlenecks and plaid jackets, a rotary dial telephone next to his grandmother’s address book, a powder puff next to a dish of vintage watches. His grandfather’s golfing trophies. And the closets.

Five closets in this room, filled with the wardrobe of a woman with incredible taste and a comfortable life that afforded her time and money to shop. I marvel at the blues, reds, and greens and imagine what she must have looked like at my age, in a suit with a soft blouse, coiffed red hair, and a beautiful scarf.

A couple of days later I sit down to write. My project isn’t finished, and I know I need to get to work. But, I’m stuck. I can’t write a single word. After 5 minutes, I put the computer away. My feelings are raw, and I can’t explain what I’m going through. I look at the closets, and for the first time in all the years I’ve visited this house, I feel overwhelmed looking at the cozy space filled with memories.

I spend a day out at the farm where my father-in-law lived, working with my husband, his brother, and his brother’s girlfriend to begin the massive project of dismantling this chapter of the family home. Things had gotten away from him in this big old farmhouse. These closets were overstuffed, disorganized, and poorly maintained. For years, the brothers had asked their dad to let them come and help him to clean some things out, but he held on to his things and pushed them away.

As I went through a pile on top of a dresser, I was reminded of a story I once read about a nun whose worldly possessions fit into one box when she died. I remember that she had a beautiful hairbrush, an embroidered handkerchief, a prayer journal, and a pair of polished shoes. The writer spoke about her impact on the world around her as such a contrast to the small footprint she left behind. I am filled with grief, looking around the room at the many possessions of a man who I was never close to, and who didn’t give much in the way of an answer as to who he was in these rooms filled to overflowing with random things.

I begin to drag a giant plastic tote filled with old clothes to go to the burn pile through the hallway towards his back door. It’s a struggle to navigate with the load, and as I push and pull and fight with it, I am filled with rage.

I make it to the kitchen, and see my husband and his brother. I give the tote a giant kick and storm out the door. I stand on the porch and tears begin to flow. In the evening light, the sky is purple and crystal blue with streaks of pink clouds. The air is cold and crisp. Silence fills the expanse of fields surrounding us for miles.

Over the last 10 months, I have lost my grandmother, my grandfather, a cat, and a close friend from an old job. My husband has lost his father. Our core friend group has lost three more parents and another grandparent. Each time, the grief has hit in completely different ways, as we all help each other through—walking each others’ dogs or feeding each others’ cats; ordering dinner and staying in watching stupid tv instead of facing the world, knowing that at least we understand each other in this weird time; and laughing together about the macabre new trend we have of going to each others’ funerals.

Now, I count 2019 in losses:

  • For my grandmother, I was engulfed with a sense of wonder at a life lived in the service of others and how she had so much joy in the simplest of things, like a family dinner with her seven children and all the grandkids. Random friends? Welcome!
  • For my cat, only a year old and killed in a freak accident, I raged against god and was so angry I couldn’t breathe. My minister friend told me it was okay, that god is fine with us being angry. That anger is a real emotion, and helps us to get through the things in life that we can’t understand, like the cruel death of an innocent creature. He told me god could take it if I wanted to scream—and I did. It didn’t help much to ease the pain.
  • When my friend died, at the memorial they spoke of her struggle to come to terms with her illness and how she wrestled with the injustice of death come too soon. How she worked through it and found her faith strong enough to see her through, even though her body was failing her. I wept for her young adult children, and that they’d lost her daily strength—she was a rock for us all.
  • With my grandfather, only gone in November, I am working through my sense of loss even now. I found unexpected comfort from a friend who wrote on Facebook that his smile was familiar in a picture I posted—I never realized I’d inherited his mouth until that moment.

On my father-in-law’s porch, staring at the setting sun, I am dealing with a different grief. This death has brought me resentment—that a person would push his family to arm’s length and they still show up for him to pick up the pieces. That he wasn’t there for his boys, but yet they loved him. My husband comes to talk to me. “You are just now experiencing what we felt many years ago. We’re past this now, and have moved on to accepting how he was,” he says. “You’ll get there, too.” And I realize that he’s been grieving his father for years. For him, this is nearing the end of the story. For me, I’m just beginning to learn the lesson that waits for me.


When I get home, I begin to put clothes away. I open my closet, and start to purge…

Week 5 & 6: January Wrap-Up and February’s Theme

My January wrap up: So, in January I laid out my plan and began to focus on developing goals for the year. This actually took me the whole month, as I wanted to make sure that my goals would be things that I would actually follow through on and find valuable in my life. I wanted to find the things that would be significant to me, and get rid of the things that were motivated by others’ expectations.

January’s goal was to begin to make Health a priority again. I worked to put together a morning and evening check in process to make sure I was doing things like taking my supplements and drinking my water. I made a commitment to work with my body concierge for the year, to have her and a few others be my accountability partners.

I actually ended up making the hard decision to cut out some of my extra work-related non profit commitments, because in evaluating how I felt and what was causing me the most stress and anxiety, I realized I was not actually benefiting from being involved with them. This was probably the most difficult part of following through on my goals this month, but I’m very glad I did it. It wasn’t fun to be the person who lets others down and to step away, but it was necessary and I am at peace with my decision.

February is focused on getting deeper with explorations on Self love, self care, and visibility.

I have a big moment for stepping out of my comfort zone scheduled this month: I am going to Florida for a conference and all I can think about is how I’ll be meeting people in my online women’s business group in person for the first time. It feels like a huge step forward in the visibility of my business (and I know it’s going to be a huge step forward for my operations, management, approach to goals, and so much more!)

It’s also an exercise in self love because I am going to enter this room of business women from all over the world, not just my little circle of local friends, and I’m going to try my best to feel like I belong. That is so scary to even write!

As for self care, I am getting ready for this trip with my personal body concierge, who helps me with diet and exercise developed specifically for me. I’m doing yoga every single day and eating so many vegetables and drinking so much water!

I want to talk about some important things that I’ve worked through in all three of these areas this month. I can’t wait to share some of the things I’ve learned over the past several years on this theme! And, I would like to know if you have specific questions or topics that you’d like me to discuss. Let me know by leaving a comment.

Week 4 (a little late) is all about self care

How appropriate that my schedule listed Self Care as the topic for this weeks’ blog, because I got really sick and was forced to spend a LOT of time taking care of myself, and had time to think about self care as well.

This is another area of my life where I struggle to maintain focus and consistency. If it were up to me, I would totally live inside my brain—thinking, reading, writing, and creating art. I would never have to stop a project in order to do silly things like eating food, brushing my teeth, or plucking the pesky crazy chin hairs that have started popping up in my life on a regular basis! I might be more inclined to go to the gym if…nope, there’s not really anything that makes me actually want to go to the gym! (If you have tips on this, please share!) I know that I feel better when I eat regularly, when I go to the gym or do some yoga, and when I take a shower! I just have a hard time making these things a priority.

One self care ritual that does come naturally to me is writing and reading. I’ll journal all day if you let me. I’ll read inspirational books and think about how to apply the lessons that they teach to my own life.

Recently, I had a conversation that changed my entire approach to self care, and that’s why I put the topic on the list of things to write about. Here’s what I learned:

Self care is not a reward

Mind. Blown.
This is exactly how I was thinking about my self care, and I didn’t even realize it until she pointed it out to me. I was waiting to eat until I did a certain amount of tasks. I was waiting to shower until I had completed so many chores. I was allowing myself the ability to put down my responsibilities in order to read or relax only after I got past that arbitrary point on my to-do list that I’d created for myself.

Self care is also not optional. I was missing that aspect when I thought about it. I had an image in my head of massages, bubble baths, and face masks as self care. Those extras really could be considered rewards or special occasion treats for times when we want to celebrate a goal reached or a task accomplished. But that’s not the full picture when it comes to self care.

Self care is actually taking a step back (if you have trouble with it) and looking at your life and realizing that EVERYTHING needs maintenance and care in order to run properly. Our cars need gas, and oil, and tire changes. Car washes aren’t even frivolous because they help maintain the materials that make up the body of the car. If you don’t wash your car regularly, rust and other deterioration happens a lot faster.

Our homes need to be cleaned, we need to fix the little things that break, and do preventative measures like adding salt to our water softeners, and checking our fire extinguishers and alarms. At our house, we have to call a plumber every 2 years to get a pipe routed out or our basement floods. The maintenance saves us from emergencies.

We feed our children and our pets everyday. We make their doctor appointments, dentist appointments, or grooming appointments.

I realized that I was taking care of all the other humans and animals, and all the things in my life. But I wasn’t taking good care of me. Self care is simply maintenance—but we have to do it ourselves because as adults, we’re responsible for our own maintenance.

Why can this seem overwhelming? Because we don’t take time to do this on a regular basis, and wait until our bodies are screaming EMERGENCY!, until our engine lights are blinking, and our metaphorical basements are flooding. When you’re standing in ankle-deep water, wondering what to do next, you don’t have time to address the cause until you clean up the effect.

Which brings me to last week, when I was supposed to be writing this post. Instead, I was sleeping, sick and exhausted. AGAIN. I hit full-on crash and burn mode. I had a list of self care that needed to become a part of my schedule that was literally a page long, but I hadn’t implemented any of it yet.

On this list?

  • Start taking my supplements and vitamins again
  • Drink more water
  • Get back to the gym and start doing yoga again
  • Get back on my anti-inflammatory diet that helps with my PCOS
  • Make a doctor appointment
  • Make a dentist appointment

(See, all these things are just regular maintenance necessities that I wasn’t doing. And I wonder why I was sick?!)

I am also creating a second list, of things that help me to relax and feed my soul. I’m putting them in my planner as priority items that I will do in order to take care of me. These are all simple and free.

My Self Care List

  • Take a hot bath
  • Use my foam roller, or use the sauna or steam room at the gym after exercising
  • Drink tea, make a latte, or eat a snack
  • Color, paint, or draw
  • Read
  • Meditate
  • Do a face mask or paint my nails
  • Go on a nature walk
  • Watch a movie or listen to music
  • Pet a cat
  • Turn off my phone for the evening
  • Dance in my kitchen

I’ve decided that none of those things are rewards. If I have some money to spare, having lunch with my girlfriends, getting a massage, or buying myself flowers are also things that I might do to reset my mind and spirit. But I’m not using them as rewards anymore. I don’t have to spend a week at the gym in order to have a snack. I don’t have to eat healthy all week in order to go out with my friends on Friday. I don’t have to work for 2 hours in the morning before I take my shower.

I’ll keep you all updated on my progress with this goal of not turning self care into a reward, and I’d love to hear from you. What is your best strategy for making time for yourself? What are your favorite things to do to reset and center? Do you wanna go to a yoga class with me?

Sending love out to you all! Take CARE. 🙂

Abundance isn’t easy

“There will always be more pans” says my husband, looking at me with a mixture of dismay and amusement. He’s just walked in on me furiously scrubbing a favorite pan with a homemade concoction of baking soda and lemon juice, trying to return it to its former glory. It was not working, and my frustration was admittedly over the top by the time he arrived on the scene.

If you know me, you know I love to cook. You have also probably been (embarrassingly) treated to a tour of my pot and pan collection, because I really can’t help myself. I love them.

Over years of working in the kitchen wares industry, I’ve been able to amass a collection of cookware that I only dreamed about in my waitressing/newspaper stringer days. I’m obsessed with my pots and pans, and that’s not necessarily a good thing, as I found out over Christmas break this year.

The once royal blue pan that I am trying to save is done. There’s nothing left to do to salvage its former glory. It needs to be replaced.

“I’m interested to see how the copper pans perform,” my husband is saying. “They look great. We should try one.”

I nod, eyes on my coffee. But I’m thinking about the pan we have. It is one of the nicest ones I’ve ever bought, back when I was making corporate-job money.

“What if I don’t like the new pan?” I say this and literal tears start to form in my eyes. I’m mad at myself for using this pan I loved. “I shouldn’t have used that pan so much!”

“Honey. There will always be more pans. Why would you not use a pan you like? That’s why you bought it in the first place, isn’t it? Most pans don’t last forever.”

And there it is. Sitting right in front of me. My struggle to break my lack mindset and replace it with an abundance mindset is real and tangible in the idea of replacing a pan. I suddenly realize that I have been working towards this moment, and I take a breath to calm down.

I grew up with hard-working parents who didn’t have a lot of material things, and didn’t really believe in spending money on new items if you could get them at garage sales or antique stores. We made do with what we had most of the time. Often, if we bought something that broke quickly or didn’t work, we were told, too bad. That’s what you bought, you’ll have to make do. We aren’t buying you another one. I am thankful for that upbringing, but I do get very nervous about what I consider to be major purchases, and will spend a great deal of time agonizing about something I know I’ll keep until it’s unusable. I also have a hard time throwing things away. But my husband has a point. There absolutely will always be more pans. I can do this.

A few days later…

My husband returns from TJ Maxx, where he found a lovely copper pan with a dark blue exterior. He tries it out, and loves it. I try it out. It’s actually great. He says that we should experiment with a few more uses, and then get some more in other sizes to replace our other old pans. I say okay.

A couple of weeks later…

We have three shiny new pans in different sizes. They are great. We’re getting in the car to go somewhere, and I notice the old pans in the garage, waiting to go into recycling. I look at the blackened exteriors, the scratched and battered interiors, the loose handle on one. I really did love them. But it’s time to let them go. There really will always be more pans.

“Goodbye” I whisper as I get into the car. “Thank you for serving me so well.”

I can do this!

Week 3: Attitudes & Exercise

A reward for trying to do things you always thought you couldn’t do? Taking pictures with cute firefighters!

I’m a big nerd. I’m not naturally inclined to sports or physical activities. There’s a joke that occasionally shows up in my social media about having Celtic genes means that when you exercise, your genes protect you from the marauding Englis by keeping you plump as a partridge if you are running. Pretty much me!

But, I have learned a lot about myself, the expectations I have for myself, and what I really can do in the last ten years, and these lessons are what I want to take forward with me in the future.

1. I Am Capable. I started running when I was 29. It was kind of a self dare to see if I could do it. I have vivid childhood memories of my elementary school gym teacher screaming at me while we ran the mile for the Presidential Fitness rest because I was so slow and I have that thing where your skin is so pale that when you run, you turn red and people think you’re dying!

I never thought I was made for running, but I wanted to challenge that belief. It was hard. I had to run from one light pole, walk to the next, and run to the third when I started. I couldn’t believe it later that summer when I ran my first full mile! I had a good friend who patiently practiced with me, though she was faster and fitter. She ran with me in my first few 5Ks. I’ve run in a 5K almost every year of my 30s! I’m not fast, but the point is that I can do it!

2. I Don’t Have to Be The Best. I’m a pretty competitive person, and I do like a challenge. But I’m never going to be a competitive athlete and I am okay with that now. I had a hard time realizing that I could do sports and fitness activities just for the joy of moving and having a body that works. That was one of the biggest benefits of going though the first phase of my chronic illness before I was diagnosed and didn’t have the simple joy of health! Now, I know that the reward for fitness is just doing it and having the blessing of a body that holds me up, moves, stretches, and breathes!

3. I Don’t Have to Be All or Nothing. I can skip a day, a week, or longer depending on what’s happening and where my priorities are without giving myself a guild trip anymore. It’s my choice to workout or not. No one is able to do everything all the time, and I have lots of things that I want to do and that I love to do. Yes, yoga and running are on that list, but I do them when I have time, and when they’re a priority. My life is full and varied and I am happy with my body because it functions.

4. I’m Not Afraid to Exercise In Front of Other People Anymore. I don’t know where this quirk in my personality came from, but I was very secretive about exercising when I was younger. I didn’t want to go to the gym with my friends. I didn’t like taking a class with anyone that I actually knew. I was embarrassed of just the way I moved and felt in my skin, and didn’t want others to see my awkward flailing! Think if a human danced like a Muppet and you’re pretty close to my typical level of gracefulness.

But it’s no fun to hide and avoid things in life. I’m really tired of all that nonsense. So, I’m no longer afraid of moving in front of people. I’m embracing my fully nerdy self and doing things with my friends! I’m even doing yoga with my husband.

5. Finally, I’m embracing my beautiful body as it is. I’m wearing what I want to wear when I am doing regular life, when I’m working out, when I’m at the beach. I’m so pale that I glow in the dark. I have a squishy body with great curves. I realize that my double chin isn’t hideous when I hang out with my niece who has the same chin! I’m just deciding that I’m having fun being me.

I read a meditation last year that rocked me to my core and changed a lot for me in this last area. And the idea was so simple: I am not my body.

I am not my body.

I am the spirit, the essential core, that resides in this body. My body is my shell, like a turtle or a crab. It’s my protection and my vehicle. It’s how I do my mission, whatever the mission is. And that idea is pretty freeing. I may be judged by my body, but that’s not a judgment of who or what I really am. Whatever I really am will outlast this physical body.

Whether you love or hate the shell you’re currently residing in, take care of it. That’s the most important thing I hope that my experience can impart to you. Health is a gift. We’re so lucky to have whatever health we’re given and it might not last. So move for the joy of it. Let other people move with you. No one actually does care if you dance like a Muppet!

My own health journey

NOTE: This post contains topics including reproductive health. If you are sensitive about these subjects, please know that this is my experience. This post is not meant to be advice and is completely my own opinion.

After approximately 30 years of relatively good health that allowed me to basically ignore that aspect of my life, all through 2013 I struggled with a snowballing list of symptoms that I couldn’t figure out.

I was working out 6 days a week because a friend and I had taken up running in 2009. I did yoga, crazy cardio classes, and ran. I was eating extremely healthfully, and kept a log of everything I ate.

Yet, with this seemingly healthy array of habits, I was exhausted. My ankles began to swell and hurt constantly. I started going to physical therapy and cut back on the running, though I didn’t stop. I also started gaining weight. Between 2010 and 2013, I put on 40 pounds and it kept climbing no matter what I did. I also started getting migraines at a much higher pace than normal for me—they started at about one a month, and by 2013, I was getting them 2-3 times a week. I started to see a neurologist but nothing helped. The entire time, I did have a very stressful job, and it was keeping me in the office for long, highly intense hours on a regular basis. I started noticing my hair was falling out. OH, and I got shingles. I started coming home from work every night, eating some food, and falling asleep. I had no energy for anything else. I felt like a 90 year old woman.

I went from a size 4, to a 6, skipped the 8s, then 10, and 12 within such a short period of time, I didn’t know from day to day if any of my clothes would fit. My husband found me in tears the day I couldn’t zip up my knee-high boots because my left leg was so swollen. I had to cut myself out of that boot.

Every conversation I had with a doctor went like this:

  • I would list the above litany of symptoms and concerns.
  • The doctor would look at my food log and exercise journal, look at me—obviously puffy and 40 pounds heavier than my previously natural weight—and suggest that I was not being truthful.
  • The doctor would tell me I was stressed out and should look into antidepressants.

I knew that wasn’t the answer. I just knew something else was going terribly wrong.

Finally, I attended a Christmas party where the wife of one of my husband’s colleagues started sharing about her job as a fertility consultant. Some of the stories she told about her own journey with health made me ask her some deep questions—I hadn’t been trying to get pregnant, but she had dealt with many of the same symptoms I was dealing with and I thought…maybe this isn’t a coincidence.

Through our connection, and eventually my becoming her client, we were able to finally come to a diagnosis of PCOS in 2014. I had to find a specialist who could diagnose me, and I had to advocate for myself. My doctor did not refer me. They were still pushing the antidepressant route.

April 2014: I weighed 180 pounds, up from my natural set point of 130 (natural set point meaning that’s the weight I was at, effortlessly, before I started dealing with symptoms of my disease). I had stopped exercising due to the swelling feet and ankles and the pain. I was more than tired—I felt like I was walking around dead. And, I went off birth control as part of the diagnosis process, revealing that my cycles (which had never been regular) had completely stopped happening naturally.

Me in the middle, with my friends right around the time I was diagnosed.
Me in 2009, at my wedding. I had already started gaining weight and dealing with the ankle swelling here, but it wasn’t hugely noticeable.
Me in 2006 before anything was wrong.

It was actually a relief to get a diagnosis. At that point, I was sure I would never feel healthy again. I went to the bookstore, got 3 books on my condition, and began to study.

I started to put what I learned into practice, beginning with my diet. I had an assortment of supplements that were recommended to me by my specialist. He also suggested that I go gluten free, because often gluten causes severe inflammation and digestive issues in people with PCOS. I was skeptical—it’s become such a fad diet and people don’t understand that it’s not a weight loss tool. But, my husband (who turned out to be my biggest health champion!) said we should give it a shot because I had nothing to lose.

Within two weeks my life changed. I began to feel more energy. I didn’t wake up and immediately want to go back to sleep. I felt like going for a walk to get some exercise. I stopped feeling shaky and weak an hour after eating (because I was regulating my blood sugar better with the new diet and supplements). My ankles stopped hurting and the swelling started to go down.

That first year, I lost 10 pounds of the 50 I’d gained and I kept it off for awhile, which gave me hope. I was still under a lot of stress and there were many life changes to make before things really took off, but it was a HUGE start, a relief, and a new lease on life!

In the last 4 years, I’ve had the energy to go back to grad school while working full-time, I left that job and started a business. I started a second business! I travel, I go out with friends, I do all the things I’d missed out on when I was so sick! My migraines are back to a once-a-month level.

I won’t ever be able to have children, but my husband and I are at a good place with that. We love our lives, and are just happy that I’m well enough to enjoy all the things we get to do.

Last year, I took huge strides in regaining the levels of health I enjoyed before my journey with PCOS started. I found a hair care strategy that helped me to begin regaining the nearly 20% hair loss. I started working with a body concierge who has helped me to further refine my diet to my nutritional needs and specific health concerns, and I lost 13 pounds.

This year, we’re working on building back my muscle strength, and creating a low-impact workout routine that my health can support. I want to be as strong on the outside as I feel on the inside. I will probably lose more weight in the process, but the goal is health.

I am so thankful for all that I’ve been through. It made me strong and resilient. It made me realize how much I took my health for granted. It gave me a glimpse of the struggles people go through to maintain their health in our busy culture. I had to make hard choices in order to get to this point—I truly had to change my whole life. But it has been so worth it. I can’t wait to see what happens next!

Me today—a woman with strength!

Week 2: The Health Challenge

NOTE: My personal health journey has been a roller coaster, and I’m going to share more about that in a later post because I think it’s important for you to know where I’m coming from.

Years, probably, have been spent in my life worrying about health, weight, food, all the things we consider to be essential to the experience of being a woman in our culture. I wish I could say that I didn’t worry about these things. I know a lot of it comes down to vanity, and not much of it is meaningful. I’m working on it.

This year, I am trying to focus on the meaningful side of health. My challenge is based on taking better care of myself because I want to know that I have the energy and capacity to be able to focus on other areas of my life. I don’t want to waste time on sick days, injury recovery, or low energy and shakiness because I’ve forgotten to take care of myself. These things are hard for me.

Creating this month’s challenge, I started by setting some tangible goals for WHAT I wanted to accomplish:

  • To manage my chronic illness consistently and proactively.
  • To increase my energy levels.
  • To build strength.
  • To work towards a healthy BMI.

Next, I worked on laying out the strategy:

  • I set a why as the first half of my strategy because I have to be doing something for a reason, other than the outcome, otherwise I fall off the wagon before I’ve reached my goal.
    My WHY: I have struggled with my health for almost a decade and I’m on an upswing. I know what it’s like to feel terrible all the time, and I refuse to go back to that! I am working on my wellness so that I don’t have to constantly think about my wellness.
  • The second half of the strategy is the how. This is where I set the tasks I’m going to complete in order to achieve the goals.
    My HOW: To manage my chronic illness consistently and proactively, I need to take the supplements that I know help me on a regular basis, I need to regularly sleep well for 8-9 hours a night, and I need to manage my stress levels. For strength building, I’m doing yoga because it’s low impact. I decided that working on a pose that I’ve always wanted to do that builds core strength and another that builds arm strength would be my “goal” and that I’ll have to do yoga consistently in order to do those. To increase my energy levels, on top of managing my stress and sleep, I’m going to also go to the gym to do low impact workouts on my non-yoga days. And all of these things combined with my healthy eating habits (what I worked on last year) should lead towards the healthy BMI.

Next, I needed a plan for my challenge—the steps I’ll take to meet my goal. I worked on taking each of the strategy items, assigning specific tasks and then scheduling WHERE and WHEN I would do them. For example: I’ll do yoga on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at my house in the living room. I also picked out accountability partners to keep me on track. Knowing WHO I can lean on when I need motivation to keep going is a huge key to meeting this challenge.

Now, I’m in the implementation phase. I have to actually DO the things in order to meet the goal. While I do each step, I’ve set specific check-in times to refine what I’m doing based on TRACKING my progress, EVALUATING whether it’s working, and then ADJUSTING as needed.

I have a Google Doc* that I built and attached as a link to my calendar on the days that I’ve set aside time to track my progress. As I move forward, I’ll provide updates to see if this all works, to share what I’ve learned and whether this plan is worth carrying over into the next decade!

*Want a Google Doc of your own? I can send you a copy. Just send me an email to let me know you’d like one.

Week 1: Setting up the Plan

Imperfect.

We spend January 1 walking through our lives, room by room, drawing up a list of work to be done, cracks to be patched. Maybe this year, to balance the list, we ought to walk through the rooms of our lives…not looking for flaws, but for potential.

— ellen goodman.

In my mid-30s, I blew up my life, and over the last 2.5 years I’ve been slowly working to put everything back in order—but not back together, because I want a completely different life by the time I’m all done and ready to move forward.

I went back to grad school, I left a job that made me miserable, and I started my own business. Those were the big 3 of the shakeup.

As I let go of those big things the smaller things that I’d put up with because there were more important things to address started to clamor for attention, too. I started to ask why I didn’t stand up for myself more, why I wasn’t taking care of myself, and whether the beliefs I’d carried about myself through life to this point were even true anymore. I started to take a look at my relationships and the way that I spent my time.

Now, I am starting this project as a way to reset my parameters. I’m going to experiment with how I do things, do a lot of writing & thinking, and talk to other women.

By my 40th birthday, I hope that my life will be all set for the next chapter, full of joy and intention. I hope to have a framework to get me through whatever challenges come in the next decade.

While I’m going to write about a lot of ideas and subjects organically, these are the main topics I plan to dive into each month:

  • January: Health
  • February: Visibility, Self-Love, and Self-Care
  • March: Soul Searching
  • April: Financial Independence
  • May: Fashion and Organization
  • June: Relationships & Family
  • July: Travel
  • August: Creativity
  • September: Stepping Out of Comfort Zones

Another part of this project is being okay with imperfection, and being kinder to myself in the process of redesigning my life. My husband recently pointed out that I was hyper self-critical…and I knew that, but it was startling to know other people see that in me, too.

I don’t deserve to have to live under such hard criticism, even if it is from myself. I need to show myself some grace, and learn to make room in my life to learn, to make mistakes, and just to breathe. So, I made my word of the year for 2020: Imperfect.

If any of this sounds interesting, I hope you’ll follow my blog. I’ll have some challenges if you’d like to do some of the same projects that I tackle.

So, there it is. That’s the plan. I’ll share January’s Challenge on Wednesday.

It’s all happening.

Penny lane, Almost Famous.