Sharing life’s cinnamon rolls

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Are you an innie or an outie?

This is the question a middle-aged woman posed to her friend as they sat down together at a local coffee shop. Noticeably pregnant and well into my third trimester, I couldn’t help buty wonder if she was directing the question toward me, talking about the belly button emerging from under my shirt.

I then noticed the woman point to a freshly baked cinnamon roll sitting on the table in-between them.

“Do you like to eat it from the inside or the outside?”

They were sharing the treat and it was clear from the excited look on the woman’s face that her friend answered with the preferred answer.

“Outside.”

I smiled at their shared logic, and also felt relieved not having to engage awkward dialogue about my bulging abdomen.

The conversation between these two friends reminded me of a quote I have posted in my office as a daily level-setting prompt: “Find yourself in everyone you meet.” I wish I remembered where I heard this for the first time, but regardless of its origin, the statement has continued to impact the way I look at the world. I’ve found that the more we can find ourselves in others, the easier it is to be understanding, kind and empathetic when it seems most difficult.

The two women found themselves in each other, but also celebrated their differences as complements – even if in a very small way.

On a separate occasion, I sat near an elderly couple who were a fine example of teamwork, friendship and love. The two sat close to each other, sharing one cup of coffee with a table full of large books in front of them. The wife read, while he pretended to be engaged in the words she was mumbling. Their actions were the true definition of marriage – laughing together one minute and bickering the next.

He held up a shiny iPhone in his hand with a seemingly defeated look on his face before turning toward his wife and handing her the device.

“It says you go ‘bink bink’ and you’re on your way, but I can’t figure it out.”

photoAfter speaking into the bottom of the phone, the wife stubbornly held up the phone as if trying to take a photo. Her husband held his hand up to stop her and then removed his glasses and smiled. Nothing happened.

The couple continued reading the books in front of them, all with titles aiming to help beginners navigate use of Apple products. Every new “trick” they stumble upon called for a minor celebration.

After burying his nose in a small, white paperback manual the size of a worn-out novel, the husband jumped up excitedly.

“Wallpaper!”

The wife seemed more frustrated than impressed, asking her husband how he found the new tool. He leaned over, taking on the role of teacher, while she eagerly watched him navigate to the wallpaper feature. An earlier scene began to play out again, as the wife snapped a photo of her husband with intentions of using it as ‘wallpaper’ on her new gadget. As the wife fumbled with the phone, her husband stood up and began heading to the restroom – but not without sharing newfound wisdom with his wife.

“Don’t forget wallpaper means it will be behind everything on your phone.”

She rolled her eyes. The two continued to work with their new mobile devices for more than an hour, together celebrating and secretly competing to be the first to find reach a new milestone.

“Oh, look here! I found the messages,” the wife said. The husband was silent and seemed to be avoiding the fact that his wife had beat him at his own game. He decided it was time to leave.

“We need to get going. We’ve been here too long.”

While attempting to navigate chaos during the holidays, we sometimes take for granted those closest to us, forgetting how they reflect a piece of who we are. Finding others as complements is not always easy, but it is necessary. This holiday season; remember to take time to think of how those in your life play a part in making a better you. After all, it doesn’t matter how you choose to consume your cinnamon roll, it’s finding a way to share the frosting that makes experiences most memorable.

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Blowing out quarter-century candles

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Birthdays are a good reminder of time and the realization of how fast hours, days and years pass by without warning. The saying “time flies” is not anything new, but it’s the truth.

I recently celebrated my 25th birthday. During a phone call with my Dad that morning, he made sure to remind me that any day after my birthday would be “sliding down the hill to thirty.” What happened to a fatherly rendition of singing happy birthday in front of a well-lit cake?

You know what though? He’s right. I’m no longer in the twenty fifth year of my life. I’ve shut the door on childhood, teenage rebellion and college living and have entered the next quarter-century of experiences, pitfalls, challenges, friendships and celebrations. As I sat down that evening feeling more exhausted than at any previous birthdays, my mind swirled with memories of the past year.

My daughter and I almost a year ago

Since becoming a parent, I’ve promised myself to jot down stories, frustrations and insightful memories to share with my children when they are older. This was no exception. On the back of my daughter’s daycare newsletter, I began scribbling – in no particular order – the lessons I have learned during the past year leading up to turning twenty-five.

  1. Traveling 13 hours with a tired husband, two dogs and baby to see family, even if in a few hours notice, is well worth the trip.
  2. The southern translation of passing gas is “poot”.
  3. Kickball is more than just a game played in gym class. There are leagues of teams playing eight-week seasons, complete with playoffs and concession stands.
  4. Being a parent is the most rewarding, complicated and fun profession out there.
  5. It is possible to make edible hard-boiled eggs in the oven.
  6. Spending Christmas without family (or snow!) is as difficult as it sounds.
  7. Some farmer’s markets sell “throw away” peaches at a discount; all you have to do is ask.
  8. Potty training is more difficult than it sounds.
  9. Andy Griffith grew up in Mt. Airy, N.C.
  10. Every pregnancy is different.
  11. Contrary to the way I was raised, many children will never known what it’s like to eat food out of your own garden.
  12. Ponytails can be fashionable.
  13. Babies grow way too fast.
  14. Meeting new friends without comparing them to others is impossible.
  15. There are never enough photos.
  16. Growing grass is similar to spending your paycheck on clothes without bringing anything home.
  17. It’s important to donate – anything.
  18. A routine drive to work and daycare can be a good opportunity for a toddler to learn colors of cars.
  19. If accidentally locked in a pantry, my Border Collie will make a mess.
  20. It’s possible to lose sleep excited for someone else.
  21. Two-year olds are smarter than people give them credit for.
  22. My husband needs to throw away fraying shirts he still has from high school.
  23. Waking up thirty minutes early to sit in peace before the day begins makes a world of difference.
  24. There is nothing like Michigan in the Fall.
  25. Strangers will surprise you, in more ways than one.

Reflecting on the last year of life has helped me appreciate the knowledge we learn from each other. I’m ready to start the next quarter-century full of experiences and lessons, but think it’s best I light the candles before cutting into the cake.

To my sister: Marriage is like finding your favorite pair of jeans

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As Matron of Honor, I was recently asked to say a few words before dinner at my younger sister’s wedding. After much thought, I crafted a message to fit her situation but wanted to share, as it might also be something you can relate to as well. As it turns out, finding a spouse is a lot like finding your favorite pair of jeans.

Hello and thank you for joining us tonight to celebrate Ryan and Brandi’s marriage. For those of you I have not yet had the chance to meet, my name is Alie and I am Brandi’s proud older sister. And, as the older sister, it’s only natural for me to offer a few words of advice.

While I’ve only been married three years myself, I’ve learned finding your perfect partner is like finding your favorite pair of jeans:

1. First you browse many stores and after trying on a few pair, you must make the important decision to commit.

2. Your new favorite pair of jeans have a way of always making you feel more attractive and more comfortable—no matter what the occasion. The same should be true in your marriage.

3. Some days you will be surprised to find the jeans no longer fitting as you remember. Give them a break and look in the mirror. You might be the one who has changed. Hold onto them anyway.

4. You might wonder how you became so lucky to find such a good quality pair of denim. Remember these moments, too.

5. Over the years and through various fads, it’s likely your favorite jeans will become altered – faded, shorter, less spunk and more holes. And, in the case of today – rained on. That’s OK. None of these things really matter, as they can be fixed, patched and sewn. As long as they still fit, that’s all that matters.

After asking multiple people to describe their favorite pair of jeans using one word– some of which came from a few of you in this room –the answers weren’t far from adjectives used often to describe a spouse. Among them, the answers included words like: small, transformative, flattering, comfortable, worn, tight, destroyed, sexy, excited, cherished, versatile, soft.

And, my favorite descriptions were those from the bride and groom – tight and destroyed.

I’m not sure I want to know the stories behind those descriptors and I might be in trouble if using a few of them when describing my own husband as the perfect spouse. But, the point is – finding and experiencing a good pair of jeans takes time, patience and compromise – just like marriage.

Brandi, it is so great to see you have found your match. It’s been fun watching you grow while shopping these past few years. I am so proud of the person you have become and wish you nothing but long-lasting denim, a snag-free zipper and buttons in-tact.

This next step in your life – foot first in the jeans of marriage – is an experience better than any other.

So, find a belt, learn to sew and resist the periodic urge to donate your jeans. Because, no one will fit those jeans quite like you.

Congratulations Ryan and Brandi and all good wishes to you

 

Missing Puzzle Pieces

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I recently came across a conversation similar to a puzzle with a few missing pieces. OK, maybe more than a few.

I generally don’t sit near the front of a coffee shop. The seat is convenient, but also comes with the sound of loud machines, a distracting cash register and a breeze every time the entrance door opens.

That is, unless it’s the only open seat in the place.

As I passed by a table of four before sitting down two feet away, something caught  my eye. The folks sitting next to me – two men, two women – were each holding colored notecards. Odd, but not too weird, I thought.

I went on about my business until I noticed two large school photos spread out in the middle of their table. One girl, one boy; both middle school age, flashing fake smiles in front of a dull blue background. What could they be doing? Playing a game with notecards. Yep, that’s it. 

That’s when I saw the writing on each of the notecards. “Food” on one. “Transportation” scribbled on another.

The four middle-aged adults were silent, holding and shuffling cards in their hands as if trying to decide on the next big move. It seems they are “ranking” the cards, placing them in piles based on importance.

“Pets are not a luxury,” one of the men said firmly. “I know it’s not OK, but it’s a reality.”

“They should have to pay something,” one of the women said in response. “Gas, electric, insurance.”

 

At this point, I’m moving further away from the notion this conversation is a game and closer to thinking the decisions being made at the table next to me would make an important impact on the lives of two middle school students. Maybe these individuals are giving away a scholarship, I thought.  

I kept listening.

“Where are we going to place travel soccer?” the second man at the table asked.  “And, what about braces?”

“We need to get her into a three  bedroom, 30-day apartment,” another added.

The conversation quickly turned from monthly expenses to a discussion about societal norms and their relation to the children’s situation — one I didn’t know anything about…. yet.

One of the men locked his shoe around the foot of his chair, sliding it closer to the table.

“It seems mothers have a hard time leaving their children, even if only for a few hours and fathers seem ok with it,” he said. “So, I understand you all have your own stress, but we need to think about the kids.”

Huh?

Just as it seems they are close to wrapping up the conversation and postponing the rest for a later date, they continue chatting, with one women becoming noticeably frustrated and beginning to dominate the conversation.

“He says all the right things,” she said, pointing to the picture of the young boy. “It’s all the stuff he knows you want to hear. I think it’s really a test.”

My “game” theory was gone. Scholarships had clearly been omitted from the realm of possibilities, too. So, what could they be gathering at this coffee shop to discuss?

The frustrated woman continued, sipping coffee between each statement.

“I feel stable in life if I can bring something to the party,” she said. “If he can’t bring something to the party he’s probably feeling used.”

The conversation continued, but  I could not hear the details over the loud coffee grinder. And then, the grinder stopped and the man, still loud as if trying to speak over the machine, said something to make me throw all of previous theories out the window.

“I’m assuming they are sleeping together,” he said.

Who is sleeping together? How does this even remotely relate to any of the details in the conversation previous to the coffee grinder?

I gathered more “pieces” to the puzzle, but they were more ad hoc details than added information to the story:

  • The boy’s father frequently tells him he needs to be more responsible;
  • One of the men at the table recently received a call at 11 p.m. on a Friday and he was concerned about the situation;
  • “She” – whoever that is – is the monkey in the middle; and
  • The boy’s father seems to think it’s OK not to have a relationship with his children as long as they turn out to be good people.

The four adults stood up and exchanged hugs before saying, “Let’s all get together again soon. We need to figure this out and make it happen.”

In my family, it’s an unsaid rule when putting together a puzzle that someone will hide a piece or two in their pocket until the very end. And, I’m beginning to feel that’s what has happened here, too.

Do you have a missing piece?