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.

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New Year Lessons: Naps, Trains and Weddings

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While others are well on their way to jump starting new years resolutions, I’m still trying to figure out how 2012 is already here! But, I’d be lying if I said I’m not also taking time to reflect on 2011 and set goals (finally) for 2012. Except, this year, I decided to use coffee shop lessons as an inspiration.

This year my goal is to write down one lesson I’ve learned each day. But before tackling that goal, I want to reflect on a few lessons I learned in coffee shops during 2011.

1. Two women, appearing to be close friends, coincidentally visit the same coffee shop at the same time. The women engage in conversation while waiting in line,  not taking long to share personal details.

“When I dream, I’m always young and single,” one of them said. “But I would never tell my husband that.”

Lesson: It’s important to have close friends. Every conversation adds a new  layer to the relationship.

2. A woman shared a glimpse of her life a few years ago. Her husband was forced to retire due to injury, she lost her job and so did her sister. Her mom became ill and the family dog passed away — all within two months. She allowed herself to be sad, but not for long. Realizing their break from obligations, the three moved to be closer to and help their mother. Had they not lost their jobs, they would have needed to hire someone to help.

Lesson:  Bad things happen; sometimes all at the same time. But, it’s a matter of perspective and how we react to the situation that really matters.

3. During a brief exchange with a barista, one woman said, “I’ve found my running pace improves with short, quick steps.”

Lesson: Exactly what she said.

4. A mother of the bride was discussing details with her daughter’s wedding planner. As the conversation builds, she begins speaking quicker with each word, as if paying the planner by the minute. “So much goes into planning,” she said. “We have the horse and carriage and now I’m thinking we are going to need to plow the field for the buses to get through.”

Really?

Lesson: Our society places too much emphasis on the details of the wedding and not enough on the meaning of the wedding. I can’t help but think of how the money paying for these lavish affairs might be spent otherwise to help fulfill the basic needs of others.

 

5. One man sits down, while another approaches the counter to order. He then returns to the table, coffee mug in hand. “Think my wife will like this one?” he said, holding up a red and white striped mug.

“I don’t know which one she would like better, but that one is cracked.”

“Probably a good reason not to get it.”

Lesson: Some things aren’t meant to be.

6.  Two businessmen are meeting to discuss, well, their children. “My daughter’s dorm was hit by the hurricane,” one of them said. “Her Resident Assistant helped get her through the terrible experience.” He went on, sharing his daughter’s experience had resulted in her volunteering for relief effort clean up and signing up to be a Resident Assistant in 2012.

Lesson: Sometimes opportunities appear when we least expect them.

7. A man rushed in to the coffee shop, noticeably frustrated. Another man passing by recognized him and they made small talk. When asked about being upset the man said, “I decided to leave the office and grab coffee before biting someone’s head off.”

Lesson: We all have these days. It’s best to accept it, buy a cup of coffee and move on.

8. A young college student sitting by herself breaks concentration to say hi to a young man as he sits near her. During their conversation she tells him about a time her family took a vacation abroad. Her mom was separated from her in a large crowd getting on a train. Her and her brother stared at the train as it departed with their mom aboard and no way of contacting her. They waited for the next train, rode to the next stop and didn’t find their mother until returning to their hotel two hours later.

Lesson: Keep family close – literally.

9. On more than one occasion, conversations focused on having trouble finding a perfect gift.  One man shared he was at a loss trying to think of something his 90 year-old mother would need. Another woman juggled gift ideas for her father-in-law. After deep discussion, it was settled – the mother would be getting a generator (she’s lost power five times in the past year) and the father-in-law, football tickets.

Lesson: Spend less time wondering “what to give” and more perfecting the act of “how to give”.

10. I walk past a man on the way in, keep an eye on him over my shoulder while visiting and smile at him upon leaving. The man sat in the middle of the coffee shop; swallowed by an oversized, dark brown leather chair. His body sank as his head lay back, resting on the back of the chair.  He was sound asleep, mouth wide open, for the full two hours I was there (and maybe longer).

Lesson: When the opportunity presents itself, take a nap.

Keeping these lessons in my back pocket, I’m raising my mug. Cheers to you for a wonderful 2012!

Better late than never.

Interested in reading other blog posts about new year lessons? Here are a few of my recent favorites:

What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

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“What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”

I sat in my own cozy coffee shop (also known as a living room with a pile of clean laundry on the floor) –  remote in one hand,  cup of coffee in the other.

In an effort to relax from a long day, I took at a look at my lengthy list of DVR recordings, settling on a new airing of Oprah Winfrey’s new “Life Class”series.

For those of you who don’t watch the new Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) or haven’t been (or won’t admit to) sucked in by the big surprises and controversial topics – Oprah Winfrey has launched a new network on cable TV. The new network still hosts shows accompanied by introductions so loud they sound like a whale in the middle of the ocean (Think: “You get a car, You get a car”). 

But, the  particular show I was watching isn’t as flashy. No special guests. No live audience. No giveaways. Instead, the show is a one-hour slot, with the objective to teach life lessons to viewers. Oprah’s the teacher, we are the students.

Today’s lesson? Stepping out of the box. A little cliche, if you ask me.

Throughout the show, Oprah posed this question to viewers: “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”.

My wheels starting turning….

All fears aside.
 

Worries out the door.

I started to make a list.

If I wasn’t afraid, I would:

  • Open a wine bottle with my face in front of the cork;
  • Run a second marathon…this time pushing my daughter in a stroller;
  • Eat more ice cream;
  • Sit down with a homeless person and ask them about their dreams;
  • Take my dogs for a walk – alone and in the dark;
  • Ride more elevators;
  • Write a book;
  • Swim with my eyes open and nose unplugged;
  • Wear sweatpants to work;
  • Sing in public;
  • Set up a lemonade stand;
  • Travel the world;
  • Pick up a penny that is face down;
  • Decline life insurance;
  • Change scheduled plans at a moment’s notice;
  • Try a new ethnic food every week;
  • Drive through the mountains at night; and
  • Go down a waterslide, on my back, head first.

The point is – what’s keeping us from doing these things?

What about you? What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

And I Gladly Stand Up {Guest Blog}

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Some say patriotism is dead.  You turn on the news, and there is always someone -some politician, some celebrity, some businessman- talking about what is wrong with our country or how corrupt our country is. They spit out commentary focusing on the danger, the violence, the health problems, and couple it with screenshots of body bags, police cars, politician’s angry faces. Yup, watch an hour long news program and you can begin to lose faith; you can begin to lose confidence in what our country is or, at least, what it is turning into.
 
Usually I try to stay away from the news for that very reason. I try to back away from the negative, keep to myself, go about my business. I am not exactly an overly patriotic person, to say the least. Sure, I said the Pledge of Allegiance in school. I watch fireworks on the Fourth of July; I bake cupcakes and frost them in the shape of a flag (hardly true patriotism, I know, but it counts, right?). I listen to politician’s debates. I vote.
 
But on Sunday, that clutter of chaos and negativity the news constantly spins and focuses on was wiped away from my mind.  I remembered what this country stands for and the sacrifices made by others for us to be free.
 
And this reminder came in the form of an elderly man in a coffee shop.
 
He was wearing an oatmeal colored sweater and large, horn-rimmed glasses. I didn’t really pay any attention to him at first. Having never been to this particular coffee shop before, I was killing time before heading to the gym to do a Zumba dance workout. I was trying not to be annoyed at the fact it took forever for me to pay for drink. A TV was loudly blaring, the staff wasn’t greeting me, and as I clumsily dropped my wallet, credit cards and cash spreading on the floor like confetti, the customers in front of me did not even bother to turn around to help. Instead, they pretended not to see me as I awkwardly dropped to the floor, whispering my apologies as I tried to grab my plastic credit card under the black snakeskin Gucci heel of the woman in front of me.
 
“Figures,” I thought.
 
So when I grabbed the corner chair, wallet in one hand, chai latte in another, I wanted to just focus on my laptop and keep to myself like everyone in the place seemed to be doing. An elderly couple had just sat down in a couple of the leather chairs near me, but other than that, everyone else was near the front of the shop, busy making drinks, buying drinks, minding their business.
 
I turned to my laptop. The TV was still blaring loudly; it sounded like NASCAR race was about to begin. My dad had always loved NASCAR; I remembered sitting in the living room and watching the brightly colored cars race round and round the track while he watched in anticipation. I remembered at the beginning of every race, there was the singing of the national anthem, and today was no different. I continued to stare at my computer screen as I half-listened to a woman begin to belt the first view lines of the national anthem.
 
“Oh say, can you see….”
 
Suddenly, I heard a scraping of chair legs near me. I looked up, and it was an elderly man sitting near me. With a face worn with deep wrinkles and gray hair balding near the top, he stood up, turned towards the TV screen, put one hand on his heart, and listened.
 
Just listened.
 
I could not stop staring. His face was full of admiration and pride as he stared at the TV screen, listening to the national anthem; I could sense it. Tears filled my eyes at this man’s true and open respect for his country.
Apparently I was not the only one who sensed it. Suddenly, the woman who was sitting near him stood up, placing her hand over her heart, mimicking the man. Then the employee behind the counter turned to the TV, placing his hand over his heart, as well. Suddenly, one by one, everyone in the coffee shop stopped what they were doing, stood up, and listened to the national anthem. I stood up as well, amazed at the power of action, the power of one person, the power of patriotism.
 
When the song finished, I sat back down, still in awe of the moment I just witnessed. Soon, the coffee shop began to buzz again, and the elderly man sat down, sipping his coffee.
 
But something had changed for me. I realized this moment is one snapshot of America. This moment is an example of pure patriotism. There was no cameras to witness it, no reporters to ask for comments. And it showed me that what we see on the news is not the whole picture of what our country is.  Our country is more than the negative stories, and it is the everyday actions such as the man at the coffee shop that help to make the heartbeat of America strong.
 
We must not forget to show love for our country, for if there is not love for the very place that gives us life and opportunity, soon all our country will be are those negative stories.
 
Lindsay Henry is a recent graduate of Central Michigan University, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in Interpersonal Communication and her master’s degree in Communication. She enjoys reading, writing, and being with her friends and family. You can usually find Lindsay strolling around a bookstore or sitting in a coffee shop; a chai tea latte or white chocolate mocha are her drinks of choice.

Cancer in Caribou

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Cancer.

After ordering my morning cup of joe, the friendly coffee connoisseur behind the counter began telling me the story of Amy Erickson. Who is Amy? She was a “Roastmaster” at Caribou Coffee and someone who I learned helped set new coffee standards for the company. She was also someone who loved life, and unfortunately, lost her battle with breast cancer at just 33 years of age.

After sharing, the kind gentleman offered me a bag of “Amy’s Blend” coffee beans for purchase, with 10 percent of all sales  benefitting Susan G Komen for the Cure. Being aware October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but also in a hurry to start my day, I politely declined.

Learning from a stranger

I noticed a bald woman sitting alone at a table on the opposite side of the packed coffee shop. I saw her, but didn’t want make her feel uncomfortable by staring. I found a seat nearby, sipped my coffee and went on about my business.

A few minutes later, another woman walked through the door, peering around the room as if looking for someone. She spotted the woman sitting near me and quickly ran over to greet her, telling her she didn’t recognize her without hair.

That’s when I started listening. And, began getting a glimpse of the events which occurred during the past year of this woman’s life.

Around Christmas time last year, she was in a car accident, sustaining a few minor injuries. She went to the chiropractor as part of the recovery process and noticed a few unusual lumps in her breast and started to show symptoms of a cold. Not overly concerned, she decided to continue with plans to go on a ski trip with friends. This is a trip she was looking forward to and had purchased a new ski suit for, on clearance – two sizes too big – but thought it would fit perfect after piling on layers of clothing. A few days into the trip, her cold had gotten worse and after visiting a nearby doctor, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

 The cancer progressed quickly, the sinus infection continued and after three different antibiotics and a few months later, her body was showing no signs of improvement. Her spirits were still high until she learned during a regularly scheduled doctor’s appointment the cancer had spread to both breasts. It was a Wednesday and she was asked to make a final decision about the “all or nothing procedure”, scheduled to take place on Friday.

Sharing her story, she went on to explain how she almost “fell off the table” when an ultrasound technician left the room and she peeked over to see the images of the monster taking over parts of her body. Listening to her gut, she decided to move forward with a lumpectomy on Friday, but also scheduling a full body massage hours before. The procedure went well and removed all of the cancer.

Now at the coffee shop, she wears a colorful necklace imprinted with the word “journey” to remind her about the ups and downs in life. She gave a hug goodbye, as her friend brushed her hand over her soft, tiny pieces of hair and then walked out the door.

Her friend reached for her cell phone and began a new conversation with the words “she’s a fighter”.

And, I left with a new perspective on life. But, not without purchasing  my new bag of Amy’s Blend first.