Tag Archives: gratitude

Top Ten of Jen – 2015

Man oh man.  Another year has come and gone. Another year with laughter, challenges, love, lessons, grit.  Another year with life.  This life of mine, it is charmed I tell you.  Must be all those angels I have watching over me.  So that being said, in no particular order, here are my top ten most remarkable experiences of 2015:

1)  Did some adulting.  There’s no denying it, kids.  I’m officially a grown up.  I do turn 47 in a few months, so I guess it was inevitable that I face up to this truth.  So in 2015, I decided to take this adult thing by the horns.  I met with an attorney, and together we drafted my will, my living will, and my power of attorney for healthcare and finance documents.  I grappled with the hard questions, and I gave some careful consideration to my mortality.  Which I know is coming, but hopefully not soon.  But when it does, I’ve made life for my family a little bit easier.  Yaay, me! It feels good to be a grown up….most of the time.

2)  Did some experting.  It’s been said that to be an expert in one’s field, you must first acquire some knowledge, and then you must travel more than 300 miles to share said knowledge.  In February, I did just that.  I traveled a whole lotta miles, made my way through customs, drove a couple hours and eventually found my way to Guelph, Ontario.  While there, I conducted a series of workshops and a video recording of continuous quality improvement practices in behavioral health settings.  It was fun.  It was exhausting.  It was scary.  And I can’t wait to do it again and again.

3)  Did some laughing.  Anybody who knows anything about me knows that I love my girl Mindy.  This past summer, she and I met up in Waterloo, Iowa for a weekend of fun.  Is there fun to be had in Waterloo, Iowa, you ask?  Why yes, yes there is.  That is, if you have Mindy, Jen and the booster powerpack of our friend Mike.  Fun, it turns out, can include tractor museums and eating giant tenderloins the size of your head and doing a little late night shopping at the local Kum n’ Go for some swag.  I love it when I get sore cheekbones from laughing.  Even in Waterloo, Iowa.

4) Did some staycationing.  I had a day off this summer where my original plans had fallen through.  I could have gone to work, I guess, but – wait, catching my breath from laughing there – no.  No I could not go to work.  That’s just crazy talk.  I decided I had one day and not a care in the world and I was going to turn this town upside down.  So one by one, I ticked things off the Milwaukee to-do list and one by one, I realized how much I love this little town of ours.  I went to the domes – because they were free that day – and while there I ran into a friend.  I had an impromptu lunch with a friend I hadn’t seen in forever.  I went to the art museum with yet another friend and saw the wonderful Modern Rebels exhibit.  I sat by the lakefront and drank local beer. And at the end of the night, I decided I needed custard, because – well, custard.  At the custard stand, I ran into yet another friend.  This is a city, right?  It is – I promise you – it has all the amenities a city should have.  But it is a town, too.  And that is why it is just right for me.  Love you, Milwaukee!  Mean it.

5)  Did some celebrating.  Here is what I believe is a well known fact about me, but lest there be any confusion let me be explicitly clear:  I love my birthday!  It’s true.  I love being the center of attention for one day.  Actually, it’s not one day.  It is, at minimum, one fortnight.  One of those celebratory activities during said fortnight is Birthday Eve.  Birthday Eve is, as the name would imply, the night before my birthday.  And it is always spent with my work homies, of which I have many.  I am lucky in that way – I have really, really great work friends.  In fact, I could never survive my job without them.  So this year, like every year, we went out for Birthday Eve.  But this year, I didn’t feel like talking about work, so I brought a tin with little slips of paper for possible conversation topics.  Topics like Burt Reynolds and black jelly beans and people named Larry and traumatic childhood memories.  That little tin of random topics made for one energized, hilarious, very different evening.  I think it will be a staple at every Birthday Eve. Because Birthday Eve is totally happening every year.

6)  Did some dating.  Yes, that’s right.  You heard it here first.  I got myself back in the game.  The dating game, that is. Which is not always an easy game to be in, I might add.  Don’t get me wrong, there has been much to love about my single life.  But, I am finding, there is much to love about not being so single either.  So yes, I have been spending time with a thoughtful, funny, affectionate, handsome gentleman suitor for the last few months.  And, I would say, it has been good for me.  Good because I am reminded that even a 40-something, strong-willed, set-in-her-ways woman like myself has plenty to offer someone who gets to be with me.  Truthfully, it’s been a little scary, a little exhilarating, a little challenging, a lot of fun.  And, for the record, I’m still all in.

7)  Did some friending.  There are many things that make my life great.  My house, my family, my job, my opportunities.  But few things contribute to my life the way that my friendships do.  I cherish them and protect them, love them and honor them.  This year, I’ve had some friends go through some things.  Some things that haven’t been so easy.  And the things is, those same friends have turned to me to be there for them.  This is not a burden, it is not a chore.  Rather, this is a privilege.  This is the kind of thing that gives friendships staying power.  I love that the foundation we built over time has made me a safe harbor for the difficult times.  And I trust that when I need them, they will be there in the same ways for me.  That is a good feeling. A feeling so good words can’t do it justice.

8)  Did some roadtripping.  My friend Danielle and I had been talking about taking a road trip for years.  This year, we finally did it.  What started off as contemplation of a four day weekend in Kansas City ended up instead as a 7 Cities in 7 Days epic tour all the way to Myrtle Beach and back.  Our mantra from the start was “it’s just one day.”  So if it’s terrible (like Myrtle Beach) you can laugh it off because it was just one day.  (And laugh we did, that place is dreadfully, hilariously awful.)  But if it’s amazing (like Charleston) you can only do one or two incredible things because all you had was just one day.  (And we did those one or two incredible things as well.)  We loved traveling by car, having a cooler at our disposal, being in charge of our own schedule and stopping at any given time to do precisely what we wanted to do.  I can promise you this, another epic road trip will be happening and the plans are already underway.

9)  Did some lanterning.  OK, lanterning isn’t a real word.  But it should be!  My girl Alex turned 40 this year. She’s a baby, I tell you!  She happened to be in town for the big day, so she assembled a group of her best gals for a night out on the town.  After a fantastic dinner, one of her friends arranged for us to have dessert and champagne at the lakefront.  Now mind you, it was cool, and it was damp.  But not just a little damp, the fog was so thick we could barely see.  So we walked for what felt like a mile, and there was our little picnic set up.  As an extra special part of the plan, there were paper lanterns for each of us to light and send off into the sky as we made a wish.  Sounds beautiful, right?  Well it was, but part of the beauty was the knock down, drag out, nearly pants-peeing hilarity that ensued as several of us had great difficulty lighting our lanterns and had to chase them as they tumbled across a plot of tall prairie grasses.  In the end, the deed was done.  The lanterns went adrift in the sky, the wishes were made, and our girl Alex had a most memorable birthday. All without starting the entire lakefront on fire.

10)  Did some family bonding.  My beautiful little family and I made a big decision this year:  No Christmas presents.  Maybe it sounds a little harsh, but I assure you it is not.  It’s not, because we all have everything we could ever need.  How lucky are we?  So this year, in lieu of gifts we agreed to make a charitable donation and focus on spending time together.  We saw a comedy show.  We went out for a lovely dinner.  We went to the movies.  We played board games.  And at the end of it all, I think we all knew in our hearts that we are rich in many ways – but we are especially rich in love.

So that’s a wrap, 2015.  Thanks for another great year!  Onward and upward for more adventures in the year to come.  As usual, I can’t wait.

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Direct Deposit

Once upon a time when I was young, ambitious and determined to make the world a better place (unlike now when I am old, mildly less ambitious, yet still determined to make the world a better place) I set about an exercise of enlightenment with my team at work.  Embracing the tenets of continuous quality improvement with every fiber of my being, I asked each of the 30-plus team members to schedule 30 minutes to meet with me over the course of 3 weeks.  In those 30 minute individual sessions, I wanted each team member to answer three questions for me:

1) What do you think is going well in our work place?

2) What do you think the opportunities for improvement are in our workplace?

3) What can I do to help you achieve a professional goal of yours in the next year?

One by one, team members came in to tell me what they thought.  Some were bashful and didn’t have much to say at all.  Some had put tremendous thought into the questions, and gave me new directions to consider.  Still others amazed me with the most trivial concerns that they’d been holding in for the longest time – things like a malfunctioning key on their keyboard or static in their phone.  You know, things I could actually fix.

As I was nearing the end of this project – laborious, time-consuming, but fruitful and worthy nonetheless, along came an employee who had been there long before I started.  I didn’t know a whole lot about her, but I knew she always had a pained expression on her face.  Like it actually hurt to be occupying her chair each and every day.  So in my usual way, I pretended I didn’t notice her pained expression and welcomed her into my office.  I gleefully started in with my “spiel” about my sincere desire to hear what was one everyone’s minds and make our work space the best it could possibly be. No surprise to me, my spiel fell flat and was met with any icy stare.

With no choice but to trudge bravely forward, that is exactly what I did.  “All right,” I said.  “Let’s dig right in.  First things first, let’s start with the positives.  That’s where I like to start.  Tell me what you think is going well in our workplace.”

The employee didn’t hesitate, didn’t pause for even a nanosecond.  She looked me squarely in the eye, and answered me as coldly and crisply as she possibly could.  “Direct deposit,”  she said, and it was as if she said it in slow motion. I swear as I replayed the story in my head I could see the mist of spittle spring from her lips as she enunciated the hard “p” in “deposit.”  She didn’t smirk, she didn’t shrug.  Her answer was so precise, so searing, that I pictured her getting ready for work that morning, leaning against the basin in her bathroom and practicing her intonation and expression in the mirror until she got it just right.  “Direct deposit.  Direct deposit.  No, no, no, that’s all wrong.  One more time.  Direct deposit.”

Flustered but determined to press on, I noted that while yes, we could all agree that direct deposit is a very handy tool for all of us, it is something that is surely available in virtually every workplace the days.  “Anything you want to add that you think is going well?” I bravely asked.  “Nope.  That’s it.”  She punctuated her point, and although she didn’t pound her first on the desk as she said it, she might as well have.

I carried on with the interview and listened to her very long and comprehensive list of opportunities for improvement in our workplace (no surprise there).  When asked what professional goals of hers I might support in the next year, she quipped she didn’t have any, and that all she hoped to accomplish was to not get so pissed off that he just up and quit one day without notice.

And lo and behold, about six months later that is exactly what she did.

I’ve thought about this person over the years and I’ve gotten a good many laughs from telling the story.  How on earth could someone stay in a job that has only one redeeming quality, and that one quality is direct deposit?  Or perhaps the more telling question is, how could anyone be so miserable that they can only find one thing to like about any situation, least of all a situation that pays their bills?

I’ll never be that person, I’ve told myself over and over again.  And to date, I’ve never been.  I’ve learned – by watching others, by watching me – that my professional success doesn’t bring me happiness.  Quite the contrary, my friends.  My personal happiness brings me success.  And that time that I save every other week by not having to go to the bank because I have direct deposit?  I use it to list my gratitudes.

Giving Thanks

When people are in a situation where they are asked to list their gratitudes in front of others, the natural tendency is to focus on the big things:  their health, their job, their family, their friends.  And while that is all well and good, I believe it is also important to focus on the tiniest things in life that bring us joy. Joy brings more joy, which in turn brings more joy.  It’s how we create our contentment, our peace.

So today I am grateful for things like a funny joke made by an amazingly resilient friend.  (“I lost a husband this year and got a dog.  I traded up.”) For things like looking through the Black Friday ads and feeling confident there is not a single sale item that I will ever be compelled to go stand in line for at a Black Friday sale.  (I have abundance. I don’t need more abundance from Wal-Mart.)  For things like sprawling out on the couch with my family and watching a touching documentary.  (Racing Dreams – you should see it, too.) For things like the first and last bite of my sister’s coconut custard pie.  (It’s seriously amazing.  Every. Single. Time.)

I love this life of mine.  I really do. Today I am reminded why.

33 Words of Wisdom

Rain pelting against the glass. Leaves stuck to the pavement.  Melancholy feelings would be effortless to arouse.  Yet, there is a warmth in my heart that supercedes circumstances.  Hello, gratitude, my old friend.

Gratitude, from A to Z

I love sleep, but there are times it eludes me.  It goes in spurts, these bouts of insomnia that are so maddening they feel like they might never end.  I toss and I turn, I kick the cats out of the bed (who ignore my not-so-subtle pleas and jump right back up), I ruminate, I watch TV, I do all the wrong things.  But when I can center myself and tackle it in just the right way, I use the opportunity to list my gratitudes.  I started doing an exercise years ago where I would list a gratitude for every letter in the alphabet, and I still do it to this day.  This does mean I have repeatedly thanked the universe for “xylophones” and “zippers that stay up” but it is a worthy exercise nonetheless.

Too spent from last night’s insomnia to write a real blog, here is today’s list of A to Z gratitudes:

A- Abundance. of which I have much
B- Ben, who still believes in me after all these years
C- Curel, the life-changing lotion
D- David, who takes exceptionally good care of my sister
E- Emma Barth, the first person to love me unconditionally
F- Failures that I have learned from
G- Graduate degree, which has given me amazing opportunities
H- House, which is beautifully reflective of me
I- Inspiration, which I get daily one way or another
J- Jess, who gives me the strongest sense of family
K- Kindness, something we all need more of
L- Laughter, which is surprisingly abundant in my life
M- Margaritas, just because
N- Now, the only time that matters
O- Overwhelming drive
P- Peanuts, the first pet I ever loved
Q- Quick wit, which has saved me over and over again
R- Resolution to the problems that perplex me
S- Sleep, which I long for and shall return
T- Throwdowns that make me blog daily
U- Underachievers, as they only improve my image
V- Vacation, and that reminds me I need to plan my next one
W- Writing, my true passion
X- Xerox copiers that don’t streak or jam (I hear they exist)
Y- Yellow, as in my lucky yellow sweater
Z- Zippers that stay up  (Sorry, I could not resist.)

Bliss

A hug from a friend whose life just changed for the better.  A beautiful new baby in your arms.  A wedding ceremony of someone you adore who spent 25 years finding her way back to the man she would rightly marry.  A gorgeous starry night outside a Frank Lloyd Wright house.  An open bar.  A dress that feels flattering.  An accompanying sweater that feels warm.  The smell of burning wood.  Eight hours of uninterrupted rest.  Waking up to the sound of the Lake Michigan waves crashing up against the rocks on the shoreline.  Free breakfast.  A slow, meandering drive along the lakefront.  Fall colors that take your breath away. An apple orchard.  A silly picture that makes you belly laugh.  A clean house, fresh sheets and a stocked fridge.  Two cats peacefully napping at your side. A delicious dinner prepped for a sister you never get tired of. A week ahead you are actually looking forward to.

Some weekends you just really get it right.

Fist Bumps for Everyone

I endure the same slow, mundane drive to work every day.  I see the same landmarks, the same buildings, sometimes even the same people in the same cars.  I drive the same 26 minutes, five days a week, and even with a myriad of options, I almost always take the same route.  As I turn off of Wisconsin Avenue onto 92nd Street – the home stretch before I arrive at my second home – I see her in all her glory:  Fist Bump Lady.

Fist Bump Lady, who shall be known as FBL henceforth, is the crossing guard at a crosswalk that leads directly to the Froedtert Memorial Lutheran Hospital.  Short, pleasingly plump, and with an ever-ready smile on her face, FBL never fails to deliver.  Sunny days are met with an extra spring in her step.  Rainy days are no bother, and why would they be when you’ve got a bright yellow slicker and sturdy galoshes?  Sleet and snow?  No problem, for FBL is ready for that, too.  I can’t say for sure that she has one of those stocking caps that looks like a panda bear, but she seems like the kind of person who would.  She is ready for any of the Wisconsin elements, and cheerfully so.

Person after person, professional after professional, doctor after doctor – all are greeted with the same degree of enthusiasm, and all are offered a fist bump to start their day off right.  A few outliers avert their eyes and rush past FBL.  Most accept the offer, and give FBL a smile and a hearty fist bump back.  A few other outliers have taken FBL under their wing, and bring her coffee or other treats (after a compulsory fist bump, of course.)  It seems that in the land of all things Froedtert, FBL has become the mascot for healing what hurts us.

I admire this woman, FBL, because of her consistency and her zest for life. I don’t know a single thing about her, other than what I have witnessed as I wait at the crosswalk day after day, eager to move ahead 2 more blocks and make the turn into my home-away-from-home parking lot.  But I do know this:  she has made happiness her priority and nothing is going to get in the way of that.  Not working a job most of us would not care to do. Not crappy Wisconsin weather, which is crappy too much of the time.  Not even the occasional hater.  No, no, no.  FBL has made a choice to be happy no matter what, and through her deeds shows us it is a choice we could all make.  Thanks for reminding us how to be in this world, FBL:  That whoever we are and whatever we do, we can always be of good cheer.