ThinkKit Day 18: Have no fear – no numbers needed here. Who (or what) made a difference for you this year? Were they cognizant of their effect? Did it add to your life…or detract? Was it a momentary encounter? A year-long helping hand? Someone who took a chance on you, or vice versa? What would’ve changed if you’d had to go without, or go it alone? Imagine the alternative scenario.

I feel like I have so many people who have made a difference for me this year–too many to list.  I rely heavily on mentors and the support of friends and family.  It takes a village, you know.

I rely on two friends to help me get one of my kids to school. I have three kids in three schools with three different start times.  I spend two hours each morning getting everyone up, ready and delivered to their respective school.  But, without the help of two friends, it would be much harder and my other two kids would have to ride along for an extra hour in the car just to get to school on time.

I rely on my husband, who is my partner in everything–good and bad.  He makes a difference for me every day.  I love that moment each day when we finally connect.  A smile, a hug, a moment together just to recharge.  He really does make everything better.

My friends offer support and encouragement.  I take time to be with them and savor those moments, the laughs and the tears.

There are a group of people who have made a big difference in my life this year related to my health.  This includes my trainer who has pushed me hard and made me believe in my strength, my doctor who celebrated my success over the past year, my family who encourages me and my kids who often join me on runs, my tennis pro who I love to hear say (in his eastern Indian accent) “Kris….you getting better again,” my friend Jamie who always posts inspiring messages on her Facebook and all of the people in my life who have noticed my outward transformation.  I think some people don’t notice because my weight loss has been so gradual; but it now totals 25 pounds+ and 19+ inches.

And of course, my kids who make my heart warm and full every day.

I cannot imagine the alternative scenario.  All the people who are in my life make a difference and that’s because I choose them.  I don’t let people in who do not offer something rewarding to me (no drama, no negative energy, no bad attitudes). I love them all. I am so lucky!  My life wouldn’t be the same without the difference they make in my life. I really try to tell them this as often as I can but if you are reading this and I haven’t told you lately, YOU MATTER TO ME!

ThinkKit Day 17: Time to go through your (actual) desktop, junk drawer, or coat pockets and share an artifact from your past. A half-torn ticket stub, once-washed receipt, coffee-stained map, anything in a frame: it’s all fair game. What springs to mind from your artifact? The smells, sights, and sounds? A specific feeling? Hold it in your hand, close your eyes, and go back in time to a moment.

This living scrapbook is in our bedroom. It’s a giant bulletin board where we can post memories as we make them.

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Here is a memory from this year: Pam’s Party photo booth and behind that, you can see movie ticket stubs (for movies I don’t even remember)

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Here is a picture from our trip to Philadelphia in 2003, Sam was just about 9 months old. Behind it, a ticket stub for a Bears game Jeff went to in 2008.

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A Valentine’s Day greeting from the boys (made with the help of their Granny) in 2008.

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Memories from my 20 year high school reunion.

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A note from Andy to Jeff on Father’s Day.

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Ticket stubs from our trip to the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, TN (2008) where we saw Carrie Underwood, Statler Brothers, Brooks & Dunn and a few other country singers I didn’t know I liked but had a great time listening to live. Plus, ticket stubs to our first Red Wings game at the Joe in 2012.

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The blue and green stripped box of crayons in the upper lefthand corner is from the Biltmore (the restaurant at the winery), the beads on the right side are from Jeff’s 40th birthday party, the ticket stubs from movies over the years, the picture of the boys from 2003, a wrist band from this summer’s trip to Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, a card from the boys, pictures from a birthday party of a friend that Jeff went to where Morris Day & the Time was the headline act (I was out of town, in Philly).

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#ThinkKit Day 16: Take a moment to dip into the deep well of the past year’s 24-hour news cycle. What world event moved you this year? What story, series, or moment fascinated you? Made you scratch your head? Brought you to the edge of tears…or past the edge of your seat? Did an outside perspective change the way you felt, or make you take action? Share the headline(s) that resonated with you. 

I may be stretching the connection to the topic here, but this is worth sharing.

Every year (…well, I intend to every year but upon further review, it appears it didn’t really happen “every year”) we decorate gingerbread houses.  For some reason, it is important to me that these houses are completely homemade.  I make the template.  I make the dough and use the template to cut the house sides and roof. I set the houses using royal icing on cardboard we cover with aluminum foil.  The houses dry overnight.

Here I am in 2008 cutting the dough using the stencils.

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Once the houses are assembled and dry overnight, the kids use more royal icing to attach a wide range of candy, cereal, cookies–you know, the regular gingerbread house kind of stuff.

The kids love all the candies in the different bowls and I have always let them decorate their houses totally on their own.

2006

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 2007

This is one of those years that, for some reason, we must have not made the gingerbread houses (or we made them and the pictures are some place I cannot locate them).

2008

Back at it in 2008.

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2009

Phillip had a friend join us for decorating this year.  My templates got bigger (too big…I remember how long it took and how much candy/icing it took to cover). And this was the year of the beautiful long hair for our boys (we often refer to it as the BL period–before lice).

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2010

I am guessing this year was the first of the busy Christmas season at the store (as we would call it…you might call it a restaurant).

2011

Still busy at that little adventure I called my life dream, also known as the store, also known as the restaurant and officially known as Avec Moi.  I really thought we did them this year, though…and maybe we did but those photos are also somewhere other than in the one place I think I keep all my photos.

2012

Still busy with Avec Moi, you remember…the store?  Still flushing cash down the toilet with no regrets.  Livin’ the dream, baby. I was livin’ the dream.  The lack of gingerbread houses is just one example of how that venture sucked every ounce of me out, leaving nothing for my family.

2013

Avec Moi was now closed and I spent this holiday season doing nothing.  And, apparently nothing included not doing gingerbread houses. I am sure everyone was disappointed

2014

This was the year.  We were back at it. I promised and I was excited about it.  We made a list of what we wanted to bake for the season. Each kid has their own “favorite” and collectively, we agreed we had to do gingerbread houses.

I had it on my list since right after Thanksgiving.  This past weekend, I finally had the time required to make the dough, cut and bake the pieces and assemble.  Those first steps really must be done all at once–and for the first time since Thanksgiving, I had the uninterrupted time at home to get it all done.

I made the stencils.  I made the dough (four batches). I rolled the dough out and cut each piece (10 of each side, a total of 50 pieces).  I baked them.  Jeff cut the cardboard and the boys covered it with foil to host the gingerbread houses. Phillip helped me assemble the bases and he used the royal icing to seal up the seams where each side met.

As the bases dried and I prepared to put on the roofs, Jeff offered to lend a hand.  And, then all of the sudden–I realized I screwed the template up for the front and back of the house and left off the pitch of the roof.

“Oh shit. It won’t work. I screwed it up,” I said as I was trying to figure out a solution on the fly.

“Well,” Phillip said, “We will just have gingerbread trailers.”  And there you have it, folks.

Our gingerbread trailer park.

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ThinkKit Day 15: Time to get mathematical – and yes, you may use a calculator. Was there a significant number in your year? A birthday? A first? A personal record? A date now carved in the annals of time? A number that represents a streak, whether winning or losing, good or bad? A bellwether or a lagging indicator or just…three.

I believe in numbers.  I mean, like really believe.  One of my most influential advisors is a numerologist.  I seek her advice anytime I am feeling uncertain, lost, confused or even just overly joyous.  She’s not a psychic; she’s my mapmaker.

One of my most favorite people on the planet who I have been friends with for many years is also a numerologist.  If you have never explored what numbers mean in your life, I would encourage you to do so–put that on your 2015 to do list.  You don’t have to believe, but I think you would be amazed at how much numbers influence our paths, our decision making and our state of mind. (check out my friend’s studio where she offers open paint, numerology and the practice of joy)

Judge away my friends, but don’t knock it until you try it. I have made many a believer just out of one session.  The universe has a plan for you; your numbers help you unravel that plan.

 

ThinkKit Day 14: By telescope or microscope, or no scope at all – what did you discover? A new aspect of yourself? A favorite artist, musician, or variety of cheese? Did you discover something about a loved one? A familiar or new-to-you place? Be broad, be narrow, or be surprising.

I just looked inward and down on the paper where I wrote my Target list.  Apparently, even as an adult, we can become a product of our environment.

I just wrote “Shampoop” on my list.  Seriously.  Shampoop.

ThinkKit Day 13: Put down your blog and pick up a pen! Or pencil. Heck – we’d settle for a crayon. You don’t have to stay in-between ruled lines, but we do want you to write something by hand. Sure, a letter comes to mind. But so does a recipe you discovered this year. A poem. A series of tweets that is a poem. A contract with yourself – or someone else. Whatever you get on paper – write it, then photograph & blog it. Cursive or manuscript, we promise not to grade on penmanship.

Andy  has always been a note writer. I could keep him happy in the cart at the grocery store for as long as I needed to by giving him a tiny notebook, a pen, and spouting off a list of items I pretended to need so he could write them down.

He would write me notes-pages and pages of notes- that were simply squiggly lines that he had intently worked on a the kitchen table with a wide range of colored markers.  I would cook and listen to that high pitched squeak that screams a toddler pushing too hard, with too much determination.

Two years ago, Andy gave us this note for Christmas.  He wrapped it in pretty paper and used a gift tag sticker to write “To Mom and Dad.”  It was precious.  And then, we read it.

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And that sweet note was quickly followed by this reminder of our circumstances at the time.  This was in the final 9 months of Avec Moi’s life (the restaurant I started to fulfill a lifelong dream…remember?).  It was a difficult time around our house and our financial issues had permitted our family life, as illustrated below.

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At least he still takes the time to note that he has be[e]n a “wond[er]ful dad.”

#ThinkKit Day 12: We’ve put another quarter in the slot – free play! Hit the reset button on a moment this year: what would you do over? Whether or not you analyze your actions – how would you act differently? Would the outcomes shift, or stay the same? From a single sentence to a whole day (and everything in-between), feel free to explain your choice, from how you felt immediately after the moment passed, to any thoughts that ran through your mind beforehand. Take a mulligan!

Ah, the mulligan. I don’t know…I don’t like the mulligan because it suggests regret.  And, I don’t like regret.  I think regret and resentment are two very destructive emotions that are hard to release and even harder to overcome.  And, there is no reason to have regret because it’s simply impossible to go backwards in time and undo things. I mean, literally.  We haven’t solved the issue of time travel yet.

When I was in my 20s, I don’t think I could get through a single day without wishing I had a dozen ore more mulligans. I made many, many mistakes–every day.  In my 30s, I think I started to see those mistakes for what they were: mistakes–not the end of the world.   Only about half of them really truly mattered.  Now, in my 40s, it seems as if there is no such thing as regret.  I mean, everything happens for a reason–even if that reason is for you to feel bad about what you did: that’s the lesson–don’t do that again.

I have had some very painful lessons, just like you have had I am sure.  Lessons that have taken years to reveal their real purpose and meaning.  I think about the journey of finding a place for our middle son where he was valued and supported in the classroom.  An incredibly painful journey that lasted years (and on some level, we still can never really exhale on this one), but had it not been for all of that pain and all of those failures, it would be much harder today to recognize success.  Those bad times changed how we defined success. They changed our expectations of both our child and the schools.  They taught us how to truly advocate for what our child needs and they taught us to believe in him like we never had before. I has made me not afraid of challenge in the classroom–for any of my kids.

Now, that’s regret on the macro level.  Naturally, I still do have regret on the micro level.

I sometimes regret wearing an outfit (a shirt that doesn’t stay where it needs to or a pair of pants that wrinkle quickly in  the most unfortunate area, the crotch). Most of the time, I realize before I leave the house that it’s iffy, but I decide to go with it anyway. I regret that.  I often regret eating ice cream on some nights because after I am done, I realize it just wasn’t worth it–it really wasn’t that good.

Then, there are the times when my family is all going somewhere and I decide not to go because I think it will be more fun to stay home alone and enjoy some time to myself.  But then I miss everyone and I am board. I regret not going.

Most often my regrets, center around words.   I have a temper and sometimes say things that as they are coming out of my mouth, the voice in my head tells me “this will hurt the other person” and I say them anyways.  I have said things to my kids I wish I didn’t say; I have said things to my husband I wish I didn’t say.  But I did. And while I regret saying it, I offer an apology and move forward.

To me, regretting the micro is not really regret.  It’s oops, sorry.  It’s what can I learn from this and change in the future?  What I think of as real regret is on the macro level–the longing to redo a moment in life where the two paths diverged in the woods and you regret the one you chose. You think things would have turned out differently if you would have chose the other one–and you can’t let that feeling go.  That to me is real regret. And that, I just don’t believe in.

 

 

#ThinkKit Day 11: Nametags and punchbowls aren’t necessary (but we’re okay with that!) – who did you meet this year? Was it awkward? Enlightening? Was your first impression correct? Was it accidental & meant to be, pre-arranged, or somewhere in-between? Whether you found a soulmate, held a new baby, or finally trusted someone to style your hair just so, write about a new person (or people) in your life.

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I have met many people this year, mostly because I talk to anyone and everyone. It drives my kids nuts but I like to talk to people. Sometimes it’s because I am anxious about something and I have found talking to people helps quiet the conversation in my head and allows me to relax a bit.  We went to the top of the St. Louis Arch this year and I was terrified. Once at the top, making small talk with the park ranger helped me feel a bit more relaxed and took my mind off my own anxiety.  Sometimes, other people need to talk–for whatever reason–and I am one of those people that puts out the vibe, “I am open for listening” and so they somehow find me and chat.  Like a grandma at a swim meet or a mom waiting in line at the post office.

While my kids often roll their eyeballs at all the talking I do, I hope they also see how productive it can be.  You want to meet someone? Ask.  You want to know about something? Find someone to talk to about it.  A great example is when we were in Cleveland this summer staying at a hotel downtown and the elevators were out–all but one.  And that one was iffy at best.  We were in the lobby enjoying a cocktail before dinner (theirs was of course a Shirley Temple and two John Wayne’s).  We heard several people telling stories to the desk staff about getting trapped in the elevator and we started talking about our fears related to elevators.  Next thing I know, the elevator repair guy walks by.  “Excuse me,” I shout out.  Stunned, he turned around.  “Are you working on the elevators?”  He said he was and it seemed as if he were preparing himself to get an ear-full.  “Do you mind answering some questions for us?”

He graciously agreed to answer whatever questions we had.  My boys ask about what happens if the elevator falls and crashes to the bottom (which, he explained is almost virtually impossible), what should you do if you get stuck in an elevator, why does it sometimes take so long to get an elevator–everything they have ever wanted to know about elevators.  There.  See what can happen when you talk to people?!?  I even felt better after talking with him.

My kids have met some great people too and simply because we asked.  Sam recently went to see a robotics competition at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. He’s really focused lately on where he is going to go to college.  Keep in mind he is only in sixth grade, but he told me he needs to have a goal in mind, he needs to have a plan.  Fine. I said and I have found ways to get him on the campuses of schools he is interested in.  I simply asked. So we show up for the robot competition and he is hanging with hundreds of college freshman who are all geeking out–and therefore, he is geeking out, just in heaven.  And, the President of Rose-Hulman stops by the event.  That’s pretty cool.  He walks by us and of course, I say, “Excuse me…”

I introduce him to Sam and tell him why we are there and he talks with Sam for several minutes and then, takes  him back to the robot arena–front and center.  He introduces Sam to some students, who let him try their robot.  He gives Sam a high five and encourages him to keep Rose-Hulman on his list of colleges.  Sam said to me on the way home, “You know, I feel like Rose-Hulman is really at the top of the list for me.  I mean, what are the odds that the President of Purdue would show up to a robot challenge?  I would probably never even get to meet him.  But at Rose, he’s there because it’s smaller.”

He’s right.  Although, he has met the President of Purdue before–when he was Governor of Indiana, at an event where he was a special guest of his idol, Ray Kurzweil. How did he get to be a guest of Ray Kurzweil, tech genius and futurist unlike any other?  I just asked.

 

ThinkKit Day 10: Time to get weird. We want to hear your strangest story from the last year (or more). Will it make us raise an eyebrow or three? That’s what we want. Whether it’s a tale of colliding coincidences, a strange Saturday you just can’t shake, or if it makes you squirm just to remember: get weird.

I am so glad I didn’t write this entry on the day it came out because just a few days later, a great example of weird.  First, I should say that weird follows me everywhere–I am guessing because I am open to it and…well…because I am weird.

About a month ago, I was having a conversation with myself (internally, this time) thinking about things I wanted to learn to do this upcoming year.  For some reason, and trust me, I have no idea why this came to my mind…I thought I want to learn how to tie knots.

Knots.  That’s what I want to master. I know, so strange.  Which is what makes this next part even stranger.

I often listen to podcasts while on the treadmill.  I despise the treadmill but sometimes if I am listening to a good On Being or This American Life I can momentarily forget that I am on that damn thing.  I was listening to a podcast of Ted Radio Hour called “To the Edge” that I randomly selected and which originally aired on November 28th.

The first story was about an explorer who goes to the edge–to extremes–a polar explorer.  The second story was about someone who goes to the edge hiking the other direction: under ground.  This guy explores caves that sometimes take them four days hike from the entrance.  HUGE underground caves.  He talked about how devoid of color and light they are, using only flashlights to see the gray, tan, black and brown colors for days on end. Then,  experiencing a sort of sensory overload when he comes out to the surface and sees color again for the first time.  His next exploration will take them into a cave for more than 30 days.

The next story was about an average woman who decided to do something extraordinary.  Feeling less than fulfilled with her rote life, she set out to do something she never imagined she could. She made a list of things she could do.  On that list, row across the Atlantic Ocean.  Then, she made a list of the things she would have to know how to do to accomplish that task.  The list didn’t look too bad (because, she noted, she wrote it at such a high level, absent of the detail of how to learn to do those things) and so she took on the challenge.  She did it.  She spent 103 days at sea alone in a row boat but she made it.  Then, she took on rowing across the Pacific.  She said if the first was about her inner journey, this was about her outer journey.

The final story was about Philippe Petit.  He is a wire walker who in 1974, somehow spent the night in the World Trade Center Towers and then rigged a 140+ foot cable between the two towers using a crossbow.  That morning, he walked on the high wire with no net, not safety devices, nothing.  Completely to the edge.  A quarter of a mile in the sky, he talks about faith replacing doubt the moment he steps off the edge. He talks about inspiration, the importance of using our own inspiration to inspire others.  Mountains can be moved, he says.  And at the end, Guy Raz says what Phillippe is doing now.  He has a new book out about his latest passion: knots.

I came home from the gym and immediately went to Amazon to find a book on how to tie knots. I put it in my cart for Christmas.  I don’t know why yet, but for some reason, I will need to know how to tie knots.  So, this year, I will learn.

 

ThinkKit Day 9: The calendar still says 2014, but let’s push forward. What are you looking forward to in 2015? Is there an event, special occasion, or reunion that you’re counting down the days until? Planning a trip? A life change? A move? Or maybe it’s the simple pleasures – the release of a movie, something or someone hitting a stage near you.

I am looking forward to this:

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