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It’s not what you think.

My friend impressed me by making a cake from America’s Test Kitchen. That’s some serious baking, and if she didn’t live in Medford, it would have been hard for me to not invite myself over. The next day another friend induced serious cravings after sending me a picture of a congratulatory cake that her husband received after thirty years with Gallo Winery. That cake came from a bakery whose sticker said, “AWARD WINNING CAKE.”

Cake is my favorite dessert. Before Costco discontinued their sheet cakes, I would be up for sharing one with anyone who wanted to take on the feat. It never happened, but I liked the idea of it. I was always happy to take leftovers home after a staff party, and even store some in the freezer. Cravings do happen.

After the two teasers, Miss America’s Test Kitchen, and AWARD WINNING CAKE friend, I found myself obsessing about cake. As the cake fantasy persisted, I considered the approximate twenty five February birthdays in my life, and accepted that none of them were going to produce a cake in my presence soon enough to satisfy my immediate cake craving.

I have been known to make food for friends. But I’m not a baker. I feel fairly confident that if I deliver Chicken Piccata to a friend, they are going to be super appreciative. But the traditional cake our family looked forward to on birthday mornings, courtesy of Duncan Hines (or Betty Crocker, both are great!) and good ole canned frosting, is not something I would proudly deliver to someone.

So I decided to whip one up, with not a single person in mind with whom I would share it.

 

This is where PERFECT and SINGLE come in.

My box cake with canned frosting was incredibly satisfying to me. Unimpressive (well, the nonpareils do improve it) and exactly perfect.

After I made my cake, my Gallo friend delivered a chunk of the AWARD WINNING CAKE to me. What timing. If only a day sooner!

There are a lot of things to grumble about as a single person. I understand… married people too… But that’s a different story.

There are also many things one can enjoy about being single. For one, I can leave the fork on the plate. I don’t mean the plate I’m eating from, I mean the presentation plate. It’s not a great strategy if one is trying to lose weight, but apart from that, why remove it?

 

An imperfect person eating a perfect cake. Yum.

Just for the record, my AWARD WINNING CAKE friend texted me to say (because of course, when she delivered cake to me, I gave cake to her), that my cake was better than the bottom chocolate cake on her cake. You can’t go wrong with DH or BC.

My neighbors did receive a couple of pieces… because I love them, plus they loaned me the eggs.

 

 

 

This Thanksgiving was so different, but no different. While Covid was a component, it wasn’t the culprit.

The holidays are not my favorite time of year. In fact, they’re my least favorite, which seems almost sacrilegious, especially because, I am religious. Not only am I religious, but Thanksgiving used to be my favorite holiday. Tired of consumerism, but loving food to a fault, a holiday centered around foods unique to once a year and family, was just great with me. It segued into transforming the house into a Christmas wonderland. I relished the Christmas spirit, with my children underfoot or at older ages, making their Christmas gift lists overtly known. The gift exchanges with friends, baking, giving extra to those in need, I loved it all, but so much more, because it was done within the framework of my family.

Which is probably why it’s so hard to find joy in the holidays still, ten years after my divorce. Wait, it might be eleven! But I’m not counting. Those are the holidays that I still want, and cannot have. I made the decision soon after the divorce that I would not give in to the temptation of a stale emotional state. So, for the holidays, I would do my best to maintain the integrity of who I am. Each year, while on a lesser scale, but still in earnest, I pursue the holidays. I do my best to maintain a semblance of the home and traditions my kids grew up in. While the family we knew died, we don’t have to live like we died, but can live and thrive.

But that is no easy task. Thriving can mean striving, and if one is always striving, seeking that life that we desire, the one that brings us joy and peace, the process can be arduous.

Even today, with just my daughter, our two dogs, and myself, I made a full Thanksgiving dinner. Yes, a whole turkey, and the works. Because of medical issues, my daughter did not eat (these are not related to her medical issues she had in HS or college). I can imagine what some of you are thinking, and it’s probably not, “Can I have the recipe?”

Since the divorce, this family still struggles to find its footing. The reasons are complex, and for many families of divorce, this is not the case. But it is the case for ours, and I know there are others.

In spite of the big meals I make, the bounce in my step, the decorations of tinsel and sparkle, the holidays are difficult, and I find myself enduring them, instead of running into their arms with the excitement I once knew.

Well-intentioned people have advised me with admonishment to move on, reminding me that God is my husband and my father. My first response is to punch them. I want to say, “Well, that’s easy for you to say, since you have one.” Would one say that to someone who lost a child in death?

Punching them isn’t cool though, and I could not agree with them more. Without God as my husband and father, I would not be here today. Besides the health of my daughter, my relationship with my children, and living without my family during the holidays has brought me closer to God than any other thing. God created my family. It is his design. And I believe that as my heavenly father and husband, he mourns with me, with every ornament I hang, the disappointments I bear, and the tears that fall.

If you are divorced and strive to thrive, but face the glare of the holiday lights that expose the losses, and intensifies the pain, I see you. I feel you, and I know you. God created the design of family to be the pillar of our society, and our strength in times of good and bad. Every form of media emphasizes the value of family. That when we have our family, we have everything, even when faced with the most difficult of circumstances.

What does that mean then, for those who don’t have family, or it’s been dismantled beyond recognition? When that family is no longer there, like the rag that gets tossed around a bit, yet still predictably, always ready for use when needed?

There are times I turn to some of my amazing friends. Some people will turn to romantic relationships, drugs, or alcohol. Determined to wedge something into that empty space, they attempt to complete the puzzle that was uniquely made for their family.

My friends are a generous salve. They are angels in my life, divinely appointed for me. And while they are sometimes an answer to prayer, they, nor drugs, alcohol, or romantic fulfillment can answer prayers or change hearts.

Every year, it’s the same drill. I brace myself, I prepare myself, I’m disappointed, I grieve, and I beg God for mercy. And every year, he delivers in specific, unique, and holy ways that are difficult to articulate, because I think, all miracles are.

This Thanksgiving was anything but typical. It was fragmented and disjointed. I couldn’t find the answer in one TV illustration on how to handle the complexities of Covid. None of the experts on TV addressed my personal scenario. But God heard my pleas and answered my prayers. He gave me courage to find the right words when I needed them, and tenderness in my execution. Angels were on my side and in my presence. My daughter and I shared a time of conversation that united us and a memory that I will treasure; one on which we can build.

The holidays shine a light on the brokenness that we work so hard to recover. But there is one who is the light of the world, whose light is so powerful, that he will not let the darkness overpower him (John 1:5). He is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit (Psalm 34).

Covid is hard. I understand that the destruction it’s caused. But the media and God are right. That when we have the love of our families, we can overcome any hardship. Of the hardships we face,  none compares to the hardship of losing one’s family.

Being this transparent is hard for me. But I know this hard walk. It’s exhausting and discouraging when we don’t reap what we’ve sown. It reminds me of some favorite movies. One I recently saw called The Biggest Little Farm. It documents the enormous energy that a family puts into building a farm out of nothing. One fiasco and tragedy after the other occurs, until ultimately they discover how all of those mishaps shaped their farm into the success it is today.

The other movie is more relevant to this time of year. That is “It’s a Wonderful Life.”  After so much sacrifice and devotion to the people he loves, George Baily faces the potential collapse of his business, and not because of any fault of his own. Through an angel, and the beautiful gift of perspective, George is able to reconcile his losses and overcome his despair.

It’s true that in the end, George has his family. But it’s God who gives him the perspective he needs to be pointed in the right direction, positioning himself for God’s miracles.

Many of us can relate to George. If that weren’t true, they wouldn’t have made a movie about it! Look for your Clarence, and let him point you in the right direction.

You can do this, because God can do this.

PS: Oh, and a whole pie. These are the best store-bought homemade pies ever.

When my kids began to date, I might have given more consideration to the topic than the average well-rounded, successful, happily married person. I was many things, but I was not that. My emphasis on dating was the expectations of each person, to maintain their integrity and to remain true to one’s self. My dating philosophy sounds easy enough. But so does resisting that last piece of fried chicken. We all know that a simple concept doesn’t necessarily translate to an easy execution. But if we can approach dating, or at least, our reaction to dating, with a few basic practices, I think we can better manage our grief now, and save ourselves from more grief later.

Coming from a divorced woman who has dated very little in the last eleven years, I understand why someone might disregard my opinion. Most people who read this are probably married or have dated much more than I. But what I possess that you may not, are a couple of things. One, I have learned a lot from my mistakes. And two, because of my divorce, I had the opportunity to discover myself, in a space of aloneness. Can I use that word? Is it a word? Dr. Seuss would use it, so I’m leaving it.

Time to reflect on my mistakes and emerge from a place of struggle and autonomy has equipped me for many things.  It’s the source of lots of opinions, based on personal experience. Additionally, I have had three dates since January, one of which lasted for three months. See? I am qualified.

At the beginning of my online dating experience, when it was fun and novel, I thought it would be relatively easy to share my experience. That was until I met someone I liked. Someone worth exploring. I wondered if he would be “the one.” I know, “the one” sounds ambitious. But I am hoping to find a guy who wants to share the rest of his life with me. Real-time documentation suddenly didn’t feel right. Reality TV is not in my future.

Writing about one’s dating life is super intimate. With good friends, transparency is my middle name. However, my middle name changes when we’re talking about going public. Being able to reflect and work through this has been a great luxury, and now I have some things I can share, that won’t read like you’ve broken the lock on my personal diary.

HERE GOES. A whole book could be written on this topic, so understand this is a snapshot of my dating philosophy.

I value the dating process. . .

I went into this relationship with the same mentality I had developed several years back when my kids began to date. If respected, the dating process is an awesome opportunity of discovery, before we make a permanent decision. I say, “if respected,” because often people don’t treat dating like a temporary experience. Instead, subconsciously they commit to the relationship in a permanent sense before there’s a mutual agreement of where the relationship is headed.

Unless both parties have agreed to marriage, I believe either party can call it off, FOR WHATEVER REASON. I understand that there is more to this when a couple has been dating for a long time. This point could have its own chapter. But let’s assume we’re talking about six months or less (but I’m inclined to have the same philosophy for longer periods of time as well). Regardless if one person feels the relationship going in a good direction, it is either person’s right to call it off, FOR WHATEVER REASON. This frees both people to continue in their search.

Breaking up (reverting to my junior high vernacular) is especially hard when you’re focused on marriage, you’re old(er), or it appears that a target has come into view. I had to remind myself of my own dating philosophy. That as much as I liked what I was experiencing, it would not serve either of us well to manipulate or maneuver it. Understanding that dating is a time of exploration, we both have the right to end the discovery.

The best and least we can give one another is kindness. We can’t and shouldn’t attempt to force virtues on another person. We have no right to demand any more than what they want to give us. If they have asked to end the relationship, I believe we should honor their request with very little contest.

Does that mean we were just handed a crappy day, that seeps into a few weeks? Probably. But that doesn’t change that explanations are not owed to either party. The breakup experience is still part of your story, individually and within your relationship. It’s the whole process that refines both of you. It is beautiful, valuable, and sometimes, difficult and painful.

Frequently couples “stick it out”, because the thought of hurting another person is so troublesome. Breaking up seems unkind. As hard as it is to be the breakee (new word), for me, it is more difficult to be the breaker (another new word), unless you don’t mind kicking dogs. OK, I’m joking, but for many people, the anticipation of hurting another person is something to avoid at all cost.  At times truth, authenticity, and sincerity may be uncomfortable and hurt. But almost always, it is the right thing.

If we grant each other this liberty, we can avoid the darts that get thrown and save us wasted time attempting to force relationships that result in bad outcomes.

Remember, we are D A T I N G.

Why it hurts so bad when it ends. . .

After just three months, with Stay at Home orders, and a long-distance relationship, it was still really sad to break up with Bill (Not his real name. Poor guy; he dated someone who blogs!). I think there are two main reasons breakups hurt. One is because we give someone our heart. The other is because we begin to establish a culture that becomes comfortable and familiar, which is where I love to sit. But for this post, I’m going to focus mostly on our hearts.

We hand another person the most tender, powerful part of us. The part that stores our emotions, desires, aspirations, hopes, dreams, feels pain, loss, and grief. We do this, because we care about something. Most likely, it is this other person. Although it’s not always just that, but this snapshot prevents me from elaborating.

This is no different than many things we put our heart into. On a team, you play to win. When you’re not on the field, you think about the game. You prepare off the field and execute on the field. You don’t hesitate. You move forward with ambition, desire, and determination. You dodge bullets, endure discomfort, and subject yourself to pain. On fourth downs you deliberate and make strategic decisions. Your heart is all in.

I think dating well looks the same. Of course, there are stages and circumstances vary. Some relationships require more effort and experience more challenges. They’re all different. Our hearts attach to the unique personality of the relationship. You keep at it because along the way you’ve decided this person is worth the efforts, sacrifice, or emotions you’re handing over. You’re in it to win it.

This is the beauty of life. You expose your talents, skills, personality, weaknesses, and vulnerabilities. A lot is going right. Then you mess up a little, but so what? We all do it. It’s a fumble! You get back up and recover. You keep at it. But then the game clock ends, and you’re left standing there, wondering why you’re stuck in the middle of a play that can’t be finished. Nobody asked you, and the game is over. You didn’t win, and it hurts.

But here’s the thing: unless you cheated, lied, or stole, you played a fair game. If you gave it all you could, you played well. That’s all we can do when we’re looking for Mr. or Mrs. Right. My objective is to find a person who wants to play with me for the rest of my life. After a few sucky weeks, things begin to turn around. We recognize how much we’ve gained, and we’re ready to play again.

When in doubt, stand still. . .

This is an old saying, even before my time! If we aren’t sure about something, then we’re unsure, which means we’re in doubt. Right after a break-up, we are pretty unsure about a lot of things. The relationship, the sincerity of it, the person, our judgment, the list goes on.

I think the hardest thing to do at this time, is to stand still. We desperately want comfort and instinctually want to grab at the most convenient thing. Most often, we think we’ll find comfort in answers. We’re tempted to demand them in an effort to finish the play. What? I wasn’t done! You said this, and what about that? When we don’t get answers, we consider another relationship. We want to be assured that we’re okay. We are, aren’t we?  We’re desperate to compensate for the new loneliness and the abrupt change in culture that has us looking around like Marty McFly in 1955. If we’re not careful, we could find ourselves twirling, into the arms of a tragic country song.

In that moment, our vision is so blurred and our motives so self-serving, that really, the best thing we can do is to be still, be sad, cry, and pray. Even when it doesn’t make sense, we need to accept that we lost this one. There are a million ways we can interfere with God’s plan. I think we have the advantage of seeing his plan, if when in doubt, we stand still.

Trust God (when you’ve asked Him to guide you). . .

After the breakup, I kept coming back to this. We both prayed, together and separately, that God would bless us individually and as a couple. My prayers are a sincere conversation with God. When Bill broke it off with me, I wanted explanations as we all do. But thankfully, Bill was spared the tears when I chose to trust God and honor the dating process that I so much respect.

I mostly stood still.

I don’t think I can write this post without addressing two things. Yes, the hundred miles between us was a challenge. The Stay at Home orders were executed a few weeks into our relationship. That was an even bigger challenge. But I don’t consider either of those obstacles an explanation of why things didn’t work out for us. Because, if both of us wanted our relationship we would have overcome the obstacles that stood in our way.

When we date well, it will hurt when we lose (meaning the relationship ends). When we date well and lose, we will recover and continue. When we date well, and lose, and recover, and continue,  one day we’ll find our team, and win the game.

Whew… this was a long one. Happy D A T I N G . . . whatever that looks like during a pandemic!

It’s here; Mother’s Day 2020, and the lily has opened. I’ve been willing this bloom all week to hold out for today. I’m not sure it’s opened any further since yesterday, but I’m claiming that for Mother’s Day it’s bigger and better. In the midst of a pandemic, if a little imagination, or exaggeration helps us see the forest through the trees, or see a lily increase its bloom size by a minuscule amount, then hooray for us. That would be called a victory.

The sun is shining, my yard is blooming, and my favorite show is featuring Bobby Flay and my favorite breakfast.

I will see my kids with some spacial distancing later. I can enjoy this day.

I know moms whose day is not much different today than it was yesterday. That while I’m rejoicing in lilies and sunshine, they can’t see beyond a child tugging on her PJs, asking for breakfast, the potty, or protection from an aggressive sibling. She does her best to suppress guilt as the TV blares in the background, and in zombie mode pours breakfast into a bowl.

She needs extra prayers. She needs extra help, extraordinary strength, and words that propel her to the next step, the next day.

She needs to be reassured that cereal is ok. That TV isn’t the bad guy, and that being there is what her child needs.

That she is the Horton who hatches the egg.

OK… I did reposition the book for the photo shoot. It’s often underneath on the lower shelf.

When Bradley was born we received the book, “Horton Hatches the Egg.” (Jan…if you read this, it’s from you). It is my favorite Dr. Seuss book. I won’t go into how much I love Dr. Seuss, but I would be happy if someone like him appeared on my EHarmony matches. The book sits on my coffee table.

The most beautiful message of all are on these pages. It’s about love that Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians 13:1-7 (even though it’s difficult to stop at verse 7). Love that leans in and perseveres. Love that requires sacrifice of self and pride.

The opening page says:

“Sighed Mayzie, a lazy bird hatching an egg: “I’m tired and I’m bored

And I’ve kinks in my leg

From sitting, just sitting here day after day.

It’s work! How I hate it!

I’d much rather play!

I’d take a vacation, fly off for a rest

If I could find someone to stay on my nest!

If I could find someone, I’d fly away-free…”

You can see where this is going.

Horton the elephant (a dude) is the someone who rescues Mayzie’s egg, when she decides to take a rest, and doesn’t return. I know I should save this for Father’s Day, but it doesn’t matter who you are, when it is you who commits to the nest.

The final pages end with Horton hatching an Elephant Bird. The crowd says:

“My goodness! My gracious!” they shouted. “MY WORD! It’s something brand new!” IT’S AN ELEPHANT-BIRD!!

And it should be, it should be, it SHOULD be like that!

Because Horton was faithful! He sat and he sat!

He meant what he said

And he said what he meant…”

…And they sent him home HAPPY, One hundred per cent!”… that’s how Seuss wrote that, not me (which is why I love him… oh, sorry, not getting into that).

So for that mom who doesn’t have a crowd, or a person, applauding and affirming all she is and all she does: YOU ARE ADMIRED. One day, you will be sent home happy…

ONE HUNDRED PERCENT.

I am 60. I am 60. I hear that over and over in my head. I envision a circle of people, acknowledging they have a problem, and then I realize my only problem is that I have a problem being 60, not that I am 60.

Our family tradition. It’s not pretty, but it’s my favorite, and even more so, because Bridgette surprised me by keeping our tradition going.

I’m healthy, so any issues I have about turning 60 are emotional, and really, given our current situation, I need to get over it. But I never just “get over” anything. I need to make sense of it.

I’ve been reconciling advancing in age with every birthday since about the age of 50. For the last ten years I am more anxious about the things I haven’t yet accomplished. Write a book, start a non profit for people who suddenly find themselves single who don’t have family to hold them up, host a fundraising dance party where I get to choose all the music. Hike in France, dine in Italy, where my daughter couldn’t find the words to describe its freshness, and where Phil from “I’ll Have What Phil’s Having” describes local food culture that inspires me to work hard so one day my ship will come in, and deliver me to the gelato shop he featured.

Age is not just a number, any more than money is just a number. I avoided the topic of “60” as long as I could. Now, it’s not just about “running out of time,” but the wrinkles in my hands, neck, and face remind me, no, yell at me, that the truth of my age will no longer be ignored. April 16th approached. And now the COVID virus has joined me in my emotional journey.

One minute I’m grateful for the silver linings that this experience affords us, and the next minute I feel like Christmas is tomorrow and I haven’t purchased one gift, and all the stores are closed. From “Embrace and relax.” to “Get yoself out of bed and get to it. You’ve got a gelato shop in Italy to visit!”

I understand Paul, the epitome of flesh and spirit, a living example of the struggles within.

Like a cold that doesn’t leave me bedridden, yet has me constantly reaching for the tissue, I am working on this issue. Monday was my “birthday week,” which meant it was time to get serious about this project: my turning 60 emotions.

I have a weird fondness for these cyclist images on the road.

Monday started with a bike ride. It was a cool spring morning with a bright blue sky behind bursting buds of pink and white. I pedaled up a familiar path, out of the “saddle” (feeling like an imposter using cyclist language). My route wasn’t pre-planned, but I’d vowed to ride twelve miles. I titled my ride: BYE BYE CREAM STUFFED PASTRY AND CREAM PIE, in honor of the two Easter meals provided to me by my friend.

I’ve lived in this part of town for twenty years, so I’m comfortable navigating my way around. I take in the spring colors popping up in manicured lawns and the smell of fresh bark dust. So, my ride will be familiar. I can relax and focus on the traffic and my path, watching for obstacles that could disrupt a very good experience.

I begin my conversation with God. In this moment I want to talk to him about being 60. I begin by acknowledging what is good in my life. My bike that continues to operate, has yet to fail me, and that I am 60 and riding it (even up off the saddle) is reason to thank him.

Gratitude overcomes me, and the route transforms from slightly mundane to glorious. I am capable, I am able, I am healthy. I am grateful for this body, this bike, this community, and for the plain good fortune of experiencing “this,” when so many are suffering and so much is at stake.

After gratitude come my pleas to God. Pleas for my children, pleas for friends, for my Valentine’s Day relationship, pleas for our president, my church staff, and our world, pleas for overcoming the learning curve in my business, and pleas for success in my business. In the midst of praying for one dear friend, I look to my right to see the word VICTORY. It’s among other Nike shrine like buildings that are emerging on Nike Land. A weird sense of warmth towards Nike envelops me, and I thank God, and Nike for this encouragement.

Thank you, Nike.

Gratitude is a popular (and necessary) strategy for overcoming emotions that can send us down an ugly rabbit hole. We are instructed to use it faithfully.

But for me, before gratitude, is God. He opens my eyes and expands my heart. He’s a light that exposes what we already know to be true, but forget when the clouds dim our view.

John 1: 5 says, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” Referring to Jesus.

In my efforts to reconcile what I am losing, I forget what I have. What I have gets lost, and what I don’t have emerges and somehow gets preferential treatment. But my communion with God exposes what is true. Sometimes that is my own greed or vanity. And in that truth, I can see more clearly what is right before me, on this day, in this moment, and discover the beautiful perspective that empowers me for another day, another person, another purpose.

God + Gratitude = Beautiful Perspective.

Here’s to “Getting Over It.”