Happy Thanksgiving

Each Thanksgiving, I’ve used this space in a very unique way that no other blogger or Facebooker has ever imagined: to express my gratitude for my many, many blessings. Sometimes I’ve talked about my appreciation for friends and family, and other times for more silly things, like fuzzy socks and the Keurig.

This year, I write with a heavy heart and mind. Personally, professionally, and as a citizen of this volatile and deeply troubled world, I’ve found it’s been hard to see the light sometimes.

Gratitude can be hard to summon when the world feels so dark and scary. Yet, gratitude also is the antidote to that very problem . “The roots of all goodness lie in the soil of appreciation for goodness,” the Dalai Lama reminds us.

Yesterday, out of the blue, I got an email from a young volunteer I work with. She’s not someone who normally emotes, either negatively or positively, which is what made her words so powerful.

“Jen, Happy Thanksgiving,” the email began. “Thank you for being you and for all you do every day to make life a little better for everyone.”

I teared up a little. Then, feeling inspired, I began sending similar emails to a few people I had been remiss in contacting.

Two sentences is all it took. Imagine if we cultivated that kind of gratitude in our lives every day and allowed it to propagate and spread like wildflowers.

This Thanksgiving, I am grateful for a husband who still induces butterflies, cracks me up, and cooks incredible quiche. I am grateful for a brother who is awe-inspiring and a sister-in-law who might be a superhero. I am grateful for parents who love unconditionally and have always been our biggest cheerleaders. I am grateful for in-laws who are loving, supportive and crazy in all the best ways. I am grateful for best friends who share my passion for aerial arts, take me bumper bowling, and are generous in time and love. I am grateful for an extended family that is there for one another in ways big and small, and sometimes feels too good to be true. I am grateful for two amazing cats, a good job, a working car, and the church house.

And, let’s be honest, I am also grateful for the Keurig.

Whether you are traveling to spend today with friends or family, or you are curled up at home with movies and grilled cheese (our preferred way to spend Thanksgiving), may you feel love, appreciation and a sense of hope for the future and our world. That’s not so much to ask for, is it?

Spread a little love today. Please.

This isn’t a funny post. This isn’t a post about my 40 Before 40 list.

This is a plea.

I see everything through a cancer-sucks-tinted lens these days. That’s hard enough. But the past few days? I have seen a side of humanity that I’m ashamed of.

I’m talking about Paris. I’m talking about the aftermath of Mizzou. I’m talking about some of the responses to a situation unfolding in my own hometown.

I am not delusional. This post isn’t going to change the world, or maybe even one mind. But inside this truly dark place I find myself in this week, I need to ask something of the 108 of you who follow this blog and the others who check in from time to time:

Please do something nice for someone else today. Just something small. Wait a few minutes to push “send” on a difficult email. Reach out to someone and say I love you. Hug your kids. Buy a stranger a cup of coffee. Give someone the benefit of the doubt.

Let’s try to counteract some of the ugly with a little bit of compassion.

40 before 40: Pure Barre

The pressure is on, people! I have 8 months left until I turn 40, and 10 more things to do. Well… nine…

I traveled to Boston this week for work, and I was on a mission. It’s hard to find something in that city that I haven’t done, and I also knew I’d be missing both of my sessions with my personal trainer. So my goal was to find something that 1) was new to me, and 2) would kick my butt.

Enter Pure Barre.

I’ve had a number of friends rave about this exercise trend, which utilizes a few props and a ballet-style barre for a 60 minute group exercise class. There was a studio down the street from my hotel, so it seemed like the perfect excuse to give it a whirl.

I did not take photos. I do not think that the tiny militant ballerina who ran our class would have appreciated me treating this like a novel experience. Particularly after I refused to purchased her $12 “sticky socks” that they “recommend but do not require.” I was the only person out of 30 who didn’t have sticky socks, so you can either see that as a victory or a failure for me. I consider it a victory because I still have $12.

In lieu of my own photos, I will turn to the World Wide Web.

This is pretty much what a Pure Barre class looks like:


They claim that it’s a class for people of all shapes, sizes and abilities, but these people could have been my classmates. I wouldn’t say it’s the most accessible exercise class I’ve tried — I work out a lot and even I was pretty intimidated by the willowy figures that lined the room.

The whole idea behind barre classes is that they are a low-impact, highly efficient way to get a total body workout. It’s a collision of yoga and aerobics. You don’t make giant movements, but what muscles you do work shake like crazy — my personal trainer has us do a lot of CORE work, so it’s rare that I feel sore in my abs or glutes. But after this class, I could barely get out of my car back at the hotel.

All in all, it was a successful 40 Before 40 project. I will probably do this type of class again.

But for the record: I probably still won’t buy the socks.

40 before 40: Hike from the house

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I knew this would happen.

When I first moved to Colorado, I lived within blocks of a trailhead that ascended Boulder’s Mt. Sanitas. It’s not the area’s tallest, nor most spectacular, mountain. But it’s very pretty. And a decent climb to boot. And yet, though I could be on that trail within 10 minutes of leaving my front door, I spent almost every weekend driving to trailheads in the national park, or off the Peak-to-Peak highway, or in Grand County. It’s too easy to take our own backyards for granted.

Now we live in a house that has a State Forest bordering two sides. The famed Finger Lakes Trail is literally in our backyard — we actually own a portion of the trail where it cuts through our property.

Last fall, Scott and I walked it a bit — no more than a mile or so. And over the winter, I would sometimes haul my skis or a sled up the trail so I could slide back into our yard. Because I am a nine-year-old trapped in a 39-year-old body.

But I hadn’t done a proper hike from our house, and that’s ridiculous. It was something I intended to do all summer. But summer got away from us this year, and it never happened. So this morning, when I woke up early to find a fine dusting of snow (!) on the ground, I abandoned all my plans and seized the moment: time for a hike before snowshoeing weather!

It was a chilly morning — in the mid 30s — but the sun was peaking through the clouds every few minutes and once I started up the hill, I warmed up. The leaves have really started to change in the last week or so — we’re probably still a week away from peak — but there is plenty of color and already several inches of crunchy leaves to kick through on the trail.

I meandered about 8 miles into the forest, making a loop out of my hike by utilizing the Finger Lake Trail and a few snowmobile roads. And then I ended in our yard, and that was awesome.

I’ll stop typing now and let the photos tell the rest of the story. Happy fall!

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40 before 40: get lost in a sunflower maze

I have a touch of anxiety about the mazes that pop up in every other cornfield this time of year. In California, Scott and I visited one — billed as the world’s largest — and if it weren’t for some dumb luck a few hours (yes, hours) in, I am fairly sure we’d still be inside, wandering aimlessly, chewing on corn husks to stay alive.

In short, I learned that corn mazes are fun. When they end.

But a sunflower maze?! I could be stuck in one of those for years and be just fine.

It’s no shock to anyone who knows us that the last few months have been a wee bit stressful. It’s been hard to find downtime. But when I learned about a sunflower maze at a local farm, I knew I wanted to carve out some time to visit. Then the day came, and I was tired and cranky and not really in the mood to do anything other than stay home and read a book. But I knew I’d regret missing the sunflower maze, and in the end, I convinced myself to go under the pretense that it was a good “40 Before 40” trip.

Let me pause for a moment for some unsolicited editorial commentary: As I’ve gone on this journey, I’ve realized that forcing myself to seize a moment is one of the best, most magical parts of the “40 Before 40” project. So often, life and responsibility stand in the way of my ability to do something for myself. But knowing I have a deadline for a project that’s all about myself motivates me in a way I never could have imagined when I started.

So, so many people (I mean dozens of you, ranging in ages from 25 to 70) have told me that my project has inspired them to think about doing one of their own — to find a bunch of new things they have never tried and start trying them. To all of those people, I challenge you to stop thinking and just commit — whether it’s “50 Before 50” or “7 before 70” or “17 Before 2017.” Pick any goal you want and start working towards it. I promise you – there are no downsides. Even if you try something new and never want to do it again (I refer you to this one), you probably* won’t regret it.

(I say “probably” because I admit, if you broke a bone or publicly humiliated yourself, you might regret it — though there are ways to manage that possibility. For example, begin by trying a new flavor of ice cream or learning to knit — not everything I have done has been as dramatic as a 45-foot plunge into an airbag.)

OK, back to the sunflowers.

There is no way to be sad around sunflowers. I dare you. They are bright and cheerful and bold and strong and everything that is positivity and happiness.


Look at this flower and feel angry. You can’t!

The maze was much less of a traditional maze with a start and an end. It was more like a grass path that meandered through a field of flowers. Whatever. It worked for me.


The sky was an amazing blue — a perfect late September afternoon. A few wispy clouds floated by, but otherwise, it was tranquil and stunning.

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This time of year also coincides with the annual migration of the monarch butterflies. Butterflies plus sunflowers? COME ON.

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All in all, I’m glad I worked up the energy to make this afternoon a reality. After wandering through the maze, I found a sunny spot and put down my camera. I sat. I took it all in.

I breathed.

I cherished.


This is my happy place.

40 before 40: swing from trees

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For my birthday this year, I had one request: to spend a day swinging from trees at a local aerial adventure obstacle course. It was everything I hoped it would be and more — 3+ hours of laughter, joy, and a little pain. There is no way you can NOT be in the moment at something like this, and with everything going on right now, it was exactly what we needed.

I must add that since this was my 39th birthday treat and all, it gave me a small amount of pleasure to see people half our ages chicken out. There were a couple of big guys’ guys who didn’t have the strength to go on, too. We finished all but the most difficult of the seven courses, and that’s only because we ran out of time. (That said, it does actually hurt a little to type this, my hands are so sore from the gripping.)

The course started low and easy and gradually worked up to some pretty difficult obstacles.



This one was especially hard, requiring you to balance on two swinging logs and then step to the next swinging log. Repeat. Many times.

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Loved breaks like this one. Crawling through a wooden tube? Easy peasy.

Here’s a compilation of the video I took. Don’t you want to do this too?!

40 before 40: grow a pumpkin

I am sitting here with a blank screen that awaits the words that will form the story of my latest 40 before 40 adventure. It’s early on Saturday morning (early for me anyway… 7:30am) and the windows in my office are wide open. There is no breeze, just incredibly humid, sticky air that amplifies the screams of the cicadas —  a dull roar that is only interrupted by the occasional screech from a blue jay that has found the feeder on our porch. As I was making my cup of coffee a few minutes ago, I watched a mother deer and her still speckled fawn graze in our yard.

I feel so lucky to have landed here, in a church house, on a gorgeous plot of land surrounded by a state forest that so many call home.

It’s easy to take this all for granted. It’s so quiet and beautiful so much of the time. But then something like a baby pumpkin comes along, and I fall in love with our home all over again.

You see, for a decade, I’ve had a dream. That dream is to grow a pumpkin so massive that it takes an army of friends to transport it to the state fair so I can collect my grand prize ribbon.

This dream began in 2006, in California, where our apartment porch held several pots of pumpkin plants that we would cultivate through the year. Unfortunately, a team of raccoons ensured the little seedlings never made it beyond the top of the soil. (There is one story that we love to tell that involves Scott chasing a mama and her three babies away with a Swiffer at 3am.)

When we moved to the Finger Lakes four years later, our apartment had actual land. We built raised gardens and purchased expensive pumpkin starts and high-end fertilizers.  For five years, we cultivated the heck out of that little pumpkin patch.

And yet, we grew nothing.

Well, that’s not entirely true. We grew gorgeous pumpkin vines with incredible pumpkin flowers. But even despite my efforts to inseminate the flowers with a Q-tip, we could get no actual vegetables to grow. Including the locust I used to build the beds, I probably spent $300 on that garden. For nothing.

This year, in mid-May, I was standing in line at Home Depot when I saw a packet of pumpkin seeds on a rack. I chucked them in my basket, and then when I got home, I chucked them in the one garden bed I’d had time to prepare.

I forgot about the pumpkin seeds. The garden bed was soon overgrown with weeds. We have waaaaaaaay too much going on with the house to think about tending a garden.

And then July happened. Our life flipped upside down. My parents stayed with us for a couple weeks. We were running back and forth to the hospital daily. It was everything we could do to keep the front lawn mowed. I didn’t even visit the section of the yard with the garden.

Then, about a week ago, I was  beating back some weeds that were starting to encroach on the compost bin. I looked over at the garden. The pumpkin vines were so large that they had collapsed a portion of our fence. I looked more carefully and under a pile of plastic fencing, I saw a teeny tiny pumpkin baby.


There were loud screechy noises coming from my face before I even realized what was happening.

Listen, I get it. It’s mid-August.  My chances of this becoming a state-fair award-winning pumpkin by Labor Day are perhaps a bit slim. But I don’t care. I have already won.

The church house has taught us a lot, and this is only its most recent lesson : let go. Let nature do its thing.  Even if a woodland creature comes along tomorrow and chomps it off its stem, this is progress. This is more than I’ve ever done before.

Magic is out there, and dreams can come true. As long as you modify those dreams sometimes.

Here’s the pumpkin as of two nights ago:

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And as I was snapping that photo, I noticed this:


Thank you, church house. Thank you.


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