40 before 40: wet felting

They can’t all be winners.

The spirit behind 40 before 40 has always been about embracing new moments, new adventures, and new skills. It makes sense that in a list of 40 new activities, there will be a few duds.

I knew about halfway through my wet felting class that this was something I would never, ever do again.

Wet felting is the process of creating felt from sheep wool. The process is relatively simple — you start with handfuls of wool and place them on a table in layers that overlap at 90-degree angles (this is about 6 layers of wool and I threw in some colored bits on top).

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Then you get the whole mess wet and soapy and agitate the fibers together– wool naturally wants to “hook” itself, so after a few minutes of agitation and compression with a bamboo mat, you have yourself a block of soaking wet felt.

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The end result is admittedly a beautiful fabric that you can transform into literally anything. My three hour class yielded some lovely wool insoles to keep my toes toasty in the winter and a small merino wool pouch that I have absolutely no idea what to do with.

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I’m not knocking the art behind wet felting. I know there are craftspeople out there who create amazing, useful, wonderful, luxurious items. I just won’t be one of them. And that’s ok — it’s as valuable to learn about new things you love as it is to discover those you can leave behind.

No good riddance to 2015

As the weeks have passed, I’ve wondered how I would feel as New Year’s Eve got closer and closer. Would I consider the impending new year a moment of great comfort, a chance to close the door on a tough year?

I have never been more grateful to say goodbye to a year than in 2005, which was — in my whole 29 years of experience — about as bad a year as it could get. I finally ended a relationship that had nearly killed my spirit, and the fallout and drama definitely kicked the year off with a bang. Work became unbearable as my boss revealed romantic feelings for me, feelings that were certainly not reciprocated nor appreciated. I had a health scare with my heart (after days of tests and monitors and sticky nodes stuck to every square inch of my chest, I was diagnosed with… shocking… stress).

And to top it all off, I kept doing stupid things that left my body covered in physical signs of my emotional distress — for example, in an attempt to donate clothes to the local Goodwill, I accidentally rammed my eyeball into the corner of my car door. (Days later, a domestic violence shelter worker tried to talk to me and refused to believe that my abusive relationship was with a Subaru.) I tripped in a parking lot enroute to get a fish taco, shattering a tiny bone in my wrist that the ER doctor said was literally the hardest bone in the body to break, and it also came with a 9 month recovery timeline.

Oh, and red-winged blackbirds kept attacking my head on my morning runs. I still can’t explain that one, though Scott swears it must be because my chlorine-damaged hair is nice nesting material. At the time, it just felt like the universe hated me.

Early in January in 2006, I sat on a rural road in Utah and sobbed heavily after realizing that 2005 was over and I had survived it.

It’s been a decade and I’ve had plenty of time to gain perspective on that year. In the years that followed, I honed my ability to see good (or funny) mixed in every bad situation — and I can even look back on 2005 with laughter and gratitude. That year was a training ground for how I can deal with life’s challenges. As trite as the saying may be, it’s true that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

Time also helped me realize that 2005 contained a lot of good. Ten years later, the friend who offered easy laughs in moments of great pain is the husband whose quick wit still delights me daily (we still won’t eat fish tacos though). My parents stepped up as rocks that year, and I still marvel at the stability they offered me then and still offer me now. The spring road trip that my brother and I took to Arizona launched a tradition of occasionally taking time just for the two of us. I discovered the importance of a true friendship, eliminated the toxic people in my life, and vowed to cultivate the relationships that mean the most.

2015 dealt our family a nasty hand. And yes, the tragedy that unfolded was not mine. There’s a huge difference between being a person going through hell and being a caregiver for the person going through hell.

That said, it was still a hard year. And yet, the words I wrote back in August remain true: I can’t call it a nightmare. I saw too many good people step up to help in ways big and small, and there are just so many things I feel grateful for.

Aside from cancer, there were also a lot of moments of pure joy. I added 20 adventures to my 40 before 40 list, from circus antics to pottery throwing to the (not one, not two, but THREEidiotic death jumps in the Adirondacks that we never need to do again.  We did an incredible amount of work on the church house — some of it easily apparent (I’m talking to you, thousands of bald eagles who terrified our guests) and much of it not (tuck-pointing the foundation — during which my cake decorating skills came in handy):

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There were also plenty of other wonderful moments, which never made it to this blog because I want to live life, not just write about it. There was bowling and berry picking, trips to Colorado, Vermont, Massachusetts, and South Carolina to spend time with family and friends, hikes and kayaks in beautiful places across New York, and a war on voles in our garage that (at least for now) the humans have won.

2015 was not without its struggle, and 2016 will not have an easy start. But as we sit on the eve of the new year and reflect, I know my immediate family is stronger for all we have been through, and there is an amazing network of extended family and friends who provide a safety net below us. For that, I am humbled. Thank you.

Happy New Year friends. May it be your best yet!

Twas the night before Christmas

 

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I made our wreath this year… even the bow!

Last year at Christmas, a cold squirrel broke into our warm house. His (her?) presence delighted the cats and freaked out the humans. This year, it’s 65 degrees outside and we’re swatting cluster flies from windowsills and there are frogs swimming in the pond.

It doesn’t feel like Christmas outside.

But I know it’s Christmas because we jammed a giant tree into our living room. I know it’s Christmas because the last few weeks have been chock full of cheer and holiday parties and thoughtful gifts and gestures from friends and strangers alike. I know it’s Christmas because the house is filled with melodies from my favorite songs and there are tins of cookies in almost every room.

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This is the “small” tree at only 9 feet tall. Also, it comes apart in pieces and lives in a box.

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This is the ginormous tree that barely made it into the house and up our stairs when it was baled! It’s 10.5′ tall and more than 7′ across at the base. We might need to cut a hole in the side of our house to remove it.

Christmas is a time for laughter. Christmas is for expressing love and gratitude for everything that is right in our worlds. It’s a moment to reflect on the year behind us and the one to come.

It’s also for family. Of course, Scott couldn’t pass up a chance to fish on a spring-like Christmas Eve. But Steve, Elizabeth and I went for a hike in upper Buttermilk Falls.

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It may not feel like Christmas outside, but I feel it plenty on the inside.

If you celebrate, may your Christmas be filled with laughter and love and good chocolate. If you don’t celebrate, may you enjoy a few days of quiet and relaxation doing whatever makes you happy.

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!

-Jen

 

 

40 before 40: fly like a monkey

I’ve stayed quiet about an obsession I’ve developed over the past few months. That’s partly because some of it has already been talked about in my “40 before 40” list, and it’s also because I am aware that as soon as I admit it, people are going to start demanding performances, and I’m not prepared for that.

For the purposes of 40 before 40, I’m going to add “static trapeze” to the list. But in reality, my obsession goes beyond that and encompasses all things aerial arts.

I know. I’m almost 40. And aerial arts — which includes things like trapeze, ropes, silks and lyra — is something you associate with people half my age who work in Vegas or tour with Cirque du Soleil. But the truth is, it’s a pretty darn accessible sport. Providing your expectations are fairly low, you have the confidence to be in class with 9-year-olds who were rubber bands in a former life, you’re not AT ALL afraid of heights, and you’re willing to put in an insane amount of hard work that will leave you unable to get out of bed for two days after every practice.

Otherwise: TOTALLY accessible.

All kidding aside, I’m fortunate that an entrepreneurial young woman opened up a circus school in Ithaca this fall. It’s located in the former press room of the local paper, which is cool because I worked for the paper in high school and it’s neat to be following a second passion in that same space.

This video is making the rounds in my family — it’s a few things my dad caught on his phone when visiting a few weeks ago — so many of you saw it already. I’m clearly nowhere near ready for Barnum and Bailey, but the fact that I’m willing to post it here does mean that I’m enjoying this activity more than tap dancing.

 

 

 

40 before 40: befriend a sloth

We ate processed cheese, Ritz crackers, and grocery store cookies. We watched a 15-minute, graphic and grainy video of a sloth birth that was filmed through a zoo window. We held a plastic replica of a sloth skull. And that was all before the zookeeper announced she had a very special treat for us.

“Here in my hand is a ziploc bag full of sloth toenails!” she exclaimed.

Without missing a beat, Scott turned to me and deadpanned: “This is quite a presentation.”

It wasn’t a great start. But, to be fair, we had no firm expectations. Back in June, we purchased tickets to an adult education program at the local zoo, a “Meet the Sloths” night. The class description was pretty vague.

By the time the bag of toenails got to me, I made peace with the fact that I would probably not be coming into contact with an actual sloth — a dream of mine.

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Scott with a toenail from a ziploc bag. We paid for this pleasure.

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After faux-admiring the clippings, we were told to leave behind our bags and follow the zookeeper, who took us to the enclosed sloth exhibit.

This was a step in the right direction, although most of the sloths were piled on top of each other in a hallowed out log, sleeping. Then one sloth started slowly moving across a branch, and it was so much excitement for our group of 25 that I worried someone might pass out.

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We were shepherded back into the classroom and a rumor started that a real, live, actual (perhaps toenail-less?) sloth was about to make an entrance. I had already declared that if Scott truly loved me, he would figure out a way to make sure we left with a sloth. I’m happy to say he took my request very seriously.

We got to meet two sloths — the one in the video above, a 40-something female named Arana. And the most adorable baby boy named Lawrence.

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All Lawrence needs to be happy is his towel.

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Arana and I having a moment. “Take me home and love me,” she said.

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I mean, COME ON.

I probably don’t need to state the obvious and say that this was one of the greatest nights of my year. It would have been THE greatest if I could have managed to stash Lawrence in my bag.

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.

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