Giving Up Lent

If you’re Catholic, you know that tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, a.k.a., the first day of Lent. Lent, for all you non-Catholics reading this, is the forty days (or 43, this year) before Easter when Catholics pray, reflect, fast and make penance. Basically, it’s a six-week period when we give up our biggest vices as a way to repent and sacrifice before overindulging in them once again on Easter Sunday.

So what am I giving up this year?

I usually denounce chocolate for the 40+ days, but being that tomorrow is also Valentine’s Day and next week is my birthday, this creates a bit of a conundrum for me. I could forego chocolate on the two days a year when I do indulge or I could cheat and suffer weeks of Catholic guilt. Neither option sounds appealing, so chocolate will not be on my Lenten hit list this year … Problem solved.

I could give up swearing and speeding, my two biggest vices, but who am I kidding? Both are part of my DNA and I own that sh*t. Plus, I’m usually late — hence my propensity to speed — so, no.

I could offer up alcohol, but I stopped drinking over five years ago and I don’t think Lenten sacrifices are retroactive.

I could duplicate last year’s extreme efforts and avoid the basics of modern life — food (I attempted the Whole 30 diet) and social media — but depriving myself of these necessities just made me mean. Or meaner, according to my wonderfully honest kids. Besides, if I give up Instagram again, how will you know what I eat for dinner or when it’s leg day at the gym?

So after much thought and consideration, I’ve decided that this Lenten season I am giving up Lent. Yes, you read that correctly. I am giving up the Lenten tradition of sacrifice and fasting. Instead, I am taking my cue from the universe aligning the first day of Lent with Valentine’s Day and giving something out rather than giving something up. For the next 43 days, my Lenten promise is to commit at least one act of love, kindness and/or compassion a day. Big or small. For a stranger, friend or family member. Anything counts as long as it’s heartfelt, pure and meaningful. Because isn’t that what being Christian is really about? Isn’t that what being human is really about? Spreading love, being kind, showing compassion … It’s what the world needs now more than ever.Plus, I figure a few good deeds should counterbalance a handful of F-bombs, right? I call that a Lenten win-win.

– LJDT

Recycling Resolutions, 2018-style

Happy New Year! Can I still say that? It is January 12, after all. Anyway, …

This is the time of year when we all make grand resolutions to improve ourselves in some way: Vow to eat healthier and exercise more; Promise to meditate daily and go to bed earlier; Pledge to live in the moment and be kinder; Save more, do more, be more … The list goes on. I get it. I do it, too. Every year, I make similar resolutions: 2015 – To be calmer, happier, better; 2016 – To be less uptight and rigid; 2017 – To be more forgiving, mindful and connected. Notice a trend?

According to researchers, 80% of people abandon their resolutions by mid-February. They just throw in the towel and straight-up quit. Well, I am not a quitter. I am also not a totally relaxed, carefree, zen yogi like I hoped to be by now, which is why I’ve decided to recycle my old resolutions from the past three years as my new resolutions for this year. Some will say this is lazy, but I say it’s inspired — maybe even genius — because I never fully achieved any of those old resolutions. Sure, I’m a little calmer, looser and more aware than I used to be, there’s still lots of room for improvement. Every day is a chance to get better, to be better and to move closer to truly reaching my goals of inner peace and happiness, so I’m going to keep trying.

Strive for progress, not perfection.

My motto for 2018 is, “Progression over perfection,” which is a good thing because it’s been slow-going these first twelve days of the new year. 2017 went out with more of a fizzle than a bang (a canceled vacation and ten long days of family togetherness left a bitter taste in my mouth) and 2018 started off sort of strong — until it didn’t. The boys finally went back to school and actually left the house showered, fed and on-time without any yelling involved for two days in a row! This minor miracle gave me hope and I took it as a positive sign of what the year had in store for me — peace, serenity and productivity. Unfortunately, Mother Nature interpreted this sign differently. She must have thought hell froze over because what followed has been nothing short of a shit show so far: One ice storm (with a school delay), two snow days, three broken toilets, four power outages, five days without heat, six meltdowns (all mine) and, of course, back to the usual scream-filled, late mornings. I’m not sure if I’m more pissed at Mother Nature, my kids, the school superintendent or that f*cker Murphy with the bad luck that makes everything “law.” Not exactly the road to blissful living.

This is 100% me #keepingitreal

But tomorrow is a new day and I’m not giving up. Progression over perfection. And things are already looking up: The sub-zero temperatures are gone, our heat has been fixed, new toilets will be installed next week and my husband and I are going on a much-needed vacation without the kids. Life is good. I know there are more sucky days ahead, but in general, my life is good.

So here’s to slaying all your 2018 goals, and even those left over from 2015. Just take it one day at a time like me. Breathe, you got this!

Ready to slay 2018!

– LJDT

Mother Knows Best

If you know my mother at all, you know her favorite things in life are black coffee and anything chocolate, Home Goods and Lord & Taylor, oldies music and the Sunday funnies, her friends and family — especially her two daughters and five grandsons (her husband and sons-in-law pull a close second. Sorry, guys). She’s a devoted grandmother who drives three hours to Pennsylvania for 24-hour visits on the regular, always with cupcakes and some new kitchen gadget that she “thought [I] might like” in hand. She’s a supportive mother who lets me vent without judgement, complain without correction and brag without limitation. And she’s a faithful wife who has survived over 49 years of marriage and almost as many years of coaching with my dad. She’s not without her flaws, but I wouldn’t trade her anything — on most days, anyway.

She’d do anything for her grandsons — even don a turkey hat in public. I’m sure I’ll pay for using this photo, but how could I not?

I’ve written in the past about my mom and identified the traits I’ve inherited from her — everything from her hair color and big hips to the inability to tell a succinct story. I’ve also received sage advice and useful life skills from her, like how to pluck my eyebrows, make sauce (although I’ve since altered the recipe to accommodate food allergies/sensitivities) and where to find the best deals. But some teachings go deeper than basic hair removal and savvy shopping tips; They offer life lessons worth their weight in gold. Here are the five that resonate with me the most:

  1. Lick the spoon. When cooking, baking or making chocolate milk … It’s the best part. Translation: Treat yourself and do what makes you happy.
  2. Dress the part. Even if you’re not the best tennis player (runner, yogi, etc.), you can still look cute in the outfit. My interpretation: Be confident in who you are.
  3. Never arrive empty-handed. A small gesture goes a long way. Meaning, be kind and generous to others.
  4. Your house, your rules; My house, my rules. Decoded as setting and respecting boundaries, both your own and others.
  5. Try your best and know that you’re doing a better job than you think you are. No explanation needed, just words to live by. #believeinyourself

Is Grace Dewey the next Tony Robbins? Not exactly, but she is one smart cookie. I’m not gonna lie … She can also be a hot mess and a huge pain in my ass at times (thus the short, 24-hour visits), but her heart is usually in the right place. Today is her 75th birthday and Thursday is Thanksgiving — what better week to tell the blogosphere how wonderful my mom is and how grateful I am to have her?

Happy Birthday, Mom! Chocolate cake and Motown to celebrate tomorrow when I see you.

c. 1973. One of my favorite photos, but why am I dressed like a clown at the petting zoo? So much for dressing the part!

– LJDT

My Reflection on Lent … Nailed It!

Okay, so the title of this blog post is a little misleading. Maybe even a lot misleading. Okay, it’s a total lie. I didn’t exactly keep all my Lenten promises for the full 46 days, or even for the more traditional 40 days. I know, I know, I’m a bad Catholic … But some good did come of it, I swear.

If you recall, I gave up social media and pretty much all food for Lent. A lofty goal, but I was determined to suffer and atone like all good Catholics do during the holiest time of the year. Besides, if Jesus could pray and fast in a desert for 40 days and then make the ultimate sacrifice, surely I could give up Facebook, Twitter and Instagram while following a Whole 30 diet for 46 days, right? Apparently not. I was pretty good with the food part, as long as you don’t count that one time I accidentally ate something “non-Whole 30-compliant” because I didn’t read the label closely enough, or that other time when I deliberately ate a spoonful of cookie dough while my son and his girlfriend were baking cookies together (I paid for that one within minutes, trust me!). But my social media fast proved much harder than my food fast. A few times (and by few I mean 7 or 8 times), I cheated and went on Facebook … But only for 10 minutes and I didn’t comment on anyone’s status, like any posts or wish anyone a happy birthday, I swear! I also felt guilty about it, so that should count for something, right?

I may have been less than successful in keeping my Lenten promises, but I did learn a few things. Notably,

  • I’m not very nice when I’m inconvenienced, hungry and information-deprived for 46 days. (My apologies to all those I encountered over the past month and a half.)
  • Following a strict Whole 30 protocol is hard, but having food allergies/sensitivities makes clean eating a little easier. (Perhaps my autoimmune disease is a blessing in disguise?!?)
  • Sugar is the devil, as proven by the cookie dough incident. (Lesson learned — the hard way, of course.)
  • Social media is a huge time suck and I’m more productive without it — on most days, anyway. (I still found ways to procrastinate.)
  • I didn’t really miss much without Facebook and Instagram. (Sure, I forgot a few birthdays, skipped a couple of product launch parties and didn’t see those new selfies, food photos or family vacation pictures that people posted, but I survived.)
  • Lofty Lenten promises are hard to keep, even if you’re not in the desert. (And especially if you don’t really want to keep them.)

Clearly, I am not the good Catholic I set out to be. If human salvation rested on my shoulders, we’d all be damned. But I tried, and I will keep trying because it’s not about giving up food or Facebook; It’s about being accountable, learning from mistakes and making improvements. Knowledge is power, so I consider my Lenten experience a (minor) success … Even if that is a bit of a reach.

– LJDT

It’s Lent … Proceed with Caution

Today was the first day of Lent, and like a good Catholic, I got my Jesus on. I went to mass (the “lunchtime express” was a mere 20 minutes!), got my ashes (which, sadly, drew attention to my forehead wrinkles) and successfully made it through day #1 without breaking my 2017 Lenten promises … at least as of 10PM, as I was writing this post.

And I though the “Lunchtime Express” service at my church was great … Ivanhoe Church in Ohio offered drive-thru ashes!

I usually give up chocolate or cursing for Lent and fail miserably by day #3 . Last year, I switched it up and gave up negativity with an “at least” clause. But this year, I really need to get my shit together, so it’s back to tangible sacrifices. This year, I’m going big. This year, I’m going all in … which means I will either fail miserably by day #3 again and feel guilty about it for the following 43 days, or I will be a hot mess for the next 46 days. Either way, you’ve been warned.

So what exactly am I giving up that’s going to be so bad? Basically, food and life. For the next 46 days, I am giving up social media (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram) and following the Whole30 eating program, which requires me to give up nearly every food group except for meat, fish, vegetables, nuts and seeds. As an added punishment sacrifice, I’m giving up homemade almond butter (my weakness) and my favorite sort-of healthy, go-to sweet fixes of dark chocolate covered almonds, dates, figs and dried apples. This may not sound like much of an indulgence to you, but it is for me. As I said, the next 46 days won’t be pretty, and for the record, I’m blaming Jesus.

Two birds, one stone?

Lent is a time of sacrifice and reflection, but it’s also a time for self-improvement. Because I’ve been lax on my clean eating habits lately, I’m hoping the Whole30/46 gets me back on track. I’ve even enlisted the help of my bestie to keep me honest. She’s giving up sugar (read: all sweets) for the entire month of March and texting me daily for support. She’s not exactly getting her Jesus on (she is Jewish, after all), but she is giving up Cadbury Eggs, which is a huge sacrifice for this girl … That’s love, people!

Love is … giving up chocolate for Lent for your best friend, even though you’re Jewish (photo: April, 2016).

I’ve also been lax on my writing, wasting too much time each day on Facebook and Twitter, so I’m hoping my social media sabbatical will help me procrastinate less and become more productive again. For the next 46 days, don’t be offended if I don’t wish you a happy birthday on Facebook, like your photo on Instagram or R.S.V.P. to your Stella & Dot/Pampered Chef/LuLaRoe party … It’s Jesus’ fault. [By the way, my blog posts are automatically uploaded to Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, so I’m not cheating.]

I should probably also mention that I anticipate cursing and yelling even more than usual during the next 46 days, due to my expected hangry and isolated state. Again, you can thank Jesus. But to counteract my anticipated crankiness, I plan to engage in one act of kindness every day throughout Lent, adding on to my Facebook birthday promise to spread the love as many times as I received birthday wishes. If I don’t skip any days, I think that means I’ll be paying it forward through the end of the summer … and isn’t that what Lent is really about?

– LJDT

2017, Take 2 … or 12, But Who’s Counting?!

If you read my last blog post, then you know that at the beginning of the year I wasn’t exactly feeling the whole “New Year’s resolution/new year, new me” thing. Despite having just returned from a relaxing vacation in Jamaica, I was feeling stuck. While everyone else was posting inspirational quotes and memes on social media, I was whining and complaining about pretty much everything. I knew my negativity was spiraling out of control, so I gave myself a pass and claimed the first few days of the year to be a mental detox week. Then, after a week of outrageous bitchiness, I declared January 9 the new January 1. Finally ready to tackle the new year, I pushed the reset button and started over again … and then again … and then again. It was bad. I couldn’t string together more than two days at time when I didn’t lose my shit over something trivial. Pretty much, I was a hot mess most of January.

But 2017 is the year of the #nastywoman, as well as the year of the rooster (the most highly motivated animal in the Chinese zodiac), so I am not giving up.  I am resetting the 2017 button yet again and going to finally be that better version of myself. I know, I know … You’ve heard me say this before. But this time, I’m older and wiser. This time, I’m more dedicated and enlightened. This time, I have a plan because a goal without an action plan is just a wish.

Step one: Declutter my life. Get rid of whatever doesn’t bring happiness. For me, that’s everything from old files and outdated clothes to bad memories and toxic relationships. Score one for me and the local consignment shop.

Step two: Practice mindfulness. Slow down and breathe. Meditate every day. Listen better and react more rationally (less emotionally and selfishly, as per my usual M.O.), like a real adult.

Step three: Stay connected. I’m a better version of myself when I’m in synch with my husband and when I get time with my girlfriends. More of that in 2017!

Step four: Forgive quickly. Shit happens — Get over it and move on. Cut myself more slack when I mess up (daily) and give people the benefit of the doubt more often (hopefully, people really aren’t all assholes).

Step five: Try something new. Step out of my comfort zone and take a few risks (like zip lining in Jamaica). Push the limits and challenge myself, even if it’s scary.

Step six: Don’t back down. Say no without guilt. Fight for what I want and push back when needed, without being an asshole about it.

I’m going to attack this plan like I do my gym goals — with patience, practice, hard work and determination. Some days I’ll kill it and some days I won’t. But I’ll keep trying because where you focus your attention is where you focus your power. Hopefully, each day I’ll get a little closer to becoming that badass, zen chick I know I can be. I just have to take it one day at a time.

Okay, enough of this sappy, inspirational crap. Next post, it’s back to sass and sarcasm … You’ve been warned!

– LJDT

Putting 2017 on Pause

Happy New Year! It’s January 3 and I’ve spent the better part of the past few days contemplating what I should post. I wanted it to be inspirational, original and profound. I wanted it to be funny, sassy and smart. I wanted it to be great. Instead, what I’m giving you is simply timely, truthful and probably a bit lame.

The thing is, I’m not really feeling the whole New Year’s Resolution thing this year. At least not yet. I know I want to be calmer, kinder, and less uptight. I know I want to more patient, more forgiving and a better example for my kids, but I’m just not feeling it. At least not yet. If I wasn’t post-menopausal, I’d say I was PMS-ing this week because I’ve been cranky, moody and downright mean. We are only three days in to the new year and I’ve already failed all my resolutions — Not good. Should I throw in the towel already and admit defeat on day 3? I don’t think so. I’m changing the rules instead. I’m pushing the pause button on 2017 and labeling this my detox week. For one week, I’m giving myself permission to continue writing 2016 on my checks and bitch, curse and scream guilt-free to clear my system. Then come January 9, I’m getting my shit together and staring anew. 2017, here I come … just a week late.

I know, I know — It sounds like a load of crap. A weak excuse to complain and not stick to my resolutions. Maybe, or maybe I’m on to something. Who says resolutions have to begin on January 1st? Every day is a new day, right? I’m a realist. I’m not in the right mindset yet to act on my resolutions, so I’m letting this negative streak run it’s course and I’ll start fresh next week. If 40 is the new 20, than January 9th can be the new January 1st.

My 2017 do-over starts next week … who’s with me?

– LJDT

My Tuesday Truth

Sometimes, the universe is trying to tell you something.  Sometimes, you have to listen very closely to hear it. Sometimes, it smacks you in the face.

This morning, as I got the boys off to school and prepared for my day, I had the TV on.  I never have the TV on.  Really — Never.  It was tuned to Good Morning America and, while I was mostly ignoring it, my attention was grabbed when I heard Michael Strahan introduce a mommy blogger.  Intrigued — and frankly, a bit envious. How can I get on GMA as a mommy blogger? — I stopped to watch.  Ilana Wiles was talking about her new book and how she is embracing being just an average mom with an average life.  No labels, no judgement, no Pintrest-worthy family photos, crafts or meals.  Mediocrity at its best and not feeling bad about it.  Her trick is to maintain a selective memory, i.e., choosing to remember the positive and letting all the other crap fade away.  I feel ‘ya, sister!  I say it all the time to my girlfriends and I write about it in this blog, but I don’t always live it.  I compare, I judge, I complain, I bitch.  All too often, I focus on the negative instead of the positive.

Later in the day, I had a scheduled phone consultation with a holistic health and wellness coach.  She asked about my concerns, my goals and what’s holding me back … Um, where do I start?  We only have an hour, right?  So we talked about my autoimmune condition and my related food needs, my workout routines and writing schedule, my daily challenges and current coping mechanisms.  I told her how I start my day with a few yoga stretches and mindful meditation, but that zen feeling is gone as soon as the kids are up — Then it just snowballs from there.  When I confessed that I often feel burdened and overwhelmed, I was forced to face a few self-truths that I’m not especially proud of.  Like my unusually high standards for both myself and my family.  Add in the guilt I have for feeling unsatisfied, resentful or ungrateful at times, and it’s not a pretty picture.  Her advice was to release the guilt by changing my language and cutting myself some slack.  I need to practice using kinder, more positive words to frame my world so that I can begin to change my mindset.  Once I do that, I’ll feel the shift.

Wow!  It sounds corny, but when I hung up the phone, I felt lighter.  More at peace.  It was as if I was finally given permission to be nicer to myself.

The universe was sending me a message today and I heard it, loud and clear.  Hopefully, I remember to listen tomorrow.

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– LJDT

The Circle Of Life: When A Beginning and Ending Collide

Yesterday was the first day of school for my boys. Eighth grade and fifth grade, respectively — Their last year in middle school and elementary school, also respectively. And from what I hear, it started the same way that last year ended … With each of them chasing down the school bus before it left our neighborhood. Sigh! At least they’re consistent.

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First day of 8th grade — Yes, he ran after the bus with his shoelaces untied (photo courtesy of my husband).

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Pre-bus chase smiles on the first day of 5th grade (photo courtesy of my husband).

I, too, am consistent. Last year, I cheaper out went green and sent the boys to school with the previous year’s backpacks, lunch boxes, clothes and unused school supplies. I did buy them new underwear and get them fresh haircuts as part of a family tradition, but this year, I didn’t even do that. I know, I’m a horrible mother. I did replace their moldy, torn lunch boxes, but other than that, the start of the 2016-17 school year looked a lot like the end of the 2015-16 school year. At least that’s what my husband tells me. I don’t really know for sure because I wasn’t there. I was in Boston.

As my boys were saying hello to their new teachers, I was saying goodbye to one of mine. Virginia Delaney was truly a remarkable woman who taught me, through her life example, that it’s not your situation or circumstances that define you, but your attitude. She lived life to the fullest every day, laughing, joking and making the people around her feel loved. From the outside looking in, she lived a storybook life: Married for over 60 years with 5 children, 13 grandchildren and 4 great-grandchildren, all of whom loved her dearly. A world-class traveler, veteran theatre-goer and the consummate hostess, my Aunt Virginia was simultaneously sophisticated and casual. She was a true beautiful soul. But beneath all the joy was a fair amount of darkness. From caring for a husband with Parkinson’s Disease to six separate battles with cancer and a few other challenges along the way, my Aunt Virginia never let on when she was sad, angry, hurt or grieving. Her approach was to always remain positive while fighting like hell. She was as tough as nails and as sweet as they come until the very end.

We all have our burdens to bear in life and Virginia Delaney had her fair share. But she handled every one of them with grace, dignity, class and strength. My father, her youngest brother, is the same way. I only hope that it’s hereditary because this is a life lesson I want to master and pass on to my kids. You may not be able to change your situation, but you can always alter your attitude about it.

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Yesterday was both a beginning and end for my family and me, filled with both great excitement and even greater sorrow. But if I know my aunt, she would want me to focus on the joy instead of the sadness, so that is what I’m trying to do.

Rest in peace, Aunt Virginia.

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– LJDT

My Lenten Promise … “At Least” I’ll Try

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Christian humor at it’s best.

Wednesday was the first day of Lent.  For my non-Christian readers, Lent is a holy period of fasting, praying and almsgiving.  In layman’s speak, it’s the 40 (or 46, depending on how you count) days when Christians are supposed to give up something they love for the weeks leading up to Easter.  I usually give up chocolate and cursing … By day #3, I fail.  But not this year.  This year, I’m doing things differently.  This year, I’m going to eat as much chocolate as I can and curse all I want because instead of abstaining from these physical vices, I’m going to focus on the intangible.  This year for Lent, I am giving up my negative attitude.  For the next 46 days, I will be Positive Lauren.

I’ve given this a lot of thought (after all, Lent is a time of reflection).  I know I should probably eat fewer dark chocolate covered almonds and swear less, but truth be told, I really don’t want to and my disapproving disposition is a much bigger sin.  Simply put, I complain too much.  I can be pretty negative at times … and by at times I mean often … and by often I mean usually.  It’s not that I’m unhappy or ungrateful, just mostly overwhelmed — which is kind of ridiculous, considering I have it pretty easy compared to others.  But I do tend to err on the side of pessimism instead of optimism, and that needs to change.  So from now until Easter, I am focusing on the positive.  I’ll be keeping my glass half-full, looking on the bright side, finding the silver lining, blah, blah, blah … Oops, that was probably a little negative.  Oh well, it’s a work in progress.

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That Eeyore was one smart ass.

I wish I could say that I’ll stop complaining overnight.  Go cold turkey and all that.  But I’m a realist, so my plan is to reduce the bitching little by little and temper my criticisms with the phrase at least.  For every gripe I bemoan during Lent, I will pause and add “at least (insert something positive here).”  My grandmother used to call this “offering it up.”  It’s a way to remember that things could always be worse.  A way to see the bright side.  For example, Wednesday morning when the superintendent robo-called at 4:57 AM to announce a two-hour school delay, my response was, “Sh*t, now I have to miss boot camp!”  But then I  remembered my Lenten promise and quickly added, “At least we all get to sleep in a bit longer.”  See?  Silver lining … Although truth be told, I was still a little bitter about missing class that day.

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A wise “Grandma-ism.”

Hopefully, over the next 40-someodd days, I’ll be able to squelch the surly thoughts before they leap from my lips and the phrase at least won’t be necessary.  Hopefully, feasting on positivity and fasting on negativity for a few weeks will become a habit.  At least I’ll try …

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– LJDT