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Turning 40 … my “protest party” planning success!

If you’re like me, and still single at 40, chances are you have a pretty strong independent streak. Maybe, like me, you consider the word “plan” to be just another four-letter one … which is why the idea of having to plan your own birthday celebration can seem as invigorating as hour five of that mandatory 6 hour training module or recertification they made you do for your job. Well, I’m here to say, “Get over it!”

I say this with love, not a “Suck it up, buttercup” slant, because I finally bit the bullet after years of hoping and moping about the birthday events others in my life did or did not plan for or attend, and it turned out to be the best decision ever!

I guess I should preface this with the admission that I drew the short straw when it comes to birthdays even before my solo-hood entered the picture. My birthday comes on the heels of a major holiday, when the weather is always awful, and my friends are always broke, hungover, and partied out. They’ve done their best over the years, but truthfully, as often as not, my birthday party (usually held sometime during the week of my actually “anniversary of birth”) has been an afterthought, poorly attended and comparatively “un-enthusiastically” celebrated, with lots of last minute substitutions, cancellations, and early departures.

After yet another unfulfilling 39th bash last year, with the big 4-0 approaching, and cognizant of the fact that turning an age with a new leading number was likely to make me feel depressed and lonely (if 20 and 30 were any indication), I decided to do something different. I sat down and made a list of everything I wanted that day to be if I could wave a magic wand and have it any way I liked it. I wanted nice/warm weather, an escapist local (summery beach, perhaps?), my closest friends (not a gaggle of acquaintances invited by others), and good food and drink. I also didn’t want to have to put on a brave face on the actual 4-0 day if it all crashed and burned. So I decided, there and then, to hold a “protest party” months before the actual calendar date at the beach (since I couldn’t afford to fly us all to the Caribbean). I sent the invites out incredibly early. I booked a cabin as a rain-day alternative (who couldn’t console themselves with a raging fire and enough wine if it turned out that way). I made it clear in no uncertain terms that THIS was going to be my 40th celebration (I’d be flying to another country on my actual day) and guilt-tripped those important to me into committing.

You know what? Despite my inherent pessimism for the process, it TOTALLY WORKED!! My Un-birthday at a beach in July was everything I’d ever wanted my 40th party (and many before that) to be! Even better, when a major snowstorm shut down all travel on my actual date, months later, I basked in the smug satisfaction that I could both drink wine in my pjs alone at home watching my favourite trash rom-com, and recall with vivid nostalgia the party I’d already had. I’d finally cheated the system!

I didn’t just take lemons and make lemonade, I started a new tradition! If your parties are not working out for you, abandon convention and have protest parties instead. Figure out what it is you want and go for it! You won’t regret it!

Cultivating your “local” side – the joys of being a patron

One of the pleasures of living in a small town is getting to know and frequent all the small local nooks and crannies of your neighbourhood, town, or countryside. While I used to sprinkle my patronage a little everywhere when I first moved back home, I’ve started to settle into something of a routine, with regular haunts and habits that definitely contribute to my day to day happiness.

Often, as soloists, we can feel a little disconnected and adrift from the rest of partnered society. Sometimes, it’s a struggle to even find acquaintances, yet alone close friends, in a new place (or an old one). That’s why becoming a regular and consciously creating connection in the places you frequent can pay off so richly. You have to grocery shop anyway, why not pick a time and place to regularly do it so you can carry a running conversation with the butcher, cashier, or other soloists doing their shopping? You have to get your pre- or post-work(out) coffee anyway, so why not do it and have a regular table, drink, or conversation-opening passtime while you’re there?

Use the time to be a little more extroverted as opposed to business/consumer-like and get to know the people you interact with. Sprinkle some humour/humanity in their workday and it’s likely to pay dividends.
In a world where it can be so easy to get lost in the crowd, why not make it a little easier for people to find you?

Why not aim to increase income instead of cutting expenses?

A lot of the self-help books I read and listen to on audiobook stress the difference between a scarcity mindset and an abundance mindset. I’ll be the first to admit that I have grown up in a scarcity mindset: I saw things like money, recognition, resources, and abilities as limited … if someone else got more, it meant I must get less. That’s why the first time I was introduced to the impact of an abundance (more than enough for everyone to enjoy) mindset, I practically smacked my own forehead with the “why haven’t I looked at it this way before?” thoughts coming into my consciousness.

Life to that point had been meager, with each financial hit meaning I had to find a way to stretch my limited dollar even further in a sort of learned helplessness. Then, a youtube video by someone (maybe Iyanla?) pointed out that when there isn’t enough money to make ends meet, the easier choice is often to find a way to MAKE MORE MONEY. The biggest gains in salary or wages are often gained when we switch jobs (or take on new ones).

I’m sure some of you are saying, as I did, “but I don’t have time to work more hours” or “I don’t have a skill set that would qualify me for better paying work!” This is where, ironically, you can start to engage the dream jobs you have for yourself in a more realistic fashion. Maybe you’ve wanted to blog or vlog about your favourite topic or hobby? Maybe you’ve wanted to embrace your artistic side and try and make money doing that? Maybe you’re already doing something for yourself that other people would pay you for (walking dogs, cleaning house, teaching another language, tutoring, raving about products you could be selling, gardening – be it flowers, herbs, or vegetables). Now is the time to turn those things you’d be willing to do “for free” and start squeezing a few extra dollars from them.

For me, the answer came in certifying to teach the fitness programs I was already paying to attend anyway. Suddenly, I was getting paid to do what I once paid others for the privilege of … and it didn’t even feel like work!

What’s one dream you’ve always wanted to chase that you might be able to begin to explore on a part time basis? Why not give it a go?

Don’t change goals, change strategies!

While life is still far from perfect, I’m currently enjoying something of a renaissance in my life via my interactions and newly defined goals and commitments growing out of a personal coaching experience I’ve been gifted by a newly certified coach and old friend.

Perhaps the greatest insight to grow out of my coaching experiencing thusfar has been that I’ve needlessly been banging my head against the wall in terms of some of my life goals due to a lack of resourcefulness when it came to switching up how I was trying to reach them.

For instance, in an effort to increase my base level of happiness (or decrease my base level of anxiety and depression), I initially embarked on (among other things) a quest to spend several minutes each day “savouring” moments of beauty or appreciation from my day. Yet, even though such an activity was obviously needed and pleasant when I managed, I just couldn’t seem to do it consistently or with much success. I arrived exhausted at the end of my days and had both a tired and insincere attitude that more closely resembled a grudge. It was only once the idea of trying to savour my moments at the start of everyday, before I even arose from my bed, that I started to really gain traction and turn this goal into a habit. Timing and location are indeed more important than I ever gave them credit for!

So, if you find yourself struggling or already fallen off the 2017 resolutions bandwagon, may I suggest you (and a friend, if one is available) come up with all the various *other* ways you could achieve it if you were to start again differently tomorrow!

Simple weekend/date night indulgences

Sometimes, for yourself, or for the benefit or yourself and others, it’s nice to have a showstopper indulgence on the weekend. I love wine-poached pears because they are simple to make (requiring little prep and loads of neglect) and wonderful to enjoy (both during prep for the wonderful scent they add to your abode, not to mention how they effectively polish off any of that bottle of red wine that’s started to go off since you opened it).

Poached Pear recipe

Serve with some ice cream and you’re all set!

Seeding (and Weeding) your friendship garden

I watched a video recently addressing the question of what friendship is for. In other words, asking me to question what the purpose of my various friendships was. The video argued that when we define what our various friendships are for, we focus in on what we should be doing with the friends in our lives.

To summarize, I was informed that the purpose of our friendships generally fall into one (or more) of four categories:

1. Networking (a tribe of folks who share professional beliefs/purpose)
2. Reassurance (friends we can be vulnerable enough with to share our life’s less flattering truths and imperfections with)
3. Fun (people whom we don’t have to guard our dignity with; we trust them enough to be silly with)
4. Clarifying our minds (friends who act as mirrors and gentle interviewers we get to know ourselves through)

Though I’m sure arguments could be made about the exclusion or inclusion of various categories from this list, it did make me start to think about my own friendships and acquaintances, and the kind of friend I am to those around me.

For better or worse, I tend to be the friend (in my own eyes at least) who both offers and receives reassurance and clarification. A soft-spoken introvert, for the most part, I highly doubt that people in my sphere of influence look to me for either networking or “fun” purposes (unless they are looking for the real life equivalent of Sheldon Cooper’s “Fun with flags.” Similarly, I don’t possess a large number of friends I would consider as candidates for blazing networkers or “lives of the party” even if I trust that I don’t have to guard my dignity or professional contacts from.

This is all rather dry and seemingly irrelevant until I add that one of my ongoing goals as a soloist is to grow my circle of similarly solo or childless friends. I’ve met lots of great people in this endeavor but have really struggled to build the kind of close connection I seemed to easily fall into during my 20s. However, the list has made me realize that in order to connect with the kinds of friends I both enjoy and can show my “strongest friendship sides” to, I need to start targeting less superficial conversations (interests and networking type gossip, which I rarely contribute to in a meaningful way), and delve more consciously into the warm fuzzies of compassionate listening and caring questioning.

It is, of course, a work in progress, but perhaps one that you, like me, might benefit from considering!

Resolutions 2017: Don’t be, but see beautiful

I struggled with writing my New Year’s Resolutions this year. I’ve made a habit of trying to write something more substantial and committed for the past few years (taking care to avoid the default “lose weight, get finances in order, be kinder” options) and have, to large extent, succeeded in achieving my opening intentions (get fitness certifications, spend more time with close friends, etc) by the end of every calendar year. Still, a rather persuasive youtube video on why resolutions automatically limit us and our achievements had me considering foregoing the act this year. That is, until I came upon the revelation during a conversation with a friend about this hazy decision.

Ultimately, I want to resolve to do things that will make me happy, but if I’m honest, setting myself up to fail with resolutions that don’t ultimately do that, even if I achieve them, doesn’t fit that bill. Budget adherence may give me more money, but that is a weak substitute for the day to day joys of things like cafe coffee breaks, fresh fruit in winter, or seeing the joy in my young nieces and nephews eyes when they open my “surprises.”

“If I’m honest, I’m pretty sure I could be happy with a lush shelf of houseplants and some new artwork,” I concluded. When asked why, I related that these were things that I found beautiful, personal, and peace-giving whenever I looked upon them. Touchstones of happiness, if you will. When I thought back to my happiest years in life, those were the memorable items that surrounded me at the time, and the first things that pop into my mind now when I recall those days.

As luck would have it, just listening to myself say the words solidified one of what will likely be 2-3 resolutions for 2017. I’ve been so stuck on the utilitarian that I seem to have lost the “soft touches” of beauty that make life satisfying. Sure, assigning happiness to “things” is not the wisest route to happiness, but I know that for me at least, there is no doubt that these “things” like music, fragrant teas, houseplants, a comfortable and brightly coloured yoga mat, and abiding artwork, bring me contentedness and peace I seldom find elsewhere.

I don’t consider myself a beautiful woman, but I do consider my body, abode, and life a canvas of possibility when it comes to experiencing beauty. Why not take the year to paint it as I see fit?

Who will tell the story of your life?

Whether you’re a dedicated bachelor or going through a temporary period of soloism, there will come a day when you want to reflect back on these days – this present point – for better or for worse. The conundrum, of course, is how are you going to do so? What evidence will you have to testify to your trials, trails, and triumphs?

This was a question that didn’t particularly concerned me until I’d gone several years into my first established adult solo stretch. Others had albums filled with coupled vacation shots and everyday candids. I, on the other hand, had fuzzy memories but no way to share them with either myself or others who entered my circle. As midlife and the sense that things should “mean something” (at least to me) approached, I became more concerned with how to ensure that I was the one not only writing but telling the story of my life to others.

I was fortunate, in that this all took place during the emergence of social media, and, lacking a well-developed sense of caution or corporate conspiracy, I continued to document memorable outings, events, friendships, and life events on facebook. Friends and acquainatnces added their tagged snapshots at events we attended together. As other friends (both parents and professionals) abandoned this habit for very understandable reasons (from privacy, to maintaining their professional image, to preventing nosy Noras from knowing too much of their business), I continued to post semi-personal information (sometimes only obliquely related to the real events of importance in my life, so that I would remember those days later, if not for the cited reasons, then for their close ties to my keepsake memories).

Now, years later, I have begun to reap the rewards (though I’m sure I’ve also suffered hidden penalties in being perceived as an over-sharer or potential phishing target) in that every day, facebook offers me a time capsule of what life has held for me on the same date for the better part of a decade. Even with no one else here to reminisce, I have a “partner” to share my memories. I am probably the only human on the planet who actually wishes social media had entered my life earlier at the beginning of my adult life.

Is facebook the best or only social media tool to do this with? Certainly not!! Yet, I’ve come to recognize the value in having documented the days of my life on a semi-frequent basis to look back upon later. The same could have been accomplished with a paper journal, written and exchanged letters to dear friends, a blog, or more private sites with other (baby book/child-rearing) intentions, but the value is the same. Additionally, I can now take the highlight reel portions of that life and have them printed as albums/yearbooks to be enjoyed whenever I so choose, by myself or with others.

I guess the real question is, if you don’t take time to tell and share the story of your life, who will?

Recipe: Weekend Toaster Oven Eggstrata

This is a scaled-down, full-fat, toaster oven version of a family sized recipe from the Looney Spoons cookbook. Makes enough for about 4 servings (a weekend with a friend or several weekday breakfasts) and is scrumptious!

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups herb seasoned croutons
4 oz (115 g) Italian sausage
1/4 cup minced onions
1/4 cup diced red bell pepper
1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar
4 eggs
1/2 cup evaporated milk
1/8 tsp salt and pepper

Instructions

1. Spray casserole dish with cooking spray. Spread croutons in bottom.
2. Spray a non stick skillet with cooking spray and add some olive oil. Remove and discard sausage casing. Break sausage into small pieces and add to skillet. Cook under medium high heat oil no longer pink. Add onions and red pepper. Cook for 3 minutes till vegetables soften.
3. Spoon sausage evenly over croutons. Top with shredded cheese. Wish eggs, milk, salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Pour eggs over casserole and let stand while toaster oven preheats to 350 F.
4. Bake uncovered in toaster oven until egg sets. Let stand 5 mins before serving.