Thirty-Five

Definition of THIRTY-FIVE

:  being one more than 34 in number <thirty-five years>

I’m half way through my thirties this month. It’s been sinking in these last few years in undeniable ways that I’m approaching middle age. Like, I wear sensible shoes most of the time, or else I pay for it. Let’s be honest, I have to do a lot of things differently or else I pay for it, but overall life is great.

When I turned 30, I told everyone my thirties just HAD to be better than my twenties, and despite jinxing myself then, I was right. That’s not to say that there weren’t amazing things that happened in my twenties too – I lived in France, I graduated from GW, I started Murami, I got my first job as an editor, I became a cyclist and completed almost a dozen long-distance charity rides, I became an aunt 6 times – but damn … a lot of it was HARD, and a lot of it was stuff that people around me hadn’t dealt with before, the short list being an eating disorder, the fallout from receiving a false-positive HIV test result, and a really, really awful divorce.

As I approached the end of my twenties I had to find a new normal, and I latched on to a few mantras that were beacons for me:

“The only person who will never leave you is you.” — Read in a book I picked up and shuffled through in a waiting room, circa 2007

“You become what you think about.” — From Earl Nightingale, 1950s/1960s motivational speaker, via a friend, circa 2009

“Tough times don’t last, but tough people do.” — Tommy Lasorda, during an interview with Preston and Steve circa 2008

Those got me through my divorce, which was by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and helped me reset. And now 35 is a really good place to be. In the last 5 years I worked hard to get where I am as a web editor in medical publishing. I have been traveling a lot and seen amazing things across the globe. I sing with a choir, I’m painting. I’ve leveled up my bike twice and was certified as a coach for Team in Training. And, I venture to say most importantly, I found a soul mate, which I didn’t believe was even a real thing until it happened. And I don’t need to pep-talk myself so much anymore with those old mantras – mostly I just ask myself, “Are you doing your best?” I know what I’m capable of, but also that I need to say no sometimes, and as long as I know I am putting my best self into what I do (work, health, relationships, learning), I’m good.

Things I miss about my twenties: a full, thick mane of hair. I think that’s it. I can live with that.

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Super Secret Belgian Beer Review

Last night, a book club meeting turned crazy. The email we all received before the meeting from our friend Kevin said, “I WILL BE BRINGING A ONCE IN A LIFETIME TREAT TO SHARE.”

We were all bringing various types of dip to snack on, so I thought maybe we would be treated to an artichoke dip in a bread bowl or something. But no. Oh, no. It was much more special, and yes, it was a once-in-a-lifetime treat.

Once everyone had arrived, he pulled out a suitcase and began a long speech about Belgian monks who make beer. Several of us had read a news article about Belgian beer-brewing monks who were selling a special batch of beer to fund renovations on the monastery, and we knew where this was going. After much fanfare, out came the treat:

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It’s Westvleteren, which I had not heard of before yesterday, although I am no stranger to the monks-brewing-libations-for-funds concept, having lived in Grenoble very close to the Chartreuse monastery. But this was definitely special because it has never been available anywhere but at the actual monastery in Belgium. And apparently it went on sale yesterday and sold out within hours. New roof for the monastery: check!

So, we opened a few of the bottles and tasted the beer. It was dark amber and had a lot of herbal/spicy flavor, which I like. It wasn’t too strong. It was a tiny bit sweet, but not fruity. It made me remember all the stories I’d heard at the Chartreuse tasting room about the many herbs and spices used in the secret recipe for Chartreuse, and so I imagine that this is a very old recipe with a similar history, although truthfully I haven’t read anything about this beer. It was only lightly carbonated, which I like. Nonetheless I wasn’t a huge fan of the taste. But it was an awesome experience! Thanks, Kyevvin!

P.S. regarding the bringing of the beer in a suitcase: Haha, you can totally see Kevin’s bath pouf in the suitcase behind him.

Big Cat, Small Cat

This is a story from my life only in that these are topics of conversation I’ve had in the last week that have caused uproarious laughter. Like the kind that ends with wiping of teary eyes and some sort of loud sigh.

1. Big Cat: I don’t feel like fact-checking this (if you do, and you find it, please comment with a link), but a friend told Sherpa and me that he watched a TV show about a man who goes into the jungle to try to tame big cats, and the only tool he uses is a big stick. Apparently he trains by swinging something on a rope and jabbing the stick at it, so that if a big cat ever lunges, he can gag the cat with the stick. We retold this story to another friend, who imagined that the man planned to put a stick it its mouth Looney Tunes style, like, to prop its mouth open, and he erupted into laughter I’d never seen from him before. It was wonderful.

2. Small Cat: A friend was bitten by a cat and had to be treated at the emergency department. This is not funny, except that the cat’s name was Edward Scissorhands. I told this to another friend on the phone, and again I was treated to uncontrolled laughter. It was wonderful.

A 30-Something Remembers 9/11

I’ve been thinking about the 10-year anniversary of 9/11 a lot. I have many times revisited and retold my experience of the day, and how it affected me for years afterward. Because we’ve reached something of a milestone, I’d like to talk about my small piece of the shared experience of that day, to show my respect for the victims and their families, and to share how the memory of 9/11 makes me feel.

I was 21 years old, a senior at George Washington University, on 9/11. I was still asleep when the first tower of the World Trade Center was hit, and my mother called.

“Jen, everyone here is OK, but go turn on your television.”

Of course, at first we all stood around the television, in shock, watching as the second tower was hit. We then heard about the Pentagon and were very, very afraid that something else would happen in D.C. But quickly people started wanting to do something. What strikes me now as I look back on the reactions of my roommates and friends who lived in the dorm with me is how telling of our futures our actions that day were.

First, I’ll mention my two roommates who were employees of the Smith Center, the athletic center where GW held its basketball games and which housed the gym and classrooms for exercise classes. One was already there, working. The other suited up almost immediately in her work garb and ran over there to help, because when we called the other to beg her to come home, she refused and said they needed her there to help man the building. What are they doing now, 10 years later? Working for the government and working in insurance.

One dear friend of mine brought out the biggest pots we could find and cooked spaghetti for the entire floor, after we had stared at the television, transfixed, without eating, for the entire day. What is she doing now, 10 years later? Working as a creative director for an amazingly famous restaurant group.

Another friend corraled all the lost souls who hadn’t eaten all day into our room, just so we could be together. What is she doing now? She’s an art therapist.

What did I do? I observed. I wrote in my journal. What am I doing now? I’m a journalist and editor.

It fills my heart up to remember how much we cared about and for each other, and everyone in the entire country, that day. 9/11 spurred us all on to make ourselves better and to help one another. In my little analogy it is fitting that I became a writer, but that day also was a factor in my decision to sign up for the AIDSRide, a 3-day, 350-mile bike ride from North Carolina to D.C., the following spring. Since then I’ve participated in and raised money for 8 long-distance cycling charity events. By Thanksgiving this year, it’ll be 10.

It also amazes me that young adults barely remember it. I understand now what it feels like to be asked by a younger person, “What was that day like for you?” about a pivotal day in history. I don’t know how parents will explain it to their children or teachers to their students. It will sound impossible, but it happened.

WHYY radio ran a piece last night about Lukens Steel, a now-defunct steel company based very near my home town, which produced much of the steel that held up the twin towers. Some of the steel has returned home and will be turned into a memorial in Coatesville, PA (Steel ‘trees’ from World Trade Center return to Coatesville). And my own high school applied for and was given a piece of the steel to display in its lobby. The teacher who helped to apply for it said he hoped it would help remind the kids of the gravity of that day, even if they don’t remember it.

So, what I’m left with is hope. Even when we’re given the worst of the worst situations, we can all make something good of it. That’s what I’ve carried with me for the last 10 years, and it has shaped my actions and reactions in the lowest moments of my life. I hope that honors the victims of the people we lost on 9/11 and their families and friends.

2010, a Springboard

I like to tie things up into neat packages, and I’m trying to do that with my year. How can I describe it? Was it just a year like any other? No, definitely not – I started the year with a lot of hope and an open heart, working on my own Happiness Project, jumping in with both feet. I tried and learned new things, went new places, had a wonderful year with El Sherpa (“Aunt Jen’s New Boyfriend”), met new people, made new friends and kept the old. Was it a year of revelation? A little bit, in that I discovered what a truly healthy, adult relationship is like, but in essence – and thankfully – nothing earth-shattering happened in my life. Was it all sun and sparkles? No, I had surgery, and there were those AWFUL bits with Vladimir the roommate from Hades. And I crashed my bike. And really stressful stuff happened at work.

But when I put all this together, it feels like maybe the energy I put into focusing on good things when going got tough earlier this year finally came back to me, multiplied, by the end of the year. It feels like I jumped on a giant springboard, which sank, as they do, but then propelled me up. I have high hopes for 2011.

THIRTY

Well, I made it. The big 3-oh.

I couldn’t have had a better time! My family and friends and El Sherpa threw me a big party the weekend before by birthday, complete with catered food, a bartender, and a photo slideshow set to music that my niece helped make and was super excited to have me watch. My niece also made me a necklace (“Aunt Jen likes necklaces with big beads!”). My nephews made me keychains. They all made me handmade cards. I got other lovely goodies from other lovely people!

Noodle got her first taste of watermelon!

And Sherpa got me my very first iPhone! Then he drove me home and I passed out in the car.

And this past weekend, the birthday weekend, I went out with another bunch, most of which couldn’t make it to party #1, to a whiskey bar in Philly, Village Whiskey. It was amazing and so was the food (um, hello, duck-fat fries and pickled beets!). And the company!

My beautiful friend Charlotte!

Then we stopped by a prohibition-era-themed bar down the street, Franklin, which serves all sorts of amazing cocktails with hand-chipped ice.

Then we went to a wine bar, Tinto. Then Sherpa drove me home and I passed out in the car.  (Thanks, babe!)

Then, to prove I can still do something with my body (still not riding Andie yet), Sherpa and another friend of ours took me rock climbing for the first time on my actual birthday. There were no photos taken of me, thank god, but I snapped this with Sherpa’s phone:

Me-yow!

So this post was an incongruous mix of infants and alcohol and boulders. Such is my life.

Jowlers

I realized tonight that I haven’t shared the magic of the jowler with my blog. The jowler is a photo taken while you’re vigorously shaking your face. It starts with what my family has historically called “Natural State of Face,” and is executed with the shaking and the photo taking. It is HILARIOUS. My family/friends threw me an excellent backyard birthday party this weekend and the jowler made an appearance. The  jowler was introduced to me by one of my bestest friends, Africa Katie. Well, no, it was Africa Katie’s Peace Corps friends, one St. Patty’s Day when I visited her in D.C.

Since then I’ve brought the joy of the jowler to people everywhere. And I realized the extent of fame the jowler has enjoyed because of me when the party sat down to watch a slideshow of photos that my sister-in-law and niece made for my birthday. There was very funny jowlers portion. I thought I’d share a few of the best here, too. I hope my jowling buddies don’t object!

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