Best Marriage Advice? Your Best Friend Is You

I just read a short piece in Nat Geo Traveler magazine where the author interviewed the Dalai Lama, source of endless wisdom, about travel, life, and happiness. The Dalai Lama said that the key to happiness is a healthy body and a happy mind. And, most importantly,

“Remember that your best, most reliable friend is your own intelligence and your own warmheartedness.”

I admit that I can easily fall into a hole of bitterness and so this was a good reminder. For years I’ve ascribed to the saying, “The only person who will never leave you is you.” But that ends up sounding sort of melodramatic. Maybe I can take a page from the Dalai Lama’s book and reframe it his way.

I also think this is good advice for me, as someone getting remarried in a week. By being my own best friend I’m hoping to be a good partner. And I will say I’m always working on a happy mind because because you get out of life what you put in. “Warmheartedness” spreads out around you (and the opposite is true). I can’t wait for our simple little celebration and to give this marriage thing my best shot.

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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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The Spreadsheet

I offer up this story as a piece of good advice for any couples considering moving in together, especially those who might be a little older, with a lot of stuff.

Turns out my current roommate has decided to take the plunge and move in with her boyfriend. I was sad to hear it, because she’s so fabulous. I put a new ad in on Roommates.com, trying to block out the memories of Vladimir. When I mentioned this at my brother’s Super Bowl party a week later, my sister-in-law asked what I was going to do. I said I would probably look for a new roommate. She blurted, “Oh, Jen, come on, just move in with Sherpa already.” He and I looked at one another and shrugged. My brother said, “What have you two decided about that?” He said, “Well, honestly, this is the first we’ve talked about it.”

And now the decision has been made! I’m moving in.  He said he’s wanted us to live together for a while, but didn’t want to rain on the “Independent Jen” parade. I admit I’ll miss having my own place, but I’m really looking forward to sharing a place with him. He’s never lived with a girlfriend before (MWA HA HA HA), yet he has been so completely accommodating as we plan.

And I mean PLAN. A couple of days after we decided I’d move in to his house, he shared a spreadsheet with me on Google Docs. In it is a page for every room of his house, with columns for furniture items, current location, planned location, “degree of desire,” notes, and moving considerations. Hilarious. Degree of desire! Ha!

I have done my part and filled my share out, and the spreadsheet has turned into rather a life-planning document, with pages for flooring project planing, costs for moving, potential future home improvement projects (that include fencing if there is to be another dog someday!). It’s actually been quite helpful!

I told my best friend about the spreadsheet, and added, “Well, I guess now that there’s a spreadsheet, I’d better tell my mother.”

“Can I eat this?”

Dating someone with “special food needs” has been interesting. My Sherpa has celiac disease and cannot eat wheat, barley, or rye. I’m sure I learned it on our first date, if not when we first met, because it’s a big deal. I remember asking him many questions. Now when he tells people I notice they all ask the same questions: How long? What does it mean? How did you figure it out? What happens to you? Can you eat potatoes? Rice? Corn? Oats? He very patiently explains it every time.

I won’t get into all the details for his sake, but it affects his life pretty significantly and his gluten free needs have changed the way I eat, too. And when I cook for him I have to be really careful to read labels. And he’s forever asking, “Can I eat this?”

There are SO MANY things that have gluten in them that you would never think do. Tootsie rolls. Soy sauce. Wild rice. Corn bread. One little slip and he’s paying for it for days to weeks. And sometimes even when you’re careful you get screwed. We went out for Mexican food in Ohio and shared chips and salsa. “Are these corn chips?” “Yes,” they answered, although over the next couple of days we realized that they hadn’t been. Poor dude.

Even I mess it up for him, sometimes. I picked up dinner from Whole Foods not long ago, and as I was carefully building his plate I saw something that looked up his alley – it had kidney beans and tomatoes in it and said “Seitan” on the sign. I thought it was tofu. I was trying so hard!

Well. Tofu it was not. Only after a couple of bites did he ask, “Can I eat this?”

“Uh… actually… it’s called seitan but now that I think about it, I don’t know what that is.” No!

Out came the iPhones. “Seitan ingredients.”

Results? “Vegetarian wheat meat.”

Damn.

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.

60% Chinese

So I met the fam. I had a really nice time in Ohio (I know, shocking, right?) and Sherpa’s family were all welcoming and friendly and fun. We went on a whirlwind tour of ice cream (Graeter’s, Aglamesis, and Jeni’s – Jeni’s was the clear winner for me) and other foods, and visited and enjoyed family company.

We went out as a group for Dim Sum in Columbus and among many other tasty things, I had some rice porridge, which according to Google is called “jook,” but that’s not what it sounded like when I asked what it was called and how to pronounce it and I had to repeat this completely foreign word over and over, apparently incorrectly although I really, really thought I was saying it right. “No, no, it’s like a ‘D’ but not really…” and it didn’t seem to have a “K” in it at all. More like “dzoo.” I never got it right. But I digress.

We traveled to Cincinnati later that day and visited with his Chinese aunt and uncle. Sherpa’s aunt regaled me with tales of him as a “naughty cute” little boy, spraying people with hoses and generally being mischievous. Then we got onto the topic of the Chinese horoscope, and I said I was year of the monkey. Sherpa is year of the dragon, and she told me to watch out, because monkeys don’t like to be “held,” and dragons are the “kings” so he will hold me anyway. “You will suffer,” she laughed, and said, “It’s OK. I’m a monkey too, and my husband is a snake. I suffer, too. We suffer together.”

But then she heard I liked the rice soup, and she was taken completely aback. “What?! You liked jook? You are already 60% Chinese.”

Then she hugged Sherpa goodbye and said, “You marry her!”

Haha.

Overachiever

As if in response to my last blog post about her, Shug has gone above and beyond.

“Oh, you think I am a naughty eater, do you? I’ll show you naughty eating.”

Sherpa and I came home to his house after what had already been a stressful night, trying to help a friend navigate a bad situation. We were exhausted and ready to sleep – we had a 55-mile ride planned for the morning.

I got a little snack and sat down at the coffee table. He was about to join me when he stopped, looked down, and said, “Uh oh.”

An empty plastic bag. Chewed open. How could this be? We had even made a sweep of the whole place for food before we left.

“Oh NO!” he said, “It was the chocolate-covered coffee beans from my bike bag.”

omg.

He and I start checking our phones to see what people say about dogs eating chocolate-covered coffee beans, and I see people saying “Get to the vet right away!” and he sees people saying “Feed her peroxide!”

I’m not giving my dog peroxide just because the Internet told us to, I say.

By now it’s 11PM, of course, and so I call the emergency vet, again. I was too embarrassed to tell them who I was, because it was the SAME vet on the phone who did the last two emergency procedures for her. First he told me that caffeine is more poisonous to dogs than chocolate is (who knew?!!) and that’s what he was most concerned about. He wanted me to bring her in and hospitalize her for observation after they induced vomiting. Ka-ching! Is what I hear, so I ask if I can get her to vomit myself. He says, well you can try feeding her peroxide, but it doesn’t always work. He says jog her around a bit, so it foams up.

Score. Two seconds later, Sherpa’s tires are squealing (OK, fine, so it’s his brakes, they just need to be adjusted) outside and then we’ve got peroxide. I can’t believe I’m doing this… I smell it. Smells like nothing. Sherpa takes the bottle and sips it (Why? No idea.), then spits it out. “Ew.” Guess he had a case of the “That’s-hot-don’t-touch-its.”

I pour it into her bowl and add a few kibbles, because in order to get to the kibbles she’s got to drink it all, and she does. I take her out and jog her around a bit. She gets tired and stops. She’s so lazy, and I guess to her credit, I’ve never asked her to jog at midnight. I sit on the curb with her and sort of, gently, shake her belly. You know, just foam it up a bit, right? We still had to do a second dose, though, and that did the trick. Fo sho. Fortunately she did the deed right under the light of a streetlamp.

“Get me a stick. I need to count the beans,” I said.

Oh yes, I counted the beans. There were at least 30 whole beans. Called the vet back. He said that of course it was his medical opinion that she should be evaluated by him, but if I was sure that she’d gotten them mostly out, Sugar would be OK.

We were still awake all night, listening to the dog grinding her teeth and breathing heavy. He felt terrible, I felt terrible, and we made it through the night just focusing on the dog. She finally crashed from her high at around 3AM. She popped out of bed in the morning, wagging her tail and asking for breakfast. “Hello!” she said.

“Oh, good morning.”

Sherpa and I plodded through our morning, getting ready to ride, just completely demoralized. But we needed to get a ride in, since we’re slated to do a 175-mile ride in a few weeks. So we sucked it up and tried a new route that Sherpa had mapped.

15 miles in, I was just about it tears from the number of hills we’d already climbed. We had climbed 2,000 feet already, with climbing just as bad for the foreseeable future when we finally stopped to check the elevation map. To put that in perspective, I climbed 4,500 feet during the 100-mile ride through the mountains around Lake Tahoe.

We bailed and went straight back to the house. I was glad to get home and check on the dog anyway. We stopped for lunch after that, before another flat 20 miles on the bike path, and while we were eating I joked that he’d tried to kill both the dog AND me in one day…

At least we managed it all successfully, and the dog is fine.