Super Bowl Conundrum

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I’ve always been a Super Bowl fan — the food, the commercials, the game (roughly in that order). What’s not to like?

But this year’s different: 1.) I took a killer Super Bowl cooking class at Chef Alyssa’s Kitchen to enhance my game day repertoire and 2.) I’ve actually been paying attention to what’s been happening on the field. (It’s been a heck of a season!) But it gets even better… 3.) This weekend my home team is playing!

Both of them.

Therein lies my dilemma: who should I root for? Carolina—the place I’ve called home for nearly 10 years, where I own a house, gave birth, and am raising two boys with my sports fanatic hubby? Or Colorado—my home on the range, where I spent summer days watching the Broncos training camp, about a mile from my parents’ house.

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Cam Newton — what a player, what a smile!

It has been amazing to witness the Panthers’ historic, virtually undefeated season. Cam Newton’s smile and confidence are contagious. Underestimated week after week, he and his team keep slogging away and spreading their joy (sometimes with a “controversial” dance in the end zone).

 

People are dabbin’ all over town. Flags are waving. Skyscrapers are lit up in Panthers’ blue. And I was even charged with spearheading efforts at work for swagger rights in a friendly bet between Charlotte- and Denver-area arts institutions. Professionally, I’m 100% a Panthers girl.

Personally—it’s more complex. I think about my dad and my brother leaning into the TV, transfixed by the Broncos games all those autumn Sundays, when I was growing up. (They still are…) I think of the crazy Denver fans, like the guy who used to wear a barrel—that’s it—to every game for about 30 years. I think of the stunned look on my friend Staci’s face when rounding a corner, she ran smack into the massive chest of John Elway at a local burger joint. And I think about Broncos barefoot Kicker Rich Karlis, #3, coming to visit my brother when he was a patient at the Denver Children’s Hospital.

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The Barrel Man in his signature hat, barrel, and boots (not pictured).

These things stick with you. Fanhood runs deep. And they still bring tears to my eyes. I can’t deny I will always be a Colorado girl.

But now I’m a Carolina girl, too.

It’s nice to have a definitive view on the world, like my nieces and nephew, who are pulling 100% for Peyton Manning, indoctrinated in the Broncos-way by their Colorado elders.

For my Charlotte family, it’s not so clear cut. My oldest son plans to wear his Panthers’ jersey with an orange shirt underneath. And my youngest switches his allegiance minute by minute.

Luckily, there is a bright side to this whole situation: on Sunday, my team is gonna win.

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What is freedom?

 

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For a long time, I have been trying to find words to express my frustration, fear, anger, and sadness about the epidemic of gun violence in our country. Each terror attack and act of violence shatters us — but all too soon we go back to our “normal” lives. Enough.

Every time the news recounts the latest horrors — in a school, in a movie theater, at a holiday party, at an office, at a concert, at a health clinic, in a place of worship — I wonder, what can we do now? It’s time to act.

As a child, things were different. We met relatives at the airport gate when they came to visit. We felt safe at school. Going to the movies, the mall, a sporting event were things that we could enjoy without fear. I didn’t have to wonder if somebody could carry a concealed weapon into my local grocery store.

My children are used to security checks at the airport, they know where to hide during a lock down at school, and surely notice the way I tense up when we’re in crowds. My sister said she’s no longer comfortable seeing a blockbuster movie on opening night in our home state of Colorado. I am sad that my children will never feel as safe as I once did.

But when I hear the response from the Far Right — I’m absolutely disgusted. Freedom is not, as they claim, about carrying a gun and having the right to shoot anyone.

  • Freedom is living in a country where elected public officials make reasonable, common sense laws regarding guns
  • Freedom is knowing that your elected officials are not beholden to a gun lobby that blatantly urges us to become gun-toting vigilantes
  • Freedom is knowing that loopholes have been closed to ensure background checks are standard on all gun purchases
  • Freedom is knowing that we have taken every step possible to ban military style, high capacity weapons from a civilian setting

The worst thing we can do is throw up our hands in exasperation and stop trying to do something. We must keep pushing for common sense gun laws. We must call our elected officials, write letters, show our outrage. We must not stop until these freedoms are our reality. It will take a village. These organizations can help:

Everytown for Gun Safety

An organization dedicated to building awareness about gun violence and providing evidence-based research to help inform public policy decisions.

Say it to our faces

A grassroots movement that will deliver thousands of photos of kids across America to our elected leaders to show them exactly who their inaction on gun legislation is harming.

Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America

Formed after the tragedy at Sandy Hook, it fights for common sense gun laws to “decrease the escalating epidemic of gun violence that kills too many of our children and loved ones every day.”

I urge you to do something today — call a legislator, talk to your neighbor, write a letter to the editor. More guns are not the solution. More people working together to prevent gun violence is a move in the right direction.

What other groups or actions do you know of that are working to enact common sense gun laws? Please share them in your comments.

 

 

 

 

Grocery Shopping – Ze French Way!

When I’m in France, I love to go shopping. Yes, clothes and home furnishings are swell but my true love is food. Give me an outdoor, open market any day and I’m one happy camper. But I’ve discovered another guilty pleasure — exploring the super-sized hypermarchés that have popped up on the outskirts of most cities around the country.

You think you know how to shop at a grocery store? Guess again. Successfully navigating a French hypermarché means mastering a new set of rules. Hop in your Peugeot and on y GO!

1. Dress for Success

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When French women head to the grocery store, they don’t show up in yoga pants and a t-shirt. Think more like dress, heels, and full make up. That’s the expected attire. Believe me I’ve tried the casual route and my sneakers were a dead giveaway of my American upbringing. It wasn’t until I slipped on a new black & grey number that I looked and felt like I really belonged.

2.  Put Another Nickel In, In the Nickelodeon

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Ok, so a nickel won’t actually cut it. (But a quarter might if you can’t find a euro! It worked for me…) In France, you’ll generally find shopping carts neatly arranged in their metal stables outside the store. People actually return them because they had to invest a euro to borrow them in the first place. If they want their money back, they’ll remember not to leave them flailing in the middle of the parking lot later.

So, two things: don’t forget the cart on your way in since it can be a LONG walk back to find one and make sure you come with some change. Most caddies take 1 euro or 50 centimes pieces.

3.  It’s a Whole New World!

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Did I mention that this place is humongous? For the unitiated, it can be quite an eye opener to find a supermarket in the same complex as a shopping mall. So remember this common sense rule: try on those snappy little shoes and check out those handbags before you check off the fish, ice cream and stinky cheese on your shopping list.

4. I Dairy You

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Did you really think the dairy section was sufficient at your local Trader Joe’s? Believe me, you ain’t seen nothing like the overflowing aisles of refrigerated cheese, yogurt, creams, desserts and other milk-made treasures. Oddly enough, you’ll find the actual milk (ultra-pasteurized) stacked on regular shelves next to warmish bottles of spring water like Evian and Volvic.

5. The Price is Right

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A couple important things to know about pricing in France. First, as you consider your shopping budget, know that the price you see is what you’ll pay at check out. Taxes are already included. Second, many grocery items are priced by the kilogram (that’s 2.2 pounds of fun). You can usually buy less than a kilo — 500 grams is about 1 lb. — but keep those quantities in mind as you’re planning recipes and your budget.

6. Weight a Minute!

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Hey? Where are you going? Don’t leave the produce department before you bag, weigh, and label all your fruit and veggies. Otherwise, you will be banished upon arrival at the cashier.

7. Registers, Registers All Around But None of Them are Fast

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Oh, Lord. Even if you are a quick shopper — no small feat in stores that take 10 minutes to traverse from one end to the other — you’ll need to plan for extra time at the cash register. Make that a LOT more time. Lines tend to move at a snail’s pace. Cashiers are in no particular hurry. For some mysterious reason, usually 4 of the 30 available registers are open at any given time.

Beware of the “priority lines” that give preference to pregnant ladies and those with disabilities. It’s a lovely concept but I personally witnessed two brawls about to break out on my last trip to France — one of them involving my mother, gesticulating with a cane after a recent surgery. Also, don’t try to bring that big caddy into the Express check out lane — you’ll get seriously reprimanded.

8. I Like Big Bags and That Ain’t No Lie

sacsFrench grocery stores are big on the do it yourself motto — be ready to bag your own groceries with your own bags. For environmental reasons, free plastic and paper bags are no longer provided at grocery stores. So bring your own or be prepared to buy ’em. (Note: the produce section does provide small bags for fruit & vegetables only — see #6 above.)

9. Returns? Think Again.

“Fine! I’ll keep ze hat!”

Are you sure you really don’t want that thingamajig? Remember how long it took to buy it in the first place? Consider carefully since successfully returning an item is a major bureaucratic victory in France. You may be used to American stores where returns are welcomed with a smile and often without a receipt. That’s definitely not the norm here. Expect the process to involve several vendors, each of whom will inspect the merchandise and receipt with an eagle’s eye and direct you to wait in no fewer than 3 different lines before you walk out with your 8€50. The old phrase “buyer beware” seems pertinent to remember.

10. Baby, You Can Drive My Car.

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If all of this sounds like too much work or too much choice or too much trouble, maybe you’d prefer opting for the latest rage in France. Drive through shopping! Order online, then pick it up. Total time at grocery store: 5 minutes.  No extra charge.

But what would you do with all that free time — shop???

Dare to be a Tourist

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Recently, I’ve been tackling a variety of DIY tasks — things like repairing a peeling bathroom ceiling, putting the suck back into a vacuum that had gone kaput, and battling some carpenter bees that have moved into our deck. My motivation has been simple — a personal challenge to see if I could actually do-it-myself and an attempt to save a few dollars in the process.

It’s been strange terrain for me as I’ve never been terribly handy (i.e., probability’s high that I will cause unintentional harm to myself or others when I climb a ladder, grab a hammer or drop a tool.) Yet, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the results.

By asking questions, getting help from in-laws or parents, and doing extensive online research, I’ve developed the courage to try. To my delight, I’ve found that I am indeed (as my 4th grade teacher once assured me) lovable and capable.

Thinking about these new challenges reminds me of something I experienced last summer and jotted down in a little, pocket-sized notebook that I’d brought along on our trip to France. Here are those notes — with a touch of editing — that I hope express my new mantra that trying is more than half the battle.

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When I lived in New York, I never had any trouble spotting tourists: they were the goofy looking ones wearing practical shoes, neon windbreakers and staring up at the towering skyline.

I couldn’t help laughing the other day when I found myself sporting exactly the same attire and striking the identical pose. There I was, part of a nature and wildlife expedition,  searching the sky for a “fantastique” bird that everyone else seemed to see.

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Up in the sky, it’s a bird, it’s a plane… it’s ?#$@!!

I started to feel like the legendary Emperor presented with a spectacular new wardrobe of the transparent variety.

Should I play it cool?

“Oui, bien sûr! Je le vois… il est magnifique.”

[Yes, of course! I see it… it’s magnificent.]

Or desperate?

“Mais où??! Je vois rien de tout!”

[But where??! I see nothing at all!]

It’s an interesting predicament. Is it better to try to blend in and pretend we understand or should we ask questions, thereby admitting our lack of knowledge?

The best path I’ve found is to allow ourselves, at times, to be novices — and join the ranks of fellow tourists in the world.

Ever said “yes” to something out of politeness or pride when you really would have said “no” had you known the terms of the deal? You probably regret not asking that clarifying question.

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If we happen to be around helpful, patient people, we have everything to gain. And, if we’re around jerks who don’t want to help at all — good riddance. They’re not the ones we want to be with anyway.

Wandering a wooded path in a small provençal town, I found myself in totally unfamiliar territory. Even in English, I would be lost trying to follow a lecture on birds and wildlife. In French, with layers of precise foreign terminology — patterns, wing spans, habits, and habitats… fuggedaboutit.

Here, it was obvious I was a tourist; I was wearing the fluorescent clothes to prove it. So I went ahead and asked my questions.

The more daunting task is admitting one’s a tourist in what should be familiar situations. That’s what often happens when traveling or living abroad. Exchanging a dress, buying groceries, and simply eating become pitfall-prone treks through the wilderness.

But we have to be willing to observe, participate and ask questions if we hope to grow and become, well…  less touristy.

After all, it’s OK and even wonderful that we do things differently in our respective cultures but learning the codes of etiquette are an important, continual and necessary process.

Allowing ourselves to be beginners, whether the new frontier is birding, building or learning a foreign language, is a noble pursuit. What good would we be if we stopped learning? We’d become stagnant, boring creatures, waiting to wither away.

So, in that spirit, would somebody finally tell me how to properly slice French cheese? And how much is appropriate to take the next time the plateau is passed my way?

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Parenting: It’s a Dirty Job… so why do we do it?

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“Sounds like you have been knee deep in actual puke lately!!” was the way my friend delicately summed up my last few weeks in a text message. And it’s hardly an exaggeration. This winter, we’ve been bombarded with more than our seasonal share of colds, allergies and stomach bugs.

It got me thinking, as I sprayed down my son’s sheets yet another time in a pre-wash ritual that’s become a little too familiar: How do we do it? How do we parents and caregivers deal with all the puke, all the poop, all the pee-pee?

Before I had kids, these were the things that I dreaded most when I imagined parenthood. How could anyone, I wondered, deal with all of that… YUCK?

Let’s start with the basics. Picture it: six years ago this month, our new baby arrives and the nurse helps us put on a diaper…once. After that, it’s up to us. I’m so desperately afraid I’ll break the baby, that he’ll squirm right off the changing table, that I don’t even know where to begin.

I look back now and wonder when did it start to become natural?

How did I go from freaking out about soiled baby clothes – choosing rapid disposal over the repulsive prospect of washing them – to the mama who can play it cool in even the most challenging of situations? Like the time I sprinted from the breakfast buffet to a casino bathroom with a child whose four-day potty strike had abruptly ended, only to discover a baseball sized wad of caca had already emerged at the bottom of his pant leg.

Nothing prepares you for that!

This is simply life with kids, my friends, and probably why that catch phrase “What Happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas” sounds a lot different to me now.

There must be something that transforms us, allowing us to rise to the occasion and face the utterly disgusting. Could it be instinct?

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No different from the cat that meticulously licks her kittens clean or the bird that teaches her young to aim carefully for the large grey Mazda below, we find ourselves trying to sweet talk a 2-year-old into peeing in a cup at the doctor’s office when he still hasn’t made up his mind about this whole potty training business. It’s a tall order but we do our best to make it happen, as doubtful as the outcome may be.

Attempting the impossible: that’s part of the job description whether or not we knew it when we signed up for this parenting gig.

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But then I think about the other moments – those that are much cleaner – and easier to delight in:

– that huge smile from my preschooler when he leaps into my arms for a hug

– the touch of those soft, little palms when one of my boys holds my hand

– the way my kindergartener runs into school with his backpack bopping up and down

– how they stretch on their tip toes to see themselves in the bathroom mirror while brushing their teeth

– their efforts to one-up each other with absurd knock-knock jokes

– their total lack of self-consciousness, one wearing a Spiderman costume to go shopping and the other coming home from school with his shoes on the wrong feet

– their ingenuity when they “skateboard” into the room on a toy cutting board

– the pride I feel when they share willingly or say thank you without a prompt

These things may seem insignificant to others but they are exactly the kind of everyday moments that remind me why I can now handle all the other stuff.* Is it love? Is it maturity? Is it because if we don’t, who will?

I think the truth is that day by day, we grow into our roles as parents. For my kids, I can be brave. I can try to find a solution and I can deal with the poop.

*Insert scatological word of your choice. [Ok,I admit it. I was dying to use the word “scatological” somewhere…]

If I could put time in a bottle

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No matter where I go, I always receive the same advice from total strangers:

“Squeeze those boys tight!” says the cashier at the grocery store.

“They’ll be grown before you know it,” says the lady down the street.

“I remember when my kids were that small,” says the grey-haired man in line behind us.

Their eyes glistening, I immediately know one of two things. Either a.) their own children are grown and have moved away or b.) their own children are teenagers, have not moved away and are driving them completely bananas. Anyway, it’s gotten me thinking about how I would capture my five year old and two year old in words right now. Here are some memories that I’d like to bottle up and save for later, if I could.

Noah is starting kindergarten in just a few days. Even though I’m secretly freaking out, he seems to be taking it all in stride. He’s eager to meet new friends, take the bus, and learn French at his new immersion school. He tries so hard to be a good son and big brother, wanting to please his parents and do the “right thing.” But I know it’s sometimes a struggle for him to be a big, brave boy. At times, he longs to be the baby.

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He has two loose teeth and nothing could be more thrilling or terrifying for him. He wonders, when will they fall out? What will the Tooth Fairy do with them? And what would happen if he keeps them instead of handing them over? Perched on the footstool and stretching his neck just so, he can finally see his face in the bathroom mirror as he wiggles those teeth.

He gets frustrated trying to tie his own shoes, unable to solve the riddle of twisting “bunny ears” into knots. Yet, he’s a whiz at legos — concentrating for hours while building a new plane, car or robot. He loves cooking and has a surprising passion for the Food Network series, “Chopped.” When he talks about growing up, he imagines multiple simultaneous career paths. He’ll be a race car driver, a lego engineer, a chef in his own restaurant and a soccer player for the U.S. national team.

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Most nights, he carefully pastes stickers into his World Cup Panini soccer book alongside his dad and little brother, even though the matches are long over now. He can identify every player’s country of origin, with a simple glance at the flag that decorates each Panini card. Beyond soccer, his world is all about superheros, water balloons and icees. At night, he dozes off while listening to the “Curious George, the movie” soundtrack. He has a blessed obliviousness to the greater problems of the world which I hope will last for some time still.

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His little brother has just turned two. What a beautiful age. It’s all about unbridled enthusiasm for EVERYTHING. It’s pizza night and Mateo run-skips through the house shouting “PIZZA! PIZZA! PIZZA! YAAAY!” He bobbles, not quite able to balance his oversized head on his pint-sized body. He surprises us all the time with new words and phrases.

He’s a little ray of sunshine who thinks his big brother is THE greatest person in the entire world. He wants to be just like him and imitates almost everything he sees him do. (As if to punctuate this thought, he starts singing “Let it go!” at full voice, for no other reason than he’s heard his brother do it too.) Eager to nap on most days, he waves and says “night night” to anyone nearby. Like his older brother, Mateo’s a polite little guy — often uttering a “please” or “thank you, Mama” without any prodding.

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He’s picked up the delicious habit of sprinkling French words in his spirited chatter: “non, merci;” “Time for dodo;”  “Bisous, Mama!” He thinks the best joke in the world is adding the word “heiny” after any name. It’s sure to be a hit with his new preschool friends, whom he’s just days away from meeting.

At night, he sucks his thumb and cries for a “tag.” Unlike other kids who nestle with a stuffed animal or blanket, he has a mania for the labels on t-shirts and other articles of clothing. Snug in his PJs, he loves starting books together and then declaring we’re “all done” a few pages in. He grabs another book and insists “not yet!” when we tell him it’s time for bed. He finally lies down, thumb in mouth, rubbing the tag between his fingers, when I sing a lullaby.

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Most of all, both boys crave attention, recognition, stability and warm hugs. “Mama, Look!” they shout, as they do their own version of breakdancing in the living room or in the cereal aisle. Life is still simple and I cherish it. They are happy, healthy and we don’t embarass them… yet.

* Less than 24 hours after writing this, Noah lost his first tooth. Seems I just can’t seal that bottle tight enough, no matter how I try.

It’s a New Year: Profitez-en bien! (“prah-fē-tay zahn bē-ehn”)

I know what you’re thinking. Oy – another blog about New Years?! And it’s already February… But the way I see it, I’m right on time for Chinese New Year and well ahead of the game for the Jewish New Year next September.

The truth is, my resolution this year is quite simple and enacting it is part of the reason I’ve been slow to write it down. I’m officially designating this the year of (drum roll, please)…. the present.

Not as in the kind you give, I mean actually being in the moment, every day…

from the little things (like paying attention to what I do so my deodorant doesn’t mysteriously end up in the kitchen and my car keys in the kids’ toy trunk) to the big – focusing on the people I love and the activities that make me happy.

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These days, my kids are constantly looking ahead – wanting to be big and able to do more. Meanwhile, my parents are looking back, reminiscing about “the way it used to be.”And here I am, just a few steps away from meeting the Queen Mother of mid-life Birthdays. Like it or not, that little lady has every intention of drop-kicking me from one side of the proverbial hill to the other.

But just because she’s sending me over doesn’t mean that I need to start sliding down the other side! Au contraire! I intend to stick around the summit for as long as I can. This is the time to do, to enjoy, to live every moment without looking too far ahead or behind. As the French say, it’s time to profitez-en bien (prah-fē-tay zahn bē-ehn): “enjoy and make the most of it!”

We get into a routine and sometimes forget to pay attention to the details of our daily lives. We naively go about our days, acting as if the world stands still – that the people we know and love will always be here, that opportunities will wait for us to act, that our children will always be giddy to play superhero and pretend to fly around the neighborhood with their Mama.

Alas, it isn’t so.

This is the time to do, to enjoy, to live every moment

without looking too far ahead or behind.

This time is precious and I don’t want to miss it by multi-tasking my way through life. I want to slow down and pay attention, do things in a meaningful way, and to the best of my ability. My hope is that by really trying to live in the present, I can make the most of every day – so that when tomorrow comes, I can enjoy it without regret.

Here are some personal goals for this year. Maybe some of them will speak to you too…

  • Spend more time playing with the kids and less time posting about them on Social Media. Life is meant to be experienced in actual size, not through the little screen on the back of my phone.
  • Work during work-time and play during play-time: when combined, neither the experience nor the results are satisfactory.
  • Try to do a little bit every day to organize my living space with the full realization that the house may not ever look exactly how I’d like until the kids are grown (in other words, don’t sweat it if I awake to find my child has “decorated” the house for Halloween 10 months early by affixing dozens of stickers to the wood floors, walls, kitchen table, and door knobs.)
  • Keep in touch with the people who are important. Call or write actual letters to friends and family.
  • Invest energy in the activities I want to pursue instead of putting them off for another day.
  • Read more.
  • Share more – ideas, books, laughter, music, food.
  • Exercise more, not to thwart some future health ailment, but because it makes me happy.

Feel free to check in and ask me how I’m doing on my resolution and my new goals. I’m sure I won’t always live up to my aspirations. That’s ok, too. I figure that accepting I’m still a work-in-progress may be the best 40th birthday gift of all.