Birthday Presence: 37 things I tell myself about life

This week marks the passing of 37 years that I have been blessed with breath in my lungs.

I am not one for wanting a big to-do on my birthday. Kind words and thoughtful best wishes are gifts enough. That’s not because I am scared of growing older, nor am I someone who declares to be forever 29.

To me, the value in marking one more year is powerful in a quiet way. I have seen lives end much too young. Becoming wiser, maturing through mistakes and celebrating milestones is not a destiny afforded to all.

So we have to take it. Run with it. Love it. Live it.

My life isn’t what I’d pictured it would be at this age. It’s absolutely nothing like I thought it would be, in fact. I’m OK with it almost always, but some days I struggle with it, like all humans do. But as life unfolds, it should be met with gratefulness, no matter what is missing or what is hard to understand.

The journey is important in all its forms.

So as you go through those rituals every year — as you blow out your candles or open a little blue box from your significant other or hang a birthday card with stick figures on your fridge — stop and reflect.

You know what they say: “Not every day is good, but there is good in every day.”

How can I be better? How can I do better? How can I project better?

Those things are what we should be concentrating on, because they are the greatest presents we can open. The beauty is that we have the power within us to unwrap it all for ourselves and increase our presence in the world.

Know you will take nothing with you when you leave this Earth. So get your soul right, get your heart right, and make sure you are planting lovely seeds, even if you may not be around for harvest.

I strive to live like the things on this list. We all have shortcomings, and mine are plenty, but this is who I hope I am and who I hope to be. Some people who are my age may say 37 years passed is too many, that they wish they could turn back the hands of time.

Even though I feel like I wasted about 10 years, my years of learning are not nearly long enough to be the person I want to be.

Because presents should lose out to presence. Every time.

And I am ready to learn new lessons in the 38th year. The good, the bad and the ugly.


37 things I tell myself about life

1.  Take the back roads. The beauty is in the dirt, not in the shine.

2.  Be comfortable in your skin. Wear leopard print and stripes on the same day if you get a-hankerin’.

3.  Kris. Cash. Hank. Merle. Willie. Waylon. Repeat.

4.  Send handwritten thank you notes.

5.  Talk to strangers like you talk to your grandma.

6.  Treat farmers with the respect you do doctors. They’re both keeping you alive.

7.  Ask someone older to tell you a story. Pass it on.

8.  The soul sings sweeter when there is: Lots of fresh air. Lots of sunsets. Lots of gazing across the prairie.

9.  Always leave the door to your heart cracked, no matter how much you want to install a jimmy-proof, double-latch deadbolt with a five-star security system that throws darts (and/or missles).

10.  Listen to understand not to reply.

11.  Make it a priority to do the two-fingered wave when you’re driving.

12.  Trust others’ actions, not their words. Be action, not words.

13.  Be honest, even when it’s messy and painful and uncomfortable.

14.  Invest in Jesus. Invest in yourself. Invest in your family. Invest in history. Invest in your community. Invest in something.

15.  Laugh at yourself. Never take yourself too seriously.

16.  Be authentic. Be you. Different is not weird. Different is living.

17.  Don’t apologize for loving or crying or feeling things more deeply than others seem to. Don’t doubt those things brewing inside you and don’t wish them away. Certain emotions exist in you for a reason. Your heart is what it is. And it was formed by God.

18.  Likewise, don’t try to talk someone else out of their feelings either. Respect the hearts and opinions of others. If they are bothered by something or saddened by something or offended by something, it is their business, not yours. Your job is to love your neighbor through it.

19.  Be confident, but realize that you are not any more amazing than God’s other creations, no matter how many times someone might say you are.

20.  Understand that humility is one of the greatest besides love.

21.  Taste the power of your words before spitting them out.

22.  Do everything with sincerity or don’t do anything at all.

23.  Never lose the determination of the 10-year-old inside your soul who will do any kind of chores at 50 cents a pop to save up for a new horse.

24.  Don’t waste your talents or your smarts. If you don’t think you have talents or smarts, it’s easy to change that.

25.  Work hard even if no one is watching.

26.  Be generous and wild at heart.

27.  Pretty is as pretty does.

28.  You are an extension of your parents, even when you are old and gray. Be your own person, but don’t dent the legacy they spent their lives building.

29.  Don’t regret. Learn.

30.  Live in possibility.

31.  Try.

32.  Reflect.

33.  Create.

34.  Sing, even if you are off tune.

35.  Forgive.

36.  Pray when you need an answer and when you don’t.

37.  Go all in.

Every day, just go all in. Don’t take 37, 47 or 87 for granted. Don’t hide the number or be ashamed of it, because some of the best people don’t even get to 7.

Consider each birthday a badge of honor, like you have outlasted the meanest bull in the pen.

And then vow to get even better in the next round. 



The time my hair fell out and I grew a pair of wings

Because sometimes the inspiration to rise from the ashes, squeeze lemonade and soar like eagles comes from the unlikeliest of people and places.

I posted on Facebook this morning about my “bad hair day.”

I did it mostly because I don’t mind making fun of myself. In fact, that is one thing I can say I am good enough at doing I should be earning a professional paycheck for it.

We must try not to take life or ourselves too seriously.

I was given a boost from some construction workers this morning. Keep in mind those guys were working in Tulsa, where they have so many potholes to fill, they likely won’t have time to look at women for the next 25 years.

The potholes basically worked as beer goggles as I went by, my hair a nest under my disguise of a ball cap.

(See, major league pro status!)

I sat at the traffic light and they made sure I knew they were there.

Cat calls usually make me feel creepy, but today they made me feel human and not like so much of a mess.

The men weren’t vulgar, just flattering, but I still couldn’t figure out why it didn’t bother me.

On the way home from work, I realized.

I realized this week marked the anniversary to the beginning of my worst bad hair days ever. In early September 2011, I got incredibly ill due to an infection in my stomach. I almost died from its severity. I was hospitalized for a month, and it was the beginning of a lot of turmoil and uncertainty in my life. I refer to it as my “personal Vietnam” days. It was the lowest I have ever felt.

My body was so sick that by December, I began to lose my hair. Long, thick, beautiful blonde hair. It fell out in less than two weeks. My head was sore from how fast it fell. My scalp hurt so badly. My heart hurt. Because as much as it was “only hair,” it was a big portion of my femininity. I had to wear a wig for almost two years until my hair reached my chin and made me feel comfortable again.

Yes, I had a bad hair day today. But I am thankful to have hair now, even when it is humid or my hair dryer breaks or I wake up too late to wash it.
That was the good thing about wigs, no one knew when I slept in because my wig always looked like I just stepped out of the salon.

So today, as I was driving home from work, I remembered an instance from my wig days. It made me feel the feels all over again.

I cried just thinking about it. It was a healthy cry.

And, as any good story is, this one is set in Walmart😆

I walked in the store one day after work. I got my groceries, then headed back across to the front of the store.

The older man who was working as the greeter stood there, stared at me and smiled as I continued to walk a good 100 feet more toward him.

I thought, “oh no. I hope my wig isn’t sideways or backwards or something.” I started to get a little self conscious. I was nervous and clutching the handle on the cart as he stared with this goofy smile. I wheeled my cart closer to him and he stepped in to intercept my forward progress.

Then, the random man I had never met before leaned in and said to me, “Your hair is really beautiful.”

I just stood in shock, not sure if my wig really was sideways and he was mocking me or if he meant it.

He meant it.

“I saw you walking and smiling and I just wanted to tell you how refreshing you are,” I remember him saying. “These days, it’s nice to see a young woman who acts like a woman.”

I’ll never forget it.

Now I’m no Gloria Steinem, but normally that might rub me the wrong way. However, I could tell he was using utmost sincerity. It was like the old man was looking at me and remembering someone else from his past.

“Some women walk around like they don’t care and their hair isn’t even combed,” he said. “Some women don’t act like women anymore. I just wanted to tell you that I appreciate that you act like a woman.”

It didn’t sound sexist to me in that moment. It was medicine.

For someone who hadn’t felt like much of a woman around that time, it was as if he just handed me a winning lottery ticket.

I beamed. Then I barely made it away from him before I couldn’t hold the tears in my eyes any longer. Five more steps and my whole face was wet.

Little did that man know, underneath the coiffed ‘do with beautiful curls from the wig lady on 21st Street, there were small rungs of hair sticking out every which way. It had been blonde, but it grew back almost chocolate. I didn’t even look like me and I hated looking in the mirror without my head covered.

I choose to believe that man, the greeter at Walmart, had God’s nudge and the angels’ request. Someone knew I needed to try on a pair of wings so I would have the confidence to grow my own. Someone knew I needed to hear an old man’s sweet compliments.

Yes, a stark contrast to the cat calls of construction workers, but it was uplifting the same.

Because in those moments, both of them, I was a vulnerable soul who needed those opposite reactions so I could go somewhere more profound with my thoughts.

I am thankful to be able to say my hair grew back. It has taken a few years, but it is long and thick once again. And with the help of a stylist, it is blonde again.

But these photos below, of one brave day in 2012 when I shed the wig and went to work with a scarf, represent that our best moments are born from our weakest ones.

In our grief and confusion we learn our strengths. We learn that hair most likely will grow back.
We learn that during trials in life, we should stay grounded in positive thoughts.

And if that doesn’t work… well, we simply will have to fluff those wings and learn to fly.





When the Girl Scouts cookies are gone

It is October and my freezer is officially void of Girl Scouts Thin Mints. After trembling in fear, with a death grip on the empty box and a glazed look in my eyes, it hit me.

I have a recipe to make these cookies myself!

The winter months will indeed be heavenly, but this knowledge comes with heavy responsibility. Raise your right hand and repeat after me: “I understand that by using this recipe, it doesn’t absolve me of my duty to buy cookies from the neighborhood Girl Scouts in the spring.”

Because there is something magical about a little girl in pigtails and a sash that makes it perfectly reasonable to fork over $4 per box.

P.S. Do we get a  baking badge for this?


Homemade Thin Mints


2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
6 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/3 cup milk (any kind)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 tsp peppermint extract


In a small bowl, whisk together flour, cornstarch, cocoa powder and salt.
In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar. With the mixer on low speed, add in the milk and the extracts. Mixture will look curdled. Gradually, add in the flour mixture until fully incorporated.
Shape dough into two logs, about 1 1/2 inches (or about 4 cm) in diameter, wrap in plastic wrap and freeze for at least 1-2 hours, until dough is very firm.
Preheat oven to 375F.
Slice dough into rounds not more than 1/4 inch thick – if they are too thick, they will not be as crisp – and place on a parchment lined baking sheet. Cookies will not spread very much, so you can put them quite close together.
Bake for 13-15 minutes, until cookies are firm at the edges. Cool cookies completely on a wire rack before dipping in chocolate.

Dark Chocolate Coating
10-oz dark or semisweet chocolate
1/2 cup butter, room temperature

In a microwave safe bowl, combine chocolate and butter. Melt on high power in the microwave, stirring every 45-60 seconds, until chocolate is smooth. Chocolate should have a consistency somewhere between chocolate syrup and fudge for a thin coating.
Dip each cookie in melted chocolate, turn with a fork to coat, then transfer to a piece of parchment paper or wax paper to set up for at least 30 minutes, or until chocolate is cool and firm.
Reheat chocolate as needed to keep it smooth and easy to dip into.

Makes 3 1/2-4 dozen cookies.

Once upon a wedding

Have you ever dreamed and dreamed about something so much that you almost feel like it actually happened? I mean really imagined each and every detail down to where sighs would be placed in conversations about it?

I am a single, very independent woman who, one day, might put a ring on it and shop for china patterns. Now is not the time to skip down the aisle. Now is always the time, however, to plan it.
Contine reading

Baby Back Ribs and Texas Blackjack Sauce

I saw this recipe in Woman’s Day magazine in 2005. It immediately went in my Big Black Books and I prepared it for the first time that summer, my last in Chicago. I remember being very leery of the fact there was coffee (blech!) involved… but I quickly got over it. The unique flavor sent my palate over the top.

We fired up the grill on game day, spun the TV around so we could watch the action from outdoors, and every single Cubs fan who walked by en route to Wrigley Field made a comment about the divine smell. I joked that every game day I should sell ribs off the side of the balcony in brown lunch sacks.
Contine reading

Fighter. Champion. Ironman.

Dear Baby Brother,

You have trained for this moment for seven years. We all have loved you and believed in you for the nearly 25 years since you took your first little breath.

As you prepare this morning for the biggest challenge of your life and to reach a level only the most elite of athletes attain, know these things and meditate on them.

The nervous moments ahead of competition are normal, even for Olympians. It’s OK to have them, just don’t allow them to win over precious space your head. Nervous moments mean you understand the adversities. They mean you not only want to slay the beast, but also that you respect it.

As our man Rocky said: “That’s how winning is done.”

Because you are ready. You are prepared. Say that to yourself as you walk to check in.

“I am ready. My body is ready. My mind is ready. I am prepared. My body is prepared. My mind is prepared.”

Contine reading

Today, I want to live here: Granny’s kitchen

Even if you grew up in the city, there’s probably something familiar about a farmhouse kitchen.

I see one and am reminded of my Granny’s haven. I was only 5 years old when she died, but I still remember her kitchen. It wasn’t fancy. In fact, it was the opposite of fancy. It had an old ’50s-style table, and in my memory, there is a pie in the center of it, covered with a muslin tea-towel.
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Berry Bliss(ful) Cake with Lemonade Glaze

It’s that time of year: Berries, berries and more berries. Farmers markets, grocery stores, roadside stands… they’re everywhere. And I love it. My favorite is raspberries, which I suppose is because they taste like candy. Good, healthy candy.

The following recipe is from Gourmet magazine. I was mesmerized with the possibilities. Raspberries. Blackberries. Blueberries. Cranberries. Even plums or peaches. I liked it so much that I clipped, um, stole it… I ripped it right from the pages of an issue in a waiting room. I know, bad girl. But because I was bad, it went into my Big Black Books and you now know about an awesome cake. This moment was worth the risk.
Contine reading