As I turn 33-years-old, I am so thankful for my family and my friends who truly make this life so beautiful. My mom used to say that she loved her 30s, and I am finding the same to be true. These are good years, full of a sense of purpose and the creation of deeper bonds with those I love, whether those lives have been entwined with mine for quite some time or are new (I am thinking here of new friends and new family babies). I am thankful for the chance to work on my health this past year and for the support and encouragement of my husband, parents, and friends as I have started an exercise regimen and changed my relationship with food and returned to the way I felt physically and mentally during my teaching years. I end this year feeling that I have back a part of myself from which I had been estranged for awhile. That is a good feeling.

Year 32 was a year full of adventure: zip-lining in Hawaii, traveling across eighteen states on a road trip back and forth from a dear friend’s Indian wedding, teaching Kindergarten to my Katie, playing in the snow for Valentine’s Day, crying at the Gettysburg memorial, standing on the corner for awhile in Winslow, AZ, playing soccer by the Mississippi River, receiving my first henna, learning to cook in healthy and life-sustaining ways, keeping up with my two-year-old, writing and receiving handwritten letters, cheering Katie on for her first season of soccer, and more. There was also the adventure of forging new friendships (one of my new and lovely friends Erin is having her fourth baby today!!!) and nurturing lifelong ones.

I started this morning with a run (just a 2.5 miler). I ran yesterday, too, and usually skip every other day…although the more I run, the more I want to run everyday. When I thought about what gift I wanted to give myself for my birthday it was the gift of running and what it symbolizes for me. Freedom. Health. The chance to be around for my husband and kiddos for a long time. Liking my clothes and my body. Confidence. Mental happiness. If someone had told me back in May (when I first started to change my lifestyle) that I would wake up on my birthday and want to run, I would have looked at that person like he or she was crazy. All of my life, I have viewed exercise as work…something we’re able to skip as a treat on special days. Now I view it as the treat and reward itself. I loved my run this morning. Freedom. Power. I did a big hill that I used to do on runs only with my mom in high school. It felt good.

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One of the first sweet birthday messages I received today was from our friend Noreen. Years ago, I was fortunate enough to teach her son Max, and she works as a Campus Supe at TVHS. Her daughter Alex had my husband for class and we share an university alma mater. What I love so much about Noreen is that she makes everything she does into something fun, and event, and has a magical quality in her: everything she does says how much she loves to be alive. She also always seems to be doing something nice for someone—today I was on the receiving end of her thoughtfulness! Noreen sent me a gift through Facebook—how cool is that? I’ve never tried that, but I will now! Her gift was a certificate to Starbucks. The really serendipitous part? I had made a plan for the morning that would connect perfectly to using the certificate…

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…and that plan involved taking a walk along main streets near our house (streets on the path to the nearest Starbucks, as it turns out) to pick up some trash. We did use tongs. A few months ago, I viewed an inspirational video made by a young man who did 22 acts of kindness for his 22nd birthday.

I started out equally ambitious (33 for 33!), and then I saw all the creative ways that some of my friends came up with for implementing the birthday-acts-of-kindness idea. My friend Kelsey started a virtual birthday party on Facebook for her 22nd birthday in November, and invited several of us to attend it virtually. Our present and participation was to do something nice for someone else, take a picture of the act or somehow document it, and upload it to the Facebook group or hashtag it on Instagram. I loved Kelsey’s implementation and how it involved everyone. What a great idea for a birthday party!

My friend Donna also spent her birthday in service through a women’s group of which she is part. What a gift from life to be able to spend your birthday at an event helping others! Inspirational.

My friend Lauren also had a good suggestion: Why not try for 33 events during the year (above and beyond what we might normally do) and have an inaugural event on my actual birthday? Especially around Christmas, we’re doing so much charity and so many people are benefitting right now from all good works—it might be better to spread out some of those acts of kindness throughout the year.

I like this suggestion.

Also, my mom had a good point, too: kindness and goodness is sometimes most effective when it is anonymous and seeks no particular attention. I do agree and in fact, I do most of my philanthropy in just that way. Still, I also view acts as having potential symbolic weight… I wanted to engage in an act on my birthday that would symbolize how I want to live my next year. As I continue to shape who I am and what I stand for, I think that choosing actions and making them symbolic pledges to an ideal helps to keep me focused on purpose.

So, a walk to pick up trash it was!

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Both Katie and Eric ended up really enjoying themselves. At first, Katie resisted, explaining that what people should do on their birthdays is just receive gifts and parties… Which is why it then became a moral issue for me as a mother to teach my children about having a heart for community service. If she represents a five-year-old’s way of thinking, then thank goodness I am turning thirty-three!  I am tempted to make trash pick-up a new tradition on all of our birthdays. 😉

As we walked along, however, Katie came around to it. We talked about how important it is that our birth somehow leaves the world a better, nicer, and more gentle place. We’re not born to be “in it for ourselves.”

She also really loved the hunting-for-treasure aspect of collecting the trash. If anything, it was an important example of how we can use our imaginations and mind to make work into play.

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Katie took this picture, showing our two bags of trash collected in less than a mile of walking down the street. TWO BAGS! It might be tempting to get down about humanity on my birthday, but I won’t choose to go there in my mind today… The important thing is to live up to our ideals.

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Then we did treat ourselves (life is a balance of care for others, care for our world, care for ourselves) using Noreen’s amazingly sweet gift! Eric enjoys his Starbucks scone!

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Then we walked home, and we asked Bill if the four of us could all go to the park to play (my birthday tradition). I love making memories as a family!

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Playing with my girl at the park!

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There are a million reasons why I love Rancho Dental and Dr. Perry…including the fact that they send me a birthday greeting in my e-mail! And yes, I will be “seeing them soon” LOL!

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Then I got another e-mail. My husband’s birthday gift to me was to make a donation to Common Threads, an organization that teaches low-income children to cook healthy and wholesome meals (and affordable) to lower the rate of childhood obesity while teaching how to connect to all cultures through food and nutrition.

My Bill knows me so well…

I have written this after reading to Katie and while watching High Noon, one of my favorite films. Now my mom is here for a dinner celebration: she is making French onion soup, salad, and a spice cake with maple icing. I love that she gives me the choice of whatever birthday dinner I wish for each year. My dad will join us shortly.

It has been a lovely birthday so far, and I am so grateful for everyone who has sent me a birthday wish! Time to be festive and eat my favorite soup!

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