A Surprise Birthday Party & Third-Life Lessons

This year I was honest about my age. Mostly honest.

I did try to blow out the candles on Gabe’s cake that said 25, but other than that.

My in-laws planned a surprise party for my brother-in-law and I at their house in East St. Paul. If there’s anything you should know about my mother-in-law, it’s that she has a long, sordid history with popping surprise parties on people. She absolutely loves throwing surprise parties. The boys literally grew up with a childhood full of surprise parties for themselves and everyone else, so it’s their norm. Gary Chapman might as well add throwing surprise parties to his five love languages.

Anyway, they really did plan one heck of a party and we were honored to see so many of our family and friends.

Happy Birthday

There were margaritas and a feast of tacos and enchiladas from Acapulco. And cheese sauce. Lots and lots of cheese sauce. I knew we had an epic weekend when I had trouble finding clothes for the ride back home not splattered with queso.

I was especially taken with the “Jennifer book” my folks made for my birthday. It was both touching and hilarious.

Birthday Book Collage

So much tie dye and even a Blossom hat. I never did inherit my mom’s love of gardening, but I have fond memories of helping her tend the church’s, which was sadly paved into a parking lot.

This might be my favorite page.

Does anyone else remember attending a birthday party or school field trip at the Diamond T Ranch in Apple Valley, MN? 

Watermark fun page

So I’m 30. Probably not an age traditionally associated with sharing words of wisdom, but I’ve made enough mistakes to dispense a few pearls. We’ll see what I come up with in the next 30 years, but, for now, I’ll continue to work on these:

Learn How To Say No: I lived for 24 years unaware of my choices and that I could say no. I’ll never forget when someone I looked up to asked me why I considered everyone else’s feelings more important than my own and that changed my life. With practice, I now feel freer to say no and it’s very liberating.

Of course, I don’t want to say no all of the time; sometimes we do need make sacrifices to help others and attend certain events, but we should be aware of why we’re saying yes or no. Also, saying yes doesn’t equate writing someone a blank check. We can still say yes with boundaries and we don’t necessarily owe others explanations for our choices.

Don’t Burn Bridges. Not with people, not with companies. With few exceptions, how can we be 100% sure that we won’t ever need to cross them again?

Overestimate & Over-Insure: If you plan to purchase a fixer-upper house, gather estimates on the work that needs to be done and double them.

Forgive Yourself. Why do we find it easier to forgive other people than ourselves? Apologize to those you’ve hurt and give yourself a break.

Say Yes To Wanderlust. If you are like me and feel that restless urge to explore new places and veer from the beaten path, give in. Wanderlust has taken me on some of my greatest adventures.

Step Outside Of Your Comfort Zone: I’m an introvert who prefers one-to-one interactions, but I’ve learned that good things can happen when I step outside of my comfort zone. Sometimes it’s necessary to be the one that puts the effort into driving to a new place or attending an event of which you don’t know the other attendees. My friend Sara speaks from experience in her blog post Stepping Outside of Your Comfort Zone when she writes, “It’s up to you to make things happen in your life, nobody else can do it for you.”  She’s absolutely right.

Meet people online: I am a child of the 90’s when we first started chatting with people online and meeting them was initially considered dangerous. The first time I met people online was in 2008 at Qoraxlow, a Somali restaurant, where I attended a Chowhound meetup. This experience was exciting and slightly scary, but I had a blast trying new foods with new people.

Social media interactions have connected me with real life opportunities to meet people I wouldn’t have met in my day-to-day interactions and helped me become more outgoing and confident. I even met my husband online. [Of course, it goes without saying that one should always exercise common sense].

From my experience, social media friendships have always translated to real life friendships. I’ve had the time of my life exploring Iowa with a new group of friends that I met online.

Accept Food Hospitality: I’ve always looked up to Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern. If you watch their television shows you’ll notice how they always accept the food hospitality from others, unless it poses a serious health risk. People put their hearts and souls into their cooking. That brownie or casserole isn’t just a snack, it’s someone’s pride and joy. Or possibly an attempt to welcome or nurture. Food has the amazing ability to bring people together and build bridges. When someone offers you a gesture of food hospitality, consider accepting it, or at least take a small bite.

Be Wary Of Extremes And Work With Those Who Demonstrate Kindness: During college, I got caught up in choosing sides and surrounding myself primarily with those who held the same religious and political beliefs. It’s not that I don’t hold values anymore, but feel that my life is richer now that I’ve broadened my interactions to people of differing viewpoints. Those who cling to extremes often set themselves up for failure, as extremes leave little room for hypocrisy.

Anthony Bourdain said, “I don’t have to agree with you to like or respect you” and I’ve adopted it as one of my mantras.

I love seeing people find their passions and 100% support the act of advocating for what we believe is good and just. I just don’t believe any cause gives someone permission to be mean. After watching people on every side of every food issue throw stones at each other, I made my rule short and sweet: I’m open to collaborating with people who treat others with respect.

Ask For Help & Don’t Be Upset With Others For Not Having The Ability To Read your Mind: Take the time to figure out what you need and what you want. And remember there isn’t anyone in the whole world who doesn’t need support to get through difficult times. I struggle with asking for help, so I try to remind myself that if the tables were turned and a friend asked me for help, I would want to be there in a heartbeat. I would never look down on a friend for asking for or consider them weak, so why would I expect a friend to respond to me any differently?

Do What Makes You Feel Alive: Because life’s too short. When I tune in to activities and people who make me feel alive, I have an easier time making decisions and find myself saying “I don’t know” less often. I feel most alive when I seek new experiences and travel to new places (even if they aren’t very far away), walk my dog, and spend time with people who make me feel comfortable being myself.

What lessons have taken you your whole life to learn? What experiences or people you feel truly alive?

6 Comments

  1. I LOVE this post! You are very wise for only being 30! I would have to add one of mine—–love who you are. It took me many years to actually figure out that it was okay to be “me” and that God made me just like I am for a reason. I don’t mean big headed egotistical love but just accepting who you are and feeling comfortable in your own skin. I actually like who I am not but I certainly would not have said that even 15 years ago probably.
    Happy Birthday to my amazing friend, Jeni, who has a lot more figured out at 30 that I have at 54!!! You are truly one of my favorite people. 🙂

    • Thank you Beth! That’s a compliment coming from you who I consider wise and one of MY favorite people:) Thanks for sharing your advice. I think that’s an area that I need to work on a lot.

  2. What a wonderful post! You are amazing and I’m so thankful we are friends!

  3. Happy Birthday! What a great post. Great advice on so many fronts.

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