We started a podcast

So…a friend and I started a podcast.

There’s a lot of confessing, challenging, a bit of conflict, and a touch of cussing.

But most of all it’s a conversation between friends.

This project grew out of years of relationship and talking about our ventures and missteps and learnings and stories.

And we want to share them with you.

This podcast is a series of conversations about life, entrepreneurship, money, wellness.

But, really, it’s about improving our lives in midlife.

My friend’s name is Howard Lerner. He’s a great dude and entrepreneur and conversationalist. If you’re from St. Louis, you’ve likely heard of Kaldis Coffee. He started that company. After building it, he sold it.

Join us every week, as we put out a weekly episode. Here’s the latest one entitled Finding Midlife Motivation.

Feel free to ask us questions or give us topics you want to hear us discuss. And we welcome any feedback you might have. Contact me through this site or @itsjohnpa on Twitter or Instagram.

Find all of our episodes, and subscribe, on Spotify and check us out at www.howardandjohn.com.

Or if you want to watch us, go to YouTube to get the full facial experience. We don’t have the latest episode up yet, but you can watch one of our first versions.

Everyone, lastly, I just want to thank you for joining me on this journey. It’s almost weekly that I get to hear from someone that’s said they read my blog at one point or another, and that always makes me feel honored and grateful to feel connected to you somehow.

I love you. And I wish you the best as we continue this beautiful journey called life.

Lots of love,

John


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Why we started a cookie business

Sometimes when things are terrible it’s necessary to start something delightful.

So last month my wife and I started a cookie business.

It’s an online store that sells gourmet gluten-free and vegan freshly baked cookies. They are made from incredible ingredients: organic this and organic that. And they are delicious. I’m the taste tester, so I should know.

But bragging aside, the main point of making something tasty is to spread just a little bit of joy to overcome the daily pains that seem to be mounting every day.

We get it. Kids are cooped up. The future is uncertain. The economy is struggling. News is the news, always negative. Schools are thinking about opening and we don’t know what to do. The second wave is swelling to who knows how high. And all of us are getting swept up into it and we are going for a ride to who knows where. It’s terrifying. All of it.

But taking a bite into a chocolate chip cookie floods us with memories of childhood, simpler times, summer bake sales, laughter, mom—home. It’s just love, baked.

That’s what we wanted to make, except in our fashion.

Our family has crazy dietary restrictions. We can’t eat gluten since we have major intolerances, and we have all kinds of sensitivities. My wife has been eating essentially the same limited foods every day, for every meal—literally. Our eldest can’t eat gluten and a whole host of other foods. And I find most meats make me feel badly and eat vegan most of the time, but for those rare occasions where I scarf down a ribeye. In other words, we eat crazy clean. No processed foods, refined sugar, etc. here. Don’t get me wrong. I want to eat Doritos, Krispy Kream donuts, Oreos. But I know I will feel terrible afterwards. Maybe you know what I’m talking about.

So we wanted to create something we and all of our friends and humans could feel good eating. Because, there’s enough feeling bad these days. And this is not just about feeling better emotionally, but good physically. That’s why we use the ingredients that we do. They’re great so we can feel good, in every way.

But if you want to know the truth, my wife has never even tasted our cookies. Not one. It’s because her food restrictions are so tight she can’t even try them, right now. She bakes them. She loves baking. But she can’t enjoy them. We are hoping that eventually she’ll be able to bite into the slightly-crunchy-with-a-gooey-center-packed-with-chocolate-chips beauts of a treat, someday, soon.

Nonetheless, she does take great pleasure in others enjoying her little creations. She delights in the knowledge that her joy inducing circles of chocolaty bliss brings others delight. That’s joy for her, for our family.

We started this venture at the end of May and we’ve been working out the kinks. It’s been fun. It began as an experiment, us playing around. Then orders came in. Not too many at first. But these, too, acted like waves. For the first week or so, most days were quiet with little activity. Then we’d get a sale here, a delivery there. Then one day in early June we had a large swell crash on us. Things went bonkers. And we started to wonder if we had something, something real.

Yesterday we posted on social media to our friends unsure what kind of reception we would get. And it was amazing. We had our biggest day of sales to date. We were astonished at the response and generosity. I mean, our cookies aren’t cheap. But people bought. Some kept buying. And they were gifting to this person and that person who lived on the west coast and out east and to a neighbor down the road or across the street. It was incredible.

To any of you who were a part of yesterday’s frenzy and are reading this, we love you, and we can’t wait for you to get a mouthful of this goodness.

So, friends, neighbors, and fellow humans, I’ll give more details of our journey and lessons and failures going forward, as well as other non-cookie related thoughts.

But for now, I’ll be delivering your cookies and sending them to USPS, with nothing but deliciously joyful thoughts and prayers and love that will show up at your doorstep. It’s not a hug, but it might be better.

Because, you know, when times are bitter, sometimes all you need is something sweet.

If you want to check us out, you can find us at www.cleancookieco.com and @cleancookieco on Facebook and Instagram.

Lots of love,
John and Rachel


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You’re rich

Do you feel like you have something to prove? I do sometimes.

I feel that urge to let people know that I’m doing ok; I’m successful; I’ve done something; I’m special. But why?

Comparing ourselves to others is a killer. It kills our joys, our happiness, our richness.

But I hope you free yourself from that, friends. I hope you see that life is more than how much crap you can put into your homes, more than your titles, net worth and where you lie on the imaginary comparison chart you place yourself and others.

Just because you have a lot of money, homes, wealth, doesn’t mean you’re rich. Having a lot doesn’t mean you have healthy relationships, wellbeing, wellness, character. Often the best of life gets eroded by the pursuit of more.

See, the secret to happiness is contentment.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t have dreams, or try to do better, or succeed. You should.

But when you start looking around and comparing yourself, or scrolling down your newsfeed and wondering what it would be like to be so and so, that’s the problem. You’re always one scroll away from feeling life poor.

You might have reached great heights and attained riches, but still feel poor. And the act of comparison is the fastest way to dive into that dingy hole of feeling impoverished.

Because there will alway be someone doing “better” than you. Whatever “better” means.

Instead you need to focus on your life and enjoy what you have. More than that, you can be grateful, or, even, celebrate where you are.

You decide how rich you feel. And when you know that, you won’t need to prove anything.

Your contentment is proof of how good you have it.


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The Best Thing About Our Baby Having a Cleft Lip and Palate

Our son was born with a birth defect called a cleft lip and palate.

This happens when the lip and roof of a baby’s mouth doesn’t fully close up in the womb creating a gap, thus the “cleft.”

During almost all of the pregnancy, we went about our lives completely unaware of it.

Finding About the Cleft

We were so excited to have another child, and with each passing day, the excitement grew. And around 36 weeks, we were ready to pop emotionally and physically. But something strange started to happen.

My wife experienced mild contractions, but not enough for labor. We were surprised but not scared, at first. Then the contractions went on for days.

Alarmed, our midwives thought it could be the placenta blocking the birth canal, which was scary. So they rushed to get us an appointment for a full anatomy scan of the baby to see if that was the case. It wasn’t.

But the doctor found something else.

In the tiny examining room (in New York City most rooms are tighter than you think they should be), my wife could sense that the doctor was uncomfortable. Eventually she found the words to say, “Your baby has a cleft lip and palate.”

Cleft Conversation

I couldn’t be at the appointment but met my wife at the clinic so that we could walk home together. When I saw her there, she melted into tears. So I wrapped my arms around her and tried to provide some comfort.

Her reaction frightened me, and I asked her if the baby was ok. She said yes. But there was clearly more. Then she told me why she was so distraught.

And, after a moment, I said, “So, he’ll be like Joaquin Phoenix.”

She looked at me with a look that said: “What the #%*# are you talking about?” So to clarify, I said, “You know, the actor with the cleft lip; he’s famous,” and rattled off a couple of his better movies.

She ignored me. “I guess she wasn’t looking for clarity,” I thought.

Eventually, we walked out of the sterile clinic, hand in hand, bracing ourselves for the unknown as we plunged into the outer world.

Once we hit the streets, we prayed. It helped both of us.

Then we did the thing that she was dying to do—plan. Planning is my wife’s love language. So we talked through the scenarios and what we needed to do to find the best care we could and how we would go about it. I was already googling up physicians in NYC who specialized in this as we walked through Brooklyn on a chilly but sunny day. A course of action started or form as we made our way to the subway platform.

Everything started to feel ok again, when she said, “So. Joaquin Pheonix,” and smirked at me. “Yeah,” I said, as I googled him up and showed her a picture of him, “He’s a good looking dude, right?” She seemed to give an approving look. I said, “See. Our baby will be fine,” reassuring her.

Cleft Birth, at Home

A couple of days later, she went into labor. We weren’t sure if the baby was coming or not. But then something switched on, and it got real.

And all the while my wife was laboring, I held a hope that our baby didn’t have a cleft thinking there was a chance the doctor was wrong. But she wasn’t.

Twenty minutes later, our son was born, and it happened so fast that the midwives didn’t have time to arrive to make the birth. So my wife and I were alone (as we were for the first one).

He was healthy, but he had a full unilateral cleft lip and palate, which means his cleft was on one side and extended to the back of his mouth and up to his nostril.

I just wanted our son to be ok, healthy, “normal.” He was beautiful. But he was also different. He had a gap in his face.

Cleft Surgeon

Surgeries were also in his near future.

We had already researched all kinds of doctors, knowing who was the best and where they worked and reviewed their resumes and read all of the reviews and what so and so said about them in 2013. We talked to other parents of cleft babies and asked about their surgeons. We dug deep.

Then it was time to do interviews, which sounded like speed dating with surgeons. We set up meetings with our top three.

But after interviewing the first one, something clicked. He was confident, as all surgeons are. But more than that, he had a determination to provide the best outcome for his patients. And the postoperative pictures were amazing. Also, he specialized in cleft operations. It’s all he did. And somehow, there was even a twinge of humility in him. We liked him; and more importantly, we trusted him. So we canceled the other interviews because we didn’t need to look further. He was our guy.

Cleft NAM

The weeks that ensued were much harder than we thought they would be. It probably had to do with the fact that we were essentially shaping our baby’s face with a piece of acrylic, called a NAM.

Our baby basically needed a “retainer” for the gums, called a nasoalveolar molding (or NAM). It’s like that plastic contraption people wear on their teeth that an orthodontist will give them after they get out of braces. But our baby had that for his gums on his upper jaw (since newborns don’t have teeth).

He had to wear the NAM all day every day for the most part. And my wife and I (but mostly she) would fasten it to his face with surgical tape and rubber bands, the same ridiculously tiny ones used for braces. Every week my wife would go in to see the dentist so that he could adjust the NAM.

Our baby screamed a lot during that time because shaping a face with a big piece of acrylic in your mouth probably hurt him, or at least it was super annoying. So, like a banshee, he would rail at the top of his lungs. And for such a small human, he had a huge voice. And he would employ it for hours, sending us curling into a fetal position, feeling like we needed to vomit. It was hell.

There was also some screaming between my wife and me. I mean, having a newborn is hard enough with the lack of sleep and diapers and blowouts and making sure they’re gaining weight. Fights are bound to happen. But add the fact that your trying to pull one side of your son’s upper jaw to the other side to close a wide gap in his face is something else entirely. Babies cause stress. With the cleft, that was taken to another level. Sometimes we went nuclear.

But regardless of who was screaming and no matter how loud it was, we were grateful for the results. We knew that doing the NAM well would make a huge difference for the outcome of our child, so we wanted to overachieve here. And, Thank God, it worked.

After three months, the cleft shrank to a sliver.

Cleft Surgeries

But, nothing prepares you for letting your three month old baby go under the knife. The surgeries were planned. And the first one was scheduled. But we were terrified.

The lip and nose came first. Waiting for him to get out of the operation was terrible, but the transformation was astounding. After the swelling from the surgery went down and he started looking like our baby again instead of a boxer after fighting ten rounds, it almost looked like he never had a cleft. (These days, you can’t even see the scar.) It was amazing.

Then seven months later, right as the coronavirus started to ramp up in NYC, we had the palate surgery. To this day, I have no idea how the surgeon closed up the cleft on the roof of his mouth. One moment our baby had a gap on the top of his mouth. Then, later that same day, it was gone.

There was only one problem. It was agonizing for our baby. With stitching everywhere and raw flesh, it looked like the roof of his mouth was Frankenstein-ed together. It essentially was. And that meant pain. He was desperate for pain-killers, which we gave him. We agonized with him.

Cleft-less Future

But all of that is past us now.

And these days, what happened almost feels like a dream, a distant memory of some event that probably occurred. It could have been someone else. And the truth is, it is.

There are thousands of other families who go through a similar experience, and many aren’t able to get the kind of care we received.

So, I’m grateful. It makes us—my family and me—more compassionate. We can empathize with and have compassion for those who also have difficulties or circumstances that are worse than ours. All of this has softened our hearts and made us more aware how hard parenting can really be. Having a baby is a dangerous business. It can crush your heart. But it’s worth the risk.

Best of all, we are grateful that God gave us this baby. He’s special. He’s undergone a lifetime of pain before he’s even tasted his first birthday cake. Some of the experiences were awful, but they gave us perspective. And we are richer because of him and all of the moments we’ve had, good—and bad.

Before the birth of our baby, if you had told me that a birth defect could be a gift, I would have thought the idea ridiculous. But now, I know it’s not.

We are blessed: We have a son who looks like Joaquin Phoenix. 😉

This is Cleft Awareness Week. And this is our story of having a cleft baby.

Love to you all.


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You Are Blessed Today

Each day is a blessing.

If the virus has taught us anything it is to appreciate the fundamental things in life, the essential, like life itself.

If you’re breathing, that’s good. It’s great. Your lungs work as they should. You’re not on a respirator fighting to catch a tiny breath, feeling like your drowning without a drop a water around you.

You’re alive. Right now. You’re healthy (I hope). If you’re not, you’re still fighting and have a chance to recover, stay alive—live.

This day is a blessing. It’s a gift. You get to experience it. You get to wake up, walk, sip on coffee, taste a morsel of food, shower, read—hope.

We may not have all we want. But we have our lives.

We have today.


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Get things done when working from home (even with kids)

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Working from home can sound fantastic, with all of that freedom and no commute, but it’s not always easy.  Sometimes it can feel impossible. But it’s not. 

Yes, you get to roll out of bed and be at your desk in a couple of steps without even needing to put a shred of clothing on to make a living, which is glorious, in theory. But getting out of bed to get to your desk across the room can be a challenge.

And there aren’t the usual social motivators and interactions that we get in an office, like other people looking busy in their cubicles, serendipitous meetings, or random water cooler conversations. Working from home can be lonely, especially if you live alone.

If you have kids, you may not have enough aloneness. No, you have constant distractions throughout the day. Not that you don’t love your children. You do. But they do have an amazing knack for yanking your attention away from your work when you’re all at home, say, during a pandemic. 

Even before the “shelter in place” order was given, I have been working from home for years and love it, even with our two lovely and very active boys. 

But I need little hacks and tricks to make it work well and help me be more productive.

Here they are. 

Abuse your calendar 

Schedule what you will be doing every day, all day. Seriously.

Use your calendar—hard. When will you be at your desk producing? For how long? When will you have that call with that client, your coworker? When will you eat lunch? Mark it all down. 

Doing this is the digital version of having social expectations except you’ve put it on your online calendar. Doing that gives you just a bit of accountability, at least to yourself. 

If you need that extra boost of fuel, share the calendar with others. It doesn’t need to be with your boss or coworkers. An outspoken friend will do. You know, the one who will call you out and FaceTime you just to make sure you’re at your desk when you said you would be. 

Set better goals 

We often set goals like “get work done,” but that’s not specific enough to be helpful, especially when you’re at home where it’s like the Wild West of working and anything goes because there’s no one watching. So setting the right kind of goals is critical to your success.  

First, you should note what task you want to accomplish or what project you want to start and how much of it, broken into smaller tasks, you want to complete during a block of time in the day. Doing that will revolutionize the way you think about how you spend your time. 

Second, don’t make big goals; make them small and bite-sized, something you can accomplish in an hour or two. Don’t make them aspirational so it’s a challenge to accomplish them. No.

Make them easily accomplishable. That way, you won’t get demoralized and you will feel and be productive.

You’ll be surprised by how much this will increase your productivity.  

Get the bed out of you

Some of us have a hard time getting out of bed. It just happens.

If that’s you, you don’t just need to get out of bed, but you need to get the bed out of you. You need create the social pressure that will break that habit and start a new one.  So do this.

Schedule early morning phone or video calls. 

If there’s a coworker or client or friend that you need to talk to, schedule a video call with them at the beginning of the day.

That will get you out of bed, because no one wants to look like a schlep buried under their duvet with bed head in a professional context. That will force you to at least look presentable from your waist up. 

Sometimes, there’s nothing like embarrassment to get our bodies out of bed. 

For a less shame-driven method, ask your partner or that outspoken friend, from earlier, to make sure you’re up. And you should consider sharing your calendar with them. 

Take breaks 

If you’re a person who loves to work, that’s great. But sometimes it can be to our detriment. 

There are times when you just need to take a minute and relax. You know, do nothing, stare out the window, listen to music, drool, call a friend. Put it in your calendar: “Drool, 2:30pm to 3:00pm.” It can be for an hour or just half that. But do it. 

It replaces the random water cooler conversations and gives our mind’s the reboot that it needs. It’s the breather that provides us the energy to attack our work with a refreshed mind, a new lens, renewed vigor. 

Noise-canceling headphones 

Good headphones are a must, especially if you have a family. Really. 

I love my children but sometimes they are loud. They like to bang on things and run up and down the halls—and SCREAM. And, with schools canceled for who knows how long, any extra tool that helps me focus and get into a flow state is gold. 

These are the headphones I use (affiliate). They are 24 karats of pure goodness. I’ve tested almost all of the other ones and these have the best sound and noise-canceling quality. 

If you’re not a listening-to-music-while-you-work type of person, that’s great. Don’t play music on them when you work. These headphones will give you the silence-is-golden-space you seek.

The noise-canceling feature is magical: They shut out all external sounds, making you feel like you’re on some serene mountaintop with Buddha doing downward dog with him next to a blossoming cherry tree. Really. 

Set your kids’ expectations

It sounds cruel to tell your kids that you need to do work and can’t be disturbed, but it’s actually good for them. 

Our eldest is in kindergarten and he’s insatiably curious and extremely social. We cherish him for it. 

But when I need to work, those characteristics we appreciate aren’t very conducive for me working. He wants to ask me questions about what I’m doing. He wants my attention. He wants to hang out, even when I have my golden noise-canceling headphones on (which don’t block out his tapping on my shoulder, by the way).

So I talk to him about work and let him know that when I have my headphones on, Daddy is trying to focus on something. It’s not a one-time conversation, but it happens far less now. 

We also gave him his own work, which includes writing and reading and math lessons that he does while mommy and daddy tend to their tasks. 

Closing thoughts about working from home

Many of you may be working from home for the first time. And it’s not easy to get into it in the beginning. But after you use some of these tools and figure out others that work well for you, it is one of the best ways to maximize your time and gain unparalleled freedom. 

Yes, these are extraordinary times. But they are also an opportunity to learn new skills and expand your ways of working. 

For more information about working from home, check out Remote: Office Not Required, a book about working remotely (affiliate). The founders of Basecamp, the project management tool, wrote it. They allow their entire team to live and work wherever they want. 

But no matter where you’re working, whether in cubical or in your undies at home, I hope you grow every day. 

And most importantly, stay safe and well. 

Lots of love,

John


 

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When you worry, think this

Daily bread. in worrying times, it’s what we need—everyday.

It’s less about food and more about frame of mind. It’s about shrinking your fear and growing your faith.

When we worry, stress, or fret about the present, the future, whether there’s a pandemic or not, daily bread sets our mind aright.

It keeps us focused on the present, the now. It’s resting on the fact that we have enough and that tomorrow will be provided for.

It is a Christian phrase that Jesus taught, reminding His followers that God provides and that they shouldn’t be concerned for tomorrow.

And I believe that.

But even if you don’t, the idea still has great use in your life.

It’s an image of contentment, being present in the moment and grateful. It’s a recognition that you have enough. It rejects fear-based living.

When our minds bend to the future, we get ourselves into trouble. That’s when worrying occurs, the restless “sleep,” the terrible nights, the nightmares.

I get it. I have it. It happened to me yesterday. In some ways it’s happening right now, like a low-range hum, just below the surface, humming.

You probably feel it too.

The world is on shaky ground right now. Isn’t it? It feels wobbly. Unsure. We’re in uncharted territories.

Daily bread. That’s what we need, you need.

Just because you have a savings account full of money, a home, food, toilet paper, doesn’t mean you’re not fretting.

Having resources doesn’t shelter you from worry. It finds you no matter how secure you look.

Or, maybe you find yourself in want, out of a job, needing food, you might feel guilt or shame. Don’t. Survive. Who cares what others might say if you take a handout. These are terrible times. Find your daily bread.

Whatever situation you are in. In need or not, we worry.

But in those moments, I hope you are able to see that daily bread is before you.

Take it each day from the table of life.

Feast on it now. And live.


To pass this time, I’m reading:

  1. Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It (affiliate): Top FBI negotiator, Chris Voss, shares his secrets and tactics of how he won negotiations in life and death situations so that we can negotiate everything from our salaries to getting our children to do what we want. I haven’t finished this yet, but it’s been an incredible read so far. His stories alone are worth the read. But the concepts are simple but awfully useful. This book is a great investment.
  2. The Great Gatsby (affiliate): Beauty—that’s why I read this book repeatedly. Fitzgerald, the author, paints spectacular pictures with words that stir the soul like an ocean breeze as you stand gazing at the sun dipping into the shimmering watery horizon. If you want to draw your mind away from anything awful, read this.
  3. The Four Loves (affiliate): Love is life. Yet, it’s so hard to define. Good thing C. S. Lewis does it for us in this seminal work that gives us a deeper understanding in this essential element of living so that we might all live better each and every day, with or without a pandemic.

Just because it’s scary outside, doesn’t mean we can’t cultivate beauty within. Books and beautiful words do that for us, friends. I hope you fill yourself with them.

Lots of love to you.

John

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True happiness can’t be bought

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The best things in life don’t come with a receipt.

But all of our lives we’ve been told—no, sold—that if we buy this or that thing we will be sexy, better, satisfied, happy. But it’s not true. We’ve been duped.

I remember going into stores and buying this or that article of clothing for my wardrobe, adding another sweater, button-down shirt, jeans, knowing full well that I would only be adding to piles of clothes that I already had and barely touched. But that didn’t matter.

What did matter was that I felt good after I bought it, for a bit. There was a buzz, a shot of happiness. But after a day or two, the buzzing ceased. I was just me again, with another shirt in my closet.

Then I stopped buying because I realized this.

Consumerism is a lie.

The truth is nothing you buy can fulfill you, make you whole, or delight you like the greater things in life.

Instead of purchasing things you don’t need, spend time practicing healthy habits, connecting with loved ones, doing meaningful work, learning, living relationally and spiritually rich lives.

Hug a loved one. Kiss your child. Laugh with a friend. Do missionary work. Read. Pray. Worship. Love.

No one lying on their deathbed regrets spending time with their family or living a life serving a mission greater than themselves or playing tag with their kid or seeking spiritual fulfillment.

Those moments can’t be purchased, but they are invaluable.

And anyone can have them.

It’s your choice.