Try That With Matt

Try that with Matt. 90-mile month.

February 14, 2017

I have an ongoing list of ideas for these monthly challenges with my brother. Some of the things are just a matter of time (a bar crawl in kayaks, coming this summer!), while others might never happen (backpacking through Ireland?). The point is their dreams … aspirations … wishes on stars that might actually be satellites. Now, obviously, sustaining this little project – 12 challenges a year – means the entire list can’t be all grand excursions and riding on elephants. We have to pepper in some practical for good measure. These vanilla additions are challenging, but achievable. Adventurous but local. Exciting but not as exhilarating as the biggies. So when my brother picked one of these “practical” items for the first month of the year, I was kind of, unintentionally, a turd about it.

January Challenge: Run 3 miles every day of the month. No excuses. No crying.

It could have been worse. I believe I actually had, “Complete a 100-mile month” on the list, so this was technically an improvement. We would be coming in around 90 miles (should have been 93, but we gave each other one pass). It was going to get real, and it wasn’t going to be fun, and it wasn’t going to be really fun.

**MATT**

Jon Sutherland – who holds the record for running on the most consecutive days – has completed at least one mile every single day for over 17,000 days in a row. That’s 45 years and 2 days, a number that will be outdated by the time you read this post. So, when I suggested we run 3 miles a day every day for 31 days in January, I thought it would be a piece of cake. I’ll spare you the suspense. It wasn’t.

In fact, it was whatever the polar opposite of cake is. Something awful, that smells bad. But despite the fact that it was a complete pain in the ass, now that it’s over, I can look back and say there was never a time I went for a run and didn’t feel like the reset button had been hit after. We all struggle to make time for ourselves, at least that seems to be the trend with myself and my peers that have children. We are all too busy shuffling our kids here and there, and staying after work, and grabbing things at the grocery, and cleaning our houses, that we end up with a million reasons why we can’t make it to the gym. And who can blame us?

I think that this is what I took away from the challenge this month; that I’m full of bullshit excuses. Did I drop some lbs and get in better shape? Yes. Oh, and I have to mention it just to piss my sister off, your boy was a “super user” at the Y for the month of January. You know this shit! (Didn’t see your name up there, DSS.) Yes, my party pants now fit a little looser so I don’t have to worry about them splitting when I am out there on the dance floor dropping it like it’s hot, or … Oh, wait … I’m 39…. I mean I don’t have to worry about my Levis splitting up the crotch when I am squatting down to check out the soft batch cookies on sale. But even more than all that, I realized that we can ALL make time for ourselves if we really want to. And it’s important.

Going to the gym is not being selfish. It’s just taking 30-60 minutes for yourself to set a good example for your kids and for you to get that healthy release so when you do go home you don’t unload your stress on your family. We are all guilty of it. We all have shitty days when we don’t want to go workout, we don’t want to cram one more thing in. We just want to stuff our fat faces with chocolate chip cookies the consistency of pillows and watch 20 episodes of The Office. And it feels good for a second, but 20 minutes later, when you are doing dishes, laundry, etc., and you’re so filled with stress it’s exploding out of your beard hair holes, guess what … someone’s ass is getting yelled at. Then you feel like an asshole. A cookie-eating asshole. Because you know they didn’t really deserve it. And you know if you would have just taken your fatass to the gym, you could have avoided the whole verbal beat down.

We all struggle with the same things, even though we feel alone. You let yourself go and don’t want to feel judged going back to the gym. You’re unsure of how to use equipment. One of the hardest things for me is the voice in my head telling me to grab the chips and the remote. But you have to squash those thoughts and take care of you! Nobody is judging you and people are always happy to help if you just ask. And guess what, after you workout, you don’t want the chips anyway.

You only get one go at this life and you don’t want to spend it sitting on your ass, do you? You don’t have to run every single day for 31 days, but challenge yourself to get to the gym or get a workout in each day, and see what it does for your attitude or how it motivates the people around you. This challenge has helped kick start my cardio workouts again, I know that. I was in a funk for the past year where all I did was work and make excuses why I couldn’t get to the gym. It is so easy to give up on goals, but you know what feels even better than sitting on the couch and relaxing? Unleashing that inner beast you have been hiding under excuses! Anyone can quit, but who wants to be just anyone? Not me.

Note: Do not ask DSS to be your gym buddy if you decide on a consecutive run challenge, we just started talking again the beginning of February. Good job, Sis! Love you!

**ME**

I don’t know how many times he told me, reminded me, that this was technically my idea. It takes a special kind of jackass – my kind, apparently – to propose 31 days of running in a row. Hank and I had company on New Year’s Day and I knew right away this was going to be a bitch. I didn’t want to run. It was the first day of the challenge. I’d been in a dark place during a Try That with Matt before, I mean these can’t all be fun, but unlike the spin class at the asscrack of dawn after a night of drinking, this one was a slow burn.

I always have something to say, this you know by now, but I don’t have much to say for this one. There were points where I was literally angry with Matt for picking it. How messed up is that? I was projecting my disappointment in my physical ability and lack of positivity onto that poor innocent old man.

“Are you avoiding me?” he asked.
“Ugh, kind of.” I said, ashamed.
“I can tell! I feel it.”

It only made it worse that he seemed to be loving it. Loving it! Running! Every day! Every stupid day. It was like he was having some sort of life-altering realization and I was just trying to draft behind him for survival.

**Random interjection**

Speaking of, the Grammy’s are on in the background as I write this. Does anyone else feel emotionally inadequate when they watch Beyonce perform? Her style of musical storytelling leaves me bewildered at times. Like, I know I should be feeling something very deeply but I’m not 100 percent sure what those feelings are exactly. Oh, it’s women empowerment … wait, wait, it’s forgiveness … no, I think it’s about looking like my mom and thanking her for offering me her womb? Oh God, Oh God! The chair is tipping back, you guys! The chair, is tipping, back. OK, she’s down. Phew! I mean, she’s badass, regardless. It’s all just a little confusing for me personally.

**End of random interjection**

Every day we would exchange proof of mileage. I would typically go in the mornings and send him a snapshot of the watch I use to track laps. It takes 27 laps to equal 3 miles. Yes, 27 laps. But it’s OK, you guys, because every other day they make you switch directions. So, I had that going for me. Matt would go in the evenings, so I’d get a pic of the panel on his sweat-soaked treadmill. I always picture the people on the machines next to him squinting and holding up their hands as his perspiration pounds them like a Hummer through a spring puddle. He kept getting faster and faster. I, on the other hand, seemed to be dragging as the days went by.

And I hurt everywhere. I read this article recently about how running just one mile every day was proven to increase mental clarity, creativity and physical longevity. Yeah, maybe. Maybe one mile a day feels a lot different than three. Cuz three hurt. My achilles was tighter than harp strings. My hamstrings were harder than an old man’s beer belly. My lower back ached, the bottoms of my feet were tender and I just felt, generally, like a broken old fart.

It wasn’t all bad, I guess. There was an unseasonable break in the weather and I did a few runs outside. That’s so much better for my soul. I love checking things out, listening to my music. But, no, for the most part I was a miserable, cranky turd for the entirety of the month. Remember, I was simultaneously Whole30-ing, so while Tons of Fun could run and then murder a 2-pound meatloaf burger (That really happened. I know, because I gave it to him.), I was chasing my miles with plantain tortillas and 5,000 avocados. The whole thing, for me, was just really brutal. I’d never been happier for freaking February in my life.

Onto the next …

Wanderlust

It’s Tampa bay for this buccaneer

February 9, 2017

I love my husband.

I do.

You won’t find a better human walking this earth. But homeboy is one lucky son of a biscuit that my love language isn’t gifts.

In our 15 years together, he’s gifted me on various birthdays, anniversaries, Christmases and Valentine’s Days with such treasures as a rubber ducky from his school bookstore, long underwear (a few times), a mini muffin pan and, most recently, Microsoft Office. Now that’s not to say he hasn’t had some real winners in there, too. He has. But none sexier than Excel. I mean … you guys, merging cells, sorting, formulas …

And here I am giving him lemons like this:

“Why didn’t he just say it out loud?” a coworker and mutual friend asked.
“Huh?”
“You should always say things like that out loud. ‘I got my wife Microsoft Office for her birthday.’ I feel like he would have done things differently.”

Every holiday is caked in suspense. What will he come up with next, I wonder. He’s a thinker, my husband, and he lives in a literal world. It’s part of what I love about him.

So, this year, on Christmas morning, when he excitedly handed me a small cardboard box and told the girls Mama was going to open “the one,” I immediately started running through the possibilities in my head. An attachment for the Kitchenaid? A bug net? A set of encyclopedias? No. It was a foam airplane. Taped to the bottom of the box was a picture of me and my friend, Nissa.

“Oh, is Nissa coming here?” I asked.
“No, you’re going there.”
“What?!”
“In February.”
“I am?!”
“Yes.”
“But, I’ve never flown by myself …”
“It’s a direct flight. Really easy.”
“But … oh my gosh!”
“Well, I asked the girls what we should get you and JoJo said, ‘Mom needs a break,’ so we decided to send you away for a weekend.”

Does this make my child incredibly observant and sensitive to others, or has all of my bitching and yelling over her seven years of life resulted in her recognizing my borderline psycho personality, thus prompting her to suggest shipping me off? I’m still not sure.

I immediately picked up my phone. I wasn’t sure if the time was different in Florida. I wasn’t thinking clearly.

“I’m coming to Florida!” I messaged.
“I know! Are you excited?!” Nissa replied.
“Yeah! I just can’t believe it!”

I thought I’d seen every play in Hank’s playbook, but this was entirely unexpected. One of my resolutions was “less things and more experiences,” so my old man’s yuletide treat was right on time. But I was admittedly nervous.

“Your mom and brother told me you’d hate it.” Hank said.
“Really?”
“Yeah. They said you’d feel guilty and hate the travel.”
[both true.]
“Oh, gosh, no I love it.”
[also true.]

How does a woman go 34 years without taking one of the most popular forms of long-distance transportation alone, you ask? I don’t know. I mean, I’ve just always had someone with me. And I prefer it that way. You might recall I have special eyes, so navigating the unfamiliar can be tricky. I also have another disorder I don’t talk about much. Chickenshitosis. I’m often frightened by things that are generally completely harmless and part of being a grownup.

The weeks passed quickly, as all weeks do after your third child, and soon I was packing my carry on for my long weekend in Tampa.

A bit about Nissa. I know this pretty gal from the Sunshine State through my previous employer. After my first day on the job, I went home and told my husband that there was a girl about my age, but I didn’t think she was necessarily interested in making friends. Turned out, she was just monotoned! We grew close as crossed eyes pretty quickly. She was the graphic designer. I was the copywriter. We pitched a blog and then spent months taking trips where we found creative ways to expense food crawls around New York City (“It’s what our target demographic would do!”) and attending conferences with castmates from Laguna Beach and the likes of Rachel Zoe.

After about four years collaborating during work hours and bonding over Bachelor finales in our free time, Nissa told me she was moving back to her home state. I hated Florida for a hot second. She came in for a visit shortly after I had Sloppy Joan, but that was it,aside from emails and SnapChats, for years. In fact, she had a whole child in the time that passed since our last meeting. She became a mommy. And has another on the way.

The most important thing to know about Nissa is she loves food. This Scandanavian can throw down on some grub, lemme tell ya. If I had to pick someone to plan my last meal on this planet, and I got absolutely no say in it, I would pick Nissa. She’s the girl who knows which restaurant specializes in sardines three ways and which one makes pasta strictly from the hair of angels, and so on. I’ve gone on at least six trips with her that I can think of off the top of my head, and she picked the restaurants we dined at in every single city. She never misses. She started sending links to restaurants about 3 weeks out. I couldn’t wait.

I arrived in Tampa without incident Friday afternoon. It’s always so surreal when you set eyes on someone you haven’t seen in awhile. Like your pupils have to adjust to their familiar face. Not surprisingly, she told me we were heading to South Tampa for tacos and margaritas (just for me, because, you know … bun, oven) at bartaco.

“Do you want to sit outside?”
“Yes!” Always yes. I had left 32-degree days behind me and I wasn’t about to stare at the sun through a window.

We got some magical combination that included spicy cucumbers, a special slaw, 6 tacos, 2 tamales and guac with giant tortilla chips. I also treated myself to a pomegranate margarita. While we dined al fresco, catching up and reveling in the fact we were sitting across from each other, my sweet friend informed me she was waiting to hear if she got a new house. She did. We found out around the time we polished off the guacamole.

This was cause for celebration! (Not that we needed cause.)

We left lunch and hit two sweet spots in less than an hour. Don’t show up if you can’t keep up, OK? There was an adorable new gourmet ice pop shoppe across the street, The Hyppo. Prego went for salted chocolate and I picked up an avocado coconut option that belonged in my belly. It was heavenly. I swallowed it entirely within 3 minutes. My popsicle partner, however, was multitasking. I watched, amused, as she held hers in her mouth and texted her mortgage broker. It would melt and drip. She’d curse. Then she’d put it back in her mouth to send a new text and the insanity would repeat. Don’t waste it! Was what felt right to say at the time.

Next stop? Sprinkles … but these were for later. We aren’t wild animals! We opted for Dark Chocolate Banana for Nissa, Maple Bacon for her hubs, and a Chocolate Marshmallow for me. It was 70-something degrees and times were good.

We stopped by her new digs for some proper surveillance of the situation. The house was beautiful. One thing I find amazing about Florida architecture is how much it differs from house to house. You’ve got your beach bungalows, you’ve got your Spanish colonial revivals, you’ve got your modern mansions, you’ve got your Georgian-style homes. Dare I say I even saw Tudors! It’s all just hangin’ out … mingling. I mean, I like it. There aren’t pockets necessarily. It’s just a giant junk drawer of kickass houses.

Just when I couldn’t take the waiting anymore, we went to pick up Nissa’s little girl. She was cuter in person than in the 9 trillion SnapChats I’d seen her in before that day. There’s a magic in seeing a friend as a mom for the first time. It’s like all of the sudden you feel this energy of shared struggles and consuming love for your little nuggets. And it’s beautiful. Nissa used to stay at our house occasionally and JoJo always wanted to sleep with her. She would play with the girls and dance with the girls. She threw me a baby shower when Spike was on her way. She was an honorary aunt made of all the best stuff. So seeing her here, now, with this towheaded toddler made my heart swell.

Saturday morning brought breakfast and nail painting. I slapped some polish on my new little friend’s tiny fingers and took her on laps around the pool so they could dry in the sun. The funny thing about people who live in Florida, is they forget how delightful the sun is. As soon as it appeared, I was like a poodle at the back door. I couldn’t wait to get to it. The warmth on my skin was like sloppy angel kisses. I turned my face toward the glow and soaked in the soothing heat with my new petite sweetheart.

Nissa and her husband Alexis have a boat (name TBD). Their neighborhood connects to a channel so getting to the bay is a breeze. Right before we left their house to ship out, at the very last minute, I decided to throw my bathing suit on, just in case. Nissa packed up some Trader Joe’s truffle cheese and beverages and we made our way out onto the brilliant blue water.

Now, I’m from lake country. We have our boats tied to docks and we take those boats out for a couple of counter clockwise laps around the modestly sized body of water a few times before we tie the boat back up to the dock. When your boat goes into water that feeds into an ocean, there are no laps. We could have sped across the surface forever. We parked for a bit in the bay and broke out the snacks. I had a beer and a glass of wine, while the little one stuffed handfuls of truffle cheese into her mouth. Seagulls came. They told their friends and more seagulls came. I started to feel a twinge of pee moving in.

There were two pregnant women on the boat – Alexis’s sister and husband came along – so I figured it was only a matter of time before someone had to relieve themselves and I could see how it was done here. But no one said a word. We decided to cruise some more. As the shoreline got farther and farther away, my bladder started to scream. We hit bumps, I squeezed every muscle from the waist down. We turned, I clenched. As soon as the deafening noise of the motor went to a whisper, I mouthed to Nissa that I was moments from pissing myself.

“Oh no!” she offered. “Alexis, we have to pull over!”

But we couldn’t just pull over. We were right next to a bridge that was also a highway. And boats were coming up quickly behind us.

For 15 additional agonizing minutes, as we coasted to calmer waters, I battled the urge to just succumb and turn on the faucet. As soon as we reached the canal, I knew the hour was upon me. I darted to the rear end of the boat – nearly taking out Nissa’s pregnant sister-in-law – put my feet on the ladder off the back and let my butt kiss the water’s surface. There, in the Tampa bay, in front of million dollar condos, a pair of people I’d met only hours before, a boat full of old fishermen and my sweet host family, I proceeded to pee for no less than 10 straight minutes. All I could think was A) This would be mortifying if it didn’t feel so damn good, and B) Thank God I put my suit on. No one knew where to look. It was the best of times and the worst of times.

We got home in time to get cleaned up for our lady date. We were putting on makeup and we were going to eat somewhere fancy. We went to edison in South Tampa. If I could actually describe the pork belly BLT appetizer and peanut butter dessert we had there and come even close to doing it justice, I would. But I can’t. You’d just have to taste them. Aside from the bomb ass dinner, we did get a show as well. I don’t know what it was about the table behind us, but it was just full of characters. First up … a couple who was beyond interested in my Korean Chicken and Waffles entree.

“Oh, look at that … she got the chicken and waffles.” the woman said, less than one foot away from me.
“Oh man, that does look amazing,” her partner added for good measure.
“Is that a sauce on there? That’s a sauce on there.”
“It looks so interesting. I bet it’s good.”
“What kind of sauce do you think that is, hon? A sweet sauce? A spicy sauce? I wonder …”
“I don’t know, hon! Sure looks wonderful.”

This went on for a few minutes until I finally turned around, smiled, and said, “I know, I’m pretty excited about it, too.” And they felt satisfied.

At some point, this duo parted and a new pair entered the scene. I don’t know what sparked their argument (I thought I heard him say “sister”?) but the newcomers behind us got into the biggest, ugliest, most brutal fight. She tried to get up and leave, he convinced her to stay and what followed was the most tense series of photobombs in history. (See examples below).

It was a treat sitting in a restaurant, out of our sweatpants, catching up about her trip to Italy, our marriages and our goals. I text and email Nissa regularly, but nothing can replace the lost art of face-to-face chatting with a great girlfriend. It was one of my favorite parts of the trip.

Sunday funday! We went to Ulele in downtown Tampa. Because we are about eating all of the things, I will tell you that I had a beet and pear salad with whipped goat cheese that changed something in my mouth permanently. I then murdered two lobster rolls and polished it all off with maple and bacon ice cream that was coated in cornflakes. If you’re thinking, “That sounds good,” you would be damn right. It was. It all was.

We left to take little Miss to the splash pad next door to the restaurant. The water was straight-from-the-hose cold, and homegirl wasn’t feelin’ it. The sun was relentless, beating down on my reflector-white forearms. I knew I was burning, but I just didn’t care. We took the long way home, down Bayshore Dr., and I enjoyed my zen-like vacation high.

Even more so than deciding who gets to square dance with Ryan Reynolds, the truest test of friendship is whether your girlfriend is willing to get up at 5:20 in the morning and take you to the airport. Mine was, and she did. It was dark and chilly and, knowing my flight anxiety, she even offered to come in and usher me to the right line. “No, Mom, I should be able to figure it out.” I felt turdy for being so scared to get to my gate.

We hugged. Twice. And I felt some hot tears tapping on the back of my broken eyes. Time for takeoff.

I had been reading “Becoming Odyssa: Adventures on the Appalachian Trail” for the first part of my trip, but decided to switch to “The Universe Has Your Back” by Gabrielle Bernstein for the flight back. I read almost the entire thing, which, let’s be real, when was the last time you ever sat down and just read an entire book, cover to cover? “I can’t remember,” said every mom ever.

The premise of the book, and I’m paraphrasing here, is that ultimately you get back what you put out into the universe. If you look at the universe as your teacher rather than this thing you want to control, but can’t, you’ll be in much better shape when it comes to facing fear and uncertainty. I found it incredibly timely considering my current Facebook feed. Come at things from a place of love, not fear, and you will see change in your life, and in the climate around you. It was a really good read. I’ll get into it more down the road maybe. The ironic part was I was trying so hard to zen out and get into the Spirit Junkie vibes, but the woman in the middle seat was breathing her morningness all over me. It was a difficult mental exercise.

I landed and got my luggage without incident. Hello, world! I am a grownup now! On the way home, I stopped at the grocery to pick up a few things and smirked at how naturally we fall back into our roles. I stepped off the plane and right back into my mom jeans … I mean Toms … I mean … something cool that moms wear.

I have to say thank you to Hank and JoJo for treating me to this mini break. Thank you, sweet girl, for recognizing that I am human and that I work hard. Thank you, Hank, for showing our chicks what a supportive spouse really looks like. I can only hope they end up with a partner as exceptional and practically perfect as mine.

Wheels up! (That’s something people who fly a lot say.)

Wellness

A whole lotta Whole30 fun

February 3, 2017

That’s a wrap on Whole30 round No. 4!

It always feels bittersweet at the end of these little resets. Like, I’m so relieved I don’t have to carry emergency food in my purse and cook ALL OF THE THINGS, but also so concerned about what happens when I drop the reins and give myself some food freedom again. You have the best of intentions to ease in, go 90/10, but then one evening you wake up delirious face down in a plate of Texas Roadhouse cheese fries with ranch up to your elbows. It gets away from ya that fast.

Every time I do a Whole30, I get the same two comments/questions: 1) I don’t think I could do that, and 2) So, then what?

Let’s address these.

I don’t think I could do that.
Yes you could. You really could. People get their panties in a pinch over hearing the word “no” so many times consecutively, but simply put, the Whole30 guidelines specify you must eat real food for 30 days. This means no sugar, no alcohol, no grains, no legumes, no dairy, no carrageenan, sulfites or MSG, no corn and no processed crap. It means you’re going to be gettin down on a lot of eggs, meat, nuts, seeds, healthy fats, fruits and veggies. This is not a tragedy, folks. It’s really just doing what you should always do, which should be easy but isn’t at all because, it turns out, “food” in our country is in kind of a sad state.

The secret, I’ve found, is in the cooking. And let’s just say it, it is so much freaking cooking. If you can’t use a food processor or chop produce like a boss, you will not survive. If you don’t like meal planning, you will not survive. If you don’t like doing dishes, you will survive (it just blows). It’s kind of like having a newborn; You live on a 2-hour cycle. You prep the breakfast, eat the breakfast, clean up the breakfast, prep the lunch, eat the lunch, clean up the lunch, prep the dinner, eat the dinner, clean up the dinner. Go to bed, start over. The first time we did a Whole30, I took some epic missteps in regard to meal choices. Ones that haunt me to this day. I remember one night I just threw a pan with a pile of shit on it in the middle of the table, cried and told Hank not to eat it because I was pretty sure it was poison. It was a little Pinterest lie called “pizza with cauliflower crust” if memory serves.

But now, four rounds in, I’ve developed quite a repertoire. I can do things with a bag of almond meal, carton of eggs and pound of bananas that would make you– I don’t know where I was going with that … Anyway, this time, I checked the official Whole30 Cookbook out of the library. It was legit. Its pages were packed with game changers like Crispy Spicy Turkey over Cauli Rice and the like. We kicked things off on January 3 with the Curry Turkey Meatballs with Roasted Potatoes, Cauliflower and Kale, and we ended on February 1 with the same dinner. When you find something that works, hold onto it and serve it up as many times as you can for sanity’s sake.

The funny thing is, the food is really good. After your taste buds are revived from the 11-month waterboarding they’ve been served by sodium- and sugar-drenched deliciousness, a meager strawberry suddenly dances on your reinvigorated tongue. Roasted vegetables are inviting. Cashews are silky. It’s amazing what real food can do when you take all the crap away and just let it do it’s natural thang.

For whatever reason, I didn’t detox quite as hard this time around. In the past, it felt like I had the flu. I’d be exhausted, pale, sweaty and down with a throbbing headache for much of the first week. Am I pregnant? I thought. Maybe mono? Oh, no, that’s just me coming off sugar. Although, in my body’s defense, I’m pretty sure my consumption rivals that of the rats they use to test whether candy or heroine is more addictive. It’s up there. So my withdrawals might be magnified a bit. This time, however, I think my body was begging for the cleanse so hard it decided not to put up much a fight.

The benefits are the same, but a little different, every time we do this. This time, it was the sleep. I was like a bear in the Smokies. It was so good, I almost always got 8 hours. I’d get horizontal and my body just automatically signed off for the night. It was a beautiful thing. I felt clear-headed and alert and loved the sustained energy.

Another bonus, Hank and I discovered the best fruit flavor combination on earth. Stuff a red grape into the cavity of a red raspberry and just put my thank you card in the mail. I’ve often wondered if it’s really that good, or just that good because fruit is the equivalent of Ben & Jerry’s when you aren’t having sugar, but I think it’s really truly that good.

But that’s not to say it was all roses and smooth BMs. Here are three of my favorite journal entries from the journey …

Day 13 (Clearly in the anger phase)
I want to scream. I am doing all of this planning and cooking and shit and I asked my husband to do one thing – set out chicken breasts to thaw – and I get home, get all the shit chopped up and guess what? Frozen freaking chicken boobs. One thing! One thing!

(Sorry Hank.)

Day 18
I vomited in the sink. My body put up a stop sign to sweet potato, egg and avocado. There can be no more.

Day 19
We went to Matt’s to watch the playoff games. I thought I was prepared. I made Nom Nom Paleo wings and banana-coconut “cookies” and whipped coconut cream with strawberries. But it was no match for the smell of queso and enchiladas. Damn him! Damn him. We held strong though. This is a bitch.

So, then what?
Well, I’ll be the last person to tell you I have harnessed the true power of Whole30. I followed the blog Kale and Cigarettes throughout our journey, as the writer and his wife were going through their first round. He wrote a lot about the anger that comes with not necessarily knowing the end game. As in, what if I bought all these weird ingredients and cooked my ass off every day and turned down beautiful, glistening donuts for nothing? What if nothing changes? What if I don’t change? What if I just go back to my old ways and learn nothing? I brought this up to Hank the other night as we were driving back from a wedding.

“I feel so good,” I said.
“Yeah.”
“But, I feel like we need to figure out the long game here.”
“Yeah.”
“Like, I love the short-term benefits, but what changes am I really making based off the reset?”
“Right.”
“I need to find a way to carry some of the momentum over.”
“Yeah.”

I mean, the truth is I eat on autopilot. Like gross autopilot.

Mindful eating is a thing. A very real, very useful thing. And I can’t do it. I can’t. I recently sat in on a video shoot on the topic, and I tell ya, it made so much sense in theory. In between takes, I told the instructor, “I mean, I eat on autopilot. Or at least, I’m distracted. I’d assume that’s the same thing. I’m so concentrated on making dinner, and then the walls my girls are coloring on as I’m chopping, frying and roasting, and then on getting their plates made, and then on what they’re not eating and then on disciplining at the table and then on clearing it all and then starting the dishes, and then bath time. In the noise of that process, sometimes I can’t even remember if I ate, let alone gave much thought to how I was doing it.” He just nodded. Because I am not unique in this struggle and all I had to do was shut up, listen to everything he said, and observe a brief moment of gratitude before my meals.

It doesn’t help that things like chocolate-covered almonds with sea salt and long Johns just seem to jump from counters, cabinets and kids plates into my welcoming mouth hole. It’s that 30 seconds. The initial smell and sight. If I can get through that 30 seconds, I’m good. Think about how brief a taste of something is. Some things, not many, are worth it. There’s this new place in town everyone’s talking about that makes ice cream sandwiches with fresh-baked donuts for buns. I’m thinkin’ that’s worth it.

No matter how many times we do this and no matter how many times it’s happened before, it always amazes me how some people just have to salt your game. If you aren’t drinking, aren’t having dessert, aren’t giving yourself a pass, people just can’t stand not commenting on it. The pressure is so ridiculous. And then you feel like you have to justify what you’re buying, eating and using to make your own body go. If I’m shoving something down your pie hole against your will, please feel free to engage me. Otherwise …

So, here we are.

I haven’t really answered the second question because I guess the answer is I can’t really answer it. I guess what comes next is my best effort. Every time I adjust my diet and become more food aware, I learn something. I learn what my body feels like when I feed it shit, and what it feels like when I’m a clean machine.

We’re done for now and I lost a little bit of weight, got a lot of great sleep and found some great new recipes. But, of course, I’ll spend the next week analyzing how I could have done better. I could have exercised more, I could have relaxed on the dried fruit. But perfection is so boring.

If you ever try a Whole30, here are a few you don’t want to miss …

Slow Cooker Korean Grass Fed Short Ribs from Nom Nom Paleo

I had a friend who spoke of these ribs and I didn’t listen. Then, one day I did. And I hated myself for all the opportunities I’d missed with these succulent little suckers throughout the years. About 15 minutes of prep and 7-9 hours in a slowcooker stand between you and a full mouthgasm.

Gluten, Grain, and Garbage Free Chick-fil-A Nuggets from The Domestic Man

Saved me with the chicks.

Plantain Tortillas from Eat Your Beets

OK, SWYPO is a very real threat with Whole30. These were my regular appointment with my trousers. I love these tortillas as buns for a bison burger, as shells for carnitas and, when things get really hairy, with almond butter and sliced strawberries.

*Honorable mention to everything in the Whole30 Cookbook

Kids

The push and the pull … and the push

January 19, 2017

When we pack up our sweet little popup and head out to commune with Mother Nature, it is 100 percent guaranteed that my children will sniff out and frequent two places: The playground, crawling with feral wilderness kids, and the camp store. And these chicks are con artists, I tell ya. They can hit up their PaPa for a 5 dollar bill like a Las Vegas hustler and have a Rocket Pop in hand before we’re backed in and level.

On our last trip for the season, the third visit to this particular park that year, the older girls started wearing a path in the pavement. They’d go around the same loop on their scooters, always stopping at the camp store for a minute before hopping on their Razors and racing back to the site. They’d done it so many times, I’d eased up on my strict surveillance of the situation. And anyway, I was doing laps myself, mom strutting behind Sloppy Joan as she strolled about on her tiny legs under a bright yellow canopy of leaves, pointing at every dog, fire and bug. It was what I imagine sloth poetry is made of.

After a 30-minute .5 mile, we came up to the camp store and my mother sitting perched just outside with her tiny white rat dog on her lap.

“Ummmmm …” she said.
“What?”
“I thought you were in the camp store.”
“No, I’m walking with Sloppy Joan. Should I be in the camp store?”
“Well, the girls went in there. I think they were going to buy something. I thought you were already in there.”
“Well, I’m not.”
“Right.”
“Right.”
“So …”
“So, I guess take Sloppy Joan and I’ll go check it out.”

I walked in and followed the intentional maze of tall wire shelves – past fridge magnets and Wiffle Ball sets and boxes of instant potatoes – until I reached the line. At the front of that line stood two little girls, their chins barely reaching the counter. The oldest, with her disheveled ponytail and Chick’s Rule sweatshirt, stood confidently as the middle one offered shaky support from just behind her, biting her top lip for comfort.

[Mom enters the scene.]

“Hey guys.” I said.
“Hi Mom,” JoJo sighed, knowing this put a damper on their hustle.
“So, whatcha got here?”

They had a lot of stuff, you guys.

Two candy bars, two packages of glow sticks, one notebook, one box of crayons and two, rather sizeable, stuffed animals. Dogs, if I remember correctly. I have no idea how long they’d been at the counter.

“It’s $33.50,” the irritated 17 year old with no children said to them (but looking directly at me).
“And how much money do you have, girls?” I asked.
“I have $5,” JoJo offered.
“So, if you have $5 to spend and $33.50 worth of toys and candy, what do you think you need to do?”
“Get more money?” JoJo proposed.
“Or, maybe, I was thinking … put some things back.”

Groans and those dreadful whines that announce the impending arrival of an actual, super-annoying cry started spilling out of child No. 1. My face was filling with the incinerating heat of extreme mortification. I turned to the gentleman behind us and, out of obligation and respect for the assault on his leisurely stroll to the friendly camping store to get coffee filters, mouthed a sincere, “I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine!” he said too kindly. “I love watching other people parent, and it’s a good lesson for them.” (I feel it’s vital to the story that I mention the dude looked like Jim Gaffigan.)

Two minutes later, we left the store with one candy bar, one package of glow sticks and one sour little camper. (Spike was fine. She, I deduced, was merely along for the ride.)

“What happened?” Mom pounced as we walked out.
“Oh, I’ll tell ya what happened. My children were trying to buy Christmas with a $5 bill and no parents. That’s what happened.”

She. Fell. Out.

I finally laughed, too.

Later, when I pulled JoJo aside to talk to her about the responsibility of carrying money and making smart purchases and always, always letting someone know where you’re going and what you’re doing, I realized that her frustration wasn’t just about the fact that I’d cockblocked the purchase of the one stuffed animal that brought her to an even 500. It was more about the embarrassment. She felt a false sense of confidence because she’d been to the store with me and now she just wanted to prove that she could be grown up, too. She could make a transaction. She knew what was going down.

Only, little bird, you don’t.

And thus the internal battle begins. I can appreciate the fact that she had the self confidence to walk into a store and do something “adult”. It’s amazing actually when you think about the fact that they had been casing the joint the whole time. And the last thing I want ever is to squelch my daughter’s spirit. But obviously certain things require supervision and guidance. She’s just in such a dang hurry to grow up, that one, always offering to cook dinner and watch the other kids. “You’re 7!” I want to scream. “Be my baby forever!”

It’s a tricky thing, instilling self-assurance in our kids. We want them to be carefree, but cautious. Capable but reliant. Brave but tentative. We tell them they can do anything in this world, as long as they let us hold their hands and take them there to do it. It’s a balance, I suppose, like everything. And it’s often necessary. I mean, my 7 and 5 year old clearly can’t be trusted to go off on their own with a sweaty handful of bills and a thirst for entertainment.

But even though I know it was the right one, my reaction on that day and in other situations, both before and after their Treat Yo Self 2016 binge, have me pondering some of the big motherhood questions. Am I standing back enough? Am I promoting independence and a sense of wonder? Am I flapping their hesitant wings with heavy hands, or am I teaching them to fly?

Seeking answers from within your social circle won’t help. Getting together with girlfriends is really just an exercise in self deprecation and unconditional acceptance. We shower our fellow soldiers in the comfort that they are doing the absolute best they can, and then solidify the support by immediately countering with a one-upper of a personal parental failure.

“You guys, I haven’t cooked a meal from scratch in 6 days.”
“That’s OK, I caught Susie eating a used Q-Tip out of the trash Tuesday night.”
“Oh, man … well, at least she’s eating. Henry only eats AirHeads and olive loaf.”
“I say give it to him. At least you’re feeding him. I forgot to make breakfast twice last week. Just plain spaced it.”
“It’s all good! I got mad at the boys for insulting my banana bread with a smiley face made out of chocolate chips in it, so I picked up the whole loaf, took it to my room, locked the door and ate the entire thing while I watched Breaking Bad and pretended to cry.”
“Awwww, you put a smiley face in it? You are such a good mom. I aspire to be the mom who makes food into faces. I was out of stationery this morning, so I wrote Desiree’s teacher a note about her eye drops on the back of a past due notice from the cable company.”
“But you’re communicating. Unlike my husband!”
And so on …
We can stop there.

If we’re really honest, none of us know what the hell we’re doing. And even if we did, sometimes it doesn’t matter anyway because the little shits have these minds of their own. The nerve. We spend all of our time with our kids pushing them and pulling them, and then second-guessing ourselves so we push them again. And then we leave them and spend the whole time dissecting what we did while we were with them. The bottom line is we just care too damn much.

Last weekend, Hank’s mom brought over some old photo albums. I flipped through as she squinted down at the snapshots and recounted old neighborhood buddies, the days they had no money, and injuries. Sooo many injuries. Stitches and staples and gashes galore. “I don’t know,” she said. “I guess because they were boys and because I never went anywhere, and because I left home and got married right away, I was just always like, ‘Go! Try it!’ and they got hurt sometimes. But it all worked out.”

After she left, I thought about how strictly I police the girls sometimes. (Not always. Because sometimes I watch Mad Men and “fold laundry”.) I can hover like a rescue copter with the best of them, just waiting for the signal to drop my ladder. And I love to call out up-to-the-second instructions: “Don’t do that!” “Get down from there!” “You’re going to fall!” “Wait for a grownup!” “Look both ways!” Necessary? Often, yes. Beneficial? Probably not always, no. A little psycho? Perhaps.

But nobody tells you when you’re supposed to cut strings and nudge them out of nests and let go of their hands. I mean, I feel like, unless somebody instructs me or they demand it, my timeline for those initiatives is … never.

I do want to put them out there. I want them to feel like they can own their feelings because they were born from their own decisions. I want them to be bold when something stirs in them. I want them to explore. I want them to take risks. (The push.) But I want them to be safe. I want them to be aware of the possible outcomes. I want to protect their little bodies with traffic guard arms and their hearts with the wisest words. (The pull.)

My conflicting feelings on this matter have never been as palpable as they were this past Saturday morning as JoJo and Spike took to the basketball court. See, Hank thought, in the interest of saving some of our Saturdays, it would be best if we just put both of the girls on the team for first and second graders, even though Spike is in preschool (she is old for her class). The second the game started, my rescue chopper instinct kicked in. My curly haired babe was flailing. She was smaller, weaker and slower. The argument could definitely be made that this was not our finest parenting decision.

But the buzzer rang out at the end of their little game and she was still standing. Crying, because she got hit in the cheek, but still standing. Through with basketball because the kids were running over her too much, but still standing. Disenchanted because it wasn’t like playing P-I-G on the tiny hoop in the basement, but still standing. She was still standing, and she was fine. So why shouldn’t I be? Everyone needs that one story, “Well, my parents didn’t even believe in age groups! They just threw me in with the 10 year olds and left for an hour!” This, I suppose, will be hers.

Had I not walked into that camping store that morning, JoJo would have learned a tough lesson about finances. It just wouldn’t have been from me. But she would have gotten the lesson anyway. (Still, the thought of that is horrifying. “Where are their parents?” asked everyone anywhere watching that situation play out.) They’re going to fall off the bed whether I tell them to stop jumping or not. They’re going to run into each other, and get knocked down and slip off monkey bars. I guess it’s just the deciphering between “that’s where you come in” and “that’s part of life” where it gets muddy for me.

Maybe the balance rests in the letting go. Or maybe, like in Mean Girls, the balance does not exist. Maybe we never really let go because that means our job isn’t as important as we think it is. And I know parenting is important as hell. So, maybe instead, I’ll just concede a few things …

Spelling quizzes and checking their homework folder will be mine.
Tests and final school projects will be theirs.

Pep talks, protection and well-meaning warnings will be mine.
Perseverance and victories will be theirs.

Boo boo kissing, cuddles and words of advice will be mine.
The lessons will be theirs.

(Negotiations are ongoing.)

Thoughts

These three resolutions made the cut

January 5, 2017

Happy New Year, you beautiful souls!

I don’t know what your Christmas looked like, but mine was fantastic, to the tune of a tummy-flattening stomach flu (second time in three weeks), a 103 fever for Spike and 2500 rainbow loom bands scattered across the floor like birthday confetti thanks to Sloppy Joan. Ahhhh, the holidays. A time of sugarplums and pure insanity.

Anyway, you blink and Bam! A brand new year has arrived. Everybody’s so excited to see 2016 go and I’m over here all just like fine with the ways things are. [gulp.] But I’m going to put my big girl pants on, stuff some optimism in my pockets and step boldly into 2017 with my chin up and hope in my heart.

The best part about turning the page? Resolutions. I love ‘em. I do. I typically come in at around eight goals because, you know, I’m desperate for improvement, and I typically hit one or two. Last year I checked off backpacking, trying one new thing a month, and I’d like to think talking less and listening more, but that’s subjective.

This year I got a little … we won’t say less ambitious, we’ll say wiser about resolutions. I hear a lot at work about setting SMART goals. They should be Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely/Trackable. Ohhhhhh! That makes so much more sense than saying, for instance, “I want to stop living by a schedule” or “I want to be a better human”.

Also, while I was enjoying some much-needed, stay-in-my-jammies all day time over the holidays, I came across Gabrielle Bernstein’s Facebook Live on goal setting. “Don’t make them negative,” she said. “Put a positive spin on them.” So, instead of saying, “I’m not going to let myself eat crap anymore.” You might say, “I’m going to truly fuel my body.” Find a way to take all the terrible things you need to quit and make them sound pretty. I’m up for it.

So, I see you 2017, and I’m comin’ for ya. Here’s what I’ve got my sights set on …

We’re tackling our fourth Whole30 in this house, and this time, the hope is I can reintroduce every food group but sugar. I have not kept my addiction to sugar a secret and it’s time to say goodbye once and for all (except for birthdays and warm donuts). Parting is such sweet sorrow.

I’d also like to push myself to get stronger. I always look down at a scale, but I’m starting to think scales are stupid. I want to look over at a bicep instead. I want to feel like a badass and have the package to drive the message home. I find the weight room at the gym to be such an intimidating place, filled with men who really, really use the mirrors. I need to get in there in the new year.

I need more of what scares me in my life. For example, Hank surprised me with a trip to see one of my besties in Florida in February and let me tell you a secret … come close … closer … closer … this is going to be really embarrassing for one of us … I have never flown by myself. Yes, I am 34 years old. Yes, I do grownup things like pay bills and buy food to cook it and keep a household of people alive. Yes, I am terrified to fly by myself. But I’m doin’ it! I love the feeling after I do something new and it turns out completely fine and, on top of that, it’s awesome. And most new things are just like that.

I want to use my vacation days for vacation and not just sick kids and furniture deliveries. Americans throw away like 600 million vacation days a year. Let’s all agree that’s just sad. When I think of my happy places, with my happy people and all I’ve yet to experience, I just want to turn in PTO and get going. Twenty years from now a house filled with things won’t mean shit compared to a heart papered in postcards from beaches and mountaintops, signed by my four favorite people (plus me, of course).

About two weeks ago I started on this one. I began unfollowing every major news outlet on Facebook, Twitter and email notifications. No more “Alerts” or “Updates”. I find that the majority of what’s published poisons my spirit, and the pieces I need to know always find me in other ways. Peace, to me, is better than drinking from the fire hose of negativity fed by our popular media outlets. It’s just noise at this point, and everyone wants to shout so their voice can make the ugliness even louder. Well, I don’t.

The second prong in this approach is the adoption of a flow rather than a routine. This one will actually be pretty brutal for me. If we’re buds, you know I live and die by my schedule. Up for the gym by 4:40 a.m., out the door for school and work by 7:16 a.m., lunch at noon, snack at 3 p.m., dinner on the table by 6:30 p.m., kids in bed by 8 p.m., melatonin at 9 p.m., nothing after 10 p.m. It is the fabric of my being. It’s ingrained in me the way Let It Go is ingrained in my children’s vocal cords. But living in a flow might look more like …

4:43 a.m. – I think I’ll sleep in a bit and do yoga at home instead of running at the gym.

Noon – I’m not too hungry yet, maybe I’ll finish up this story and then grab a late bite instead.

7:30 p.m. – It’s bath night but we really should go for a bike ride instead, it’s so beautiful out.

8 p.m. – I feel flustered. I think I’ll meditate for 15 minutes.

No one – and I mean no one – would describe me as a gal who can just roll with what comes, so this one’s my wild card, but I’m optimistic. Maybe sugarfree me will be more malleable, too.

Whatever goals you set for yourself, I hope the next 360 days bring you hope, love and lots of wholehearted contentment.

Kids

The woman who cares for my children

December 30, 2016

We sat outside on a sticky August evening – four tired mothers, spent from trying to keep all the plates spinning on our fingertips and tiptoes and the one woman who made it even close to possible, Kay. We raised salt-rimmed margaritas in celebration of our dear friend’s 59th birthday and looked lovingly upon her.

To know Kay is to know belief. She is proof that God walks among us; That He does some of His best work through others’ hands. She infuses everyone she meets with honesty and love and conviction. She has a peace that only comes with unwavering faith and firm truth and the understanding that you have found your calling. And the best part about all this? For five beautiful years, my girls have rubbed up against these rare qualities in Kay’s home, which is really their second home.

“You really need to do something nice and celebrate.” I said
“Well yeah, you know me.” Kay responded sarcastically.
“No, seriously … you do so much for everyone else.”
“Yeah, well, I have been thinking a lot about my kids and things I need to do and things I’d like to do and, well …” [pregnant pause] “… I do have a date.” [bigger pregnant pause] “I’ve decided to stop watching children around Christmas next year.”

Tears. So many tears.

And then congratulations.

And then more tears. This time with snot.

I knew this day was coming. I mean I practically promised to sell my kidneys to get JoJo in with Kay when we moved back from Indianapolis. I knew she was wonderful and I knew my children needed to be in her home and I was willing to stalk her, beg her and just start dropping my little girl and money off until she settled into the idea. But I didn’t have to do all that. After a good referral from a friend and a pleasant chat, Kay decided to take our then 2 year old. We, I was told, would be the last family she would care for before retiring.

When we had Spike she mentioned that when we were done having kids, she would soon be done as well. She told me the same after we had Sloppy Joan. She planted subtle reminders of her impending retirement along the way – pebbles for us to pick up and remember that her home, sweet as it was, would not be open to us forever.

But still on this suddenly unforgiving summer evening, with the bitter taste of the salt biting my tongue, I felt shocked. My heartbeats were thunderous in my eardrums and my eyes were drowning in hot tears. What would we do without Kay? What would any of us do?

I don’t call Kay a babysitter, a fact that has been pointed out to me by several different people on several different occasions. I’ll say, “Kay, who watches the girls,” or “Our friend, Kay” or “You know, Kay, the baby whisperer,” but never “babysitter”. It just feels so inadequate. A babysitter is a 15 year old who sneaks her boyfriend in the back door and gets gum stuck in her braces. Kay is a miracle worker. Kay speaks child. Kay is the captain and the wind and the vessel itself.

There have been so many times she’s told me something about one of the girls that should have been so obvious, but it took having her gently point it out for me to see it. She’s taught them all how to go up and down stairs. How to pray before meals. How to bump a volleyball and swing a bat. How to roll up their sleeves and get dirty and scoop up crayfish in the creek. She treats each one equally but sees the intricate nooks and folds of their little personalities perfectly.

In 27 years the woman has never taken a sick day. I’m not kidding. She doesn’t take vacations, she doesn’t get the stomach flu, she doesn’t get strep. She’s a machine. And it’s not like she just got good at connecting with kids in her veteran years, either. I rode up to Kay’s daughter’s lakehouse (because they actually want to spend time with all of us outside of the weekdays, proving she is, in fact, a saint) with two freshman in high school who grew up at Kay’s. Their stories were the best. Kay sent a snake home with them and it had 200 babies. Kay let them build a tepee in the ravine next to her house. Kay got them to do things their parents would only dream of. She was a main character in the beginning chapters of their lives, and they would never ever forget her.

And let’s talk about the food at Kay’s.

Kay shops at the exact same grocery store where we shop. Exact same. But for whatever reason (magic pixie dust one can assume) everything is tastier at her table. One of the teenagers I was with confirmed the hypothesis I’d had for years.

“So, you’re saying if I buy a gallon of Hawaiian Punch, and Kay buys the exact same gallon of juice, it will taste better at Kay’s house?”
“Yes.”
“But …”
“I know! I can’t explain it! It’s just better. The fruit snacks are chewier, too.”

Her cheese sandwich is one slice of white bread with a Kraft single on top microwaved for 22 seconds and folded over. The kids go nuts for it. I make it, and nothin’. No love. But the gleaming cherry on top of the sundae that is Kay’s, is the crumbs. Imagine if you will, the broken shards of fried potato that reside in the bottom of a grease-soaked bag of plain potato chips. You’d toss them away, right? Consider that a crime at Kay’s. At Kay’s, everyone has an assigned crumb day. When the bag gets down to potato pieces, she spoons one tablespoon of chip dip (a special Kay kind of chip dip that I have purchased but did not taste like Kay’s special chip dip) into the bottom half of the potato chip bag, which she has cut in half for convenience. She then uses her hands to push and massage and squeeze the dip/chip components together to form the ideal consistency. She hands the crumb day child the dip spoon and gives them the green light to shovel their prize into their watering mouth as the other children at the table look on in complete and utter jealousy. That, my friends, is the crumbs. And it is the holy grail of Kay’s.

Seasons passed. That summer gave way to this past summer and before we knew it, it was fall.

Every year over Fall Break Kay has a wienie roast and bonfire for the kiddos. They push leaves into giant piles and roll down her perfectly sloped hill and laugh and play and torch marshmallows. When I came to pick up the chicks on this special day, Kay called me over to show me pictures on her phone. The kids had found an owl sitting in a tree down in the ravine. How fitting, I thought. An owl, a universal symbol of learning, would preside over this, their final autumn gathering. The lessons learned in this yard, in this home, around that kitchen table, from this woman, are lifelong. She has been their greatest teacher in the years when the rules really matter and the instructions aren’t always clear for tired mothers and well-meaning fathers.

When you make the decision (or the decision makes itself) to be a working mom, you accept the sacrifices but they still keep you up at night. Agony is wrestling with all of the things you’re missing and the precious time you’re losing. Your greatest wish is that you can find a place to take your child where they will be safe and loved and understood. I know people who search and search and search for that kind of environment. We were lucky enough to have it for this short time and our girls will be better people because of it. Kay’s house is an extension of our home. It is warm and welcoming and her entire family has carried our children in their hearts.

Another season passed. And now, here we are at “Christmas time next year”.

It’s time for me to be an adult. (Let me go on record as saying I despise such occasions.) I’m so thrilled for this beautiful woman who’s dedicated so much of herself to other families. She deserves – more than anyone I know – a day off, a vacation, an impulsive decision. She deserves to sit with her grandbabies for hours and share her gifts with other people and to let others stand in her light. I tell the girls why it’s so important we support Kay and celebrate this time for her. Then I turn away from them and cry like the giant woman-baby I am.

I cry every time I think about Sloppy Joan missing those summers down in the ravine, when I pull up to find them sitting on the driveway barefoot with vanilla ice cream running down their sun-kissed arms to their elbows. Or the girls begging to go to “Kay-Kay’s” in footie pajamas with their blankies under their arms. Or Kay giving them kisses on their cheeks and telling them she loves them after they had a tough day. Or all of the 8 million things that only the families who went to Kay’s can appreciate, that won’t be part of our routine anymore. Our days will be a little less full without her.

A few weeks ago she had all of our families over for a Christmas dinner. Kay gathered the children around her dining room table, where they’d sat for so many meals, and she invited them to pray, just as she had so many times. As they folded their precious hands and followed her in making the sign of the cross, I felt those steamy tears I’d felt a year and a half ago rolling down my cheeks. No one could love our little tribe of misfits the way she had. What will we do without Kay? What will any of us do without Kay?

The night Kay told us she would be moving on, I went home and wrote this:

The woman who cares for my children is not a babysitter.
The woman who cares for my children is a maker of memories.
The woman who cares for my children is a friend to me and a light to all.
The woman who cares for my children is the wisdom through trivial tears.
The woman who cares for my children is a compass at the crossroads.
The woman who cares for my children carries them in her heart just as their mother does.
She is a light and a guiding force and a selfless soul whose role in this village will never be forgotten.

I feel it more today, on your last day with our babies, than I did on that August night.

We thank you Kay.
We love you Kay.

Try That With Matt

Try that with Matt. Have a Hupe Holiday

December 23, 2016

Getting through the marathon and final 100 yard dash of the holidays is challenging enough. Instead of something new, we’re looking back on our treasured traditions. Hope you don’t mind.

**MATT**

The stockings are hung by the chimney with care, plastic figurines litter the yard, Dolly Parton’s holiday radio is at the top of my Pandora stations … ‘Tis the season to be Merry! (That’s my name. No shit.)

First, for those of you who don’t know my family, they’re a little bit crazy when it comes to Christmas. I mean, I didn’t come up with the saying, “Have a Hupe Holiday!” own my own. The joys of Christmas run deep, on both sides of the family. DSS ordered a favorite Christmas memory, but I opted to reflect on this magical time of year while Home Alone is on in the background.

My grandpa Hupe put up outdoor lights and figurines. My uncles, my dad … it’s legit in our blood. Kids, don’t you want a house you can be proud of? Sure you do! I could tell you plenty of stories about helping Dad, testing bulbs, getting figurines out of the attic, making an annual trip to the Christmas section to find what would be the new additions to the yard. Our operation was no joke, people. Let me put this in perspective for you. One year I brought a couple buddies to help us execute the display. My sister and I got into a disagreement about where Santa No. 11 should go and Jolly Ole Saint Nick, aka Big Rog, gave me my walking papers. His exact words were, “Matt, get your friends and get the hell outta here!” I am still the only person in the family to be kicked out of Christmas decorating. It’s that serious.

I took the knowledge I absorbed over the years with the old man and applied it to my own home. After countless hours spent bulb checking, circuit blowing, figurine staking, it became second nature. And I’m happy to report that in my second year as a homeowner I was awarded first place for my display by the neighborhood association. It was a major award! I know my grandpa was looking down, proud and probably noticing which little lights were out.

On Mom’s side, the Christmas crazy comes through in baking, ham balls, taco dip and sentimental gifts. Every year, for as long as I can remember, we’ve gathered at my folks’ on Christmas Eve to shovel all kinds of calorie-loaded, butter-soaked goodies into our fat faces and get our cheer cranked up. I have so many memories here, from my uncle’s parents having a snore off that was caught on camcorder. (It was the 80s, so you know it was the kind that made you look like a local news reporter when you propped it on your shoulder.) To my aunt giving me a Christmas peanut one year because I was supposedly bad (I don’t buy it.) Or the annual butt shot of the oldest sister, who’s the designated Santa, as she climbs around pulling gifts out from under the tree. My mom has three sisters. They’ve collected an ornament every single year for God only knows how long, so there is always the opening of the ornaments, which signals the grand finale. Oh, and how could I forget … there’s always the one gift that someone gets that makes all of them cry … and they all cry the same. It’s a packed house, full of family, food, drinks and shuffling from room to room to avoid hearing the same story eight times. It’s our tradition and to me it’s the moment Christmas begins.

Trying to think of a favorite Christmas memory isn’t easy. There’s just too many options. I mean, I got my dog Babe for Christmas and she meant the world to me (I think she rides next to Santa in his sleigh now), DSS got engaged on Christmas morning, I got an Atari for Christmas … How can you narrow down a field like that? Well you can’t. It’s impossible. My favorite memories have nothing to do with gifts and honestly every memory is a treasure. It’s seeing the excitement on the kids’ faces to see what Santa brought this year. And the excitement on my mom’s face as she tries to focus her special eyes on what in the hell her grandkids are opening and hoping that they love it. It’s getting together with my dad and my uncles and listening to them belly laugh for hours. It’s having breakfast with my family Christmas morning while my old man seeks everyone’s approval for the new casseroles he whipped up. It’s listening to my aunts talk about health issues, recipes and grandkids, and having some drinks and cracking up with my cousins.

Christmas is so special because it brings out our inner kid. We all have that one memory of that one gift that just took things to the next level. How did Santa know? So embrace your inner kid this Christmas, enjoy your family, your friends, tell that stranger you hold the door for Merry Christmas, sing as loud as you want on Christmas Eve at church … because you know what, when Santa squeezes his fat ass down that chimney this year, why shouldn’t he see the jolliest bunch of assholes this side of the nuthouse? Oh, and if he happens to have a little beagle with big ears with him, give her some love for me, would you?

Merry Christmas to you and your family! Enjoy every second of it.

Love, Just Matt

**ME**

I am a Christmas junkie. I live for the high of giving the perfect gift, the rush of sneaking things under the tree and the dizzy delight of too many treats chased with cream-drunk coffee. My family knows these instant gratifications will be followed by a sad yuletide crash, complete with 48-hour stretches in the same sweats, a dent in the couch from my cheeseball-lovin’ lard ass and loads of seasonal self deprecation.

Truly if you don’t like Christmas, I fear you are dead inside. Black. Hollow. Cold. Dead. Just know that if you tell me you aren’t that into it, these are the thoughts I’m having.

When I close my eyes I can feel the still, quiet buzz of anticipation in the room. My nose fills with the plastic film of wrapping paper and the punched up pungent aroma of pine. It’s like the tree knows this is it, the big show. I love all of it … well, almost all of it. I could do without shopping and cleaning for company.

The memories are deep and long, and each is too precious to push aside. There was the year my brother fell down the stairs as we went searching for Santa and I thought he was dead. The year my sister ate all the chocolate in her stocking and barfed all over Mom’s new couch. Getting dolled up in big fancy Christmas dresses and singing Sandi Patty. My dad’s matching jammie sets. The year my brother had mono and slept through the whole thing. Me and Hank’s first Christmas as a married couple, and our first Christmas as parents.

And while I don’t like to play favorites, and seldom do (that’s a lie), I would be remiss not to take this opportunity to relive the morning Hank asked me to marry him.

Mairlyn don’t play when it comes to Christmas. Though we’d been together for five years, my boyfriend had never been to our family Christmas. That was Mom’s rule. As Matt said earlier, everyone who drove past our home during December knew how the Hupes felt about the holiday. The same could be said for anyone who stepped inside. Garland and stuffed Santas and bowls of striped candies covered every wall, every surface, every banister. So when my sister said she wanted to go get extra decorations for the family room, I was a little surprised. But she’s a Hupe by blood, so I went with it.

We were about 30 minutes into opening gifts on Christmas morning when Hank walked into the entryway just outside the family room. I saw him and had one thought and one thought only: Who died?

I knew Hank and I were going to get married from the day we met. It was really just a matter of when. We talked about it from time to time and he always said the same thing. “I would never ask on a major holiday or when I know you’re expecting it.” No ring at the bottom of a glass of champagne on Valentine’s Day. No princess cut peeking out of an anniversary souffle. And absolutely, without a doubt, 100 percent no Christmas. And so, when I saw him there, with the most sober face I’d ever seen him wear, I immediately went to death.

Of course the only thing dying was my bachelorettehood. When I walked back into the room, ring on the right finger, my brother was crying. Turns out he and I were the only ones who didn’t know this was coming. Everyone else had been in on it. And Hank got to stay for Christmas. He was officially locked in. I remember how my heart dropped, and then quickened and then swelled. It was a Christmas to remember and I’ll never forget.

I wish you all a weekend filled with tons of twinkle lights, magical moments and giggling children. May their naps be lengthy and their meltdowns be minor. And above all, I wish you peace and … you guessed it, wholeheartedness in the new year.

Love, Courtney

Kids

Motherhood: Praise-seekers need not apply

December 21, 2016

During my awkward but beautiful NKOTB elementary school years, my family spent a lot of time camping. Biannually, usually spring break and once in the summer, we would take a big trip to Myrtle Beach or some other southern spot with great historic locations my father could hike up his tube socks and take us all to. There were five of us in that travel trailer. Sometimes, it was cozy and could hardly contain our Griswald family contentment. And other times …

People hit each other.

The details have faded as the 20+ summers since this one particular event have passed, but I still recall the bullet points. There were these sunshine yellow melamine dishes tucked away in the cabinets of the trailer. For whatever reason, I loved them. We’d unhitch and level off and my mom would go about her routine; putting groceries away and optimistically teasing the amenities. “Those swings look like they go pretty high guys, I don’t know …”. She would hum the latest Top 40 hit from Genesis. Dad would cuss through the setup outside and go find wood. (He was always finding wood.) But of everything in this waltz we watched a thousand times, there was something about those canary dishes that signaled we were really staying. We were on vacation.

One warm afternoon, after the melamine coffee cups had been washed and the Sunbeam bread used to feed the local ducks was tucked away, my brother came in and took a giant proverbial crap right in the middle of everything.

Back then, Matt hated being with us. He barely spoke and when he did it was to complain about what we were eating or where we were or who was there. It was super obnoxious. My parents were just trying to be memory makers, right? They carted us around to check off the snapshots every family had in their photo album in the 1980s … kids on a beach … kids in front of a roller coaster … kids on a hike. It was never enough for him just to stand in formation, put a smile on his face and pretend to relish the thrilling rides at Dollywood. Oh, no. Not Matt. He had to make his disgust and general dislike for the people who grew him known.

Anyway, on this one warm afternoon, after Matt nudged her and nudged her and nudged her, my mom, the sweet lady who weeped at Casey Kasem’s long distance dedications and introduced me to the Shoney’s breakfast buffet, God bless her … well, she completely lost her shit on my brother. Right there in the camper. Her arms were swinging and sounds were coming out at triple speed and didn’t quite form all the way and my brother’s eyes were wide and wild as he succumb to her fury. He had walked across the limb so many times, and on that day, in the camper of family dreams, the limb snapped.

I watched it. The whole thing. So did my sister. So did my dad. I don’t think any of us took a breath for the entire 56 seconds my mother spent physically and verbally retaliating against her almost-teenage punk of a son before storming out of the trailer in tears. Huh, I thought. I guess Mom went crazy.

Then I grew up, had kids of my own and realized we’re all just one forced fart, recorder recital or “She hit me!” away from crazy.

Being a mother is a thankless, soul-sucking, humbling, disgusting, exhausting occupation. I used to imagine my mom pulled everything out of her ass. I needed something for a school project, she got it. I was sick and wanted saltines with peanut butter, she made them. I wanted to try gymnastics, she signed me up. She drove me. She watched me. It all just got done. I never thought about why she needed to take a hot bath and pound peanut M&Ms by 9 o’clock every night. I just never considered it.

And neither do my kids.

I babysat for my niece one summer break during college. She had this little car she could ride on. It had mermaids and fish all over it and sang this stupid song … “I’m a happy mermaid, down in the sea – something, something, something – and dance with me.” She used to scoot around on that thing pressing the button on the steering wheel every 2 seconds. So to my tired ears, it was just, “I’m a, I’m a, I’m a, I’m a …” for minutes on end. The funny thing was, she loved the end of the song. Whenever she got distracted and made it to “… and dance with me,” she laughed with joy. And then she’d go back to pressing the button with the hope of hearing it in its entirety. Of course her rapid trigger finger meant, “I’m a, I’m a, I’m a, I’m a, I’m a ….” The insanity! But now, I am that mermaid car. I am the button on the other end of a child’s fingertip – constantly trying to get it all out, to get to the end, to the point.

The number of times I repeat myself in a day can clock in at no less than 900.

“Get dressed, please … Get dressed, please … Get dressed, please.”
“Eat your breakfast, please … Eat your breakfast, please … Eat your breakfast!”
“Get your coat on, please … Get your coat on, please … Get your coat on, please.”
“Tie your shoes, please … Tie your shoes … Tie your shoes, please.”
“Come on, please … Come on … Come on.”
“Eat your dinner, please … Eat your dinner, please.”
“”Stop jumping off the couch, please …”
“Clean your room, please …”
“Brush your teeth, please …”
“Go to timeout, please …”
“Get in bed, please …”
“Stop talking and go to bed, please ….”
“Go to bed!”

No one hears me. At some point between when they exited the womb and they started using more than 3 words together at a time, my voice was tragically muted. I know, and you dear reader likely know, that if I don’t move the circus along, no one gets where they need to go. No one gets to the bus stop on time and I get yelled at for chasing it down a few stops away. No one feeds the dog and she dies. No one gets their library books and the teacher sends a scathing note home. I’m just trying to help! “I’m a, I’m a, I’m a, I’m a …”

And yet, the gratitude tank runs dry most days. Living in a home with young children means you better be prepared for prison rules, man. Because only your child would take a giant deuce in the middle of the dinner you spent 3 hours making. And then tell you they hate what you made anyway. Only your child would rub her hard moss-colored boogers against the only white shirt you own. Only your child would headbutt you when you’re trying to kiss them, or kick your nose during a friendly tickle or pee on your bath rug or vomit in your hair on your 30th birthday (that really happened). Kids are cruel. They don’t know and they don’t care, and when they do know, they still don’t care.

You have to go into it knowing you won’t collect on those gratitude IOUs they’re leaving all over the tubs they’re pooping in and rooms they’re trashing for at least another 18 years. And that might be ambitious. And you aren’t really allowed to care. You’re expected to be durable and flexible and resilient. You’re expected to be both Betty Draper (in the early seasons) and Sheryl Sandberg, depending on the scenario, and settle for a fart vapor’s worth of appreciation for both social archetypes.

I’ve spent hours planning my menu on Pinterest only to have Sloppy Joan turn her plate over and throw it across the table more times than I care to share. I’ve had chicks climb into my Epsom salts detox bath because they were cold and it looked fun. I’ve walked in to find every item of clothing from the bottom bar of the closet ripped off the hangers and thrown around the room just minutes after I finished putting them away. I’ve had more little people watch me poop than a pony at a county fair.

But we love them.

Sometimes it looks like rocking ourselves in a corner with drool streaming out of ours turned down mouths, but we love them.

It’s an abusive love. Like the way people with ulcers love flaming hot Cheetos. We love their toots and boogers and ridiculous requests and come back for more day after day after day. We plot our escapes and then crave their sticky, sweaty, vaguely pissy scent the second we drop them off.

Being a mother is thankless 23 hours out of every day. But man … they really reel ya in during those 60 minutes when it really counts, huh?

It’s rarely with words. Though sometimes it is sweet, silly, wonderful words I reach into the air, grab and write down somewhere to relive later. But more often it’s a little warm body climbing into my lap while I’m distracted with another conversation. Or a drawing that comes back in a folder from school with stick figures holding hands, the taller one labeled “Mama”. Or a cheerleader. Or an impersonation. Or a cry in the middle of the night. It makes me feel needed and seen and responsible. Yes, it’s a thankless job. It isn’t for the weak or the praise-hungry. The pay is shit. But if you play your cards right and keep your eyes and ears open, the benefits can be pretty sweet.

Thoughts

It’s simply the Best

December 9, 2016

It was one of those evenings right before the official start of winter when the cut of the cold and premature darkness still surprise you. It had been a long day at work. My brain needed an invigorating, startling freeze to reset. I pushed the door open, stepped into the parking lot and turned my face to the sky, as I always do, in hopes of a masterpiece. My God, the moon is breathtaking, I thought. What magical gifts He gives us sometimes. And then, just as I reached my car, it occurred to me … it came into focus … that solar superstar, that awe-inspiring sphere, was not the moon at all. It was, in fact my friends, a high roadside sign for Burger King.

I wish I was kidding. But alas, this is the burden I bear. My eyes are not like your eyes. My eyes are very special.

See, along with an affinity for chocolate laced with nuts and tendency to burn dinner, my mother also handed off a rare genetic eye disorder called Best Disease the day I was born.

First of all, we can all agree that Best Disease is, hands down, the absolute worst name for a disease ever. Ever! Can you imagine spending your entire life telling people you have the Best Disease? It sounds so narcissistic. Oh, you have diabetes? Well, I have Best Disease, so your second-class excuse for a disease can just have a gay ole’ time being in my disease’s shadow. Sorry bout ya. Crohn’s? Pssh! Why don’t you man up and get a real disease, son? Cuz there ain’t no disease like the Best Disease, cuz the Best Disease don’t stop …

I’ve seen it in pictures and had it explained to me a dozen times, but I’m still not 100 percent sure what this inconvenient little bitch is all about. As I understand it, it’s a form of macular degeneration that manipulates the macula in the retina. The macula is a tiny area that’s vital for seeing detail and color. We use it anytime we look directly at something, like when reading, watching TV and writing. (So, naturally, I decided to be a writer.) Members of our elite little club develop blisters on the macula that look like an egg yolk. There’s more potential for growth and decay after that, but it’s all kind of scary and gross, so we’ll leave at the yolk. It doesn’t hurt and there is no cure. It just is.

It’s like having a cool party trick that only the nerdiest people at the party appreciate. About eight years ago I thought I needed reading glasses. So I did what anyone would do. I went to a popular optometrist in town, known for having the coolest frames. I think the publisher I worked for at the time also got a fat discount through some shady deal, but that’s neither here nor there. Anyway, I went in, they took their pictures and put me on the end of the table to start playing Name That Curvy Figure That Vaguely Resembles a Letter.

“OK Courtney, if you could just read line 5 for me, please.””
“Sure. K … 7 … J … G?”
“Huh. OK, how about line 4.”
“9 … T … P … is that a horse maybe?”
“Interesting.”

After I murdered the test, the optometrist threw my eyeball pictures up on the screen. What happened next should have been embarrassing, both for the professional administering the exam and myself, but somehow it just happened and neither of us acknowledged the absolute absurdity of the exchange. The dude actually sat his pen down, excused himself and left the room. Only, he forgot to close the door.

“Tim! You have got to come see this lady’s pictures! I mean … you’re gonna shit.” he said to, I’m assuming, the other nerd at the party who would appreciate my trick.

Then, as casually as if he’d just dropped off a roll of toilet paper to a buddy stranded in a gas station bathroom, he strolled back in and resumed his routine. I let him have the moment.

My college roommates called them my special eyes. (Do you remember that commercial? “Look … Look with your special eyes!”) Hank still affectionately refers to them by this name whenever I think I see a cat in the yard and it turns out to be a plastic bag, and other such misunderstandings. I can see most things, but color can be tricky. I get headaches after too much reading. I crinkle my whole face and bring things about a centimeter from my eyeballs to put it all together. Sad? Not really. I don’t know what I don’t know. I don’t know if my red isn’t your red. If it’s duller or distorted or muddy. I have no clue. Are the clouds closer than they appear? I mean … maybe. If you say so. I don’t know. Perception is reality, right? It’s like when someone describes The Revenant and how visually stunning the cinematography is. I’m never gonna watch that graphic shit, so I take their word for it, but it doesn’t change the fact that I’m never going to actually see The Revenant, so what difference does it make, really? OK, that example was a stretch … But the point is, I can see some form of red and some clouds and so, I guess, don’t cry for me Argentina.

1-800 Contacts – Special Eyes from The Perlorian Brothers on Vimeo.

The poetic karmic justice of it all is that I spent years watching my mom magnify large print and smash magazines to the tip of her nose, always giggling right up to the threshold where good fun met mean-spirited, only to realize that I blinked and became the object of my own jollies. My brother sent me an email on my first day at a new job: “I can see you now,” he wrote. “Sitting in your new office, hands folded in your lap, leaning into your monitor, face smashed to the screen, granny panties halfway up your back.” I looked down and smirked. If he had a spy in the room he couldn’t have gotten any closer. It was exact. I am my mother’s daughter in many ways, but perhaps none as strongly as my blind lady posture.

And I can laugh at it. All of it.

Except then someone took Spike’s picture.

Hank and his mom both noticed it first. In several pictures where someone used the flash, one of Spike’s pupils was red and one was yellow or white. It was the strangest thing. Googling commenced. Discussions were had. It could be nothing … or it could be cancer. It could be a sign that the blood vessels in her eyes are not receiving blood. It could be a handful of devastating, gut-punching problems. But I suspected the Best.

An ophthalmologist in town was kind enough to squeeze her in at the urging of Hank’s dad. Hank took her. When he came home he did this thing that he always does when he delivers bad news. He sat down next to me on the bed, put his hand on my leg and started rubbing his thumb back and forth. “Well, it’s Best Disease.”

First I cried.

Then, I called my mom. And she cried.

“Oh honey. I know exactly how you feel. I felt the same way when they told me your sister had it. And I felt the same way when they told me you had it. And my mom felt the same way when she found out I had it. But you know we really are so lucky.”

When my mom was in her 30s she went to see a specialist at the University of Michigan. After a full day of tests, questions and observations, the puzzle still had quite a few missing pieces.

“Let me ask you this, can you read the paper?” the doctor asked her.
“Yes. I have to use a magnifying glass, but yes.” she’d answered.
“But, the point is, you can read the paper. A lot of people can’t.”

And the older I’ve gotten, and the more I’ve morphed into Marilyn and her mega-magnified dreamworld, the more I’ve come to terms with the hand I’m holding. And it ain’t so bad. You learn to laugh at things like grabbing the wrong child’s hand at daycare and walking right up to the projection screen to read your notes during a presentation and having your husband read an entire movie’s worth of subtitles to you so you can watch what all the sophisticated folks are watching. It’s all part of the deal. You learn to just ask for a paper menu at restaurants where the food is listed on boards above the register. You squint. And you get by.

And, above all, you learn that very special “p” word. Who remembers our life skill here? You learn perseverance. Because things won’t be as black and white (they might seem more dark gray and cream, depending on the light) for her as they will be for others, my second daughter’s skin will get a little thicker. She’ll learn adaptability and how important it is to let humor hold your hand when confronting adversity. And she’ll learn the truth, which is that it can’t all be easy. If it were all easy no one would know how to fight for the good stuff or fix anything.

When the shit hits the fan, I want my kid to persevere. When the menu is listed in light blue print on a dark blue board high up on the wall, I want her to kindly ask for a printed copy and get on with her face stuffing. Because nothing – and I mean nothing – should stand in the way of a girl and her chicken soft tacos with pico and extra guac. Certainly not a decor choice. And certainly not egg yolk eyes. Sometimes you gotta just put on your big girl granny panties and promptly bitch slap the hurdle at hand.

Every parent gives their kids something terrible; Whether it’s a weird big toe or pointy ears or debilitating genetic disorder. (Note: If you don’t know what this terrible thing is, you don’t know there’s something weird about you, too. Look into that.) In the long run, having something not great happen to you is a blessing, not the curse it presents as first. It’s the stuff of character and grit and the female equivalent of balls (we really need to figure that one out).

Plus, she looks so cute in her little sparkly pink glasses. I mean, you guys, so cute.

My sunsets might be made of Burger King signs and distorted shades, but at least I get them. And I know that Spike will learn to see the beauty in sunsets, too. Whatever colors they come in through her special eyes.

Try That With Matt

Try that with Matt. Meditation

December 6, 2016

Try that with Matt

While our denial of the fact differs – he adamantly disputes it and I fully accept it to the point of obsessing – my brother and I both experience an immense amount of stress. Mine even manifests into anxiety attacks as a cherry on top from time to time. (His might too, but he’d never tell anyone.)

This fact does not make us special, mind you. We don’t win a pity prize. Stress is the basic cause of 60 percent of all human illness and disease. Since 1 in 5 of us report experiencing extreme stress, it’s safe to say that our hectic schedules, ridiculous expectations and insane pressure to perform are literally killing us.

You might remember our monthly challenges are about improving and enjoying these insane little lives, so, in that spirit, we thought it might be a good idea to dabble in this crazy thing the kids are all trying called meditation. I’ve played in this sandbox before, of course, but something about bringing my brother along made me feel more accountable. More optimistic.

In a podcast I listened to recently, one of the guests said, “Meditation doesn’t fix stuff. It calms the water enough so we can see the stuff.” Then I guess it’s on us to fix the stuff. It’s better than nothin’. There’s a biweekly mindfulness and meditation class for stress reduction in our area. I know the instructor, Dr. Dave, through work, and he is phenomenal; One of those people who drops truth bombs and owns dramatic pauses like a boss and rolls out the blueprints to rewire your brain. It was Bring Your Bro to Class Day, and I was kind of geeked.

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**ME**

Matt had to hit the head before the meeting, so I went in with Dr. Dave. (We rode the elevator up together. Street cred, what?) There was a circle of chairs, every-other one occupied. We wouldn’t be able to sit next to each other. Maybe that’s for the best, I thought. I settled in to the one closest to the door. My brother walked in just as the action started. He looked at me and put his hands up (universal for, “What the …?”) and fell heavily into the next open seat.

“Tonight we’re going to be talking about stress and how it affects us. Specifically at work.” Ho! Ho! Hooooly good topic for my ticking timebomb of a sibling, I thought. I might need this, but no one, and I mean no. one. needs this like my brother needs this. I couldn’t have planned it better. I didn’t look at him. It’s so irritating when someone gives you that look. That oh-you-know-that’s-you look. That obnoxious side glare tethered to accusation and incrimination. It’s the worst. So I smirked into my lap.

Dr. Dave explained that stress is a nonspecific response to any demand or change, either past or present. It’s the Fight/Flight/Freeze mechanism. The interesting thing is, our nervous system (which also resides in our stomach, FYI) doesn’t stop when stressed to sort through the scenario. Is this me reliving that time I thought I lose my child at the department store? OK, that’s old news. We’re good here. No. It just tenses and twists and tortures.

How do we stop the torture? We smell the coffee, that’s how.

Mindfulness, he went on, is intentional (being present in the here and the now) and attentional (moment-to-moment sensory awareness). We are a society on autopilot. We don’t taste, we shovel. We don’t listen, we respond. We don’t explore, we run the routine. Putting on the brakes to snap out of that cycle, off of that hamster wheel, can turn the color on. When we detach from what we think needs to happen and attach to, instead what is happening, we become active participants in our lives. In this respect, being curious is healthier than being in control. And I am a person who craves control. Ask yourself, in the morning, could you take 60 seconds to smell your coffee? It’s just 60 seconds. That’s it. Could you feel the mug in your hands and the steam at the base of your nose? Could you notice the rich color? Could you smell. The damn. Coffee?

Next was putting our talk into practice. Dr. Dave led us in a flow meditation. We began in our toes. How do they feel against the floor? Are they clenched or bent? We went to our stomach. So much stress rests in our tummies. Really stop and listen to your stomach. Then we moved to right above the stomach. Then the chest. Then the jawline. Then the top of the head. These are some of the places we commonly foster tension and anxiety. Just by checking in there. By noticing. We’re doing more for ourselves than we do on any given Monday.

As I sat still and contemplated what my stomach was trying to tell me, I heard it. The Abominal Snowman of yawns. Oh my gosh, I thought, was that … Then, another. The source of these room-sucking exhalations could only be my brother. I opened one eye and looked down the row of people. There he sat. Tons of Fun, looking like he could topple to the ground at any moment. “Oh, I know!” he told me after class. “I was so relaxed, man. I almost fell asleep.” “Yeah. Caught that.”

When our final body scan was complete, I slowly, drunkenly opened my eyes. Nothing had changed except everything kind of felt like it had. You know during a pause, when a room is so still and so quiet you think you can hear the air moving? Like the buzz and natural current of the universe is bouncing off your eardrums. We all looked like a group of frat guys the morning they were released from the drunk tank. All droopy eyelids and turned down smiles. It was such a nice change from my typical psychotic post-work obstacle course run.

I left determined to keep the good vibes flowing. Matt and I agreed on 5 consecutive days, 20 minutes of meditation each day.

After I meditate, it feels like forcing myself out of a power nap. My body kind of wants to stay sedentary and hushed, but my mind is eager to pick back up and race ahead to catch up with what it missed while it was picturing air in my lungs. Right away, I realized that time would be my nemesis on this challenge. I don’t feel like I have time to sit still for 10 minutes. I write that, and then I say it out loud to myself. I don’t feel like I have time to sit still for 10 minutes! Who am I? In what universe is that an acceptable statement for someone to make about such a spec of a sliver of a day? But I do. I make that statement. And I feel that statement. And that is the problem.

Somewhere between tumultuous tantrums over tights vs. leggings and meal planning and freelancing and not cleaning, I lost the ability to sit still and hear my heartbeat. I mean I assume it’s still beating because I am frantically doing all of these things, but I’m not stopping long enough to hear it and sit with it and thank it. I’m not smelling the coffee. And I love the coffee.

I realized through this challenge that my problem might be bigger than quiet. Bigger than 5 days and 20 minutes. It’s more sizable and serious than any app, although Headspace did do its best to work with me. The problem might be my priorities. I’m feeding the stress and starving the senses. Sometimes these challenges are the answer. And sometimes they just give me more questions. And so my elusive love affair with meditation continues …

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**MATT**

Meditate for 5 days, 20 minutes at a time.
20 minutes a day.
It’s only 20 minutes.
20 minutes to sit and try and focus on myself.

For those reading this that know me, I know you’re laughing right now. You know I don’t sit still. As my old man would say, “I’m like a fart in a skillet.” I’m not sure what in the hell that means, but I’m pretty sure it means I don’t relax. It’s just not an option. Something’s always poppin’ off. My brain just doesn’t have an off switch. But Biscuits picked it, so, let the challenge begin …

First stop, Dr Dave. The class started with a discussion on “stressors” in our lives – co-workers, expectations of our employers to be available 24/7, workload, money, family, etc. We all have them, but how do we deal with them. Obviously, we all have our ways of coping. Some good, i.e. hitting the gym, running, enjoying nature … and some not so good, i.e. downing a six pack, bottles of wine, excessive eating, smoking a pack of Reds (if you are a badass). Dr. Dave was telling a room full of people looking for tools that meditation was the ticket to stress relief.

Now, this may come as a shock, but I have never meditated before. At least not consciously or soberly. So, I sat with 20 of my new best friends, closed my eyes and focused on myself. I followed his cues – take a deep breath, focus on your toes and how they feel … think about the sounds you hear, are they far away … We were trying to stop our frantic minds and be present, which is something I am very interested in trying to do more of.

Dr. Dave says if you yawn, you are doing it right. Well, i did it right. Thank God everyone’s eyes were closed because my big ass yawned about 20 times in 20 minutes, tears running down my cheeks. I was a couple of minutes away from laying on the floor in front of Dr. Dave and taking a power nap while he wrapped things up.

After the meditation session we talked about things we do to try to gather focus when we are having a stressful day. How we hit that reset button. One lady mentioned she has a stuffed animal with really soft ears in her car that she can look at or pet and focus on to try to calm her mind. Another lady has cats and watching them wake up signals her to focus on herself. For Adam Sandler fans who’ve seen Happy Gilmore, it’s finding your “happy place”. It’s letting all of the bullshit we deal with drop away so we can get back to kicking ass instead of thinking of everything we have going on at once and freaking ourselves out. I know my reset is going to the gym. What is yours?

We all strive for some sort of balance in our lives. One of the reasons this challenge interested me so much is because I struggle to be present. My mind is consumed with the things I need to do, what I should be doing, what do I have going on at work tomorrow, what do I need to do first, check my work email, return texts, laundry, do we have any food at the house to make for dinner … shit! I just missed my daughter’s entire basketball game. Why does all of this stuff consume me? I know I’m not the only one. I’m not complaining, either. It’s life, right? I get it. But the balance … The balance is what I am after.

Technology is awesome. It’s very efficient, inexpensive, so much information, but we all need to make time to disconnect and just show up. Fuck all of this other shit that I have going on or things I need to do. Uncle Map is hanging with his niece and son putting up his Christmas tree and being present in this time and enjoying the moment. That’s what makes me genuinely happy; watching my son playing baseball and having a conversation with my daughter and ex-wife. Happy is putting down the phone and being where I am, not working.

That is my biggest struggle and I am trying to be better. We can all return those texts and emails at our convenience. We can “like” our friends’ pictures and read their posts later. It will still be there. Be present and do whatever it is you are doing and do it fully.

This challenge made me think about the way we act when someone unexpectedly passes in our lives. We all step back and say, “Shit, man … life is so, so short. I need to do all of these things I want to do now because my ass could be gone tomorrow.” So you think about all of the things you want to do, then a few days pass and you are back in your daily grind and won’t think about those wants until the next big life event makes you go, “Shit, man …” That’s what this challenge did for me in a way. When you sit with just yourself for 20 minutes, it gives you time to realize all of this crap that consumes us daily – work, keeping our house up, going to this function, meetings, social obligations – at the end of the day, it’s all just noise. It’s all bullshit. What matters is your friends and family.

Life goes by so quickly. My son is 12, my daughter is 10, my folks are getting older, my nieces are growing like weeds, my buddies all have busy lives … So, when I get to spend time with these people I love, I want to do nothing but love and enjoy every second of that time because you can’t get it back. We need to stop worrying about everyone else, what they are doing, why they have a different opinion, who gives a damn? Do you and enjoy all of the people you surround yourself with and wonderful things you get to experience in this crazy-ass life.

I guess I should have started sitting still a while ago, huh?