Wellness

Livin la Vida Vegan Day 3 (bad breath and poor protein)

September 19, 2017

We made it through the weekend. Praise be! Now comes the warm blanket that is my routine, and an opportunity to make these vegan habits part of the grind. Of course, the universe couldn’t make it too easy, so our sitter is off on vacation this week. Saint Kay has graciously volunteered to take on Sloppy Joan in her absence, but I’ll need to go retrieve the other two monkeys from the bus stop each afternoon and drop them off. Flexibility is fundamental to parenting, right? Flexibility and cocktails. Flexibility and cocktails and Netflix.

7:30 a.m.
I made my usual shake for breakfast. I’ve been making it for years, so I guess I’ve had a little vegan in me all along. I play around with the spices sometimes, but the base is always the same: PB powder, plant-based protein powder, a generous handful of spinach, cinnamon, turmeric and hemp seeds. Sometimes I add ginger as well. I pour a little bit of water in the bottom, add ice, and top it off with cashew milk before blending. It’s pretty darn good, guys. Pretty darn good. And portable, which is a plus.

I decided to listen to Rich Roll’s audiobook, “Finding Ultra: Rejecting Middle Age, Becoming One of the World’s Fittest Men, and Discovering Myself” during these 14 days. If you aren’t familiar, Rich is a world-renowned endurance athlete known for his astounding accomplishments, all powered by a plant-based diet, his podcast and his zen-like demeanor. He’s fascinating and inspiring and a really great voice to have filling your ears while you’re trying to make a dramatic change.

But the guy wasn’t just born miraculous. Rich was a collegiate swimmer and successful lawyer before losing a good deal of his gifts to alcoholism. Then, the night before his 40th birthday, he had a wakeup call. He was heavy and tired, weighted down by a fast food and television routine that left him winded and disheartened. Although he was sober, although he had a beautiful family, although he had a successful career, he decided it was time to make a change for his body. He began with a cleanse, then a vegetarian diet and eventually landed on a vegan prescription. It was here that it all clicked for him.

Rich recounts his rise and fall and rise again with a vulnerability that can only pull others in. Maybe I could do that, I think, as he talks about setting out on a short run only to find himself logging 20+ miles because he felt so free. It prompts reflection and fuels optimism and I think everyone can find a small piece of themselves in his story. I find myself taking the long way just to get 5 more minutes with Rich. I have his cookbook on hold at the library and my coworker swears by his meal-planning app, perhaps a purchase for another day.

12:05 p.m.
I don’t make a habit of eating lunch at my desk, but I’ll be using my allotted lunch break to go get the girls this week, so sad sack at my screen it is. Today, I had some bomb ass vegetable hummus from Earth Fare, with tortilla chips, and a salad. I tapped my vegetarian friend at work for her go-to mix, which consists of quinoa (I used my leftover rice and quinoa blend from dinner yesterday), greens, nuts and dried fruit (I used the salad topper mix from Costco) and Greek dressing. It was delightful. Garlicky. My breath could kill a vampire.

We’re thinking about camping this weekend, but Hank has one very strong concern.

“Dude, it’s no fun to eat nuts and berries on a camping trip,” he emailed. “What the hell is that going to look like?”
“Let me worry about the food,” I responded. “I won’t let you starve.”

We’re not going to let a vegan experiment keep us locked up at home for the love of Sarah Jessica Parker.

5 p.m.
I’d tucked the last vegan sugar cookie from Saturday’s celebration in my purse, just in case. By the commute home, I was ready for a little sweet treat. I felt like I was doing something incredibly bad eating the little bugger, good as she was.

I went home to start getting dinner around. On tonight’s menu: Baked Buffalo Cauliflower Bites. I warmed up the oil to make homemade french fries, too, because I’m not an animal. And just so no one under the age of 30 would starve, I put two peanut butter sandwiches on sugar-free wheat bread on the table as well, just so there wouldn’t be a revolt. Plus peaches and pears for dessert.

The preparation for these cauliflower bites was fine, simple enough. I even bought pre-cut cauliflower because why the hell not, right? For the sauce, I added a touch more honey than the recipe called for for fear of the heat, which ended up being a wise choice.

They looked amazing! My hopes were high. The flavor was good, but I was disappointed with the texture. I was really hoping the outside would have more of a breading, or a crisp. Which was not the case. They were soft like God intended cooked cauliflower and they had a kick like Jackie Chan, which got Hank’s engine going

“I’m so glad we did this so we could find a sauce that I want to put all over chicken,” he said.

I think vegan dinner is the biggest mystery to me. If you don’t build the meal around a main meat dish, then what do you build it around? We used to have a pork roast, and then everything revolved around that. Or chicken or pork chops. The meat was the leading lady, and everyone else played a supporting role, barely making the credits, often going unplanned until after the protein was on the stove.

But with vegan meals, there isn’t always a “main dish”. Sometimes there are just a bunch of veggie dishes. Plus, when I look at tonight’s dinner, there’s hardly any protein. Google says there’s like 11g total in an entire head of cauliflower. But beans make me barf, so I’m not thinking that’s not the best choice. I can feel I need more power. I’m draggin’ ass like a farmer with a dead donkey over here. Chalk it up to rookie vegan mom problems, I suppose.

Speaking of being a mom, I have to go. Sloppy Joan is hovering next to me in my bed, steamy pee dripping down her bare legs into a 10-inch circle of fluid. Turns out sometimes Bubble Guppies is just too damn good to walk away.

Wellness

Livin la Vida Vegan Day 2

September 18, 2017

Big Breakfast is every other Sunday. I’ve talked about it here before, but basically, it’s a chance for my immediate family to gather together and dip into the best damn sunny side up eggs my pops can fry up. He sweats his ass off for the sake of our gluttonous breakfast guts twice a month. But you know what doesn’t go over well at Big Breakfast? A Livin la Vida Vegan challenge.

I packed some wheat toast, with natural fruit spread from Trader Joe’s, vegan shortening spread, and hemp seeds to dress it up. There were fruit and hash browns (with hot sauce), too. There was also a healthy serving of judgement around the table this morning. Predictable but still disappointing.

I’m really honest when I say that I don’t know if this will really do anything for us.

I don’t know if my body will respond positively to cutting out animal products or it won’t or if I won’t even notice a difference. They’re all possibilities. But, let me ask you this, if someone came up to you and said, “Hey there, young woman who feels like crap and bad about herself a lot of the time, I have something that just might make you feel clear-headed and lighter and all around better. Plus! I’ll throw in a lowered risk of disease.” Then who’s the idiot? The person who gives it a go, or the person who doesn’t because it might not live up to the hype?

If food is medicine, doesn’t it make sense to play with your prescription until you feel better? Until it starts working? No one drops their cookie when a friend decides to add dark chocolate or sweet potatoes to their plate. So why is leaving some hog off of it so ridiculous?

Meats cause cancer. That’s a fact. The World Health Organization deemed bacon, along with his best friends, red meat and processed meats, like salami and pepperoni, carcinogens in 2015. That puts them in the same category as tobacco and asbestos. And your risk for cancer gets higher the more meat you consume. Seems like as good a reason as any to back away from the BLT.

I’m not the type of person who runs away from a challenge just because others don’t get it. I’m curious about the vegan diet, it’s something I want to explore, and it’s something that isn’t going to hurt to try. The criticism is a bitter side salad. And really kind of stupid.

After breakfast, Hank took the chicks up to the lake to snag one final day of summer. Meanwhile, I had just as much fun putting away a million baskets of laundry, mopping and sweeping the floors and going to three different stores to get enough meat- and dairy-free goodies to get us through the next week. If I learned anything from our first day, it’s that having easy things on hand is key. Planning ahead is going to be essential for success.

(Thoughtful aside: I ask you, brothers and sisters, what did people do before Costco?)

I had a training run on the calendar at 6, so I made an early dinner around 4. A quinoa-rice blend (Seeds of Change Organic Quinoa and Brown Rice with Garlic) with a quinoa buffalo burger on top. It was fire! Like, legit, so good. I did the patty in a cast iron skillet with a pot lid over it. It got crispy on the outside, which was a nice contrast to the soft rice.

An hour later I was running. And it was a really, really bad run. It’s hotter than Hades here and there were these tiny bugs dive bombing the pools in the corners of my eyelids. My headphones died in the middle of Keisha’s “Woman”, a badass anthem my sister-in-law introduced me to the night before and I’m entirely obsessed with 24 hours later. All I could hear now was the desperate panting of a girl who had too many pineapple ciders at a birthday party. I went 6 miles, but a mile from home I decided I just wanted to walk. I gave into my legs and let them slow to a stroll. Some battles just aren’t worth fighting. I took a swig of chocolate almond milk when I got home as a reward for lacing up the shoes at all. It’s just 2 weeks now until the half marathon. I’m ready to check that baby off … maybe for the last time.

As I sit here typing this, the girls are discussing lunch for tomorrow.

“Mama, I’m hot – cold – hot – cold – hot this week,” Spike said. “Do you get it? It’s a pattern.”
“Ah,” I said.
“What is lunch tomorrow anyway,” JoJo inquired from the sink, where’s she’s been brushing her teeth for 20 minutes.
“Popcorn chicken.”
“Oh my gosh, I love popcorn chicken. It’s basically shrimp,” JoJo explained. “I haven’t had it since first grade. Like a whole summer ago. Oh my gosh, I’m soooo excited.”

JoJo and I decide to start being pen pals. We’ll get a notebook where we can write notes back and forth and place the spiral-bound secrets under each other’s pillows every night. It will be just between us. A special treat for both.

[P.S. Someone please remind me to pick up notebooks tomorrow.]

Uncategorized, Wellness

Livin la Vida Vegan Day 1

September 17, 2017

“I just took a $70 crap,” Hank declared, ever so eloquently, emerging from the kids’ bathroom. I felt like anyone would the morning after consuming 856 grams of sugar and four courses of beef the night before. I needed coffee. Coffee, step 1. Livin la Vida Vegan meal No. 1, second.

I flipped through the Vegan for Everybody cookbook by America’s Test Kitchen, and landed on Classic Pancakes. I altered the ingredients just a bit … I used gluten-free flour instead of all-purpose, and coconut sugar instead of standard, but these puppies were perfect. The melted coconut oil and the batter danced on the hot iron skillet and created these crusty edges that welcomed us with open arms into this vegan venture.

I spread a bit of Nutiva Organic Vegan Shortening over the cakes, drizzled some organic maple syrup over that, dropped some blueberries on them and let the party in my mouth begin.

The best part, they were ridiculously filling. I couldn’t even finish the two I made. I added some Pecan Caramel Califa Farms Almond Milk Creamer to my coffee and called the first meal of the day good.

I had to help man a booth at a local music and art festival downtown, so I started to get a little panicky about lunch. Do I pack? Do I snack? I filled a baggie with a hearty nut, seed and dried fruit mix and headed out into the 80-degree day.

By 3:45 I was alarmingly sweaty and the 19 year-old hipsters were starting to seem less adorable. Luckily, my coworker is a 10-year vegetarian vet. As I got ready to leave, she told me about her favorite food truck, a vietnamese vendor who does vegetarian and vegan rice bowls. Yahtzee!

I text Hank: “Bringing home a late-afternoon vegan treat! Leaving soon.”

I walked over and ordered two rice bowls, one with lime tofu and one spicy, and put them in my front seat like precious passengers en route to heal a nation. I was starting to get ravenously hungry.

Each had a scoop of rice, cilantro and spinach, shredded veggies, peanuts and fried tofu.

I hated mine …

The interesting thing is, I would have never ordered that. Ever. And it was so perfectly satisfying and delicious. Happy discovery No. 1 and meal No. 2, done.

The challenge of the day was Hank’s aunt’s 55th birthday party. Buffets are built around two things: meat and mayonnaise. Every crock pot was brimming with coney sauce and pulled pork and meatballs. The bowls crowding the island packed with various noodles and shredded cabbages, all dressed decadently in mayo. And of course there was plenty of cheese. You don’t think about it, until you can’t have it.

I packed two kinds of hummus, guacamole, tortilla chips, sliced nectarines and blueberries, and three kinds of vegan cookies I picked up at the local natural grocery store. I was going to be damned if I let a party on the first day be our downfall.

But we made it. Once I had my goodies, walked out of the house and started dancing, I didn’t even think about the spread inside. The ladies of the family standing in a circle screaming Janis Joplin was the ideal distraction. And it’s an interesting case study in how much we focus on the food at social gatherings, instead of the social at the social gatherings. When you focus on the folks around you, stuffing your face carries a little less weight.

I extinguished my buzz on the drive home with half a container of veggie hummus and an everything cookie, and I didn’t feel deprived a bit. In fact, I’d say it was a little indulgent if anything.

Day 2, here we go …

Wellness

Livin La Vida Vegan eve

September 16, 2017

It’s 24 hours before our Livin La Vida Vegan adventure is set to begin. Also, our 10th wedding anniversary.

7 a.m.
I come downstairs to find a vase filled with 10 white roses and 5 sunflowers, a box of 4 truffles from my favorite chocolate place, a $10 lottery ticket (with a 1 in 10 chance of winning), and a dime to scratch it off (from 2007, the year we got married). I’ve mentioned before that Hank has a sordid past with gift giving, but this was the perfect gesture. A beautiful bouquet, a sweet box of sugar, and a little bit of luck. I tuck the box of chocolates into my purse and promise myself this will be a little treat for later.

Everything was just perfect.

7:45 a.m.
I walk into my office and there is a giant pink box on my desk. I lift the lid where the cardboard parts and a waft of sugary glaze erupts below my nose. Cinnamon rolls. A dozen of them. Huge pastries the size of Princess Leia’s buns, drizzled with thick white lines of frosting. Oh shit.

10:30 a.m.
I get a call from the front desk. There’s a delivery for me. Cupcakes this time. A dozen of them. Swirls of thick frostings in pinks and browns and crystal white. Tiny cookies and wafer twills adorn each one, their contents a mystery. I smell peanut butter and marshmallow and strawberry.

10:55 a.m.
The front desk again. She’s just laughing at this point. “I’ll be right there.” Now we’re looking at cookies. A dozen of them. The gang’s all here: Chocolate chip and peanut butter came, and they brought their sister snickerdoodle and her best friend sugar. Oatmeal was lucky enough to get an invite as well, but stands out as the only one in this crowd with a morsel of actual nourishment, dressed in sugar though it may be.

By lunch I was convinced that my husband either loved me so much he couldn’t contain it in just one box of confections, or he was trying to trigger type 2 diabetes so he could collect my life insurance.

“Babe!” I said when I called him at noon.
[He snickers]
“You realize we have to eat all of this stuff by tomorrow morning, right?”
“Well, I just love you,” he said, pretending to be innocent.
“Oh my gosh, you’re so sweet. It’s so much …”
“I tried to find a place to deliver tacos, but I couldn’t.”
“Ohhhhhhh, boy. Well, I love you. Thank you.”

I went out to get a probiotic drink and a trough of vegetables. I could already feel the sugar shock setting in. By now, my coworkers had consumed a total of 4 cinnamon rolls. Just 36 treats to go, counting the chocolates I’d packed from home. This would be my Everest.

3 p.m.
I started doing hot laps around the office, making up reasons to check the printer and interrupt normal people as they finished up their last-minute Friday to-dos. At one point, we used an app to check my heart rate. It was all good. But my eyes were as wide as quarters and my limbs were moving without prompting. Remember when Mike Myers played Simon on SNL, the sweet little boy who wore a harness and, when given chocolate, pulled an entire jungle gym out of the ground and ran down the street with it tethered to his back? Yup.

People started taking baked goods out of concern for my safety. I threw my hands in the air and exclaimed, “It’s the best anniversary ever!”

6:30 p.m.
Fancy anniversary dinner time. We’re all dressed up and I’m still flying a foot off the ground. We debate some mini hamburgers on the menu (these weren’t junior bacon cheeseburgers, guys. These were Mini Wagyu burgers with bacon, jalapeno, onion jam and bleu cheese mousse. Yes, yes we’ll have that.) They came out and looked like they were from an easy bake oven, tiny in an almost did-we-turn-into-giants kind of way. But I assure you they didn’t taste like anything I’ve had from an easy bake oven.

We followed these little guys with a wedge salad and corn soup, respectfully, Wagyu strip steaks on a bed of garden vegetables, a lavender latte, creme brulee and an apple tart. Ohhhhh, the apple tart. As Hank said, many, many times, “It’s like an elephant ear wrapped around apple pie!”

We met some friends for a few beers to end the night because there was just enough room in there for some liquid.

And now, here we are. The morning of Day 1. I’m either set up to fail or so incredibly food wasted that I have no choice but to succeed. Here … we … go …

Thoughts

Edward & Bella and Me & You

September 14, 2017

So, I’m just finishing up the Twilight saga. Why now? Why ever? You ask. I don’t have a good answer for you. I’m a page in my dayplanner away from 35 years old and the other night I literally said to my husband, “Bella had the baby, Edward had to make her a vampire to save her, and now her werewolf best friend is in love with her baby, whose name is Renesmee.” The sheer ridiculousness is not lost on me, and believe me when I say, I hate myself just a little bit for hanging in this long.

But I think this world has left me in need of a love story. Any love story. The more absurd, the better.

I’ve also been watching The Office like a junkie on Netflix, and I think my obsession with Jim and Pam kind of counterbalances the whole shape shifter/cold ones indulgence. Love is love is love, I guess.

But the big one is this: On September 15, it will have been 10 years since one of my all-time favorite love stories began, and more than 16 years since it really started taking root. Hank and I will celebrate a decade of domestic, wedded bliss and blunders this year. It feels impossible to be honest. Not that we made it this far, but that so much has happened so quickly, in the span of 25 to 35. Kids and houses and jobs and loss and laughter and so many memories.

I often think of this blog as a place to put all of the stories I know the waves of time will eventually wash away. And so, in honor of our anniversary, I’d like to add another to these pages. And this one is a goodie. This is a story about one of the many moments when I knew that Hank was my person … my ride or die … my Aiden Shaw (Mr. Big Mr. sucks, so in my mind, Carrie went a different way).

It was winter break of my freshman year of college (his sophomore year). We were at my parents’ house. Hank was on the couch watching TV, I was holding my baby niece. As I stood up to go change her, a piercing pain shot through my stomach like a red hot bullet. I tossed the infant to my boyfriend like a football in a trick pass.

“Ugh!” I moaned.
“What?” he pleaded. “What’s wrong?”
“Oh my God, my stomach!” I wailed, folded over on the floor.

I reached for the house phone and dialed my mom’s work number. She was home in minutes.

“Should we call an ambulance?” she asked, to no one in particular.
“I can get you there,” Hank said, confidently.

The pain was coming like sheets of furious rain in a thunderstorm. The calm moments weren’t necessarily calm, but just less excruciating. I was running through the options in my head … Ruptured appendix? Pancreatitis? Did I do something to my liver? Oh my gosh, my liver! Damn you, flippy cup!

We made it to the nearest ER fairly quickly. My mom had placed a bag of frozen vegetables on my stomach en route, peas I think. (A bag of frozen vegetables to my mom was like a bottle of Windex to the Portokalos family in my Big Fat Greek Wedding.)

After what felt like hours, they brought me back. They asked me some questions, and put me in a gown and eventually decided they would do an ultrasound.

With a wand.

Why did they need to go in there?

Oh … my … gosh. They thought there might be a baby in there?!

I was horrified. And confused. And paralyzed with anxiety. Could there really be a baby in there? And did all babies hurt like this when they got in there? But, really, how could a baby get in there? That’s just great. Ain’t no bag of peas gonna fix this, I thought.

After the most uncomfortable test of my life, they put me back in the exam room. My mom and I sat waiting, a pregnant pause between us. “Your boyfriend can come back in the room,” the physician said. “Right, so he can hear the news that he’s miraculously going to be a father, to a baby that’s trying to murder my intestines because it already hates me,” I thought. Hank came in and stood by my head.

The doctor put a smoky black and white image up on the light. She took the end of her pen and began circling a cloudy mass on the picture.

“Do you see this spot?”
“Yes,” we all said, sloppily, definitely not in unison.

Oh gosh, here it comes … It’s cancer. No, twins. No, cancer. No …

“Well, that’s gas.”
“OK …?” I said, not quite sure if “gas” was code for something else.
“See,” she continued, sensing my ignorance, “sometimes gas goes off track. It gets into places that can be rather uncomfortable, in this case, your ovary. It can definitely feel like something far worse, or even serious. The good news is, eventually, it will work it’s way out.”

She smiled kindly and moved onto a gunshot victim down the row a ways. It was quiet for a beat or two.

“So, did she just say I have a fart in my ovary?” I asked.
“That’s what it sounds like,” Hank said.
“A fart in my ovary …”
“The question is, how will you know which fart is the fart?” my mom asked, which was a totally valid question.

Mortified doesn’t cut it. Hank had been my boyfriend for all of maybe four months and he had just gallantly stood by as a doctor diagnosed me with a case of the travelin’ farts. Hurt as that bitch of a gas pain did, it couldn’t compare to the gaping wound that was my pride. Guys, can you imagine if we would have called an ambulance? On top of everything else, he took me to his house that night and I puked all over his parents’ bathroom. No clue why. Maybe it was an aftershock from the wand setting in. I was a gaseous, spewing trainwreck.

But he didn’t leave.

Not only did he not leave, he never made me feel stupid or gross. This scenario has repeated many times over the years, except under different titles. Replace “travelin’ fart” with “black boob from ignoring an infection” or “panic attack” or “extreme dental anxiety”. This man once sat in a chair for four hours – four hours! – while I got the root canal from hell. Only your mama and your person would do that.

Now, a decade in, I’m more certain than ever that I picked the right lobster out of the tank. I’ve never doubted this union for a second, and not just because I adore our babies and the life we’ve created, but because nothing has ever felt more natural, more organic, to me than standing beside this guy. Loving him is like breathing; I don’t have to think about it but I’m so thankful for the life it gives me.

I can’t say what 10 years of marriage is supposed to look like. I can only say what it looks like here. Here, in this stage of our lives, I’ll be honest and say there are days it looks like two people in the thick of the jungle using dull machetes to cut through the vines and make it out of the quicksand. But it also looks like teamwork and calendar consulting and granting ourselves permission to sneak away together sometimes. It looks like feet crossing at the end of the bed with Friends from College playing just above them and sharing the leg pillow since both of our backs hurt.

It looks like splitting and shifting the load so we can do things that make us happy outside of our roles as “Mom” and “Dad”, and petty fights because I’m hungry or tired or redirecting. It’s not a perfect marriage by someone else’s definition, but it is by ours, because we custom built it. We wove it together with the threads of trust and fabric of respect, and we work on it as often as we can, because we want it to be beautiful.

Similarly, I can’t describe a perfect home. I can only describe our home. A home with bedspreads inscribed by our children with permanent markers. A home with splashed, sticky walls and window screens with holes the size of tiny fingers. It’s filled with three little girls who yell “Daddy!” when he walks in at 6 o’clock every night, typically with pink hair ties around his wrist, leftover from that morning. It looks like stolen moments and locking eyes in the midst of meltdowns. It looks like stacks of photos that haven’t made it into books yet and dusty greeting cards with messages to each other we can’t bring ourselves to throw away.

It’s an open home, where our friends and family are always welcome, because that is what matters most to us. There are cobwebs in the corners I can’t reach and shoes caked with dried mud from Saturday hikes. I wouldn’t eat off the floor, but I’ll get down on it and tickle one of my girls without hesitation.

Our marriage, our home, our life, is my legacy. You wouldn’t be reading this blog if they didn’t exist. I wouldn’t be who I am if they didn’t exist. The light that lives inside me would be that much duller without each of these things we built together. Ten years seems like a significant milestone, but also still just the beginning.

Henry, I love sleeping in giant barn shelters along the Appalachian Trail with you (and 20 strangers), and getting lost down rivers in our kayaks with you, and sprinkling food and water over these little chicks and watching them grow with you, and getting drunk and going to Costco with you and exploring this miraculous world next to you. I can’t wait for all the adventures we can’t even imagine just yet. Edward and Bella. Jim and Pam. They ain’t got shit on us, babe. Happy Anniversary.

Bonus fact for those who hung on until the end:
My mom thought I seemed anxious the day before the wedding and gave me a Lexapro to “relax”. Then I drank wine and started tripping out. Thank God for good friends to bring you out of your Lexa-coma. (And the ones who take pictures of it.)

Wellness

The road to my 14-day vegan challenge

September 7, 2017

Oy … you guys, I could say, “Things have been crazy,” but that would need to be followed by “for the last 8 years,” right? You have a drawer full of big girl pants, too, so you get it. Let’s talk about this vegan challenge.

Oh, wait, two quick things since we haven’t chatted in a bit. No. 1, am I the only parent out there getting d-o-w-n to some Descendants 2 songs? Mel is basically Missy Elliott at this point in my life. It’s sad, but I’m leaning into it. So many ways to be wicked. And No. 2, Sloppy Joan pooped down her leg so bad the other day, it filled her rain boot. Like, to the brim. I have a picture, but I think just typing it is about all anyone can handle today.

Good, we’re all caught up.

So, sometimes I wonder if I’m some sort of masochist, ya know? When someone invited me – me! A woman who has spent hours googling phrases like, “Why do yoga arms evade me?” and “Can a person overdose on sugar?” and “painful upper leg jiggle” – to voluntarily lay down on a table and have an iDXA scan, where a machine runs down your person to reveal your actual body composition, I said, “Why yes! Yes, I would love to.”

Why would I do that? Let me just tell you this, now typing from the other side of the experience, there is no go-get-em TEDTalk, no healthy perspective podcast, or frightening food documentary, or humble blog post or Brene Brown-eque book to prepare you for seeing how much of your body is bone, how much is muscle and how much is straight up butcher shop lard.

None. Nothing. Nope.

So, first of all, they have you lay down on your back for the iDXA scan. You know what happens when you lay down on your back? Everything spreads and settles. Like a batch of thick pancake batter hittin’ the griddle, baby. Then, you can’t move for 7 minutes. Because I had to fast for the test, I hadn’t had a lick of caffeine. So, when they said, “Hold still, please,” I heard, “Now, go ahead and take a 7-minute power nap with your eyes open.” And I said, “OK then.”

After your scan is complete, they hand you four papers and send you down for a consult. This is the portion of the visit where you discuss what the colors and numbers you’re seeing around your silhouette – which resembles Baymax from Big Hero 6 – actually mean. They try to be positive, but it’s basically like being broken up with by a cute boy in high school. “You’re bone density is great, but …” “It’s not your lack of muscle mass, it’s your …”

I won’t drag this saga out, or keep you in suspense; my results showed that I am just slightly into the overweight category. This information, sobering as it was, was no Sixth Sense plot twist. It wasn’t like Rachel choosing Bryan after crying off an eyelash over Peter. Or any of the Game of Thrones murders all you dorks are always freaking out over. The news was just confirmation that the slight insecurity I’ve been silently wrestling is now a full blown enemy, and we must go to war. It’s not about vanity (OK, it’s a little about vanity), but it’s about my health and my mobility and my children.

I’m not morbidly obese, but I’m not in a good place, either, and that’s enough to get me motivated for change. I think we’re often an all-or-nothing culture. People are too thin or too fat. They’re too toned or too frail. They’re too obsessed with their body or entirely negligent. But there’s a whole bunch of people globbed together there in the middle. And that’s where I find myself at the moment.

The problem? I’ve kind of exhausted the familiar weapons in my arsenal. The Whole30s and the half marathon training and the calorie tracking. It’s not cutting the mustard, obviously. So, I’ve decided to try something drastic and new, because, you know what, you don’t know until you try, right?

Several months back, while doing an interview with a cardiologist, I asked him about his diet. He smirked shyly and looked down, as if replaying and reliving months of judgement from his peers. “Well, I’m actually vegan,” he said. “Really?” I inquired. “Yeah,” he said. “Of all the personal and professional research I’ve done, it’s the only thing that really makes sense. I cut things out in stages and now I’m almost entirely vegan. I feel great, I maintain a healthy weight and my cholesterol looks fantastic.”

That was the first time I considered the benefits of a vegan lifestyle.

Then, about a month ago, I got a weird bug. I felt a ton of pressure in my head and completely nauseous with stomach pains and just generally shitty. While hugging my internal organs and sweating profusely, I decided to watch, “What the Health” the trending new food documentary. (A little secret about me: I am obsessed with food documentaries.) As I listened to the testimonials and the research (some of which I’m not entirely sold on), I started to fear that there was some truth to the reports that my sizzling love affair with bacon might not be in my best interests.

That was the second time I considered the benefits of a vegan lifestyle.

And then I flipped through my planner and came across the images from my iDXA scan, tucked shamefully in the back behind a baby shower invitation. Holding them in my hands, I walked into my closet and looked up at the 8 neat stacks of pre-baby clothes taunting me just below the ceiling. I turned to the mirror and I thought about all of the excuses and do-overs and self-loathing I’d racked up over the past eight, likely more, years. And I started to get really angry.

That was last week. That was also the time I decided to try this vegan thing out. Now, before you get all Judy Judgey on me, realize that I’m not buying the Porsche. I’m just taking it out for a test drive for a few weeks.

There are claims out there that a vegan diet can:
Lower risk of cardiovascular disease
Lower risk of cancer
Improve kidney function
Help lose excess weight
Reduce inflammation
Improve bone health
Reduce your carbon footprint significantly

Gosh, if even one of those works out, I’d be pretty pumped. Of course I realize these benefits would take much longer than 14 days. I also realize there’s a good chance my affinity for the Hog Trough platter at my favorite local BBQ place might just crap all over the whole thing. It’s going to be real and it’s going to be tough, and it’s going to be really tough. But, if I can come out meatless even a few days a week after this little adventure, I’d throw a tally up in the win column.

I will start my animal-free experiment on September 16, and end the trial period on September 29. I might keep going. I might make some alterations. I might just take a nap and decide not to decide anything. In the meantime, I’m pinning my panties off and checking out every vegan cookbook the local library has to offer.

Do I think it’s a magic pill? Nah, I’m a little too old to buy into that fairy tale. But do I think it’s going to hurt anything to try it and see how I feel? Nope. Because it’s about the journey. It’s about trying different things and finding the personally tailored prescription that fits. I am certain I haven’t found that yet, so I’m going back to the drug store.

I’ve had this quote from an article I read for more than a year now. I came across it again last week. It’s from Christopher Sommer, a former men’s gymnastics national team coach, who said:

“Dealing with the temporary frustration of not making progress is an integral part of the path towards excellence. In fact, it is essential and something that every single elite athlete has had to learn to deal with. If the pursuit of excellence was easy, everyone would do it. In fact, this impatience in dealing with frustration is the primary reason that most people fail to achieve their goals. Unreasonable expectations time-wise, resulting in unnecessary frustration, due to a perceived feeling of failure. Achieving the extraordinary is not a linear process.

The secret is to show up, do the work, and go home.

A blue collar work ethic married to indomitable will. It is literally that simple. Nothing interferes. Nothing can sway you from your purpose. Once the decision is made, simply refuse to budge.

Refuse to compromise.

And accept that quality long-term results require quality long-term focus. No emotion. No drama. No beating yourself up over small bumps in the road. Learn to enjoy and appreciate the process. This is especially important because you are going to spend far more time on the actual journey than with those all too brief moments of triumph at the end.

Certainly celebrate the moments of triumph when they occur. More importantly, learn from defeats when they happen. In fact, if you are not encountering defeat on a fairly regular basis, you are not trying hard enough. And absolutely refuse to accept less than your best.

Throw out a timeline. It will take what it takes.

If the commitment is to a long-term goal and not to a series of smaller intermediate goals, then only one decision needs to be made and adhered to. Clear, simple, straightforward. Much easier to maintain than having to make small decision after small decision to stay the course when dealing with each step along the way. This provides far too many opportunities to inadvertently drift from your chosen goal. The single decision is one of the most powerful tools in the toolbox.”

The goal is to document every day of the 14 days, including recipes, noticeable changes and my feelings along the way. I’m sharing this now, in case any of you brave souls would like to follow along and try it as well. I promise I will not feel differently about you if you choose to sit back and take bets on my potential failure from afar. You gotta do you.

Wanderlust

On the other side of the waterfall

August 24, 2017

We pulled up the drive to a sparsely lit cabin, the sound of stones popping under our hot tires, dragonflys and moths dancing drunkenly together around the nearly blinding porch light. It was after 9 o’clock. We’d arrived later than we’d planned, but we were here. The girls faces, cast in a muted bright blue from the small screen playing Cinderella, were peering out of the fingerprint-smudged windows, Sweet Nightingale crooning in the speakers.

The property owner, Bridget, walked us quickly around the house. Her husband, Conor, decided to take up building cabins as a hobby years ago. There were two others up the road. This pastime, of course, came after he thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail.

“Have you done any of the trail?” Bridget asked, sincerely interested.
Just a couple of sections,” I conceded. “Ya know, with young kids we don’t get out there as often as we like. But eventually, in our lifetime, we hope to complete the whole thing.”
“You will,” she said, nonchalantly.

I asked about restaurant recommendations, though I had some from a facebook post I’d put up earlier that afternoon.

“Those are a bit of a drive. You’d have to go all the way to Brown County,” she said. (Just so you know, I thought I’d booked a cabin in Brown County. Turned out, I had no freaking clue where we were in southern Indiana. But I didn’t want to tell her that. Or Hank. This trip was a birthday gift to him from me and the chicks. I played it off.)
“Oh, yeah, I wasn’t sure just how far they were.”
“You can totally do it! It’s just a bit of a haul.”

Quick, change the subject. You reek of rookie airbnb user.

“It said in your bio you’ve been to Ireland?” I inquired.
“Oh, yeah. A few times. Actually Conor has family there, so he’s been more than me.”
“Ya know, Ireland is at the top of my bucket list. I want to go backpack around there for my 40th maybe … I don’t know … it’s so overwhelming.”
“If you want to, you will.” she said. Again, unflinching.

She took the girls up to the loft, lined with perfectly made twin beds. The setup was a vision straight out of a Three Little Bears illustration. She showed them the books she’d set aside for them, a worn, treasured copy of “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein among them. She invited the babes to dig around in the drawers for treasures and games she’d stowed away for young visitors. She was so relatable and transparent and warm, a true traveler’s soul, I’d say.

She opened the creaking screen door and wished us a good weekend before slipping out into the darkness. I surveyed our space for the next 48 hours and smiled. I was instantly enamored with Bridget and Conor and their rustic log cabin. I felt soothed by the smell of simplicity and optimistic talk of wanderlust. And I wasn’t even planning on going to Solsberry. (That’s where we were.)

The next morning, we went to the local “greasy spoon” Bridget recommended. It was one big open room of locals, and as out of towners, we were certainly the minority. The girls ate the ears of their Mickey Mouse pancakes while Hank and I tried to enjoy cups of diner coffee between Sloppy Joan’s 500 trips to the potty. Public restrooms are as entertaining as playgrounds at this point.

Bellies full, we went back to gather supplies, change shoes and head out to McCormick Creek State Park, which was just 10 miles away. We picked the trail the woman at the guard station recommended; the one that led to “the waterfall”.

Shortly into our hike, I realized I’d left my phone in the car. As had Hank.

“Aw shoot! I don’t have my phone.” I said.
“That’s OK, Mom,” JoJo responded. “Sometimes it’s good to leave it behind. You just have to protect your memories in your mind. Or your heart.”
“Yeah, it’s OK,” Spike chimed in.

I turned to my husband and exchanged the look I often shoot his way when I get absolutely schooled by our 8, 6 or 3 year old. Too often to feel good about myself as a grownup.

We came to a flight of stairs that led down to a small river. Crossing was an exercise in calculating risk, as one by one we worked our way from shakey stones to more reliable boulders that wouldn’t budge. Eventually we came to the other side, and more rocks to navigate, just on land this time. As a self-proclaimed future American Ninja Warrior contestant, JoJo was like a pig in slop. She pulled her Cheryl Strayed boots off and wrapped her bare feet boldly around the stones. No fear, just adrenaline. This was her ultimate obstacle course.

We closed in on the waterfall. It was a petite pour, though it splashed thunderously onto the rocks below. The bedrock was coated in a natural oil slick. The girls would timidly waddle across the river, slipping sporadically and crashing to their knees with a cautious giggle.

I sat on a boulder off to the side, their little muddy shoes and soaking socks lined up to my right. My mama bear commentary echoed in the hollow of the mineral slabs that enveloped us. “Careful, Spikey!” “JoJo … not so far.” “Girls, help your sister.” As their bravery swelled, they got deeper into the stream and closer to the waterfall. While watching them, I started to notice people climbing down from the top of the cascading water.

JoJo noticed, too. Before I could make it that far, she was halfway up the jigsaw puzzle stones on the side of the waterfall. A kind man stood behind her, coaching her while simultaneously searching for her parents.

“Now she’s got it,” he smiled at me, relieved this child belonged to someone. “You really should try to go up there. It’s pretty cool.”
“OK, gotcha,” I said. Thinking there was no way in hell, kind stranger, I would be pulling my 34-year-old ass up the side of a slippery waterfall.

Then Spike showed interest and I knew I was screwed. I stood behind her, a tiny tush in the palm of my hand. I had no choice but to follow now. I tempted gravity, placing my foot about 12 inches off the ground on a bulging rock. The stones were dark and slimy, promising a concussion, or an embarrassing slip as best case scenario. Now it was my tush in Hank’s hand.

As my eyes crossed the crest of the downpour, I saw what the stranger had seen. A shallow stream laid out before me, curving off into the horizon. My JoJo was there, bouncing back and forth across mounds of sand and shards of stone. Spikey was following less confidently in her sister’s shadow. The trees formed a whimsical canopy over their heads, creating an intricate masterpiece of sun and shadow on the shore. I took in the scene, inhaling it into my memory.

I leaned over the ledge to Hank. “You should probably come up here,” I conceded. “It’s pretty cool.”

I grounded my feet on a patch of dry rock and reached for Sloppy Joan, who was determined to reach the summit all on her own. As the pads of her two little feet pitter pattered into the water beside me, Hank’s hand reached the top.

We spent the next hour splashing and stomping and jumping in and out of the afternoon sun. Each set of footprints was different. We all went to the same place, but took a unique path to get there. Five souls, connected by love and blood and the most important stuff, just going on an adventure before summer escaped entirely.

There weren’t many people here; A couple trying to find some alone time. A trio of exchange students. We sloshed our way past them, a disorganized circus on parade.

Eventually, we came to a large stone bridge. Hank decided to hike back the way we came and collect the girls’ shoes and the car. He would meet us on top of the bridge. I found a significant, sturdy rock in the shade of the overpass and sat down. I watched the soldiers in my little tribe. One always going too far, out of my sight. Brave and bulletproof. Another the observer; Always dipping her toes into the water rather than catapulting herself all the way in. And then my baby. Unaware of anyone but the reflection staring back at her and the bug inching toward her toes. So in the moment. So breezy and independent.

I felt gratitude. For this stone, for this time, for these humans. Everything that came after the climb, brought such unexpected peace. Such beauty. Such natural curiosity. And we weren’t even planning on going past the waterfall.

We tackled a 2-mile hike to a small cave next. I wore Sloppy Joan on my back like an impatient gorilla. She rested her head between my shoulderblades, only lifting it to ask, “What was that?” each time a woodpecker went to work. We came to a cave and Hank volunteered to take them through. My claustrophobia was ranking at Code Brown just thinking about it, but through they went. They loved the cool, black cavern, and begged to go through once more on their own. Why not? This was a day for exploring.

And then, the thing they’d been waiting for since the moment we descended the wooden staircase earlier that afternoon. We went back to the waterfall. We let them take off their shoes, their socks, their fear of reprimand, and we just let them go all in. After all, how often do you get to swim in the plunge pool of a natural wonder, small as it may be?

After Spike and Hank spotted a water moccasin that could, as she put it, “kill 99 people with one bite,” we loaded the swamp sisters into the car and made our way back to the cabin to clean up. We decided to take them into Bloomington to see the campus and grab a bite. After 500 more trips to the potty, and a mediocre meal, the troops were fading, and I was adamant about ice cream. Thus began a Google maps goosechase Hank is not likely to let go anytime soon. Every place we went looking for miraculously disappeared from where it was supposed to be. But – and this is a very important but – God had a plan.

The creamery we eventually came to, Hartzell’s, had homemade flavors and a variety of toppings. Including puppy chow. Puppy chow! I had puppy chow on top of from-scratch cookie dough ice cream and the entire world could have fallen away and I wouldn’t have cared. And we weren’t even planning to go to Hartzell’s.

We went home; exhausted, satisfied, full in many ways. I curled up on the couch with the girls and read “The Giving Tree”, and it made me think of family. How I would give everything I had for these people. Everything. Because this love we share is that good. Have you read the book?

“and she loved a boy very, very much – even more than she loved herself.”

I fell asleep right there, a daughter in my nook. The smell of lumber in the air. I was so content, there was nothing to fight or contemplate. Just rest, drunk on nature and sentimental thoughts.

The next morning, we woke up to Sloppy Joan announcing her poop in the potty. The victorious No. 2 stirred the four of us and we slowly came to life. The girls played for a few final minutes up in their loft. I went about packing and sweeping the treated wood floor. We all looked out the window and said, “Goodbye, cabin.” with frowny faces as we drove away.

We made it to Martinsville, a small town north of Bloomington before the demands for breakfast rose from the back seat. We pulled off into a diner and followed the friendly hostess to a corner booth. Here, Sloppy Joan would only go potty three times, a record, perhaps made possible only by one very special distraction. An older gentleman sitting at a small booth that backed up to our table felt our hurricane of a 3 year old bumping up against his arm. In a world where we don’t often notice each other and interaction is often viewed as an inconvenience, this man spoke to my little girl. He was playful and kind and smirked at all the same things that make her grandparents smirk.

He was a retired sheriff, we would learn from his friends. And a real softie it would seem. He gave each of our girls a quarter to buy a gumball on their way out. Which they did (chocolate for Sloppy Joan), and held them up against the window to give him a thumb’s up before climbing in the car. Aside from my unforgettable cinnamon roll french toast, that stranger was the sweetest part of our journey home. Such a kind, restorative display of humanity. Such a lovely exchange. And we weren’t even planning on going to Martinsville.

The more we replace things with experiences, the more we let fate be our travel guide, the more unexpected joy is revealed. The more I stop trying to drive this bus, the clearer I see that the best things can’t be planned. They are 100 percent organic. They’re found in modest cabins in cities that don’t make most maps and on long, winding trails. In rolling the dice and twists of fate. They’re in strangers with pure hearts and that rare, generous nature you have to be born with. They’re what you see when you leave the filtered lens behind and protect your memories with your heart.

The best things are just beyond the waterfall. But you have to be willing to climb.

Thoughts

the moment.

August 16, 2017

I’ve tried so hard, you guys. I’ve tried not to wade into the discussion, when it honestly feels like there can be no winner, no reason, no agreement. When every gesture feels small and empty and unworthy of the weight of the cause. I hide things in my newsfeed and turn off alerts and I tell myself, “Don’t look, Courtney. Those are not your people. Those heartless, lost souls, with their unimaginable hate and poisonous words, are not the same as you.” But then, a couple of things happened, and my fingers found these keys.

First, I went for a run. I have a 3-mile loop that I do quite a bit, and in the final stretch, right before I reach home, it takes me down a main street in our neighborhood. There’s an older man there who has, on and off, displayed a Confederate flag off his front porch. And, of course, when I drive by I always feel bothered, but what is there to be done about it? Well, on this night, just 3 days after the violent acts of Charlottesville, on the eve of my daughters’ return to school, the sight of it as I ran down the street sent acid into the pit of my stomach. And on this night, the man was sitting on his porch, just behind the flag, jubilantly chatting on his phone.

It wasn’t intentional, but I locked my eyes on his and scowled. I broke my gaze for a second and then, again involuntarily, it returned to him. I wanted to scream. I wanted to name him as the bully he was for everyone who was out in their yard to hear. I wanted to question his motives. Was it a power play to make people in the neighborhood uncomfortable or just a big middle finger to the general acceptance and kindhearted coexistence of others on these streets?

Before this night. Before the flag, I’d seen this man out, typically walking his dog. He always waved and said hello to my children. And now, with one aesthetic gesture, I saw him as some kind of monster. What does that say about me? That I am so easily unglued and rattled? That I didn’t go up to him and have the conversation, out of the resignation and assumption that a confrontation was laced into his motive? And the animosity I felt toward him … does that make me any better than the man who put the flag up in the first place?

The fact that these questions and suspicions and hateful conclusions even cross my mind is a disheartening reality of the current state of affairs. It breaks my soul to think of the thoughtless way in which we’re treating our neighbors, and the irreversible effects it’s all having on our children. The spirit of humanity is in distress. And, I gotta tell ya, if we can’t figure out how to fix it, it won’t matter what Mother Nature has to say about this planet. It will already be ruined.

Second, and far more importantly, I watched an amazing speech. Weeks ago, I’d moved a video of a lecture my friend Ryan gave into my “Saved videos” folder on Facebook. I’d watch it another day, when I could give it more attention, I told myself.

Ryan has been one of my most unexpected friends. I say that because our paths might never have crossed if it weren’t for our free-thinking, ultra-accepting high school newspaper crew. He was the editor, I was a writer, and even though he was younger, we shared a passion for the work. Somehow – and I can’t remember now – we reconnected when Hank and I moved to Indianapolis. I was 14 months pregnant with JoJo, and Ryan and his equally amazing wife, Andrea, had a daughter. They were so kind to us during that time in our lives. We were two young couples, finding comfort in the face of rapid change, the uncertainty of the decisions we were making and the gravity of starting a family. The love Ryan and Andrea gave was unconditional and sincere and instant.

In addition to their talents – he a self-employed graphic designer, she the principal of a respected downtown school – these friends of ours have the integrity and grit of true change leaders. I’ve known that for years, but when I finally opened the link and listened to Ryan’s message, the tears in my eyes solidified my opinion.

Given a stage and a microphone and an audience to talk about his professional talents, my friend Ryan chose to address compassion and empathy instead. He chose to be brave. He chose to use his words to enlighten and inspire rows of young designers about something far more important than font or color theory.

Watching him work through his script, composed of words I imagine he typed and deleted and altered and rehearsed countless times, I felt something different in the pit of my stomach. I felt a sense of purpose. Purpose to protect the light and incubate empathy. When I looked into his eyes, I saw hope, which will beat the shit out of hate on any given day.

I want to thank my friend Ryan for the gift he gave me today. And for the space he is creating in this world, perhaps when it needs it most.

“We have to believe in a light that shines and never dies. What alternative do we have? We can not allow apathy, cynicism and resignation to paralyze us while someone snuffs the light out. They can’t stop us when we embrace hope and optimism. And we have the courage to be protectors and beacons of light. Seek depth. Create space. Engage with a servant’s heart. Shine light on others and feel things deeply.” – Ryan Hunley

Try That With Matt

Try That with Matt. Sloppy sailors.

August 15, 2017

Remember in my last post, when I mentioned I was saying “yes” more than “no” these days? Well, a few weeks back, I found myself chin-deep in the e-coli-infested waters of a Lake Michigan river, beer koozie still in hand, the result of one such verbal agreement.

Matt, Hank and I recently went north to cruise around Traverse City, Michigan, for a kayak bar crawl with The General (you remember him), his wife, Tara, and her friend, Jill, his sisters, Angie and Andrea, their spouses, Lee and Kevin, his cousin, Matt (who we called “Cousin Matt”), and his cousin’s roommate, Alex. Now that I’ve introduced the entire cast of the Mickey Mouse Club … What’s a kayak bar crawl, you ask? Well, it’s exactly what you would think; a sloppy parade of paddlers (think Yale heavyweight crew 20 years outta school after getting into Pappy’s moonshine) work their way through the river, and eventually lake, pulling themselves ashore every so many feet to take down a beer or two.

What could possibly go wrong?

It’s been months since I posted a Try That with Matt, and since this was certainly a new adventure, and we did it together, it seemed like a good time to invite the gentle giant back onto the blog. You’ll forgive us both if the details are a little fuzzy.

**COURT**

The morning of the crawl, we woke up at a decent hour. Matt took off for a long bike ride and Hank and I decided to make the most of our kidless Saturday and trotted off for a quick 3-mile run. (That’s not what you thought I was going to say? Sorry to disappoint, ya perv.) It was a cloudy, lovely morning, with nothing pestering us aside from the sporadic assaults from tiny extended families of black bugs swarming our sweaty heads along the beach, which was closed due to high e-coli readings in the water. There we were, trotting along just like all those fit couples you see on the side of the road on Saturday mornings pretending not to hate jogging.

After a quick shower, I suited up. A bathing suit, running shorts and a black tank top. Tara dropped off a few cups of Pink Panty Droppers and went to gather her gear. I sipped the electric lemonade, eventually feeling it surge through my plumbing, burning it’s way into my gut and sending sparks through my fingertips. This day was about to get sloppy. I knew it. My fingertips knew it.

We drove to Hull Park and assembled our crew at a long table outside of The Filling Station. Ninety percent sober, we all chatted semi-politely and sipped our foamy glasses of beer. Some of the gals snapped open-eyed selfies at the other end of the bench. The General, Tara, and his sister, Andrea, told us what to expect by recounting highlights from the year before.

The volume of the table escalated a bit. We were making our move to the water. “Here! You need to eat something,” Hank said, shoving a small square of pizza into my hand. “Do I have time to pee?” I asked. He shrugged. I folded the petite pie into my mouth like a true lady and dashed to the potty.

I caught up to the group at the launch pad. One by one, The General and Matt were pulling people’s kayaks down into the water, holding the back as they climbed in and shoving them off. I settled into my vessel, placed a can of Summer Shandy in my koozie, and dipped my paddles into the dark, seemingly boundless water.

I am no Magellan, OK. I am not a great navigator, and in fact, I have no idea how I found the grocery store before Google Maps. And finding my way around a vast body of water? Yeah … no. But I can follow. And so I did. I followed like the newborn kayak captain I am; swerving and grazing my knuckles painfully along the curved rim of my boat, while The General yelled out instructions about which direction the letters on my paddles should be pointing toward and how my elbows should be bent. About 20 minutes after we started our voyage, our seasoned leader gestured to a 20-foot clearing in the treeline and we swarmed to the sand, threw our legs over the side and made our way up a hill to our second watering hole of the day, Right Brain Brewery.

I had two tasty cherry beers before it was time to shove off. Getting back into our kayaks, Cousin Matt flipped his and fell into the water. He handled it well, but me being me, I laughed until my tears filled the bottom rims of my sunnies. I just love it so much when people fall down. I’m also a big believer in karma.

I remember the first time I really biffed while drinking. Not to say this was the first time ever, but it was the spark to the dynamite fuse. A fuse that’s been slowly burning now for years. It was my 23rd birthday. The cops had been to the apartment to shut down a super-heated game of Catchphrase earlier in the evening, so we decided to head to my favorite piano bar. After sucking down red jello shots through a syringe like a Hoover and screaming Livin’ on a Prayer like a boss, my then-boyfriend Hank signaled it was time to go home. I can’t remember if I got on my sister-in-law’s back or she got on mine, but I do know both of us went down in a sketchy Indianapolis alley hard enough that I had gravel embedded in my knee caps for two days.

The seal was broken. I could write a book about the many falls of drunk Courtney since that night. I fell through an open door at an 80s bar, and then slipped on a spilled drink on the dance floor of that same bar a few years later … twice. Just a month ago, at the New Kids on the Block concert, I fell into the row ahead of me and took out five chairs and a 40-something mom. Security came over. I acted like I didn’t know what she was talking about.

Trust me when I say I’m not bragging here. I’m not really embarrassed though, either. I think it’s less a loss of my motor skills, and more a perfect recipe of my mama’s grace, deep, paralyzing belly laughs and the release of inhibition. My legs just go … like Bambi or April the Giraffe’s baby after it dropped. It all sounds very Betty Ford, but I don’t really dip my beak enough for any real concern, I promise. I share all of this not to let you sniff my dirty laundry, but rather to set the scene. (Also, I just know Matt is going to call me out.)

Back on the water …

We paddled for a little less than a half an hour (honestly this is a guess. I lost all concept of time after the Pink Panty Droppers), and it felt effortless. A subtle current and delay in execution took me right into a low hanging tree branch just minutes before we approached our next stop, Rare Bird Brewery. I was still kind of giggling about it when I felt the bottom of my kayak hit the lake bed and start sliding onto shore. I went to step out and realized I wasn’t going to get all the way upright. It a very brief conversation with myself, that went something like …

“Oh, shit. You’re not standing up on your leg parts. You’re sitting in the water. The water feels good. Get out of the water quickly because it’s full of poison e-coli!” [Laughter, laughter, laughter.]

My left leg was bent, my butt crouching down, resting on top of my left ankle. My right foot was still straddling the slope of my boat. I was laughing too hard to get any power underneath me, so Hank came and helped me get to my feet. He pulled Chili Pepper (my kayak) up the hill while I leaned against him giggling like a stoned teenager.

I was sloshing as I shuffled down the small town street. A sloppy string of water followed me as I made my way into the restroom at the brewery and forcefully peeled my shorts down to tinkle. It felt like we lingered at this stop. A lot of people were ready for food. I was ready for food, but I didn’t realize it just yet.

We walked to another bar in town, 7 Monks Taproom. Here, along with another round of beers, Hank ordered the best drunk meal I have ever had in my life. Honestly. Roast beef sliders and pretzel bites. Food porn if I’ve ever seen it. We stayed back a few minutes to lick our plates. Then it was time to catch up to our crew.

I approached the top of the slope, our kayaks waiting down below. My tummy was full and my mind was back with my petite patties and doughy delights and I just didn’t even realize I was starting to slide. Maybe it was less of a slide and more of a tumble. Anyway, I fell a bit down the hill. Nothing of note, but of course, Matt saw. I heard my brother’s booming laugh, a throwback to every misstep I’d taken in my youth, just behind me. I came to a stop. “Jeezus,” he boomed. But I wasn’t concerned. I’d done worse and I knew we were settling in for the homestretch. He tried to pick me up and shove me into my boat, but my stomach seized from muted cackles. I succumb to a second collapse, letting my heavy lower limbs just settle on the tiny pebbles in the water beneath me. My beasty brother hovered over me, more satisfied than a pig in a port-a-potty. My loving husband looked on, thinking of just how fortunate he truly is.

The distance between the last brewery we went to and where we pulled our kayaks out is a bit cloudy for me. I remember Matt and The General getting too close and The General ending up in the water. So, at least he got e-coli too. I remember passing apartments. I remember the late afternoon sun dancing on the ripples just before me and how mesmerized I was by the twinkles. And then we came out from the river and onto Lake Michigan. The current forcibly rocked Chili Pepper back and forth. The kayak would dip into the side of a slight wave, and then correct itself. A few drops of Summer Shandy splashed against the aluminum in the bottom of the can as I focused on driving my paddles in to reach the shore.

I didn’t really want it to be over.

Some of the guys turned around and went back the way we came to pick up the trucks, getting growlers at Mackinaw Brewing Company along the way. I rode back to the campground with the ladies.

After we pulled into the State Park, I proceeded to sit at Andrea’s campsite and have a 30-minute conversation with her sons about how their pirate ships from the mini golf course down the road were made of real, reclaimed pirate wood from the bottom of the ocean before returning to my own camper and eating a pound of Mackinac Island mint chocolate fudge, like a starved little lab rat given sugar for the first time in months. I watched The Great British Baking Show and ate my fudge and cut chunks of colby off a block of cheese with a butter knife. There. Now you know.

I was rocked to sleep by the gentle waves of Matt wedging himself into the bottom bunk of our camper sometime in the early hours of the morning. The next day, there was no jogging. Powerade. But no jogging.

**MATT**

The morning of the paddle crawl, I woke up on the bottom bunk in the back of Biscuits and Gravy’s travel trailer. Nothing like Biscuits making pancakes and setting off the smoke alarm first thing in the morning. It took me back to my youth, when, bless my mother’s heart, the sound of the blaring smoke detector was our family dinner bell. This hazy scene was just further confirmation, along with her comfort cotton panties, that my sister is my mom. (The cakes and sausage were delicious, sis!)

After our well-done griddle cakes, I thought I would take advantage of the kidless weekend and hit a trail that went through town and down to the lake for a nice long bike ride. What a great way to start the day; no phone, just my bike. The weather was beautiful. I got to see some of the big sailboats heading out on the lake while the water was smooth as glass. I felt so good being alone, getting some exercise in and taking in the beauty of the day before the shit show kicked off.

When I returned to the trailer, everyone was getting ready – loading little coolers, putting the kayaks in the truck, etc. I woke up ready, naturally, so when Tara was walking around with a pitcher of Pink Panty Droppers to kick off the day, I figured, “Why not? I’m on vacation.” For those of you who haven’t had a dropper, it’s one of those drinks that just lights you up. I knew it was going to be a good day when Court had one as well. My thought: “She is totally falling out of her kayak today.”

We dropped our party barges off at the launch point and hit a local brewhouse to pregame. While having some laughs and reminiscing, The General’s sister, Angie, raised her fist and declared she was, “#kokomohard”. And thus, the day’s catchphrase was born. See, a few years back, a tornado in the town of Kokomo prompted a #kokomostrong movement, which is completely appropriate for uniting a disheartened community. I would imagine #kokomohard is a rally cry for something much, much different. But #kokomohard is what we were, for the next 6 hours at least.

It was time to hit the water and head off to our first stop. It was just about a 20-minute paddle across the lake to a path on the side of a hill that lead up to a cool little brewery with a salon in the front. The boy hairdressers wore really short shorts, I can tell you that. Gave my big ass a chuckle before I grabbed a beer. Thanks, boys!

After a few drinks on the patio, it was time to head back down the hill and load up. Surely, I thought, there was no way Court was going to make it back into her kayak. But I was wrong. It was Cousin Matt who ate shit here. Like the champ he is, he loaded his wet ass right back up and hit the water. It’s the name. We’re just resilient animals.

The next stop was probably a 35-minute paddle back across the lake and down the channel to a spot where we had to de-kayak and pull them across a damned up area. We planned to hit two bars here, making it our longest stop by far. Needless to say, when we left we were all feeling really good. … and let the show begin.

Our kayaks were waiting for us at the bottom of a hill. It was here, on dry land with no damn good excuse, that Court decided to eat shit. She just went down, like a fainting goat. But it doesn’t stop there. After she gathered herself, I was loading her into her kayak and … yup, she started to fall again. She didn’t try to catch herself. She didn’t try to fight it. She just accepted her fate and sat down in the water. And there she stayed, laughing hysterically, for a minute or so. “Jesus Christ, pull it together!” I said, which just made us laugh more.

Once we all got our happy asses upright and in our kayaks, The General (whose real name is Rod, by the way) and I decided it would be fun – because we are 12 – to race to see who could hit everyone in our group with our kayaks first. It was close. We were neck and neck. I’d bump someone. He’d bump someone. His sister, who thought we were coming to mess with her, saw us closing in and started paddling for her life. I hit the gas to lock in the win, but my paddle snapped in half. No worries. I smashed the broken ends back together and dug in.

Rod was just ahead of me, at an angle, getting ready to hit his sis’s kayak and get the “W”. But I was just hitting full speed. I came in hot and rammed him, sending him into the water along with his kayak. Checkmate, Sucker.

We came out onto the lake, our final challenge of the day before half our group would get picked up. The big lake is choppy, which makes for a challenge. Last year, at this point almost everyone flipped. It was like the Beaches of Normandy out there; People dragging their overturned ships behind their battered bodies. But not this year. We took the waves at a solid 45 and brought it home.

About half of us carried our kayaks back to the channel and went to another breeery to grab growlers before we headed back where we started that morning. We washed up on the shore some time later, feeling good, with tired arms. My buddy Kevin cranked up the stereo in my truck and showed us his sweet moves at the boat launch. Picture a grown ass man doing “The Sprain” from Saved by the Bell, with a group of other grown ass men standing around cheering. Cool, right?

After 8 hours of paddling and pints, I came back to the campsite to survey the damage. You can imagine, the crowd was sparse. I sat down at the campfire for a nightcap and some tunes with Kevin. Tara told me Biscuits got into a fight with some fudge and the fudge won. She was down for the night. As was Gravy. I stayed up late enough to keep Kevin’s volume to a reasonable level so our fellow campers could drift off to sleep. As I gracefully wedged myself into the bottom bunk of the trailer, I closed my eyes and chuckled. It was a successful day on the water, with lots of laughs at other people’s expense and some great beer. That’s what #kokomohard is all about.

Want to read more of my adventures with my big brother? Check out Try that with Matt …
Meditation
Filth Filters
Class Clownin

Mindfulness

Wake me up so I don’t miss it

July 26, 2017

“Promise you’ll wake us up,” JoJo and Spike say, their eyes burning into mine. “Even if we’re dead asleep and you think we’ll be mad. We don’t want to miss your hugs and kisses.”

Oh, these accidental, magnificent insights.

My chicks have made an art form out of changing my crooked, bleak perspectives. I think kids in general have this way of sifting through the litter box of life and coming up with golden turds of unabashed happiness. It’s just something they’re born with that erodes a tiny bit every time someone tells them the Tooth Fairy is creepy or they watch an episode of Hannah Montana or That’s So Raven, or whatever preadolescent dribble the Disney channel feels like shoving down their throats.

I’m definitely making a conscious effort to catch all of their organic amazement before it evaporates entirely. I find, when I forget what wonder looks like, I can just watch their little faces during a thunderstorm. How their eyes widen every time a hot shard of electricity pierces the racing clouds or a rib-shaking ripple of thunder cracks down from the heavens. “God got a strike!” I tell them. “And all the angels took His picture.” Their instinctive fears spread to smirks and we watch until it passes. In these moments, my own sense of wonder starts to whisper from under a pile of rubble in my soul. “Help me … I’m still in here.”

But I want more. Without waiting for a temperamental warm front.

I keep coming back to it … Wake me up! Even if you think it’s going to make me mad. I don’t want to miss the hugs and kisses.

There was this afternoon a few summers ago, when I went to pick JoJo up from preschool, and Spike gasped and pointed down at the ground. She would have been about 3 at the time. “What?” I inquired. “What’s wrong?” JoJo gasped then, too, meeting the object of her sister’s jubilation. My eyes darted back and forth across the asphalt. What was I missing? Finally, “It’s a rainbow river!” JoJo offered. And there it was: ROYGBIV floating right there in a common oil spill. I didn’t see it. I saw someone’s misfortune; a pool of malfunction. That’s what I saw.

Why didn’t I see the rainbow?

The question bothered me.

But it’s not hard to answer. It’s so easy, in this life, with its pace and its pitfalls, to focus on things like moldy strawberries straight from the store, and my constant view of the tops of the heads of my tech-tethered loved ones, and the fact that the bathroom at work always smells like AquaNet, diarrhea and orange tictacs, and fitted sheets that refuse to dutifully cover all four corners of the mattress the way their packaging promised they would. But focusing on all the bad fruit and the poop paradise and other crap certainly doesn’t make any of it go away. A few years back, when I took an honest inventory, I realized I was giving all of the bruises on the apple of my life way too much attention.

And once I noticed my pessimism – once I named it – then I could finally start shutting it down.

How did I start shutting it down? Well, I decided to say “yes” more than “no”. It’s my attempt at a more spontaneous existence. I’ve been taking the sweet seconds to smile at my babies’ white tushies striding on top of their brown summer legs. Not always, but more often than not, I look over my shoulder at the sunset on my runs. And (this is the hard one) I’ve been pausing before I begin spewing obscenities and cursing people’s small-minded bullshit, and instead, using these moments as opportunities for grace. All these podcasts about how unique every person’s walk on this earth is, and how we can Make America Kind Again, are really starting to sink in. Still, I’d say I’m only at about a 65% adoption rate on this last one.

It takes practice to push all the fat winter flies and ingrown toenails of life aside and offer a larger portion of the pie to the positive stuff. But it is possible. I mean, the reality is that, even on the darkest days, there’s always a blue sky right on the other side of the clouds. (That’s some cross stitch shit right there, but you can still quote me on it.) I think once you make that decision, once you commit to think about what’s on the other side of the gray haze, you’re one step closer to peace.

Let’s be real, rain is always going to come. If every day was sunny we’d just take it for granted, right? But when those drops start to fall, you have a choice. You can pout inside a smudged window pane or grab your polka dot umbrella, some charming galoshes and a better attitude. I’m really trying to invest in the galoshes. It makes me like myself better.

And everyone else, too. The older I get, the lower my tolerance becomes for the pouters on the other side of the pane. The world is hard and scary and diseased. I. GET. IT. But I don’t need to sulk and soak in that sad bath with you every single day. It’s exhausting and, quite frankly, draining. Awareness is healthy. But when the heaviness of it all becomes an obsession, you’ve really just given up your power and turned me off. I’m learning to nourish the space between myself and the people with toxic tendencies, so that it can organically grow and buffer my soul.

Like anything, some exceptions will apply. Life can’t be like a season of Gilmore Girls. Things are going to happen. But, from this sunnier shore, I’m finding that pain can be beautiful, even healing. Long talks with someone who really needs your ear can be life-changing, for both parties. And that the uncomfortable stuff can be a powerful vehicle for personal evolution.

Is it all rose bushes and marigolds in my own yard all the time? Ah, no. And I don’t ignore the great tragedies of this world either. I don’t dismiss the just causes, or devastating diagnosis, or disturbing headlines. I don’t pretend to be so apathetic I can turn away from the morally corrupt circus playing out before us all in real time. It’s all still there. I didn’t abandon it. You can’t abandon it. But I’m finding that the more I lean toward the bright side, the easier it is to find the light switch on the darker days. The more I focus on fostering joy and putting a tight bandage on the infectious carcinogens that strangle my heart to contain them, the better off I seem to be. And the more powerful I feel.

One of my favorite people to talk to on the planet, recently told me that 99.9% of the time, your body breathes you. It’s automatic and involuntary. But when you breathe your body – when you take a moment to feel your stomach rise and fall and notice how your hair tickles your shoulders, and feel your daughter’s soft cheek against your own – that’s when you tap into the good stuff.

So, I’m into all that. Breathing my body and my people. Detaining the toxic bullshit and its carriers. And jumping into the joy parade. It’s my 3-step process for obtaining eternal optimism.

If you see me looking away – from an adorable baby with a mouth full of spit bubbles, or my girls smelling flowers or a sunrise painted with angelic brush strokes – just give me a little nudge. And dear God, please wake me up. Even if you think I’ll be mad. Because I never want to miss the hugs and kisses. I never want to miss the love. Or this life.