Some Kinda Superwoman, Uncategorized

Some kinda Superwoman: Casey

October 13, 2016


I discovered the book “Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen” by Christopher McDougall about 3 years ago. It must have been on someone’s Pinterest board or blog or podcast or some such stream that feeds into the fire hose of information I drink every day. Or perhaps it was dumb luck, I mean, divine intervention, because a book about the journey of ultramarathoners, including the Tarahumara Indians who reside in Mexico’s Copper Canyons, to ultimately cover 100 miles of unfathomable terrain in Leadville, Colorado, isn’t my typical jam. But I read every page. And I’m telling you, I loved it.

It had history, suspense, running tips, entertaining exchanges between characters, adversity and, of course, plenty of perseverance (our word of the month). I was so taken by this story, I became a book pusher; urging anyone who would listen to dive into McDougall’s masterpiece. In my mind, Leadville, and the superhuman race held in its mountaintops, were fantastic fictional plot elements.

So when my old editor posted an Instagram declaring she was in fact training for the balls-to-the-walls, take-no-prisoners, merciless, infamous, real life Leadville Trail 100 Run, my fingers couldn’t keep up with my thought bubbles.

“Casey! Are you doing this race?!?!?!”
“Holy shit! You are such a badass woman. When is it?”
“Badass or crazy. In August.”
“Gah!!!! I’m so excited for you. You’ll kill it.”
“You should come run some of it with me.”

I felt it was best for all parties involved to insert a laughing emoji and slide out of the conversation at this point. I marked August 20 in my calendar and immediately started stalking her training through social media.


A bit of background on Casey. We worked together on a food magazine in Indianapolis for about five years after I graduated from college. She made me nervous because her talent demonstrated where the bar was set for grownup writers, but she was never cocky or condescending. The opposite actually. She was hipster before hipster was a significant social class, with her PBR and her folk jams. And she was living proof that life beyond my post-college, early 20s buzz wasn’t entirely bleak. I adored and admired her.

To know Casey is to know Casey runs. She ticked off a full marathon or two in the time we worked together and spent hours encouraging me to get out there. That passion is just part of her, like a loud laugh or short temper. Her husband Bill, a respected educator and writer in his own right, is a runner as well. They’re really cool people. As a result of this street cred, and the sheer awe of the feat ahead of her, Casey’s quest to conquer 100 miles in the air-sucking altitude of some of Colorado’s toughest peaks conjured up some strong supporters.


Her story of Leadville, much like Christopher McDougall’s, is a master class in courage. Brave, to me, is pushing yourself beyond what’s comfortable and familiar. Brave is sharing what you learn about yourself, even if it could be perceived as weak to some. Brave is this post. In “Rising Strong”, Brené Brown writes, “I want to be in the arena. I want to be brave with my life. And when we make the choice to dare greatly, we sign up to get our asses kicked. We can choose courage, or we can choose comfort, but we can not have them both. Not at the same time.”

I hope you enjoy reading Casey’s recount of her journey because I tell ya, she really is some kinda Superwoman.

“You don’t have to be fast. But you’d better be fearless.”
— Christopher McDougall (Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen)

By Casey Kenley

AT THE BASE OF HOPE PASS, ABOUT 40 MILES into the race, everyone around us pulled retractable walking sticks out of their backpacks — everyone except us. It was the first real sign that I might be out of my league. I was attempting to finish the Leadville Trail 100 Run in the Colorado Rockies, an ultra-running race with an elevation gain of 18,168 feet and fittingly called “the race across the sky.” With hundreds of other runners tricked out in headlamps and running gear, I had crossed the start line back in Leadville at 4 a.m. that morning and had already made it up two big climbs; down a slick, rut-riddled descent; and across plenty of miles of rocky trail.

I was at the base of Hope Pass for a few reasons. First, nine months earlier, I was still flying high from my first 100-miler when my good friend Holly suggested that I put my name into the lottery for Leadville. I assumed my chances of getting in were slim to none, so I filled out the online form in December 2015, said goodbye to my $15 registration fee, and waited. If you are accepted into the lottery, you are immediately registered and divested of $315. I was one of the lucky 356 people from around the world who got in. And second, I was at the base of this mountain because I was avoiding a challenge that seemed far greater than running 100 miles: writing a book. When I trained for my first 100-mile race, I spent every Friday for nearly five months running for hours on end. I told myself that once I checked that distance off my bucket list, I would devote all those valuable Friday hours to writing a book. When I got into Leadville, that was impossible because I had to start running again.


So there I was, on Aug. 20, 2016, facing Leadville’s deal breaker of a climb, moving from a flat, grassy plain up into dense woods. The pace almost immediately slowed to a slog. If your thighs deserve some punishment, you won’t find any mercy on this hill. Every 15-20 minutes, I stepped to the side of the trail, planted my hands on my knees and coerced my lungs to pull a decent breath of air as we climbed from 9,200 to 12,600 feet elevation. I waved people coming up behind me to pass. My heart never raced like this during my runs in Indiana.


I was making my way up the mountain with Jessica, who I’d met about 20 miles back on the trail, when we had both avoided a nest of ground bees that had settled right on the race course, or rather we had blazed our trail through their home. Either way, they were not happy. Jessica lived in Los Angeles, moving there from the East Coast just a few months prior after a tough breakup with a long-term boyfriend. She ran in college and was about 10 years my junior, with a gloriously broad smile and straight brown hair. I was the “veteran” ultra-runner, with several 50-milers and one 100-miler completed. We shared stories about our families and jobs. We clicked.

The uphill switchbacks just kept coming. When I looked anywhere besides the trail under my feet, the steep drop-offs made me wobble and lean. There was no groove to settle into. My legs and those organs that typically are useful in long-distance running weren’t going to get comfortable with this sort of effort. I wasn’t a complete lost cause. I dressed well: compression shorts, a long-sleeved technical-fabric shirt and the ball cap that never failed me. The hydration vest on my back held plenty of water, its front pockets armed with Fig Newtons, electrolyte supplements and salt tabs. A couple miles back, we had waded through a freezing creek up to our knees, which brought relief to tired legs for a while. Still, my footfalls became lazy and short.

“Make friends with pain, and you will never be alone.~Ken Chlouber, Colorado miner and creator of the Leadville Trail 100 mile race”
— Christopher McDougall (Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen)

“It’s not long now,” someone said. An aid station would be at the top of Hope Pass. Once we hit that aid station, I thought to myself, we’re home free, back down the other side of the mountain to hit mile 50, the halfway mark on this out-and-back course. Aid stations at ultra races are oases for runners. Eager volunteers refill your hydration bladders and water bottles. Covered edge to edge are tables laden with potato chips, pretzels, PB&Js, cups of ramen noodles, boiled potatoes with salt for dipping, M&Ms, chunks of banana and orange wedges, and more. My favorite: bubbly Coke to ease upset stomachs and give you a jolt of sugar and caffeine. Aid stations appear about every five miles in ultra races, and the key is to make sure you’re eating enough calories to sustain up to 30 hours of nearly continuous running, about 9,000 calories total. The key is to do whatever it takes to just finish this 100-mile race.

After about two hours of climbing, I knew I was in trouble. At most of the aid stations at Leadville, you have to arrive by a certain time in order to continue. My cushion of about 1.5 hours ahead of the cutoff times was dwindling. The idea is that if you can’t make it to each checkpoint by a certain time, there is no way you can finish the race under the final cutoff time of 30 hours. Race organizers don’t want delirious, damaged, reckless runners on the trails during a race they’re managing. And when you have run 20 hours or more, chances are pretty good that your judgement is impaired. I once came across a runner during a 50-mile race who had curled into a fetal position to take a nap in the woods. He was carried out by the race director on an ATV. I met a guy during a 60-kilometer race who was slicked with mud all up his right side. He told me he had dislocated his shoulder and then popped it back into its socket. When I asked him if he was going to cut his race short, he said no. (I thought that was a little extreme.) Stories about hallucinations, falling asleep while running, being chased by stray dogs and all kinds of injuries are common among ultra runners. It’s part of the lifestyle and “charm.”

To many people, this all sounds a little nutty, but I think that a third reason I found myself at the bottom of Hope Pass this year is because the prospect of living an uninteresting life scares me. I’m married and live in a suburb of Indianapolis. I have two wonderful little boys, a white picket fence and a porch swing. I’m a relatively good girl, but I need to feel rebellious, too. I want to feel like I’m living an exciting life as I also raise kids, go to the grocery and keep clients happy. I want to feel things intensely and let go of those things that don’t matter, and running helps me do that.

A few winters ago, as I drove out to Fort Harrison State Park in Indianapolis, the radio reported an outside temperature of two below zero with a wind chill in the negative 20s. Bundled in two layers of tights, multiple long-sleeved tops, a jacket, hat, mittens and scarf tied around my face, I covered 26 miles on lonely forest trails. My eyes watered and fingers stayed numb for hours, but I didn’t mind. In fact, I felt exhilarated. After that sort of exertion, my senses shift. The crispness and tartness of an apple are utterly magnified, a warm car is a miracle, and a hot shower is the ultimate luxury. The annoyance I might have felt when someone slopped water all over the bathroom floor before school doesn’t matter anymore; I’m too exhausted to care. A little pain — and a lot of discomfort — makes the rest of the mundane parts of my life so much easier to stomach.

I HAD NEVER NOT FINISHED an ultra race — or any race — but it’s not uncommon. It’s called a DNF: did not finish. When the woods finally cleared and the beacon of the Hope Pass aid station was in sight, I was convinced I wasn’t going to continue once Jessica and I made it down the other side of the mountain to mile 50. From the top of Hope Pass, it was six more miles to the turnaround at Winfield. There I would be greeted by my husband and friends Leann, Karla and Alison. My good college buddy Karla would be prepared to run with me for about 12 miles starting at mile 50, so I’d have to break the news to her that she wouldn’t get to endure four-plus hours of pain. During Leadville, participants can have pacers run alongside them to keep them company between miles 50 and 100. The rest of my four-person crew had their marching orders to join me during other legs of the race.

The Hope Pass aid station was shy of the top of Hope Pass. In fact it was 764 feet of elevation gain from the peak. To the left of the aid station tents, llamas tied up along a long rope rested in a field of golden grass. The animals had hauled up the tables, food, water and everything else needed to fortify the runners. A volunteer offered up a bottle of sunscreen and rubbed it into my shoulders and back — amazing! Another guy filled my bladder and handed me a cup of mashed potatoes. They were the best damned mashed potatoes I’ve ever had. Jessica went through the same motions, though I don’t know what was going through her head. I willed myself to get going, to leave the peaceful llamas and the felled log I was using as a bench, and I started to think about how I was going to tell Jessica that I would not continue after Winfield. I was going to DNF.

The switchbacks that cover the space between the aid station and the top of Hope Pass is exposed and windy. The sun shone brightly. Unlike on the dense forest trails, now I could see runners ahead of us trudging, stopping, finding the guts to move on to reach the summit. I was frequently stepping to the side of the trail to allow runners who had already made it to Winfield to go by in the opposite direction.

At the top, a string of tattered prayer flags waved frantically. The brightly colored squares had been zip-tied to the top of a tall stick, rocks piled around the base as a foundation. Traditionally, Buddhists use these flags to promote peace, compassion, strength and wisdom. They are also used to seek spiritual blessings for things such as reincarnations and the experience of Nirvana. Makeshift structures like the one on Hope Pass are often built at the highest places possible in the Himalayan mountains. The idea is that the wind that blows them carries the prayers far and wide to bless everyone. At that time, I could have used a little reincarnation, maybe a bird or mountain goat.

“I’m going to stop at Winfield,” I announced to Jessica after we dropped over the top of the mountain.
“No you’re not. I’m not doing this without you. You’re good. We are almost halfway there,” she said.
“OK. You’re right,” I said. It just came out! How could I disappoint Jessica, who had somehow over the course of a few hours become my top reason for continuing this race? But I knew the truth. I wasn’t ready for this event. Back home, I had trained the requisite 26 weeks for Leadville. I ran five days a week, up to 30 miles in one day, and 15 training runs that were at least 20 miles long. I was strong, in the best shape of my life. I had a signature trucker hat, minimalist and super-cushy trail shoes, a Subaru and no lack of feistiness, for goodness sake! Back home, I ran hilly trails, but nothing like the climbs in Colorado. And I would breathe in and out in Indiana no problem, but it was different in Leadville. It just didn’t add up.

The trip down the backside was more single-track trail, but steeper and more littered with rocks. I watched my running shoes maneuver step by step, willing them like a Jedi to land in the safest positions possible to keep me from sliding down on my ass or falling forward (my usual direction) so I could arrive to Winfield in one piece. About 45 minutes from the 50-mile mark, Jessica reported that she was feeling woozy.
“You’re depleted. We’ll get you some broth and food at the Winfield aid station. Drink some Coke,” I said.
“No. I’m done. There’s no way I can climb back up this mountain,” she said. Sweet relief!
“I have known I was going to DNF for hours,” I told her. “I just didn’t know how to break it to you!”

The last few miles down to Winfield seemed to take forever, but there were bright spots. The two nights before the race start, two Spanish brothers in their 30s and a Swede stayed in the same Airbnb as I. It was their first attempt at Leadville as well. We had sat together at the table in our hosts’ kitchen the night before the race and shared pasta and salad. The next morning, we met at 3:15 a.m. to walk to the start line together. I had been looking out for them ever since runners began coming from Winfield to set out on the second half of the race. Then I spotted the Spanish brothers hoofing up the trail. We hugged and kissed on each cheek. I told them how proud of them I was, that maternal instinct still kicking in when I had nothing left to give.


We finally made it off the trail and stepped onto the paved road that led a short distance to the 50-mile mark. Bill was there, and then Leann ran up with Karla and Alison. My voice cracked and a few tears fell when I told them I was done. Jessica and I were about 25 minutes ahead of the cutoff time, so I could have kept racing. But I didn’t. I DNF’ed. My crew knows me well, so they knew that there was no sense in trying to talk me into continuing. I’m stubborn, and I explained that if I tried to continue and failed to make the cutoff time on my return trip up to Hope Pass, I would be turned around and sent back to Winfield. It was all very logical, see? So we loaded up the car and I rode back to Leadville. This was not part of my plan.



When I returned home, people told me what I had done was awesome, amazing, tough! But I wasn’t proud of finishing 50 miles at Leadville. I had gone to run 100, after all. I failed. I’ve wanted to quit races in the past. During a road marathon in Indianapolis when my head was telling me to stop, I prayed for an injury to strike me down so I wouldn’t drop out on my own. When temperatures soared at a marathon in Tennessee and I threw up at mile 22, I hoped the race directors would call off the race, send a van to scoop me up and return me to my parents at the finish line. During my third 50-miler, my knee started to swell at mile 30, but I kept going. I never quit. I could always run through the pain or talk myself out of those dark places.

Running for me is like food, water, sleep and love. It is necessary. But like love, it can also break me and teach me unexpected lessons. The things that kept me from continuing on or finishing Leadville are complicated, but I think the main one is that I didn’t want it enough. Instead of committing completely to what it takes mentally and physically to prepare for a race like Leadville, I was using it partly to postpone my goal of writing a book. I wasn’t thinking about it that way during my training or during the race, but that’s what I was doing. It’s clear now. What is also clear is that I don’t want to write a book. If I did, I’d be doing it. I would create a book plan and tackle it with the same vigor I’ve tackled races in the past. Instead, I’m sticking to articles and essays.

“If you don’t have answers to your problems after a four-hour run, you ain’t getting them.” — Christopher McDougall (Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen)

Feeling like a failure sucks. There’s no getting around it. But being able to uncover the crux of why I failed has been important for me. Really wanting something means I’ll do everything in my power to make it happen, pushing myself to places of discomfort that I will welcome as points along a journey. I don’t want to live a half-assed life, but I don’t think finishing Leadville is a necessary part of my journey. I don’t want it badly enough, and I’m OK with that. My next big goal eludes me; I’m hopeful it will materialize soon. I want to go to more of those hard, fulfilling places. I just have to keep running toward them.


Want to see another Superwoman? Read about Ashlie’s amazing journey to motherhood.

Tune in Today

Fighting for it, from start to finish

October 7, 2016

“Mama, we had our Panda Powwow today.”
“You did?!” Did you get a new life skill to work on?”
“Cool, what is it?”
“I can’t remember.”
“It starts with a p … It’s a long word …”
“Noooo …”
“Noooo …”
“Hmm. And it starts with a p?”
“Yeah. It’s like, when something is really, really hard. But, like, you just keep trying to do it anyway. And then you, like, win over it. Because you just kept on trying. Like, you know, even when nobody thought you could do it.”


When we set goals, the intent is always to persevere. And sometimes we do, and sometimes we don’t (because sometimes, you won’t). Last Saturday I successfully ran my second half marathon, and I was humbled and reminded yet again that our bodies can do amazing things when we will them to.


The entire race journey is really an exercise in body awareness and mental manipulation. It is perhaps the only true exception to the widely accepted definition of insanity. You show up and repeat the same action, day after day, mile after mile, hour after hour, song after song, and expect different outcomes. But it doesn’t make you crazy. Just optimistic. Because in this case you actually do get a mixed bag of results depending on the day, the weather, the wind, the blisters. My 8-mile training run was as painful for my pride as it was for my knees and lungs. I ached psychologically, physically, spiritually, from the second my sneakers hit the pavement until we turned the final corner. Just 4 weeks later, I completed a 10-mile run with a full minute shaved off my splits and a damn-near cocky disposition. Running is the most unpredictable game you can play with yourself. Strategy is for suckers.

And yet, I keep dealing myself in. I am not a great runner. I aspire to be, of course, but I am not great. I will never break the tape. In fact, the tape and streamers have been swept up and taken to the dumpster 5 blocks away by the time I finish. But I still come to the party. Better yet, I bring a guest. If you’ve been hanging in here for awhile you might remember my bud Britni who ran with me last year. That was until we had to part dramatically around mile 10 and I finished ‘er out with a 70-year-old stranger.

This year Britni went and got herself in the family way, but one of my ride-or-dies for the last 18 years, Jackie, signed up. Jackie, much like me, much like Britni, was not a runner when she checked the boxes to enter the race. It was a leap of faith. It was a declaration of an intent to persevere. It was brave, and she was brave for doing it. What possessed her? I think the same thing that possesses most people who sign up for these things. It’s a temporary self-improvement project. It’s purpose. Plus, don’t we all just want a win once in awhile?

For 12 weeks, starting in July, every Sunday I met either Jackie or my embarrassingly swifter friend Jill for the week’s long run. While the training schedule was exactly the same, something felt different this year. I don’t think I had what I would categorize as “a good run” until the very last training run the Monday before the race.


“Man, do you feel older this year?” Jill asked during week 3.
“Ya know, I do.” I said.

You guys, i wish I were being facetious. At the ripe age of 33, my hips, ankles, knees and back screamed at me for 12 straight weeks to, for the love of all that is holy, stop hammering them into the ground and dragging them up small hills that felt like Mount Kilimanjaro. I guess I just never found my groove this go-around. But Jackie did, and then she lost it, and then she found it again. And I was so, so proud.

There is a rare joy that comes with watching someone else uncover a soul-changing strength that was just lurking in the caverns of their being, completely untapped. While I think most of us have that grit, not everyone chooses to go looking for it. Or to push themselves to that point where you either discover it or abandon the pursuit of it. Turns out, I get my jollies watching others push themselves to this uncomfortable, magnificent place. I mean, I like to do it myself as well, but moreso it’s the watching others.

Glennon Doyle Melton has a term for these discovery missions, and life in general. She calls them, “brutiful”. Because certain moments of every day are brutal. And certain moments of every day are beautiful. Life is brutiful. Running is brutiful.

There were stretches of country roads where it was just me, Jackie, God and the sunset. Beautiful. There were gradual inclines that hit just as a side stitch settled in. Brutal. High fiving one of my dearest friends after 2 hours of uninterrupted conversation and a new personal best; Beautiful. Chaffed armpits and chin acne; Brutal. See how that works. It’s the good with the bad. The tightrope stretched between triumph and adversity. Any challenge worth taking is one peppered with trials because, let’s face it, perseverance is a prize that doesn’t come cheap.


On the day of the race, my sweet Jackie felt good. Really good. The temperature was ideal. The crowd and spectators were supportive. All the pieces were in place for a spectacular morning. But I had lead legs. I don’t know why. Why do these things ever happen? Not enough training. Too much training. The fact that I had peanut butter toast instead of dippy eggs. Who knows. But my limbs felt like cinder blocks from mile 3 on.

I’m always amazed at the master-slave relationship between the mind and the body. If you will it, they will run. Confession: The only things that fueled me to the finish line on that October morning were my persistent best friend, stupid pride and a ravenous desire for Chipotle.

“Get outta your head,” Jackie urged. “You’ve got this, Court.”
[me, panting]
“C’mon girl. We’re finishing this thing together. I can’t do it without you.”
[more panting] “Uh huh.”
“I can tell you’re in your head. C’mon Court!”
“Jac, I love you, but this won’t make me go any faster.”
[both panting]

I so badly wanted her well-intentioned pep talk to be the magic pill that broke up the cement encasing my extremities and my state of mind, but sadly it just wasn’t that kind of day for this old mare. It’s so frustrating when your expectation for yourself and your actual ability can’t find a way to communicate and compromise.

But just as tortoises do, I slowly, steadily finished the race. I think that’s a big part of the bargaining I’ve learned to do with myself. I accept that I will finish, but I also have to accept that I won’t be doing it quickly. Once I resign myself to the reality that I will eventually get where I’m going and I won’t, in fact, die getting there, I’m usually OK with hangin’ in. But speed is nonnegotiable. My body just takes it off the table. Covering the distance will have to be enough.

When the finish line was in sight, my homegirl sprinted it in. “Get that for yourself,” I thought. My pace stayed lukewarm but amazingly, I finished the race 4 minutes faster than I did last year. Jill blew her goal out of the water and came in well under 2 hours. I see a full marathon in that mama’s future.

The punctuation mark to these things is always the post-race picture. It’s over. You did it. You can throw your arms over each other’s shoulders, rehash the brutiful moments and smile the truest smile. Because that smile is relief spilling out of you. Relief that you did it. Relief that they did it. Relief that no one got hurt. Relief that all that time away from your family wasn’t for nothing. Relief that rest is a car ride away.


Then there’s the babies. Ahhh, the babies. As a mother to three little impressionable girls (Jill and Jackie are also mothers of three), the pain of lost toenails and runner’s knee and stubborn chaffing dissolves when I see their genuinely ecstatic little faces. The runners enter a baseball stadium at the end of this race, and Hank stood above the entryway into the outfield, so when I made that turn to bring it home, my tiny tribe was standing right above me. They screamed from their toes and squeezed excitedly onto the fence railings. “Go Mama!” That sound rained down on me and, combined with the sight of the end, triggered the most organic emotional release. My hot tears carved jagged trails through my salt-crusted cheeks and the peace of validation hugged my heart. My poor training runs and lackluster performance washed away because it was obvious they didn’t care. In their eyes, I had won the whole damn thing.


And after all of it was over – After they asked to wear my medal. After I admired their homemade sign. After I promised I’d help them practice so they, too, could become a runner. – I bent down, scooped up the littlest one, put her on my hip and started the long walk back to the car. The glory is great, but it doesn’t have the longest lifespan. I could feel it fading already. The lesson, however … the lesson will last. All the good ones do.

“steady persistence in a course of action, a purpose, a state, etc.,especially in spite of difficulties, obstacles, or discouragement.”

Try That With Matt

Try that with Matt. Class clownin’

September 30, 2016

Try that with Matt

My dad in his stretched tighty whities staggering after a hard night’s sleep.
Gus’s pepperoni pie surprise face on Breaking Bad.
A dog trying to crap out tinsel and pine needles.

There is a long list of visuals that, while I’d prefer they weren’t, are permanently burned onto my brain. And now I can add yet another disturbing entry to the bank: My older brother tentatively thrusting his hips to the rapid beat of a Mexican pop band.

If you’ll recall, Matt (Just Matt if you prefer) and I recently put a pursuit for constant wonder and self-discovery in motion. We plan to take on one new challenge each month – some big, some small – in an effort to feel alive and push ourselves into the forbidden land that exists just off the hamster wheel. Consider it a personal wake-the-hell-up-and-smell-the-adventure accountability partner. This month, we picked something super simple.

September Challenge: Pick an exercise class the other has to do. No excuses.


I was up first and I picked Zumba, naturally, because I am 95 percent thoughtful and kind but 5 percent of me likes to scheme with the devil. Now, I’ve seen my brother dance. I mean, it’s always been either after midnight, after a dozen rounds of a made up drinking game, or both, but I’ve seen it. I figured he’d be able to hang. Turns out sober movement translates to invisible extremity shackles for the big guy. But I’m getting ahead of myself …

You can call my brother a lot of things, but one has to be, “a good sport”. He picked me up and immediately the deep exhalations and profanity started. One could say he wasn’t excited about the hour ahead, though I couldn’t imagine why [evil laugh]. “I literally feel sick to my stomach,” he said, a few times. I just kept looking down at my phone and reassuring him. I felt like, if I looked up at his face, I might laugh to the point of tears and pity, thus causing us to change course. “I researched it, ya know. Zumba. Turns out, a guy actually invented it. Now I guess it’s like 80 percent female and 20 percent male,” he continued. Oh, Matt, I thought. Sweet, chocolate-covered gigantic Matt. You actually think there’s a 20 percent chance you won’t be the only man in the room. That’s cute.


We walked in early enough to set up a perimeter in the back corner (always prime real estate for group classes). Just as the nervousness was starting to dissolve a touch, the instructor came over and introduced herself.

“Oh my gosh, how did you manage to get him here?”
“On a dare.”
“Ya know, I think it’s great! Not many couples do things like this together these days, and–”
“Oh, no, this is my brother!”
“What’s that?”
“It’s my brother!”
“OK, here we go!”

The Latin beats bombarded me and bounced off the wood flooring as the seven or so participants spread to their invisible, designated spots and started stepping side to side, eventually falling in unison with our instructor. Grinning like a Golden Retriever at a waterpark, I tried to conceal my eyes as they rapidly darted back and forth between the teacher and Matt in the mirror in front of me, my mind swelling with the overwhelming volume of information flooding in. I was courting both choreography and curiosity at the same time and it was too much for one girl to handle. This was my brother! The kid who wouldn’t go out to eat with us because his friends were waiting. The guy who once told the hiring manager at Dairy Queen that I couldn’t come to the phone because I was, “taking a shit.” The guy who was always too cool for what was common.

Here he was doing the cumbia.
Doing the salsa.
Doing the hip thrust. (Can’t unsee that one.)
Doing the grapevine.
Raising his hands in a dramatic fashion.
Shaking his butt and pumping his chest. (Kinda.)

I couldn’t stop looking. It was like watching the Hulk star in the Nutcracker.


At some midpoint of the class, the instructor mumbled something about hips and the bedroom in our general direction, but thank goodness for the acoustics because I never did truly make it out. For eight full songs I watched my brother try his damndest to harness some resemblance of rhythm and ride those beats all the way home. Once I stopped cry-laughing, gosh dangit I was proud of the guy.

But the universe had one hilarious footnote to add. It was our instructor’s last day teaching. Of course a group picture was the perfect ending to her tenure in that Thursday night time slot. We all gathered together around her – a handful of sweat-soaked regulars with their arms around each other, then me, then Matt. We stood on the end with our hands at our sides, like a pair of perspiring footlong hot dogs in a bag of grapes. This is so awkward, I thought. Let’s send a dog in to wildly hump someone’s leg and wrap this thing up.

Turns out, it didn’t take a frisky mutt to elevate the situation. Just a well-meaning gym-goer.

“I’m gonna make my husband come to a class!” she said to me as we gathered our keys and water bottles, post picture.
“Oh, no …” Matt and I interjected simultaneously.
“This is my brother.” I explained.

Her plan to guilt her spouse foiled, the smile slowly deflated from her face. Matt, however, was so relieved the whole thing was over he was happy to chat. “Man, you know I was so nervous all day I was going to see someone I knew in there … Or, like, I was gonna fall down …” he divulged to the stranger. She just stayed in stride and shuffled out to the parking lot. She had to get home to tell her husband the stories were true. She had met one of the 20 percent of men who show up for Zumba.


Zumba, huh? Just what every grown-ass man wants to do. Especially every grown-ass single man, am I right? Please, let me go make myself look like an asshole in a room full of women.

When DSS dropped this class on me, it consumed my thoughts. I’m going to fall down, I thought. I’m going to step to the right when everyone else is stepping to the left. I’m going to knock some poor lady down. I’m going to have to dance. Good Lord, I’m going to have to dance. I resigned myself to the fact I was just going to have to go all in, show up, get past the girls pointing and laughing when I walked in, try my best not to run anyone over and just own it.

I picked up my sis to roll out to the gym. She giggled the entire drive, because who doesn’t giggle at the thought of a giant man shaking his ass at a Zumba class? I get it. Joke was on her because, yeah there were some looks, but for the most part these gals were so nice and, I’m pretty sure, they were psyched I was there.

The instructor mentioned that she “wished she could get her husband to do this.” Ahhh no, ma’am. I’m sorry to give you false hope, but I’m just this chick’s big dumb animal brother she laughs at because I always say yes to everything. But no time for explanations or dream crushing. Class was starting.

I literally never took my eyes off of the teacher because I was so damn focused and didn’t want to look like an idiot. Mind you, I’m a foot taller and 100 pounds heavier then anyone else in there, so I was going to look like an elephant at a mouse convention no matter what I did. Overall, I’d say it was a great class. No, really. I can definitely see how it helps with footwork for sure, balance and abs (all the laughing). I’d laugh too if I saw my brother squatting in the mirror and thrusting his hips in a room full of women. I’ll give Biscuits a break on this one.



Paybacks are typically not my style, but I had a lot resting on this pick. What could I make her do that was as embarrassing as what she made me do? The answer, nothing. Nothing I choose is going to give my sis the anxiety she gave me doing a damn Zumba class! So what do you do? You pick the earliest class available on Saturday morning when you know she is drinking with her friends the night before [evil laugh]. That’s what you do.

I picked her up Saturday morning at 6:40 (about 5 hours after she got home from her party, for reference). I pulled up but didn’t see any activity in the house. Was she even going to come out? Then the door slowly – and I mean slooooowly – opened and out comes DSS; Holding her water, lips still red, hair lookin’ crazy. In that very moment, I knew I’d made the right choice. Making her get out of bed when her head was about to explode was all the satisfaction I needed to make all that hip thrusting worth it. I felt so invigorated, I couldn’t wait to get on that bike.

What could make this better, you ask? How about the perkiest spin instructor ever? Oh, she was a morning person alright. She chatted about apple picking and hanging with her husband … and then this sweet, happy women proceeded to kick our asses. Let’s just say one of us felt very confident standing up, cranking up the resistance in position 3, and one of us was very concerned position 3 was going to lead to an embarrassing number 2. It was so good, man. I couldn’t stop looking over and laughing. Her struggle was so, so real.

Did I feel bad? Hell no! She made me do Zumba, you guys. Zumba. Love ya, sis!



The Friday morning following Zumba, my brother called to deliver his revenge. “We’re going to do Spin at 7 o’clock tomorrow morning.” he shot from his fox hole. “Fine,” I replied, even though we both knew it was like taking a bullet to the thigh for me. Not spinning, per se. I’ve done spinning. It was more so the call time. During the week, the melodic tones of my alarm sound promptly at 4:36 a.m. so I can get to the gym before the chicks start stirring. Saturdays are my sweet sleep savior. He knew that when he picked the class. It was the only grenade he had to throw, so he pulled the pin and tossed ‘er right over.

But let’s add to that, shall we? That Friday night was my bimonthly gathering with old coworkers, Pretty & Plastered we call it. I’ve been trying to be “good” with calories lately and I didn’t plan on taking any cocktails to pound town that evening, so I grabbed a nice red blend on my way over and promised myself I’d be classy. I’m sure I was classy … I mean, it’s just hard to remember things like that when you drink the entire bottle of wine. I don’t even really like red wine!

Have you ever woken up after excessive drinking and been astonished by a task you completed the night before? I parted my mascara-smattered eyelashes at 6:30 a.m. Saturday morning and painfully semi-smirked. I had set my alarm. I couldn’t find pajamas or brush my teeth, but I set my alarm. Would you believe it? Then I sat up. And the hating myself commenced.

Just 10 short minutes later, the headlights of my brother’s truck filled the living room. I could just lay down and pretend like I slept through it, I thought. I thought that for awhile. But he’d shown up and now I had to man up. I managed to mumble that I had a hint of hangover and glee filled my sweet brother’s eyes. To him, this scenario was better than a brand new puppy on Christmas morning. I had made him suffer and now I would, in turn, endure the same.

I managed to get into the saddle and thanked the heavens the lights were dimmed in the classroom. The buzz of the spinning wheels felt like a razor blade slowly dragging back and forth across the space between my ears. But that was child’s play compared to the pounding of the techno tunes that followed. Every beat was like taking a tiny bullet. Perhaps what being tasered feels like.


Something else worth mentioning here is the sweat. Ohhhh, the sweat. My brother and I come from a long line of excessive sweaters. It’s not so much the heat, but the humidity that will get you. I tend to perspire profusely from my face, while my big brother pours water from every pore in his body. As we pedaled, a puddle began to form under Matt’s bike. It would have been worth giving him a hard time if it weren’t the smell. My smell. It was like a pair of gigantic sweaty palms were pressing together around me, wringing red wine and various cheeses from my insides. It wasn’t good, OK?

The thing about spin, too, is that when you think 15 minutes have passed, only 3 really have. It went on for an eternity, you guys. A stinky, sweaty, dark eternity. I felt so ashamed. Here I was, spinning on the outskirts of a sea of optimistic Saturday morning pep seekers, who would likely take in the yoga class that followed before grabbing a pepita-topped quinoa bowl at Earth Fare, and all I could do was hang my head and stare at my big brother’s swimming pool of perspiration. It was a low point.

On a brighter note, my hangover did clear up toward the end of class. My tears and exertion washed the head fog away and left just a tolerable dose of dehydration. I had survived to spin another day.


Do you have the time?

September 23, 2016

“I myself am full of flaws, stitched together with good intentions.” – Augusten Burroughs

When someone finds a way to say what you’ve been feeling, in a way you never thought to say it, but wish you had, it is the most bittersweet validation. Hearing your shortcomings echoed back through someone else’s voice and experience is like a doctor telling you that weird sperm-shaped mole is totally normal. Of course the bitter is the bite of not coming up with the words yourself.

If you follow this blog, you know I’ve been ingesting a healthy amount of non-fiction gospel lately, crafted by the minds of, among others, Shonda Rhimes and Glennon Doyle Melton. More often than not, you read these amazing works and then they leave your mind just as swiftly as they swept in and shook everything up. They get pushed out by PTO meeting notes and potluck dish assignments and lyrics from the Storybots song. But I’m finding the messages that were truly meant for me always seep back in.

Driving home from the gym this morning, I watched the sun beginning to rise and started ticking through my lists: The things I didn’t get done yesterday. The things I needed to do today. The things I would most certainly put off until next week. The shortcuts I could take. And I was reminded of sweet Shonda. In her commencement speech at Dartmouth College, she spoke about motherhood and working.

“Shonda, how do you do it all?” they would ask. And she would respond, “I don’t.” The truth according to the TGIT maven, and every mother, I think, everywhere, is that if we are succeeding in one area of our lives, we are likely failing miserably in another. She said it. She spoke my truth with words that I will likely borrow a million times from today until forever.

I am most certainly experiencing success in several areas of my life at the moment. And just as certainly, I am experiencing some failure … or rather, I am failing. I will not only own that last statement, I’ll pay for it outright in cash. If I were to take the personal and professional buckets of tasks, both mandatory and aspirational, that fill my days, and put a penny in the ones where I felt like I had killed it, I might have enough to buy a pouch of Big League Chew by the end of the month (Do they still make that?).

Did I handle that presentation well? Yes. Drop a penny into the professional bucket. Did I spend enough time with the chicks? Never. No. Skip that bucket. Did I get dinner on the table? Yes. Penny. Did I get my 5-mile training run in? Um … skip.

Then, as if someone were pouring cake batter over Swiss cheese, the voice of Glennon Doyle Melton oozed into my brain and filled in the holes. (I should mention here that I’m currently listening to her audiobook, Carry On, Warrior. I don’t just randomly hear Glennon’s voice.)

“There are two different types of time. Chronos time is what we live in. It’s regular time, it’s one minute at a time, it’s staring down the clock till bedtime time, it’s ten excruciating minutes in the Target line time, it’s four screaming minutes in time out time, it’s two hours till daddy gets home time. Chronos is the hard, slow passing time we parents often live in.

Then there’s Kairos time. Kairos is God’s time. It’s time outside of time. It’s metaphysical time. Kairos is those magical moments in which time stands still. I have a few of those moments each day, and I cherish them.”


And I was struck, right then and there, with more beautifully bittersweet words! The lights came on and I said, “amen!” out loud so the whole empty car could hear me. I am a creature who crowds herself with hours of toxic chronos time but so, so desperately wants that divine, illusive kairos time. You might be, too. Let’s work through some examples.

Laundry is chronos time.
Staring at your baby sleeping is kairos time.

Wiping baseboards is chronos.
Cuddling is kairos.

Monday morning staff meetings are chronos.
After school stories are kairos.

Making a grocery list is chronos.
A glass of wine with your husband is kairos.

The morning routine is chronos.
Hiking through mountains at sunrise is kairos.

My initial assessment has revealed that these two classifications of time, defined by the Greeks however many years ago, so accurately describe the divide between pleasure and pain that they were obviously intended for me to discover on this dark September morning. The worst part is, in many ways, it’s self-inflicted. I offer. I raise my hand. I sign up. I put my name on the line next to, “volunteer”.

Where does that come from? Am I a pleaser? Do I fear I’ll get bored? I mean … I should know I am NOT going to get bored.

I can not do it all. Shonda is right. I can not succeed in all of the areas that matter to me all at the same time. But now I know who to blame.

I blame the chronos.

Kairos means, “the right opportune moment”. And maybe that’s the problem. When, dear sisters (and brothers) in your day does it ever cross your mind that this, yes this, is the right opportune moment to stop everything and look at your sweet little girl’s endearing chocolate-covered cheeks? Or notice that dimple in your husband’s chin? Or admire a tree with particularly interesting branches? I know … right between picking up your middle child from daycare and burning dinner. If that time is too tight, you could always squeeze in some kairos while picking clothes up off the floor or replying to that 20-response-long email thread or prepping food for tomorrow’s friendship day snack.


In my world, and I’m guessing in yours, there doesn’t appear to be any kairos (opportune) time. But, as Glennon would say, that’s why you have to make it. No one is going to make it for you. No one is going to grab your feet and put the roses under your nose. The world is always going to go as fast as you let it. You might not set the pace, but you choose to keep up or just let it pass right by.

They’ve said it so well. In so many ways. In so many words. These beautiful women who sat down at their keyboards and were courageous enough to spell out the struggles of trying to do it all and trying to savor it all. They lent their voices to so many who want to scream but don’t know what it sounds like.

I can’t do it all. I can’t succeed at home and kill it at work. Or dominate in the office and still be the mother I want to be. Most days. But it’s the trying that they see … those little girls of mine. It’s the trying and the reaching and the ambition that they notice. All I can do is try to settle into a good pace, sprinkle in a bit more kairos, put pennies in the buckets and pray they’re lucky.

Some Kinda Superwoman

Some kinda Superwoman: Ashlie

September 13, 2016

I started this blog more than 2 years ago with a narrow vision and fingers full of sarcasm. I wanted to document our lives and share my musings on everything from raising strong babies to the Bachelor to books I believe can change the wiring in your brain. But as the posts have gone up and with them, the readership, I naturally started daydreaming about this being more. It’s a modest platform in a sea of similar platforms, but this one is different, because this one is mine. And I can do with it what I want. And what I want is to tell other people’s stories on here, too. Last week, I said I pursued a career in journalism because I love finding and telling stories. My life is beautiful, but it is small in comparison to the life I can discover by listening to other amazing women. Other women struggle. Other women conquer. Other women blaze trails and let their hearts bleed for the less fortunate. Telling their stories makes me stronger, better, more alive. So, naturally I believe that reading them can do the same for you.

The first Superwoman to step up and volunteer her story is, without a doubt, one of my ride-or-dies as Shonda Rhimes would say. This girl and I have been through some things. We’ve seen some things. She stood next to me on my wedding day and caught my tears on her shoulder on more than one occasion. For the past several years, I have watched her walk a path of heartbreak and self discovery. She has bravely navigated a series of joyful highs and unthinkable lows on her journey to motherhood. Even as a dear friend I never knew exactly how she felt until I read the words you’re about to read. They stopped my heart. I saw a clip from Super Soul Sunday last night where Gabrielle Bernstein told Oprah that the messages we need to receive find us when we’re open to them. I hope this one finds the people who need it most.



Hi Superwoman seekers! Let me start by saying that I am humbled I was asked to write this. I was grateful to be given the platform to speak on these topics that have so significantly altered my life … but also felt a lot of pressure to make even a small impact for the vulnerable children in the world. I immediately prayed for the right words – and a lot of words came. All that to say, this post is long. Sorry, I’m not sorry. The path to my happy little life took a while. And so did writing this. Please do contact me via the comments below or email ( if you have any questions. I’m more than happy to help Courtney’s readers out. (Isn’t she the best?!)

The infertility and loss part.
Every family has a story. Some people get married and bam! Three years later they have two healthy children – one boy and one girl, of course – a goldendoodle and a minivan. While this familiar foursome likely drove about 5 miles to the hospital down the road to bring home their little bundles of joy, some people go further. Like 21,186 miles further. And that’s after 5+ years of marriage. As you can guess, my scenario was the latter. I did get the goldendoodle though. And right away.

After many months of not seeing double lines on the ol’ pee stick, my husband and I learned that I apparently am not so fertile.

Infertility is such a turd. Close your eyes for a second and imagine it’s March, and you’re stressed at work, and all you want to do is sit on a beach and have someone bring you shrimp cocktail and margaritas. But you don’t have any vacation days. And then, seemingly out of nowhere, everyone on your Facebook feed seems to be on spring break with frozen concoctions in hand, and you start to get jealous, which is out of character for you, and then you get angry and, before you know it, you can’t think about anything but sand in your toes and limey-salted-tequila-goodness in your belly because everywhere you look, everyone is partaking. And then say someone, with no ill-intention, posted a photo of them on a white sand patch of paradise with the caption, “Would be better if it were just a few degrees warmer,” and you want to jump into the picture, Mary Poppins style, and steal their vacation because they aren’t appreciating it to the degree you would? Yeah. Infertility is kind of like that. Only way worse.

I’ve blocked out a lot of the infertility process because it was long and physically and emotionally painful. The burden became too much to bear. We did nearly three years of it. We did multiple IUIs. I often had an arsenal of medications that I had to poke myself with (mostly in the gut and butt). For me, infertility meant scheduling my every move around when the eggs would be hatching. It is a terrible and paralyzing way to live.

Finally we decided nothing was working and it was time to pull out the big guns: In Vitro Fertilization. I remember praying, “Lord, if this pregnancy will go poorly at all with IVF, please do not let me get pregnant. My heart can’t handle a loss like that.” (<-- That is what they call foreshadowing.)

A few weeks after the transfer I was in so much pain that I almost went to the ER, but instead paged our fertility doctor. He thought I was overstimulated. We did some Googling and realized that likely meant I was pregnant. He told us to come in first thing in the morning for a blood test. They called and a voice on the other line said, “Ashlie, I have good news … You’re pregnant!” I fell to the floor crying. I never thought I would hear those words.


It hurt to breathe and I could hardly move, but I didn’t give a rip. I was pregnant!

I am a woman of faith. Before these moments, I did the routine church on Sundays and Bible study with some girls on Mondays. God was there. But I didn’t need Him all the time. And then we started having complications. You know, the “This is rare, it doesn’t usually happen” kind. I spent my 30th birthday in the hospital, slanted at a 45-degree angle with a catheter and a magnesium drip. I would say I’m predisposed to be a positive person, but at that moment, I wasn’t. I was angry and uncomfortable. I was released and put on strict bedrest. I was allowed to get up to pee and that was about it. I could shower but I had to get a shower stool. I had just turned 30 and got a shower stool for my birthday. Awesome.

I’m not sure how to get through this next part.

I can talk about all the details for days and I often relive them in my mind, but, for the sake of not getting too deep with strangers, I will just say this … After nearly 2 months of bedrest, my body couldn’t hang onto the pregnancy anymore. I gave birth to our son, Jacob, on June 22, 2013. I was 23 weeks and 1 day pregnant. I couldn’t believe I was in the hospital, holding my son whom I knew we wouldn’t be bringing home. We held him for two hours before he was swept off to heaven. He was beautiful and he is loved. He is thought of every. single. day.


I know. Life is hard, eh? Those few days in the hospital were like a nightmare I couldn’t wake up from. Even though I didn’t feel like I needed Him (God) a whole lot previously, and it was a very one-sided relationship, God was there. He showed up on my darkest day. I was held by Him as I was holding my child that would not be placed in his new crib in his freshly painted room. He gave us strength and wisdom to make some really tough choices we faced in the scariest moments of our lives.

But the question remained, how could this have happened? I thought we had an agreement. I told God to prevent this exact scenario. I prayed constantly. I was scared every second of every day, but I still prayed. We had faith. My heart was not just broken, it was shattered. Shattered to what I thought might be beyond repair. But God is able.

After I gave birth, I knew I had a couple of choices: I could get mad and turn from church for awhile. (To be honest, I feel like that would have been completely justified.) Or, I could give myself the grace to grieve and let God do what he does best: Take something broken and make something ridiculously radical out of it. I didn’t know what that would be, but I didn’t want to live a moment without God. People always incorrectly say that He doesn’t give you more than you can handle. False. I couldn’t have handled this. I needed Him by my side to dredge through this pain. I also didn’t want to be a fraud; This Christian woman who spent her whole life going to church (with the exception of a hiatus in my college days) who at the first sign of a tribulation, went running from the only source of redemptive healing.

We took some time. My husband and I took a vacation. We grieved and we processed. Our emotions were so frantic and varied, but we were anchored by a shared belief that God had something more in store for us. I had some pretty rough days mixed in there. I felt like I had a scarlet red stamp that said “Broken” on my forehead. I felt like people looked at me different because I was different.

Slowly, I learned to accept the new me, with my new story, and trust in God’s plan for something(s) more. I was meant to be a Mama.

The big decision.
We began fertility treatments again, but they went haywire and failed, and when we discussed circling the wagons once more, I knew I couldn’t do it. I was so done. My husband was done, too. So I called my fertility doctor, whom we’d seen multiple times a month for nearly 3 years, and I said, “Hi. I’m going to be canceling my appointments. We’re adopting.”

And that was that. We picked an agency (MLJ Adoptions out of Indianapolis) and we picked our country (Bulgaria) and we started pounding the paperwork.

The adoption process.
This process is no joke. I have been fingerprinted in Ink no less than 5 times. I’ve been fingerprinted electronically 3 or 4 times. I’ve had background checks by every county and state I’ve lived in since I was 18 and also 2 or 3 fingerprints and background checks by the FBI. I’m clean.

When it came time for our home study, I told myself I wouldn’t stress. But I am a liar. I cleaned my house top to bottom. We filled those walls with fire extinguishers and smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors. We gave information on our income, tax info, investments, debts, life insurances, wills and all that fun stuff. We were questioned in our home for 4+ hours. We were questioned on our parenting style (which was hard since we didn’t technically have a parenting style). We were asked about every bad/good thing we’d ever done. We were asked about how we wanted to raise our future kids, how we argue, how we would discipline the children. Just so much stuff. We supplied tax records, insurance records, medical records, dog records.


Then, once our home study was approved, we started working on our dossier, which is a document that consists of the approved home study and a bunch of other information that you send to the country in which you’re trying to adopt. We had to have approvals by the USCIS to even begin the process overseas. Then we sent our dossier over and a couple months later it was registered, which meant we were on the list about 2 months after they received it.

There was one big decision we had to make right before sending in a paperwork update. We needed to decide if we wanted to elect to adopt 1 or 2 children, or 2 children exclusively. I prayed for a sign. I didn’t make this next part up, I swear. One night after dinner, we took a detour so my husband could look at a truck. On our way we got behind a minivan and Tom said, “Look at that!” The minivan had a vanity plate that read: “ADOPT2”. So, we decided to do just that.


Then we waited.

The wait.
This wait is a wait only someone who has experienced it can understand. Basically, you’re a mom. Only you have no idea who your kids are yet. You love them dearly, but don’t know who they are. You think about them. You wonder if they were fed enough that day. If they were hugged enough that day. If they smiled enough that day. If they are sick, is someone bringing them soup and giving extra snuggles? You ache for them because they aren’t home yet, but you have no idea who they are. It’s a bizarre feeling. You want so bad to start nesting, but you have no idea what gender or age they are. So you just sit and wait.

And then one day, your agency calls and you know they don’t call unless it’s THE call. And you finally know who your kids are. You see their faces; Their 18-month-old and 4-and-a-half-year-old sweet little perfect faces. You read the little info you have on them multiple times over because that’s all you have. At the end of the week you get an email telling you that these are the dates you’re flying out to meet them and to book your tickets. This all happens so quickly you have zero time to process before you’re packing your bags and preparing gifts for caretakers, social workers and translators … and, of course, your children!

The scenic route.
Every country is different, but in Bulgaria you travel twice. The first trip is to meet your kid(s) and the second is to bring them home. In case you haven’t thought through this, it means you go there and meet your kids for a week (great) and then you leave them there (not-so great). My stomach just dropped again reliving it in my mind. The only thing that made this bearable, was the fact that our kids were both well cared for. There are some orphanages where it’s not that way. Children can be extremely malnourished and neglected. I don’t want to go into too much detail about our kids and their stories (because they are their personal stories to tell), but our son was in an orphanage. No orphanage is a good enough substitute for a loving family; however, if he had to be in an orphanage, his was pretty great. Our daughter was with a foster grandma who was absolutely amazing through this whole process.


We returned from our first trip on July 4, 2015. We would not return back to the States with our kids until October 30 that same year. In that time we had Adoption Showers to help us prepare (you need a lot of stuff for 2 genders and 2 age groups!) and we did a lot of shopping and painting and prepping. The wait between trips was the hardest thing. It was excruciating, actually. But, we tried to stay busy. We did get to Skype with our daughter every Saturday. Our very last Skype call was from the IND airport, when we said, “We’re on our way!”

These little characters.
Our son is simply one-of-a-kind. He turned 2 just 2 weeks after being home. We were so thankful he only had to spend one birthday without us. The kid is crazy funny. He’s wild. He’s always getting hurt, always into something. Loves snacks about as much as he loves Mickey Mouse and music. He’s got these big brown eyes and eyelashes that make his mama jealous, and an adorable smile with a dimple. I’ve never seen a 2 year old with so much swagger. He was well-known at his Child’s Day Out Preschool within a couple of weeks. He walks into any situation like he owns the place. He’s a total ham and is full of confidence.


He’s not the kid we met on our first trip to Bulgaria.

The kid we met in Bulgaria on our first trip was completely different. That little boy was fearful of life and people. He only giggled a few times the entire week we were there. Sometimes he’d smirk or smile. He didn’t really dance or play much without being prompted.

When we first brought him home, he didn’t know how to hug or kiss. He didn’t know that we were his people for life. He didn’t know what a Mom or Dad was. The change was pretty immediate. This boy broke out of this orphanage like Andy Dufresne, and he never looked back.

Seeing the change a family brought to our son’s life has been one of my greatest joys. It has made the 3+ years of infertility, the 2 years of the adoption process and the mounds of paperwork worth it all. He plunges at us with open arms for hugs and plants big wet kisses (because he knows what a kiss is now). He has grown probably 6” in less than a year. They say that love from a family and some extra grub, cause children to shoot up once they are adopted. He’s so happy and healthy and growing so much in every way possible.

Our daughter, well, she’s the bravest person I know. She was fluent in Bulgarian. Left her foster grandma and every single thing familiar to her. Her beautiful country and town that was beautifully carved into the side of a mountain. Her bed. Her toys and her best friends. One day she woke up and got on a plane with two nearly-strangers and she came to America. Everything in her world was completely different.


She is such a little rockstar. The courage it takes to do all of that was nestled somewhere in the tiniest little 5-year-old. She started preschool without knowing a language. She couldn’t talk about her feelings to anyone because we couldn’t speak Bulgarian and she couldn’t speak English. I can’t imagine how frustrating that has been for her to be completely unable to process or have helpful words of wisdom from your Mommy in one of the biggest life events she will ever have. She also started kindergarten this year. I didn’t want to let her get on that bus, but she was so excited. So I had to.

I’ve never witnessed a more empathetic 5 year old. She genuinely hurts when others hurt. She prays for people I mention that she has never even met. She’s such a good big sister. Our little guy is quite demanding, and she shares everything with a smile. I have actually had to stop her from sharing and caving into little dude’s “I wants!” because he can’t go around thinking he gets everything if he whines. If you bump your head, she’s diving for the Doc McStuffins ice pack and before you can even tell her you’re okay that cold boo boo bag is plastered on your face.

There are things that I do not take for granted as a mom. One day I thought our son said “Mama, I want a samich (sandwich),” and I responded with, “We’ll be eating soon,” or something, and he said “No. Mama. I said I wuv you soooo much!” I cried. It was the first time he said he loved me unprompted, without me saying it first. And he even added in a soooo much to it. I will never think of a sandwich in the same way again.

Our daughter told me just the other day that she was sad while she was in Bulgaria because she wanted Mommy and Daddy. She said she kept looking for an airplane but she didn’t see one. We met her and then had to leave to not return for about four months. And in that time she searched for us and wanted us to bring her home. The weight of those words rolling off of my little girl’s tongue broke me. I hope she knows or grows to understand that I would have picked her up from day one if I could have.

We all have adjusted well, considering the loads of adjusting that needed to take place. My husband and I have not had children in our home before. All of a sudden we were parents to a 5 and a 2 year old. Go ahead and try to figure out how to raise them. Oh, and PS, you can’t discipline them very well because you can’t speak to each other. Okay. Cool. This should work well.

I’d had a lot of time to think about the kind of mom I was going to be. I was going to be amazing at it. I was going to have tons of patience and do a Pinterest craft a day. Turns out, I wasn’t very good at the mom thing at first. I’m not the best now, but I’ve come a long way. There have been many times where I wasn’t the best version of my mama self. It’s hard. We were learning how to be a Mom and Dad. They were learning how to be in a family. It takes time, lots of patience and loads of grace.


What I want people to know about adoption
1) I want people to know that adoption was never a plan B for us.
Our kids were always meant to be ours. Always. I have prayed for them for so long before I even knew them. Life just took us on a wild ride to get the kiddos that were always supposed to be in our home, home. We’ll call it the scenic route. We were always supposed to adopt them from Bulgaria. As tough as it is to admit, our son Jacob’s life was not intended to be lived in our home. I don’t know why that is, and it is still painful at times, but that is how it was always supposed to work out. Those two little giggling Bulgarian-Americans were without a doubt, born to be in our family. They had a rough start being without a family and we had a tough go at trying to start a family ourselves.

2) Being an adoptive family isn’t always easy, but it’s also the most fulfilling thing you will ever do.
A hard thing for me to realize is how much we have missed out on by not having them with us from birth. When I think of them living the orphanage life, it wrecks my soul. All the days they spent without us make me yearn for those days back. I try to push those thoughts out of my head. While I said his orphanage was decent, he still lived in a room lined with toddler beds. He didn’t have anything to call “his” since everything was communal. While our daughter lived with a wonderful foster grandma, she still wondered where her mom was and why other kids had a mom and dad, but not her. She asked her foster grandma just before we met her if her “new mommy was going to love her?” YES. A thousand times yes. I loved you without knowing who you were yet, my sweet girl! Hurts me so bad that her little mind had even thought of asking that question. One of my biggest prayers was that God would tell their little hearts that we were coming for them. That their mom and dad were on their way. I still didn’t know who they were yet when I prayed that, but I prayed it from the start.

Wise friends of ours told us at the beginning of our process that people will look at you with a microscope because adoption isn’t all that common. Boy were they right! We are not all the same color and people quite often stare. A lot. People are so curious they can’t contain themselves and often assume that they can ask us any question they want, often in a not-so -tactful way. Please remember, that they are “real” brother and sister, we are their “real” parents and we are a “real” family. I get being curious, but perhaps when you see a potential adoptive family, don’t ask things when the kids are present.

The language barrier is extremely difficult. There were lots of tantrums and frustration (parental tantrums and kid tantrums both) from not being able to understand each other. The word for “give me” in Bulgarian is pronounced like “die” Think about how many times while walking in a store your two-year-old wants something. They’re yelling, “Mama, die!” and I’m just rolling my cart like no big deal.

One of my biggest struggles is this: Sometimes I look at my children in awe after they do something so silly/sweet and my heart flutters because I just love them so. I become flooded with gratefulness that I get to be called “Mommy” by these two beautiful children of ours. But then I remember, in order for them to be my children, they had to go through a loss. They were once orphaned and had nobody to call their family. I struggle with that. I wish with every ounce of me they never had to have those traumatic events happen in their little lives — but if they didn’t happen, I wouldn’t be their mom. It’s a bittersweet realization really. They had to lose everything so we could gain everything. That’s a tough one to swallow.

Our lives are so full of joy from our children. I love when they bicker like siblings. I love when they giggle so hard that they put their hands over their faces. I love when we snuggle. I love when they use the wrong English word, like “Look mama, snack!” when they really mean, “snow” (hey, English is hard). I love when they conquer and learn. I absolutely love being here for some of their firsts. And I love that they get that we are theirs. They know what a family is now and we are blessed enough to be a part of theirs forever.

People often say (and it’s very awkward) that we are such great people for adopting and our kids are so lucky. Truth be told, I’m pretty darn average. There is nothing special or extraordinary about me. It doesn’t take a saint (or a superwoman) to adopt a child. It takes a person/couple who have a void in their family photo and some love to give. And some funds. Because well, gymnastic sessions, animal crackers and college aren’t going to pay for themselves (especially since Bernie is out of the race).

Hear this: My children are not the lucky ones. We are. They were born into circumstances beyond their control. They did not initially have a voice or a special person. They left everything and gave up everything they ever knew to be a part of our family. Are they happy? 100% yes. But we are the lucky ones. Our children are healing wounds from our infertility battle and losing our Jacob that we weren’t even aware we still had. God took our broken hearts and our tears and wove them back together with these incredible children from across the ocean and now we are a family. Forever. And just like that, there are two less orphans in the world.

What can you do?
Did you know there is a bit of an orphan crisis out there?

· Every 18 seconds a child becomes an orphan.
· If all orphans were a nation, they’d be the 10th most populous nation in the world.
· If only 7% of the 2 billion Christians each cared for one orphan, the orphan crisis would be ended.

When I started this process I was so naive; Ignorant to the fact that even in Europe, there are orphans who die from malnutrition. Have you seen an 8 year old weigh less than 20 pounds? It’s heartbreaking. There are children who do not get out of their cribs all day long. Their referral photo, the one that is sent to a prospective parent, was taken through the crib railings because they didn’t bother to even get the child out of the crib for a photo.

The Bible calls us all to care for the orphans and widows, the vulnerable. That does not mean that everyone should adopt, but everyone should help in some capacity.

You can first pray for vulnerable children across the world who have no voice. Literally. Did you know that sometimes, the baby room in an institution is quiet because the babies have lost their cries? Nobody came when they cried so, eventually, they just stopped. Be their voice.

You can go to Orphan Sunday at one of your local churches to figure out how you can help on a local/global level. also has great information on how to get involved.

If you’ve ever debated adoption but were too afraid to go for it, I say shut up and do it. Do not let finances or fear stop you from such great joy. There are grants, fundraising and tax deductions out there, and it isn’t all due at once. You get to chisel away at the fees until you get the referral. Then you can go ahead and get that checkbook out because from referral to home that money really flies (literally. Flights are pricey!).

I spent a lot of years trying to simply be content. I have always appreciated and loved this blessed life I have been given. My husband is one of the greats and we have always been so happy, but have also felt like someone(s) was missing from our family. I am overjoyed to proclaim my heart officially content and full. The extra bedrooms that sat empty for so long are now full, too. I don’t feel like anyone is missing from our family photo. Arriving at this place of just being for a moment is momentous. It’s emotionally freeing. If you’re searching for your own route to a content and happy place, I pray you find it. Consider looking where you wouldn’t expect it. Like say, across an ocean. Don’t let fear stop you.

Happy seeking!



Turtle Talk (and other stops on my road to being a writer)

August 31, 2016

How the hell did you become a writer?” an acquaintance inquired during a stalled start to the morning meeting.
“I mean, how does anyone choose their profession?” I thought, but instead replied, “I just always liked it.”
“Yeah, but like, no one really becomes a writer. Like, unless you write books, right?”

You never think something about yourself is odd until someone else flags it as odd. That’s what makes it official. You mean everyone doesn’t leave the last tissue because they like the design on the box so, so much? I don’t think the way I earn a living is particularly noteworthy, but I’ll entertain almost any question for the sake of content. I can trace the roots of this one all the way back to a little majestic dot on an elementary school map, called Turtle Town.


While others were known to dabble, I made a career out of having an awkward phase. The beginning of my climb to peak unpolished adolescence arrived at age 10. In the fourth grade, I had spacey, jagged teeth and mousy blonde hair with bangs that easily flipped and frizzed at the slightest breeze or rush of activity. My lips were always chapped. I wore a rotation of sweatshirts with assorted appliqués over turtlenecks in contrasting shades (they never matched exactly because I liked to embrace my rebellious whims). My boyfriend, who wore hammer pants, was 2 inches shorter than me, and I was a meager 3 feet in stature. Things ended abruptly when he placed my Pound Puppy, which I had gifted to him against my mom’s wishes, in a sad, semi-rain-soaked brown grocery bag on top of my desk with a note that read simply, “Itz over. – Jon”. I knew nothing of myself. I was a sheep. A follower. The full extent of my ambitions for the foreseeable future consisted of marrying Dylan McKay, having a smile like Julia Roberts and moving like Penny from Dirty Dancing. (The fact that my parents allowed me to watch sex-tinged programming with prostitutes and “knocked up” resort performers is not for any of us to judge.)

What I didn’t realize was I had something going for me; A hand to gently guide me toward fate. I had Mr. Johnson for fourth grade and Mr. Johnson was the shit. In the midst of sleepovers where we made girls pee their pants and call their parents at 1 a.m. and clammy, sweat-soaked hand-holding, and the arrival of Gushers, Mr. Johnson went and turned our classroom into a microcosm and just waited to infiltrate our tiny, ignorant little brain saplings.

Every year, the students in room 23 would decide the name, mascot, and basic government and judiciary system of their pretend city. In 1993, the name was Turtle Town, the mascot was a fox – just kidding – it was a turtle, and the government was comprised of a collection of pinheads who liked to show off their turdy friends and make fart noises in the middle of films about migrating birds and what have you. But it was cool. We had elections and town meetings and learned all kinds of important life stuff without realizing we were being taught (such suckers). I can’t remember if it was my idea, or the teacher’s, but at some point, it was decided that Turtle Town needed a newspaper. It would be called Turtle Talk and I would be the editor.

I went to my parent’s office and took a giant accordion-style file folder and labeled the slots with sections – sports, front page, government, etc. I carried around a small spiral-bound notepad and pen and pleaded with my classmates to write fake pieces of news. “So, like maybe you left the town hall meeting with a stomachache because you ate bad porridge at the Turtle Top Tavern. Huh? Whatdaya say?” In the end, I discovered a truth that followed me for the next 23 years and counting: If you have the vision, and you want something written, it’s best to just ask the right questions and write the damn thing yourself. And so, I did. I slapped on my Bonne Bell Dr. Pepper chapstick and got to business writing horrific headlines and cheesy photo captions and exposés on Turtle Town’s public officials (the majority of which never made the cut). I fashioned that fabricated content into a true, tangible newspaper, piece by piece. Of course no one really gave a crap. How do you compete with an unstoppable TGIF lineup and Beanie Babies for Pete’s sake?

Followers be damned, the seed had been planted. I loved to write. I loved coming up with ways to tell stories and talking to people who’d done things I hadn’t and working with words until they formed the perfect linguistic cadence. (This last sentence may be a bit overkill for the work I was turning out at this time.)


Where Mr. Johnson left off, my high school journalism and English teacher (one in the same) picked up. This woman was a dead ringer for Miss Geist from Clueless. She had a sarcastic wit Amy Schumer would envy, sobering honesty when you really needed it and a hands-off style that just made kids thrive. She didn’t reach all of the kids in the school, but the ones she did, she changed. We were like a gang comprised of rejected members of the Breakfast Club. There were intellectuals, athletes and “outcasts”, but when we entered that corner classroom, tucked away from the social hierarchy, the subtitles dissolved entirely. We ate boxes of Lemonheads and troughs of Cheetos while we brainstormed story ideas and layouts. We made McDonald’s runs to clear writer’s block. It was an editorial-induced euphoria that kept me high for four solid years.

I wrote sappy editorials about saying goodbye to upperclassmen and being single on Valentine’s Day. I spent a solid week sipping sugary gas station mochas and pouring my emotions out for the intro page copy in our yearbook my senior year. My Miss Geist doppleganger, who by then was like a second mother, encouraged me to make a last-minute change of college for a better Journalism program and a leg up down the road. I followed her advice.

In 2002, Sex and the City was a female institution. You knew if you were a Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte or, God forbid, Miranda. I was studying Magazine Journalism in the Midwest and, culturally, could not be farther from the Big City storylines I relished so intently. My then-boyfriend (now-husband) was a student at a small all-male college a little shy of 2 hours away and they were looking for a female columnist for their newspaper. One sample article later, I was committed to pen a biweekly editorial on life through a woman’s lens. From the Hip ran for 3 glorious years. It was the closest to Carrie I would ever get. And while most of the questions submitted came from lonely independents who just couldn’t understand why the weekend lady visitors weren’t feelin’ their flavor, we did venture into some heavy early adult topics. If nothing else, writing that column made going to the bars super fun. “Hey, aren’t you From the Hip girl? Whoa! Wussup?” “Hey, you know what you should write about? Why girls don’t make any sense.” “Hey, you were wrong. That girl totally called the next day.” “Hey, you know what you should write about? [Insert late night radio show topic].” “Hey, your article cut into the football feature. I’m not mad though. I’m just sayin’ it was long.” Those were good times. I sincerely loved those times.

And those were the articles, with heavy sexual undertones and ridiculous subject matter, that I took with me to apply for my first job out of school; an editorial assistant at a food magazine. The publisher must have been on heavy pain meds when he hired me. My portfolio was sad, but my rate was cheap and I was eager to work like a typing mule. The magazine had zero money. Paychecks would bounce at least once a month and we were our own cleaning service. But the education I got in the five years I worked there was immeasurable. I went into immaculate kitchens with freshly butchered meats and cheeses I couldn’t pronounce. I learned about wine varietals and molecular gastronomy and organic farming. I was 22 when I started that job. It was a champagne experience on a penny pitcher beer budget. I adored my editor. I still adore my editor and I still call her my editor even though we haven’t worked together in seven years. She had her priorities right and was a sharp wordsmith. She shaped my writing and she showed me how to balance my work and personal life without sacrificing myself. She ran on her lunch hour, knew the best places to grab a beer and believed in the value of a Friday Coke. Every young writer needs an editor like that.

Eventually my writing turned into more of a job than a joy. I made some career turns and strayed from the rich editorial path a bit in exchange for a more realistic salary. It worked for a few years. But I know myself and I knew that I was missing the art of writing. Not just the piecing together of words with alliteration and spot-on syntax to reel consumers in, but the actual soul sharing and storytelling part of it. I started this blog, privately at first, as a way to quench that desire to express myself in that way. I needed an outlet to complement my occupation. And, 3 years later, here we are.


A man that I admire a whole heck of a lot said, “We write so that we can taste life twice.” He was referring to journaling. I think that is what this blog – and truly, many parts of my professional career – are for me. I’ve seen natural springs and traversed the steep hills of a maple syrup farm and flown in helicopters and hiked the AT and survived 7 years of motherhood, and I can relive those days any time I want. I can pull out a magazine or pull up an article and recall those sights and sounds and characters because I’ve shared them and they live somewhere outside of my forgetful mind. That is the gift that writing gives you.

You might love cleaning people’s teeth or educating young children or giving quotes on various goods and services. I love the sound of the keys when my fingers can’t keep up with my mind and the satisfaction of submitting a finished article. For me, it isn’t about showing up in your newsfeed or standing from the tallest podium in a room of screaming grownups. I just want to make people feel something. I want to elicit empathy and contemplation and exploration. I want to write things that inspire and engage people and make us hop off the hamster wheel for a few minutes. Not everything I write is going to do that, but I respect the process, and I respect rare gem you get when the words come together just so and set something off for someone.

From Turtle Town to this Desperate search for Superwoman, there’s just something about writing for me. I’m so blessed to have found it. I’m so thankful you read it. It’s so delicious tasting this life twice. Period.

Tune in Today

Try that with Matt No. 1: Random Acts of Kindness

August 23, 2016

Try that with Matt

My brother is a strong presence – in my life, in other people’s lives, in his work life, with his friends, with his kids, with my kids – he’s a big dude with a big heart and a loud voice. As I’ve grown older, and he’s gotten older, and major changes have rolled ashore and back out into the great big ocean again, our relationship has evolved. At some point my memories of him as the broad behemoth who wrapped blankets over my head and farted on me as I struggled and screamed under the smothering conditions, eroded a bit and I actually started seeing him as more of a friend. Being grownups isn’t necessarily the most comfortable hat for either of us to wear, and I think there’s a comfort in keeping someone so close who reminds you of your more-distant-than-you’d-like past as a dumb kid, but also supports you as an adult.


Anyway, after our stint on the Appalachian Trail back in April, and the series of blog posts that followed, I think a passion for this platform began sprouting deep inside my big brother. He was more interested in the topics (this post in particular) and we started chatting a lot about adulting topics like happiness and contentment and satisfying the urge to explore and stretch yourself.

From these conversations, an idea was born. We would choose one challenge every month and try something we’d never tried before. We would dwell in the enticing space outside of our comfort zones at least once every 30 days. Some of our ideas are physically demanding, others are mentally demanding, but all are new to us in some capacity.


August was the inaugural month for the “Try that with Matt” series, and we agreed to kick things off with something that had been on both of our minds: positivity. We challenged each other to pull off 10 random acts of kindness (RAOK) in 10 days. There were no hard and fast rules. Just two handfuls of happiness distributed as we saw fit.

If you didn’t see this video, you should. She inspired us. My friend Kelly has done my hair for years. She never tells me what I owe her and I always give her what I think is fair, and she thinks is too much. One day she told me she took the money from my last hair appointment and donated it, anonymously, to a mother in need from “two mothers who wanted to help”. THAT inspired me. That same friend took her two children a few times every week throughout the summer to a local facility to be peers for a severely autistic classmate of her son. Now THAT is what you teach your kids. THAT is the example you set. THAT inspires me. So many people are sheepishly, quietly trying to change this world, or at least make it a little happier, one day and one deed at a time. It isn’t all bad. It isn’t all violence and loss. We wanted to be a part of that movement.

Here’s how it shaped up …

*Written by Matt.


Act No. 1. Special delivery.
The kids and I took flowers out to my mom. They were super pumped. My daughter picked them out, in Gram’s favorite color, of course. Mom was so surprised and happy we stopped out. I swear, the kids were just as excited as she was. It made me feel good, like I was doing something right, seeing them so hype about making someone else’s day. They helped with most of my acts of kindness.

Act No. 2. Bought fundraiser tickets.
Young guy, little older than my son, was out selling fundraiser tickets for his traveling soccer team. I had watched him and noticed the little guy hadn’t been very successful. He was a shy kid, so we made conversation and purchased some tickets and wished him luck on the season.

Act No. 3. Stopped to help.
A guy ran out of gas right by our neighborhood. Amazing how many people went around him and didn’t think twice. I jumped out of my truck, offered to push his car to the closest parking lot or run down and get gas for him. He assured me he was fine, his wife was in route to save the day. (Perhaps some other superwoman …) I think a lot of times we assume help is coming for people, but we should all be inclined to at least check and make sure.

Act No. 4. Moved mattresses.
I helped a friend pick up some mattresses. They didn’t have access to a truck and needed a hand so I tossed my hat in the ring and said I would take care of it. Life is busy for everyone, especially if you have young active kids. If you have the resources and someone else doesn’t, it never hurts to give a bit of your time. In this case, someone needed a box truck and I just so happen to have one, albeit one that tried to kill me years ago on a trip back from Iowa, but we’ve worked out the kinks and it was nice to help a friend I hadn’t seen in awhile.

Act No. 5. Treated a stranger.
Kids and I went for a frozen treat one Friday night and we decided to pay for the person behind us. As the gentlemen drove past with I will assume his wife and kid, he gave us a thumbs up out the window as we patiently waited to destroy a few milkshakes ourselves. We gave a wave and a thumbs up in return and I said hopefully that made his day and he does something nice for someone else. Kids thought he probably would because he was happy.

Act No. 6. Cashed in a good deed.
Back to school shopping was in full swing and I had already taken a day and tackled Kohl’s with the kids and cashed in some Kohl’s cash (free money, what!?) Well, a few days after we crushed it a coworker was heading out with her two princesses and Kohls was one of their stops. I had a 30 percent coupon and, like a boss, active Kohl’s cash burning a hole in my wallet. I passed them on so she could tear it up with her girls. We all know kids are costly and every little bit counts. This person kills it as a coworker and always does stuff for others. It felt good to put a smile on her face.

Act No. 7. Went for a wash.
Took the car through the carwash and paid for the person behind us (or to the side, or God knows where because the place was stupid packed). The kid that took my card was all about it though and you like to think that when you do a RAOK like this the people caught in the middle get some enjoyment as well and makes them think of doing something nice.

Act No. 8. Turned over the keys.
Kid was selling a car and couldn’t get rid of it and I like to buy and sell some things, so I gave him some green for his beater and the plan was to get it flipped. Later that day I was talking to another buddy and told him about my latest purchase and he was telling me about a guy that he knew that was having a run of bad luck and trying to get on his feet. The guy had a couple of kids, he was a hard worker, made mistakes as a kid that had cost him a good stretch of his freedom … I agreed to sell my buddy the car for what I paid and he was going to surprise this guy and give it to him so he had wheels for he and his kids. That was a no brainier and shows you there is so much good in the world; good, loving people. But all we focus on as humans is negative bullshit. The news is crap. Why not report 28 minutes on all of the positive stuff that happens daily and save the last 2 minutes for the sad, selfish bullshit instead of vice versa.

Act No. 9. Dogwatch.
Took care of Desperately Seeking Superwoman’s dog for the weekend. Yeah, I counted it. Made me feel good for a minute until I went to let the dog out and they had no chips in the pantry. Stay stocked up Biscuits!

Act No. 10. Meal on me.
Picked up a tab at dinner for a random patron and asked the waiter to have them pay it forward. He was all about it and the kids just sat and smiled. It just feels good to do something for someone that isn’t expecting it and you don’t get to see the reaction. You just hope they in turn do something good for someone else.




Act No. 1. Love letter.
I’m obsessed with the site,The World Needs More Love Letters. I logged on, picked the story that tugged the most violently at my heartstrings (a 13-year-old boy who was wondering why God chose for him to live through a tough illness in this case) and pulled out stationery. Stationery. When was the last time you used stationery to write words to pick up another soul? I did on that day. And I put an actual stamp on it and put it in the actual mailbox.

Act No. 2. Donuts for all.
Let’s be real. For men and women in the workforce, donuts on Friday are like a sitz bath after a 32-hour labor and delivery. Candy after a trip to the dentist. I like to sit them somewhere and see how long it takes for someone to find them. Who will open the brown box? Who will be most excited? Great social experiment all around.

Act No. 3. Sympathetic ear.
I stumbled upon a coworker in the midst of an emotional meltdown. I’d never met this particular coworker in person before, but it became very clear, very quickly, that this woman was in need of a good cry. Do you know why it was so easy for me to recognize this scenario? Because I have been in that seat, fighting those tiny burning needles behind my eyelids and sensing a trail of tear-induced snot marching it’s way out of my nasal canal. I have been there! Who hasn’t? Sometimes the shit hits the fan and you can’t get a win to save your life and you just need someone to give you permission to open up the dam and let it out. I don’t think it was an accident I ended up in her office.

Act No. 3. Garden goodie.
My niece loves zucchini bread. I baked up two loaves for her to enjoy. It took no more than an hour to do and I even threw in an extra loaf for my crew.

Act No. 4. Passed along some pages.
I have a girlfriend who I adore to no end. She’s been working through some major life stuff for a few months now. I logged on and had a copy of Miracles Now by Gabrielle Bernstein sent to her doorstep with a note, “A bit of inspiration for a girl who inspires me.” A great book is best shared with those who really need it.

Act No. 5. Blog crush kudos.
I understand, as a writer, how humbling a creative profession can be at times. You put things out into the world and sometimes get tough criticism back or, worse yet, hear nothing at all. It’s brutal and totally self-inflicted. So, I took some time to email a few of my favorite bloggers, who I don’t think have a huge following just yet, to let them know how much their words mean to me.

Act No. 6. Spread good luck.
Find a penny, pick it up, all day long you’ll have good luck. You’ve heard it. I took two handfuls of pennies and flung them about in high-traffic areas.

Act No. 7. Pat on the back.
One of my favorite people on the planet is my college roommate Ashlie. She recently adopted two children and, I tell ya, watching her parent them brings more joy than watching myself masterfully manipulate my own little turkeys into doing something good. She’s good at it. Like really, crazy, stupid good at it. So I told her she was. I don’t praise my mommy friends enough from the trenches.

Act No. 8. Lunch for the lady.
Hank’s folks stopped by around dinner time so I packed up some leftovers for his mom to take for lunch the next day. She’s been a nurse for more than 30 years and gives so much of herself to strangers. Caregivers often focus so much on others they neglect themselves. It made me feel good knowing she had one less thing to worry about the next day.

Act No. 9. Make the hole.
This was likely the girls’ favorite good deed. On Thursday nights, the main road to our neighborhood is a traffic jam due due to food truck event that takes place at a popular intersection. As it started to break loose a bit and we were going to get moving, a firetruck, parked in the station, flipped it’s lights on. I slammed on my brakes to let them out right in front of us. The girls cheered in celebration of this one. I told them it was an honor to help heroes.

Act No. 10. Take a timeout.
I have a buddy at the gym. He’s likely in his late 70s and a bit difficult to understand some times. He knows my workout schedule. On Mondays I stay home and do yoga. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I run. On Wednesdays and Fridays, I do weights. He knows this. If I’m missing one day, he checks in with me the next. I always humor him with brief chatter. But during this challenge, I planted my feet, looked him in the eyes and spent a good 10 minutes working through children and grandchildren, recent vacations and his work life. We pass by hundreds of people every day. How many do we really see? That day I saw him.

We learned that it is possible to be competitive over good deeds; as we would occasionally compare our handy work. We also confirmed something that wasn’t exactly surprising. I like to plan things, while Matt is more of a freestyler. I had sat down and brainstormed a few things I really wanted to do over the 10 days. They were things I’d already had in mind and this was the perfect excuse to pull the trigger. Also, I would defer to emotional expressions of love and respect, while Matt’s go-to was lessening someone else’s burden in some way. There was no wrong, it was all right.

It crosses all of our minds more times than we realize to do good – to take something from someone’s full hands, or pick up the check or stop and listen … really listen. What woke me up was just how easy it was to actually do it. You don’t have to spend a lot of money or plan ahead. Just allow the time to comfort someone in need. Be human when someone needs it most. Be the hugger. Be the listener. Be the voice of compassion. Join the army of men, women and children spreading love in this world. Random or otherwise, let’s make kindness routine.


Losing Lisa Frank (and other elephant problems)

August 18, 2016

Snap my suspenders and label me a yodeler, cuz I just have to climb up into the Desperately Seeking Superwoman Swiss Alps and echo the statement I’ve said from this platform a thousand different ways, using a thousand different words … time is freaking flying, man! I disappeared from DSS for a hot second to collect the final sunny seconds of the girls’ summer vacation and get our shit together so this household could slide back into the dreaded grind, but I don’t really know how we got here. It was like we went to get frozen yogurt on the last day of class and, before it even had a chance to melt, we’re back to CrockPot dinners and homework folders.

Girls Surfing

When I said, “get our shit together,” I was mainly referring to one thorn that is still lodged in my bitter, soft side. Can we just talk for a second about the transformation of the school supply list? What the Boy George happened there? I can remember, as a greedy grade school gal, sorting through stacks of Lisa Frank Trapper Keepers and folders with puppies in various states of play and trippy holograms and Disney characters, agonizing over the decision, for what felt like an eternity. I needed Troll pencil toppers to tickle my chin during boring Spanish lessons and gel pens and, of course, a killer crayon box. I despised the required items … Paste? Why? So Betty has an afternoon snack? No. 2 yellow pencils, my ass. Maybe for amateurs and basic Bs. I’m gonna mix this up right here with some mechanical action that’s gonna blow their minds.

So, let me fill you in on a little something; it’s not like that anymore. The school supply list has been twisted and bastardized into the most exhausting, infuriating scavenger hunt known to man. I waited too long, I did, I’ll admit it. Like a fool I downloaded the list and shuffled into the local supercenter the Sunday before classes resumed. JoJo came along for what she optimistically categorized as, “special Mom and JoJo time.” She trailed behind me as I snaked, dumbfounded and squinty eyed, up and down the same 3 aisles over and over again searching for stupidly specific items like, “vinyl 2 pocket folders in yellow, green and blue,” and “pack of 3 plain pink erasers with the word ‘eraser’ printed in Comic Sans.”

But the best part was the camaraderie. Hell hath no fury like a group of parents driven by the mob mentality of collective failure. You know when you talk to your child about something, but you’re really just sending out a Bat signal for an adult to commiserate with you? There was a lot of that. “Honey, I don’t know why you can’t just use the generic colored pencils. The list says they have to be Crayola.” “Stay with me, honey, we have to find this last folder. I know you’re tired. I’m really trying, babe …” And then, the connection … “I know, I couldn’t find that folder either. This list is insane,” a fellow frazzled grownup says. “I know, right?” I responded in an aggressive, clingy tone. Success. You’re both pissed. You’re not alone. You have delivered a synchronized verbal middle finger to the supply list and all it represents.

Confession: 20 minutes in, I called it and told JoJo we’d shop at mommy’s favorite store, Amazon. We got frozen yogurt and laughed through the window at all the suckers walking in with their lists. Now that’s special mommy and JoJo time, if ya ask me.



In spite of my lackluster preparedness, the first day came and went without incident. One brutal update to the routine is the bus, which conveniently arrives 10 minutes earlier this year. Before I share this next part, it must be said that the driver she had last year was religiously tardy, OK? We’re talking up to 20 minutes late some days. It conditioned me to be lax with our roll out time. It all came to an unpleasant climax this morning when, pulling out of the driveway, I saw the taillights of the big golden bird disappearing down the neighboring street. JoJo, always a bit high strung, began sobbing at the thought of being left behind. It never occurred to either of us that I could have just braved the drop-off line and taken her to the actual school. Oh no, we were going to catch that bus.

I sped down our street, knowing the driver had at least 3 more stops. Holding a mug brimming with steamy coffee in one hand, I leaned over the steering wheel, anxious and recklessly accelerating while calmly assuring my oldest daughter that we would get her on board one way or another. After a second miss, we approached the bus at its final stop. The next 30 seconds were a flurry of action. “Run! Go! Go! Go!” I coached. Of course she couldn’t get the door open. I was still in drive. I hit the unlock button and, with tears in her eyes, JoJo took off down the sidewalk. Two SAHMs, standing at the corner having a leisurely chat with their chai tea and boat shoes saw my girl sprinting with every bit of energy her Cinnamon Toast Crunch would give her, and they gestured for the driver to wait. We had done it.

As the bus pulled away, I allowed my car to crawl toward them. I rolled down the window and raised my mug in genuine gratitude. “Thanks guys!” I said. “Of course!” they responded. “Hey, aren’t you Matt’s sister?” one of the moms said, squinting in my direction. Great … juuuuust great. I always prefer my early morning servings of humble pie with a side of anonymity. No such luck. [awkward laugh] “Oh, yeah, I’m his little sister who apparently needs to change the batteries in her watch!” [more awkward laughing] “OK, see ya!” I can be a real turd sometimes.

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An extra-special treat this year, our Spikey started preschool. I know her teacher. JoJo had her a few years back, so I know she’s sweet, but let’s all pray she has a good sense of humor. Spike picked out her prettiest floral dress for her first day. She couldn’t have looked more precious if her entire face was made exclusively of dimples and cuddling sloth babies. On JoJo’s first day, I remember she was tentative and sheepish. She stood at my side and looked up at me with questioning eyes. Not Spike. She barreled in there, found her cubby and all but kicked me out. I think her confidence worked like a dam for my mommy tears. They never actually came until I was away from her, in my car, pulling out of the parking lot.


The subsequent days got a little more interesting. Hank was out of town, so I was sure to organize what I could the night before to ensure a smooth morning. I put out their clothes, packed snacks, boiled eggs for breakfast, and set out shoes and bookbags. I had it dialed in. On our second day of the chaos, just as me and my car full of chicks started to pull out of the garage, my little preschooler innocently asked, “Mama, do I have to wear underwear to school?” “Yes,” I answered. “Do you not have underwear on, honey?” “No, I’ll go get some.” I backed down far enough to watch JoJo run to her bus stop and waited, patiently, as my streaker sauntered back into the garage, skimpies in hand and proceeded to pull her boy shorts on over her sandals while standing in the streaming bright yellow glare of my headlights. A jogger came upon the scene and I causally waved.

That night, Spike described to me the difference between a mouse problem and an elephant problem. “See, Mama, a mouse problem is when someone says they don’t like you … or your body smells … or they don’t want to sit with you at snack. You should just talk that out. If you tell about a mouse problem, that’s called tattling. An elephant problem is when you throw up or get cut or get hit. You should always tell someone if you have an elephant problem.” I can tell you that, to me, sending your child to their second day of preschool bare-butted in a dress is what I would categorize as an elephant problem, but to Spike, we’re talking about merely a mouse situation.

That night at dinner, she took it up a notch.

“Spikey, how was your day?”
“There was this girl and the other girls were so mean to her and I told her to sit with me.”
“That’s so nice, Spike!”
“Yeah and she can’t see very well, so I hug her and kiss her forehead.”
“And today, she went to the hospital.”
“Whoa, what?”
“I’m lying. I don’t know why I said that. I just made that up.”

Have a great school year, everyone!


Yes ma’am

August 4, 2016

“Losing yourself does not happen all at once. Losing yourself happens one no at a time.”

Books are great. They really are. All the letters and the smell of fresh print and the way a bookshelf looks when it’s crowded with interesting titles. But for someone who despises paper and would gladly speak for the trees, I think an amazing audio book is where it’s really at. A captivating voice – all the better if it’s the author’s – orchestrating rich characters and delivering slivers of dialogue that widen your eyes and sing to your soul … Yeah, that’s my jam.

Going into “Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person,” one would anticipate a good show. I mean, the woman (Shonda Rhimes, of course) fashioned the twisted minds and friendship of Meredith Grey and Christina Yang for McSteamy’s sakes. As if grandstanding, she then gave us the quivering, lavish lip and firm-but-passionate prose of white-hat-wearing Olivia Pope. She claimed a land and a night of the week and an acronym and a hashtag. I would expect the woman to be able to write a book. But she didn’t.

Book cover

She didn’t just write a book. She wrote her cliff’s notes for self-improvement and true satisfaction. She, herself, is not a specimen of human perfection. You don’t begin the book thinking she is and, even after following her through 365+ days of extending and challenging herself, you don’t end the book thinking she is. That’s not the point. Perfection is not the end game. Happiness is.

Once she gave herself permission to be uncomfortable and bold and a tiny bit selfish, that’s when she met the best parts of herself and her life. Let’s face it, we all take comfort in the layers. We cover the raw truths with whatever it takes … food, sarcasm, passive aggressive quips, makeup, clothes, work, Netflix, wine, excuses. It all works the same. It all creates a barrier between the yucky bits of our true selves and the perception of our true selves. I know what my layers are made of. You can probably figure yours out as well. For Shonda, it was predominately food and social sheepishness. She was hiding behind an unhealthy weight and choosing evenings on her couch over once-in-a-lifetime galas and interviews.

What she reveals in the book is that, by saying yes to her body and yes to her peers and yes to her accolades, she was able to shed those security layers and uncover a happier version of herself; one that felt more fulfilled and appreciated and alive. Relieving yourself of that weight – both literally and figuratively – frees up all this space for joy and adventure and self-acceptance. It’s beautiful really.

I recommend this book because it’s masterfully written. I recommend it because she reveals which Grey’s Anatomy cast member is in her ride-or-die group of friends. I recommend it because you’ll see yourself in it somewhere. I recommend it because it’s clever and honest and she was about as transparent as she could be without compromising herself or her relationships. And I recommend it because it makes you want to say yes, or at least consider it.

Welcome to the church of Shonda …

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This is everything, but it’s even more than everything from 16:20 on:

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Meet me where the glass ceiling used to be

July 29, 2016

The world has gone crazy. She has lost her way. There are so many different energies pulling everyone in so many different directions that we’re all simultaneously colliding and treating each other like ghosts. But on a planet where commonality has become the ultimate unicorn, I have identified one undeniable truth. One fact we can all say, “Amen” and “Hallelujah!” to with an enthusiasm otherwise reserved for Bad Moms trailers and quotes from Scary Mommy’s facebook page. This truth I’ve stumbled upon is undeniable and invigorating and, let’s face it, a giant middle finger to a lot of folks who’ve had a big middle finger coming for some time now. So, here it is … Ready …

Women are kind of having a moment.

For a person who has the word “Superwoman” in the title of her passion project, it seems negligent to breeze past the forceful feminine momentum in the air. And more exciting? For once it really has nothing to do with Beyonce. I mean, other than I almost took my sweat-soaked shirt off and swung it around my head when Run the World (Girls) came through my headphones on my morning run. (“Strong enough to bear the children – Then get ta business.” I mean … somebody had to say it.)


And I’m not just talking about ole Hil’s recent nomination, either, although no one can diminish the historical significance of her accomplishment. For me, it has everything to do with this speech and this woman:

If she was acting, I volunteer to polish her Oscar for the rest of my days. That speech had stank on it. It was a master class in delivery and poignancy and perspective. She threw her rhetorical spaghetti at the wall and it stuck. To everyone. Everywhere. The part about her girls playing on the White House lawn … I felt like I took an emotional bullet.

The chicks and I were driving home from their grandparents’ the other night and got into one of those driveby formative chats.

“And who is the president, girls?” – Me
“Barack Obama!” – Both
“Right, and who is his wife? Who’s the First Lady?” – Me
“Ahhh, Michelle Obama?” – JoJo
“Right!” – Me
“I love her.” – JoJo
“Yeah, I love her, too” – Spike
“Why do you love her, JoJo?” – Me
“I don’t know. Because she’s pretty and she helps people.” – JoJo
“She does. That’s right.” – Me
“Why do you love her, Mom?” – JoJo
“I love her because she is a wonderful woman. She cares about children and education and people’s health. She has a garden and she says things that change people for the better. She is very strong and all of us girls should try to be strong, right?”
“Right” – Both
“Because, girls are …” – Me
“Awesome!” – JoJo

These unexpected conversations put just a hint of hot vomit right at the base of my throat. I feel such a responsibility to say the right thing. To offer those profound nuggets that will turn up in their nonfiction works 30 years from now. But more often I falter here. I think my FLOTUS contact high got me through this particular incident just fine.

Perhaps the female feels are also heightened for me because of the book I officially finished this morning, Shonda Rhimes’ Year of Yes. The writing on these pages makes everything from the brain in my head that forms sentences to the tip of my fingernails that tap furiously on dirty keyboards so jealous I’ve been reduced to a humbled heap of fragmented story ideas. Dear reader, I don’t know what your craft is, or your interest, but have you ever been witness to someone who does that craft or hobby so masterfully that you feel both defeated and on fire all at once? That’s me now. I’m all jumbled up in awe and inspiration. Her intimacy with characters and uncomfortable transparency in this book were so admirable and so well done it sparked a desire in me to quit writing altogether and just succumb to the towering shadow cast by her rare creativity and run away to furiously write for weeks in a small cottage in the Ireland countryside all within the final letters of the final chapter. //More to come on this masterpiece later.//

The entire book was captivating, but one speech featured in Year of Yes in particular stirred something in me. Something I didn’t realize had settled. If you are a woman, a professional, a master of your craft, a novice, if you have a pulse, give this 8 minutes of your time. Let it pour in and take up some space where a negative thought used to live.

I love the idea of the glass ceiling being this tangible place, this possible meetup. Like it’s a designated location where we can all go to celebrate our victories and plot to right all the gender-specific injustices. I’ve been lucky. In my working years I’ve never truly felt oppressed or discriminated against. I’ve been given platforms and the benefit of the doubt and opportunities. I don’t feel like I need to burn my bra (they’re too expensive for that anyway) or march with other womanfolk. But that doesn’t bestow upon me some fast pass to get to the front of the line. It doesn’t mean the struggle of other women doesn’t leave bruises on my heart. It doesn’t mean I don’t get a righteous tickle where my internal plumbing resides every time a lady sticks it to some condescending sucker.

I have three little girls. Three girls. I want more than this moment, for them. I want them to, not only chase their dreams in a world that is free and just, but also respect and appreciate the fact that other women went toe-to-toe with adversity and beat the shit out of stereotypes in order for them to do so. I want them to watch Michelle Obama’s speech and feel the weight of her words. I want them to let other women’s stories shake them up a little bit and flip their perspective. I pray, of course, they never feel less than or unequal to, but if they do, that they know that’s when it’s time to go high.

It isn’t the end of the struggle, but yes, we women are having a moment. Whatever side of the party lines you fall on, whether you’ve been held down or lifted up, whether you have children or you don’t, there is something to celebrate here. So keep those over-the-shoulder boulder holders clasped and your eyes on the prize. The world just might find her way after all.