Monthly Archives

June 2016


Attention campers: Get your ultimate popup packing list

June 29, 2016

Oh, hey you guys. Sorry about that little break there. I had a big project for work and a business trip to Chicago and I dabbled a bit in sun poisoning … It’s been a crazy 8 days of summer. This post is coming from a recent request I got from one of my favorite folks around who just procured a popup camper. You might recall that we have a tenement on wheels that answers to the name Emma.

When it comes to camping in a modest popup, we’ve certainly had our share of wonderful times, as well as times where it was more touch-and-go (who can forget the birthday party hosted by Satan himself?). It took a few hitchings and pitchings before we found our groove, there’s no denying that. It got testy a time or two before the air conditioning kicked up. There was also the time we spent 5 solid hours on top of each other as the Ohio rains came down mercilessly upon us. Not exactly a zen experience.

But we’ve learned that the difference between making memories and simply managing misery often rests in the preparation. Do yourself a favor; Get a few tubs and keep them stocked with the essentials and, with the addition of a few items you want to pack fresh, you’ll be set to savor some family time on a stress-free holiday in Mother Nature’s magical motel.

Woods2 2

“Send me a list of your camping essentials, please! We’re going at the end of July and I’m already freaking out.” my friend text me. Well, I like to think of myself as an oversharer granter of wishes. So, I started by asking Hank what he would consider, “essential” …

Hose for drinking water
Water filter
5 gallon Jerry can (for water)
Pressure regulator
Leveling blocks or 2x4s
Extension cord (Whatever power popup has)

“After that, it’s just how do you wanna live?” He said. You probably don’t know him, but this is a very Hank thing to say.

Smore 2

Here are the things I keep in my tubs for campsite L-I-V-I-N:

Pudgy Pie Maker
Good folding chairs
Dutch oven and/or cast iron skillet
Party lights
Outdoor rug
Bug spray
Long lighter
Bag of charcoal and lighter fluid
Glow sticks
Collapsible scooters for kids
Bubbles + sidewalk chalk
Coloring books, crayons, Uno, whatever keeps your kids sane when the rain comes
Sleeping bags + pillows
Hand sanitizer
Dish tub + dish soap + a sponge
Coffee Pot and coffee
Cups and mugs
Box of tissue
Large Ziplock bags
Large trash bags
Pop trashcan
Ove gloves
Paper towels and/or cloths
Jugs of drinking water
Small broom and dustpan
Sandals + gym shoes + hiking boots
Tweezers (for splinters) + First Aid kit with plenty of Band-Aids
Toiletries + face wipes
Clothes + extra clothes (because someone will pee their pants and it might just be you)
Laundry bag (for dirty clothes)
iPad (Shut up, let’s be real here) loaded with movies
Portable Bluetooth speaker
A travel journal that stays in the camper (I write down campground, site # and any special memories from each trip)

This just in! Hank – coming to terms with the endless sea of estrogen in which he’s swimming – just ordered a portable potty for nighttime emergencies. I’ll keep you posted.


The parenting struggle I never predicted

June 16, 2016

It’s often said that admitting you’re having a problem is the first step toward progress. Toward a solution. Toward improvement to some degree. Any degree. Well, this is me sending my turmoil out into the vast universe with the hope it leads to some sort of resolution. Here goes … As a parent, I am struggling. This particular struggle embarrasses the nightly bedtime battle and laughs at the ongoing eat your vegetables saga. This is a struggle that quickens my heart, squeezes my stomach and steals my sleep. It is an epic struggle with the current social climate we live in and all of the unexplainable, ugly, terrifying, shocking, appalling, selfish, ruthless things happening down the street, a few states away and across the ocean.

I can break my conflict down into more specific examples, if that’s helpful. Specifically,

I struggle to teach faith when the news is saturated with needless, brutal tragedy and heartbreaking bloodshed.
I struggle to teach humility when our potential world leaders make being crass and egocentric a sport.
I struggle to teach strength when we’re so often brought to our knees.
I struggle to teach grace when goodwill and common decency are so often disregarded.
I struggle to teach character when it seems to be lacking in every should-be hero with a platform.
I struggle to teach patience when the pace of this life promises to leave the weak behind.
I struggle to teach respect when there is such blatant indifference regarding human life.
I struggle to teach kindness when so many take without apology or cause.
I struggle to teach empathy when I can’t comprehend the magnitude of the tragedy.
I struggle to teach peace when there doesn’t seem to be any left.

I’m scared for my loved ones, myself and my neighbors. I’m terrified that things will get worse or never get any better. I look into my daughters’ innocent, starry eyes and pray for their vision to stay just as it is – sparkly and playful and hopeful. I pray that one day they won’t have to look for exits and scrutinize strangers. That they won’t have to mourn for lives lost in fits of misplaced hatred and sent to heaven in groups of 10, 20 or 50. That strange noises won’t shake them. That they will feel safe. That they will sleep.


It’s challenging in normal circumstances to guide these little souls to soldier on and become capable, confident carriers of change. But it’s damn near impossible when your own soul is drowning in anxiety. I can’t answer their questions because there is no tolerable explanation. I can’t promise it will never touch us, because how can such a heavy burden of sorrow and fear not be felt by everyone?

So, there it is. My struggle. It is suffocating and saddening and slowly encroaching on parts of my heart that once soared with optimism. But I know it’s not my struggle alone.

I have to keep putting on my armor and showing up. For them. I have to find words that soften a world full of jagged, cutting edges. I have to empower their spirit rather than clip their wings with stories and scenes observed through the disturbing lens we grownups are forced to wear. A lens dirtied with unfathomable accusations, cruel labels and nauseating acts. I can only pray that when I take my babies in to comfort them from their nightmares, they don’t feel the perspiration on my shirt from my own terrors.

The hardest struggles are the ones you feel like you can’t win, and maybe that’s why this is all bothering me so much. Because I feel defeated. But I suppose one could argue that the hardest struggles are the ones that make you stronger in the end. I just hope my armor holds up.


You’re stinkin’ cute – dress accordingly

June 14, 2016

All it takes is one bag of old show choir outfits handed down from a co-worker who’s trying to clean out her basement to make room for a workout area. That’s all it takes for this house to go from Kate & Mim Mim to Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell. The attitude, the hip pops, the hysteria. Join us, won’t you?

Costume collage

The grand finale could have used another dry run …


Idle chit chat with my chunkier self

June 8, 2016

First, I must be clear when I say that I actually go to great pains to avoid being a self-loathing turd. There’s a special kind of depressing that goes with watching perfectly lovely people wallow around in sloppy puddles of their own regrets and poor decisions. We’ve all danced and delighted in the cheap thrills of excess at some point. Personally, I’ve been obnoxiously open about my struggles with sugar, food in general really, and stubborn baby weight.

I, like you my splendid reader, have a general notion of what I should eat. Or, should I say, what will nourish my body without turning me into a moody porpoise. The knowledge has never been my problem. The willpower has. I run out of give-a-damns daily, usually somewhere between the powdered sugar donuts and my ice cream nightcap.

But as much as I wrestle with my sucrose-sucking inner feen and disapprove of her dwindling discipline, I certainly don’t hate myself. Lately, since the scale hasn’t moved any direction but up in 4 months, I’ve been trying to focus on the humor of the internal conflict. For example, I giggle at the dialogue that results from the two opposing sides of my conscious. I literally picture a physical clash of my two personas; the Jillian Michaels maven and a female Augustus Gloop. If I were to give them a sitcom, the script would include lines like* …

[After eating a dark chocolate and peanut butter sundae]
I think maybe if Hank doesn’t mind, I might just settle in to being a little fat. Not like bed-ridden fat, but fluffy.

[After working out for 4 days consecutive days.]
How have I not lost 10 pounds?

[When my new pants are tight.]
This brand’s sizes always run small.

[When it’s time to wear a bathing suit.]
It’s not that hot. Maybe I’ll just wear a dress.

[When it’s the weekend.]
The hard work starts Monday!

[On Monday.]
Why the hell did I eat that shit all weekend?


[When someone brings in donuts.]
Look at me. I’m so good cutting this delicious little devil in half.

[At 3 o’clock on the day someone brings in donuts.]
I’ll just eat the other half. It’s just a half.

[When I step on the scale.]
C’mon! Seriously? Bitch.

[When I order Culver’s.]
That’s all. … And cheese curds, please! Sorry.

[When I eat my kale salad.]
This could really use more goat cheese. Goat cheese and bacon.

[Consulting my Fitbit after a run.]
Only 171 calories burned my ass!


[Holding an empty bag of peanut M&Ms.]
Oh, 220 calories. Wait … there’s more than 1 serving? There are 3 servings in this mother clucker?! And I ate them all, so … I guess I multiply by 3 … carry the … and then … well, shit. Why do they do servings any way? Like who eats 1/4 bag of candy and calls it for the day?

[Talking to Hank.]
So, if we just agree to both eat ice cream, we’ll stay on a similar weight gaining trajectory and we won’t care about each other’s chubby bits.

[After the first bite of a cookie.]
OK, Courtney, savor it for a minute and decide if it’s really worth the calories. [Blacks out for 10 seconds.} Yup, I guess it was!

[On Pinterest]
I’m only going to pin healthy recipes with dates and apricots and avocado and … Oh! Snickers Ice Cream Pie!

[Standing in my closet.]
That makes my stomach look like an elephant’s face. That’s too tight around the arm holes. That waistband leaves a red mark around my midsection. That dress is too short, but only when I’m heavy. Do I feel heavy? That pushes out my muffin top. Black pants and a black top wins again!

[Looking at group pictures.]
I’m the only one without my hand on my hip. Is that why my arm looks so flabby? Gross. It’s like a twice-baked potato up there. If I put my hand on my hip would it look like I was trying to look thinner? Or younger?

[While running]
Go one more lap. One more lap and you can put creamer in your coffee. Gah! Am I dragging a dead body behind me or what? Please make the next song a good one. No, Nickelback. You’re not welcome here. One more lap and you can eat a a mini candy bar at 3.

*These are actual words that I have actually heard in my actual brain.


Everything I need to know, I learned from JoJo going to kindergarten

June 2, 2016

Last Friday my oldest chick closed the book on her first year of elementary school and, as quickly as it came, kindergarten was over. She walked away with fewer teeth, a broader vocabulary and a whole new set of social skills. More times than I can count, as we sat conversing around our dinner table, JoJo would offer some emotional nugget that, if I really thought about it, correlated to some grownup social dilemma in my circle. See if you draw the same comparisons …


Be resourceful (and when deemed necessary, game the system).
About 3 months into the school year I got a call from the school nurse. “Hi there. I have JoJo here in my office and she is not feeling well. She doesn’t have a fever and we’re giving her a bit of Gatorade and letting her close her eyes.” She then cupped her mouth and drew the phone closer to say, “I really think somebody’s just not having a good day. This is the second time she’s been down here in 2 days.” As the year pressed on, there were more casual mentions of the nurse’s office. She had a hang sesh with her cousin there, she had her bud walk her down during art class, she went there for an ice pack because her knees hurt from running so much … I realized that something I’d been taught in my leadership classes might apply here – I was not asking the right questions. Once I began my subtle interrogation, I learned that, not only did the nurse have Gatorade, she also had Sprite, crackers and a sweet dose of one-on-one TLC. It’s like a 5-star luxury resort compared to, say, gym class. I couldn’t fault the girl for wanting an afternoon spritzer and siesta. If anything, I was impressed.

This was not the first or the last time my baby would go scamming for groceries. We get alerts when her lunch money funds are dwindling. “That’s odd,” Hank said, after I relayed that I’d received a low balance email from the school. “I just loaded like 50 bucks onto that thing a few weeks ago.” Turns out, you can log in and see your child’s spending history. Turns out, JoJo likes to add on a cookie, like every single day. Turns out, Doritos are just a little bit extra. Turns out, a cheese stick makes a great side. We were looking at page after page of incriminating purchases, accumulating 25 cents at a time. When I asked her about her a la carte selections, she informed me that you just ask the woman at the cash register to throw one on your tray and you’re good to go. She had no clue she was getting charged, and no clue we’d ever find out. Hank smiled that smile he smiles when one of his girls does something he finds endearing and just said, “I love it. I hope she always just goes for what she wants.”

Drama is relative.
At my age, a scandal typically involves inappropriate behavior, maybe some rage and always a few really bad decisions. For JoJo, the biggest scandal of the 2016-2017 school year came when she climbed to the top of the playdome, got yelled at by another kindergarten teacher and – wait for it – was sentenced to 5 minutes on the wall. I walked onto the playground to pick her up and straight onto OJ’s side of the courtroom. There were 3 criminals in the lineup, each more eager than the next to argue their innocence. We went to the car for a recess. “She’s just so interested in me and she doesn’t need to be interested about me!” she screeched with a blotchy red face. I’d never seen her so heated. “Listen, babe, regardless of what you think of her, she’s a teacher and she deserves your respect. You were probably doing something you knew you weren’t supposed to do, right?” “Maybe, but –” “And you can’t get in trouble if you’re always doing the right thing, right?” “Yes, but–” “OK, then let’s move past it.” But she couldn’t. It rocked her world like an old boyfriend showing up as a contestant on The Bachelorette or a late-in-life baby surprise would rock mine, and I gotta respect that.

Sleep is underrated.

The adjustment to full-time student had its hiccups, but perhaps the biggest was how much it wore our little bug out. One night at dinner, JoJo told us that she fell asleep in class and her teacher just let her sleep because she knew, “she really needed that nap.” Let’s face it, there are days (like every Tuesday) when you just want to put your head down on your desk and droll all over the TPS reports. I love that her teacher let that little snooze slide.

It’s who you know.
There are three battle grounds for grade school children: The cafeteria, the playground and the bus. I can still remember that first day I sat in my car and watched my delicate, dainty 6 year old take that first steep step up into the yellow tunnel of terror on wheels. She looked so petite grabbing the railing to hoist her tiny cakes up, only to slide quickly into the very front seat. That August evening I asked her who she sat with. “Nobody,” she replied. “I don’t know any of the older kids and they’re so loud.” But by the end of the second week, my girl was running that joint. What changed? Her two older cousins started hitching a ride a few times a week. To make matters even better, they were at her after-school program as well. Before I knew it she was regurgitating all of the fourth grade gossip and telling me fifth graders, “had her back.” Had her back from what, I don’t know that I want to know, but I certainly appreciated the support. #squadgoals

Stress and pain both pass eventually.
Do you ever watch your kids experience something and it brings back every distinct smell, thought and feeling you experienced at that age? For me, one of those things is this loose tooth nonsense. I detested the tooth-losing process. The initial wiggle, the tireless tongue prodding, the mental turmoil of committing to pull the little bastard out and then the sight of that alien formation with bloody points that just detached from part of your body. Those meager little calcium nuggets revealed every Fruit Roll-up, every Swiss Cake Roll, every Milk Dud, and left behind only a slight crater to take over the madness. Now I’m reliving the oral horror with JoJo. I feel her anxiety about the process transferring to me. We’ve gone through this 3 – one hard apple shy of 4 – times now and it’s always the same. She recognizes the wiggle that sent the baby tooth past the point of no return (typically because there is blood). This sends her down an emotional spiral of will-it or won’t-it hysteria. It comes out and she screams over a pain that she perceives in her mind and then instantly begins smiling at the realization that said pain actually never existed and the entire process is over. Thus, our heart rates can decline, the Tooth Fairy can make her triumphant appearance and we can all live to experience the roller coaster ride another day.

Compassion always counts.
Of all my aspirations for them, two of the characteristics I so badly want to instill in my chicks are compassion and empathy. The world is so fast and so careless. It’s important to me that they really see people and go out of their way to help when it matters (and it always matters). On our star chart we have a row for “Did something kind,” and I ask the girls what they did to help someone that day. If I feel satisfied with their answer, they get a magnetic star. Spike typically says things like, “I told Johnny that he was not a butt face.” But I always looked forward to JoJo’s answers once she started school. There are so many opportunities to extend grace at that age. She would say things like, “Taylor is getting a new baby sister and I gave her a hug,” or “Sonya was sitting alone at library, so I moved to her table” But my favorite was when she told me she escorted Anthony down the hall after he puked in gym. Because sometimes you just need someone to hold your hand and take you to the nurse after you blow chunks in front of a room full of people. With no judgment.

Embarrassment is temporary (but brutal).
I can still remember, when I was in fifth grade, I thought it would be “cool” if I opened my bedroom window and sat in it. I cranked it out, removed the pesky screen and let the tips of my toes meet the steep shingles below. My on-again off-again “boyfriend”‘s dad, who lived directly behind us, came bursting through his back door and screamed, “Get outa the window, kid! What the hell are you thinking?!” To this day when I see him I picture him shouting at me from his deck. I was so scared he was going to tell my parents, or my little boyfriend. But more than all that, I was so, so embarrassed. I didn’t know what I was doing was dangerous. Hell, that was where all the heroines in the movies went to look at the stars and sort through their thoughts.

So, as we parents often do, I made sure to hand down the same humiliation to my JoJo. On an evening bike ride she turned right in front of a car. Without thinking, I did what any model mother would do. I verbally assassinated her precious spirit in the center of the cul-de-sac. In front of anyone within earshot. I certainly wasn’t mad at her. I was frightened out of my mind and the words just sprinted up my trachea and exploded out of my mouth. She was quiet the entire ride home. When we walked through the door she collapsed in the entryway, with her knees up by her ears and her elbows crossed over top to hold her head. “What’s wrong, honey?” I inquired, ignorant to the fact that, although the pedals between the incident and our driveway had erased the confrontation for me, she was entirely mortified. “I’m embarrassed!” she sobbed as she lifted her head. And I went right back to my window ledge. I knew exactly how she felt. “I’m sorry,” I offered. “But you are the most important thing to me and it terrifies Mommy when I think you might get hurt. I shouldn’t have yelled like that.” As disconcerted as you might be, this, too, shall pass, little bird.

We all just want to be accepted.
It always feels better to be included than excluded. And, gosh dang it, when 8 girls are playing ninjas and there’s no room for 9, or they tell you swinging is stupid, it feels like someone kicked your puppy. I don’t know a single parent who hasn’t wanted to throw a stranger’s kid’s sucker in the dirt for ignoring or belittling their child on the playground.


No one likes an empty bucket.
There are occasions when children  say things far more profound than the most educated, enlightened adults. One evening, as I was whipping up a 4-course Taco Tuesday extravaganza, JoJo and Spike started fighting, which is crazy, because that never happens. (That italics indicates major sarcasm.) Anyway, after I launched into my typical retorts – “Guys, knock it off!” “Do you feel better after you hit her?” etc. – with little effect, the oldest chick stepped back a bit and put her hands up defensively. “Listen Spike, I don’t need you taking out of my bucket.” [Silence and inquisitive stares.] “When you say mean things, you take out of people’s buckets. And when you say or do nice things, you fill them up. I’m not going to empty your bucket, so stop emptying mine!” And that, my friends, is what you call an effective after-school lesson. [mic drop]

Feeling special is good for the soul.
Remember how cool it was when your parents or, even better, your pets came into visit you at school? In fourth grade my folks trailered in one of our horses for my Star Day and let me tell you, when that mare shit on the front lawn of my elementary school, I knew I’d climbed 4 rungs up the social ladder. As a working mother I more often than not have guilt about my inability to be a room mother, or a reading pal or a field trip chaperone. There’s always some activity designed to make me feel completely inadequate as an emotional support for my child. But when it counts, wild [pooping] mustangs couldn’t keep me away. Case in point, JoJo’s Valentine’s Day party. We stayed up late cutting pineapples into mangled hearts and shed our own blood skewering those F’ers onto bamboo sticks. We made a party snack mix that I won’t reveal here because I’m thinking about marketing it for profit it was so good, and portioned it out into 22 individual baggies. And when I walked in with those fruit kabobs and bomb-ass mix, my little lady lit up like the Eiffle Tower on New Year’s. I’m not one for praising your child every time they take a tinkle, but I am a big believer in the power of showing up when it counts and letting your girl get her day.

So there you have it. Follow the bold points, throw in a few servings of veggies and commit to move a bit every time Netflix prompts you with, “Are you still watching?” and you have a success plan for a healthy, happy, kind life. And you have JoJo and her tales of the kindergarten somethings to thank for it.