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The day after vegan

October 9, 2017

Some of you have asked about the day after The Livin la Vida Vegan Challenge, and I guess, in hindsight, I did kind of leave you hanging a bit. Blogging every day for 14 days was a little intense for me. If you don’t want to read on, or suspense just isn’t you’re thing, yes, I finished the half marathon, and yes, I ate ALL the things, and yes, I got sicker than a dog. Read on if you’d like a deeper dive into any of the aforementioned statements.

The big race.
This was my third half marathon (running, sixth if you count the times I walked that mug). The beautiful thing about coming into a race like this with a few under your belt is the reassurance that you will, eventually, finish. It might not be pretty, but you’ll get there. I think that’s the most encouraging mantra to keep in your back pocket. “I will finish this. I will not die. I will finish this. I will not die.” People always say, “I couldn’t run that long,” or ask, “How do you do that?” and the truth is, you just keep shuffling along.

Jackie (my partna) and I are not record-setters. We don’t wear the fancy, fast shorts that look like bathing suit bottoms. We don’t have compression socks, or special sunglasses. We are just a couple of moms, with semi-soft bodies (me more so than her), who’ve been friends for a couple decades, who like to come out together and turn in a lackluster performance. That’s just us. That’s our m.o. We own that.

Forget your corral letter, forget your pace group, that is the categorization that matters. When you know who you are and what you’re doing there, the perspective really alleviates the pressure. We’re pretty content in the middle of the pack, because, for us, it’s just about proving our bodies are still capable of carrying us that far. We are not broken. We are not entirely swallowed up by our roles as mom or wife or nurse or writer. We are strong, amateur athletes with veracious lions (or more like angry kittens) sleeping just beneath our skin. At least for one day of the year that’s what we are.

The morning of the race was chilly. I didn’t eat any meat or dairy. I made a smoothie with spirulina, 1 scoop protein powder, coconut water, spinach and some Beet Elite. I ate a bowl of multigrain Cheerios, too, because it sounded good. That was it. And my stomach felt … off.

It was touch-and-go right up until the cannon went off marking the start of the race. Once we got moving, things in my belly really calmed down. In fact, the first 3 miles flew by. I felt great, Jac felt great. We were right on the heels of the 2:20 pace group. Considering we finished around 2:23 last year, that was pretty damn good.

“At Mile 4, let’s stop and have a chew and some water,” I said.
“Yup, that’s what I was thinking,” Jackie agreed.

This would be the biggest mistake we made all day.

Mile 4 is where the course takes a turn off of the initial long drag. In the past, it’s been a point where we picked up momentum. This year, it was the death of it. There was a gradual decline in our pace from Mile 5, on. I felt fine mentally, and it was an absolutely gorgeous day, but my legs just started running out of steam. Like, in my mind they were flying, but in my shadow they looked more like a baby colt in a pool of tar.

We walked a few times, but we knew our friend Molly would be waiting at Mile 10.

“If we can just get to Molly,” Jackie would say.
“Right,” I’d agree.
“If we can just make it to Molly we’ll stop, have a chew, and then finish strong.”
“Yeah.”

And then …

“There’s Molly’s ass!” Jackie yelled.
“That’s not Molly’s ass.”
“Isn’t that her ass?”
“No.”
“Are you sure?”
“There’s Mol!!” I said, pointing to our dear girl, standing on a corner waving with her two kiddos.

It was like seeing a well in the desert. We’d been talking about her for so long. I think we both thought something might spark deep down inside us when we reached her embrace on that sunny September morning. But instead, we just felt full of dread.

Three miles to go.

My hips for sure hurt, though not as bad as they had on our longer training runs. Jac’s knees were getting to her. But bottom line, we just had nothing left in the tank.

“Oh shit,” Jackie said, motioning her head over her shoulder.

I turned to see the 2:30 pace group right behind us, seconds from passing. I shrugged and reminded her we just wanted to finish. We were racing ourselves. And all the other bullshit we tell ourselves to get our broken down bodies across the finish line.

And cross the finish line we did, at 2:31. “Totally plant-powered!” I exclaimed in a rush of dopey adrenaline. Jac wasn’t into it.

Passing my small tribe on the way into the arena, I was reminded, yet again, why we do this. Why we log the miles for 12 weeks beforehand. Why we abuse our aging bodies and spend so much time away from the kids. It’s for that moment you look down at your feet, knowing you can stop. That your children are watching. That you and your best friend just ran 13.1 motha truckin’ miles, together. Just a couple of moms, with semi-soft bodies (me more so than her), who’ve been friends for a couple decades, who like to come out together and turn in a lackluster performance, just ran 13.1 miles.

I ate 1.5 donuts and half a Gatorade. My stomach, again, was … off.

The very hungry caterpillar.
At noon, I had a Big John from Jimmy Johns and chips, but I was still hungry.

At 12:45, I had 2 cookies, but I was still hungry.

At 3, I had 2 giant chocolate truffles, but … I had to go to a wedding.

Dinner, and a deathblow to veganism.
The wedding was so amazing. It was touching and lovely and just entirely enchanting. I had to leave before the reception and head over to Matt’s for his Second Annual Fancy Dinner Party. I chugged water with an electrolyte tab on the way over and prayed for a solid stomach.

My brother bid on a special dinner-in-your-home package at a live auction last fall, and that night a special group of friends, myself included, would garner the rewards of that bid. The theme was Bourbon Pairings, so, on the plus side, we all knew we were in trouble right outta the gate. There wouldn’t be any surprises.

We started with bourbon sours. They were that perfect storm of delicious flavors in small glasses. When we ordered another round after the first course I think we sent ourselves down the path of mass destruction. It was a force greater than ourselves. They were too delicious. The glasses seemed so tiny, so harmless.

Basically, from there what transpired was a parade of meat butters and creamy dairy delights. Goat cheese-stuffed dates, fancy tater tots with a sauce you want to cheat on your husband with, duck tongue tacos (I know, I had the same reaction, but those tongues were tasty), pork belly that fell apart the second it touched your tastebuds, and bourbon s’mores. As meals go, this one was up there with the Wicked Spoon buffet in Vegas and last year’s Straight Outta Compton Fancy Dinner.

First Course
Herb De Provence chevre stuffed dates / wrapped with prosciutto ham / blue cheese fondue

Second Course
Patatas Bravas / Parmesan-truffle encrusted / smoked paprika aioli

Third Course
Duck tongue taco / bourbon barrel smoked salsa rojo / spiced red onion escabache / queso fresco/ achiote crema

Fourth Course
Pork belly confit / bourbon gastrique / pickled English cucumbers/balsamic pearls / charred tomato dust/orange blossom mousse

Intermezzo
Blood orange sorbet

Fifth Course
Woodford reserved braised short ribs / oaxacan mole sauce/lemon scented farro grain / coconut espuma

Sixth Course
Bourbon Marshmallow s’mores / ”campfire smoke”/ snap-crackle-pop graham crackers / dark chocolate ribbon

 

I emerged from my brother’s basement – the scene of the meat butter massacre – around 11:30, sat down, and let the doom wash over me like a 50-gallon bucket at a waterpark. I was in trouble. My stomach, my head, my body. I’d been still long enough for everything to catch up to me and now there was no running from it. My legs were too tired. My tummy was too full of all the animal things I turned away for two weeks. Plus, the bourbon. I gave Hank “the look” and we made an exit.

I slept on our new bathroom floor.

It was cold.

Linoleum.

And that, dear friends, is what happened the day after the Livin’ la Vida Vegan Challenge.

Wellness

Livin la Vida Vegan Day 11 (pissy pants and sizzling seitan)

September 27, 2017

I need to take a pause from the vegan diet updates for just a sec to talk about something very troubling. It’s pee. Piss. Urine. Golden streams. Or yellow puddles. In my regular routine, I come into contact with pee – not my own – no less than three times a week. Whether it’s my kid, or another kid, or a dog or a frog, there is a No. 1 situation flowing right through my day, at some point in my day, every day.

It’s like running a kennel for special puppies with small bladders. Yesterday, when I got home from work, JoJo’s sheets were in the laundry room. One of the kiddos who comes to our house during the day had an accident during nap. It happens. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that we basically live in a giant urinal. Well, my eldest was having nothing to do with it. She funneled her fury – which was only further fueled by her discovery that Spike and I might also start a pen pal exchange, similar to the one JoJo and I have – into a very strongly worded letter.

It read as follows:

Dear Mom,
Tomorrow I’m giving MeeMee (the sitter) a piece of my mind about my bed!!! I’m ganna say that no more kids in my room and no kids sleeping in there! And you and Spikey canot be pen pals! Focus on you and my Because I’d crie to my death.

[Illustration of JoJo with a happy heart (“Mom and JoJo pen pals”) and then a messy stick figure with the caption “me cring. heart Broken.” just below that.]

Love, JoJo

But oh how the mighty do fall. At 4 o’clock this morning, I woke to the gentle whispers of our oldest daughter, confessing that she herself had an accident on our floor. Why she was on our floor, right next to the hairy, nasty dog bed, and not in her sister’s cozy queen size bed? I don’t know. I never know. This is an every night thing in our house. Does anyone else know?

Hank threw a towel over it, cleaned her up and moved both her and Spike (who was spooned up next to her on the ground) back down the hall so we could go “back to sleep”. Of course, we’re never really back to sleep, are we? Parents. Anything past the REM cycle is considered a luxury at this point in life. Right up there with solo time on the toilet and sitting. I guess that’s just what this chapter looks like … tired souls with urine on their hands.

7:30 a.m.
I put a full teaspoon of spirulina into my smoothie today, and backed down a bit on the powdered peanut butter, which has more sugar than I’d like. The algae flavor was slightly more noticeable, but not enough to tickle the ole gag reflex, so on we go. I’m thinking phase 2 is cutting the creamer from my coffee. It’s a liquid sugar bomb, and it’s got too tight of a hold on my heart.

I had a text from my bud Ryan:

I mean it’s not hard, because that’s really what this is. It’s totally doable, but also an insane life choice that’s making everything ten thousand times harder. It’s natural and against my human nature. It feels healing and like all my weaknesses are exposed. It’s funny because it’s really just food, but the change is making me a bit of a kook. And kooky people are freaking hilarious.

Noon
Earth Fare run for seitan and tempeh at lunch. There’s a sentence I never thought I’d type.

I came home to throw together a taco salad with my leftovers, but something was wrong. Terribly wrong. There, on the counter in the kitchen, sat a box with a dozen cookies from my favorite local bakery. Come inside my sick mind for a sec, k …

“What … the truck … is that? Why are those there? Who put those there? Is someone messing with me. Someone’s messing with me. Is there a camera in here? Who would do this? What kind of sick, twisted person would do this?! [Find card.] The car dealership?! Why in the hell is the car dealership sending us cookies?! It was a gosh dang trade in for crying out loud! Those bastards. Those car-selling bastards, with their sweet treats and good customer service. OK, I’m just going to lift the lid. [Lift lid, stick nose into sugar cloud. Close eyes.] Oh, shit. Alright, what’s my end game here? Should I throw them away? Just throw them away. My God, you can’t throw these away! You’ll be arrested. I’m a grownup, just set them out for the kids. But they won’t appreciate them the way I would. Maybe we can freeze them. Yeah, I’ll freeze them. We’ll just pull out our favorites and freeze those, give the rest to the kids. But I love them all. I’m going to put them down in this cabinet until Hank gets home. He’ll know what to do.”

And then I put the box of cookies down low, behind my slow cooker, and walked away; unable to discard them and unable to give them up. This, brothers and sisters, is how you know you are ill.

I assembled my salad: leftover taco “meat”, guacamole, crushed up tortilla chips, a dollop of coconut yogurt and salsa. It was bomb. I stood, leaning against the cabinet door where my cookies were sleeping and enjoyed every single bite.

“Goodnight, sweet cookies. I’ll see you again soon.” I whispered.

3 p.m.
What I really want is chocolate and popcorn, so what I’m having is the rest of my suja organic ginger kombucha. Really hoping that quenches the craving.

6 p.m.
Made it! Tonight, we’re cookin’ up some Crispy Orange Seitan from the Vegan for Everybody cookbook. Oh my gosh … you don’t know what seitan is? How do you not know what seitan is, you silly, carnivorous fool. Psych! I don’t know what the hell it is, either. And I looked at the ingredients, so that makes it extra scary. From what I gathered, it’s like globs of gluten or something? They call it “wheat meat”. So there ya go.

The toughest thing about these recipes is making sure you have all of the ingredients on hand. “It looks like you emptied out your cabinets,” our sitter said, as she watched me assemble the handfuls of sauce components. But once I had it all in there, this one came together pretty fast. The nice thing about cooking with these fake meats – tempeh, tofu, seitan, veggie crumbles – is they cook up fast as Rizzo. It’s a big time saver.

I used bagged cauli rice from Costco for a side, along with some peanut butter + celery courtesy of my sous chefs and chopped up plum, mango and blueberries for dessert. (I’d like for it to be known that I did NOT have a cookie tonight.)

This was pretty darn good, I gotta say. The cauliflower needed a little more flavoring, but the seitan was a pleasant surprise, as seitans go. Hank dubbed it “fine” which, if you speak Hank, you know translates to, “not exceptional, but good”. I would make it again.

This is my 6-year-old on seitan:

7:30 p.m.
I knocked out my last training run before the race Saturday; A snail-like 3 miles with lots of sweat. I notice on this diet, I don’t cramp as much and I can steady my breath a little easier during the run. Could be the training or it could be some vegan magic. Either way, by the time I was done, I knew my body needed something. I slammed a handful of walnuts, dried blueberries and pumpkin seeds.

JoJo was waiting for me at the top of the stairs. She found the notebook I gave Spike so we, too, could be pen pals. She told me I broke her heart. That she wanted to be special. That Spikey could never write messages as special as hers would be. It felt like the emotional climax of a Nicholas Sparks novel. I think I got her down off the ledge enough to sleep tonight, but we’ll see. There could be tears. Or pee. Maybe pee.

Wellness

Livin la Vida Vegan Day 5 (fake eggs and fog)

September 21, 2017

7:15 a.m.
A 2-hour delay? Damn you, fog! Damn you straight to Chuck E. Cheese (my equivalent of hell). The girls would get a delay the week we don’t have a sitter at the house to get them on the bus. How do you get both Employee and Mom of the Year in one swift move? Oh, dear friends, just sit back and observe. I threw together my vegan-friendly morning smoothie and did what I had to do. I took those turkeys into work and used technology to keep them on the up and up for an hour and a half. Oh, you want to search random terms on YouTube? Here are some headphones! Videos with creepy adults opening eggs? Yup, yup, sounds great.

[Dramatic sigh] “I need more coffee today,” I said to myself, Spike smacking the meat of her juicy apple around with her tongue and tiny teeth in my ear as I browsed my inbox.
“No problem, Mom. I’ll run to the cafeteria and get you some,” JoJo said, like she was my 22-year-old secretary on the set of Mad Men.
“No honey, I’m just fine. But thank you.”

9:10 a.m.
I dropped the eldest chicks at the bus stop and darted in the house to grab a bonus mug of coffee with Califia Farms Pecan Caramel Creamer (a gift from my friend Elizabeth). That stuff is DANGEROUS. I love it in a way one shouldn’t love a coffee creamer, ya know?

11 a.m.
Nope, nope … not gonna make it to lunch today, I pulled out my emergency stash of trail mix, Nuts and Berries from Costco, my favorite. Listening to Rich Roll’s audiobook this morning, he was talking about how his vegan diet evolved. He eventually replaced protein powder with spirulina, and his typical mixed nut blend with Brazil nuts and walnuts. My diet, too, is already evolving … I’ve decided to replace miso with … anything else.

12:15 p.m.
Lunch was a repeat for me again today. This is my m.o. I find something that works – in this case a mixed green salad with quinoa/rice, a salad topper mix and Greek dressing with a side of veggie hummus with tortilla chips – and I beat it to death. But a positive check-in from Hank. He loves both the Seeds of Change Organic Brown Rice and Quinoa pouch and the instant pho bowls I got from Costco. He went so far as to say the pho was better than the offerings at his go-to Vietnamese joint. Best news I’ve gotten all day.

“I think we need more protein,” I told him. “Start throwing hemp hearts on stuff, k?”

Not that my husband isn’t capable of feeding himself, but because this was my idea and I make the grocery list, I feel a very unique pressure here to keep his belly full and his head in a good place. The kids are a different story. I can throw cheese cubes at them to calm the storm. We’re going two family members at a time here.

2:45 p.m.
A perk of picking up the girls in the afternoon, just five hours after I dropped them off in the exact same spot, is catching up on the elementary school scoop. For almost a week now, Spike has been wrestling between two of her classmates. They both want her to be their girlfriend, and the romantic turmoil has been agony for all of us. Today’s update went as follows:

“What’s up babe? How was your day?”
“Fine,” she said.
“Who’d you play with?”
“Ugh, well I think I’m going to be boyfriend/girlfriend with Connor,”
“Really? I thought we talked about that and you were just going to be a good friend to both of them so you didn’t hurt anybody’s feelings or break daddy’s heart.”
“Well, I just can’t take Hunter.”
“No?”
“No! Today he drew a huge circle on his desk in pencil and colored it in. And you know that stains, which makes it an elephant problem. And the custodian is going to be so mad, so I told on him.”
“You tattled?”
“Well, yeah. But he had it coming. And then Conner asked if I wanted to play football at recess and I was like, ‘I’m not much of a football girl, but thank you for asking me.’ And I let him throw the ball to me.”
“Well, sounds like you and Connor had a fun day.”
“Yeah, plus, Hunter eats paper. Like, a lot. So …”

And there it is. Love on the rocks, ain’t no big surprise. Another casualty of careless paper consumption.

6:30 p.m.
We’re big fans of brinner. Nothing is better than pancakes for supper on a cool autumn evening, am I right? As I was menu planning, I found myself yearning for something semi-familiar in the sea of tempeh and seitan, when I came across this recipe for The Best Vegan Breakfast Sandwiches, and thought … there you are, lover.

Please, please don’t disappoint me, I pleaded to the assortment of ingredients as I went about prepping for the herd. Mama just can’t take another night of mediocre flavors.

For tonight’s installment of, “What the hell’s this made of?” we turn to egg replacer. I mixed it up in the blender with cold water, poured it into the skillet and watched in amazement as the liquid solidified into a foamy, spongy giant fake egg frisbee. Flipping it was a test of skill, of which I failed. Hank looked at the ingredients.

“So, essentially, this is instant potatoes,” he concluded. I shrugged. “It has no redeeming nutritional qualities, aside from a little bit of fiber.”

Potato starch aside, guys, I gotta tell ya, these sandwiches were FIRE. I loved them, every bite. I used mixed greens, and kite hill cream cheese and some sprouted grain buns I got in the freezer section at Earth Fare. We even added a slice of daiya cheddar, just to be indulgent. I roasted potatoes, sweet potatoes and a plantain that was hours from going bad, and cut up a mango and apple for dessert. I dipped my veggies sparingly in daiya ranch dressing, which is a delight.

While this meal scored big on flavor and morale boosting, it felt like a lie. Like the equivalent of Sex With Your Pants On for Whole30. Nothing was derived from animals, but it felt a little too human, if ya know what I mean. Hank made the comment, “I feel like the longer we’re vegan, the more processed our diets get.” It’s not the sandwich’s fault. But if we’re going to do this, I want to do it right.

7:45 p.m.
I missed my run because Hank had to make one of his own, for Pull Ups and cold medicine. I did a Fitsugar barre dance workout and felt pretty good. The energy level is picking up, folks!

Thoughts

Lying down with grief

June 24, 2017

Grief is your receipt that proves you loved. That you paid the price. – Glennon Doyle, Love Warrior 

This is a difficult post for me to write and likely for you to read, but writing is my therapy and this blog is my couch. You can either come in and grab a tissue or catch me at the next session. No hard feelings.

Wednesday morning, at 11:05, my Grandma Marge marched boldly into heaven.

She lived her life honestly and simply. Her possessions were few but all treasured. She walked this earth with red, fiery curls, long, killer legs and few apologies for her opinions. She was the definition of a matriarch, always guiding her tribe toward truth and the simplest, smartest answer. She spoke from her heart and accepted all who came through her door. She only asked that you “serve yourself”. My life was forever changed by her light and her love.

I never met my mom’s mom. I lost my dad’s mom when I was fairly young, so when Hank and I started dating and he told me he still had all of his grandparents, I was over the moon. And then I met her, Grandma Marge, and I went over the sun, too. She was so welcoming, so accepting so familiar. It healed a part of me I didn’t realize was so tender. She slipped right into that painful void and stoked a very specific joy for me.

I remember when Hank and I were engaged and everyone on the planet had an opinion about where and how we should get married. I felt overwhelmed and, admittedly, like I was being swallowed up by the ceremony of it all. Sensing my stress, Grandma held me back one day at a family gathering, looked me in my eyes and said, “You hold onto your convictions, doll.”

That was just something she would say. She had perfected the delivery of very sharp directives that somehow didn’t feel offensive, I think because she diluted the bite of the words in concern for your best interests. It felt like gospel … a wise woman’s suggestions, rather than a command to change direction. She was a sincere sounding board, an unfeigned confidant, and sometimes, a lighthouse. She lived on a lake with Hank’s Grandpa Butch, and before we had three kids, before everything changed for her and for us, we used to stay up late and have these long, revealing talks on the deck by the water. She always had a question or a story or a scrap of advice to punctuate the end of my sentences.

Five years ago, when we found out she was sick, it felt impossible. It felt like tomorrow’s worry. She would be the first person to beat it. She even said she would be. And she knew everything! There was no way this badass great grandmother could be stopped by some freak illness. She was bigger than that, stronger than that, invincible.

But last Friday I got the call I’d been dreading for more than a year. Grandma had taken a turn for the worse. We needed to come up that night. I was a sobbing, snotty, hysterical mess. Hank was calm, understanding. He didn’t push. He let me come to the decision on my own. And together, we drove 40 minutes to say goodbye to the woman we loved so much.

She was laying in her bed when we walked in. I hesitated for a minute and then felt a powerful pull toward her. I leaned down, put my head on her shoulder and sobbed in her ear.

“Don’t do that, honey. You’re so pretty when you smile,” she said.
“I just love you,” I cried.
“I know, honey, I love you, too. Now, you take care of those little girls, and my grandson and my daughter.”
“I will, I promise.”
“You two are going to make it,” she said, “but it won’t always be easy.”
I stood up to wipe my face and look at her in the eyes. We held hands so tight. Tighter than I’ve ever held hands with anyone with a grip that got away from me. It was this beautiful, tense, brutal energy, shared for what felt like a blink and an eternity at once.

“Thank you for being my grandma,” I strained.
“It was my pleasure. We wouldn’t have kept you around if we didn’t like ya.”
I hugged her again. The tightest embrace I could give her without breaking her fragile frame.

There’s a reason I’m sharing this …

This was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. If you’ve read any of Glennon Doyle’s work or seen her speak live, you’ve heard her talk about leaning into pain. How the easy buttons are what we should be afraid of, not our feelings. But I love easy buttons when it comes to death. I’ve never been in a position where I was able to say goodbye, nor have I ever been a person who believed she could handle such a thing. I’ve never really looked that kind of loss in the eyes and worked through it in any kind of confrontational way. But, you guys, I’m so glad I did. It was a gift sweeter than I ever could have imagined.

I will never forget those honest, precious minutes with Grandma Marge. I will never forget that hug, her hand in my hand. I would have regretted it for the rest of my life if I hadn’t gone. It gave me comfort, cruel as the conditions were. But it hurt, too. It hurt in the way profound loss does; pounding head, lurching stomach, heavy, quick heartbeats. All of these things are the going price of one last hug, one last talk, one last memory of her eyes and her voice and her stories. I have always resisted that kind of hurt, but this time, I laid down with it, and that gives me some peace.

She held on through Father’s Day. She made it to and through her anniversary. She would do that. She would fight with everything she had to spare the people she loved. She would have fought like that forever if she could. But instead, the great beyond was blessed with one of the most amazing souls I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing.

And now we’re trying to come alongside our babies and help them lean into their pain. They don’t want to go to the calling hours or the funeral. It frightens them, and I think that’s OK. Tonight we are having a Great Grandma Marge Party. We’re going to bake sweets, because Great Grandma loved dessert. And we’re going to talk about all of our favorite things she said and did and all the kindness she had in her heart.

We’re choosing not to remember Grandma Marge with oxygen on her face and a bed in her living room and a breathless desperation in her tone. I, personally, will remember things like this, instead, and smile. I’m told I’m prettier when I smile …

♥ She had the walkin’ farts. They’d just pop out when she waltzed around the kitchen and startle her and everyone in the room.

♥ She always started sentences with, “I got so tickled …” or “I had to laugh …”.

♥ She would stay up until 2 o’clock in the morning playing euchre and sipping coffee with powdered creamer. Then she’d sleep in her recliner to make sure she didn’t miss anything.

♥ One night, Grandma Marge and I were sitting up chatting while the boys went fishing, and I asked her what was the happiest day of her life. And she told me that one time, her and Butch (Hank’s grandpa) were driving in the country and he pulled over and made her a bouquet of flowers from a field. That was her happiest day.

♥ Spike’s middle name is Margery, after Grandma Marge, a fact which Grandma made known by always using her full name when she introduced her to strangers.

♥ As she gave away her treasures, one by one, and handed out her final instructions to her grandchildren over the weeks as she deteriorated, she cautioned each of them. “Take care of this, or I’ll come back and haunt ya!” or “Keep your nose clean. I mean it. Or I’ll come back and haunt ya!” Just awesome. .

♥ She had the best laugh.

♥ Nobody could give Hank’s Grandpa Butch shit like Grandma Marge could. And that man deserves to get some shit. He’s a pistol.

♥ When she was little, she shot a hole through the tip of her boot trying to climb a fence while holding a shotgun. Luckily, they were her brother’s shoes so they were extra big. The bullet missed her toe.

♥ She was the calm conductor of a huge, loud, tenacious family, and the result of her efforts is a masterful display of unyielding love, indestructible support and everlasting faith. It’s the house she built. It’s her legacy. It’s beautiful.

Thoughts

Confession: I gave bad advice to bachelors

June 9, 2017

In 2003, Hank and I were just babies. I was a journalism student who smoked a pack of Camels a day and wore black stretchy pants with one-shoulder tank tops when I wanted to be fancy. He was a frat guy who drank Early Times with a splash of Coke and grew lawn grass in a pot as a conversation piece.

At the seasoned age of 20, through a series of events erased by Bacardi and time, I ended up connecting with the editor of the newspaper at Hank’s all-male school. It was a perfect storm, really. I was a card-carrying member of the cult of Sex and the City and they were thirsty for a female perspective. Thus, a weekly advice/editorial column, called From the Hip, was born.

I had the purest intentions, I swear. Hand over my heart, I believed I was giving them legit advice. I aspired to be a guiding light for their liaisons, both committed and casual. They were my Anthony Michael Halls, and I was their Carrie Bradshaw, and together we were going to revolutionize the way men and women – who drank a lot and hooked up – communicated with each other. I exposed all of the sores and issues on the underbelly of the twenty-something dating scene, often shoplifting stories from my roommates’ love lives, which were far more exciting than my own.

The men of the campus gradually started seeking me out. Once adequately liquored up, guys would come up to me at Tommy’s, the townie bar, and scream their questions in my ear over Sublime and Tom Petty. I’d walk by them at parties and they would point and sloppily gush as they realized, “Hey! You’re that girl in the paper!” Then they’d be on to a sweet piece of ass who wouldn’t exploit their misfortunes for a spot in the “Stuff” section. Professors and students debated my opinions in class and it didn’t always fall in my favor, which bewildered me. Until recently.

A few weeks ago, I was chatting with an old friend about writing aspirations and the good ole’ days and all the things you cover with the dear ones, and she mentioned my old column. I hadn’t thought of those articles in years. I hadn’t read them since college. So, I went home, did some Googling, and soon found myself sitting inside the mind of my 20-year-old self. And let me tell you, it was scary in there. Nothing was how I remembered it. It was like finding your childhood dollhouse and realizing just how tiny the furniture was. The writing was terrible, the perspective was all wrong and the topics were predictably tacky.

Aren’t these just the cutest things you’ve ever seen? I mean … precious. And naive AF. Sure, there might be some little nuggets that hold up, but overall, the work and the arguments are mediocre at best. My 34-year-old self realized I had done a massive disservice to the men at that college, and their partners. I took a platform primed with potential for enlightenment and healthy dialogue and squandered it on topics like strip clubs and clingy exes.

The view from the woman behind this keyboard – now 14 years of living, 10 years of marriage, and 3 children the wiser – is much different. It’s messier. Happier. More Claire Dunphy than Carrie.

Honestly, I’m confident the voice of Courtney 2017 wouldn’t have really resonated with the men of 2003, or the 20-something men of 2017 for that matter. But you know what, screw it! Here’s to trying to right what’s wrong …

FROM THE HIP
What real women really want

By Courtney Leach

First, gentlemen, I must apologize for casually disrespecting the complex expedition we endure to establish strong relationships in the unsophisticated fashion that I did. The idea that the intricacies of one person dedicating their mind, body and soul to another person for any period of time could be simplified or summarized in 800-word musings was an ignorant, albeit well-intentioned, endeavor.

It has taken me 16 years of being with the same man, decades of listening to my dear friends and a lot of great books and self reflection to realize that my opinions, or anyone else’s for that matter, are just that, opinions. They are beads representing other people’s experiences we string on a necklace and wear on the battlefield of our own relationships. They are tools in the shed, but each landscape is different. There is no magical salve for your relationship pain points, because each partnership is unique and requires its own set of care instructions. Instructions you come to on the other side of steep mountains and colorful emotional bruises.

But since this stage is meant for advice, I might have a little bit left in my back pocket. A few beads to string on your necklace.

You’re in college now, and what I offer you is a glimpse into your future. A telescope for the not-so-distant journey ahead. My sincere wish for each of you is that you find that person who pours into your heart and fills in every gap, every hole. When fate reveals your other half and truest equal, it’s an unimaginable gift. Recognize the beauty in that and celebrate it every day, with both minor and magnificent gestures. Everyone’s love language is acknowledgement. Everyone needs to feel appreciated. Including your partner. Don’t forget that when things get hectic.

I can tell you that, in my experience, the best unions are rooted in respect, fed with thoughtful exchanges and watered with laughter. There will be so many hard moments and gut-wrenching decisions to be made in the years ahead; Unfathomable losses and love so intense it frightens you to death. The sooner you learn to dance in the light and joyful reprieves, the fuller your heart will be. Don’t take life so seriously. There’s enough weight to carry between the two of you as it is.

Understand that the woman you love will feel like a stranger in her own skin at some, or many, points in your life together. Maybe it’s a result of pregnancy and the subsequent nursing and hormone changes that accompany that process. Maybe it’s a change in metabolism or motivation or her ability to cope with the suffocating stress of keeping a household running. Whatever the cause, the body she has now, will not be the body she has always. And she will wrestle with that. Be understanding of this gradual evolution. Remember what came with those curves; your son, your daughter, a warm meal at the family table, a soul standing and aching next to you in the hardest of times. You, too, will likely change. Just use it as an excuse to go for a walk together.

Contrary to what your current stage of life would have you believe, sometimes being the strongest man, means staying completely silent, unless your words can guarantee progress or healing. It requires you to hold your tongue when the sharp organ is dripping in toxic antagonism, and reserve your words for constructive conversation instead. Words can build bridges between torn hearts, but they burn them just as quickly. Be thoughtful with the woman and the people you love.

If you’re angry, go lift some weights. Move boxes around in the garage. Go for a run. Just go. The water tastes like shit when you draw from an indignant well. Just be sure to circle back when your mind has cleared. Progress is the pup born of honesty and communication.

Always have your partner’s back. Even when she is wrong. She probably knows deep down that she is. (If she is.)

Life is about to pull a big fast one on you and pick up its pace. It goes way too quickly to argue about who’s going to come to your wedding, or get the groceries, or fold the laundry, or take the car in for an oil change. Don’t burn these sweet minutes on such inconsequential disputes. With a full-time job and active kids and a thousand responsibilities you can’t even imagine right now, you’ll come to see your time together as an extravagance. Be an observer of your partner’s struggles and the load she carries. Watch for opportunities to pitch in and do it, unprompted. Make the ride a little easier so you can both enjoy the music on the radio and the sights as you speed along. She isn’t the only one who can pack the sandwiches. And, I’m tellin’ ya, a basket of folded laundry at the hands of her spouse, is a woman’s greatest aphrodisiac.

When in doubt, come back to the love. You will always think that you are right. And she will always think that she is right. And both of you will be accurate. But there is nothing more important than the magnetic, authentic admiration you feel for the soul that climbs in bed next to you at night. Lose that perspective, and you’re screwed.

To assume it will be perfect is to set yourself up for a life of disappointment. It’s a fool’s vision. You have to go all in. You have to do the work. You have to get into your bathing suit and embrace the heat when it all goes to hell in a handbasket. The bruises and bumps and hiccups are perfectly human, and they will subside with time and care. And, as you grow together, as a couple, you learn when to warn each other to duck and come out less scathed. In the end, 98 percent of your disagreements are trivial, and the best things often come from the brutal 2 percent that’s left over.

In the end, being a good man is a matter of character. It’s about supporting your partner’s dreams and setting some of your own as well. Hold onto who you want to be, and make a point to validate the goals of the person across the table, too. Put yourself in her shoes, even when that badass, exhausted woman is wearing those pointy uncomfortable ones. Pitch in so she doesn’t feel alone, always. Practice empathy, loyalty, compromise and humility.

Remember that you are not perfect. Neither is she. You are two flawed creatures trying to build a burrow where you can create a life of contentment. Don’t overthink it. Just bring it back to love. If you always come back to the love, you’ll do just fine, young man. (Well, that and pare your morning shit back from 45 minutes to a more acceptable 15, um kay?)

Thoughts

Let me float something by you

June 1, 2017

When I close my eyes as tight as I can, or stand in a completely black room, I see things. Not like psychedelic cats blowing smoke rings or anything, but like moving streams of light and twinkling dots of color. Now, this could get weird because I don’t know if that’s normal for everyone, but it’s normal for me. (At this point, you’re either nodding with your eyebrows raised encouragingly and feeling validated in some way, or making a confused crinkly face that I’m glad I can’t actually see or I’d feel too judged to continue. I understand it could be caused by my special eyes.)

I see these lines and colors when I meditate, when I go to bed in a hotel room with the curtains drawn and when I sit in a closet waiting for a little pair of hands to turn the doorknob and seek me out … finally. And, as I discovered, I see the equivalent of the Northern Lights behind my eyelids when I float in a pod of concentrated salt water.

I know, I know … This post is stupid scattered to this point. I’m seeing things in the dark, I’m submerged in salt water. There’s a lot going on here. Keep following the needle, I’m about to get to a point.

My brother had been raving about float tanks for months. Because I struggle with claustrophobia and the general notion of taking time for myself, let alone a water nap, I politely brushed him aside. Plus, it just seemed weird; like taking a swim in a baby whale’s old bath water or something. I just couldn’t wrap my mind around it. And yet, he persisted.

For Christmas, Matt gave Hank and I three passes for one-hour floats. Well, hell! I thought. Why not? There’s nothing like a freebie to convince a stubborn skeptic. So, I scheduled a session for 7 o’clock on a Monday night, since they’re typically uneventful at our house.*

The gentleman who runs the place was waiting at the front desk when I pulled up. He gave me the instructions: 1) Go to the bathroom, even if you don’t think you have to go (no Code Browns in the pod). 2) Change into your swim or birthday suit. 3) Shower, using body wash, shampoo and conditioner. 4) Ball up your wax earplugs and drop em in your ear holes. And 5) Climb into the tank, turn off the light and turn on the tunes (a massage-style relaxation playlist.) You can leave the light on if you prefer, but because it was my first time and I lose my shit in confined spaces, the owner recommended lights out, which I think was a game changer.

Here’s how it went …

7:05 p.m.
All I could think about was the hour ahead of me. How was I going to just float in a tub of dark gray water for 55 more minutes? I was sure I was going to freak out. It was inevitable.

7:15 p.m.
This was when my list-making started, which is typical for me in any sort of silence, meditation or pre-slumber space. The girls had field trips that week. I really needed to get some art up on the walls in the living room. We were out of ketchup. My right armpit felt itchy.

7:20 p.m.
A drop of saltwater dropped on my forehead, startling me for a second. I tensed my stomach and tried to force my butt down to the bottom of the tank. I accidentally used my fingertip to remove it – rookie mistake. Regret. Immediate regret. I reached out and grabbed the folded washcloth on the table just outside of the pod and dabbed the stinging corners of my eyeballs. Once calm was restored, I succumb again to the weightlessness.

7:25 p.m.
The reality of the dark hit me and I started to think about death, as I often do (apologies for the shift to the morbid tone here). It’s true, I’m generally afraid of death. And I often obsess over the undeniable uncertainty of how things end for us, but in my defense, my deep thoughts on this occasion were likely a result of a podcast I had just listened to about how our souls are so much bigger than our bodies and are always connected to our great loves. I started thinking about what it would be like if death was eternal blackness with the presence of thought, and how terrible yet comforting that idea was. These thoughts are slippery for me, often dragging me down rabbit holes I’d rather leave unexplored. Nevertheless, here they were. I was trapped inside a giant white plastic prison, hovering in a pool of my own fears. Submerged in them. Forced to swim with them.

7:40 p.m.
I woke up after a very brief but sweet snooze. Apparently, being scared shitless makes me sleepy. Everything shifted for me here.

7:45 p.m.
I gently but playfully pushed my body around in the pod. I waited until the tips of my toes hit the bottom and used as little effort as possible to push myself up until my fingertips touched the top of the pod. I’d shift my weight side to side to feel my slippery, freshly conditioned hair settle around my shoulders like affectionate baby eels.

7:50 p.m.
I felt a consuming peace. I was seeing streams of white light dancing behind my eyelids and it reminded me of God and busy angels. I felt so connected to the calmest version of myself, and she’s been quite the stranger lately. I love when she comes to visit. She has no worry, no sense of urgency, no self-loathing. This, I thought, is what meditation must feel like if you make it past the first 10 minutes. I was atmospheric, ethereal, near sedation.

8 p.m.
The light clicked back on and a robotic woman’s voice filled the pod. “We hope. You enjoyed. Your float.” I lifted the lid, beaded with salted condensation, and reached again for the washcloth to tuck my eyes away from the bite of the mineral.

I climbed out and went back into the shower, as instructed. I washed my hair and body, which was slick with a film of fabricated ocean water and sleep. My clothing clung obnoxiously as I tried to slide into the shirt and pants I’d packed. Normally, I’d be irritated. I wasn’t.

I emerged from the room like a flu patient after a 48-hour nap. The tranquilizer dart had just been removed from my backside and I just wanted to keep a good thing going and go get in my bed. I felt beautifully depleted, emotionally drained.

The owner and I chatted for a bit. “Mind or body?” he asked. In his experience, some people notice more of a physical response to the tank, and others more of a mental response. I don’t have gout. My back isn’t too bad. And my pains seem to be reasonable for a gal of my certain age. So, for me, it was almost entirely a treatment for mental chaos and fatigue. “Oh gosh, mind!” I answered without hesitating.

The float granted me a temporary buoyancy for my abused, slouchy body and my tired, frantic brain. The optic light show in the infinite darkness and the subtle sounds of splashes as I glided across the water washed away my worry for a few hours. I came out a convert, a believer, an enthusiastic float-pusher. I don’t know what you’ll see when you close your eyes, but for me, it was serenity. I skimmed the top of the water and took home a doggie bag of tranquility, a scarcity for me and most.

I never felt trapped or claustrophobic. I never felt like I was going to drown. But there was one negative side effect – I find myself telling people the exact thing my brother told me for months. Despite my best efforts here, “I can’t explain it. You just have to try it.” Go find yourself in a float.

*This is not a sponsored post. I am not that big of a deal.

Wanderlust

Biscuits back on the AT, Miles 28.3-30.7 + Springer Mountain

April 14, 2017

Despite the magenta and neon red splotches with flashing cores parading behind the weather gal delivering the national forecast with an exaggerated drama she’d clearly practiced the night before. Despite the warning from Sam Duke, our would-have-been shuttle driver that morning. Despite the daunting, lead-colored sky, on a Wednesday morning in early April, a humble but determined band of hikers found themselves scaling modest boulders on the side of Blood Mountain, the highest peak in the Georgia section of the Appalachian Trail.

I was the lone woman among this modest herd. Carbon fiber poles in hand, I heaved my weight up staggered rocks and scurried down slippery flat stones as drunken strings of the day’s downpour ran across and spilled over the bill of my hat and dropped onto my raincoat.

Oh, hello there, Mother Nature. It’s been too long.

The uncertainty of Her mood makes the vast wilderness both a magnet and a menace to me. She throws violent tantrums and then lures me back with fiery sunsets and soothing streams and masterful arrangements of stars. I liken her to the college roommate who said really beautiful things when she was stoned, but broke a lotta stuff when she drank.

So, why don’t I just break up with Her? Well, because as much as that bitch can break me down, she heals me, too.

If you’ve followed DSS for awhile, you might remember our hike on the AT last April. After nearly freezing to death in a tent on top of Roan Mountain, we made the collective decision to journey further south this year and knock out the start of the trail, beginning at Springer Mountain, in Georgia.

“I think you’re going to be pretty happy with the weather in those parts,” The General had said in February. “Real happy …”

As the week drew closer, we gathered our gear and laid out our freeze-dried dinners and watched helplessly as the conditions down south grew worse and worse. First, it was rain all four days. Then the declaration of downpours lessened, but the temps plummeted to the 30s. I thought we picked Georgia so we could get away from that shit! When you get one section a year, you hope to heck it’s a good one. It was definitely shaping up to be a long underwear kind of trip.

I pacified myself by cursing the Weather Channel app every day until the Tuesday we loaded our gear and our hesitant bodies into Just Matt’s big Ram truck (“Tank”) and hauled ass out of the Midwest to find solace in the great outdoors. Said solace wasn’t going to come easy. An accident on the interstate brought traffic to a halt for several hours around lunchtime. An eternity in Hell has nothing on the agony of spending that much time in crawling traffic with a full bladder, a Joe Rogan podcast where he’s more stoned than usual, and an impatient driver with a grounded lead foot. After a lifetime of slugging and snaking, we came to civilization again. Starving. Of all the options and all the restaurants, the men in the front seats chose White Castle for our late lunch. White Castle! Since I have tastebuds and my mother’s cantankerous intestines, I took it easy. But the boys didn’t hold back – a decision that would come back to haunt Just Matt the next day, to the surprise of no one.

After a quick REI stop in Knoxville, we pulled into Blairsville, Georgia around 11:30 that night. With lots of talk about town of tornado warnings and predictions of softball-sized hail, we knew it was time to check in with The General.

“Well, I called Sam Duke,” he said. (Sam Duke was our shuttle driver, scheduled to pick us up at 8 am the next morning.)
“Yeah?”
“He said, ‘I wuyundt duy it!’”
“He did?”
“Yup. He said, ‘Y’all can do whatcha whant, but the trail is alays gonna be dare. You won’t if ya dead.’”

And with that, the decision was made. We would meet Sam Duke another day.

Wednesday morning, over a cardboard continental breakfast Belgian waffle, The General, Gravy, Just Matt and I sipped small cups of coffee and listened to the local weather guy instruct Georgians to, “work from home if they could.” But we saw some windows, and gosh dangit, we came to hike.

The General went to work rerouting our course. We would get on at Neel’s Gap and slackpack Blood Mountain (which was intended to be on our fourth and final day) as a day hike, 2.4 miles in and 2.4 miles out. Once we conquered this summit, if there was still enough non-life-threatening minutes left in the day, we would drive over and complete Springer Mountain, which is technically, and I did not know this before that day, not part of the official AT mileage. It’s before Mile 0. The more you know [shooting star].

So, now we’re all caught up. The crew. Slippery rocks stacked on top of each other. Polls. Lightening.

One of my favorite things about hiking is the disconnect. I work in marketing, and I am responding to email, following up on Facebook messages, retweeting, typing, posting, fire extinguishing all day long. When you have to climb all the way to a mountaintop to get a signal, it’s really refreshing. But there, on a hill called Blood Mountain, under the ominous clouds of an unpredictable storm, these typically separate worlds collided. Up ahead of me I heard the distinct tones of a weather alert scream from Just Matt’s phone, followed by the rumble of thunder in the distance. It was so polarizing. We had made the decision to walk at the mercy of nature that day, but our modern day devices pulled and pleaded at us to rethink the vulnerability. We didn’t.

As we climbed up, it felt like the clouds came down to meet us as light fog enveloped our path. Eventually, we made it to the Blood Mountain Shelter, a magical-looking structure that rests in the shadows of Blood Mountain’s intimidating rubble. I used the privy and snapped some pictures of the overlook. My brother was ready to get moving. See, Matt was experiencing his White Castle sliders for a second time. I believe the comment was: “I’m scared if I fall on my ass diarrhea is going to shoot out of my mouth.”

I should have known better than to laugh. I mean, karma has gotten me before. But laugh I did. And on our squirrely descent back down the way we came, I ate shit. I felt my feet start to go, then there was a brief battle between my upper and lower bodies, and then, a second of serenity in that moment when I accepted the fate. I braced for contact. The group got quiet in anticipation of my ass’s connection with the stone below it. Had I been struck by lightning? No, oh no. Just a private demonstration of the grace God gave me. I made some indistinguishable noises in the space of their halted conversation. Then I crashed down, sending my poles flying off in both directions. My right hand and butt cheek took the brunt of it. Since people falling down is my favorite thing, I enjoyed a good laugh before I gathered up the puddle I had become and carried on. Then I laughed 50 more times as I replayed the scenario in my head.

Another window in the weather opened the door for a climb up Springer Mountain. But first we had to drive there. Every road in Georgia that leads to a trail takes 40 minutes or more and has more curves than a Playboy. Left … right …. Left … right … I took two dramamine and it didn’t put a dent in the dizzy. Every 5 seconds a yellow triangle with that damning squiggly arrow. Turns ahead. More. Turns. Ahead. I would pick a point on the horizon, but I was no match. The transportation part just destroyed me. Maybe that’s the cost of yellow blazing.

The rise to Springer was steady and manageable – Just one mile up and then back down. We posed next to the same plaque that Grandma Gatewood and Scott Jurek stood by. It felt like one of those moments where you should move something only semi-significant out of your memory so there’s room with extra padding for this moment, just to be sure. We lingered a bit. The smoky skies and gentle dew kisses suddenly felt fitting, rather than burdensome.

How do you end a day like that? When you’re going back to civilization to hide out from tornadoes rather than tent it? If you’re us, you eat 20 tons of Mexican food, clean up and climb into bed to watch My 600-lb Life with a king size Caramello. The rain and the cold and the fall all felt just fine given the promise of a hot shower, cable and two hotel pillows before sundown. Sleepless nights were tomorrow’s worry. And oh what a worry it would turn out to be …

Try That With Matt

Try that with Matt. Have a Hupe Holiday

December 23, 2016

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

**MATT**

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love, Just Matt

**ME**

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love, Courtney

Mindfulness

Drop the damn bananas

July 21, 2016

What if I just let go?
What if I dropped all the weight, right here, right now?
What if I managed to slip away?

Like the majority of my fellow estimated 152 million bloggers pounding the keys somewhere in the world right now, this particular platform is not my primary source of income. [I’ll pause here so you can recover from that shock. We good? OK.] Yes, I have an honest-to-goodness 9-to-5 job in the corporate world. You know, the one. Where women wear smart skirt suits with white tennis shoes and everyone keeps a carpal tunnel brace in their top drawer for days when it’s damp outside. This is just my side gig. My alter ego.

One of the perks of my big girl job is that I get to do a lot of writing and a lot of editing. One of my favorite people to work with is my main man Dr. Dave. You know that dance you do when engaging in a conversation with a hyper-intelligent human being … When you nod on the outside and say things like, “How interesting,” and “Huh. Really?” but inside your brain is like an Amazing Race contestant frantically trying to put the puzzle together? But then, like Steve drawing the final hint on Blue’s Clues (I will never acknowledge Joe), it’s all there. Bam! You get it. And it’s genius. Life-altering even. It’s the type of exchange that’s worth the work because the thought changes you. It expands and alters the makeup of your brain. That’s my entire relationship reading and listening to Dr. Dave. The guy has this gift for inspiring and shaking cores and soothing souls. Sometimes he takes a straight path to deliver his message, but often he invites you along on a series of unexpected U-turns and gravel paths before delivering you to the promise land. To the epiphany. Yeah … he’s one of those people.

Recently, Dr. Dave shared one of his favorite metaphors. It seems that some time ago, in a small village in India, there was an obnoxious monkey population. The primates were so numerous, in fact, the townspeople decided to round them all up and take them to a lovely little monkey farm in the country somewhere, where they would have a better life and live out the rest of their monkey days. To catch them, the people would place a bunch of bananas inside an upside-down bamboo cage with fairly narrow bars. The animals would approach the cage, see the fruit, reach in and grab the banana. With their hands clenched tightly around the fruit, the monkeys couldn’t remove their arm from the cage. The harder and longer they would try, the louder their screams would get. This attracted more curious monkeys who would repeat the same imprisoning process. And thus the animals were had.

Of course the monkeys could have escaped easily if they would have just let go of the fruit. If they’d just drop the damn banana they would be free to go swing with their posse through the mossy trees and throw poo like little jungle punks. But they just couldn’t. They were panicking. They were frozen with fear. They were reacting. They were trapped. Then Dr. Dave went on to define what constitutes a banana for us – that being the feelings or actions or situations in your life that elicit a strong mental or physical response. Probably detrimental. Likely toxic. Definitely negative.

Holding Onto Bananas

After reading Dr. Dave’s piece, I spent nearly my entire 3-mile run the next morning thinking about my bananas; The toxic things that I cling to and the response they trigger in me. The noxious notions that infiltrate my thoughts and ridiculous requests I place on myself.

I hold onto sugar.
Boo hoo, I know. But truly I’ve long battled some sweet, sticky food addiction demons. Growing up, treats and large meals were a mark of celebration. I, in turn, have carried this tradition on to my own family. Frozen yogurt, brownies, greasy gyros from our favorite place … it all adds up to a slippery equation of food + happy = reward. And who doesn’t want to be rewarded? Like, all the time. The problem is I’ve come to a place where those little white granules (perhaps the poop of angels, I hypothesize) now own me. They control me. They take me so high and then drop me on my head. But no matter how many times I tell myself – usually in the haze of a sugar-induced hangover – that I am done, I end up following the syrupy trail right back to the honey pot.

I hold onto perfection.
Real talk for a second. I started an entire blog based on this concept. Based on the pursuit of a perfect balance between all of the parts of myself that battle for time and attention. I want to see the world. I want to stop screaming at my daughters. I want to cook with ingredients I pluck from an organic raised garden bed. I want to kill it at work. I want to be perfect at this blog where I write about my pursuit of perfection. With my body, with my habits, with my profession, with my parenting, I hold onto these unrealistic expectations for myself so tightly that I don’t even know what a feeling of perfection would smell, taste, look or feel like at this point even if I somehow managed to reach it. Sometimes I think it’s just easier to keep looking past where we are rather than live contently in all the messy, dirty, imperfect bits of ourselves. Defining yourself as a work in progress is the ideal guise for an existence riddled with rough edges.

I hold onto fear.
This is a huge one for me. I’ve talked about my anxiety and I’ve talked about my struggles with parenting in this violent world here before, but truly, the terror I live with runs crazy-deep. I attribute at least some of this to the fact that I am a prisoner of push notifications. My job requires me to be online for the majority of the day. My phone, my laptop, my desktop, my television, whatever it is, there’s some horrifying news alert popping up on it. Flashes of events that point to the demise of character and kindness and sanity and love for humanity flood my newsfeed and thus, my mind. In one of my more recent social media-induced meltdowns, my brother (you remember Just Matt) told me to get a grip and remember they’re just leaving out the good stuff.

My thought of the day for you regarding the world we live in … You’re better off not watching the news. It will make you a happier person. Something negative happens and they beat it to death to keep you tuned in. Try shutting it off. The world is full of wonderful people, so many caring and selfless things happen on a daily basis, but that isn’t what anyone focuses on. All any of us can do is help one another and love one another and raise our kids that way and to not let a few bad people keep them from loving every minute of the short life we all get. The kids and I will sometimes pick up a bill in a restaurant for someone. They love it and you have to think that it makes that person’s heart happy and makes them want to pass that feeling along to someone else. Bad things have happened since man was created and always will, but at the end of the day people are good, that just isn’t news. The positives far outweigh the negatives on a daily basis, but just like the evening news, we tend to focus 28 minutes on all of the negative and just set aside the last 2 minutes to talk about how a stranger donated an organ for some child they don’t even know so they can live a happy normal life and love their friends and family. So shut off the crazy people on the news and focus on all the awesome people you are surrounded by on a daily basis, like me for starters.

– he wrote

And he’s right. I know he’s right. But then I go to sleep and have vivid dreams of nuclear attacks and running through crazed streets grasping my sobbing children and all the horrible things the dark parts of our brain push aside during the daylight hours. And I wake up drenched in sweat and succumb to the fear. How can I protect them? What would I do if …? Why is the world so broken? I feel helpless and small and scared to death.

I hold onto my routine.
Ask anyone who’s close to me and they will tell you I live and die by my meticulous schedule. They’ll also tell you it’s annoying AF. Almost any hour of the day I can tell you where I’ll be and what I’ll be doing with about 80 percent accuracy. Any deviation from this cadence requires additional planning to compensate appropriately. Any unplanned deviation has the potential to send me spiraling downward … smoking engine, towering flames, the whole scene. The thing is, it annoys me, too! I swear it does. But it’s a survival mechanism. Unfortunately, to conquer the Everest that is training for a half marathon, dressing and getting 3 children ready to go, working a full day, making dinner, doing baths, menu planning, meditating and getting a semi-decent amount of sleep, only, mind you, to wake up and do the whole damn thing over the next morning, requires a solid plan. Otherwise the wheels just fall right off the wagon. But there’s certainly a strong argument for a little more flexibility. A little less rushing along and a little more “in the moment”. But if I’m really honest, even when I’m cutting loose and playing along with the pull of the universe, I’m still calculating the time lost and required compensations in my head. Maybe that’s just being a mom. Maybe that’s just me as a mom. Maybe I’m a total psycho who needs drugs and liquor.

Free Bird

It’s brutal holding onto these bananas. They’re rotten. And honestly, it’s exhausting. So much of my energy is pumped into fueling these cyclical habits that positively drain me. So, what would happen if I just dropped them? If I let go and pulled my arm back out of the cage? Would I be free? Could escaping anxiety and shedding all that extra weight really be that simple? That obvious? Something I could have just done 5 years ago? Am I held by a trap I set out for myself? I don’t know …

If only bananas weren’t so sweet. You know how I like my sugar.

Laughs

Sisters say what? (Vol. 3)

July 8, 2016

I peed my pants! No, wait, just some rain snuck in there. – Spike

It smells bad in Sloppy Joan’s room. She pooped so hard! – JoJo

Pretty much anyone who wears a wedding dress looks like Queen Jelly. – Spike

But if I tell on him for hitting, I’m gonna get a tattle tail. – Spike

I had to go to the nurse because my feet hurt and all I had for lunch was an apple. – JoJo

I drank it up in a jippy! – Spike

Girls Suits

Ya know, they make Huggies so much easier now. At least that’s what the commercial said. – JoJo

Oh my gosh, Mama, today Johnny fell and I laughed to my death! – Spike

It’s actually good to toot or fart because it warns you that you need to go to the bathroom. – JoJo

What’s the story with this peanut butter jar in the sink? – Me
Oh, I know! Once there was a jar and it fell and cracked its nut. – JoJo

I can’t wait to get cold knees. – Spike

I want to be an art teacher when I grow up. – JoJo
Ask God if you can. – Spike
I might forget cuz it’s awhile until you have a job. – JoJo
Well, God will remember. You are a really good artist. – Spike

Dad, you know that’s called a wee wee … what you have. What kind of plant is this? So, anyway, yeah, you have a wee wee. – Spike

I know how to spot buzzards … pterodactyls … and robins. Oh, and eagles! – Spike

IMG_3198

How’s your pull-up? – Me
Good. There’s just a gallon of pee in it. – Spike

If anyone breaks these I will cry to my death! They’re my pets. – Spike, holding a jar of seashells

This lake is full of allergy! – JoJo

That’s my role model! – Spike, seeing a picture of her from a marketing photo shoot

I love you. – Me
I love you. – Spike
I love you more. – Me
That’s great. – Spike

Michael had a hooley hoop today. And he watched on me while I hooley hooped, too! – Spike

Peter Pan is so handsome. I love everything he has going on. – JoJo

Those are chocolate cows! – Spike

I’m going to fall in love and marry Travis. He likes me, I like him. He’s really silly and would be a good dad cause he’s handsome and funny and would make the kids laugh. I know everything about him. He’s six and a half, he’s lost six teeth, and sometimes he gets hurt. – JoJo

My fingers taste funny. They’ve tasted funny since I showered at Kay’s. – JoJo

Mom, my dream taught me how to do a bun! And I was so excited that I peed.” – Spike

Sadie is my lover dog. She just loves me so much she wants to hold my hand. – Spike

Mom, nothing is impossible if you believe. [man belch] – Spike

If your heart beeps stop, you could be dead. Because, you know, the beeps make the blood go around. – Spike

Bonus!

Hattie Choke