Browsing Tag

Family

Wanderlust

On the other side of the waterfall

August 24, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mindfulness

Wake me up so I don’t miss it

July 26, 2017

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

Oh, these accidental, magnificent insights.

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

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

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

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

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

Why didn’t I see the rainbow?

The question bothered me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?)

Try That With Matt

Try that with Matt & Co. The Showdown.

March 5, 2017

My family gathers around food. It’s just our thing. Father’s Day is about Dad’s famous grilled chicken. Christmas is for ham balls, chicken wings and queso dip. The girls, Hank and I have dinner every Friday night with my parents before playing three rounds of euchre (Team Granny Panties vs. Boys). And the granddaddy of them all, Big Breakfast, is a feast of Dad’s dippy eggs, pounds of maple sausage and bacon, mugs and mugs of coffee (with the naughty creamer, of course), pancakes, fried potatoes and cinnamon rolls that takes place around my parent’s dining room table every-other Sunday. In a way, this is our church, and the sermon is always written in shameless digs and sarcasm. The congregation is questionable at best.

I could talk about Big Breakfast for hours. Seriously. It’s all about how much time you have. You’ll have your constants, like Dad dripping in sweat over four pans of food, yelling out in desperation through a potato-smelling smoke, “How many more eggs do we need? Marilyn! I asked how many more eggs do we need?” Poor guy. He’s always just slaving away as the rest of us get our coffee in hand and watch CBS Sunday Morning, which is always, always on. You’re guaranteed a story about somebody, usually my mother, falling down. It seems someone in our family falls down at least once a week. Which is probably some form of karmic justice because we all laugh like idiots at the storyteller’s misfortune. I mean, I’m sorry, but if you don’t think folks eating pavement is a side-splitting good time, we just can’t communicate. I always get the middle cinnamon roll, because, it’s the best. Duh. And there are always babies fighting and biting each other over plastic princesses.

Then we sprinkle in some excitement occasionally for extra flavor. There was the time the girls called 9-1-1 five times, unbeknownst to us, and a sheriff showed up. There was the time the entire family spent an hour trying to wrangle a 200-pound pig named Kevin Bacon into a horse trailer. There was the morning Matt belched so loud (also not uncommon) that Mom startled and instinctively turned so quickly she popped something in her neck. Or the beautiful Sunday morning Mom and I were sitting on the deck while the kids played and I leaned too far back in my plastic chair and flipped over backward. Or – and this is one of my favorites – the time my nephew took us on a Polaris ride and my brother, really, really had to go to the bathroom, so he jumped off the moving four wheeler when we got close to the house, his butt cheeks clenched so tightly he only came down on his toes and then waddle/ran all the way to the door.

And then there’s my tiny white nemesis. My parents have this rescue dog, Josie. She’s one of those tiny things, a mix of two different breeds that both have names that sound like poop, Caca-something or Doodle-other. All I know is she loves my dad’s soft bosom and licks her butt and then licks his face and I’m the only one who finds the entire relationship completely appalling. Plus, just the juxtaposition of this giant man holding a frail little dog never seems normal to me. Big Rog, knowing how I feel about the tiny mutt, refers to her as “my little sister”. “Aw, aren’t you going to say hi to your little sister?” “Your little sister had to be sedated to get her teeth cleaned, poor thing.” And so on. Well, at the last Big Breakfast, my ten-tons-of-fun brother pulled a skin tag clean of her neck with his bare hands because he thought it was a tick. She let out of tiny yelp and the whole thing was over as fast it it began. “What is that?” he asked, holding it up between his thumb and his index finger. “Oh my gosh!” Mom replied. “You pulled off her mole!” As Spike would say, “I was laughing to tears.”

See, what I mean … how much time do you have? It’s a sunny-side-up sideshow at a low-budget three-ring circus, this family.

So, why am I talking about all this? Well, partly because I got sidetracked, but I started because Big Breakfast is now part of a winner-takes-all contest several years in the making. It’s sort of a Try that with Matt … and Hank, and Kirsten, and Rog, and Marilyn. That’s right, we invited the whole kookie clan to join us for an extra-special, family-wide weight loss challenge. The Hupe Heifer Showdown began on Sunday, February 19. Six weeks, person who loses the highest percentage of body weight, wins.

Let’s meet the competitors.

The husband.
Honestly, we’re more allies than anything so it’s really hard for me to be an asshole about this one. I make his food, so sabotage wouldn’t even be a game at this point. (“They’re these weird Swedish nutrition bars. My mom used to give them to the kids in Africa to help them gain weight.”) Plus, I’m pretty sure his heart isn’t in it and he’s only participating to humor the acorns at the nuthouse.

Why he could win: This guy can drop some weight when he wants to. But he also has an addiction to authentic Mexican fare and miscellaneous goodies. Dark horse here for sure.

The parents.
Considering the parameters of the challenge, either one of these clowns could just demolish us if they wanted to. Their plan is to adjust their macronutrients (proteins, carbs) and workout more. Now, this brings up a topic that must be addressed. This is not a joke, you guys. My parents wear denim to workout. We’re talking full-on, chafe-your-nether-regions, unforgiving, tough as Clint Eastwood, 5-0-1 jeans here. I once walked a 4-mile race with my dad while he was wearing jorts, aviators and a ball cap. They just go out there like, “Hey, no big deal. I was just doing some light grocery shopping and decided to pop in for a little workout. What’s this spandex you speak of?” And it just baffles me entirely.

These people also grew up in a time when the shelves weren’t crowded with food and to waste wasn’t an option. When my dad was little, he once ate his entire meal after, af-ter, someone at the dinner table sneezed and skyrocketed a boog right onto the side of my dad’s plate. He just pushed right past it. If he put that type of dedication toward cleaning up his diet and moving a little more, or my mama did the same, this could be theirs for the taking. Although, I did have a tense 20-minute argument with my dad over the benefits of white bread (him for, me against) on Friday, so … I’ve got that goin’ for me.

Why they could win: A lifetime of refined flour and 9 p.m. snacking set these two up for some serious success if they can change their habits.

The brother.
On the morning of our initial weigh-in, Matt was running a few minutes late. As we all started going through the breakfast buffet a la Roger, my big brother walked in the back door, peeled off his shirt, then his pants and then pulled his boxer briefs up his crack before stepping onto the scale. The Chris Farley-esque stunt had Mom bent over clenching all of the pee-releasing muscles. It was bold. It made a statement. It lessened my appetite. I’m pretty sure this dude would sit in a sweat suit hovering over coals in a sauna for 48 hours straight to win this thing. I’ve been seeing him at the gym at 5 a.m. and I know he wants it. Problem is, he also wants deep dish pizza and all of the chocolate cakes. The struggle is so, so real.

Why he could win: I’ve often thought that Matt was missing the chip inside most people’s bodies that says, “No! Stop! This is the most I can take!” He’s lifted a riding lawnmower into the back of a truck by himself. The guy is Thor dressed up as an insurance agent. When he turns it on, he can hammer some workouts. Plus, he sweats like a whore in a Texas church in August.

The sister.
Dear, sweet, chocolate-covered Kirsten. My sister has six, count ‘em, six little girls. She runs ragged on all the days that end in “y” and the past few months in particular have been heavy with stress. To cope, she focused on what she needed to do for her chick-a-dees and less on taking care of herself. (Raise your hand if the lyrics to this tune sound familiar to you?) When you grow up with the nickname “Skelator,” the concept of having to work for a good weight can be a bit foreign. Kirsten has always been long and lean and now she finds herself in unfamiliar, and uncomfortable, territory. She’s rich in knowledge about healthy eating and so, so short on time, so she has her sights set on regaining balance for sure.

Why she could win: In her own words: “Because I’m too stubborn to let Matt win.” One of my fondest memories from childhood was watching Kirsten chase Matt around the island in the kitchen with a butcher knife after he’d pushed her buttons one too many times. What I’m saying is, there’s a history here. If it’s between cutting off an arm and losing to Matt, she’s severing the limb.

The me.
I have spent so many words in this space talking about my love of sweets and lack of control, it would be silly to steal more real estate expanding upon it now. Other than, just for the sake of transparency, i should mention that Hank brought home five boxes of Girl Scout cookies last week, so the cards are somewhat stacked against me. I hope somebody gets a damn patch on their sash for the internal shit I’m going through right now.

Why I could win: If Kirsten and Matt somehow destroy each other before or at the final weigh-in, my odds are pretty fair. Here’s hoping.

Those are the ponies. Ladies and gents, place your bets!

Try That With Matt

Try that with Matt. 90-mile month.

February 14, 2017

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

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

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

**MATT**

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

**ME**

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

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

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

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

**Random interjection**

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

**End of random interjection**

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

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

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

Onto the next …

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

Wanderlust

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.

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“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.

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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
Flashlights/headlamps
Party lights
Outdoor rug
Bug spray
Sunscreen
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
Towels
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
Utensils
Ove gloves
Paper towels and/or cloths
Cocktails
Jugs of drinking water
Foil
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)
Hats
Raincoats
iPad (Shut up, let’s be real here) loaded with movies
Portable Bluetooth speaker
Chargers
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.

Thoughts

The brave few who run at the lion

May 25, 2016

It seems like every time I scroll through my facebook feed or turn on the news or accidentally leave the tv on until Sunday Morning changes over to Meet the Press, I’m inundated with self-absorbed, cowardly public figures. People with a platform for good who do nothing but repeatedly shell out shallow loads of crap in an effort to garner even more attention for their bulging egos. But recently, in this world where it seems like narcissism is rewarded and character is obsolete, I’ve seen outrageous displays of courage in those closest to me.

There’s a woman in my life who’s going through a rough patch, as almost all of us do. While I was showering her in some much-deserved praise about her admirable perspective and mature approach to the situation, she told me about an article she read by Davey Blackburn. Davey is the pastor who lost his pregnant wife Amanda last year in Indianapolis after two men broke into their home and shot her. He wrote an editorial piece called, Run Toward the Roar, in which he talks about embracing and even turning into the most incomprehensible pain; something that feels entirely counter-intuitive and unnerving.

To summarize – though you really should read the post in its entirety because it’s beautiful – it’s about our instinct to protect ourselves from what hurts, or what’s scary, and how that truly doesn’t serve us in the long run. In the wilderness, Davey explains, the male lion will go to the edge of the field and roar as loud as he can. This drives the prey away and, as was the intention, right to the jaws of the ravenous female lion, who is actually the more deadly predator. In fact, most male lions rarely kill. His point is that if we can find the strength to just turn into the roar, into the noise, into the fear, we might just be able to live another day. It’s when we run away from what’s troubling us or scaring us or hurting us that we perish. Or at least parts of us perish. Important parts. But my gosh, it’s so easy to run, isn’t it?

Lion

It all very much reminded me of the transformational talk I attended with Glennon Melton Doyle. Thinking back to the Momastery master’s words, I told this friend during one of our come-to-Jesus conversations early on in her turmoil, “Don’t think about a month from now. Don’t think about the end game. Just think about tomorrow. What do you need to do tomorrow?” It’s gratifying to make snap decisions in the heat of a conflict or tragedy. It feels good just to assign a verdict to something that haunts us when it’s unsettled. But I think it takes even more grit to sit with what’s ailing you for awhile – to really let it work through you. To feel every ache and strain and struggle. Decision by decision, conversation by conversation, step by step you will come out on the other side. The wounds will heal. The sun will come out from behind the clouds. And you will be stronger for your suffering.

LookingOUt

Another person I’m close to is passing through a really uncomfortable place en route to a healthier lifestyle. He’s working against habits so engrained in his routine he doesn’t know how to fill the hours of his day without them. Shedding certain rituals, as detrimental as they might be, can feel like a death. No one wants to deal with what follows saying, “I love this thing so much, but I know it’s killing me so I have to let it go.” Toxic relationships are still relationships. They still elicit a bond and they still make us feel connected to something.

When I talk to him about it, I know he feels embarrassed and a bit ashamed that his habit has such a hold on him. But who doesn’t have something they’re hooked on or obsessed with or dependent on? I’ve heard my mom say, “Everyone one is addicted to something. It’s just a matter of what that something is.” There’s no sense in letting pride interrupt a quest for help. Weakness isn’t found in the attachment, after all, it’s found in the denial. Weakness is not trying. Weakness is running from the roar. And that kind of weakness will get you every time.

To different degrees and various depths, we’re all broken. Maybe you’re in a valley and you’re a lot broken. Maybe you’re at a peak and those cracks are harder to see, but we all have bumps and bruises. We all have scars from hard-fought battles and shattered spirits. But the people I admire are the ones who don’t just throw a bandage over the bleeding and crawl into bed. I have so much respect for the folks who embrace the pain and the heartache and the brokenness and seek out the rainbow after the thunderstorm.

If the goal is to continue growing as an individual, I can only hope I’m forever surrounded by people as strong and inspiring and badass as the ones I have around me right now. Watching them run toward the roar makes me feel like I can do the same when the occasion arises. Here’s hoping that the courageous always rise to the top.

Laughs

How to throw a dinner party (the way grownups do)

February 1, 2016

On the last Saturday evening of January, on an unseasonably mild Midwestern winter night, 10 30-somethings gathered together for one super-fancy dinner party. It began at a fund-raising auction. My brother raised his paddle and clenched an in-home dinner with an accomplished local chef. He kindly invited several of our friends, who were at the fundraiser that evening, to join him for what was eventually named Matt’s Fancy Fat Kid Party. This entire post would be just about the food – which was practically indescribable – except that the behavior of the guests – who have known each other for nearly 20 years – was just as entertaining. I think we can all use this experience as a learning opportunity.

5 Keys to Throwing an Elegant Dinner Party in Your 30s

1. Set an attractive table.
One might give a great deal of thought to the presentation of the tablescape; Perhaps selecting elegant linens, coordinated chargers and china, and dynamic flatware. There are artists who get paid to craft striking centerpieces. Many hosts will consider contacting one of these artisans or, at the very least, consult Pinterest.

With Matt’s Fancy Fat Kid Party, I received a text from my brother the Friday before, that read: “Can you be at my house at 9:30 tomorrow morning? They’re dropping off a table.” See, Matt didn’t realize this would be a “sit-down dinner”. I guess he kind of figured the chef would just throw the food up on the bar and we would pick at it like a football party. While he was out, and with the delivered table set up in the basement, I scoured his bachelor pad for something to put in the center of the black tablecloth. A poinsettia from the holidays with 4 petals left? A Glade scented candle? I left it bare and sent him a text on my way out the door: “Consider stopping for flowers or something. Think black and gold.” He didn’t stop. There were no flowers. It didn’t matter.

The table

2. Attention to ambiance.
Upon entering your home, you want your guests to feel like they are part of something special. This can be achieved with a signature cocktail, warm embrace, prompt removal of their jacket, soft lighting and elegant background music.

At Matt’s Fancy Fat Kid Party, we all spent a handful of minutes mingling around the kitchen before eventually shuffling down to the basement for vodka cocktails (cranberry and Red Bull, respectfully) and a pre-dinner screening of Straight Outta Compton. Once they announced the first course was en route, Matt made the decision, as any seasoned host would, to pause the movie and turn up the 90s rap playlist already in rotation for the service staff upstairs.

3. The menu is everything.
For a true culinary journey, pick a theme for your event menu. Tell a story from salad to the sweet ending with thoughtful fare and exciting, innovative offerings.

For Matt’s Fancy Fat Kid Party, several suggestions were thrown out (the advantage of having an exceptional chef on your guest list who can offer such ideas). After nothing registered on my brother’s face when I mentioned, “An evening in Paris,” “Seafood Reimagined” or “Molecular Gastronomy,” our friend the chef dreamed up the concept of pub fare. The children of this vision arrived in front of us, one after the other, as 5 plates of the most palate-pleasing food I’ve ever had in my life. People always say that after a good meal. But this was it for me. Like, you know when you’re so full you fear you’ll vomit but, given the choice between puking or missing one more bite, you go for the bite? This was that. Not to mention Hank and I have been living in Whole30 land and, even though we had 3 days left, we decided to indulge. You guys, I would compare this cheat to fulfilling your one celebrity gimme. It was the Ryan Reynolds of cheats. The specifics are a haze of duck fats and sou vides, but we’re talking about chicken wings drenched in bacon marmalade, flavor-rich pork jowls in a tender red pepper and chive crepe, a Wagyu beef burger with a fried pickle, red onion jam and life-changing ale cheese, a delicate crab cake atop a honey-jalapeno mousse and, the grand finale, freshly fried donuts with espresso gelato and a chocolate spoon. It was a filthy food porn movie, with more moaning and “mouthgasms” than any one wooden table should be subjected to. I think we were all changed a little bit that night.

Thefood

4. Engage in polite conversation.
Before the event, it can be helpful to consider a list of topics to keep the chatter going at the table. Make connections between your guests and use this as an opportunity to catch up with your friends.

The problem with Matt’s Fancy Fat Kid Party was that we brought together a group of friends who enjoy each other’s company just a little too much, and each other’s company is typically accompanied by a healthy amount of cocktails. It’s easy to take your buds out of the bar, but not so easy to take the bar out of your buds. My brother was raised by the same man as me, and that man makes quick work of dirty words. We spent our childhood stepping around F bombs, and tiptoeing past JC land minds, until we eventually learned the value of just using the colorful vocabulary ourselves. Matt and I have never found a curse word we didn’t like and, once the wine and laughter started flowing, so did our swearing, and so did the guests’. When I think of those poor, helpless servers just trying to put the plates of food down in a sophisticated, synchronized fashion as Matt pumped his fist and chanted, “1-2-3 … hell yeah!” Or how the peanut gallery let the “holy shits” justifiably roll off their satisfied tongues upon their first bites … Without any verbal confirmation, we collectively abandoned any attempts at being classy somewhere around the start of the first course. It was a dangerous combination of comfortable company, glasses of drunken grapes and happy bellies.

The ladies

Thefellas

5. End the evening with a nightcap.
Offer your guests a warm coffee with a hint of Bailey’s, finger of aged scotch or bold brandy as a delightful way to cap off an enjoyable evening.

You know in a movie, when they use a montage or flashbacks to reveal a vital element of the plot? Well, that’s kind of what the day after Matt’s Fancy Fat Kid Party was for me. One long, weird montage. At some point, a giant teddy bear was brought out of the toy room and I remember people in various states of cuddles with him at different times. I remember my husband demonstrating he could french braid on my friend Jenn’s hair. I remember much talk about ubers and really bad dancing. You know, the kind where it feels like you’re Channing Tatum’s wife in Step Up, but you’re really just shuffling side to side? I remember combining beautiful wines in one glass, with no regard for the integrity of their bouquet or Wine Spectator score. We all know how evenings like that can be; once the train picks up enough momentum, it’s really hard to stop it.

theFun

As I take my second round of Tylenol and reflect on my behavior at Matt’s Fancy Fat Kid Party, do I feel embarrassed? I mean … I’m gonna go with no. Sure, there is a time and a place to button your top button and play the game, and that can be enjoyable in its own way. But what fun is life if you don’t give yourself permission to snuggle with the giant teddy bear while watching Straight Outta Compton once in a while, too? You can’t take yourself so seriously. After all, what’s the saying … “Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die.” It was a merry time indeed.

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