Driving Miss Meesh

I read a news article maybe a year ago about a celebration for the 100th Roundabout in nearby Carmel, Indiana. The small city wanted everyone to know that they had more roundabouts per capita than any comparable town in Europe or elsewhere. “Good for them,” I remember muttering under my breath at the time, and “Note to Self: Keep out of Carmel!”

If anyone out there feels that they have mastered the roundabout, please contact me directly and immediately. I need a lesson. Then I need to give my child that lesson.

In fact, is anyone out there for hire as a private driving instructor? I’m only half-jesting. I like to think I’m a person who can recognize one’s weaknesses, and driving is one of them. Yet as the mother of a 17 ½ year old, I must act the part of a subject matter expert in driving a vehicle so I can share that expertise with her, the older half of The Precious Pair. The poor kid is like the The Last of the Mohicans, as they say — the oldest among most of her friends, yet she will be the last to earn her driver’s license.

Most of them already drive effortlessly in cars of their own, so she can usually find a ride, and that’s nice. Kudos to their parents! I salute you for a job well done. At the rate we’re going, we should get the beastly challenge of learning to drive knocked out by next Summer, maybe. It’s hard to tell at this point. But I do know one thing: I am not the person for this job.

Beyond the fact that I’m not a good driver myself – and apparently, according to my friends, I’m widely-recognized as such – I’m also a yeller on the road. Not as in Old Yeller. As in yelling. This is my instinctual reaction to fear, danger, and roundabouts. But come on, how does any parent embrace this ritual of teaching a child to drive? It’s basically engaging in anti-survival and represents the opposite of everything I’ve done as a parent, thus far.

All good moms and dads spend tremendous time, energy, and attention caring for and raising their children to understand how to live safely and healthfully, through a wide range of habits, from crossing the street properly to chewing their food thoroughly to brushing their teeth daily (most days is good enough). Then comes teaching them to drive. Putting them behind the wheel of a one ton-sized weapon, putting a younger sibling in the backseat who’s along for the wild ride without choice in the matter, and putting yourself in the usually-preferred shotgun spot to witness the action upclose – this is all while telling the driver-in-training, in so many words, “Go ahead and gun this baby. You will figure it out.”

Eek! WTF???

I’m not made for this part of parenting.

Before you ask, yes, we have enrolled with the local driving school for support. But it seems that the infamous supply chain has also impacted the availability of driving instructors as there simply aren’t enough to serve the number of teens learning to drive in this town. The availability of these valuable lessons is slim pickings, and the process is comparable to snagging dining reservations at Disney. If you’re not on the app at the stroke of 6am when they publish the new schedule, then forget about your scrambled eggs with the princesses or your one-hour with the driving instructor. Honestly, can we give these people a round of applause or at least a Xanex for their efforts? They are true heroes in my eyes, capable of courage, patience, and a calm that I will never achieve.

But recently when the teen did score her second driving lesson, she was given the quintessential advice “You need more practice with your parents.” She couldn’t wait to tell me this, since I had been telling her repeatedly “You need more lessons with the driving school.” What comes first in this conundrum? Practice or Lessons? Practice with me does not seem overly effective, yet I’m trying harder to accept this role, to do it better, and to figure out why I’m so bad at this.

And I already know why I’m so bad at this. Because it’s all about surrendering control and handing it over to the teen driver who is my oldest daughter. The one who made me a mother in the first place. The one who tried as a toddler to run into a busy parking lot until I fully-convinced her that all cars and all drivers are dangerous. Fast forward to the one who is 8 months shy of turning 18. The one who is also leaving for college in a year and a half. The one who has shown me what pride really feels like. The one who also seems to break my heart every day right now with her stubborn nature and our disagreements, but who also has a magical way of picking up the pieces every time and putting it back together inside my chest like new and even bigger than before.

This is just the way it works. I can’t resist it. And by “it” I mean the inevitable cycle of this crazy parenting life many of us opt into. We pour ourselves into these people so they can successfully do things their own way and then leave us. That’s the end goal. Create the adult and they will leave. They will thrive. They will suffer. They will win. They will lose. They will drive. There’s no stopping any of it. And there’s no stopping the pain that accompanies this process of their growth.

Yeah, parenting can suck for a good portion of the time. But all the same, what a joy and a privilege it is to mold other human beings to become exclusively themselves. I just don’t want to teach the young humans how to drive. 😉




Searching for Stones

It seems that half the people I know went to Florida for Spring Break. In our traditional quirkiness, The Precious Pair and I headed the opposite direction — seven hours north to explore an area of Pure Michigan new to us called Petoskey. Yes, we drove all the way through the worst state in America for current COVID rates. Not ideal, yet we practiced all our usual precautions consistently.

We are not typically road warriors. I get far too antsy trapped in a car for more than three or four hours at a time, as the driver or the passenger. So I split the trip up there and back into two legs. Stopping in Grand Rapids on the way and Holland on the way back. That plan worked out fairly well.

We expected cool temps in the 50s, clouds, and rain, according to my weather app, and, of course, all of us packed hoodies and jeans for those conditions. Instead, we encountered unseasonably warm weather in the 70s and sunshine for most of the week – the perfect conditions for hunting Petoskey Stones.

Finding hidden gems among the beach rocks is much like finding characters in the clouds. It definitely has a similar calming effect and works the same creative muscles. The best difference is tangibility – you can touch and hold stones in your hand, admire them up close, toss them back into the water or onto the shoreline, and even take a precious few home with you.

It didn’t take long before we spotted some pretty cool finds, like what we called the “Stone Phone.” It was a good-sized rock that looked like a circa 1980’s car phone. Or there was the one that had the color, shape, and size of a human heart.

The special rock we were seeking though was the Official State Stone of Michigan, the famed Petoskey Stone. Actually fossilized coral once alive in the saltwater seas that covered the area 350 million years ago, they are found primarily in the water and beaches of Northern Michigan.

In raw form, a Petoskey Stone is worth $4 per pound. But polished, their value ranges from $10 to $100 a piece. For perspective, I bought a small pair of earrings made from the material for $17. I also considered a wine stopper and a business card holder for my desk, but those items started around $40 each.

The best tip for finding them – they must be wet to see the distinctive hexagonal pattern. Otherwise, they look like ordinary pale gray rocks. Nothing sexy about that.

Yet the hunt is rewarding. It’s priceless in terms of its relaxation value. Cleansing. Purifying. All-Natural. Completely Non-Digital. The event included lake water, spring breeze, rocky shoreline, loads of sunshine, and my two girls and me. The perfectly socially-distanced activity, too!

We did not leave empty-handed. We found a small handful of the elusive stones plus two pockets full of other rocks we simply found to be pretty in one way or another. I have no idea what we will do with them. But I have learned that one of my besties owns a rock tumbler, so we plan to borrow that to see how our collection shines up.

Due to the distance, I doubt we will get back to Petoskey anytime soon. But it’s definitely worthy of our return someday. As we left town, I felt the typical vacationer’s longing for more time – at least another day. All three of us agreed there were a few more things we wish we could have done. We never stopped in at the weird pottery place we kept passing. There was one more local restaurant I wanted us to try. There was one more road I wanted us to follow…

On Saturday, our last day of travel, we had 3 hours to go until we got home. We hadn’t quite made it to Indiana yet, and there were a few more fun Lake Michigan towns we were nearing and soon to be passing. Only half kidding, I said “What if we stopped and stayed someplace for one more night, girls? Just for fun!”

Maturely, both of them responded that they were ready to get home. Back to their dogs. Back to their beds. Back to their busy lives. All the things I didn’t mind steering clear of, just a little longer.

Because the busier we are and the older everyone gets, the faster the time goes. Along the way, I hope we will always make some time to search for stones.

Little Gray Rainbow

Photo by Kyle Cleveland on Unsplash

I remember getting my ears pierced as a kid, and that was a rite of passage. I had wanted pierced ears probably even as a toddler, but my mom said I had to wait until I turned 8 years old. So I waited and it happened for me in 1980 at the hair salon. I’ll never forget the small, shiny pistol the lady used to shoot those silver “training studs” through my lobes. I clearly remember the burn in each ear.

The Precious Pair has never been as interested in ear piercing as I was. My oldest reluctantly decided to have hers done at age 8, based on my prompting  – at the modern earring mecca of Claire’s. But a year or so later, she heard her babysitter tell a story about her own ear, an earring, and considerable amounts of blood; then it was all over, and that child of mine decided to stop wearing earrings forever. Until she turned 16 and decided she wanted to wear earrings again. Somehow, the holes had not grown shut, so I saved about $40 and another trip to Claire’s, one place no mother wants to end up once your kids pass the age of 10. It’s one of those spots where you spin into an instant state of panic and over-stimulus, much like Five Below and Chuck E. Cheese. Luckily, so far, my youngest has shown zero interest in earrings, even at age 12.

Only a few days ago, I heard about a young woman launching a new Etsy shop with artfully-crafted earrings. As a sucker for pretty and unique handmade jewelry, I couldn’t wait to check it out. I found several styles I wanted to buy and began tossing them in my cart. When I got ready to check out, I had forgotten my password – of course – so I had to go through a 10-minute process of setting up a new one. By the time I made it back to my cart, the little gray rainbows had been nabbed by another eager shopper. I was bummed! Those earrings had spoken to me. While I’m typically drawn to a nice dangle earring, these were studs. Small, solid, gray clay rainbows. If you’re not familiar with my obsession with the color gray, feel free to check that out here.

When it comes to rainbows, they’ve become a meaningful symbol in my life. Someone special refers to me jokingly as a “Skittles Rainbow” because I believe in a serendipitous path, where life generally works out as it should, day-by-day. It’s fair to say I’m an idealist. I tend to think in terms of what can happen versus what will happen. But in middle age, it’s fair and accurate to say that I’m NOT bursting with vivid colors. I’m graying a bit, and not just my hair; not just my home décor; not just my wardrobe…

My Temperament
I am cooling off and calming down and becoming more steady and stable. In the spirit of TMI, I will tell you that I recently weaned myself off of two prescription drugs I had been taking for years for anti-anxiety. Why did I decide to do that? Well, I was bad about taking them consistently in the first place, and I wasn’t convinced they were doing much for me anyway, anymore. I’m certainly not advocating for ditching a good medicine if it serves you well. In my case, I felt the need to cleanse and detox for a while. This doesn’t mean I won’t go back to them. We’re on a break.

My Qualities
“Nice is a not a word I would use to describe you,” The Teen said to me not long ago. I wasn’t sure what to think of that comment, so I asked her what words she would use. She thought for a bit and replied with “fierce, hard-working, determined.”  While that doesn’t reflect a warm and fuzzy golden glow, it does feel a bit steely gray, doesn’t it? I’m happy these words came to her mind, and I would use the same to describe many of my middle-aged friends. I think these are the qualities most of us have learned by now. It’s tough to get through marriage, parenting, and, as in my case, divorce without them.

My Behavior
I love a good rant. And I have “skills” in the areas of griping, complaining, and whining (or should I say “wining”?), as well as anybody else. My daily behavior is not always stellar, and I certainly don’t always give others the benefit of the doubt. I’m impatient and nitpicky and, at times, highly irritated by others whose values and standards do not match my own. Dare I describe my own behavior as “judgmental”? Yes, maybe, sometimes.

Yet beneath these layers of gray, I still believe in everything a traditional Roy G. Biv rainbow represents – hope, joy, faith, renewal, a fresh start, a bright spot, happiness, love. And I am grateful to report that I experience all of these colorful emotions these days! There was a chapter in my adult life when rainbows felt quite elusive, but I can tell you confidently now: they are real. Is there a special symbol that speaks to you?

Here on Saint Patrick’s Day, it feels like a great time to talk about rainbows. After all, we know that’s where The Lucky Leprechaun finds his bigass pot of gold. As bonus timing for this blog, the dear friend I mentioned above has a birthday coming up a week from today. #49. I would say it’s just as significant to turn 49 as it is to turn 50, because it’s the last one we get before we turn 50. I’m hopeful we can take a special trip together in 2022, to celebrate our dual 50th Birthdays in the same year. Maybe even to someplace splendid like Ireland. What a perfect spot that would be to see some stunning gray rainbows.

Wish me 🍀 with that,

BONUS: A Green Cocktail Recipe…”The Lucky Leprechaun”
I made this for some work colleagues during a Zoom Happy Hour the other day. They seemed to like it; hope you do, too!

Your favorite vodka or gin; not flavored
Rum – a clear or golden variety; not flavored
Blue Curacao – you’ll find this near the schnapps; an orange liqueur, unnaturally blue in color, but a crucial ingredient!
Orange or Pineapple Juice or Both – another crucial ingredient!
Something fizzy – Sprite, Ginger Ale, Tonic, Club Soda, or Seltzer (use a diet version for less sweetness)
Crushed Ice
Cocktail Shaker & Spoon
OPTIONAL: Straw, Fun Napkin, Shamrock on a Stick – cocktail flair! Why not?!?

Add crushed ice to your cocktail shaker. Pour in nice splashes of your vodka or gin, rum, and blue curacao. Add a cup of juice and shake. Pour into a tall glass holding more chipped ice, but fill only 2/3 to top. No need to strain. Top it off with your fizzy ingredient, stir, add your flair, and sip your magically green concoction to your heart’s content.

The Marks Left by Barks by Kelly Anderson

Note: This is my fourth installment ever featuring a guest blogger – a dear, longtime friend of mine! Many thanks for her willingness to share a story here on my site, especially one that features such a down-to-earth and heart-wrenching topic: the passing of a family pet. I’m grateful she wrote this piece for us as part of her healing process. Hope you’re as touched by it as I was…

We lost our dog a few weeks ago. It felt pretty sudden….about 72 hours of Pure Hell. Looking back now on pictures and videos, we can see a decline that we just didn’t see in front of our faces. My husband and I have been lucky to love and lose pets before. I say “lucky” because, gosh, it hurts SO bad to lose something so valuable, but how lucky we are to have loved at all. However, this one was different. Unlike the pups of our youth, this time we were catapulted into the driver’s seat in making decisions for our special Golden, Barkley. Never before have we had to make a decision with our mind that would completely break our hearts in two. It was the hardest and kindest decision either of us has ever made.

It came with so much uncertainty. Silent glances over his labored breathing….will he get better? Are we jumping the gun? But he’s still drinking water? Do you think he’s in pain?

We nearly lost our first Golden, Bo, in November – literally 3 paws in the grave and he’s come back to us with a vengeance and literal hunger and is eating for lost time….so we were holding on to hope for Barkley’s comeback.

COVID added another layer of complexity because our vet wasn’t allowing anyone inside their building, so they would take him inside from the parking lot and that would be it and THAT was a NO DEAL for us. As hard as it was to watch him take his last breath, and trust me – it was gutting – the thought of him being scared and sick AND with a stranger, that was a hard pass.

So on a snowy evening in February, we loaded up, masked up, and our emergency vet clinic graciously allowed us to say goodbye to our beautiful Barks in person. And we came back home to an empty food bowl and empty bed and a seemingly quiet house – even though we still have Bo. It was heartbreaking. If you know, you know; and we didn’t know.

We didn’t know that walking up to bed empty-handed would bring us to our knees, when normally my husband would carry Barkley up with him. (I joked he was carrying his bride to bed at night!) We didn’t know that seeing his stay hairs on our car seats would take our breath away. And we didn’t know that this pain would last and that simple tasks would hurt. To our friends and family who have had to say goodbye to a family pet – I am so sorry…..we just didn’t know.

Barkley was never my dog. He wasn’t even a family dog. He was solely my husband Brent’s dog. I found Barkley at a local shelter and bolted out to meet him that day – finding a Golden Retriever at a shelter is a bit like finding a unicorn. The shelter asked that I bring my whole family the next day, kid and current dog included. We did. And Barkley jumped crazily on all of us, and our older Golden wasn’t the first member of his fan club, so I wanted to pass on him. My husband said absolutely not, and Barkley must have understood every word because that dog was LOYAL to Brent from that day on.

They were inseparable. Barkley was his shotgun rider, his campfire buddy, his fellow late night snacker, and his shadow. That didn’t come without a lot of exasperation for Barkey’s antics on Brent’s part….Barkley ONLY wanted to pee in our front yard; a fenced in backyard was useless. And he had NO problem pooping on our driveway or pool deck. I would belly laugh and look at Brent with my “Your dog!” look. It is these memories that can pull us out of our sadness, and we can always share another laugh about our Barks.

When Brent and I first started dating, we took a trip to New Orleans. I had my palm read and the fortune teller told me we would have twin boys someday! I was ecstatic since Brent WAS a twin, so that could have been a possibility. A few years later, we returned to NOLA and I had my fortune told again in a completely different area of the city, and again….twin boys were mentioned. What were the odds?

A few summers ago, we sat in our backyard watching the two dogs, and I looked at Brent and said…”Twin Boys.” Those fortune tellers years ago never elaborated, but I am confident that our Bo & Barkley are who they meant. Our twin boys.

We have been on the receiving end of a lot of love, advice, nurturing texts, and check-ins from our friends who DO know and have been there, and the best advice has been we just have to sit in “the suck” for a while….so here we sit.

Thinking about what I learned from Barkley, it would be these things:

               Take naps in the sun whenever you can – in fact, take several.

               If someone asks you to go for a walk, you go.

               You can never eat too much bacon.

               Accept affection from people, and if you are missing it – seek it out.

               Sometimes a deep sigh is all you need to get your point across.

               Love unconditionally.

               Be genuinely happy to see people and make sure they know it.

               Find your person.

We had Barkley for a short 7 years, and we were his second family, but 7 years taught us invaluable lessons and gave us a lifetime of love. This one will leave a mark.

High & Dry

Let’s start with a text exchange I had last Wednesday Night:

ME: “Do you think buying a bottle of that alcohol-free wine is cheating? It’s called FRE.”

MY FRIEND KELLY: “Yes. Drink a diet ginger ale. 😂”

ME: “Well, I don’t have any of that. I guess I have cranberry and tonic.”

ME: “These snowy nights when the girls are gone and I have to do sucky stuff on the computer are the hardest. Wine makes it better.”

MY FRIEND KELLY: “Yeah, it feels like Groundhog Day these days.” 

ME: “I guess we will make it. Ugh. But I shoulda’ gone out for some kombucha today.” 

Now here we are on actual Groundhog Day, and it looks like we made it. (GREAT Barry Manilow song!) I observed Dry January. I did it. I completed it. I succeeded. I survived. And contrary to what my title implies, I did not get high as an alternative to alcohol. I am on a natural high because I detoxed my body for 31 days! Something like that.

I did not have Dry January on my radar until I noticed my sister mention it on Facebook at the end of 2020. So without thinking it through, I volunteered to do it, too. I like a good challenge. Then I spent an entire month wondering why anybody would sign up for this?!?

I was my biggest doubter from the beginning. But I was not alone. There were others. Many dear friends and coworkers practically squealed and giggled like toddler girls when I told them I was going to “Try Dry.”

“Wait, what? 



“Are you joking?”

“Are you serious?”

“This should be interesting.”

“Well, that’s sad!”


…These are real things they said.  

Everyone laughed. Most people wondered why. Many people wanted nothing to do with this. And I didn’t blame them. I was surprised by my own decision. To give you a sense for how much I enjoy a nice cocktail, I mixed up a nice cocktail as my talent during my family’s virtual Christmas Eve talent show. It was a French 75. I made it; then, then I chugged it right there on the Zoom. (Please try one for yourself if you never have. See recipe below.)

But, after all, my personal word for this year is DISCIPLINE. Of all things, Dry January would provide a great test of my chosen theme. If I could do a month without cocktails, maybe I could do other hard things this year, like my laundry, like exercise, like graduate school… 

What Happened? 

January was a long and weird month. Early on, January 6th happened in Washington DC, and that Wednesday all of us sat watching that debacle on live television in disbelief. If ever there was a night I wanted to drink last month, that was it. And there were many nights before and after that one that tried my commitment. Especially the numerous times I found myself either home alone and/or cooking dinner in the evening. Those situations triggered me. I guess I never realized how much I adore a big, full glass of wine or a fizzy cocktail when I make food or while I’m binging Netflix solo.  

I struggled for the first 21 days. It’s often said it takes about that amount of time to form a new habit or to break an old one. Then, I hit my easiest stretch and stride from about the 21st until the 26th. The final five days came back to bite me, especially with a 5th weekend wedged in there.  

Full Disclosure: The teen half of the Precious Pair prevented me from failing when The Night of January 16th happened. At that midpoint of the month, I decided I did not want to endure further dryness. I had made it halfway and wasn’t that good enough? She convinced me otherwise with a great pep talk beyond her years – she often does that – and I’m grateful. 

What Did I Drink Instead?

Alternatives and Mocktails. Flavored iced teas, Arnold Palmers, cranberry juice & tonic, other juices , Coke Zero and ginger ale, inordinate amounts of coffee. Hot tea and hot cocoa, too. And water, both still-style and my preferred bubbly varieties. But kombucha was my best discovery of Dry January. (Natural fermentation!)

How Did I Benefit?

Healthwise. – Maybe? I’m sure my liver got a nice sabbatical. I didn’t lose any weight, but I didn’t gain any either. I did not notice any upgrades in my skin, sleep, or general wellness as the Dry January bloggers suggested I would enjoy.

Greater Appreciation. – Definitely. I will approach my libations with more gratitude moving forward. I intend to sip and savor them now. 

Lower Tolerance. – No doubt, I’ve become a much cheaper date. I will likely hold myself to imbibing only 1-2 nights weekly or I might even limit myself to special occasions only. This is what my friend Kelly is calling “mindful drinking” and I like that term. I’m stealing it.  

Self-Control. – There’s a thin line between our pleasures and our problems. With 2021 as my Year of Discipline, I’m committed to staying in line, on track, and under control in many aspects of my life, more than ever before. Because that’s what a single middle-aged mom with a tween and teen watching does, or at least tries her best to do. 

Now What Happens?

It’s February. What kind of February? 

Wet February?
Damp February? 
Drenched February? 
Drunk February?
Sloshed February?
Schlockered February?

….No! It’s Disciplined February. 

How Did I Stay Dry?

Most likely, I succeeded because I’m competitive. And my competition was Me. This experience wasn’t easy, but as I often say – Good Things Are Hard. Not always, but I often find this to be true.

The writer in me might have been the most helpful persona throughout this cause. I kept thinking “If I can do this, then I can write about this.” It was similar to the motivation I had last August when I struggled through COVID. I knew once I got through it, I would have something to say about it. What kind of story would I be telling you now if I had quit way back on January 6th? On second thought, I could have told a great story about quitting. Come to think of it, that one might have been better, probably funnier. Well, there’s always next January for failing! 

But I conquered Dry January 2021 – as did my sister and Kelly and probably others here reading this. Congratulations! And by sharing this silly story, I mean no disrespect to my friends and family and the strangers out there who have declared Dry for Life. On the contrary, I honor you, support you, and respect you boatloads. 


My French 75: Start with ice in a traditional cocktail shaker. Open a bottle of something boozy and bubbly – any champagne, prosecco, or sparkling wine you like. Pour 4 ounces into the shaker and add a shot of your favorite gin – I prefer Aviator or Hendrick’s. Add a tablespoon of simple syrup, which is so easy to make yourself – boil equal parts water and sugar and add a touch of vanilla extract. For something different and extra fancy, add a little St. Germaine Elderflower Liqueur instead of the simple syrup. Shake and pour into your glass of choice – martini, champagne flute, or stemless wine recommended. Add a swirly lemon peel twist and/or a stemmed cherry. Enjoy mindfully! 

My Dry 75: Replace the champagne with ginger ale and swap out the gin and simple syrup with a nice, natural lemonade or limeade. Voila!

The 7th Level of My Holiday Laundry

Photo by Bryan Papazov on Unsplash

“I passed through the seven levels of the Candy Cane Forest, through the sea of swirly-twirly gumdrops, and then I walked through the Lincoln Tunnel.”
– Buddy the Elf from the movie Elf, describing his journey from the North Pole to New York

At age 40-plus-ish with almost two decades of motherhood under my belt, I wish I could say I have mastered the domestic arts on some level, at any level. Yet management of the household has always challenged me.

I’m not a great cook. I often tell people I don’t really cook – I prepare food that other people have cooked and frozen. Chicken tenders or the vegetarian version of the same are staples of my repertoire. I’m a semi-homemade kind of girl with a few exceptions, like when I try a recipe or grill out in the summertime. I’m a slightly better baker, yet I rarely make the time to do it right. The Precious Pair bakes far more than I ever do, and I enjoy the cookies of their labor.

When it comes to home organization, I will forever seek it. (I can barely park my car in my garage due to its disarray.) General cleaning is not my strongest suit either. My house is cleanish, but not in the spic and span way that my friends seem to achieve. My dishes plague me. Even grocery shopping – in this pandemic year, I’ve resigned. It’s best to let someone else do it and deliver right to my front porch. I’m not bothered all too much by the infamous “replacements” if something I want is sold out.

But my underachieving when it comes to these six tasks – cooking, baking, organizing, cleaning, dishwashing, and grocery shopping – pales in comparison to my pure failure associated with the seventh level of household chores, The Laundry.

Or I should say The Godforsaken Laundry. Yep, that’s what I call it often. And I know I shouldn’t use that kind of blasphemy. In fact, as the Teen Member of the Precious Pair noted with annoyance the other day when I was having a tough time overall, “Why must you use the word ‘godforsaken’ in front of everything?!?” She’s right. I tend to do that when I’m in a bad mood, for dramatic effect.

During the month of December, all the above gets a little harder. And, well, it’s because I’d rather decorate the house than clean it. I’d rather shop for fun gifty things versus boring groceries. I’d rather wrap those gifts than wash those dishes. And, let’s face it, I’d rather binge Hallmark Channel Christmas Movies and sip hot cocoa in front of our glowing and glorious tree than do ANY of the above-named chores.

Suddenly one evening, no human in the household had clean underwear. (It sure doesn’t help that the two canines also living here confiscate and destroy any pair they get their paws on.) This became the now infamous night in December when I went head-to-head with The Laundry in a fierce battle. As I huffed and puffed and sorted, I lost count at 9 piles. I had a pit in my stomach that told me there was no coming back from this level of neglect.

The Little Red Devil crept up on my left shoulder and whispered into my ear, “You have failed miserably, and you really should be ashamed of yourself.” I felt a moment of panic at the thought of it, then I knocked the creepy jerk into a huge pile of darks, making way for the Little White Angel to hover over my right shoulder where she brought me hope and the best idea of 2020. “Take the laundry away, my child. Take it away.” And with that, I headed to the kitchen and grabbed the garbage bags from beneath the sink. I proceeded to stuff and suffocate the majority of that godforsaken laundry into 4 bulging white plastic bags that I hauled straight to my car. That night, I traveled through the Candy Cane Forest to the Tide Laundromat located in a typical suburban strip mall. This is where I dumped my 42 pounds of Holiday Laundry and where I returned the next day to find it unrecognizable — washed, fluffed, folded, and bundled tightly in plastic. I paid for the Peace of Christmastime when I shelled out $95 for this service, and it was the best money I spent all year.  

Of course, now my challenge is not to let it happen again. I can’t justify “taking the laundry away” on a regular basis. There are three able-bodied people in the house who can do laundry and all the other tasks I’ve mentioned. And with the New Year upon us, we must look at different ways of staying on track. When we “divide and conquer” each of us tackles a different chore during a focused period of time, making lighter work for everyone. We definitely need to do more of this in 2021. The result is sure to be more clean underwear!  

Reflecting on 2020 as a whole, it seems fair to deem it The Year of Dirty Laundry. Stains. Grime. Mismatched socks most days. As the Grinch would say, 2020 “stinks, stank, stunk” in multiple ways. But did it entirely? No, of course not. If you say it did, you’re missing or forgetting something good about it.

If I think of this past year in terms of 7 Levels again, the following chronological themes come to my mind:

Hope – Any year typically begins with it. 2020 was no different and for the first two months, life was the former normal. Funny how it’s hard to even remember January and February, right?  

Panic – With the month of March came a rush of uncertainty and strangeness. Many of us were sent home to work and never went back. I’m still working 100% remotely and have done so since Saint Patrick’s Day.

Closeness – April and May found not only me working at home, but my girls attending school virtually. Everyone was homebound. Those were some weird weeks in lockdown mode. I caught a mouse in my toaster. That pretty much sums up how quarantine went in those early days. (Here’s my blog about it – Counting Stuff During Quarantine.)

Uncertainty –  The summer came and things seemed to be letting up some, but no one was sure about where they should go and how they should behave when they got there. Masks or no masks? Outdoors or indoors? Safe or sorry? These were the questions we asked ourselves.

Illness – School began in August. My girls wanted to attend in-person, so they did. Within two weeks of their return, I contracted COVID-19. I had been a careful person, so getting the dreaded virus was confusing and unsettling and disappointing and physically challenging. But we stayed home and beat it, thankfully without medical intervention. (Here’s my blog about it – Not Your Mom’s Guide to Coronavirus.)

Gratefulness – After the virus, in came The Fall. My favorite time of year. It was lovely, as always. I soaked up all its simple joys such as the rare chilly/sunny days and the leaves in all their luster. These aspects were fleeting; gone way too fast. Yet I was grateful for them. I was grateful for my antibodies. They were still present in my system on December 11 when I tested Positive for them. But who knows? They might be gone today. There are no guarantees, no “Good Until” dates.

Hope – Pairing well with the Gratefulness, here comes Hope again. Right where we started, before anyone had any clue what was ahead of us. We still don’t know what is ahead of us. We hear stories and theories and studies and highlights and lowlights. Beyond it all, we must cling to Hope.

I’m guessing these 7 Levels of 2020 feel familiar to many of you, too. Yes, we have collectively navigated through the piles of dirty laundry and the pits of despair that have surrounded us. Maybe you have even lived yourself in one or more of those pits at different points of this year. Many people in my circle have suffered from COVID, either directly or via loved ones. Those of us who have had it tend to kid around and refer to ourselves as “The COVID Club.” But shame on us, because it’s no joke. One dear friend lost her father to it, and they were close. (Hugs, My Friend.) Hundreds of thousands of American families have lost people they care about. I pray that I won’t.

Much like Buddy the Elf who emerged into NYC through a grimy tunnel, we are walking through a time tunnel these next couple of days – one that connects 2020 to our All-New Year. Let’s not be naïve about this milestone. All the bad from this year won’t be gone, yet a good portion of it will be in our rear view. All the good things we’re seeking from 2021 won’t be directly on the other side, yet more good could be ahead. We will say farewell to this year, yet none of us will soon forget it.

I will remember 2020 as the one where COVID didn’t beat me, but The Laundry nearly did.    

Hopefully yours,

The Greatness of Grayness

I recently had a conversation with a shy teen girl I know – a family friend. She and her dad were in the process of re-painting her bedroom. It had been a light teal blue color, but now that she’s 14, she wants something more mature. I asked her about the colors she chose, including the names of the paints.

I’ve always enjoyed looking at paint chips and admiring the names of them at Lowe’s. The paint section is a patch of colorful creativity where I feel at home among an overwhelming vastness of stainless steel, wooden 2x4s, and white PVC pipe. I never pick a paint unless the name speaks to me as well as the hue. 

The teenager told me her walls would be Fog/a medium shade of gray; her ceiling, Pegasus/a bright white; and her trim, best of all, Zombie/almost black. The names of paint do not get any cooler than this combination! This brief chat set my mind in so many crazy directions as I imagined a fairytale woven from this pallet. A Zombie riding his winged Pegasus through a soup-like Fog toward the Apocalypse. (I’m fascinated by Zombies, as shown previously here.)

This interaction also got me thinking a lot about how much I’ve grown to prefer neutrals myself. Especially in my middle age. Gray is becoming my favorite color in addition to pink, aqua blue, sometimes yellow. But nowadays, I’m definitely tending toward gray. Or is it grey? I’m never sure.

It might sound drab and maybe even a little sad that I have fallen in love with gray. Research shows that people who suffer from anxiety (Guilty!) or depression are drawn to gray. But don’t shed a tear for me. I’m actually doing quite well in this great gray stage of my life — a chapter I call my “Mid-Life Chaos” (not a Crisis), a continuously busy time. Yet, amid the blur, I make rest a priority so I can keep up the steady pace of single parenthood. 

Every wall in my renovated circa 1900 home is painted Worldly Gray by Sherwin-Williams. When we moved into this house back in June 2019, The Precious Pair asked me about painting their rooms. And as much as I enjoy browsing the paint department, I am simply horrible at painting walls. The idea of it made me cringe, so I struck a deal with them. Let’s live in the house for a while and just see how we feel about these walls. Now, a year later, I can say all of us are quite content with them. They provide the perfect clean slate for adding pops of pizzazz throughout the home. My own room? The color scheme is gray and white with blushes of pink. My perfect girly girl sanctuary.

I especially love being tucked away upstairs in my room when the weather is damp and dreary and a fog has rolled in. Nature’s version of gray. As long as you’re not driving in it, there’s little to fear about the fog. It’s a rare, quiet, peaceful weather state where you should just stay put, stay home, stay off the road, and take a nap – one of my favorite things to do. A fog is cool and comfortable – the perfect condition for burrowing in my favorite fuzzy blanket I keep at the foot of my bed, the one I drag along with me to hotels. My adulthood version of a “blankie.” It is, you guessed it, gray.

Yep, give me a foggy day and I’ll give you a couch potato, lazing around with Netflix humming on the TV, probably some ridiculous teen drama series that has its clutches in me. Something like Riverdale or Glee or Cobra Kai. I’ll order Panera. Most likely soup. Probably with one of those sprouted grain rolls. (Try that instead of the default baguette!)  Hopefully, my two dogs will catch on. It’s not a day for their shenanigans. Hopefully, they got the memo about Lazy Fog Day. Lazy requires canine cooperation.

As I explore my newfound appreciation for drabness, it all lines up. In my 40s especially, I’ve come to realize there’s far less black and white in this world than I ever realized before. Rather, there’s an abundance of gray. So much uncertainty in our days. So few clear-cut answers. Especially in 2020, more so than any year in my life thus far. I know it’s the same for many of you.

Remember for a minute when you would go to the doctor as a child. For me, I believed that simply going to his office made me better, as if the visit itself would heal me. In adulthood, one learns that’s certainly not the case. Doctors are doing their best, just like the rest of us. Asking questions, guessing, wondering, problem-solving. There’s a lot of uncertainty to what they do. It’s science, yet foggy. As in the case of “Yes, you likely have a concussion, probably,”  OR “You’ve lost your taste again? That could continue to happen off and on for the rest of your life, after having COVID. Maybe.”

Don’t get me wrong. I’m grateful for our health care heroes! I’ve enjoyed the privilege of their care quite a bit lately. They often work in grayness, and that takes incredible persistence and patience. Toss in a pandemic and their version of daily gray deepens like never before. 

Another example of what gray life looks like is a teenager contemplating college and career. My oldest is a high school sophomore. She’s often thinking aloud about where she wants to go and what she wants to do with her life. Like most of us, regardless of age, she’s torn over her choices. She knows she likes kids, she’s strong in her faith, and she loves thrifting and Mother Earth. That leads her to consider teaching, the ministry, and sustainable fashion design. Quite a range with benefits and challenges to each of these paths, including economic considerations.

But who am I to question her? When I was a teen, I told a family member I wanted to be a high school English teacher. The reaction was not supportive – “Well, you won’t make any money doing that!” That advice stuck with me, and I chose to pursue public relations instead. I spent my first 10 years working in charities and the last 18, with a nonprofit financial institution.

Luckily, my shift in career plans worked out, and I love what I do for a living, but I’m certainly not rolling in the dough. I live in a financial state of gray. Having enough to pay for most of what I want to buy and do, while also struggling with the debt load I carry, for various reasons. But I will not encourage my daughters to allow the earning side of their career choices to sway them considerably. As I tell them, no one really has all the money they want. All the middle-income families I know live in a similar zone where, God willing, we have what we need, yet we’d happily take more. It’s a never-ending cycle.

Living gray, one learns to accept a feeling of contentment and stops seeking more and better everything. Inevitably, there are struggles. There are illnesses and injuries. There are unexpected expenses. There are conflicts. There are hard decisions to make. There are choices that will alter the course of our lives. There are no weather maps showing us a personalized forecast that warns us of the foggy patches ahead.   

With Halloween coming this weekend, many people will set up machines to manufacture fog on their porches and in their driveways. The idea is to create a mysterious and haunting vibe that makes the trick-or-treaters wonder what’s lurking. It could be a zombie, a werewolf, a ghoul, or countless other creepers. Most likely it’s just the creator of the fog himself – the suburban dad with the candy bowl. He’s probably eaten all the Reese’s by the time you find him.   

Then there’s another holiday, where a thick fog produces a different type of ghost:  The Grim Reaper representing Ebeneezer Scrooge’s “Christmas Future.” That part of the famous tale is always good and spooky in any film or live production I’ve seen of it – eek! 

But why is the fog always portrayed as a source of negativity? After all, it’s a patch of beautiful grayness. True, you can’t see through it and you don’t know what’s coming. But isn’t it precisely the unknown that becomes so much of the greatness in our lives? Things, events, people. The lovely gift you didn’t expect. The awesome day that fell together effortlessly. The amazing man or woman you didn’t plan to meet. 

My fog isn’t frightful or ominous. There are rainbows, bunnies, and patches of candy flowers hidden in there! A Skittles Moment. You just have to wait for the fog to clear away to enjoy all the colors inside. Until the gray rolls back in again… 

When we learn to appreciate the in-between and unexciting shades of life, we can discover a truth and a strength that’s pure, calming, and quite comfy. We renew ourselves in these neutral moments. If you’re like me, you might even get to know yourself best while you’re resting in them. Not thinking about what’s ahead and what’s behind you, but truly enjoying the subtlety of your current state and surroundings.

Try it. You might decide you have a new favorite color, too.   


“To be a great fighter, you got to learn to adapt…life’s not black and white. More often than not, it’s gray.” – Johnny Keene, Sensei at Cobra Kai Dojo, Season 2 of “Cobra Kai”

Photo Credit:
Katie Moum via Unsplash; http://www.finaldraftstudios.com; Instagram.com/katherinemoum

Not Your Mom’s Guide to Coronavirus

I’ve gone viral. Not in the sense a small-time blogger wants. I’m not yet appearing in The HuffPost, nor on The Today Show anytime soon. No, I’m talking about “viral load” in a medical sense. Coronavirus.

Disclaimer: I’m commenting here on my own individual health. Protecting the privacy of others in my household, I won’t discuss their health status. If you want to know how they came out of this, you’ll have to know them so you can ask them. 

How It All Went Down
“Who are all these people getting coronavirus?“ I said in a conversation earlier this summer. “Because I sure don’t know any of them.“

And it’s quite amazing how your life can turn on a dime and suddenly you are one of “all these people.“ The phone call with my positive diagnosis came on a Wednesday evening in Mid-August; I’ll call that Day 4. I’m typically not known for answering my phone, but I had been watching for this call for a solid 48 hours. Anxious. Full of dread.

I started feeling a little bad on the prior Sunday afternoon, Infamous Day 1. Tired with a headache I couldn’t shake. I took a nice long nap, one of my favorite pastimes. I woke up to The Precious Pair shouting from downstairs, “Somebody’s here!“ And a few minutes later, “It’s Miss Deanna.“

“Send her up here!” I shouted back. Within a few minutes, there was Deanna sitting on my bed in my smallish room. I covered my face with my sheet and said “I shouldn’t breathe on you. I’m not sure I’m feeling all that great.” And we decided to move out to my front porch where we chatted for a bit longer.

She had kindly stopped by to drop off my work mail since she had recently visited our office downtown. My workplace is awesome, officially one of the “Best Places to Work in Indiana.” Deanna is one of my work BFFs. Yes, I’m fortunate to have a few of those. But she was the unlucky one who got tangled up in the web of this story.

Twenty-four hours after her visit on Day 2, I checked in at an urgent care center to be tested for COVID-19. I woke up that Monday morning just not feeling right. Headache, bodyaches, low-grade fever. I rarely get a fever. And by that afternoon, I could not taste or smell a damn thing. Yes, that part is true. (Maybe the news isn’t so fake after all, Mr. President.) 

“But this can’t be happening…“ I told myself. I had been one of the more careful people I knew, in a community that was taking the risk half-seriously. Frequent handwashing/sanitizing, deliberate mask-wearing, and social distancing were important habits to us and had been throughout this pandemic.

The life-altering phone call I took from the clinic was surreal as I listened to what I already strongly suspected. I had tested positive for Coronavirus. I could only listen half-heartedly to the voice on the line. My mind was too busy racing with the people I needed to tell right away. All the people I had seen in the past week — maybe even the past two weeks? But the few I had just been with on that Sunday/Day 1 became my priority. Deanna, as mentioned earlier. A dear friend of Ellie‘s. Another dear friend of mine. 

And this is a moment I hope you don’t have to experience in this pandemic or ever. A moment of guilt and shame that persists as you wonder and wait to know if you have caused others you care about to become ill. I can only describe it as a migraine of worry.

What Happened to My Body and in My Mind
The actual physical migraine headache was the single worst symptom of my bout with COVID. Yes, even worse than the loss of taste and smell, the side effect that led me to lose 8 pounds. Who knew there could be a silver lining? 

But the headache was what floored me and truly interrupted my life and work. Screens did not help, so it was tough to do video meetings and TV was not enjoyable either. Reading? Not pleasant. That didn’t leave me much in the way of entertainment or passing the time. So I laid around thinking about writing this blog a whole lot.

My headache surely was not helped by my cold turkey approach to coffee. Anyone who knows me slightly knows about my Starbucks fandom. It’s fairly intense and usually daily. But anytime I fall ill, coffee is strangely the last thing I want. The same was true now as it was during my two pregnancies and anytime I’ve caught a bad cold. Why couldn’t I have just caught a bad summer cold?

That’s when all of this is happening, you know. In the dead heat of Late Hoosier Summer when we should have been at a pool or on a boat or at a baseball game. One of the things that carried me forward were my visions of summer giving way to fall, my absolute favorite time of year. One of my best texts during lockdown came from my good friend Rachelle who encouraged me with this: “You are in the house when it’s hot as f@ck anyway. You will be done with it when it’s your favorite season! We have lots of s’more’s and fires and cider and pumpkin lattes to have!!!” 

This lady was speaking my language. And future-forward thoughts like this were crucial to me during my recovery. I daydreamed about so many things… pho soup dates on chilly days; family visits; getting this house scrubbed from head-to-toe to prep for the holidays. 

And there were also my visualizations of my body healing itself. I refer to this part as “The Pounders and The Coders“ – an army of tiny badass bitches working inside me. The Pounders marched to work in sync, wearing bright pink hardhats with sledgehammers flung over their shoulders. Their job was to pound away at the virus. Their hard work was important, but it also created that pounding I felt constantly in my head. Associating the pain with the positivity of healing helped me to cope with it.

The Coders were a second workforce pulling overtime inside my body – developing, troubleshooting, and patching my immunity. Little spectacled super geeks drinking tons of Mountain Dew. I hate that stuff, but it kept them going 24/7 as they repaired my wellness.

My Lungs? I pictured them made of gleaming white metal inside my chest. Like brand-new lung-shaped school lockers, and COVID did not have the combination. I was determined all along not to let it into my lungs.

It Was Sorta’ Kinda’ (Not Really) Like a Porch Party
We celebrated a milestone during lockdown — a Sweet 16 for the oldest of The Precious Pair. Quarantine birthdays are the ones our kids won’t soon forget, either because they were unique and special or because they totally sucked. Either way, we celebrated in our little house filled with germs, but ever more powerful, filled with love. She got gifts left on the front porch, cards, phone calls, texts, Snapchat fame, and dinner delivery from the fanciest restaurant in town, Matteo‘s Italian Ristorante. She ordered salad, asparagus, and bruschetta. Vegetarian delicacies. 

She did not go to school that day, of course. Neither of them did for 14 days due to their exposure to the virus.

Nor did we go anywhere. Porch drops became our lifeblood. Our beloved wraparound took in a bounty of generosity and goodwill, from matzah ball soup to homemade fried rice to Panera; from flowers to balloons to multiple birthday cakes and other sweets; from epically-assembled Corona Gift Baskets full of candy, crafts, coloring books, snacks, wine, and, yes, Corona Beer; from a collection of hot/cold compresses for my head to a specialty bag of dog food. Yes, my two high-maintenance pups, The Pug & The Thug, continued to need care and attention all this time, as always. In fact, I am convinced The Pug caught her very own case of Canine COVID. She had trouble breathing on many nights lying in bed or on the couch with me. Maybe it was just the bad ragweed. 

Toggling between the discomfort of symptoms and the joy brought by the outpouring of support, I was up and down mentally and emotionally throughout the 2+ weeks. Nagging at me constantly, the stigma of it all. 

Curiosity Killed the Coronavirus 
The questions came frequently and rapidly from my circle of people. But I was usually fine with answering them. I’m a curious person myself, known to drill people with questions, so who was I to deny others of the same? I’ve identified my Top 3 Most Frequently Asked Questions to answer here and now… 

“What are your symptoms?“ 
This was THE most popular question. The answer is a laundry list.

  • Fever: mine was low-grade, fortunately. Never past 100F.
  • Cough: minimal, took cough syrup only twice. 
  • Digestion: a problem for a couple of days. 
  • No Appetite: nothing sounded good.
  • No Taste and No Smell: hit me simultaneously, even before I was tested. That’s how I knew. (I still don’t have them back.)
  • Headache: a constant for nearly the full two weeks of symptoms. The worst part.
  • Bodyaches: the second worst part for me. I described it to my girls as “falling off a cliff in the Grand Canyon and landing at the bottom onto hard, hot, red sandstone where I got run over by an ice cream truck driven by a creepy man who also backed up over me, then proceeded to park on top of me.” 
  • Fatigue: definitely, the longest-lasting symptom besides no smell and taste. Even yesterday on Day 19, I had to take a 3-hour nap.
  • Metal Mouth: an odd sensation that overcame me on Day 11 when my nose, throat, and mouth were filled with a burnt metallic pineapple sensation. I don’t know if I will ever enjoy pineapple the same way. Someone else I know described it as “Burnt Fruit Loops.” I had not heard about this symptom before, but I looked it up and it’s a thing for people.  
  • Shortness of Breath?: it never came for me. Luckily. Remember: COVID did not have the locker combination to my lungs!

“Oh, but aren’t you glad you’ll have immunity now? You won’t have to worry about it anymore.” 
Big Fat False. Immunity is loosely reported to last 2 or 3 months. That means I MIGHT enjoy antibodies until about Thanksgiving. Maybe. I won’t take that for granted nor will I assume it’s true. In fact, we will be more careful and aware now. If you know me, expect me to be your biggest nag about exercising caution, and I’ll worry even more about my parents, siblings, and friends.

“How did you get it?”
Best question. I’m asking myself the same one. No definitive answer. I’ve traced to the most possible source, from what’s typically a perfectly harmless setting, but there’s no way to know for sure. What’s the point in knowing that anyway, aside from satisfying everyone’s curiosity?

And that’s one message I have to share from this trying experience: all of us are living among an unknown menace. You can think you’re doing everything you can and everything right, and unknowingly, you can still be a target for this virus. 

I pray you won’t be. 

The Things That Helped
If you do fall temporarily to this beast, stock up or I will help stock you up on the following essentials:

Tylenol, Aleve, Advil, any painkiller you can get your hands on.

Gatorade or Powerade or Pedialyte and juice and seltzer water and Capri Sun and your favorite soda and hot tea and basically any ingestible liquid you can get your hands on.

A really great water bottle with lid so you can chug constantly and carry it around the house with you. Did I mention intense thirst as a symptom?

Protein shakes because you’re not going to have an appetite and likely not be able to taste anything, but your stomach will still growl.

A really good lip balm, because life requires it, sick or not.

A chillable eyemask compress (or two or three) to rotate in and out of the freezer and those disposable cold packs, all to use on your forehead when The Pounders are at work. 

Soup. Endless soup. 

Gummy vitamins because they kind of taste like gummy bears, until you can’t taste them anymore.

A little notebook for scribbling down all the things you need to do that you will not be able to do for quite some time. Accept it. You’re a lame duck, but not a dead one, and you feel eternally grateful for that since you did not fare as poorly as hundreds of thousands of Americans before you. 

…This is the porch drop I would make to you if you got the Coronavirus. It’s my mission to pay forward the care I received. Because it’s certainly not something I can ever pay back to my friends, family, and coworkers.

On Day 11 when my mouth tasted like metal, someone in the household borrowed my desk and during virtual show choir class spilled raspberry iced tea on my internet setup and tech cords and fried our connection. This led me to the dreaded step of phoning AT&T tech support, an action that triggers PTSD in me every time. In the Summer of 2019, I burned years off my life on the phone with those people pleading to believe that I had moved. This time and by the grace of only God himself, I got to the friendliest and most compotent call center rep within the monopoly who expedited a new modem to arrive on my porch less than 48 hours later. Add that lady to my list of COVID heroes. In lockdown, you need reliable tech to conduct work, go to school, shop for things, entertain yourself, look up your weird symptoms, and maintain a general sense of sanity. 

Why I Want You to Know
I shared with my girls recently a fun fact I once heard. Wish I could source it here. I think it came from a conference I attended. When you share anything privately with someone else, that person will tell an average of 5-6 other people your secret. So at this point, there’s a mighty number of folks out there who already know I had Coronavirus. So this article is just making it blog-official. 

This illness impacted my life in countless ways. Physically, mentally/emotionally, socially, spiritually, nutritionally, professionally, educationally, technologically, relationally, perhaps even legally. Not financially, but for many others, sadly it does. For these reasons, it’s a heavy load to bare. You have to share the weight of it with others. That’s why I had to whine and cry about it to a lot of people. That’s why I had to write about it, even after struggling with “But I don’t want a lot of people to know.” Screw that. I want everybody to know. 

Maybe God picked me to have this so I could become a spokesperson of sorts. He wants me to tell new and different stories about it. He wanted me to create this guide. I will do what I can to keep leveraging this strange opportunity as I slowly resume my role in our socially-distanced society. I’m well-aware that no one is clamoring to rush into my arms or my home after I’ve suffered from this, so I’ll do everyone a favor and lay low for a little while. 😉

Meanwhile, the guilt is going away. 
The stigma is subsiding.  
The love shown to us is lingering. 

What about those friends I worried about exposing? One tested negative with no symptoms, one never had symptoms at all, and one tested negative yet still showed symptoms. I can only hope the spread stopped with me, but I will never know that.

I want to carry on into this pandemic with a message, a theme, a motto, a battle cry. And that’s likely to be …Think Twice.

Think Twice about hosting social gatherings of multiple people – unless it’s outside; and, if it’s inside, wear masks. Even if it’s awkward.

Think Twice about hosting a sleepover for kids. I will be the parent who has to tell my daughter she can’t go. 

Think Twice every time you leave your house. Do you have a mask? Hand sani? Gloves for the gas pump?

Think Twice about assuming your children are 100% safe at school, even with the schools doing everything they can to handle this. 

Think Twice about making blanket statements on social media. You don’t know what someone else knows. 

Think Twice about spreading stories that this pandemic is overexaggerated and manufactured by politics. When you do that, you’re basically telling sick people to “quit faking it.”

Think Twice about who you’re going to vote for in November. 

Maybe most important…Think Twice about putting your negative vibes out into this world. Pop a pill of positivity and enjoy its healing powers. We can’t buy it over-the-counter, but it’s the daily dose we all need to get through this.

Stay well, 

Photo compliments of Unsplash.com @twinsfisch #fischerstwinsphotography
Author’s Note: The photo is not me. But it could have been COVID Me. This is what I looked like for 2 weeks!

How Cracker Barrel Made Me Skinny and Other Lessons from a Healthy Professional by Jake Engel

Note: This is my third installment ever featuring a guest blogger – a dedicated teammate of mine from work! Many thanks for his willingness to share a story here on my site, especially one that features such good advice from me. Ha, ha! Sadly I do not always follow my own wise guidance. But I’m happy and proud that Jake did! Hope you’re inspired by him…

It’s not every day that you receive life-changing advice in a Cracker Barrel Old Country Store. But that store is exactly where my story started.

I’m Jake and I am proud to the next guest blogger here on iamnotyourmom.com. While Michelle is most definitely not my mom, she is, in fact, my boss. I’m proud to see her dream of starting a blog has finally become a reality and getting to be a small part of the page is an honor. 

Now that you know me, let’s head back to Michelle’s and my favorite lunch spot. Our offices are located in downtown Indy and are surrounded by many great dining options. However, our favorite continues to be the Southport Cracker Barrel. In the four years that we’ve worked together, we’ve made countless trips there, and it is ALWAYS the site of my semi-annual performance reviews.

I’m here with the story of how Michelle’s performance goal for me has led to awareness and action that completely turned my life around in the last year and a half. 

Back Isn’t Always Better

A couple of years ago, I began taking medication that led to a major gain in weight. Think more than 50 pounds in five months. It sucked because the medication was helping, but the side effects were hurting. 

After reluctantly ending the medication, I played the victim card. I believed the weight gain was the doctor’s fault for giving me that medication. I wanted there to be an easy way to get back to where I was before. But I realized that going back to where I was before wasn’t what I needed. Back isn’t always better. 

Completely unrelated to my recent weight gain, but around the same time, I asked Michelle to give me an overarching goal that I could focus on for the rest of the year. We would discuss it during one of our Cracker Barrel performance reviews. I expected it to be something related to communications, design or branding. But instead Michelle gave me a task that has led me to a new life. 

She challenged me to become a “healthy professional.” And those are two words that I’ll cherish for the rest of my life. At that point I realized that I didn’t want to go back. I didn’t want to feel how I felt before the weight gain happened. I had the opportunity to go forward and build a life that was centered around health and happiness. So, I did.

Avoiding the “About”

I’m a naturally curious person. I ask a lot of questions, want all of the details and always have expectations in my mind before doing anything.

When I began my journey to becoming a Healthy Professional, or “Healthy Profesh” as Meesh has dubbed it, I knew that I was going to have to do things that were uncomfortable, annoying, and just flat out hard to reach my new goals. 

Back on April 15, 2019, I took the first step in my Healthy Professional journey by attending a 60-minute high-intensity interval training class at Orangetheory Fitness Downtown Indy. I remember signing up for the class on their website and wanting more than anything to click the “About” tab and read what would happen during the class. I wanted to ask my coworkers who had attended before how the class was structured. The uncertainty was killing me.

But walking into the studio with no expectations is one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself. And since then, I’ve claimed a personal motto in uncertain situations: “Don’t think, just do.” 

That method goes very much against everything that my mind naturally says to do. I’m a thinker, sometimes an overthinker. I make informed decisions, and I’m known to elevate ideas to the next level because of my high expectations. But sometimes, painting a picture in my mind leads to a negative mindset or, worse, makes me avoid doing difficult things.

If I had read the “About” page of the website, I know that I’d never be writing this blog right now. I would’ve been terrified of being surrounded by 45 other people while running, rowing and weightlifting. But I avoided “About.” 

Now, I go to Orangetheory nearly every day and have lost about 75 pounds. With every pound that I’ve lost, I’ve gained confidence, strength and happiness. My advice? Never allow your mind to create expectations that cause you to avoid doing the tough stuff.

The Agent of Awareness

There’s no doubt that the “Healthy Professional” goal led me to Orangetheory, which led me to a major life change. But working out alone doesn’t lead to a balanced life. 

The next task on my “Healthy Professional Checklist”?  To better understand my eating habits. As an avid fan of mashed potatoes and pizza and a very anti-fruit and vegetable guy, my diet was pretty shocking. I was working so hard at Orangetheory that there was no way I could let a horrible diet cancel out the daily hour of breathless cardio, heavy weightlifting and intense mental pressure.

I knew I needed help, so I met with a Registered Dietitian. I went into the meeting as clear minded as possible, using my “don’t think, just do” method. I knew I was going to get advice I didn’t want to hear. But usually the advice that you don’t want to hear is the advice you need the most. 

I expected Dietitian Kate to tell me to count my calories, join Weight Watchers, or completely kick McDonalds to the curb. But that wasn’t the case. She asked me to spend three weeks handwriting a list of my food and drink consumption in a notebook. I never listed the number of calories or ingredients. I just casually wrote everything down.

She gave me suggestions on eating less each meal, choosing healthier options and avoiding foods that really canceled out my goals. But there was never the expectation that I was going to completely limit myself. The only goal was to make me consciously aware of what I was consuming.

And awareness was the agent of my change. After handwriting these lists filled with horrible carb-loaded meals, large desserts and excessive snacks, I’ve retrained my brain to no longer crave these foods. By no means am I a “healthy eater,” but I’m highly aware of the impact of food consumption and often turn down items that go against my goals. Simply writing down my meals for three weeks led me to a new mindset. Try it, I dare you.

Moving Forward

If I’m being honest, I worry every day that something will disrupt this pattern of healthy change in my life. It’s not easy. But it’s worth it. People ask me all the time, “how did you do this?” or “what’s your secret?” when they see my significant life changes. There’s no secret, but if I had to give you my best advice, here’s what it would be: 

  • Back Isn’t Always Better: Don’t approach your goals thinking that you want to return to a place where you previously were. No matter how happy or healthy you believed yourself to be then, there’s always better in the future. Think ahead and craft the version of yourself that’s best for today.
  • Avoiding the About: Stop screwing yourself over by setting expectations that lead to poor outcomes. Take a risk and do things that scare you. Sometimes you don’t need the whole story to get started. 
  • The Agent of Awareness: You can’t do much about things that you fail to admit or understand. Grab a notebook and start writing. Whether you’re looking to change your eating habits, finances, workout plan, or relationships, writing in that journal for three weeks will boost your awareness and retrain your brain to support your new goals. 

And when all of the COVID craziness is over, I can’t wait to get back to that life-changing Cracker Barrel with Michelle. My meal might just look a little different this time.

Desperately Seeking Calm

calmThis is a throwback piece I wrote in January for a different blog, at a time when the year ahead of us was much more promising than it is now. I recently re-visited this entry and with school starting soon, a lot of it resonated with me, so I wanted to share it now. The mornings are going to get chaotic again…good luck to us all! 

In Middle Age, I’ve grown tired. Not so much in a physical sense; although, I don’t really get the best sleep at night. Naps with the Hallmark Channel humming as background noise carry me through this single parent stage of my life. But actual sleep aside, the type of tired I’m talking about here is much different.

I’m tired of chaos.

On a recent morning car ride to high school, my freshman daughter experienced multiple crises. First, it was her zits. Next, it was her makeup covering her zits. Then, it was her outfit: “I don’t want this to sound conceited, but my outfit determines how I feel on any given day. If I don’t like my outfit, I don’t feel as good,” she explained.

(Yes, I do get this. Don’t you?)

Then, it was her water bottle spilling all over the floorboard and onto her shoes and her backpack. This entire time I am offering up solutions, suggestions, and advice about how to handle each source of stress:

“But I can’t even see your zits.”
“Here, try using some of my makeup”
“Oh, it’s just water. It’ll dry.”

And lastly, as we approached the drop off point at high school, I exclaimed, “Just be confident!”

What? Why would I offer that as a solution? Obviously, my wisdom fell completely flat.

“But I’m not. I am NOT confident!” she responded with exasperation

Then I screwed up, even more royally by sharing with her a phrase I share commonly with others, mostly adults, “Then fake it ’till you make it!”

“What?!? No way. I’m not going to be fake.”

But that’s not what I meant by that… and it was too late. The lesson abruptly ended as she exited the car, without any more time for me to make my brilliant point.

And my point was this: “Fake it ’till you make it” is a mantra that has always meant something significant and helpful to me. It does not mean to pretend like you are a different sort of person nor should you manufacture any traits nor show insincerity of any type. What it really means in my own unique context is to fake yourself out; to force yourself to dig deep and find that scrap of confidence buried inside you and to wear it proudly, like a teen wears her favorite pair of ripped jeans.

I guess I will have to wait for another car ride to share this lesson in full.

Yes, mornings like this one in my example are typically chaos in my household. Pure, undiluted, sheer nuttiness. When you take five females (three human + two canine) and combine that with the daily rituals of grooming, fashion, and breakfast, a whole heckuva’ lot is going on.

The getting up part is always the worst of our struggle, especially when each of us is not designed for mornings. We are natural night owls. We become our best selves in the dark of night, like the little raccoons that dumpster-dive into my trash cans in the alley behind my house.

But back to that lesson in the car where I started…what on Earth was I thinking by offering confidence as a concept to a 15-year-old? Because I’m 30 years older and I still haven’t mastered it. I’m still practicing it and getting better at it every day. I am still seeking that sense of calm that true confidence brings. It takes a lifetime. And I will never stop in my quest to feel it, completely and consistently.

What I have only recently uncovered is one of the secrets to getting there. I’ve got to stop trying so hard. When I stop desperately seeking it, calm comes to me in nice doses and sometimes even in waves.

As an example, on a recent typically chaotic morning, I headed straight to a meeting in a neighboring suburb. The location was the office of my executive coach, JoDee Curtis at Purple Ink, someone who is assigned to help me identify workplace challenges and ways to improve my overall professional presence. Since May when I first met her, I have grown fond of her and her sense of style, and her genuine warmth, friendliness, and wisdom.

At this particular meeting, I shared with her some recent stories about how I had handled myself at work, either falling short of what I should have done or, on the flipside, succeeding. I spoke with her honestly about some recent wins and just as many losses I had experienced. And toward the end of the conversation, she stated how much she was noticing a new sense of calm and confidence within me. Wow, I thought to myself, I wasn’t even trying to project that. It just came through me, even after the daily morning chaos I had just endured.

This moment taught me a valuable lesson. Stop trying so hard. Let things happen. Listen. Think. Breathe. And when you blow up, be done with it. Don’t carry chaos buried in your belly. Feel it, acknowledge it, then release it. That will leave room for the calm to settle in and with that will come the confidence you’ve been searching for since you were a young teenager.

Something I’ve been desperately seeking for so many years cannot be faked or won or achieved. Calmness can only be absorbed when you release the things in its way.

So, what am I going to do about these mornings and their multiple challenges? I’m going to stop trying so hard to make them less stressful. I’m going to go with the flow. I’m going to hope for the best. Some days will end up better than others, that’s for certain. But my gut knows I can’t control which of these days will be better or worse. The forces that control that are far beyond me. The forces that control ANYTHING are beyond me and you and ANYONE. Why do we fight against the grain of these forces? It’s a waste of energy; it burns our candle down to the bottom of the 3-wick jar; it knocks us down on our tailbones (ouch).

Save yourself the exhaustion of desperately seeking calm in 2020. Let the lightness of life in on its own. You and I are sure to have a good year if we can learn this.


P.S. – (7/27/20) – Although life is much different now than when I first wrote this, I’m not giving up on my goal for a calm year. For me, I need to start yoga again, take more walks, eat much healthier, enjoy more coffee breaks, and do some good daily reading. (I need to get off my iPhone!) These are a few goals I’m shooting for with what we have left of 2020. Don’t chalk up this year due to those things you cannot control. We don’t get enough time in our lives to justify letting any of it slip away. Make something happen for yourself, sooner rather than later…and Quarantine or Not!