Strong is the New Skinny

Prepare to be inspired.  I sure was.  I sure am.  Well, technically, I am on a cruise ship somewhere in the Mediterranean Sea, likely drinking by the pool and not working out much, so my inspiration has been temporarily deferred, but you get my point.  I have yet to meet a person (not just a woman) who doesn’t feel like they could be doing better or more when it comes to eating clean and working out dirty.  When you finally get into the head space that you were blessed with this human body, complete with flaws of all sorts but ripe with potential if you just follow the simple instruction manual (more out than in), it is amazing what you can accomplish.  It isn’t about being a size 0.  It isn’t about losing ten pounds for your reunion.  It is about deciding to be strong and then making healthy choices for your body and mind and being comfortable in your own skin(ny).
I met Lindsay when I started dating her big brother in the early 1990’s.  She was in middle school.  She was never fat, but neither was she skinny.  She was just regular.  But to a teenage girl, “regular” can easily translate into “fatso,” even for girls with the utmost confidence.  She was rarely comfortable about her body when she was younger, and it just got worse from then on.  As an adult she was anxious, frustrated, scared and apologetic.  Then, she stopped being “regular” and actually got heavy.  We watched it take a toll on her.  We saw her struggling.  She tried to make changes, but they weren’t successful.
Then, at the start of this year, something awesome happened.  Lindsay was at the YMCA and she started working out with a group of girls.  At first they intimidated her, but they included her and inspired her and pushed her to try harder every day.  They showed her how to be strong, not skinny, and that has made all the difference on the world.  She is working so hard every day to meet her goals, and it has been absolutely amazing to watch her transform both physically and mentally.  
Lindsay – you are a rock star.
Top photo: December 2012 Bottom photo: August 2013

Lindsay and Sheepdog                                                                                                                                               Top photo: December 2012                                                                                                                                 Bottom photo: August 2013

Guest Post by Lindsay Dunavant

Hi y’all!   I’m Sheepdog’s little sister, Stacy’s favorite (and only) sister-in-law, and aunt to all of the wonderful children those two wild and crazy kids have made.  When Stacy asked if I would guest post, I was flattered and downright scared.  Apparently, after you receive your master’s degree diploma, you rarely write anything of any importance.  At least that was the case for me.  You see, I was an athletic trainer in my previous life.  That means I worked thousands of hours, seven days a week making pennies on the hour having a blast watching collegiate sporting events.  And if someone got hurt, I was the person who ran onto the field/court/pitch/diamond and figured out if they were safe to return to play or what needed to be done to fix them.  So, the extent of my writing came down to something called a SOAP note (Subjective, Objective, Assessment, and Plan).  That’s what they are called in the medical field.  I call it a cover you’re a$$ note.  But I digress……

Yes, that is unfortunately a ‘fanny pack’

Yes, that is unfortunately a ‘fanny pack’

Then I got married and then came the baby carriage x 2.  So I became a stay-at-home mom.  And my writing became even more refined in the manner of grocery lists and check writing.  All of this back story is leading to something.  I promise.

So, Stacy asked if I’d guest write.  Why you ask?  Well, I sort of ate my way out of postpartum depression and had reached an inexcusable girth.  And this winter I had an epiphany of sorts and have lost 75 pounds since January.  With diet and exercise.  That’s all.  No bee pollen, no surgery (although I have been asked multiple times how I managed to run so close to having surgery), just old-fashioned, sweat in my eyes, hard work.  So what gives?

I don’t really know what happened to put me in the position to eat and become the lazy, wheezing person that I had become.  I know that I have struggled with my weight since childhood.  In fact, at age 9, I was on my first diet.  Crazy right?  I remember being made fun of at school constantly (mostly by a few people) when looking back on it, I was never obese.  I would round out and then grow 3-4 inches in a summer and be back on track, but in my brain, I was and would always be the fat kid.  I have been dieting for what seems like my whole life.  Then of course I got really skinny and unhealthy during college because, really, that’s what you do in college, right?  You drink all of your calories in beer and eat saltines because that’s what you can afford.  My alma mater is (and has been) on the Princeton Review’s Top Party School list for more years than I can recall.  We had a tradition to uphold!!  Let’s Go……………Mountaineers!!!!!  I then got into a relationship with a very smart, albeit, let’s face it, OCD, crazy fellow who was obsessed with his body building.  That resulted in me losing even more weight.  He wasn’t very nice to me.  So when I finally ditched him, I was kind of a mess.  I met an awesome man and fell head over heels in love with him and felt I could finally be myself.  I was comfortable and happy. We ate, drank, and were merry!  I graduated, went to grad school, got engaged and married, all the while the pounds were kind of creeping up.  Not in a bad way, but definitely on the rise.  I started working that crazy job where finding time to eat healthy and exercise were not options.  The job was incredibly stressful and I didn’t handle it well.  We eventually moved for my husband’s job and decided to start a family and that is when I realized my weight was getting out of control.  We had fertility issues, due to my weight and I lost 40 pounds and got pregnant! Yay!  But that instantly went back on and then some.  Lost a few and got pregnant with our daughter.  That is when the real trouble started.  We had a beautiful baby girl, a healthy two year old boy, and I was absolutely miserable.  I couldn’t do anything to make it better.  So I ate.  And cried. And ate. And baked. And cried some more.  SCREW YOU TOM CRUISE!!!  To quote the fine cinematic triumph that was Austin Power’s, “I eat because I’m unhappy, and I’m unhappy because I eat. It’s a vicious cycle” Fat Bastard – Austin Power’s The Spy Who Shagged Me.  It seemed my whole world was perfect, yet I was miserable.

I started going to the local YMCA branch because they had babysitting (YAY!)  and thought , “if I exercise regularly, this weight will come right off.”  One year later, I was only 5 pounds lighter.  Feeling very discouraged, I started using an app called C25K (that’s Couch to 5K if you can’t figure it out).  After the 8 weeks, I could sort of run 30 min straight on a treadmill.  I needed to do more.  I asked for a great pair of running shoes and a heart rate monitor for Christmas (who is this girl??).  After receiving these fabulous gifts from my caring family, I headed off back to the Y the day after Christmas.  Lucky for me, a group of moms that I would always see at the gym and be in awe of their abilities, but was always too intimidated and frankly, too embarrassed to approach, happened to be there also working out the typical stressors of the holiday season.  They asked me to join them for a workout.  I laughed and said, “No way.  I can’t keep up with you.” They encouraged me to try, told me that they could modify the workout if I needed, but that it would be fun.  Burpees. Fun. Sure.  (If you don’t know what a burpee is, look it up on YouTube, try it out, and then you’ll understand) I managed 2 burpees that day.  And was ECSTATIC.

I never looked back.  I started taking a class that incorporated the same kind of high intensity interval training (HIIT) that those fabulous girls convinced me I would be able to do.  I kept running.  I’m a bit of a gadget person, so I started using the myfitnesspal app to keep track of my food intake.  I also was talked into joining a Biggest Loser competition of sorts in a private group on Facebook.  The final weigh-in was March 27.  I had lost 15.92% of my body weight and finished second  (“If you ain’t first, you’re last!”).  I went to the gym/exercised 6 days a week for about 2 hours a day.  No cheat days on my diet.  I ran my first 5k in March and finished with a time of 42:10.  I ran my second 5k in August and finished in 30:43.  To date, I have lost 75 pounds.  My first long-term goal was to lose 100 lbs, but ultimately, I think 117 is my goal.

I truly believe that I could not have gotten where I am today had it not been for that invitation on the day after Christmas.  My ‘gym girls’ have become some of my closest and most special friends on the planet.  Day after day, they listen to me complain, brag, whine, you name it.  They encourage without judging.  They never give up on me.  And they believed in me long before I ever did. Of course my family has been instrumental in encouraging me with support by watching the kids or dealing with my hunger-driven mood swings.  And many, many others who have suffered through listening to my never-ending chatter about running, mileage, splits, and food decisions.  Especially those who have no desire to ever run.  Many have been so kind as to help me rediscover the joy of shopping, especially since my brain still has me seeing a size 24 when I am now a size 12.

Awesome group of ladies.  Nativa is due any day, but ran with me up until 25 weeks to get my mileage up!!

Awesome group of ladies. Nativa is due any day, but ran with me up until 25 weeks to get my mileage up!! (I’m the other girl in blue)

The fact of the matter is, life gets you down.  But you have to be the one to make changes so that life will improve.  It was my responsibility to take care of myself so I could take care of my family.  I had to stop making excuses and move.  Postpartum depression is real and I don’t have the magic cure or timeline, I just know that it took a very, very long time for me to clear the fog.  Did the exercise help? Did the new friendships help? Was it just time? I don’t know, but I did know that it was time for me to be an active participant in my life.  I decided I wanted to lead a healthier lifestyle and be a positive influence on my children so that my kids didn’t go down the same path I had.  I want them to realize that diet and exercise are so very important, but that it’s a life choice, not a ‘diet.’ I want them to see that hard work and dedication pay off.  That, even though “mommy doesn’t win her races, she doesn’t quit.”   These lessons are already making their mark on my children.  Imagine what they will be able to accomplish!!!

This week starts my ‘official’ training schedule for my first 10K in Washington D.C. on October 27.  My awesome husband and kids will be there cheering for me, just as they have every day since January 1, 2013.  Thanks for listening.  Thanks for caring.  Can’t wait to let ya’ll know when I run my 10K in under an hour or when I hit that 117 pound mark!!!

Just Say No to Cash

For those of you who know me very well (and there are only like nine of you on the whole planet… “I’m a loner, Dottie.  A rebel.”), you are well aware that I do not enjoy chatting on the phone.  There are certainly exceptions, but I rarely spend my free time yakking it up.  Yesterday was a unique day for me in that I called or was called by every single person in my family of origin (also known as “907 Chelsea Peeps”).  It wasn’t even anybody’s birthday or a holiday or anything really special.  I can’t tell you the last time that happened.  Not that we need to stop the presses or anything.  I’m just saying.

So in talking to everybody I got a crapload of new information… updates, ideas, stories, gossip.  You know, the good stuff.  Some of it was really good stuff too.  Let me just say that in the game of OMG One-Up, my family will probably win.  We’d come in second place at the very least.  There’s some crazy stuff out there, people.

Anyway, Sister B called me in the middle of the day and mentioned that she was collecting money for some group teacher gifts and she had an idea for a nicer presentation than just handing over cash in an envelope.  I was unaware that cash in an envelope was not nice, but apparently I don’t know anything.  So I told her to write a post and I’d put it on my blog so anybody who reads it can copy her idea.

Or you can just give cash in an envelope.  Seriously, I don’t see how that can be a bad thing.


End of the Year Gift Idea by Guest Writer, Sister B

It is that time of the year again…soccer banquets, religious education end of year parties, graduations, last day of school parties, ballet recitals, cub scouts graduation ceremonies…I don’t know about you but my wallet is empty!  I am so thankful for the adults who help my children throughout the year in so many different ways, whether it be their coaches, teachers, school administrators, instructors or leaders.  They work so hard, demonstrate incredible patience, foster a love of learning in so any ways, and I took on the coordination of the donation of funds towards a group gift.

I know from my teacher friends that gift cards are always the best because if they get another candle or apple-themed “#1 Teacher” mug they are going to literally scream.  But I just didn’t want to put a big gift card in an envelope and call it a day.  I wanted to take a few minutes and a little creativity to show those who have earned a year end gift that we appreciate all that they have done each and every day of this past year.  I did not want to spend a lot of money because the majority of the funds should go towards the gift card for the individual who deserves the kudos!

I searched the internet and found this adorable phrase – “Thanks for helping us ‘grow’ this year!”

I was inspired to create a gift card holder with a flower theme.  I found small baskets 2 for $1 at the local dollar store.  Target had faux felt flowers in the $1 section and they were bright and colorful and cheery.  I found gardening signs also in the $1 section at Target and made a sign on my computer with the clever phrase.  I purchased a styrofoam cube from the dollar store, cut it in half and placed it in the bottom of the basket.   Then, covered the styrofoam with shredded paper, inserted the faux flowers, stuck in the sign and voila!  Instant end of the year gift card holder!  Can’t wait to give these to my kids’ specialists, coaches and teachers and they can enjoy them for many years to come.


There are several other variations of this gift idea.  You could purchase fresh flowers and just make the sign.  You could buy a plant from Home Depot or Lowe’s.  You could have your kids make homemade tissue paper flowers.  The possibilities are endless.  But with a little creativity, you can really show the teachers in your life your thanks for all of their time this past year.  And your gift will stand out from the rest of the pile of gift cards in plain envelopes, guaranteed!

Don’t Be Tardy for My Party

…and the parade of sisters continues as well.  Somehow I have managed to inspire (read: subtly threaten) all three of my sisters to contribute their wisdom nuggets to my blog.  Whatever their motivation, it makes me very happy because each of them has a very different style of parenting and I think they are pretty good at what they do best.

Sister B and I are the closest in age.  She was the one who invaded my pink princess canopy bed when she was less than two years old (I was a much more mature five-and-three-quarters) when Sister C came along.  So sue me that I may or may not have deliberately pushed her out of bed every night so our mom thought she wasn’t ready for a big girl bed and she needed to go back into a crib.  What some call “mean” others may describe as “mad genius.”  It’s all in the point of view, folks.

Sister B was the one who was such a baby when our parents went out of town and left our grandmother, Kettle, in charge (whom I so easily encouraged to go back to her own house for the night…”We’re fine!  Go and sleep in your own bed.  You can come back in the morning after you have your Sanka and a good poop.”), that she cried all night during the massive party I threw because she was scared for all of the teenagers who were getting their drunk on downstairs.  I also made her cry every time I queried, “You’re not wearing that, are you?” as she was about to get on the public school bus and I was walking out the door in plaid polyester to my uniform-required high school.  And I think she cried again when we had a fight with pots and pans that scared Sisters C and D into running away to the playground at the end of our street where a little boy asked them if they had gotten their periods yet.  Wait.  Did we grow up in the ghetto?

Anyway, Sister B and I have history.  Real sister history.  I never had to babysit her.  I was never old enough to change her diaper.  We are four years apart in age so we were never really in school together, but we were together all the time otherwise.  And together we survived the crazy that was pretty standard growing up with our family.

I have since apologized on multiple occasions for being mean (or a mad genius) and making her cry all the time.  And despite having a semi-tortured childhood, Sister B has grown up to become one of the women I most admire in this busted up world.  She completed college in three years, had a big-time career, lived in the city, married an incredibly charming and colorful metrosexual and together they have three great kids (an Aspie followed by two neurotypicals).  After settling in suburbia, Sister B was not content to simply rest on the tailgate-ready 3rd row seat of her minivan.  No!  She dove headfirst into the complicated world of extensive therapies for her son with Asperger’s Syndrome, and by working with the best that Atlanta has to offer they made it possible for him to mainstream by the time he was old enough for kindergarten.  And for the past few years she has been el presidente of her kids’ elementary school foundation, where she has led her team to raise over $90,000 for capital improvements for their school (  Yes, she’s that awesome.  And a little bit nuts.

And now I proudly present her post to you…


Don’t Be Tardy for My Party by honorary guest writer, Sister B

Sister A inherited our Mom’s beauty.  Sister C inherited our mother’s cooking prowess.  Sister D, hands down, got Mom’s empathy.  And I got our mother’s profile (well, really just her nose) and her intense passion for throwing a good party.  My 3 sisters are what you might call xenophobes, or homebodies – happy most often to stay at home versus going out on the town.  But Mom and I are kindred spirits in the social sense.

Mom owned a very successful catering company for 12 years.  I have fond memories of growing up on Chelsea Road surrounded by lots of Mom’s friends/employees who descended upon our kitchen like ants to the anthill each week to cut, chop, dice and slice in preparation for the upcoming weddings, bar mitzvahs and anniversary parties.  I was, and still am, so fascinated by her ability to come up with a party idea and pull it off under budget and exceed her clients’/guests’ expectations.

Our mother always makes a big deal out of birthdays.  Growing up in a big family, I realize it wasn’t easy for our parents to always “do it up,” but Mom always did.  She taught me at a young age that with a great theme and a small budget, you could have a party that no one would ever forget.  And that the secret to a fabulous party was always in the details.

When my husband and I were first engaged, we decided to start a gourmet club where friends rotated homes and hosted a themed dinner party once a month.  Our most memorable was our French-themed soiree, complete with a red, white and blue fabric tablescape and a mean coq au vin (did I mention my hubby is an amazing cook?), ¾ liter of vodka, 8 bottles of wine and lots of beer (for only 6 adults)…the cops showed up because we were being too rowdy with our late-night karaoke.  I was excited because I had earned some validation that we still had “it.”  We also started our tradition of a yearly Christmas Open House and quickly learned that hiring a bartender was a necessity in order to actually enjoy conversations with our guests.

Fast forward several years and three kids later and the daunting task of planning our children’s birthday parties surfaced.  Mom didn’t even have to specify that paying a bouncy house or carting the neighbors’ kids to Chuck E. Cheese were not viable options.  Thus began my quest to plan some excellent parties for my kids with great themes and on the cheap.

The year our oldest son turned 4, he excitedly announced to our family that in honor of his upcoming birthday, he would like an airplane party and I gladly accepted the challenge.  I purchased world puzzles, inflatable globe beach balls and packets of cloud-themed tissues for the goody bags.  We decided we needed some entertainment and hired a girl who did face painting and balloon animals.  We made her dress in a navy suit and airline hat and made her a “Pilot Katie” name badge.  When she showed up at our door in a tight skirt and a low-cut blouse with a boom box, all of the dads in attendance sat up a little straighter hoping to get noticed and our next-door neighbor went home to get a few singles.

Super powers include being able to wear this costume after having kids

Our middle son was obsessed with superheroes (like most 5-year-old boys), so we planned a dress-up party with lots of photo ops, complete with our neighbor in a Spiderman suit, Sister C as Wonder Woman, and sister D as Catwoman.  And once again the neighborhood dads were happy with a cooler of beer and some eye candy.  I see a recurring theme here…We started a great and inexpensive tradition of creating a CD as a party favor with songs related to the theme of the party.  The parents, as well as the kids, were excited to hear “Wonder Woman,” the “Theme from Superman,” and “Spiderman,” classics every kid should know and love.

One of our favorite kid parties was our oldest son’s racecar birthday.  Thank goodness the weather was supposed to be beautiful.  My husband reluctantly agreed to my latest crazy creative idea of spray painting individual cardboard boxes and letting the kids and affix stickers/decals and black paper plate “wheels” on their cards upon arrival.  We drilled holes on the tops of the finished boxes and used rope as suspenders so the kids could wear their cars at the party.  When everyone finished pimping their rides, we handed out racecar driver helmets and the kids ran around the neighborhood, checkered flag at the finish line and all.  On the food tables, I used black plastic tablecloths and masking tape to create a roadway with dotted lines, tossed on a few matchbox cars and…voila!…instant table décor and entertainment for the kids while they waited for their food.

For our daughter’s third birthday, she chose a rainbow theme and I talked my husband into creating a balloon arch rainbow in our living room out of PVC pipe.  The look on her face made it all worthwhile.  She couldn’t believe we actually had a rainbow in our house!  We had a dance party to “Over the Rainbow” and other color-themed songs and made rainbow necklaces.  We just threw a magic party for our 8-year-old and all of the kids learned tricks and put on a show at the end of the party.

Several times a year, we host a movie night on our lawn.  It’s an easy party to host because we are not entertaining inside.  Everyone brings food and drinks to share, lawn chairs, blankets and bug spray and our kids and friends love it!  Together we are making memories for our children which they will look back on fondly.  So I challenge you to use a little imagination and creativity and you’ll be surprised at how little it takes to throw a party your family and friends will talk about for years to come… and you just might have fun doing it!

Don’t Hate Me Because I’m Beautiful

It is Wednesday again and yes, I am still slacking off one day a week.  And yes, I am still on my family trip and the kids and I are still having fun.  I am even unexpectedly extending the trip by a few more days in order to drive all of them home, instead of having the girls fly back with my parents.  Twenty five days of being away from home is a long time.  Kids D and E do not remember where we actually live.  They keep asking what our “old” house looks like.  Sheepdog had to go back because he has a J.O.B.  I do not like when the chickens are scattered about, so I’ll be happiest next week when we are all back together again.

Today, however, the boys and I are going to the beach.  The girls are headed to Hershey Park with my parents for a little side trip down Nostalgia Lane (my parents used to take them there when they were little bitties), which should be interesting because my dad is scheduled for knee surgery next Monday morning (which facilitated the change in plans that extended our trip) and is having a hard time walking around.

So my honorary guest post writer today is another sister (I have lots of them), Sister C.  She is beautiful, in her mid-thirties, married to Handsome Rob (formerly Cute Robbie), has three gorgeous kids and is currently pregnant with Number Four.  She is pretty and skinny (despite her diet of candy, gum and Cool Ranch Doritos) and a former Miss New Jersey Teen USA and Miss New Jersey USA contestant (yes, there is a difference and yes, I can explain it so yes, that makes me a pageant dork).  She still does some modeling and acting work.  It is really cool to see her in a television commercial every once in a while (“You’re gonna LOVE it!”).

People often think that girls like Sister C are stuck-up or bitchy or full of themselves.  In fact, Sister C is a great example of things being the complete opposite of what you think they are.  She is quiet and shy, especially in new situations.  She is not very good at small talk or cocktail parties because they make her anxious.  She tends to focus on her own physical flaws that no one else even notices.  Yet she is hysterically funny and uniquely weird (she and a college roommate created their own language – totally bizarre but really funny to hear them use it) around people she feels comfortable with.

She works to make herself a better person – a better wife, mother, sister, friend.  She struggles with the big and little stuff that comes along with marriage and kids and work (she works part-time from home).  She is very much like you and me, except that she is beautiful and wears a size zero.  Now we could all hate her for that, or we could stop being jealous and remember that everybody has their issues and everybody struggles with something.  This bitch just gets to do it in skinny jeans.

So now I proudly present to you Sister C’s post…


Wrangling the Entropy, Tip #5 by honorary guest writer, Sister C

I have three kids (7, 5 and 2) and one more bun in the oven (no, I’m not as crazy as Stacy with five…but, just one behind).  Someone is getting the old snipperoo after this one pops out, but I’m not naming names.  Life with kids (especially little ones) is crazy and you can get bogged down with the day-to-day and lose the big picture of things very easily, even more so if you are a stay-at-home mom.  I certainly don’t have all the answers, but have found that focusing on three main things helps me to keep looking at the big picture of life.  In no particular order, here they are (and don’t go judging me for not putting God as number one…He kind of ties everything together and will go last):

1. Make time for yourself.  Find an activity that you really enjoy.  For me, it’s tennis.  I took a few lessons as a kid, but never really played until a few years ago.  I joined an ALTA team in Sister B’s neighborhood and immediately loved it.  I don’t think I have missed a season yet (except maybe to have Kid Crazy, #3) and I think I will be playing until I can’t move anymore.  While the season is going on we practice one night a week and have a match every Sunday.  It is a great group of fun girls, who have become really great friends too!  It’s a great escape for me to hang out with friends and to burn off some steam.  I loved tennis so much that I finally convinced my husband (let’s just call him House Captain) that he she should start playing too.  He did and loves it just as much as I do.  We even have played a couple of seasons of mixed doubles and played as partners.  We consider it a date and get a sitter…it has been really fun for us to be a “team” on and off the court.  In addition to tennis, I enjoy jogging, yoga and pilates…sweating for me is the best way to burn off some stress and I try to fit some of that stuff in whenever I can.

Rest is another important “me” activity.  I actually think I have a disorder that I need to sleep so much.  I take a nap pretty much everyday.  That helps recharge me and helps me to not fall asleep by 6:00 pm.

2.  Make time for your spouse.  This can be one of the hardest ones.  You work all day (or watch the kids all day), have dinner, clean up, bathe kids, put them to bed…then the day is almost over and you are exhausted.  Last thing I feel like doing is having anyone else touch me or even talk to me for that matter…I need my decompression time.  But, I have heard way too many stories of middle-aged couples getting divorced because they lost each other along the way of raising their kids.  Then, all the kids leave the house and they don’t know each other anymore.  Not for me, pal.  I have zero interest in starting all over again in the dating arena 20 years from now.  And it ain’t like I’m getting any cuter, less wrinkly or less squishy in areas.

Your marriage is the foundation of your whole family…the rock from which everything else stems.  House Captain and I are lucky enough to travel together quite a bit.  We take a number of trips per year (most years) and that always seems to recharge us.  We also try to do date nights every so often.  About a year or so ago, I made House Captain take this quiz in the book The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman.  It basically tells you what makes you feel the most loved…words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service, or physical touch.  Once you know what your spouse’s “love language” is, you can try to cater to that.  You may think that your wife would love it if you brought her home a gift one day, but if her “love language” is physical touch she would probably much rather like a giant hug.  I feel like knowing each other’s language has really caused us to focus more on meeting those needs for each other.

Communication is also huge here…we have to sit down and have heart-to-hearts from time to time to work through something.  House Captain actually remembered a technique that was taught to us in pre-marriage counseling, where you go off separately and write down your feelings about something first, then come together to discuss it.  This prevents things from being said that either one of you might regret (When he brought that up recently, I was like, “lame…I just want to yell at you instead.”  But I was pleasantly surprised at how well it worked.).  Marriage is a lot harder than I ever thought…you have to constantly work at it for it to work right.  You can’t just forget about that part, though, because one day it will just fall apart if you do.

3.  Find a higher power to inspire you.  For me and House Captain, that’s the big guy, God.  I don’t want to come across as a holy roller or anything, but I believe that there has to be a higher power from which you derive faith and strength.  Our marriage, how we raise our children, and how we go about our daily lives revolve around God.  We found our church (shoutout to North Point Community Church) a number of years ago and it took me a really long time to get used to the giant-ness, lack of pews and hymnals, and broadway show-like production of it all.  I generally hate change and this couldn’t have been farther from the church I grew up in.  When I finally opened up a bit I realized that this was just the format to actually make me interested in going to church every week.  I ended up loving the music and the weekly messages are just what I need to keep everything in check…they are constant reminders of how I can be a better person, spouse and parent.  They also have an excellent children’s program and the kids enjoy going.  It can’t hurt for the lessons we are teaching them to be reiterated either…kids need all the positive guidance they can get.

I have learned that it helps for me to hand things over to a higher power.  I can’t carry the burden of everything on my own shoulders.  I have peace in my heart knowing that things happen in life for a reason and I need to trust in that.  Most importantly, I am learning more and more each day that I cannot control or plan everything (hello, baby #4).  Trust me, this is a hard thing for all the Paarz sisters to grasp.

Sister C says, "I love Cool Ranch Doritos almost as much as I love House Captain"

Kid B Uses Her Powers for Evil

Happy Wednesday morning!  I continue to be thrilled that my immediate family keeps sending me posts so I can be a slacker who uses guest writers whilst I am on vacation this summer.  Today’s post comes from my very own twelve-year-old Kid B.  I have always said that she has a special something that draws people to her.  And I remind her that she has to make a conscious choice all the time… either use her powers for good, or use her powers for evil.  Apparently the ornery part of her is pretty strong-willed.  She must get that from her father (wink, wink).

She wrote this during our drive from Georgia to New Jersey, and I proudly present it to you.


Sibling Pranks by honorary guest writer, Kid B

Hi, Kid B here!  How many of you out there have little sisters or brothers?  Well, I do, and trust me when I tell you this – they can be extremely annoying.  What to do when they are all up in your business and bothering you to no end?  That’s simple – make fun of them or pull a joke on them.  Easy stuff (no dangerous tricks) that get the point across that there are consequences for being pesky.  Here are some of my favorites…

I don't care how cute you are. I will do mean things to you for my own amusement.

Example #1:

In the February of 2004 my dad had a work trip to California and my mom went with him.  Our Nanny and Pop Pop came to babysit us.  We lived in our old house in Roswell then, and I was an innocent 5-year-old.  Kid C was about to turn 3.  She was just starting to eat “big girl” food, and was extremely excited because Nanny was cooking a big Thanksgiving-type dinner for us one night.  We all sat down to a feast of turkey, mashed potatoes, and a big bowl of gravy.  That’s where the trick began – with that bowl of gravy.  As I said before Kid C was so excited to try these new foods so she insisted on having piles of chicken and mashed potatoes, but she refused to even try the brownish-grey stuff (the gravy).  I noticed this and of course jumped at the opportunity to put one over on her.  I decided to try to call the gravy something more appealing so she might try it.  “Why aren’t you eating your chocolate?” I asked.  At the mention of chocolate her eyes popped out of her head and she excitedly asked for some.  Being the generous person I am, I gave her a surplus – I mean I poured it all over her plate.  She grabbed her fork and took a big spoonful.  To her surprise (and my delight) it was not even close to what she expected and she made a face that was a mix between a face for a sour lemon and one like she was about to barf.  I laughed until I cried.

Example #2:

Sometimes, when I am babysitting Kids C and D we play a game called “Star Wars.”  In our game there are two teams – the good (them) versus the bad (me).  We use foam swords or wiffle bats as our lightsabers and we hide from the other team.  The object is to find someone from the other team, sneak up on them and hit them (lightly, as my mom is no doubt reading this) with your lightsaber.  They will then turn around and you duel until someone gets poked with the other’s lightsaber.  If you get poked you are out of the game.  The last person/ team standing wins.  Pretty easy, right?  Well, one stormy Saturday afternoon I was babysitting.  Kid D suggested a game of “Star Wars,” so we grabbed our lightsabers and headed our separate ways.  After about five minutes I found a great hiding spot in Kid E’s room.  Kid C came up the stairs just minutes later.  I think she knew where I was, so I went through the bathroom into Kid D’s adjoining room and snuck up behind her.  Then I whispered in her ear, “Looking for someone?”  I swear, she jumped ten feet in the air, peed her pants, and screamed all at the same time.  I was on the ground, howling with laughter for at least twenty minutes.  Apparently, she didn’t find it as funny as I did because she hasn’t agreed to play again since.

Example #3:

Ahh… April Fool’s Day, the perfect excuse to play tricks on your siblings.  It was the Friday before Spring Break and Kid C  had just left for school on the bus.  I had carefully planned this so she wouldn’t know what I had done until she got home after school.  I snuck into her room and made my way carefully over to her dresser.   First, I removed all of her underwear and took them into my room.  Then, I rearranged all of her clothes so they were in different drawers.  Feeling satisfied with my trick I made my way downstairs and headed out for a great day at school.  I had forgotten all about my prank by the time I came home, and still didn’t remember until after dinner.  Later that night I was sitting in the living room with my mom, my  dad, Kid A, and my Nanny and Pop Pop.  All of a sudden, Kid C comes downstairs in nothing but a towel.  “Mom, you moved my underwear, right?” she asked.  My mom looked puzzled and she replied skeptically, “No….”  That’s when it came back to me.  I started laughing and could barely choke out, “Happy… April… Fools… Day!”  My mom and dad yelled at me and ordered me to put everything back after Kid C ran back upstairs crying, but they did it while trying to stifle their own laughter.  I don’t care what everybody else said, that was a good one.

These are just a couple of tricks that stand out in my memory.  I realize that I pulled most of them on Kid C, but that is just because she usually bugs me the most.  My mom keeps on saying that we will probably be great friends later on in life.  But right now, my advice if you are a kid who drives your big sister or big brother bonkers, you’d better watch out because you never know where your underwear might end up!

Wrangling the Entropy Tip #4, I Excel at Excel

Each Wednesday of my vacation I am featuring a post by a noted guest writer (read: anyone in my family who responded to my pleas for them to pick up my slack – I’m on vacation for goodness’ sake!).  Last week you may recall that Sheepdog wrote an inspirational piece on DIY projects.  Today I am proud to introduce another character from my cast of crazies, the incredibly organized Sister D.

Sister D is in her early thirties, a stay-at-home mom to three kids (a 1-year old daughter, a 5-year-old son and an almost 7-year-old son, who is on the autism spectrum with PDD-NOS).  She has been married to B-I-L #3 (the Trash Man) for 8 years.  They keep moving around because Trash Man keeps getting promoted, but they have thankfully stayed put in Kennesaw, GA for the past couple of years now.  I just love that they are nearby.

Sister D is the youngest of the Paarz sisters.  She is creative and smart and a perfectionist.  She is a great mom and a loving wife and a loyal friend.  When she calls to catch up with me I tell my kids to leave me alone because I am on a very important call.  She is super fit because she works out and eats well.  She constantly challenges herself with marathons and other physical activities that make my head hurt.  She likes the finer things in life and she works hard for them too.  She is currently vacationing in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, which is where she intends to spend summers with her children and a Mexican nanny as soon as she can convince our dad to buy a house there.

So, without any further ado, I present Sister D and her nuggets of wisdom…


I EXCEL AT EXCEL by honorary guest writer, Sister D

I thought for my first guest blog I’d write about my crazy oldest sister.  Oh, wait…nevermind.

I have to admit…I don’t remember learning about entropy.  I was an engineering major (for a little while, anyway), though admittedly I did attend most of my sophomore year physics classes still a little saucy from the night before.  (C’mon…Buckhead bars closed at 4 AM.  I scheduled 8 AM classes to allow for my afternoon nap.  Do the math.)  Anyway, I don’t know a whole lot about entropy, but I do know that I can get in and out of a grocery store with 3 young kids in tow in 20 minutes.  This is how I do it.

Go to your local grocery store.  If you’re lucky, you can get an aisle directory from Customer Service.  If you’re not, don’t worry…you either get to look like an idiot as you take notes every time you go into a new aisle, or you can alarm the store manager as he wonders why you’re taking pictures of the signs in each aisle.  No matter how you obtain the information, take your list of what items are in each aisle and put them in a spreadsheet that looks something like this.

Print out several copies, hang one up on your refrigerator and instruct your self/family/babysitter to write items under the appropriate aisle heading as they run out or start to run low.  I also laminated one copy of my list with all of our regular items pre-populated in the fields so I have something to cross-reference as I plan my grocery trip.

So what are you going to put on this fancy list?  If your family is like mine, they probably expect you to feed them.  Planning meals is one of my least favorite tasks, so I only did it once.  I came up with 24 meals and have sets of four meals that cycle every six weeks.  We will always have enchilada chicken the same week we have tilapia piccata, but the last time we had those meals was six weeks ago, so no one seems to notice.  I evenly distribute my chicken/fish/beef/pasta dishes so that each group of four has a good variety and leaving three nights open per week allows for a little bit of spontaneity.  I fill those spots with Daddy’s-out-of-town-so-we’re-eating-cereal, seasonal meals with finds from the farmers’ market, events we attend so they’ll feed us, or dinner out.

Meal Primary heading Secondary heading Week
Broccoli & beef pasta Beef Pasta 1
Fajitas Chicken Mexican 1
Chicken baked with stuffing Chicken 1
Italian grilled pork chops Pork 1
Enchildada chicken Chicken Mexican 2
Chicken gorgonzola Chicken 2
Tilapia piccata Fish 2
Roasted turkey breast Turkey 2
Lasagna Beef Pasta 3
Chicken stir-fry Chicken Asian 3
Chicken sausage & peppers Chicken 3
Chicken casserole Chicken 3
Chicken and veggie pasta Chicken Pasta 4
Tomato mozzarella garlic chicken Chicken 4
Lemon garlic salmon Fish 4
Turkey chili Turkey 4
Spaghetti Beef Pasta 5
Tortilla soup and tamales Chicken Mexican 5
Chicken & dumplings Chicken 5
Pork tenderloin Pork 5
Tacos Beef Mexican 6
Chicken and spinach vodka pasta Chicken Pasta 6
Chicken parmesan Chicken 6
Pepper steak Steak 6

“Sweet Pea” Weighs In on Home Repair

Through the miracle of technology, today’s post is being published in absentia. I am currently on the road (about 5 hours into a 14 hour trip) with Kids A-E, as we are heading to the beach for a few weeks. Sheepdog has graciously agreed to fill in for me, and while he may not be as quick-witted, he certainly is a lot less dimwitted. I am very grateful for his contribution and I certainly second the message that you can do a lot more than you think. Especially when you learn to delegate. Ta-da!

Also, I believe that doing your own work and home repairs will contribute to the de-pussification of Americans, which really needs to happen soon. Nobody does their own stuff anymore. Did you know that they had to add a fight class to basic training in our military because so many new recruits had never been punched in the nose up until that point in their lives? We need to toughen up, people! So start by fixing your own lawn mower. And there’s nothing wrong with a well-deserved punch in the nose.

P.S. Do not think about breaking into my house while I am on vacation. Sheepdog is home with all of the guns and he is always looking for an excuse to shoot someone. Plus, I think that absolutely everything we own is in this car with us right now. Seriously, these kids sure “need” a ton of stuff.


The people who came up with the whole Idiot Series really tapped into a huge market, didn't they?

HOME REPAIR: DON’T BE AFRAID TO FAIL by honorary guest writer, Sheepdog

In one of the recent posts, Stacy mentioned that I replaced our ailing dishwasher. Don’t be impressed – anyone can replace a dishwasher. Installing a dishwasher is a small job. There are only three connections: electricity, water and the drain. Stacy could have easily done it given a bit of notice and more time. I challenge and encourage everyone to try to do that next home – or auto – repair project on your own. You will probably learn lots and enjoy it more than you think.

I replaced the dishwasher because I hate waste and inefficiency and paying someone to do something I can do myself seems wasteful. Also, I wanted to make sure it was done right. I have had to redo several jobs I paid people to do incorrectly and/or inefficiently. Whenever I am looking at a project, the first thing I do is make sure I am not biting off more than I can chew. You can go online and quickly learn whether the job is beyond your ability. I analyze whether the task requires a technician or a craftsman. I can replace a dishwasher but finished carpentry requires a craftsman, an artist, and I don’t currently have the skills to do it correctly, or the time right now to learn them. But don’t underestimate yourself. Kid A recently helped me refinish our wooden front door and it turned out really nice – and I am proud every time I look at it. Err on the side of trying to do it yourself. Don’t be afraid to fail. Worst case scenario, you hire the person you were going to hire anyway.

I am lucky. I learned to fix things at an early age. I grew up in West Virginia. To say rural would be redundant. Things were pretty spread out. I spent lots of time on bikes, mini-bikes and motorcycles. These were fun but also important to get to the ball field or friends’ houses. We didn’t have lots of money and I was hard on equipment, so I had to learn to fix things or be stuck at home. I was also lucky to have a dad that encouraged me (sometimes forced would be more accurate) to help him work on his trucks and around the house. Some of my best childhood memories are of listening to Mountaineer football games on the radio with my dad while we changed the oil, did a grease job or a break job on one of his work trucks. These experiences gave me confidence to do other projects later.

Even if you didn’t grow up wrenching, it’s never too late to learn. When looking at a new project, I usually start on the internet. But it is tough to beat getting help from someone with experience, so ask your mom or dad or a friend for advice or to help. Head down to the local VFW, buy some guys some beers and then turn the discussion to your project. You will be amazed at how many guys would love to help. Just be prepared to be referred to as “Nancy,” “Sally,” or “Sweet Pea” all day. This is part of the fun and a little humble pie is good for all of us. If none of these are available or the options make you uncomfortable, the next time you hire someone, stay while they do the project. Watch and ask questions. Remember, you are paying them.

Once you have decided you are going to do a project and have some information, I suggest applying the following principles to all projects:

  1. Read the directions carefully – This is a habit I developed in engineering school and it applies to home projects too. I usually read directions at least three times: the first time to get acquainted with the subject matter, the second time I highlight and the third I take notes. I almost always supplement the directions with internet research.
  2. Prepare – Think the project through. I assemble all the tools and material I think I will need before I start. This should include things like buckets and towels if you are working on something with water (I always spill some water). Trust me, take the time to learn where all the shut off valves are located before you break the water line.
  3. Plan to fail – Plan enough time to complete the project without having to rush. Anticipate setbacks. Almost every project will have some kind of unanticipated obstacle. A good rule of thumb is that the project may cost double what you expect and take three times as long. This is true whether you are doing it yourself or paying someone.
  4. Relax, take your time and enjoy the process – If you are rushing you increase the likelihood that you will make mistakes and that you will not enjoy yourself. I used to rush through every project. It is a good way to mess up. I remember the time a friend and I replaced the clutch in my mid-80’s S-10 Chevy Blazer. We put the pressure plate in backwards. We figured this out at 10 p.m. and I needed the truck the next day. The four-hour job became a nine-hour job (we stopped to curse… a lot). We were more meticulous the second time. Take your time and the project will go faster – slow down to speed up.
  5. Retreat and call reinforcements if necessary – Ask for help if you get in over you head. No need to trash the equipment or your house. You can still hold your head high. You gave it a shot and you will definitely learn something when help arrives.
  6. Check your work – I test everything before buttoning it up. When I replaced the dishwasher, I left all of the trim off and ran a cycle to make sure nothing leaked before closing it all up. You will usually see problems right away if you made mistakes.

Don’t be afraid to fail. In my experience, too many people (me included) too often let fear keep them from doing things that would be enriching and enjoyable. WIth a little preparation you will be amazed at what you can do. Plus, experience is the best teacher. The more projects you do, the more you will learn and future projects will be easier and less intimidating. What you learn replacing the dishwasher will help you when the garbage disposal dies. You will enjoy the sense of accomplishment in a job well done. I almost always appreciate home improvements more when I do them myself than when I pay someone. The confidence you gain will carry over to other aspects of your life. These projects will help you to continue to learn and grow. So give it a shot and enjoy!