Saturday, December 26, 2009

MGSoft-net, You Had Me At Hello

So I'm not one of those bloggers who reviews products as a norm. It's not the focus of this little cyber coffee house.

I am, however, all about sharing my opinion over a cuppa, and thus I can not wait any longer to give some major props to a business here in good 'ole Mayberry.

I committed a major "no no" when I first aquired this laptop from a friend back in Evanston who had upgraded. The computer did not have a virus protector installed and even though I knew that it was so very important to have one, I procrastinated and procrastinated until the inevitable happened.

18 viruses later, I packed up a bloggers best friend and went over to MGSoft-Net to drop off my sick buddy.

It was touch and go for about 2 weeks while the good docs tried to do everything they could to save my data. I'll spare you the gory details. Some days were promising. Others? Not so much.

After almost 14 days of sheer worry, I am happy to report that, in the end, I lost absolutely NOTHING. NOTHING. NOTHING.

All data present and accounted for.

Virus protector installed.

Applause for yet another Beaver small business.

And although my new friends at MGSoft-Net had my machine for almost two weeks (due to a deluge of virus attacks on the computers of other customers, plus the need to extract everything from my harddrive, as well as uninstall and reinstall the entire system), I was charged for only two hours of labor.


"We can't charge you for having your computer for days. Many times we would start a process on it and walk away to work on another project. Actual labor time was only two hours."

Can you say HONEST?

I know, you are thinking, "If it only took two hours, why did they have it so long?" Apparently, my case caused some head scratchin' in order to save my data (specifically my MK database and customer files) and so they made several attempts to do so without having to wipe the entire memory.

They also called me several times over those two weeks to give me updates, ask about certain programs, discuss my options, etc. Discussions went from, "We have some bad news" to "I think we've saved everything."

It was like having a really good primary care physician.

I highly recommed them.

I could have lost all my data and needed an entirely new PC. Instead, I spent hardly anything and have a "brand new" machine. I will totally be calling these guys to overall our 9 year old desktop.

Thanks MGSoft-Net. This blog is for you.

Monday, December 21, 2009


I am pleased to announce that the winner of a CUPPAJOZY of her choice is:

Riki Dodds! (entry #1 and #2).

I used the Random Sequence Generator at to get the results.

Thank you all for entering. This will most definitely not be the last GIVEAWAY I do - only, rather than having companies find me to ask for a review, I will begin finding products that actually interest me and approaching them with the prospect of reviewing their product and offering a freebie here on my blog.

Thank you for playing!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Life Just Handed Me Lemons (Or, Rather, I'm Having a Craptabulos Day)

Really not a great day. I'm talking Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day on drugs.

We all have stuff.

Recently one of my friends experienced the thrill of having an entire kitchen cabinet fall off the wall, damaging her oven, and shattering glass and every item in the cabinet all over the kitchen floor. Thankfully, neither she, her husband or her children were in the kitchen at the time.

Then there are my friends who are waiting expectantly for their first child to be born in a matter of days. Only a recent ultrasound showed some concerns that had never been detected up until this late stage in the pregnancy. Upon rechecking, and rechecking again, in was found that the ultrasound had been read incorrectly. Everything is fine and all systems are go.

Another pal recently had to fight and fight and fight some more with the state just to receive unemployment monies that were rightfully owed to her. The state wouldn't pay up. After a battle, her former employer stood up, did the right thing, and are cutting her a check.

My 6 month old Maytag front loader washer is kaput. All three tubs have actually fallen apart. The parts won't come in until after Christmas. Maytag is doing the right thing by sending me a check to pay for the use of a laundromat and they are also extending my warranty for another year, in case the problem happens again, (at which time they would replace the whole machine)but that isn't stopping me from going pissed crazy. I'm livid.

I mean, this machine is so amazing you could drive it.

Or eat a meal in it.

6 months? What about all those Maytag repairmen sitting around doing nothing in the commercials? Well, buddy, you better strap on the uniform and hightail it on over to my house. And be ready for words.

And then, there's my precious laptop. A gift from a friend. Only, I was lazy and didn't protect it. 18 viruses later, which included pop-up Viagra ads, among, well, others, and I'm on the verge of losing all my data that I didn't back up. Thankfully, many files were backed up to the external HD, but, not everything. Not consistently.

Nope. My fault. Completely my fault.

But, I have a husband who will lug clothes to the laundromat, and the offer to use the machines of friends. I have a Mary Kay Director who has saved all my weekly sales sheets, so that I can actually do my taxes, and I can access all my Mary Kay inventory orders via corporate. I can piece everything together.

It will be OK.

It's really just today that stinks.

I have amazing children, a husband who is coming home early because I just need him to or else Zane will sit in front of the TV all day all because I can't deal, a sister who totally gets me, friends who I cling to - and they let me, a house with room to entertain (just don't ask to wash clothes), a few clean clothes left, a radio show tonight, a clean attic revealing some stuff I can sell on Ebay to make money to either do laundry or put towards a new laptop, a lot of other stuff that is beautiful and good, plus a God who holds all of it without crumbling under the weight.

All of it.

All of it.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

SUPER QUICK GIVEAWAY! (Now until Sunday!)

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine became a fan of something called "Cuppajozy" on Facebook. I was intrigued, being that my blog has a similar name, and so I skipped on over to see what all the fuss was about.

Upon checking it out, I found a hand-made product that I simply HAD TO HAVE! A quick trip to the developer/artist's Etsy store, followed by a quick email exchange was all I needed to set up Cuppa Jo's very first, official GIVEAWAY.

Above is a picture of my "cuppajozy" - sent to me compliments of Tara, the creator. It is the perfect addition to my purse, as I usually do pop into a coffee shop to get a cuppa a few times a week. And now, rather than either 1)scalding my hand by not using a disposable sleeve, or 2) wasting even more paper products, cause that's what we all do unconsciously every day, I can use my very own cuppajozy. I chose the coffee bean design - duh - readers, I need not explain why. Along with my cuppajozy came a beautiful hand-made envelope, stitched on the side, to fit the product, in the event that I will want to give mine to someone as a gift.

Sorry, I'm keeping it.

Here's Tara to tell you all about them!

Tara, please share with my readers how the cuppajozy is made.
The jozies are made of two layers of premium cotton quilting fabric with a layer of insulbright batting in between. They are reversible and reusable. They fit most medium and large disposable cups.

What do you enjoy most about creating your jozies?
I love making them because I love fabric and it gives me an excuse to buy lots of different prints. I like to buy really nice quilting fabric so that it holds up for many washings and feels soft and cozy at your fingertips. They feel much nicer than those disposable paperboard sleeves.

Um, "jozy". Please enlighten us on the name of this product.
The name "jozy" was created by me - a hip, reusable cozy for your cuppa joe. I just wanted something catchy that was different from calling them a coffee cozy. The name "cuppajozy" was created by my husband when we were brainstorming one night and we both liked it. I originally had a different Etsy store, but the name was long and cumbersome and I wanted something simple and memorable. My husband and son are both named Joe so this is a nod to them as well.

I love my cuppajozy and I know you will too! They are a steal at only $5.00, but HERE'S YOUR CHANCE TO WIN THE CUPPAJOZY OF YOUR CHOICE FOR FREE!

1. Visiting Tara's Etsy site to browse her cuppajozy designs. Then, come back here to Cuppa Jo and leave a comment sharing which cuppajozy you would like for yourself!

2. Receive a second entry by becoming a subscriber to Cuppa Jo. Just click the "Follow" link on my home page.

Do the math. That's two chances to win!!!!!!!!!!!

I will do a random drawing on Sunday, December 21. If you are chosen, I'll connect you with Tara and the cuppajozy of your choice is yours!!!!!!!!!!!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

St. Nicholas, I Presume?

Turn your kids away from the screen if you don't want me to ruin their Christmas.

My kids know the truth.

However, they also know enough not to go around shouting at the top of their lungs that Santa isn't real. So your secret is safe.

We have never been a Santa household. Early on, George and I chose to focus on St. Nicholas with the children, rather than the fictional Santa who "knows if you've been bad or good" and gives out gifts or coal accordingly. The conditional love of Santa just never jived with us. "But", you say, "he's all jolly, and loves children. What's the big deal whether the children believe in Santa or not?"

It may not be a big deal to you, but it is to us.

A wise, wise friend once shared with me that we give our children gifts because we love them. Not because they are good.

The same is true of Jesus.

Did He give us the gift of forgiveness and grace because we are good?


He gave us the gift of His very own life because HE LOVES US.

His love is not based upon WHAT WE DO, but rather WHO HE IS.

I never want my children to think they must earn gifts. Whether it be Playmobile, or, well, Salvation.

Yes, they can earn rewards by working hard, completing their chores, and giving their best effort, but gifts are something completely different.

I give my children gifts because I love them. Just as God gave us the incredible gift of His son because of His great love for us.

I took Zane to a local toy store today to meet St. Nicholas. Not Santa. Ask the owner. You may call him Santa, but she referred to him as St. Nicholas. That's what drew me.

"Zane, would you like to meet St. Nicholas?"


"No, St. Nicholas."

"The real one?"

Trying to keep things simple here.

"Well, not exactly. The real one lived long ago, but this man is like a symbol of the real St. Nicholas who gave to the poor."

Zane approached him cautiously. They shook hands. St. Nicholas never asked what Zane wanted for Christmas, or whether he's been good this year. Just shook his hand, asked his name, and invited him on to his lap to check whether his beard was real or fake.

A gentle tug revealed that it was real.

There was no more discussion after that. Just a balloon, a candy cane, and some hot cocoa.

And, that was that.

Sticking to the Plan

I crave structure.

And routine.

And all those other boring words like discipline, and order, and organization.

I'm not perfect at it.

However, I am pretty darn good at sticking to the plan once a system is in place. Once the system is in place. (That's in bold for a reason.)

Without a plan, I falter. Without a plan, my house is in chaos. Without a plan, everyone would leave the house naked.

Don't mistake my planning as a lack of spontaneity. I have improv training. I have a real knack for rhyming and my kids can attest that I turn EVERYTHING into a song. With choreography. In the kitchen.

But there's a time and a place for wacky kitchen musical theatrics. And in order to experience the spontaneity that can be had with a wooden spoon microphone and a colander top hat, one must first have their ducks in a row, or a squiggle, whatever. I recognize the need for a flourish. Point being, there should be some sort of line for all those ducks, whether straight or curvy.

Our home motto is "first things first".

I get really irritated this time of year. For as much as we yearn for the peace that Christmas is meant to afford us, we blow it. Every year. I constantly overhear the list of "to do's" about getting the shopping done, mailing out Christmas cards, baking hundreds of cookies, wrapping, and decorating. Then there are the zillion parties that "must" be attended, and this and that, and so on and so forth. AND YET I also listen to the chatter and read the stories about the desire that one has to find and embrace the warmth and joy of the Christmas season, and am then saddened by the the disappointment one shares when it once again alludes them. "It will be different next year."

Not unless you do something about it.

Christmas has this wacky way of messing with our minds - making us feel as if we "must, must, must" and "have to, have to, have to". The "most wonderful time of the year" turns into the most hectic and stressful time of the year.

It's the same story. Year after year. And it's getting old. I'm tired of hearing all the complaining.

How does our family combat this?

We stick to the plan.

For instance: Harper gets no TV or Wii during the school week. Zane, gets a bit in the afternoon. But in the evenings? Nada for both. Even now, as the networks are showing the beloved Christmas classics, my kids get none of it. I can Netflix or rent these items from the library to be viewed on the weekend. Am I a killjoy? You may think so. But here is where I begin to brag, just a bit, about evenings in our house - even during these weeks leading up to Christmas. For, our evenings are calm. Really, they are. Don't hate me.

After School
Christmas may be a week away, but there is still homework to be done. After a snack, and perhaps a glimpse of what Zane is finishing watching (I told you, I'm not a killjoy), the TV is turned off, and homework is done. Once worksheets are done, and vocab and spelling words studied, Harper can either play with friends, or if it's getting late, we have reading time on the couch.

Dinner is all together. At the table. Sitting down. We pray. We eat. We chat. George usually makes dinner. I know. That's hot.

After Dinner
We read our family Advent devotion, the kids open their Advent boxes, and if there is an art project to accompany the devotion, we settle in the kitchen to do it. Yes, there is glitter everywhere in my kitchen. There is paint on the floor. There is glue on the chairs. But these battle scars are worth it. For I now have a group art project of what we believe the manger looked like the night Jesus is born, two beautiful Stars of Bethlehem, and just last night, the kids designed pieces depicting what they each think angels look like. This is not without a huge mess.

After Devotions
Pajamas. That's right. It might be 7:00, but it's time for pajamas.

After Pajamas
Odyssey on the radio. Bedtime snacks, warm milk with gingerbread syrup for Zane, and tea for Harper.

After Odyssey
Bed. Zane listens to music or a book on CD. Harper gets in bed and reads.

It's 8:30.

We do this every night. The same routine. They know it by heart.

I haven't altered this at any point this month.

Except for last night.

I caved and allowed Harper to play some Wii. When it was time to turn it off, she chose not to. The lure of the next level was just too strong.

She now has no Wii through the weekend.

From now on, Mom is sticking with the plan. However, regardless of the change in routine, Harper also knows that in our house, we "obey the first time".

Routine works for us. Routines work for children. Really. They do.

So, we'll stick with our routine this Christmas season, and will NOT fall prey to all the other "stuff" that zaps our energy and well being during this time of year. I will NOT be a part of the complaining story about "not getting it all done" and being "so behind" with regards to shoveling piles of "have to's" and "should have's" onto our family's Christmas traditions.

You will not be getting a Christmas card from us. Hopefully, you will understand why instead of spending the money on them and the postage, we are donating the cash to those who need it. And rather than using valuable time time to address more than 100 cards, I am enjoying the evening with my family.

You will not find me baking because I "have" to give you something. You may get a plate of cookies, IF, we decide to make it a fun family activity. You won't get them just because I feel obligated. Instead, I'll have you over, and we'll share a meal together.

You will not find any new decorations in my house. Just our simple snowman setup.

You will not find me standing on a long line when I can be home reading, or sitting with a friend over coffee, or having guests for dinner.

You will not find me caving over stress.

You will not find me "shoulding" on myself.

I'm sticking to our plan. And so far, I've not missed one ounce of the Advent season. Have you?

Believe it or not, you can change your Christmas plans. Yes. You can. If not this year, next.

Take a bold step. If it has become too much, admit that it is you who added to the load. And then, change your story next year. It will make for a much happier ending.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Any Progress?

Thanks for asking.

I've been on the writing journey for a good long time now, perhaps prompting you, the reader, to ask, "Are you writing anywhere else other than this blog?"


I am now a staff writer for The Bridge, a local publication. Website in the works.

I am back on the wagon over at Blissfully Domestic, writing primarily on the topic of Family. Although my editor has given me the thumbs up to expand into other areas of the online site.

I am guest posting this month over at The Mama Zone.

I have been given the thumb's up and am planning on guest posting over at Pittsburgh Mom.

I am submitting regularly to online publications.

I am working on compiling and organizing all my scribbles from that revelatory weekend where I began to work on an actual book. I don't work on it everyday, and desperately need to set up some type of system to help me stay on board with this one.

Sadly, I have not been well organized in checking in with publications (print, rather than online), querying them, and being persistent in offering my work to them. The homework of doing so overwhelms me.

Admittedly, I think part of me would really like for someone to just find me and offer me a monthly column somewhere. Kind of like that time when a director contacted me and said, "I want you to place Lucy in "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown." No audition. But, alas, that's not how it works. I know.

Why am I telling you all this? Because you've encouraged me to keep at it. Because sharing my progress is a means of accountability. Because writing is a means of relaxation for me, and today has been a particularly weighted and taxing morning. Because I like to talk about myself.

So, here I am. Plugging along.

Albeit happily.

Seriously, How Am I Still Standing When He Utters Things Like This?

Conversation between George and Zane:

"Dad, I want to see my heart."

"Well, dude, your heart is an organ inside your chest. Pretty hard to see."

"Well, I know it's big because it's where I hold all my love."


Friday, December 4, 2009

Merry This . . . Happy That . . . Um, This May Sting A Bit

I am a born-again Christian.

I believe that God became human, coming to us in the form of a baby named Jesus and would go on to suffer and die on the cross as payment for the sins of all man/womankind. I believe He rose again from the grave, thus conquering death, and that all can know Him personally during life here on Earth before joining Him in eternal glory.

I'm not interested in debating this. So don't start.

I believe it. I experience Him daily. I hear Him. I see Him. I have watched Him change the hearts of people, mine included. I have a unique ability to see His handiwork in the seemingly small stuff that I encounter in both my daily life, and in the lives of others. He has fashioned me this way. Where others see despair, I see hope - even when life is bleak. Yes, I experience darkness like any other human, and yet there is a wellspring of hope that floods my soul.

That Hope is Jesus.

Ok, now that I've shared this testimony, let me get right to it.

(Deep breath)

I find this whole debate over whether one should say "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays" pointless and a complete waste of time. And, to go one step further, I believe it's just one more thing that widens the chasm and hinders our conversations with non-believers.

"But, but . . . ", you say. Just relax. Don't hurt yourself.

Obviously, I celebrate Christmas, and in doing so wish others a "Merry Christmas", for I hold in my heart the conviction that Christ is real, and in my head, the knowledge that I have both the freedom of speech and the freedom to worship.

And yet, I can not ignore my childhood years which were spent in a culturally diverse area and my 18 years in Chicago, surrounded by those who come from a variety of different faith backgrounds. I am thus accustomed, for instance, to wishing my Jewish friends "Happy Hanukkah". They, in turn, have always wished me a "Merry Christmas". In my relationships there has always been a mutual respect for one's personal faith.

I have often found dialoguing with those of different faiths to come, well, easy, having shared my faith with Jews, and Buddhists, and Mormons, through simple conversation, rather than by means of a one sided monologue where I do all the talking outlining why I worship Jesus.

Ping pong. Tennis. Back and forth. It's called discussion.

See, in our country, as opposed to others, we have the freedom to worship any way we choose.

While I happen to believe that Jesus is indeed the Way, the Truth, and the Life, others, do not. Thankfully, they live here, in the United States, where they have the freedom to worship - just as I do. Do I want them to know the love and forgiveness of Jesus? Of course! Do I believe that all streams lead to the big ocean - or whatever that saying is? Nope. See, I really do believe that Jesus is the answer. I do.

And yet, I could care less whether a clerk at a store wishes me "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays" while I'm shopping. Look at me. Closely. How would one even know whether I celebrate Christmas just by looking at me? Honestly, based on looks alone, they'd be more apt to wish me "Happy Hanukkah." Oh yeah, I can pass. And that's from the mouths of my Jewish friends.

And secondly, why would I even expect a secular organization, like that of a corporation, to be committed to furthering the cause of Christ?

For that matter, why would I expect the choreography on the American Music Awards to be wholesome? Why should I be shocked by Adam Lambert? For what was he doing that was so contrary to what the "world" considers "entertainment."

I think we expect too much from the "world" - and when they don't comply with our beliefs, we stand in judgement. We stand in judgement over those who don't posses the power of the Holy Spirit to even assist them in making choices that would glorify God. We stand in judgement over those who don't even profess to know Jesus.

Sorry. That's not our job. That position has already been filled.


Instead, we threaten to boycott stores - stores whose ultimate purpose has absolutely nothing to do with expanding God's kingdom in the first place, but rather whose goal it is to make a profit. Why boycott just because the check-out person has been told not to wish you a "Merry Christmas"?

I don't remember Jesus boycotting dining with tax collectors, ignoring women of ill-repute, or moving to the other side of the road so as not to bump into lepers. He went where we are afraid to go.

(No, no, no . . . I'm not calling businesses crooks, (some are) adulterer's, (some are) or diseased (some are). I AM saying that Jesus didn't run from tough conversations.)

I propose that we are simply afraid to enter into a natural dialogue with those of different faiths, and those who may hold a different opinion regarding the season, and instead, hide behind our catchy slogans and phrases.

If it is so important to "Keep Christ in CHRISTmas", or if "Jesus is the reason for the season", how about upon being wished a "Happy Holiday" we resist the urge to pull a John Wayne, quickly drawing the "Merry Christmas" from the spiritual holster and firing it off in defense, and instead, actually engage that person in a simple exchange.

"Thank you. I celebrate Christmas. How about you?"

I'm sorry to tell you that the words "Merry Christmas" do not hold some sort of special evangelistic power. But by initiating true conversations with others, (albeit brief at times) rather than throwing out our scripted answers (sweetly, of course) and walking away with our purchases, we have actually offered more than the statement "Merry Christmas" could ever supply.

As we move away from trying to prove a point, and move into sharing a real moment with another human being, there is the possibility of leaving a lasting impression that will far exceed the month of December.

They will know we are Christians by our love, not whether we wish someone a "Merry Christmas".

Don't' get so bent out of shape.

You're going to pull something.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Nativity: Music by Zane Atkins

If I could record him, I would.

Sure, I could video-blog, but I've just not had the heart to interrupt my little John Williams while he's in session.

So you will just have to use your imagination.

Picture a nativity set made of olive wood and a 4 year old boy with a love for action and adventure stories such as Star Wars, Superfriends, and, well, as of 5 minutes ago, Prince Caspian - which, yes, we read together, prior to viewing the film. Come on! You know my drill!

As all the characters surround the baby Jesus in the manger, Zane's score begins. The piece is full of action, with a hint of mystery. His humming and "da, da, da's" have a quick tempo and the rhythm is not one I can repeat, because, well, only the composer knows where he's going with this piece. But one thing is for certain. If Zane's score, which he is creating on the spot while the character's surround Jesus, is meant to move the scene forward, then it has been successful. For the tune conveys urgency. It is thrilling and exciting. Heart-pumping.

The Nativity: the ultimate film for thrill-seekers.

Well, in Zane's mind.

Come to think about it, I think he has it right.

For isn't the Nativity story just that? Action-packed? Thrilling? Wondrous? Mysterious? Dangerous? (Jump in here. It's your turn to add an adjective.)

Unfortunately, after it all played out, Joseph was missing an arm. But really, what's a lost limb when your kid is the Son of God?

All this, from my boy, who recently declared the Christmas music ringing from the Beaver clock tower as "creepy and delicious."

The electronic bells being the creepy part, and Christmas being the delicious part.

I think he got that right also.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

God, and Dragons, and Bugs, Oh My!

Zane, on dragons:

"Mom, can a dragon kill God?"

"Nope. IF indeed dragons existed, they were created by God, and God holds ultimate power over them."

"So, then, the dragon can not hurt God?"

"No, Zane. God could take a dragon out with a mere word. God would smite him - no doubt."

"Wow. Now that's a fight I'd like to see."

Zane, on bugs:

Upon entering his room the other day, George found that Zane had lined up every plastic and rubber bug that he could find and was busily arranging them into a semi-circle facing one bug which remained in the center.

"What'cha making there, buddy?"

"This is a communion service."

"Oh. Why is that one bug in the center?"

"He is their god. See, to bugs, God is a bug. Just like to us, God became a man."

Oh my.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

"Stay alive! I will find you!"

Okay, I've been putting this off, posting pieces about my new exercise challenge, and the inspiration I received for writing a book, and, well, anything else but this topic.

If you know me well, then you already know my opinion on this.

Ok, here goes.

I am completely not down with Black Friday.

And, to go a step further, I don't think you should be either.

Yes, I am an American.

Just stop reading right here if you can't handle the heat.

You say you want to save money and get the best deals for Christmas?

You say it's fun?

You say, "Hey, you're just a kill-joy. Black Friday is an American Tradition. Like Flag Day."

To you I say:
I understand deals. I'm a complete deal seeker. I just don't feel like waking up at 3 AM and fighting traffic and circling a parking lot to find a space only to stand in line with like a trillion other people, who, let's be honest, could care less about my well being and more about whether they'll get to the electronics/toy/whatever department before me (even if they have to trip me), just to save money.

Here's an idea: How about simplifying Christmas by buying less - maybe one or two really nice gifts for your children, the total of which equals the amount you wind up spending on a mountain of meaningless toys, for which you had to risk life and limb and valuable time. Precious time which could have been shared with your kids and your family, and friends, by, say, playing games or watching a movie, or baking, or decorating for Christmas, rather than entering into a full on sprint against total strangers in order to reach the toy department first to grab a toy that will end up irritating you within 5 minutes of the batteries being installed. Can you say Tickle Me Elmo?

No, you be quiet! I told you up front that I am not down with Black Friday, so what did you expect to read here?

You say Black Friday is fun? Yeah, it sounds like a blast.

I'm a negative Nelly? Well, Sherlock, I'll have you know that the original term Black Friday was never a particularly positive title, but, in fact, made reference to some pretty darn tootin' icky days in history. Google it. And the phrase as we know it today, was actually used by newspapers back in the '70's, to describe the extreme hecticness that stores experienced the day after Thanksgiving.

So let me get this straight. Historically, Black Friday was never a good thing. And when newspapers began deeming the day after Thanksgiving as Black Friday, it wasn't initially a compliment, but rather, a phrase used to describe a commonality between the the crowds and the traffic and the sheer craziness of the beginning of the holiday shopping season, with, well, dark historical events.

However, since being in the "black" is a necessity for retailers, they have now hijacked the term, and thus, Black Friday now pays homage to the buying frenzy that will drive retailer's books into the "black".

Well, I'm not bowing to Black Friday.

In fact, and this will make you sick, the "big" presents that my children receive for Christmas (they get a main, or "big" gift from both sets of grandparents and then we supplement with a few other items) have already been purchased, at full price, from a local independently owned toy store, and are resting peacefully in my attic. The owner even helped me carry my bags to the car.

And no one tripped me or slipped a mickey in my coffee, so they could beat me to the Playmobile Egyptian Pyramid. Nope. I pre-ordered it. Months ago.

I realize I'm a bit over the top, but so is Black Friday.

If you are going to participate, let me share with you these words from Sergeant Phil Esterhaus of Hill Street Blues: Hey, let's be careful out there.

And when you come to your senses and realize that I am using this statement in reference to SHOPPING, perhaps you'll join me in on my soapbox.

I'll make room for you.

While pondering your plans for November 27th, check this out.

Give Me 20!

Day 9 of the "Twenty Minute Challenge".

One hour of tennis.

Coach Ron kept us moving constantly this morning, lobbing balls at us at an alarming rate so that he could really up our cardio workout.

I was breathing pretty hard.

My legs were aching from Jillian's workout the day before.

I was sweating pretty early into the start of the lesson.

And I loved every minute.

This is my fourth lesson. And let me tell you, there was a HUGE feeling of satisfaction when it came time to grab the hopper and pick up the balls, only to find that this week, the majority of the balls were actually on the other side of the court rather than behind me. For today, my partner and I barely missed any.

Yeah, there were the missed shots and the joking about a "hole in the racket", or the "oh, was that one for me", but that jesting was pretty minimal this week in between the sprinting, and the squeaking of rubber against court, and the grunting, and hearing the glorious sound that is made when the ball and strings make contact - correctly.

It is challenging. It's almost like dancing on point, or a gymnast on the bars - what looks so effortless, such as hitting a ball, is not as easy as it seems, at least not if you want to win.

It's back to Jillian tomorrow and an attempt at Level 2.

Not sure I'll be able to hit everything she hurls my way in Level 2, but I'm going to try.

However, someone may need to pick ME up after I'm done.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Restoration for the Body, Refreshment for the Soul, And A Lot of Snacks

The castle in Franklin, PA.

I never expected that a 24 hour retreat, (which we managed to stretch into a longer getaway by departing for it at the crack of nine), would have such an impact on my entire being.

Although, that being said, I knew that I needed it.

I'm not one to ask or expect miracles, although I experience them often. Truly. I have a keen ability to see God's hand in my life, and in the lives of other's, both in times of crisis, and times of beauty. If only I would actually anticipate them. The logical and rational side of me has a nasty habit of upstaging the divine and must be fired from the show.

So, void of anticipation, I never figured that this retreat would be a place where God would show up in a mighty way. Sure, He'd be there, but like, "miracle be there"? Nah.

The mini-weekend started with a pedicure, a gift from a new gal pal - one whom I envision growing old with - only, we will never look it 'cause we be doin' what we be doin' with our skin. Joining us in the party-calade was a friend whom I met a year ago in October, knowing instantly that we'd be tight should George be offered the position and we take it. And then, there was a new gal - well, new to me. Who I have come to simply adore. And her husband is mighty cute, too. And the two of them together? So cute that you just want lock them in a room together and then stand outside and serenade them with a little Marvin Gaye.

The conversation failed to cease for our 2 hour drive which also included a wonderful lunch. And we weren't just lingering at the surface. No time for that. It was all about how we met our spouses, and past boyfriends, and what we wanted to bring home from the retreat. Although I never once shared what I was hoping to receive, because, well, go back up to the 4th paragraph and reread it. I just couldn't come right out and share what I really wanted God to do in my life over that short period of time. How could He possibly reveal to me in a mere 24 hours what I have been yearning to figure out over these past few months, and yet have failed to actually ask Him to reveal? Despite my inner wrestling, there was a released laughter that one feels when they are anticipating a great trip and then, actually get to take it.

Seriously. It was darn near perfect.

And we weren't even there yet.

Upon arrival, we unloaded and then perused the town a bit, ate a not so highly acclaimed dinner, (where for the first time EVER, I could not finish an order of buffalo wings, not because of the serving size, but because they were just disgusting), and then settled in back at The Castle for Session One.

Session One was an indicator that the weekend was going to be powerful.

The speaker, the music, the people, the munchies, the location, the atmosphere - everything was aligned. My room-mate even had the wisdom to bring along her coffee-maker, as the princesses that we are couldn't risk having sub-par retreat coffee should God be planning to do a number on us. We had to be ready.

It was Saturday when it happened.

The speaker began her second address to us, and upon hearing one word, my pen starting flying. I was taking notes, yes, but not only notes on her sermon. No, God had other ideas and was letting me know them quickly. I soon realized as I scribbled, that He was showing me how all my years of posts, and stories, and ideas, and beliefs were truly linked together for the means of a larger piece of writing. Dare I utter . . . book. It was as if all the puzzle pieces, which I knew should be connected somehow, were finally coming together, only I wasn't the one moving and arranging the pieces. I seriously couldn't stop writing and wrote all through her sermon and our 45 minute reflection time that followed.

The release I felt was enormous. And the enormity of the project itself lost its ominous, overwhelming hold over my confidence. The chrysalis that was my brain-freeze was suddenly, without warning cracked open and new words, full of life, began to spill onto the pages of my journal.

God won. And my insecurity about tackling such a big project died that day, while sitting on the couch with my pen and my journal. It is fitting that God worked in me when I had no computer to aid me - just the journal and pen - as for years, THIS is how I communicated with God. It's funny how God went all old-school on me, taking me back to a former spiritual discipline in order to open my eyes to the truth He was now inspiring me to share.

I have several pages of scribbled notes to muddle through, and no, I won't be sharing the concept of my work on this blog. It's in the infancy stage - and I can't fully communicate it yet. But it has indeed been birthed. That is the miracle.

Riki, Marlene, Kerri: You were there. Your personal faith is so beautiful, and motivating and convicting. And your friendship? Life-changing for me.

Here's to more times of rich fellowship, the celebration of God's revelatory promptings, and growing together for many years to come.

Although my skin won't show it!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Virtual Accountability = The Need to Channel Jillian

Day four of my "20 Minutes a Day Workout Project" was the hardest yet.

I had an hour tennis lesson with Coach Ron and a friend with whom I've been sharing private lessons for 3 weeks now.

He literally ran us all over the court today.

I hit some great "it's crazy that I hit that" shots, and missed some "dork, how did you miss that" shots.

My friend and I are pretty evenly matched, so we make great lesson buddies. The pro is terrific - both with children, (he's Harper's coach), and with adults, who play like children.

So I finish up the lesson, feeling, well, I gotta say it, pretty darn good about the fact that I am learning a new sport, and realize I now have an odd insatiable desire to read Andre Agassi's new autobiography.

(Which I would totally purchase if Beaver had a bookstore . . . grr . . . ok, that's a future post. See, I don't, or rather, won't, shop at Walmart, and occasionally once in a New Moon (pant, pant) purchase off of Amazon. I am totally missing that independently owned bookstore - even if the prices are a bit higher. I particularly miss this one.)


Sooo got sidetracked there.

Tennis is over and I head to Cafe Kolache to work. Yes, actually work. Well, not as in, for money, work, but rather, for Mom To Mom. I grab some coffee, open the laptop, and begin working on finishing an Advent activity for families that I must have done by tomorrow. Eleven more days of family devotions to go.

Then, I get her email.

She needed a boost.

20 minutes. That's all it would take. I knew she could find the time. Doing my best cyber-Jillian impersonation, I emailed her back with an idea of how she could implement intervals between all the tasks she had to get done.

30 seconds of jumping jacks here.

30 seconds of "jumping rope" there.

Low plie squat in 2nd position with boxing punches.

Some ab work.

I told her that if she could incorporate 2 minutes of intervals into her mopping, and laundry, and scrubbing, she'd feel alot better - and I would know that I was truly holding someone accountable.

Sorry, babe. Just couldn't let you off the hook.

Surprisingly, er, not, she got in the intervals AND part of her personal exercise routine.

Game on, sista.

This pseudo tennis playin', half marathonin', thinkin' she's Miss all that 'cause she gave you some of Jillian's moves, is completely committed and isn't going anywhere.

Accountabilty is just that.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Jillian and Annie

What do these two girls have in common?

They are both hard.

Jillian Michaels isn't fooling around.

Annie's Organics cans are perfect for an 8 year old to lift upon deciding to join me in day two of the "20 Minutes A Day Workout Project".

I do wish you could have been peeking into my living room window tonight.

Well, maybe not. Come to think of it, that's creepy.

However, if you have a dark side and were indeed peeking in, you would have seen Harper, Zane, and myself, all huffing and puffing along with Jillian and her kick-butt looking assistants during 30 Day Shred.

We are still on Level One.

Does that tell you something?

The best part? Watching Zane do hip circles. That is something to behold. And Harper has a mean push up. But, really, the highly focused hip circles a la Zane were adorable. But had I stopped at that moment to grab and squeeze and hug on him as I was tempted to do, I'm certain Ms. Michaels would have leaped out of the screen and rung my neck.

There's no phoning it in.

Harper and Zane kept up with me for about 10 minutes of the 20 minute workout. I with my 3 lb weights, Harper with her Annie's Organics cans, and Zane, weightless.

It was actually motivating to be working out with my children.

Day one. Check.

Day two. Check.

A few of you emailed me expressing interest in joining our little party.

So how are you doing only two days in? Leave a comment to encourage those of us who are in this game with you. Or, leave a comment as to how you're already slackin' and I'll pull out my best Jillian impersonation to light a fire under ya.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Love This Site Awards :: Cuppajo - DivineCaroline

Hey, if it's not too forward, would you mind giving me a shout out by voting for my blog, thus giving me the opportunity to win some mula? Please? I'll buy you a cuppa? Or two. Follow the link and vote for me!
No pressure or anything, but I think this site deserves to win a Love! This Site Award from DivineCaroline, so please, vote soon! You can also still nominate your favorite sites.

Buddy System

The half-marathon is over.

There is Halloween candy in the house.

I'm a bit burned out on the idea of running.

I like to eat.

What's a girl to do?

Find a buddy. That's what.

When you read blogs written by friends, you get to see an honest glimpse into their lives (if they are indeed letting it all hang out for the masses to read). I tend to be very transparent in my posts - although, reader, you should be aware that while you may believe I'm documenting every detail of my life, causing you to wonder if I'm being a bit too out there with the world, you are mistaken. I filter. Sorry, but it's true. I may be a fan of transparency, but I'm not an idiot.

Recently I was reading on God and Everyday, (written by a very talented friend from my teenage years - props to Facebook for the reconnection), about a goal the author has to be fit by forty. Go on over and check it out.

It made me think about accountability and whether accountability can happen in the cyber world. So, I took a step of faith and responded to a need I felt she had expressed by agreeing to be her workout buddy from now until Thanksgiving . . . which I will then push to Christmas (just a warning, Debbie)! No, we don't live in the same state. No, I've not even seen her since were, what? 17? Even so, she got an email from me today simply stating, "Did it. 20 minutes of Jillian Michaels. Now, three Mary Kay appointments!"

In return, I got a super encouraging reply, a nice pat on the back, and the motivation I need to do the same tomorrow. Plus, my buddy detailed her exercise plan for the week so that I know what to expect out of her for Week One.

Funny what tight khakis (for her) and tight favorite jeans (for me) can do to spur on a couple of 40 year old mamas (me, already there, and her, almost).

Want to join us?

It's not P90X hard. We are simply going to be attempting 15-20 minutes a day of something physical at least 5 days a week. Here's my plan:

Monday: Jillian Michaels 30 Day Shred
Tuesday: Same, or Pilates
Wednesday: Jillian Michaels 30 Day Shred or Yoga class
Thursday: Tennis Lesson
Friday: Jillian Michaels 30 Day Shred
Saturday: 30 minutes of running

I did indeed workout with Jillian this morning and it was hard. While I can run 13 miles over 2-plus hours, I found that 20 minutes of Jillian and her strength, cardio and ab intervals, while not as severe as on The Biggest Loser, is still intense.

It's Jillian Michaels. There is no cheating. Even when she's not physically in the room.

Want to join us?

Just leave a comment sharing your commitment to do 15-20 minutes, 5 days a week, until Thanksgiving. However, it is important to HAVE A PLAN, so outline what you will actually do each day or you'll just sabotage the effort.

And if you want to go even further, how about joining the Pittsburgh Moms challenge of dropping 10 pounds by Christmas? Just an idea.

It's just 20 minutes.

You spend more than that on Facebook everyday.

Come on, let's start with some transparency about how we waste our time everyday. I'll start.

"My name is Joline, and I waste time on the internet everyday. I'm going to give 20 minutes of that wasted time back to my body. And my favorite jeans."

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Chopped? Heh, heh. Not the Atkins!

Our family thoroughly enjoys watching Chopped on the Food Network.

Harper, especially, begs me every week to lift the "no TV during the school week" rule in order to watch Chopped on Tuesday nights.

I haven't caved.

Until today.

This morning, we set out to visit the Grand Opening of Giant Eagle's Market District in Robinson, not to shop, but to meet Ted Allen, the host of our favorite Food Network show. Harper was estatic to get the opportunity to meet him. Zane? Zane just wanted a bagel.

I asked George to navigate off of the tiny, and not most helpful, map that was included in the mailed announcement we had received, knowing full well that my GPS wouldn't register the street - for the entire complex is that new.

I think I probably asked him 3 times, "Is there any exit listed or cross street? Anything?"


So we got off in Robinson and tried to use our sense of smell to find the place.

Yeah, apparently we're not real talented in sniffing out locations, plus, this is Pittsburgh. No grid. Just hills and turns and Oh! A cool drive-in!

The drive-in was nowhere near the store. We were most definitely lost.

Realizing we'd gone too far south, I turned around to backtrack only to hear my very humbled husband remark, "Oh, um, sorry, the map says to take the Ridge road exit."

He apologized, and then realizing that it was now 11:00 and that Ted began his cooking demostration at 11:00, we prayed that God would redeem the fun that we had planned - that we'd still get to see Ted's demostration, and have the opportunity to meet him. I know, maybe it seems silly to pray about meeting a Food Network celebrity, and even I told the kids, "Hey guys, Ted isn't Jesus", but I also know that God listens to all our requests, and I believe He is a fan of family time, and this was definitely a family gig. I didn't want to have our plan thwarted due to a minor maptastrophe.

The parking lot was a zoo, (of course), so I had George let me and Harper out while he and Zane found parking.

The place is mammoth. Convention center huge. Once inside, we had absolutely no idea where to go. We were dodging carts, and shoppers, and resisting the urge to stop and sample, in order to get to the demonstration area. It pains me to think of all the cheese cubes we passed without indulging. Hey, when on a mission, one doesn't stop. Even for cheese.

After the confusion of asking an employee for directions and being led in the completely wrong direction, we finally found the demonstration area and took up camp stage left to watch Ted and a chef from Market District make shrimp scampi and some apple tarty thing for desert. George and Zane had met up with us by that point, and we all took a deep breath.

Saturday To Do List: Watch Ted Allen's cooking demonstration. Check.

Towards the end of the demo, Ted announced he'd be going upstairs to sign his new cookbook. Before he even uttered his last word, we were gone, darting to the stairs to get in line for autographs.

Outside the room where he'd be signing we were asked, "Do you have your ticket?"

Oh no.

What is this? Willy Wonka?

A most wonderfully kind and gracious employee of Market District explained that all those wanting to see Ted needed a numbered ticket and that she would be more than happy to get us one. However, at this stage in the game, our number would be in the hundreds.

I SWEAR I didn't put on an act. I was tempted. But in lieu of pure drama, I just opted for the truth. I just got close to the employee's ear and simply said, "We didn't know about the tickets. My daughter LOVES Chopped and we drove down from Beaver just to see Ted and get his autograph, and have to be back in Beaver by 1:00."

Her response?

"Wow. All the way from Beaver? Wait here. I'll get you in. Hang here a minute."

It was only a 15-20 minute drive. It's not like we took a complete day trip to meet Ted. But, ok.

She returned with paper for the kids and pens.

"This is for you to get autographs. You'll be first in line."

And we were.

Ted greeted us as he passed us to enter the room. And then, once situated, they waved us in.

He was sooooooooo amazing to the kids. Shook their hands. Asked their names. Really made it about them.

Yeah, I'm gay-crushing.

He LOVED both Harper and Zane's names, and we talked literature for a blip. Then he asked Harper what she liked to cook.

"Ritz Cracker Pizza's."

"Oh, I don't know that dish. Tell me the ingredients."

She did.

"It sounds great, Harper, like soft nacho's."

He then turned to Zane and asked what he liked to cook.

"Chocolate chip cookies."

"Me, too, Zane. Do you like chocolate cookies with nuts or without?"

"No nuts!!!!!!!!!"

"Yeah, most kids don't like nuts in their cookies."

He was incredibly engaging with the kids, all while I was feeling completey self-conscious about continuing the conversation in front of the long line of fans who were actually holding tickets, although I secretly harbored the desire to ask Ted to please go all Queer Eye for the Straight Guy over my husband whose wardrobe has often been referred to as "Urban Lumberjack".

He signed color photographs for the kids, and one for our neighbor, shook our hands, and thanked us for coming out.

We left the room and Harper erupted with, "THAT WAS SO AWESOME!" And then, as a family, we stopped a moment to lift up a prayer of thanks for this seemingly small favor.

I will be sending a thank you note to Ms. So and So, for she didn't have to usher us to the front of the line. No, she could have stuck to the "law "and sent us back to get a ticket and wait just like everybody else. But instead, she placed grace before the rule and gave our family a really cool morning.

If she can break the rule, so can I.

Harper may now watch Chopped on Tuesday nights.

Zane? He just wants a bagel, and chocolate chip cookies sans nuts, and will conk out by 9:00 anyway.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Are You There God? It's Me, And I'm FREAKING OUT!

It's a really cool feeling to enter your daughter's bedroom in the morning in order to wake her, only to find her already awake and reading in bed. Before school.

"It's time to get dressed, girl."

"No Mom! I just want to read!"

Music to my ears, and yet . . . there are THOSE books lurking on the shelves at the library. The same books I used to smuggle into the house under my mother's nose. My mother, who was incredibly keen, with a great sense of smell. She knew exactly what I was hiding, for she was always one step ahead of me, in terms of knowing what the "hot" books were for young adults.

As an adult, I now realize that adults actually talk to one another and thus, we are not as naive to trends and fads as our youngin's may think. And what we don't know firshand, we'll just learn about from another Mom. And the internet.

Like, which books are hot.

Like, which books you, the parent, should most definitely read first - before your child.

I am not one for censoring reading material. I would much rather read a controversial book myself so that I can actually hold a conversation on the content with my child. Take Twilight. While I don't feel the series is appropriate for anyone in elementary school, you better know that 5th graders are reading it - either with their parents knowledge, or in secret. And if they aren't reading it at home, just know that they are are sneaking peaks at it at school or the library, or a friend's house. And yes, she will read it Mom. Somewhere. Somehow.

So, why not read it first? What are we so scared of?

I did. The entire series. And my kid is barely 9, and not interested. But she knows about Twilight. Ok, not the details of it, but she's heard talk. I figure I might as well be prepared to talk about it, by actually reading the series, as I can't stand the "Well, I heard's" or "So and so said". Just read it, already, so you can have an actual personal opinion about it rather than relying solely on a critique from some internet site. Do your own homework.

Here, on this turf, we're not dealing with Twilight. Harper could care less, right now, with anything having to do with a boy and a girl liking each other in any way other than how well they can battle with light sabers. And honestly, we're not dealing with any other controversial novels at this point in time either.

However, we recently entered into Blume territory at the local library.

Harper has read "Freckle Juice" and the entire "Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing" series. "Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great" was checked out when it was time to read that one (for those of you who like order), but Harper enjoyed the series so much that she went back to read it even though she had already finished all the other books in the series.

So then what gave me a mini heart attack and the motivation for this post?

"Hey, Mom, here's one here about a girl named Margaret, and God."

Dry mouth. Flashbacks of "I must. I must. I must increase my bust." (It doesn't work).


(Insert Matrixy move to swipe the book out of her hands and then bury it somewhere in the adult non-fiction books about auto-repair or birds of prey - I don't know).

And then of course, there was the close neighbor of Margaret's book: "Forever". Ah, the young adult novel of my generation. The one I snuck into the house after a slumber party with my gymnastic team. The one my mother sweat out of me. I swear she saw me tucking that book into my jacket before I even left my friend's house. She was that good.

And then, I should add - she let me read it.

Thankfully, Harper didn't think that anything about Margaret and God was more interesting that Sheila the Great, so there was no need to get into it with her. And really, I just would have said, "Harps, that book is a little too old for you."

But just thinking about the discussions that are down the pike gave me hives. Once the coast was clear, and Harper had walked away from Blume territory with her Sheila book, I made a beeline to the librarians desk where I started pilfering leftover Halloween candy from her bowl.

I will be counting on the women who have gone before me to help walk me through the whole appropriate reading material discussion that I will one day have with my child.

And until that time, you'll find me hanging out in the children's section of the library reading junior and young adult novels.

Armed and ready.

Locked and loaded.

Reliving those fragile years of my life that I'd rather not relive - well, unless I could relive them with straight feathered hair and Jordache jeans.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Label Me

Dear Mr. Vernon: We accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was we did wrong. But, we think you're crazy to make us write an essay telling you who we think we are. You see us as you want to see us: in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. But, what we found out is that each one of us is:

a brain . . .
And an athlete . . .
And a basket case . . .
A princess . . .
And a criminal.
Does that answer your question? Sincerely yours, The Breakfast Club.

Label ME.

See, I've been blogging now since 2001. I blame it on the Bernstein's. I love them. But, I completely blame them for this addictive habit called blogging. I initially began blogging as a means of recording my walk through parenthood - first with posts about Harper, and then adding posts about Zane.

I've been "Harper's World", "In-Zane", "Team Atkins", and "Cuppa Jo".

But now?

While I still write about parenting and continue to record memories of my children that over time will begin to get fuzzy in this foggy brain of mine, I have definitely expanded my topics. I've become more opinionated about customer service, I've dabbled in posts designed to help one embrace the idea of being thrifty and less wasteful. I've added links to Giveaways I find on other sites.

My once upon a time family blog has morphed into several different blends of coffee. It has become (and I can joke about this, but you can't) Cuppa Jo: ADHD Blend.

There are all types of bloggers: mommy bloggers, political bloggers, sports bloggers, entertainment bloggers, health and wellness bloggers, home-schooling bloggers, etc. You name it, there's a blog. No topic is left untouched. No opinion left unturned. Blogging is a virus that has completely taken over the internet. Everyone seems to have a blog. Some, have actually figured out how to turn blogging into a paycheck. Some bloggers have corporate sponsors and advertisers. Some bloggers review products, and thus, are being sent freebies (which they must disclose or risk a fine) weekly.

As I register on sites where I can post pieces, such as Blissfully Domestic, Blogher, Divine Caroline, to name a few, I have discovered that I am having an identity crisis.

Blissfully Domestic has asked me to write on the topic of Family Issues. Cool. I can handle that. I have a family. I have issues. Check.

However, on Blogher and Divine Caroline, I've yet to list my blog, as upon doing so, one needs to choose a category which describes the blog.

And here is where I'm stumped.

I am not my friend Anitra, who offers product reviews, giveaways and "Tidbits" to make one's life easier. I am not Stephanie, who not only turned a successful blog about slow-cooking into a book deal, but also has one of the best "home" blogs in cyber-space. (Holla! Sorry if I just "labeled" you, Stephanie). I am not the folks at Problogger - who have so much great information to share about making one's blog more successful that my head gets overwhelmed with "I shoulds", and I wind up paralyzed.

No, no, no. This isn't a pity party. I'm not looking for a pick-me-up. I admire these bloggers, but I also know that I am not them - nor do I have to be. I am a creative writer. Of this I am quite sure. As a creative writer I am still feeling around as to where my keyboard should land in the world of blogging.

As funny as it sounds, I need a LABEL. I know. Seriously, who really likes being labeled? However, I am quite sure that I do need one so that I can begin to streamline and focus my direction.

I am on the cusp of something. Something new. Something that God has laid on my heart two weeks in a row now after Mom to Mom. It may include an entirely new Pot of Jo. Cuppa Jo will remain, as a place for personal reflection, but this new Pot of Jo will be more intentional. I'm working it out. I'm not ignoring God's nudges. I just don't know how to actually start the brewing process.

Until the new pot is ready, I'll continue to figure out who I am in cyber-world.

I need your help to figure it out.

How would you categorize Cuppa Jo? I won't be offended if you simplify me into a one word label: brain, athlete, basket case, princess, or criminal.

How about leaving me a comment with a short (emphasis on short) description of this blog and sharing why you even indulge in a Cuppa Jo. What makes this blog different from others?

If I don't like your label I will simply make fun of your Barry Manilow wardrobe.

"Don't mess with the bull, young man. You'll get the horns."

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Jeff Galloway, my life would suck without you.

In the words of Kelly Clarkson, "My life would suck without you", Mr. Jeff Galloway. Why?

Because without your never ever ending belief that any individual can be a runner, and a method to make that belief a reality, I would have still been in bed at 7:30 this morning, rather than taking in the city of Pittsburgh on foot.

I've run two half-marathons in my life. One in 2002 where I attempted to run the entire race, only to be frustrated that I had to take a few walking breaks. And lost a toenail. The second was in 2005, where upon adopting a run/walk/run method, I took about 10 minutes off my 2002 time - but still lost a toenail.

This time? My personal goals of finishing in front of the 2:30 pace team, and keeping all my toenails became a reality.

It all began at 4:00 AM. Daylight savings time messed with us this year, and while I thought my poor man's iphone would adjust to reflect "falling back", it did not. Nor did George think to change the clock prior to setting the alarm. Thus, I was up at 4:00 AM, (thinking it was 5) and dressed and ready by 4:30 AM anxiously waiting for two friends to show up - one, who was running her first half-marathon, and the other who was supplying the sweet ride and the most enormous amount of encouragement a girl needs when it's 34 degrees at the start of a 13 mile adventure.

I realized quickly upon turning on my computer that it was not the time I thought it was . . . first glitch.

The second glitch had to do with girlie stuff . . . I won't go into that here.

And the third glitch, (although this didn't happen until mile 3) involved my interval timer. Yep, you guessed it. It failed me. Don't be surprised if you see me riding around town on a bike threatening, "I WANT MY TWENTY DOLLARS!"

At the Start, I decided to place myself between the 2:20 and 2:30 pace teams. For while my inner goal was 2:30, I was honestly thinking that I'd come in around 2:40, so I figured that pushing myself to stay between these two pacer groups would help me.

It was a good call. I think had I started with the 2:30's I may have fallen behind between miles 9 and 12 . . . better known as "the lonely miles".

All started well. Felt good. No shin splints. No side stitches. I was keeping pace with the 2:20's although I knew, and was ok with the fact, that I most likely would not be able to stick with them the entire race. And then, after what I thought was a particulaly long 3-minute interval, I checked my timer.

The screen had gone completely blank.

I switched to my watch and began counting in intervals of 3 minutes (run) and 1 minute (walk), and just tried not to let it bother me.

The view of the city from the West End Bridge was beautiful and I wish I had had a camera on me to snap a shot of the city in the morning.

I also wish I knew more about the engineering and architecture of bridges, for while they are certainly fun to run over, that run comes with an incline - and yes, a decline, but it's not the decline that sticks with you. Duh. I know. Duh.

I had my head about me enough to look at the city while running and even channelled Fernando at one point, cutting a walk break short so that a race photographer would snap me running while Heinz field loomed overhead behind me.

At the 10K point I was good. At the 8 mile point, I was good.

And then, the boredom set in.

It is lonely to be Gallowayer. My other friend who was running has a faster pace, so she was well ahead of me. There were a smattering of people surrounding me during miles 9-12, but truely, I was running by myself. The music helped. I opened my hands in praise for one song, but really, I was facing "the wall". It was big and nasty, and smelled a little like exhaust.

I spotted a woman whom I nicknamed Mullet Girl. Mullet Girl was pretty tall and stocky and there was no question that she could clock me good in a mano y mano match. She didn't stop for walk breaks and kept a steady pace. However, when I ran, I quickly overtook her. When I walked, she overtook me. I knew that I had found my rabbit. As long as I wasn't in the ring with her, I'd smoke her.

But thoughts plauged me throughout miles 9-12. "This isn't worth it", "I've made a mistake and the 2:30 pace team has already passed me - I just didn't see them", "My right quad and left glute are going to stop working at any moment", "I can't finish."

I found my mind cluttered with stinky negative thoughts. No self-help talk, or affimations, or even music, could clear the thought that I should just forget it and walk the rest of the way. Afterall, wasn't that a chest pain I was feeling?

And then, I remembered a verse we talked about in Mom To Mom and I began reciting it over and over, "And David found strenght in the Lord His God." Strength wasn't coming from my catchy tunes, or from reciting "You can do it" over and over and over. Ultimate strenght wasn't coming from the knowledge that I could overtake Mullet Girl. No, I had to rely upon God's strength, and enlisted the help of my girlfriend sitting in Caribou waiting for me, to help also.

"Lord, please tell her to pray for me. I'm so close. I don't want to stop now, but my body just can't do it."

It was not easy, but I made it to mile 12 and then decided to take one last walk break up the incline of Hot Metal Bridge.

And then Viva La Vida came on. I love that song.

Having just finished walking the incline to the bridge, I began running again, quickly passing Mullet Girl, and though I could see the vicinity of the finish, I still couldn't see the actual finish.

And then, behind me I began to hear loud cheering, "Come on 2:30's!!!!!!!!!!!!! You are almost there!!!!!!!!!!".

The 2:30 pace team was on my tail.

Not on my watch.

I would NOT let them overtake me. I took on Mullet Girl, I could take on the 2:30's.

Mile 13 came upon me quickly as I exited the bridge, and then, I was in the gate.

And while I couldn't press on any faster, I knew had beat my rabbit and the pace team and now only had .1 to go.

And then, just like that, it was done.

They announced "Joline Atkins from Beaver" at the finish, just as they had done for the 10K. That felt good.

Thoughts on this race:

  • I am a true Gallowayer. I am not very sore right now (although the Advil could be helping). I don't feel shin splints, joint pain, or pain in my feet (I wear a pretty heavy orthodic). I don't feel taxed.
  • I have zero interest in running a full marathon. Zip, nada, nope, not on your life, no way, don't go there, fugetaboutit.
  • I DO have interest in gathering some girls to run the Marathon Relay on May 2, 2010.
  • Bridges have inclines.
  • Mullets are not flattering.
  • Port-0-john's that flush are most desireable. Thank you.
  • "My Life Would Suck Without You" is a great song to run to.
  • Post-race snacks should not include bowls of pretzels in which people dump their sweaty, and possibly Swine-fluy hands. Come on! Have we not learned anything from bowls of mints? You don't touch those! Only pre-packaged goodies, please.
  • Knowing that you have friends to cheer you on at the finish greatly impact one's mental stability during a race.
  • Pittsburgh is pretty.
  • Gymboss will be hearing from me. They are in the doghouse.
  • It's yoga, tennis, and one day of running a week for me from now until Spring.
  • I did it. And have the magnet on my car to prove it.

Friday, October 30, 2009


My friend Anitra has a terrific blog that you NEED to visit, as she gives away a ton of stuff, both of the helpful tip variety, as well as material goodies.

Get over there and enter - up to 10 entries!

Thanks, Anitra, as I could totally use a night out with my husband. Yep, that's right. If I win, I'm NOT inviting the children.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Best Nest

In my Former Home, sushi was as mainstream to us as McDonald's. More likely you would find me out on a lunch date with my son at Dozika, than at Micky D's - well, that is until the stress of the sale took over my entire body and all I could do was gorge myself on its greasy goodness.

In my New Home, I had the joy of eating at Yama today. Beaver's new Japanese Restaurant has been teasing its residents with the "Opening Soon" sign for an entire year. During our visit to Beaver last October, it was Yama's "Opening Soon" sign that helped me to visualize my living here. Today, Zane gleefully downed two bowls of miso and half a California roll. I had miso, seaweed salad, and a salmon skin maki roll. And tea. I felt right at home.

I'm still waiting on a Pita Inn franchise to break ground. Seriously, say "falafel" around here and you're bound to get a thoughtful "God bless you" and a tissue handed to you in response. I'm not sneezing, everyone, just hungry for some middle eastern fare. Oh, where or where is the kibbeh and the shwarma when you crave it?

In my Former Home, you were a number in a coffee shop. One of many, except maybe at Peet's where they may have known your name. Sure there were other exceptions, but coffee shops lined the streets like parking meters and I never really found my cozy place after George left Newport Coffee House back in 1999. That placed was the "Cheers" of coffee, and my first writing space. Many personal journals were finished cover to cover in that place.

In my New Home, I've learned that the owner of Beaver's own Cafe Kolache has perused my blog and now knows that while I stop in there for a cuppa, my beans come from the micro-roasterie one town over. Awkward? Nah. I like Kolache and truly believe that one day I will pen something really great while sitting there.

Only, in order to do so I have to actually visit the place by myself without the under 5 crowd hanging on my leg asking if the owner can make him the "blood and bones" drink.

In my Former Home, the cost of yoga classes were inconceivable, with some drop-in rates running anywhere from $15-17 per class.

In my New Home, Three Rivers Yoga Institute has just opened their second Pittsburgh location two doors down from Kolache sporting a drop-in rate of $10. Or a monthly pass for $75. With other Fall specials available, practicing yoga has just gotten more affordable. Then there is $5 yoga at DCI, in the mall. Mondays from 6:30-8 and Wednesdays from 7-8:30 - in case you are interested. I sent my husband to Three Rivers tonight. No charge for his first class. He's hooked. Most definitely going to make a habit of utilizing both of these blessings.

Now if we can just pawn the kids off to someone one or two nights a week we could possibly take yoga together.

In my Former Home I taught music, coached kids, sold Mary Kay, and wrote sporadically for a PR firm.

In my New Home, I volunteer at Zane's school, volunteer at Harper's school, sell Mary Kay, and am becoming more proactive everyday about submitting articles and finding a paying home for my dribblings.

And who knows? Mommy may just reactivate that SAG card in the next 3 years. Long term thinking, I know, but at least I'm dreaming for myself.

In our Former Home, my daughter was enrolled at Lincolnwood Elementary School and attended classes there.

In our New Home, my daughter is enrolled at Dutch Ridge Elementary and attends classes there. Only, our former school district still believes Harper is a student at Lincolnwood School. Apparently, according to their records, she still attends her old school and has even been marked present on several days, and absent on September 1 and 8 specifically. Funny, cause, see, we never registered her with District 65 for the current school year, nor did we pay school fees, and we moved, out of state, on the last day of school back in June. The district even forwarded all her records to the Beaver School District. Her current grades in Evanston must look terrible!

In our Former Home, I had a group of friends on whom I could rely for prayer and help.

In my New Home, I have a group of friends on whom I can rely for prayer and help.

Sure, these two places are radically different from one another. Emphasis on "different". One is not better. One is not worse. Just different.

My Former Home was nice.

My New Home is nice.

Gotta be where you be. You know?

All present and accounted for.

Got that, Evanston District 65?

Friday, October 23, 2009

In Sickness and In Health: Or, how the flu crapped on my weekend

Yes, crapped on my weekend.

That's the extent of my cursing.

At least publicly.

My little weekend away to see my incredible student play the role of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, an audition for which I coached her while she spent the summer at a program here at Carnegie Mellon, was swiped from me by the flu. Add to my misery that I have played that role myself, and that the show was being produced by a company for whom I have a HUGE love for (having worked with them), AND it was being directed by my all time favorite director, and saying I was disappointed doesn't even scratch the surface of my emotional state.

My husband got the flu. Swine. Bird. Who really knows. All that's important here is that he got something that took him out for 3 days. And then he rose again. Just like Jesus.

Was I upset he was sick?


LIVID. Was I upset that I was missing the opportunity to see my friends, plus two new wonderful additions to the lives of some very special couples?

Yes. Was I angry that I wouldn't get to pray with a remarkable woman, have lunch with a faithful friend, see my brother in law, and visit the classrooms of the children I used to teach?


But, what I mourned the most was time.

Some time to myself.

I polled some Mom's a few weeks back by asking them, "If you had two hours to yourself, with no one home, nowhere to be, and nothing to do, what would you do?"

Almost unanimously all the mothers in the room answered that they would spend that time alone. No gathering their friends and going to a movie, or running out to shop, or meeting someone for coffee. No. They would opt for not sharing that time with any other person.

So, while I WAS going to be seeing a ton of people, it was the time alone, on the plane, in the wonderful king size bed that was being offered to me by my gracious hosts, and in the car and on the streets as I wandered my old neighborhood, that was most appealing to me, and what I was mourning most intensely.

Moms crave time.

And silence.

It is rare that we get both.

Which is why it is now 11:00 PM and I am up writing.

The day I woke to hear my husband moaning in the shower only to take his temp and have my jaw drop when it said 103.4, was the day I realized I wouldn't be taking that flight. In need of encouragement I asked a friend when we, mothers, would get a break. Her response, "In Heaven."

Um, not to get all theological on her, but I disagree. Jesus withdrew. For me, there were "Danger Will Robinson"' signs all over that answer.

Husbands, take note.

Together, with your wives, the mothers of your children, sit down and set some time for her to withdraw from the "to do's" and the "MOM!", and the this and the that's which so jumble her mind, and build in time for her to go off, by herself, so she may be renewed. 'Cause, see, we love and adore you and the our children, but sometimes? Sometimes we need to get out of Dodge. Just for a bit. So we won't shoot anyone. I'm not talking about a month-long backpacking trip across Ireland. Just maybe an overnight, or a weekly girls-night out. A nap.

My husband TOTALLY gets this and was DEFLATED that my trip was cancelled. I am thankful that he understands that I need to be refilled and that this small trip to Chicago would have served as that fuel. He is amazing at recognizing that Moms fail to get time away from all the mommy stuff.

But hey, pretty lady, before you get up on you high horse and say, "You go girl. Tell him, sister!" it's not just the Dads who may not understand the importance of a Mom getting time away. I know plenty of you out there who just don't think Daddy can do the nighttime routine like you can. Or the morning routine. Or any routine. And they shouldn't do it like you! Let Daddy be Daddy! Let go of the control. Your children will benefit greatly from having Dad develop some special traditions with them, while you regroup. It's time to remember that our highest call is that of being a Christian. We need to nourish our souls as Christians . . . who happen to also be wives and mothers. Think back on those positional truths. We are daughters of the King first. The other roles come second.

The flu, however? The flu could care less about us. It's gone now. But lurking. Like a pig. Ready to pounce. Or whatever pigs do. Who gives a flying pig.

Oink off, flu.