Direct Selling 101: Dealing with the Berthas.

Direct sales is hard. Anyone who tells you otherwise is full of shit. And sadly, those people are out there. They promise you riches beyond your wildest dreams. They promise it’s an easy, marketable product. They swear you can work without a lick of effort because customers will just fall from the heavens right into your lap, dripping in glitter and spending oodles of their money on your product and all you have to do is one simple post on Facebook. It’s a lie. I’m on to those pitching you that. I’m watching them in shame—some of them may even be reading this.

Here’s the thing. Direct sales does work. It can be life-changing. It can save someone’s life–literally. You CAN make money. You can do it with class, sass and have a ton of fun on the journey. I say this not from assumption but from personal experience. All of the above are truths I can vehemently vouch for. But it’s hard work and it takes effort to overcome some of the obstacles you get dealt in this gig.

The company I am a part of believes deeply in the golden rule, which is to treat others the way you want to be treated —all you Christians reading this better have gotten that or you best head on back to church this weekend. Anyway, I want to honor that golden rule. I wish I had known some of the things I know now when I started. Before you have to go through and learn the lessons I’ve learned from this business, I’m going to share some advice and most honest transparency with you so that you can find comfort, learn or at least be informed before you take a dive into this industry.

Direct selling is hard because we carry a stigma in society. There are a lot of super crotchety former reps out there and even more people with a deeply ingrained opinion of us all.  I don’t know where it developed. I don’t know who is at fault. All I know is it hurts us. Over the years, it has never gotten easier and I hate admitting that but I promised truth. I move often and each time I’m getting to know a new mom or friend, the question of what I do always arises—typically after she asks what my husband does, isn’t that annoying? Anyway, the moment I say I sell a product with a direct selling company it happens. She glosses over, panics, maybe wets her pants a little–I don’t know but it’s almost always the same. “I could never do sales.” No ones asked if you could. “I had a friend who did that once and she didn’t succeed in it.” Yea, you usually don’t if you quit. “I like my Mac and Clinique.” Name dropper. “Oh, isn’t that a pyramid scheme?” No, and I could write you a ten-page paper citing facts on why it isn’t but like anti-vaccers staring fact versus proven lies straight in the face, it would fall on blinded eyes. I’ll smile while these answers run through my head like a pinball in a machine, but those comments tear at my heart and my self worth. They hurt. They’re rude—usually unintentionally. They make me feel little, shamed and send a clear message she has no intention of supporting me. So I close up. Terrified to ever mention my small business again—even though it’s the hers of the world that I need most to support me.

It’s always so confusing because I see them supporting a local boutique—going so far as to do try-ons or sharing coupon codes. I see them supporting a stranger they follow on Instagram who’s on a fitness journey and she’s sharing recipes from this person out of blind faith they’re any good. I see her supporting her hairstylist with before and after selfies. I see ME supporting her in her own business endeavors. I even see her pushing that new Kylie lip kit in apparent support of Kylie’s continued ass shots from her private jet. But when it comes to us direct sales gals…crickets. Why is that? Why won’t she help us? 

Now that I have you convinced to never do direct sales, let me tell you my best guidance on this and give you hope. When this happens, don’t give away your power. Also take this counsel with you through life in general. Stop giving away your power to people. What does that mean? It means don’t over-explain. Don’t over-explain your choices, your decisions, your reasoning for having decided to do whatever it is you did/do. For example, Bertha at the church group (after asking what your husband does) asks what you do and you tell her you sell for  “blah blah blah” company and then she looks at you and says, “Oh, I could never do sales.” You respond with, “Interesting,” or, “Gotcha,” or my personal favorite, “Ok.” Done. End of topic. Ask her what she does. Move on.

You really need to practice the pause on this one because your knee jerk reaction is going to be to explain all the ways that it’s actually really easy to sell and anyone can do it and you aren’t a car salesperson—and here’s why—and people are selling themselves daily by all their pictures on social media—selling their kids and how happy their marriage is and their recipes and all the things. Blah blah blah, verbal vomit all over her and she just keeps looking at you like, oh hunny you’re so one of those people, and then suddenly you, breathless, decide to quit direct sales.

It’s the over-explaining. With each desperate reason you give her, you are giving away your power. It’s a total mind eff. It makes you want to beat your head against a wall and it makes YOU question your well thought out decisions. This random person, with one silly statement, has suddenly made you question something you were passionate about two minutes ago because she’s set herself up with that inconsiderate response to make it seem like you need to give her justification on why you do what it is you do AND if you can’t convince her why people can sell, she’s not only right but insinuating you can’t really sell it either. Might I add something? Most times we bring this anguish on ourselves. Bertha doesn’t even realize what she’s saying. We live in a very egocentric world where it’s all about me, me, me. You tell her what you do, she finds a way to turn the conversation to make it about her. We do this a lot. I do this unintentionally, you likely do as well. Was her comment lame? Totes. But we do have to take part of the blame for giving her that much power to doubt ourselves.

Doubt is a powerful thing. Think of it this way–you’ve got this boat. You can drag Bertha on to take a ride–kicking and screaming–only for her to get seasick and throw up everywhere ruining your boat and leaving you questioning if it was your captaining that made her ill. Or, you wave and leave her on the dock without letting her anywhere near your precious vessel. Bon voyage, Bertha! 

You have no obligation to convince or explain to anyone why your business is the best and you love it. Period. She wants on the boat? She needs to be onboard with you–ha, get it–onboard? Save your energy and passion for someone who wants it, someone who genuinely wants to see your boat or wants to take a cruise with you if even just for fun. Practice the pause, and don’t give away your power. You could literally answer, “Ok.” to all of the above questions I initially presented. It ends the convo and I promise it will stun her. She’s expecting an explanation. She’s expecting a reaction. Don’t give it. Be kind always, but protect yourself. This tiny, super simple trick will save you a ton of heartache, a ton of doubt in yourself and will leave you looking like an ultra confident business woman who really doesn’t care if someone gets it or not. I believe it’s part of the reason I’ve been as successful as I have in this business–if only it didn’t take me so stinking long to figure it out!

Let me also say this—sometimes Berthas come around. They might just need to see your boat sail for a little bit before they want to take a ride. They may need to see you in action as a captain before they trust you won’t drown them. I have hundreds of Berthas in my customer base and even on my team and it’s honestly in using this tactic that it happened. Also, there are people out there who will initially support you. People who will cheer for you the second you meet them. They will go out of their way to help you as best they can by liking your posts or trying your product before they go grab something similar at Target or telling their friends about you or simply talking to you about your gig. They’re out there. I promise. They’re absolute gold and they will be shiny, beautiful blessings in your business. 

Sucker Punched

I punched Kurtis in the face once. Not pee wee punch no return punch, but left hook with every ounce of strength I had behind it right into his eye socket punch. What could he have done to warrant an assault like this? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

I was walking down a grocery aisle, pregnant. The tile beneath my feet was an older pattern in a speckled cream tone and the florescent lighting cast a yellow glow down the cereal aisle I was perusing. I didn’t have a shopping cart because I was only there for a few things. As I made my way down the aisle, a sudden dread came over me. Do you know that feeling? It’s heavy and unexplainable. Sometimes it’s justified and sometimes it’s not. I felt I was in danger. Panic set in to the pit of my stomach. I wanted to run away but I wasn’t sure what I was running away from. Also, I was quite pregnant, so running would’ve been waddling. A large man turned the corner and started lurking up the aisle towards me. He was in a gray hoodie and I couldn’t see his face. As he neared, I could see his fist and he was pulling back as if to punch me aiming for my stomach. I covered my pregnant belly with my right arm and, as he leaned in, I punched him with every bit of power in me. Turns out I didn’t punch him. I punched Kurtis. 

I sat straight up in bed–rising from the dead–turned and threw a left hook into the face of my peacefully slumbering husband. The second my fist made contact with his eye, I woke up. I was dazed, scared and then horrified. I imagine he felt the same. He woke immediately, covered his swelling eye and choked out a groggy, “WHAT THE HELL.” He looked at me like I was a lunatic. Ok, it was dark and I don’t know what his face looked like, but I assume it was that. I couldn’t get the apologies out fast enough. I’m so sorry! OH MY GOD Kurtis! It was a terrible dream. I’ll get you some frozen peas! Was it a good punch? 

This wasn’t my first episode, although it’s the first one where I physically acted out. Actually, that’s a lie…I’m literally just remembering one other time someone was assaulted by me acting out a dream. 

We used to go to a little dive resort in Wisconsin called White Lake. It wasn’t ritzy but it was perfect in my eight-year-old eyes. It was small, safe and the essence of a summer getaway just right for our small family. We looked forward to every year. One fateful summer, I fell off 8′ monkey bars and broke both of my wrists. Into matching hot pink casts went my arms for the summer. That year at White Lake, we stayed in a little resort room and I shared a bed with mom while dad has his own. We woke the next morning and mom was mad at me. Not really mad, but mad the way I’m mad at Kurtis when I have a dream he cheats on me. Ya know? I didn’t understand why she was giving me heck. Turns out it was because I was bashing her in the head all night with my casts acting out a dream I never woke from. It’s still a standing joke, but now as I remember it while writing this, it makes my episode with Kurtis all the more intriguing. 

For years I’ve suffered from some kind of sleep issue. I’ve never had it tested or been to a clinic but it’s been a constant my whole life. I’ve always talked in my sleep—which lots of people do, so that’s not all that weird. I also physically jolt awake in my dreams if something painful is about to happen—like if in my dream I’m about to fall down stairs or crash into a car I will suddenly jerk awake. I remember once when I was younger waking myself up acting out a dream. In my dream, I was trying to cross monkey bars (there are those stupid monkey bars again) and I kept hitting my head on them. In reality, I was hitting my head against my headboard over and over and over again. I finally woke up after one brutal smack against it. 

Things got creepier as I aged. I get what I now believe are sleep paralysis episodes. It’s the strangest feeling. You’re floating between knocked-out sleep and drifting sleep. It’s that muffled in-between that a professional would likely say is transitioning from Non-REM to REM. Usually something scary happens in this dream state that terrifies you. I scream for help at the top of my lungs but nothing comes out or what comes out is muffled like someone is covering my mouth. Half the time I don’t remember what makes me so terrified but a lot of times when I finally wake and can move and talk, I’m reduced to tears I’m so scared and hopped-up on emotion.

Sometimes I do remember that in-between and it’s always the same—I think my eyes are open but they aren’t. Everything is dark grayish brown and I always see a dark shadow lingering at the end of my bed. I can never make out what it is but it’s there and it’s petrifying. According to Kurtis, my screams come out in muffled wails and I shake but don’t really move. Norbert used to get so upset by it he would lick Kurtis’s hand or try to lift his arm to wake him and help me. 

Over the years, I’ve tried to figure this all out. You can imagine my feelings when I watched The Haunting of Hill House. Part of me was ready to commit myself to an asylum because suddenly I was convinced I had a Bent Neck Lady in my life. The other part of me was grateful because I totally, totally experienced Nell’s terror. Now, I’m not going to kill myself, it’s not an everyday thing and I never lived in a haunted house (I don’t think so at least), but that show brought to light a legitimate occurrence that people–me– go through.  I remember when we first saw the show I was on the davenport like, omg I’m not alone! Kurtis was even creeped because everything described in the show he had already heard from my own personal experiences. Ghosts and demons aside, it is likely a true sleep disorder called sleep paralysis that I have along with a slight case of REM Sleep Behavior disorder. What’s interesting…concerning…is I have symptoms of both. Paralysis you can’t move, REM disorder you act out. So I’m over here all kinds of wiggidy-wack with BOTH. Maybe I should go to a sleep study… 

Needless to say, it happens most when I’m overly stressed or tired and what’s odd is it’s worse in some homes than others. I know, totally weird. It was at it’s worst in my home in Canada and our first home here in Dubuque. Those were also during the same period of life, which is also intriguing. I can’t explain it and whether I ever get tested or not, it’s likely unexplainable. In the large scope of knowledge, people actually know very little about sleep–even the experts. Yes, there are lots of studies and theories but it’s still quite an unknown. What I do know, is that my poor darling husband was the victim of my messed-up sleep issues. However, now that I have him thoroughly convinced of it, if I’m ever particularly angry with him some night I have an alibi for “accidentally” socking him in the face again. I kid, I kid…

Good Effort, Kendra!

I watched her dump the volleyball into the net for about the fifth time that game. I put on my frozen smile—which by now likely looked similar to the Joker’s—and clapped encouragingly. I waited for it. I knew it was coming. There, from the top row of the bleachers it came raining down, “Good effort, Kendra!”

I played on a traveling volleyball team for the better part of my youth. Truth be told, I had some talent. Unfortunately, talent only got you so far in my volleyball world. What I had for talent I was lacking in last name, relation and financials. I was also a little chubby. Maybe that was it? We played on a team called Lightening. There were three teams in this particular age group in this particular club. Lightening was the middle talent team after Thunder. I maintain to this day that a few of us should’ve been on Thunder but whatever. Politics of youth sports—what can ya do? There was a girl on my team named Kendra*. She was not one of the people that probably should’ve been on Thunder. 

Looking back at how the teams were stacked, I’m wondering if it was just an age thing for us girls at the time. You were either good or you weren’t. In-between didn’t really exist. Thunder was good. I can’t even remember the other team name—Cloud? Rain? Hail? I don’t know, but they, well, weren’t. Lightening was a mix of people who should’ve been on Thunder and people who should’ve been on third team I can’t remember. That made for a mess of a team. So there I was with my frozen smile, internally screaming at Kendra because I had no clue why the heck she was even thinking she could’ve hit the ball that she took away from Emily. And all the time that voice, “Good effort, Kendra!” 

Why do some people have such a lasting impact on us? I have boyfriends who left less of an impression on me than she did. It wasn’t because we were bosom buddies. We were two very strong personalities. I may have also accidentally chuckled when she sprained her ankle. That was actually rotten of me but I remember it clear as day. She went up to hit a ball—pass, set, Kendra jumped (maybe an inch off the ground) spiked it directly into the net (which was to be expected) and came down. Next thing I know, she’s on the ground screaming. Kendra had a loud voice. I didn’t mention that. You know people who have loud voices and then people who have loud voices. Hers was the latter. Anyway, we learned that her loud voice also translated into a loud crier. Screaming. Screeching. Some kind of dying animal cry. When I looked over at her, I was expecting to see bone coming out of her skin it sounded so bad (it was a minor sprain). Her dad, taking two stairs at a time, came leaping down to carry her off the court because she couldn’t even get up to hop off with our help. It was just too much. I chuckled. It’s terrible. I don’t wish pain upon anyone. But I chuckled, so there’s my confession. I’m sorry Kendra. 

It got to the point that Kendra was super reliable for being unreliable during games. At thirteen I wasn’t ok with losing games. You know how you get put on a group project with a C student when you are a straight A student? Suddenly, your entire grade depends on this person magically bringing his or her “A” game? So naturally you just take over everything and tell them you got it? Or was that just me? Maybe that’s why the checkbox for “works well in groups” was always a zero on my report cards? The point was, that was the unreliable feeling driving me crazy during games.

I wanted to play the sport moving into high school and I was highly competitive. I’m also the type of person that when I make a mistake, I want to acknowledge it and try to find out what I did wrong so I can improve on it. Kendra was not that person. She was a it’s-all-just-for-fun-this-doesn’t-matter-participation-trophy-kind of person. So were her parents. After every single error her dad would shout from the rafters between cupped hands, “Good effort, Kendra!” I kid you not, after every single mistake. Missed serve. Good effort. Whiffs the pass. Good effort. Dives for a ball that’s five feet away. Good effort. Good effort, good effort, good effing effort. If hashtags were a thing back then, his would’ve been #goodeffortkendra…on a t-shirt. To make it even worse, he started thinking he could good effort me anytime I made a mistake. No, no Mr. Hawkins* it was not a good effort. It was a terrible serve that I missed and should’ve made. Don’t you start good efforting me! I never said that to him—but I thought it. My parents understood. They weren’t good effort type people either. The first time he said it, I think my mom said something like, “Well it wasn’t really. She should’ve made that serve.” God bless moms for knowing you to your core. For two seasons I lived through the good efforts. Two trying, painful seasons I was haunted by them.  

All sarcasm and joking aside—these were good people. I have nothing against them and I appreciate they were so supportive of their daughter. We were just very, very different. I mean, I just watched Tia play basketball the other day and there are the really nice, good effort moms and then lunatics like myself yelling for her to focus on the ball and stop waving at Payton. So neither is right nor wrong and we are all, quite frankly, just doing the best we can. I get that now Mr. Hawkins. Totally. Little did you know that after all these years, “Good effort, Kendra” is a staple term in my family.

A few years after I hung up my volleyball spandex shorts, I was playing tennis and totally missed a shot. Laughing at the folly (tennis ended up being my sport), my dad yelled down, “Good effort, Kendra” and I busted a gut. It stuck. I mean, stuck. Mom makes a homemade lemon pie that resembled lemon soup? Good effort, Kendra. Kurtis falls out of the penalty box at a playoff game? Good effort, Kendra. Lauren plans an epic dinner and a family fight breaks out? Good effort, Kendra. Friend hits a terrible golf shot? Good effort, Kendra. Friend looks at us, confused, who’s Kendra? She asks. Months later, she’s saying it to other friend who hits a bad shot. I mean, people in my circle hear this phrase often—likely without a clue as to where it came from or who it’s referring to. But it lives on…and I think of her. I think of thirteen-year-old Kendra and me playing volleyball on our mediocre team. I don’t have a clue where she is these days or how her parents are doing. I do, however, look back fondly on those days. Somehow, that loud-voiced little girl and her effort-loving father have managed to be a part of my life for the last twenty some years. And with each folly in my life or that of anyone around me, their legacy lives on—good effort, Kendra. Good effort. 

*Name changed.

When the Cat’s Away…

Nothing says I love you like your darling dog bringing you a deer leg. I looked out our living room picture window and saw Norbert trotting up from the woods. He was awkwardly carrying a log that was too big for him up the hill. So cute. But then I looked a little closer at the oddly shaped log. I wondered what he could’ve gotten in to in the short time he was outside. It was brisk and there was a dusting of snow on the ground, so I threw on my new Ugg boots to check. When he met me at the bottom of our deck stairs, I screamed. It was a deer leg. A disgusting, bloody, rotting deer leg. Hoof and all. He dropped it at my boots, licked his chops, wagged his tail and looked at me with those big loving brown eyes of his like, “I thought you’d like it mama.” Normally, I would go get Kurtis. That’s what Kurtis is for. I make the dinners, he handles the deer carcasses. You know, each marriage has those unspoken agreements. Here’s the problem, Kurtis wasn’t there. He was working and wasn’t going to be home for a month.

I had a few options. First, leave it. But who wants a rotting deer leg on their patio? What better way to attract the animals from the woods—coyotes, raccoons, mountain lions, tigers and bears. I actually envisioned an eagle swooping down to snag it. No, leaving it there wasn’t an option. I could call someone. My dad would’ve helped or maybe a neighbor? “Hi John, it’s Lauren. I have a deer leg over here. Haha, no not for dinner. Could you come get it for me?”

Kurtis had taken a new job and I was bound and determined to survive without him. I could do this. I was a brave little toaster. So, I went and got Kurtis’s work gloves he kept in the garage. They were a few sizes too big and awkward but I was able to manage. Throwing up in my mouth as I caught the lovely scent of the rotting leg, I picked it up by the hoof—which was hanging on by some sort of…ligament? I’m not a doctor. Maybe it was a tendon. Aren’t those the same? I hope you aren’t eating. Anyway, I picked it up and carefully walked it back down the hill and gave it a huge heave-ho side throw into the woods. Bits of rotting meat flew off the leg into the air. I’m pretty sure some landed in my hair. Norbert started to bolt after it. Sweet, mom wants to play fetch with my new stick. NO! I grabbed him as he was about to charge and back into the house we went. Traumatized.

Isn’t it lovely that happened when Kurtis was gone? What were the chances? Turns out, chances were pretty freaking good because that wasn’t the fist incident. It’s turned into a running joke in our family that while Kurtis is here, nothing happens. When he’s gone, random, weird annoying incident after incident —usually animal related—happens. I’m not sure if you know this or not, but I’m a bit of a city girl. I don’t love getting dirty. I don’t like dead things. Mice, snakes, bugs in general scare me. Sometimes I think it is God playing jokes on me. Like, this is good for you Lauren, here’s a deer leg, a mouse, snakeskin and all sorts of fun things. I’d love to say this was the only time it happened, but alas, it was just the beginning. 

Not long after that, spring thaw hit Dubuque. The ground was soft and you could tell that life was gearing up for a new spring season. I was out front one day walking some trimmings to dump into our woods. I was proud as punch to be doing yard work. I’m not a fan. I would rather clean the inside of my house ten times over than do yard work but darn it, I was going to get this yard whipped into shape. As I was walking down the hill, something caught my eye on the ground. I sidestepped over to it and almost dropped my armful of clippings. It was a pterodactoyl skeleton. At least that’s what I thought it was. This thing was scary as heck, huge and perfectly in tact. Wings, beak, talons. Right there in my front yard. Guess what? Kurtis wasn’t there. What does one do with the remains of a dinosaur? I didn’t want to keep this thing in the front yard because given our past deer leg episode, Norbert would likely bring me a wing or gnaw on the bones. So I put on my big girl panties and went to work.

I went back to the garage and grabbed Kurtis’s handy-dandy gloves again–still stained from the deer leg–and switched from sneakers to my wellies. I also found a shovel and traipsed back outside. I bravely faced the skeleton with my shovel and tried to scoop it up as if sliding my spatula under the most perfectly formed pancake for a flip. Unfortunately, the head fell off, so I had to make two trips to the woods. I often wonder what the neighbors thought. There I was in my boots and oversized gloves screaming “ew, ew, ew,” as I delicately carried a dead eagle carcass out in front of me and flung it into my back woods. 

Want more?

It was late summer. The days were getting shorter and there was that crisp whisper of fall in the air. I came home from my Wednesday night tennis drill, parked my Yukon in the garage and went inside to chat with my auntie, who had watched the girls while I played. Dusk turned into evening and auntie went to leave. I opened the door to my garage and there my worst nightmare became a reality. I saw something sliding across my garage floor in the silhouette of an “s.” I slammed my door and went running back into the house. The range of emotions I was experiencing is hard to describe. Tears welled in my eyes while I simultaneously wanted to jump out of my skin. Bear with me on this. Snakes terrify me more than anything in the world. I mean terrify. I’ve been afraid of them my whole life—from teeny tiny ones to big ones that could swallow me whole.

At the ripe age of ten, I heard that the best way to beat a fear is to face it. I was so committed to beating my debilitating fear of snakes that I began checking out every book available at the library on snakes. I’d love to say it worked but, quite frankly, that piece of advice was absolute rubbish. I think my fear tripled after reading up on all the different species and looking at picture after picture of their disgusting, devilish faces. I hate them. Straight up.

Previously, I had only encountered them in museums. Today, there was one in my garage. My knight in shining armor, who would totally understand my panic, was gone. So there I was with a snake in the garage and no one to get rid of it. I wouldn’t be able to go into the garage ever again if there was even a millimicron of a chance that the snake was still in there. The only way I would ever be able to step foot in there again was knowing that it was dead. Who could I call though? Not Ghostbusters. Auntie wouldn’t help and on top of that, she loves every stinking animal that walks the earth. My parents were gone, so my only option I could think of was my neighbor. I texted him a desperate 911 asking if he would come help me with the snake. He didn’t hesitate and even brought his son to help.

They came up with a shovel ready to tackle the problem. I had kept the garage door open but after a twenty minute sweep of the area they told me it wasn’t in there anymore. Lies. Snakes are terrible, rotten, sneaky creatures and I knew that little bugger was still in there. Auntie was still around too chanting out every two seconds, “if you catch it don’t you kill it!” So I sent her home. I didn’t need that negativity at the moment. I could tell my neighbor and his son were over the situation. They came, they helped as best they could, they likely thought I was a little crazy because I was freaking out like a sketching addict and it was getting late. I could tell they were going to leave me. They were going to leave me with the sneaky snake that I knew was still in my garage. It would probably get into my house and slither into my boot so that one day I’d put it on and it would be there to terrify my and give me a heart attack. It’s not crazy. I’ve seen stories on that.

Resigned, I thanked them and went to grab my keys out of the car. As I did, the rotten terrible beast of a snake slithered out towards me. Michael Jordan’s vertical had nothing on me that night. Screaming, jumping, running, possibly wetting my pants a little, I went flying from the garage. Luckily, they were only halfway up the driveway. They came back and my neighbors in shining armor smoked it. Yes, I know snakes kill mice. Yes, word on the street is they are good for your yard. No, it wasn’t an endangered species. No, I didn’t tell auntie we killed it.

I’ve mentioned this before and I will say it again. In my book of life, a good snake is a dead snake. I never felt so relieved. While I was sure it was about eight feet long when I initially saw it, turns out is was possibly a foot in length.

Needless to say, after cleaning the blood off the garage floor and dispensing of the guilty party, my heroes left. I’m pretty sure I followed them the whole way home with tears of joy streaming down my face as I thanked them. I called Kurtis to let him know what happened and then proceeded to yell at him for not being here for me in my most desperate time of need. He asked why I left the garage door open.

I would like to say I slept better knowing it was dead, but to add insult to injury, within the next two weeks the girls and I found three sheds in the yard. One was intertwined in the back steps leading up to our deck and I was positive I had a colony living in our stone wall. I imagined them plotting against me and watching me daily. Did I mention I have a wild imagination?

That winter we had a mice. Get off your high horses people I hear you—you shouldn’t have killed the snake. He would’ve helped with the mice. Serves you right for killing the snake. Yea, yea, I get it and you’re probably right. I’m still happy it died.

Have I mentioned yet that we practically live on a farm? We have woods all around the back of our home and a creek running in the back. It’s out a bit from town, so as you can tell from what you’ve read so far, we get critters. The mice moved into our comfy cozy garage for the winter and then the little buggers tried to take it a step further and move into the house.

After a mouse interrupted my homemade peierogie making near Christmas—Kurtis was home thank goodness—he started setting traps for them. Traps are good. Catching mice is good. Dead mice in traps are good when your husband is home. Not as good when he’s gone. My poor dad became my go-to for coming out, disposing of the mice and then re-setting the traps. Here’s how my winter went. I’d be running a business meeting and SNAP. Dead mouse. That lipstick color looks great on you Fern and SNAP. Dead mouse. Sunday dinners with the family? Yes, the buns are homemade and SNAP. Dead mouse. To help with my anxiety of it all I pretended they were Gus Gus and Jacque. Just sweet little friends that meant no harm. I mean, I killed them but the thought helped. At one point when I was yelling at Kurtis on the phone…again…he kindly told me this is farm living and to get used to it. Soon after we moved to Texas.

Let me just say there were incidents in Texas as well, but luckily, Kurtis was always around. A rattlesnake to my left as I went to let one of my consultants in at the front gate sent me flying back to our apartment (in my director suit and heels) screaming for Kurtis. A tarantula we named Tito who visited on the daily. Cockroaches the size of my lipstick that came out to join us for evening cocktails on the porch. A mockingbird that lived outside our window and sang from midnight until four in the morning. But I’ll save those stories for another post.

I was well aware that moving back to my farm meant I would likely encounter some more fun-filled events. Kurtis was again working a hitch two on and two off, but I was hoping this time my luck would change. I mean, he spent almost four months home before he started his new gig and nothing. Absolutely nothing. We power washed the exterior and no snakes came flying out of the stone wall I dreaded. No sheds. No mice. The only incident was when a snake apparently crawled across our patio on a sunny afternoon when the girls and their nanny were out back. They named him Fred. I pretended it didn’t happen. Denial is a beautiful thing. In the meantime, we also got three little kitties. These garage/outdoor cats, contrary to what my girls say, were brought into the family solely to kill mice. I was feeling pretty good about it all.

Naturally, the week before Kurtis left, karma reared its ugly head. Kurtis killed two mice with his flip flop (not even kidding, he’s a beast). First, one was running around down behind our bar. WACK. Second, Hadley came running out of her room screaming. WACK. The kitties mutilated one in the garage and left it for us and then literally the day before he left, double SNAP, SNAP. The Mary Poppins in me thought, perfect, they all were handled before he left, so now we won’t have problems. Dad was onboard to help with any caught in traps again, too.  

About a week after Kurtis left, I had put the girls to bed, shut off Hadley’s light and was walking into the hall when I heard a sound no mother alone in her house with her babies wants to hear. It was a strange, scratching, something alive kind of sound that alerts you to the fact that you are not alone like you thought. The fight or flight adrenaline hit me like a ton of bricks. I was in the back corner of our basement with two babes in rooms to my right, precious cargo upstairs sleeping and a presumed intruder between me and the staircase to her.

I stood paralyzed in the hallway. The sound was coming from the family room in front of me. I had nothing to grab at the moment but thought about using a lamp. My phone was upstairs to call for help. Suck it up Lauren and face it was my last thought before forcing myself to move. I took a few cautious steps toward the sound, fully prepared to see a hooded man standing in the living room. As I turned the corner…nothing. Then the sound again, but this time behind me. It was the creepiest sound. A scratching, tapping, fluttering sound. But it was impossible to place. It was right out of Hill House but I knew it wasn’t a ghost. A thought occurred to me…a raccoon had gotten in the house. Some crazy sized critter had gotten into the house and was stuck.

By now the girls were on to me because I was pacing the hallway. I told them to get upstairs fast. I wasn’t prepared to take on a raccoon so I was right up behind them. Memories of the time a chipmunk got into my parents’ house and the time a bat fell from a tree onto my shoulder suddenly flooded my memory (no, I’m serious).

Once I was upstairs I grabbed my phone and called Kurtis. He didn’t believe me and basically told me I was crazy. Maybe I was? I stood at the top of my staircase listening. Nope. Not crazy. It was still down there. I was fully prepared for a raccoon to come walking down the hallway. Do you know how mean they are? Likely rabid, too. I called my mom and dad. I mean, what else do you do? I will say this. At thirty five, I still call my mom and dad an awful lot for help. Anyway, they were next on my people to call after Kurtis, who was worthless in this situation and, quite frankly, ticking me off. I asked both mom and dad to come–dad for brute force and mom for brains. So, at around 9:30pm, when they were likely settled in for Chicago Fire, they came rolling out.

I waited at the top of the stairs and continued to hear the strange, very much alive, sound. When mom and dad showed up I couldn’t help by laugh. Apparently, I may have eggagerated the situation. My dad was in long pants and boots wielding an axe, butcher knife, a lob wedge, two putters and a big can of Raid bug spray. Mom came in her jammies. The sound had stopped (of course) but after a few walk-throughs we picked it up again. Mom and I and the girls stayed upstairs while my dad went room by room with his putter and bug spray. Door slowly opening. Door closed. Opening. Closed.

At one point he came up as confused as I was. He had heard it and he too thought it was moving around but then it would be gone. We started knocking on walls and low and behold, after much trial and error decided that it was, you guessed it, a mouse…in the wall. Can I just say something? My house is pretty nice. It was just recently gutted top to bottom. How a mouse was now living in my wall was beyond me and beyond annoying.

Dad started talking about cutting a hole in the wall and setting a trap to get it but I was over there like, oh hell no. We just got the place put back together after the reno and the last thing I wanted to do was start punching holes in it again. My animal loving daughters and mother came downstairs and were horrified at this poor darling mouse stuck in the wall. The girls named it, tapped the wall for it and then told it good night and went to bed happy as can be about the whole adventure and their new friend. I wanted it dead. After chatting with Kurtis, we decided to let it go for the night. As cruel as it sounds, it would eventually wear itself out and die. I was worried about the smell of rotting mouse but we figured we’d deal with that if and when it happened. The next day, nothing–no sound, no movement. Quite honestly, nothing ever since. To this day it’s a mystery. Did Squeaks get out? Is Squeaks lying there rotting? Not too sure. 

There are more. I’m sure there will be more, too. But just when you think I’m out here with it all together living life on a perfectly staged farm, remember these disasters and know that you couldn’t be more wrong. When I introduced this blog I told you about my gong show dumpster fire moments and my friends, these are just the tip of the iceberg.

Lost

I sat on the toilet staring at the results. I couldn’t believe it. I mean I could, but I was shocked. I had only gotten off the pill the previous month and while I didn’t exactly trip and fall onto my husband, it wasn’t like we were really trying. I wanted to be overjoyed. I wanted to keep it a secret and do some fabulous announcement where he would cry and then I would cry and then he’d scoop me up into his arms and music would come out of nowhere. Instead, I burst into tears. I came out of the bathroom wailing, “KURTIS!” (tears and snot running everywhere), “I’m pregnant!”

He jumped out of bed, startled, “That’s it? I thought something was really wrong with you.” That’s it. That’s it was his response to our first pregnancy. In the coming weeks when I would hold this over his head every chance I got, he would explain it was a terrible answer and he was caught off-guard. It was a terrible answer but yes, he was caught off-guard. Plus I couldn’t give him too much grief considering my response was ugly crying and hyperventilation out of panic and, “what the hell have we done.” 

This wasn’t an accidental pregnancy per say. We had made the decision to start a family. It happened so quickly though, that I think we were both a bit shocked. It didn’t take long for us to slip into the excitement of expecting. Before our first doctor’s appointment was even booked, we made the 20-minute trip into town to buy all the books. What to Expect, What Not to Expect, How to Break it to Your Dog, What to Eat, What Not to Eat, How to Not Screw it Up, How to Compare Yourself to Every Pregnancy on Earth. You know, all the classics. I stopped drinking and became hyper-aware of what I ate—only the best for the baby. I even contemplated a halt to my workouts—mustn’t do anything to risk hurting peanut. After our initial appointment though, I was given the green light to live my normal life. Looking back now I have to laugh at the contrast between that pregnancy beginning and my others. I was so naive. So cautious. So new to it all. 

We told everyone immediately. Well, not Facebook announce everyone, but close family. Kurtis drove me around in his truck to every single family member like I was his prized hog. “We have some news…we’re expecting” AHH!! JOY!! Tears!!! Hugs. Then all the questions—when? Are you going to find out? How far along? How do you feel Lauren? And so on. The first week was navigating emotions of bliss and joy and newness. Sitting here typing this to you still brings a tear to my eye because that moment was the only moment in our lives that would ever be that moment. That made zero sense. Basically, the first time you find out you’re pregnant happens only once in your life. Regardless of how it ends, it’s worth treasuring and reliving often.

I kept on with our normal schedule other than checking my profile every day to see if I had a bump yet. Didn’t that happen at nine weeks? I had zero sickness. It was almost odd how completely normal I felt. It was as if I wasn’t pregnant at all. I already figured it was because we were having a boy—less morning sickness. I remember devouring each book and making lists of baby names. Yes, with our first I had Kurtis cornered almost daily to go over potential baby names. Every boy name I offered Kurtis responded with either, “No. I played hockey with a guy who had that name. He was a loser.” Or, “That’s a good one. I played hockey with a guy who had that name. I liked him.”

Around the time our first trimester was coming to an end, Kurtis had to work out of town. I remember feeling a bit panicked during the time he was gone. It had bothered me for awhile that I wasn’t feeling pregnant. I mean, nothing. My doctor’s appointments had been fine and I hadn’t had any of the tell-tale spotting. I knew from skimming my books that if you had spotting it was over. But I was still feeling off. Oddly, I always skipped over the sections in each baby book that talked about miscarriage. I didn’t see the point in reading about it considering nothing was going to happen to our baby. Still, I often felt pulled to those chapters.

On a crazy whim I went and bought another pregnancy test. The first one I had used was the fancy digital reader that told me “pregnant” and then how far along—1-2, 2-3 or 3+ week indicators. When I had taken it the first time, it read 3+ weeks. That next morning it said 2-3 weeks. Do you ever have moments in your life where the truth is staring you straight in the face but you refuse to see it. That night I went to bed after reading the miscarriage sections of my books. It’s not happening I kept telling myself. No way. I was in total denial when I went to bed that night. The next morning I woke up, spotting.

Thankfully, Kurtis was home the next day. I remember he was taking the backhoe up to the farm when my spotting turned into clotting. I called him, sobbing. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t believe this was happening. I was so mad. At one point in the bathroom I remember screaming at the blood soaked toilet paper “stop it god dammit.” I’d never felt so helpless. My body was completely letting me down and I was sure I was losing our baby.

Our doctor ordered an immediate ultrasound for the next day and assured us it was likely fine. I had stopped spotting, too. Phew. False alarm. I read board after board on online sights featuring women who had spotted but had perfectly healthy babies. These women had even majorly bled—and still had normal pregnancies. I banked on it being my situation as well and made a mental note to also write into those boards with my own similar experience.  

The day of the ultrasound arrived. I was advised to drink lots of water and eat something sugary to get baby moving. So I grabbed a Smart Water and some Skittles. The drive to the ultrasound was well over an hour, but that day, it felt like three hours. I couldn’t wait to see our baby. We had a painfully long wait until our tech was ready and then the moment arrived that I had been waiting for—the sound of my baby’s heartbeat. The tech inserted the device—a small sacrifice for what we were going to get to see—and there was the tiny little peanut. I mean tiny. There wasn’t any movement but it was right there plain as day. I smiled giddily at Kurtis with tears in my eyes and he smiled back. But his smile wasn’t joyful. You know the kind of smile you give your girlfriend when she’s explaining how the guy she’s seeing is going to change but you know he’s never going to change? It’s a kind, loving and almost sad smile because you just don’t want to hurt her anymore than you know she’s about to be hurt by him? He gave me that smile and squeezed my hand. The tech was oddly quiet as she went to capture the sound of a heartbeat. I listened and listened and listened… to silence. Confused and terrified I looked to Kurtis who was eyeing the tech. Looking back, I know Kurtis knew and I know I knew. Cheerfully, she said, “Okie dokie” followed by, “I’ll be right back.” She never came back.

A random doctor, who I’d never met, walked in a few minutes later. “I’m sorry but there’s no heartbeat. You will need to make immediate plans on how you want to deal with the loss. I suggest a D&C but it’s completely up to you. I’m sorry.” Then he got up and left. I’m not kidding. In and out. Gone. Kurtis and I were left there, alone and in complete shock. Like, what the heck do we do know? Sorry doc, but I don’t have a manual on next steps after you leave me in an empty room with a frozen picture of my dead embryo on the screen. Where the heck was that in the stupid baby books!?  I broke. I mean broke down. Kurtis was breaking down too but still keeping it together because, quite frankly, that’s what he had to do in that moment. I look back often on that moment. I looked to him, helpless, and he was there. He was still strong and still calming. He was every bit the strong, masculine protector that I needed more than anything in that moment. However he, equally helpless and suffering, had no one to look to. That moment in the empty room gave me insight about as close as I’ve ever come to understanding what it may be like to bear the expectations of being a man. I know how much I appreciated he was able to be that for me when I couldn’t for him. 

The drive back home was one of the longest and saddest of my life. We called everyone. All the same people we had announced it to weeks before were now asking, “how” and, “what will you do?” “How is Lauren feeling?” was still asked as before, but this time with a dark, miserable, cautious cloud surrounding it. 

I scheduled a D&C two days later. I had no desire to do this naturally. I was dead inside…literally…there was death inside of me. I wanted it out. I wanted a clean start. I wanted to have closure. I went in for my procedure and for some twisted reason, you had to check in and prep in the maternity ward. There I was, lost, surrounded by women with their newborn babies. One very pregnant woman must’ve had an appointment because she was all smiles with her husband as she left. She was so cute with her little bump. I hated her. 

The procedure was simple and fairly painless. I truly believe this is where my healing began. A doctor came breezing in. She had a wonderful accent and was quite to the point. “How you doing sweetie?” She asked me and before I could answer she replied, “You’re terrible. I bet you wish you were anywhere but her right now—and with a glass of wine.” I actually smiled. She squeezed my hand and said, “I want you to know that sometimes God has to be cruel to be kind.” They put the mask on and I counted back ten to one with tears streaming down my face. 

I’m happy to tell you that my ending is a happy one. God blessed us with three other healthy, full-term pregnancies. Tia’s was easy other than we were told she likely had an underdeveloped brain (she didn’t). I don’t even remember Hadley’s because I was busy chasing around Tia. We almost lost Carolyn early on but that story is for another post. Here’s the thing. I think in recent years, people have gotten a lot better in talking about miscarriage, but I do think it’s still a taboo subject. Now that you know my story, I want to take some time to let you in on some of the struggles I went through. I can only speak on behalf of myself. I can’t speak for Kurtis and I certainly can’t speak for other women who have also been through this. Every situation and person is unique.

Here’s what was hardest for me—the complete and total lack of control. I’m not a helpless person. I’m a highly driven only child with a dominant personality, who had succeeded at just about everything I went after in life. So when my body gave out on me, I couldn’t handle it. I have never felt an out of control helplessness like that and I hated it. 

I was angry at everything and everyone for a long time. I lost a few friends that summer. We were in the throws of a baby boom in Midale and I wanted nothing to do with their joy. I resented them. They annoyed me. I didn’t want to see one more stinking picture of the new happy family of three or four or whatever. Sadly, they had no clue I was suffering and I’m sure just assumed I was a wench. I kind of was a wench actually, but I was hurting. Their beautiful little babies reminded me of our loss and the possibility that this may be a recurring road we were about to travel. I was angry at crappy people who got to have babies. Women who dumped their babies in dumpsters or neglected the baby or whatever. It was petty and man was I on my soapbox about how I was beyond more deserving to have had a baby, but it’s the raw truth of what went through my mind. I was angry at people who had found out. I remember shortly after the D&C, a woman at the local convenience store asked when I was due. How she found out is still a mystery and it’s likely a good thing it remains that way. I begged our family to keep it quiet. Someone hadn’t and now if this woman knew, the town knew because that’s how small towns work. I had to tell her, holding back tears, we had lost the baby but thank you for asking. I’d go for walks and every car that drove by was surly talking about me and how I couldn’t carry a baby—that’s what I told myself at least.  I was angry at myself. I shouldn’t have worked out. I shouldn’t have had that deli meat turkey sandwich, I shouldn’t have had that glass of wine before we found out. We shouldn’t have told anyone. I should’ve gone in sooner. The guilt pulled me under deep. I was mad at God. That entire dialogue will stay between him and I, but I was mad. I turned away from him for awhile, childishly, selfishly, tit-for-tat. If you are going to be like that to a decent good person then fine, I will be the same way to you God. It wasn’t pretty. I know he was likely carrying me that entire time and there I was, hating on him. 

I was embarrassed. I had excelled at everything in my life and this was truly the first thing I had failed at miserably. The embarrassment threw me for a loop. I didn’t want to talk about it because I saw it as a failure. Initially, I had trouble seeing it for scientific facts and I resented people telling me the facts. Something was wrong. Your body protected you. It may have had something severely wrong. Words falling on my deaf ears. All I saw was me, failing. I couldn’t carry a child. The embarrassment was likely a mask for that particular fear—what if I really couldn’t have children? I didn’t want to talk about it to people. I didn’t want people to know. I wanted to hide behind my guilt and shame for failing Kurtis and the baby so badly. 

Guess what? I came out of it. I laughed again. I looked forward to the future. I stopped hating myself. I stopped being angry. I was able to be around babies and feel joy for the families. Kurtis was strong and amazing and brave and equally devastated but continued to be my rock. There are a few poignant moments that contributed to my healing. 

First, was our dog Norbert. He’s not with us anymore but, as Forrest would say, he was my best good friend. After the D&C he let me cry into his coat for hours and just laid there occasionally licking my face. He never let me alone during that time either. Ya’ll can say what you want about the healing power of animals. I believe it because I’ve lived it. 

Second was time with Kurtis. We had a jam-packed summer of weddings. We went through this in April and decide to make the most of our summer. Despite the doctor telling us we could start trying a month later, I had no desire to go down that path. This had rocked me mentally. I was one hundred percent not prepared to face it again for some time. We took the summer to plan drawn-out travels to some absolutely beautiful countryside in Canada and the U.S. We visited family and friends and spent quality time together—healing. How one of the worst summers of my life was also one of the best is quite ironic and I haven’t yet figured out yet how it happened that way. But that’s ok. 

Third was our priest. He knew we were mad at our faith but that didn’t stop him from trying to heal us and bring God back to us. Over the summer when we were back in Dubuque, he had dinner with us and he blessed us and talked to us in depth about what happened. I cried and cried and cried but in those tears I healed. His guarantee that someday we would be reunited with that little soul had a major lasting impact on me. I still think about that often. My girls have a guardian angel looking out for them at all times. A sibling they never even knew they had that they will someday reunite with and I will someday too. It brings me joy.

Over that same summer we visited family on the west coast. While there, my aunt pulled me aside, hugged me and told me a saying that still, literally to this moment brings me to tears. I have passed it along to many people who have lost loved ones and I think there’s such comfort in it that we can’t help but be moved by the thought. It goes something like this… when someone or something we love dearly dies we are here crying, sobbing, begging for them not to go. To come back. To fill the void. To stay. While that is happening, on the other side in all the glory and joy of heaven is God and his angels and loved ones who have long passed. They are there cheering, with tears of joy, rushing with open arms to envelope the new soul and crying out, “she’s here! She’s here!!” I can hardly type that without still getting teary-eyed. The words carried heavy value to me, especially from her. 

Last and truly my full-circle healing moment, came when Tia arrived. Looking at that beautiful baby there in my arms (with a developed brain thank goodness), this thought occurred to me. Maybe the only way I can really say I’m at peace with losing our first is the fact that had we not, Tia would’ve never graced this earth. It would’ve been scientifically impossible considering we lost our peanut in April and became pregnant with Tia in October. That moment, that genetic makeup, that egg, would’ve never turned into Tia Cosley Peterson had we carried our first to term. Does that take away my love for what could’ve been or that little soul we lost? C’mon now. Of course not. But, Tia is here in the flesh and I wouldn’t trade her for anything in the world. 

Some days I get a little sad. Typing this has been a gongshow of emotions. I revisit buried thoughts—who would this little person have been? Was it a boy or girl? What might he have contributed to our world. What would her laugh sound like? How would it feel to have her hug me? What would’ve that pregnancy been like if we had held on? I hope that in writing this I’m honoring this little soul’s legacy. I haven’t forgotten you. I hope that in writing this I am honoring you and possibly helping someone else who has been through something similar. My little peanut, you never hit the earth, but our story may help someone. It may make someone feel peace or connection. I truly hope it does for someone.

To the person reading this, if you’ve never been through a miscarriage, please tread gently with someone you know who has been through it. It’s far more devastating than you could possibly imagine. It’s also one of those things, while we know you mean well telling us you know how we feel, you don’t. Please don’t tell us to move on. Please don’t try to tell us all the reasons it may have been a good thing. Just hug us. Tell us it’s ok to cry. Sit with us over coffee (wine is better). We will heal and your understanding and empathy could be a huge factor in that healing process. You could have such an impact. 

If you have ever been in this position please know that you are not alone. One in four pregnancies end in miscarriage. It’s not your fault. It’s nothing to be embarrassed about. Don’t get mad at God. Don’t beat yourself up. Keep fighting for it and keep trying. Don’t give up hope that someday you will have that wonderful pregnancy and hold your little miracle. I know every story doesn’t have a happy ending, but ours did and I want that to give you hope in a situation that can feel hopeless. 

Five Fall Fashion Trends Worth Following

My auntie returned from Europe and brought with her a piece of clothing that flipped a small Midwest town on its head—a miniskirt. It may come as no surprise when I also tell you that she once gave me an incredible piece of fashion advice. I’ll get to that.

First of all, I’m deviating a little bit. This post doesn’t have many personal stories in it, just my opinions on what I know about fall fashion trends. I promised to be authentic with you, so here’s the scoop… I started a new post but I was still just a little too close to the events in it and had to step away into something a bit fluffier. In the writing world, the closer you are to something, the harder it can be to write. Bear with me though. I’ll get it out, just not yet.

I’m about to give you five fall fashion trends that I think are worth following or implementing in some way. I want to be crystal clear about two things though before we go any further. First, if you wear the outfit, you will always be in style. What? Yes. Let me say it again, if you wear the outfit, you will always be on trend. If the outfit wears you, it’s no good. I know you’ve been there—you were uncomfortable, self-conscious, possibly in pain? I mean, I get it. I’ve bled for fashion, cut off circulation and suffered next-day back pain. When the outfit wears you you’re all kinds of out of sorts. I hate to say it, but people notice. If we are uncomfortable, people usually know. But if you feel amazing and confident and love a piece of clothing to bits, people take notice of that as well. You know the piece—it hugs you in all the right places or is your power color that brings out your eyes or brings back certain memories of your first date with him. When we are confident, whether something is on trend or not, we demand to be noticed without even realizing it. We give off a great vibe to others and next thing you know, they’re asking where you got the shoes or bracelet or shirt. It’s because you look amazing in it, feel amazing in it, and are totally rocking it. Like. A. Boss. 

For my second point, I need to go back to my auntie. She once told me that every trend comes back. Chubby, not fashionable and confused, I didn’t get that. She said if I loved a particular piece, to keep it because it would be back in style again at some point. I really didn’t believe that one. Who in their right mind would ever wear Fanny Packs again? Or leggings, or sandals with socks? Literally everyone…again. 

Trends come and go and come and go and come back. I’m old enough now to have seen this on multiple occasions. One day those Fanny Packs are in, next day they’re the butt of fashion jokes and then the next day you catch yourself wearing one again. How did that happen!? Who let them back in!?

Auntie was right. If you love something, keep it. You may not wear it as often or it may stay tucked away for awhile, but that piece will come back on-trend and you’re going to save yourself a lot of money because, guess what, you already have those wide-legged jeans that are back. WHOOP!! So do the Marie Kondo thing when cleaning out your closet—does it spark joy? Don’t ask yourself if it’s trendy, ask if it brings joy. If the thought or memories of that piece make you happy or you see yourself in it again, keep it. Maybe it’s a well-made piece you really don’t want to give up on quite yet. Save it, if only for a rainy day, because chances are it will have another moment of glory. 

Ok, now that we have a few points cleared up, let’s have some fun and delve into my five favorite fashion trends this fall. I don’t necessarily love all of them, but if you do want to play around a bit and rock a trend or two this fall, these are the ones I suggest embracing. 

1.) Snakeskin

I’m kicking off the list with what I think is the most popular trend. Drumroll….SSSSSssnakeskin. To be perfectly honest, I hate snakes and I’m not a huge fan of this trend. Just thinking about snakeskin makes my own skin crawl. I can’t bring myself to wear snakeskin anywhere on my body other than my feet. I once had a snakeskin handbag (which I obviously should’ve kept) and I finally had to give it away because I couldn’t handle it. I literally couldn’t touch it because it felt too much like the real thing (or how I imagine because I sure as heck have never touched a snake). It felt real, let’s leave it at that. Also, anytime I was brave enough to use the bag, I’d hang it over my chair when dining, forget about it and then scream halfway through lunch because I thought a Python was behind me. 

My own feelings aside, snakeskin is all the rage for fall. I’ve seen shirts, coats, belts, shoes, handbags, swimsuits, kimonos, pants, you name it. As far as I’m concerned, a dead snake is the best snake, but for animal lovers out there you will be happy to know that most of it is faux. If you have a higher budget to work with and don’t give a rip about snakes, you can still get your hands on the real thing, too.   

So, how do you incorporate this slithery style? If you are of the squirmy type like myself, try the print on shoes. It isn’t as intense and is a subtle way to incorporate it into your fall wardrobe. These sneakers by Antonio Melani would be a good start. Link: https://bit.ly/2kx04vl

One thing to remember, like all hot trends, it will go. Make sure the items you invest in are items you will still want hanging in your closet a few months or years from now. I have a pair of the most fabulous heels I purchased in London that are black with snakeskin print up the back. I bought them years ago and they never go out of style. Not even when snakeskin was out of style. Why? Black heels are staple pieces. The snakeskin flair didn’t take away from the fact that they were your basic black heels with a fun detail. When you look at your closet a few seasons from now, are you going to be pumped to have tons of snakeskin patterns slithering around in your wardrobe? For me, I’d burn it the second it was gone. Maybe you are a snake loving gal. If the pattern excites you and you want to go bold, this shirt would be great to wear alone or under a sharp black blazer. Plus, it’s at a great price-point. Link: https://amzn.to/2ly9p6z

2.) Camouflage 

I am of the belief system that camouflage (camo) will never go out of style. At one time, I was totally against it. I actually loathed camo and would have snarky thoughts towards anyone wearing it outside of a hunting lodge. As I learned more about fashion (and cleaned up my attitude), I quickly realized that camo was a staple print in the industry. I think it was when I saw Victoria Beckham wearing it that my thoughts began to shift. I mean, this was Posh Spice turned classy as heck fashion influencer and designer. She always looks sharp. Her comment was that everyone should have a great piece with the print in his or her closet. In the past few years, I’ve totally converted. 

The print is always hidden in stores somewhere but you’ve surly seen it sneaking its way into just about every boutique, runway and store as of late. Athleisure companies love it because it’s easy to incorporate into leggings, sports bras, sweatshirts and casual shirts. But you will find it elsewhere as well. Dresses, handbags, skirts, coats, jewelry, you name it. 

If you are as camo crazy as I am, you may want to consider a bolder piece. Below is a coat that I picked up last season from a boutique I love called Vivie Boutique. It’s priced well, made well and perfect for fall. Wear it with a hoodie underneath or a long-sleeved waffle top to totally rock the trend. Link: https://bit.ly/2kyb7EK

Another one of my favorite camo purchases are these leggings from SPANX. I picked these up last year and I think they’re even hotter this fall than last. Here’s why this piece is a win-win-win situation. 1.) You’re rocking the camo trend 2.) You’re in high-wasted, sculpting pants. 3.) They are black camouflage for something different and black is always slimming. Figure flattering and trendy? Yes, please! They are a little pricy compared to some other legging options, but the quality and what it does for your bod makes it worth the price. This is a great option if you are someone who is wanting to do camo but may not be a huge fan of the green. Link: https://bit.ly/2k4FfHw

Are you struggling with this one? Not a huge fan of camo? I’ve got ya covered. Try incorporating it subtly. Like the snakeskin scenario, you can do this on footwear or on a handbag. I think this below handbag by AHDORNED is absolutely gorgeous. It’s a great crossbody, sized well so that you can actually fit things into it and it’s classic black. The strap is nice and wide for extra comfort. The strap is also where you’ll see the camo pattern. It’s subtle but a very cool pop of pattern to jazz up the bag. Plus, a piece like this is a safe investment because it will ride the trend waves and always stay in style. Link: https://bit.ly/2lHhTIi

3.) Puffed/Statement Sleeves 

My girl Anne Shirley would be all over this one. Dynamic, oversized, puffed sleeves. I’ve seen lifestyle bloggers drowning their arms in sleeves for about a month now and it’s not going away any time soon. I can get behind this one, when not totally out of control, for two reasons…

Reason number on is puffed sleeves = power statement. I wish shoulder pads would always be on trend. They broaden and heighten our shoulders and give a touch of masculinity. Bold. Ballsy. I love it. I’m not saying you need to go Gaga bold, but a little bit of height and curve goes a long way in elevating your outfit. This Anthropologie top is a great example and I’m a sucker for a well-named piece. It’s still feminine and delicate, but that extra little puff on the sleeve takes the look to next level confident. Think of confident people—they stand straight and tall. Puffed sleeves give that illusion whether you’re standing tall or exhausted. Life on the rocks? Wear puffed sleeves. No one will know you’re verging on your annual breakdown. Link: https://bit.ly/2lXtDGP

My second reason for getting onboard with this trend is lots of arm room = comfort. Who doesn’t love a good, comfy, oversized sweater? The statement sleeves of the season aren’t tight and constraining. They aren’t skin-showing or lacy. They are oversized, chunky, and blankety (is that a word? It is for now). You’re going to look so comfy casual cute that everyone is going to want to wrap you up and snuggle. This may terrify some of you, but you get my point. The below sweater is sweet and stylish with those big, comfy sleeves. Plus, it’s in one of the hottest colors of the season—lilac. It’s priced well, too, which always helps. Link: https://bit.ly/2k7wbll


4.) Fleece

Mary had a little lamb whose wool was one of the hottest fall trends. This trend was on the rise last winter and doesn’t seem to have dwindled over the summer. I love this particular option because it feels really safe. Like, can’t we all get behind comfy, cozy fleece? Ok, yea, those of you who are always hot may not love this one. Actually the thought of fleece may have you sweating already, but for a lot of us it’s a safe bet. Even if you live in a warmer climate (speaking from experience on this one), this is a wonderful transition piece for cooler fall nights and into winter. I’m not necessarily talking fleece-lined leggings or blankets, think more along the lines of pullovers and jackets. Obviously there are some out-of-control options that rocked the runways, but I’m going to stick to the basics on this one.

My favorite option for someone looking to try this trend is a Sherpa fleece pullover. They give you a, “I just went skiing” or, “I might be going skiing” look whether you’ve ever touched a ski in your life or not. Pair it with some leggings and hiking boots and you are fall’s trend darling. I love this Etsy option. Not only is it Sherpa and soft as can be, but you can monogram it as well and I love me a good monogram. Link: https://etsy.me/2IEJpGF

Another great option, and one I personally own, is this pullover from The Sherpa Pullover Company. It’s oversized, warm and bit thinner than some of the other ones out there. Cozy is an understatement on this piece and it comes in a load of colors. This runs large, so keep that in mind when ordering. Link: https://bit.ly/2k5G8zH

You may not have to invest a dime. A lot of you probably have some fleece (or fleece looking) pieces laying around your house. Maybe an older North Face fleece jacket? A leather jacket lined with it? The nice thing about this fall trend is that if you invest in something like a pullover or even a jacket, you will still be able to wear these long after the trend passes. I actually think everyone should invest in a really great, comfy, Sherpa fleece for your closet. It will stand the test of time and man oh man is it comfy. 

5.) Dusters

I’m not talking Swiffer here. Wouldn’t that be a cruel joke? Hottest trend of fall—dusting your house. Ew. No, the dusters I’m referring to are the loose fitting coats. Think of Clint Eastwood in the old Spaghetti Westerns. Or John Wayne might be even better—Eastwood wore a lot of ponchos. Dusters are long, loose, light coats. Dusters have evolved to now include duster sweaters, cover-ups and even kimonos. The nice thing about this trend is that you can stick to something really basic and make it a safe bet. A simple black sweater duster can be worn for years whether dusters are in or not. Going with a particular print is a bit bolder. A full-on fall trend would be a snakeskin print duster (which I’ve seen). 

This clothing piece is also great because despite your climate, you can find ways to incorporate it into your wardrobe. If you live somewhere that is quite mild, a kimono duster is a great option because the fabric is light and airy. This one from Pink Lily Boutique might be a great option of you. Pair it with jeans and a camisole for a great date-night look. Link: https://bit.ly/2T2lv4h

If you are feeling the John Wayne don’t mess with Texas vibe and want to go a little badass, try this duster cape. Capes are actually another huge fall trend, so you’d be knocking out two in one. It’s a bold statement piece, comes in quite a few colors and is affordable. Pair it with your leather leggings and over-the-knee boots and you will feel like Superwoman hitting the town. Link: https://amzn.to/2lKrz4M

If you live in a cooler climate, it may be worth investing in a classic duster coat. They are still fairly light, so if you reside in The Frozen Tundra, you may only be able to wear it for the fall and early spring seasons. It’s still a great option to throw on over your outfit and it can definitely make a statement even if you are taking it off once indoors. This one caught my eye because it has a plaid print. Plaid is another pattern trending this fall, so you’ve got yourself another two for one in this piece. If you do go with this one, be sure to size down. The reviews say it runs quite large. Link: https://bit.ly/2kB6euq

Again, remember that if you truly love a piece, it will always be in-style. Don’t get too hung up on trends. It’s fun to give a few a try, though, whether you go balls to the wall or incorporate it subtly. The above links I gave are also just suggestions. Maybe they aren’t your price point. That’s why they are just suggestions. I love looking at really high-end pieces I’d never purchase, not to depress myself, but to use them as a guide to go find something similar in a more cost effective price point. All I’m saying is have fun with it and see if there is something you can possibly get behind to try out this fall. Which of the trends will you be trying this fall? Any of them you can’t wait to see die? As always, I love to hear your voices below in the comments. Happy fall ya’ll! 


Tried and True Kitchen Staples: Five Basics I Love for Cooking

I started cooking tuna casserole for myself when I was ten, have two parents who enjoy cooking and grew up helping out in kitchens of multiple family members. Needless to say, I know my way around a kitchen. I now have a family of five, cook for large gatherings and do all the spreads—Easter, Christmas, Thanksgiving, dinner parties, birthdays, BBQ’s, you name it. Some go better than others, but I’ve done them and I’ve come to rely on some tried and true staples over the years. Don’t expect anything too fancy pants. I’m a very basic cook. I use basic items, basic tools and basic recipes. I can use fancy, complicated tools and cook fancy, complicated meals, but at this particular moment in my life, the simpler the better.

You probably have every single one of these items already, but I wanted to shine some light on them, give you a few new tricks and share some recipes you can use with them. Maybe you don’t have them—no problem—I’ve linked my favorites in case you feel moved to snag one or two. I actually have a list of about twenty items to share with you, but I write like I talk (which is a lot), so out of respect for you and to keep this blog shorter than Middlemarch, let’s start with five.

1.) Crock-Pot

Hi my name is Lauren and I have a Crock-Pot addiction. Check my butler’s pantry and there you will find one in all different sizes—extra small, small, medium, medium large, large, extra large. I even have a triple buffet server. Clearly, I’m Crock-Pot crazy and should be hired as a spokesperson. Yes, I know all the rage right now is the Instant Pot and it does all these fancy schmancy things, “pressure cooks meat, steams rice, sautés vegetables, makes yogurt, cleans your house and folds the laundry all from the push of a button!” Truth is, I love my Crock-Pot and I won’t be jumping ship anytime soon. Why? It’s so stinking easy. Have you seen that Instant Pot? I mean, it’s terrifying. I’ve looked at them and there are all these buttons and steps and programming and a manual I’d have to read in my spare time (HA, spare time). It’s a tad too intimidating for this old gal. With a Crock-Pot, you dump it in, turn a dial (the only dial) and off you go.

I’m all about delegating in life. I delegate meals to my Crock-Pot. She’s like my in-home chef. I get the groceries, give her the ingredients and she cooks them for me, perfectly. I’ve used a Crock-Pot from my post-college days to feeding a family of five. It’s not the Instant Pot that turns water into wine, but you can cook roasts, stews, sauces, soups, casseroles, breakfasts, desserts, and even create scents for your home in them. For a curveball you weren’t expecting, I even use it to keep the towels warm for my foot spas and facials. There are digital ones now too, if that’s your thing, although I prefer the old-school dial. The dishwasher-safe cleanup is life. Plus—and this is a big plus for me—at around $30.00 for a 6-quart, they are much cheaper than the $100.00 6-quart Instant Pot.

Here’s the key to really maxing-out the Crock-Pot. Prep your meal early. I like prepping it early in the morning when I’m still only a cup of coffee in and half asleep. I turn it on low and next thing I know, it’s 4PM and my home smells like a delicious home-cooked meal and I almost completely forget I made it earlier that morning. When I used to work outside the home, there was nothing better than coming home and smelling a delicious meal cooking away and knowing I didn’t have to prepare dinner. Don’t be afraid to use it in the summer, too. I don’t know why everyone tucks it in for the summer like it’s a hibernating bear. It doesn’t heat up your home like an oven does and aren’t we even busier in the summer? All the more reason to utilize it.

If you don’t have a Crock-Pot, start with a 6-quart. You should be safe with that size. You can find the one I have here: https://amzn.to/2jYJpkg

So dust off your crockpot or break-in your new one and try this recipe from Better Homes & Gardens. It’s Kurtis’s favorite spaghetti sauce, family-friendly, incredibly simple and tasty: https://www.bhg.com/recipe/sauces/spaghetti-sauce-italiano/

2.) Multi-Tier Food Steamer

I’ll never forget the time I saw my mother-in-law steaming corn cobs in her two-tier steamer. I was horrified. I’m an Iowa girl. I was raised on Fincel’s corn. You boiled it or grilled it. But then I saw how seamless and easy it was and the corn was perfectly cooked and delicious. I went out the next day and bought my own and the love affair started.

Steamers weren’t big in my family’s kitchen growing up, and I don’t remember eating a whole lot of steamed food. This new double-decker steaming process was a fun new adventure. Asparagus? Steam it. Green Beans? Steam them. Rice? Steam it with that little insert thinger. Asparagus AND Green beans? Heck yes, just utilize a basket for each. So easy, so quick. I, too, turned into a corn steamer and with the two-tier option I can steam multiple ears at a time to feed our corn loving family.

The greatest discovery came, yet again, from my savvy mother-in-law. That steamer could be used for crab legs. Yes. I just went there. It’s one of my favorite treats to prepare and I’ve perfected it over the years. Here’s how: Grab crab legs from the store. I usually get them frozen from Costco or Sam’s because they are priced well, but you can get them however and wherever you prefer. Where you typically fill your water in the steamer, pour in white wine. Oh yes, that’s right. You are steaming them in white wine. I usually have a Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay on hand, but you can use any white wine you want. Fill it to the top of the steamer fill line and pour yourself a glass of wine with the rest. Place your crab legs in the steaming basket(s). If you need to use both baskets and stack them, go for it. I cut up a couple of lemons and squirt some lemon juice overtop of them and then put slices of lemons in with the legs for flavor while they steam. Set the timer for at least 15-20 minutes but check them sooner. You will know they are done when you can start smelling crab and you can always test them and put them back in if needed. It’s usually ten minutes or so depending on quantity and if they are fresh or frozen. They cook beautifully, are flavorful and absolutely elegant.

I couldn’t find my exact steamer (which is slightly terrifying) but this one is similar and priced well with good reviews: https://bit.ly/2jYnSrZ

3.) Glass Kettle

I never purchased a bottle warmer when I had Tia. The wipe warmer we purchased was the biggest waste of money ever, and I wasn’t about to make the same mistake with another warming gadget. I figured I could easily warm my glass bottles the old-fashioned(ish) way—by heating up water in a measuring cup and then putting the bottle in it to warm. Was it as fast? Maybe not as fast as a warmer, but still efficient. Did it work? You bet it did. It worked well through two babies at least, until that ill-fated morning in November with Carolyn.

It was 5AM and Carolyn was ready for her bottle. I was still recovering from my third c-section, groggy, overtired and dreaming back to the good old days when I got seven hours of sleep a night. I gimped into the kitchen while Carolyn was in her swing, poured some tap water into a glass measuring cup, punched in a few minutes on the microwave keypad and stuck the cup in to heat. Catching the microwave before it beeped so as not to wake anyone else in the house, I grabbed the glass cup out of it and quickly stuck the glass bottle into the cup. It exploded…all over my face. I was positive I had permanently burned my face and that pieces of my skin were likely dripping off. I screamed, ran to the bathroom and immediately drenched my face with cold water. I was too afraid to look in the mirror for fear I had blistered and burned off my eyebrows and lashes. So many tears. I was drowning from splashing so much water on my face, choking as it shot up my nose and sobbing into the sink. It was one of those finer mama moments. I like to think we all have them, at least I tell myself that to feel better.

Fast forward a couple of weeks. I didn’t burn my face off but had learned a valuable lesson— there are even articles out there about this happening to other people. Word of my incident spread through the family and my auntie sent me a glass kettle to use instead of the microwave. Since then, it has become a staple in our kitchen. It was perfect for heating my bottles. So if you are debating a bottle warmer, consider this. It transitioned into many other uses as well. We use it on the daily to boil water for tea, hot cocoa and it’s awesome for instant oatmeal in our crazy busy mornings before school. You may not even know you will use it. I was hesitant when I received it because I didn’t think I really needed it. Wrong. I figured after bottles I would pack it away. Wrong. It came with us from Midland to Dubuque and now sits prominently over on our coffee bar in it’s own little spot.

This is the one I have and I like it because it has an auto shut-off is easy to clean and, at under $20.00, is a steal of a deal: https://bit.ly/2jZYnXg

4.) Sheet Pan Trifecta

The Sheet Pan Trifecta will forever be my go-to shower gift for brides or new homeowners. Technically, this is a three-piece essential, but I can’t justify one without the other because I use them all equally and together. The sheet pan trifecta consists of, you guessed it, half sheet pans. Also included are pre-cut pieces of parchment paper and sheet pan baking/cooling racks. This trifecta was introduced to me years ago by my mom, with the last piece being so impactful on Kurtis in our time spent at Tressa B&B that she gave some to him for Father’s Day this year.

Every home needs these three pieces. Whether you are single, married, with or without kids. Whether you cook a lot or a little or are new to cooking or a wily veteran. Entire cookbooks have been written on sheet pan cooking and in today’s time-crunched society they are essential to a kitchen. You cut stuff up, throw it together on a pan, douse it with some spices, mix it with olive oil, throw it in the oven and boom. Dinner is served. One of our family favorites, sheet pan fajitas, was perfected by our super-nanny Caity. We basically rotate them every other Taco Tuesday. You can find that recipe below with my links.

The pre-cut parchment paper is perfect for cooking or baking. I love these sheets because when I make my homemade buns–which is like once a year–they never burn on the bottom and easily lift off the sheets every time. They catch bacon drippings when you do your bacon in the oven (did anyone ever make that mistake with me? Bacon greased pans are a nightmare). I love them because I was so incompetent that I could never get parchment paper to properly fit my pan. First of all, I’d rip it so badly I would end up wasting a ton of paper or it wouldn’t rip off at all. I wised up and used scissors, but even then I somehow always had too much or too little.

The racks are a whole other story. I didn’t initially buy into them quite like the pans and paper but since raising kids, being short on time and cooking a multitude of oven-ready food, they are quite handy. Whether making homemade or store-bought, they help cook the food more evenly than just throwing it on the pan. Plus, they double as awesome cooling racks for cookies or cakes or cooling your canned pickles.

Ms. Caity’s Sheet Pan Fajitas:
Peppers (orange, red, yellow) sliced Chicken (2 boneless/skinless breasts) sliced Onion powder
Garlic powder
Salt
Pepper
Chili powder
Cumin
Smoked Paprika
Lime juice
all tossed in olive oil
Place on a parchment lined sheet pan and bake at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until chicken is cooked through. Serve with tortillas, avocado, sour cream, guacamole, shredded cheese, salsa-whatever fixings you prefer.

Link to pan & sheet set: https://bit.ly/2jUyKa7

Link to racks: https://amzn.to/2kf65gn

5.) Cast-Iron Dutch Oven

Rounding out my list is perhaps my favorite of them all, a big ‘ol cast-iron Dutch oven. There aren’t any epic stories behind this recommendation other than simply saying, trust me. You need one. I’m also going to get a little snooty—I highly, highly recommend you invest in the Le Creuset option. Not Rachael Ray, not random Walmart brand, not the random one that pops up on your Facebook feed because you were reading this and thinking Dutch oven. In this case, not all shoes fit the same. There really is a difference. One that I use was my grandmas and is still in prime condition and she’s long gong. My parents are still using the one they were gifted for their wedding thirty-eight years ago. They are costly upfront, but they last and last and last and you can use them for so many things. I make my homemade chicken soup in there—broth and all. They are great for reheating food, stews, chili, sauces, veggies, sides, main dishes, you name it. Use it on the stove or use it in the oven. Heck, use it on the stove and then stick it in the oven.

If you are on a budget, try finding a used one. Maybe a family member has one kicking around they aren’t currently using. You may even luck out and find one in an antique store—I’ve seen them there. Start with a 5.5 or 6-quart. I’ve linked one below. If you are a newlywed or recently graduated college and were gifted some cash, use it to purchase one. It’s like the black blazer of your kitchen—a must. Le Creuset also has outlets and I go out of my way to hit those when I can to grab a piece or two. Over the years I’ve grown my collection and I honestly treasure each piece. Other than throwing my back out from lifting them, I’ve never been disappointed with my purchases.

One of my favorite things to cook in my Dutch oven are my grandma (Grandy’s) Dagwoods. Isn’t it fitting that it’s her oven I typically use? I don’t actually know why they are called Dagwoods–maybe Blondie’s husband like them? Did I just really age myself there? Anyway, they are her version of sloppy joes. I remember when I was in Canada I cooked a humongous batch of them for some of the oilfield workers and although they loved them, I was disappointed that they just weren’t tasting the same—why? They were cooked in a stainless steel pot. Here’s her recipe for you to try in your own Dutch oven…

Grandy’s Dagwoods 2 lbs Ground Beef 1/4c Celery
1/4c onions cut small Salt
Peppe
1 Beef Bullion Cube
1 can Tomato Soup
A few shakes of Worcestershire sauce
Brown Beef in Dutch oven. Add remaining ingredients. Cook slowly for 1 hour. Stir occasionally. The longer they cook/sit, the better they get.

Try this 5.5 qt Dutch Oven: https://bit.ly/2lzLkfi

And there you have it. My five favorites. Did you see some of your favorites in here as well? Are you still reeling from my Instant Pot rebellion? Are there some missing we need to know about? Sound-off in the comments below and be sure to let me know if you want to more posts on this subject. Happy cooking!