No is Not Cool


There’s this word that I’ve been saying too often this summer, and it’s starting to get on my nerves, actually. My kids swear the word is evil, and it does leave a bad taste in my mouth when I say it, sometimes bitter, like regret, sometimes saltier, like anger. Sometimes, when I have repeated it more than a few times in five minutes, it tastes a bit like exhaustion. It’s a little word, just two letters, yet it holds extraordinary power. According to my kids, this word alone has propelled me to “the meanest mom” and “the worst mom” on multiple occasions – not just in our neighborhood, mind you, but in the whole entire world.

It’s okay, though. I have thick skin. I can take it. But I know that they are tired of hearing that word, the one that begins with N and ends with O. I know that NO gets old, and I have to confess that sometimes, a lot of times, I just hate to say it, too.

“No, you may not stay there overnight. I don’t know that family. Snag some DNA samples, and we’ll talk.”

“No, you may not hang out at the playground without an adult in sight. That’s how gangs get started. I saw it on Dateline.”

“No, every PG-13 movie is not fair game because we watched Jurassic World. Dinosaurs aren’t breaking laws by killing people. In fact, they probably should kill people who think spending time with dinosaurs is a good idea. That’s an important life lesson.”

“No, you may not have a Facebook account.”

“No, you may not have a Twitter account.”

“No, you may not have an Instagram account.”

And that’s just before lunch . . .

“No, you will not be getting a cell phone for your birthday. A cell phone is not a gift at our house. A cell phone is a bill that you can’t pay. Your friends live down the street. Yell louder.”

“No, we are not signing you up for another sports camp this summer. But, PLEASE, feel free to play soccer and basketball. Outside. Right now. For free. And let’s make some nice cold water bottles for you, just in case the door is maybe possibly locked until dinner time.”

“No, we are not going somewhere else today. We just left the water park, for goodness’ sake. Do you realize that some kids NEVER get to visit a water park? Like N-E-V-E-R. Not in their entire lives. Some kids don’t even have water to DRINK, and you get to play in it! Can we appreciate that for a few minutes, guys? Can we show some gratitude?”

“No, you may not watch TV all day.”

“No, you may not play video games all day.”

“No, you may not eat ice cream all day.”

“Or cookies.”

“Or Cheetos.”

“Yes, I said ‘ice cream,’ BUT YOU KNEW WHAT I MEANT!

No, no, no, no, no, no, no.

My sons, particularly my soon-to-be sixth grader, are struggling with NO – and I get it. I really do. It’s hard to be the kid whose mom says NO regularly. NO is not cool. It hurts your image. It reminds you that even though you feel like you are old enough to make your own decisions, someone else is still (sort of) in control. But while my guys think that I don’t understand, that I don’t empathize with them, the truth is that I do. We actually have a lot in common.

It’s hard to be the kid whose mom says NO.

But it’s hard to be the mom who says NO, too.

My boys don’t understand the social dynamics of NO, the way that other moms think I am judging their decisions when I say NO to things that they allow. My guys don’t know how heartbreaking it is to see them excluded from something or how difficult it is to find the sweet spot between “does-that-kid-even-have-parents?” and “that-mom-needs-to-cut-the-cord.” They don’t realize that it is painful, that it literally hurts, to deny them something that I know they really want, even when I know it is the right decision for our family. My oldest can’t yet comprehend that, even though I trust him, experience has taught me that there are temptations that he is not ready to face as a preteen. That there are people who seem trustworthy who should not be trusted. That even though he thinks he has seen everything, there are things that he has not seen and is not ready to see and if I could create a world where he would never ever see them, I would do that.

They think my job is easy. They imagine that I retire to my room after saying NO, reveling in some kind of sinister satisfaction, gloating with an evil laugh. (Bwahahahaha!) I am the villain in the script, the one with the kryptonite, always thwarting their plans. But it just isn’t true.

Maybe someday I will look back and wish that I had not said NO as often. Maybe, when they are all grown up, my kids will still insist that I was too strict. Maybe they will entertain everyone at the holidays with embarrassing stories about my husband and me, about how we REALLY were the meanest, most awful parents. Maybe, and this is where it gets really frightening, it will all fall apart, and they will blame our parenting for their own bad choices and rebellion.

Or maybe they will thank us. Maybe they will appreciate just a little bit more the very word that they hate. Maybe they will feel grateful, as I feel grateful to my parents, who loved and trusted me but did not shy from saying NO.

Maybe someday they will understand.

It’s a gamble, really, a risk that we all take in those weird years between helping our children order from the kids’ menu and taking them to get a driver’s license. All parents walk the same wire, seeking a safe balance between being overly strict and being too permissive. There is no simple answer, no decision that fits the needs of every child or every family, but the compromise in our family is that even though we do say no often, we always say yes more – yes to fun, yes to adventures and time with friends, yes to building character, yes to hugs, yes to trying new things and facing our fears, yes to family, yes to celebrations, and yes to love.

And when I feel uneasy about denying my children something, I remind myself that every NO is just a YES, really. It’s a yes to the values that I want to instill in the men I am raising, a yes to protecting them just a little bit longer, a yes to allowing them to earn the responsibilities and privileges that they think that they deserve. Saying NO isn’t easy. It’s a word that hurts sometimes.  I know, because it hurts me, too.  But when I say NO to my sons, it really means I LOVE YOU, and I hope that they will understand that, eventually, maybe when they have the honor of being “the meanest dads in the whole entire world” themselves.

Small Town, Big Shopping: A Road Trip to Marietta

                 Sternwheel - Flickr

If you live in the Midwest, you may have heard of Marietta, Ohio.  More than likely, if the name sounds familiar, you have stopped in this quaint town in search of a restroom and some caffeine while traveling I-77 South toward your vacation destination.  You probably didn’t venture far enough from the interstate to appreciate Marietta’s unique location at the confluence of the Ohio and Muskingum Rivers.  You most likely did not research the town’s historical significance or tour the beautiful campus of Marietta College or admire the ornate Victorian homes on Fifth Street as you raced to your condo with an ocean view.  There’s a good chance that you didn’t pause long enough to ride on the Valley Gem sternwheeler or check out the plans for this year’s Sternwheel Festival or hike in Wayne National Forest.  And these are all things that you should plan to do sometime, especially if you live within close proximity.  After all, Marietta is just a few hours from Columbus, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh, an easy road trip for girlfriends in need of a relaxing retreat or a couple seeking a quiet escape.

There are many different activities related to history and the outdoors that you could enjoy if you spent a few days in Marietta, and maybe someday I will write more about those, but today I want to talk about shopping.  Just shopping.  Because I love shopping and because shopping at unique shops, antique stores, and small boutiques is especially fun.  Stopping for good food between shops adds to the pleasure, too.  The only thing that would make small-town shopping more of a treat would be having a little more money to spend doing it.

A few weeks ago, I stole several hours from a visit to my hometown to do some small-town shopping, and the day was a delight.  It felt indulgent.  I took my time.  I searched for treasures.  I looked at everything without checking my phone every few minutes.  I ate delicious food without counting calories.  And I talked to people, mainly the shopkeepers at both the new stores and the old Marietta landmarks.  Their eyes lit up when they discussed their wares and the virtues of the river city, but their furrowed brows revealed the stress of competition with online marketing and big department stores.  The day reminded me, however, that there really is no comparison.  The small-town shopping experience feels special, and ordering from the Internet, well, it just doesn’t.

Not convinced?  Let me show you what I found.  Let me plan a day of your getaway for you.  And when you visit Marietta, tell everyone that you read a blog about shopping there.  Better yet, just invite me to be your guide.

First, let’s get a warning out of the way.  Marietta is a relatively safe small town.  Maybe this is why they give parking violations so much attention.  If you find yourself parking in a two-hour parking stall, and there is a good chance that you will, then you will need to watch the time or you will be leaving town with some fantastic purchases and a not-so-fantastic parking ticket.  Every couple of hours, you can simply move your car to the empty parking space that is right beside the one that you occupied before.  It’s a little bit crazy.  I imagine that there are some antics that one could get away with in Marietta.  Parking in the wrong place at the wrong time is not one of them.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Once you have found a place to park, hopefully for the entire day, start your shopping adventure on Front Street near the Lafayette Hotel at Jeremiah’s Coffee House.  Most of the downtown shops open at 10 a.m., so if you are an early riser, this is a perfect place to prepare for the day.  Jeremiah’s Coffee House is a new addition to the Marietta scene, and I love its atmosphere.  Be sure to try a cinnamon roll there; it is an expensive cinnamon roll, but you are on a road trip, for goodness’ sake, and it is fresh from The Sweet Stop, a local bakery that is very popular with folks around town.  I also recommend a chai tea latte, but if you are a coffee drinker, this is a coffee house, so have at it.  The décor is an eclectic mix of modern and vintage, the story behind the shop will melt your heart, and it is an all-around great place to begin your day.


After breakfast, you are ready to begin SHOPPING.  Most of my favorite stores sit on Front Street, so just start walking!  Be sure to browse ALL of the stores because this post highlights only my favorites, and there are others that may not be as familiar to me that you may love along the way.

One secret treasure in Marietta is a Front Street consignment boutique called Change of A’Dress.  This is no yard sale, my friends.  When I stopped by a few weeks ago, I tried on several pieces of clothing on consignment, all of which looked brand new and one of which included the original tags.  I bought a beautiful gray sweater and some shiny red loafers that also appear to be new.  Cha ching!  What do you think?

Change of A'Dress

Honestly, I could have purchased more, but this was my first stop, and I needed to pace myself.  Take your time in this store and try some things on.  It’s worth it, and it’s fun.

Another must-see shop is Twisted Sisters Boutique.  This store has become a Marietta landmark and is known for its unique gifts and quirky style.  I.  Love.  It.  They never fail to have something interesting, and they carry an array of locally made items, as well.  I could not pass up this necklace by Sissy Chick- locally made, adorable, versatile – and it matches my new sweater.  It was destiny, right?

Twisted Sisters

But that’s not all . . . I also picked up this painted wooden sign – just because.  It sums up the way that I feel about my husband and two boys, and that says A LOT, because ice cream is good.

Love More Than Ice Cream

If you visit Twisted Sisters Boutique and you love jewelry, ask them about their new Lizzy James bracelets.  They are gorgeous and affordable and will be the next big trend.  I have officially added one to my wish list!  Maybe next time!

Lizzy James

Another shop that you can’t miss in this block of Front Street is Focus Boutique.  This shop recently relocated and added much more stock to the (awesome bright turquoise) floor right after my shopping trip.  Check out this creative display of script letters.  I want three of them – my first initial, my husband’s first initial, and our last initial to decorate a wall upstairs.  Again, I added this to the wish list, but these are so fun that they might have trouble keeping them in stock for me.  Just think of (or check Pinterest for) all of the ways that you could decorate with these . . .  It makes my heart beat faster just thinking of the possibilities!


This store is bright and fun and refreshing, so be sure to check it out.  Focus also has some adorable clothes and accessories for young children, among other gift items.

Focus Storefront

At this point, if you have been taking your time in such a way that you have had to move your car to a new parking spot, you may be getting hungry.  If so, I suggest enjoying lunch at Marietta Brewing Company before crossing the street for more shopping.  I’m not sure why, but this restaurant just “feels” like Marietta to me.  Maybe it’s because of the location near the river, or maybe it’s the mural painted on a brick wall inside that makes me nostalgic.  Burgers.  Fries.  Beer.  Enjoy!


If you are craving pizza for lunch, instead, check out The Pizza Place on Second Street.  (Marietta kids don’t know how good they have it.  Back in the day, we had to drive across the river to another state for a slice of this!)  Also on Second Street, Tampico offers Mexican cuisine and is a quick stop if you are in a hurry.  In addition, you might consider The Levee House, which provides a lovely view of the river along with your meal if you are shopping on a sunny day.  There are still other options, so do your homework to find the best fit for you.

Assuming that you ate at Marietta Brewing Company, it’s time to cross the street to visit a couple of my absolute favorite shops.  On the corner of Front and Butler Streets, you will find The Cook’s Shop.  I don’t cook much, but this store makes me want to.  You will most definitely find a gadget here that is new to you, as well as a gift in any price range for the gourmet chef in your life.  You could easily browse here for a long time.  Don’t forget to watch the time; you probably need to move your car again soon.

Next door to The Cook’s Shop is Simple Pleasures.  This may sound creepy, but I just want to live here.  Seriously.  I am ready to move in whenever the owners agree (NEVER).  Like The Cook’s Shop, this place is absolutely packed with merchandise, and here it is displayed in the most inviting way.  Books.  Journals.  Home décor.  Furniture.  Gifts.  Soaps.  Lotions.  Jewelry.  There is really nothing in this store that I don’t love, and I’m not even exaggerating.  I’ll take one of everything, thank you.

Simple Pleasures Store

Here is one of my favorite small purchases from Simple Pleasures, a metal “W” that sits in my kitchen where I can admire it every day.  I appreciate the small touches that add character to a home – and the owners of Simple Pleasures do, too.  Love this store.

Simple Pleasures

Again, be sure to explore every store along your path in Marietta, but definitely do not miss Brick Street Cottage.  The owner “upcycles” old furniture, and her work and her vision for what “junk” can become are impressive.  If you aren’t in the market for furniture, don’t worry.  She also sells paint, some unique home décor items, and even some jewelry.  I like decorating with letters (as discussed above), and I noticed that she does, too, so I like her style.  Here is an unexpected Brick Street Cottage jewelry purchase that I absolutely love.

Brick Street Cottage

This ring is affordable (under $10) and makes a great gift (maybe for yourself).  It stretches to fit any size, and you can purchase charms (also under $10) that snap on and off so that you can change the look of your jewelry. The snap-on charms vary; some look like gems, some have vintage charm, some are shaped like owls.  The charms can also be used on necklaces (just as cute) that you can find at the store.  Best of all, the owner packages it all up for you in a cute bag, so there is no need for gift wrap.  Voila!  (If you are a close friend of mine, please pretend that you never saw this, or at least try to forget about it by Christmas . . . Thanks!)


You will also want to venture into Schafer Leather Store because it is truly a Marietta landmark.  The store originated in 1867 and is one of those rare small businesses that has survived the test of time by honoring its roots while also adapting to new consumer demands with each new decade.  I consider myself more of a city dweller these days, but when I am in Schafer’s, I just want to be a cowgirl.  I’m not even kidding.  You can saddle up and get yourself some new boots, a purse, earrings, a knife, or some urban cowboy fashions here.  If you don’t visit Shafer Leather Store, then did you really visit Marietta?

Schafer's Leather

This might be a good time to walk toward the levee and admire the river for a few minutes.  Take a break, relax, and then backtrack on Front Street toward Putnam.  After crossing Butler Street, you will find several more shops to enjoy.  Be sure to grab a snack at Putnam Street Chocolates to renew your energy.  I personally prefer anything there made from chocolate, which basically covers everything in the store.  Really, you can’t go wrong.

While shopping in this block, don’t miss Dad’s Primitive Workbench.  This store is bigger than it looks and holds more merchandise than you would imagine from standing outside.  Their claim to fame is repurposing old objects – old buckets for planters, old barrels for tables, old books for decoration.  I found a barrel there that would be the perfect addition between two rocking chairs on my front porch.  Add a red geranium in a galvanized bucket on top, and the display could be in Better Homes and Gardens.  They also sell candles and soaps with the natural, rugged design that fits their brand.  My friend bought a soap there as a Christmas gift for me, and the refreshing floral fragrance reminded me of my grandmother every time I washed my hands.  Ahhhh . . . Wonderful stuff.


I suggest that you continue your shopping trip by walking around the block on Putnam Street to Second Street to Butler and back to Front.  On Putnam Street, you can add an Alex and Ani bracelet to your collection at Baker and Baker Jewelers.  On Second Street, visit Marietta Adventure Company.  They can help you plan an outdoor adventure in Marietta for the next day or the next time that you visit!

When you have exhausted Front Street and Second Street, you can use the footbridge to cross the river to continue your small-town shopping and to experience the river from a different vantage point.  This is a very Marietta thing to do.  You will find the bridge at the corner of Front and Butler Streets, and it will lead you right to the heart of historic Harmar village.  There are some eclectic shops here, as well, such as Found Antiques, and The Busy Bee is the kind of hole-in-the-wall diner that adventurous tourists dream of stumbling upon.  Many residents say that it offers the best breakfast in town, so you may want to come back the next morning.

At the end of the day, rest your feet while you savor dinner and drinks at Austyn’s on Front Street.  If crab cakes are on the menu, order them.  You won’t be disappointed.  If crab cakes aren’t your thing, don’t worry.  There are many other options, including Austyn’s chicken, another favorite of our family.  Ryan and I love to support this restaurant because the owners not only create a wonderful experience but are also friends who attended high school with us.  Cheers!


I hope this convinced you to spend some time in the heart of Marietta by enjoying some shopping downtown.  Be sure to do your own research, as well, before planning your road trip for a day or for a weekend getaway.  There are many small businesses and restaurants there that would warmly welcome you and help you enjoy your day.  And if you live in Marietta, when is the last time that you supported your downtown merchants?  Maybe it is true that you don’t truly appreciate what your hometown has to offer until you say goodbye.  I may no longer live in Marietta, but I promise that I will be back to do some shopping again soon.

Sternwheel Festival Photo Credit: Mike Tewkesbury

Hamster Wheel

Hamster Wheel

From late August through mid-June, when the school year is in full swing, I generally feel like I am running on a hamster wheel. I run nonstop, fearful that if I stop, or even attempt to slow down, I will fly off haphazardly, crashing and leaving everything around me in disarray – and we all know who would have to clean up that mess. So I just keep running. To insert obstacles into the race, I add more and more to my agenda as I run because (A.) I don’t like to say no and (B.) I can always make time for one more good idea. I will just run a little bit faster. I run and run and run, from meeting to class to soccer practice to church to basketball games to volunteer commitments to the next project that I have created for myself to another meeting, and sometimes I wonder what it is like to *Just. Sit. Still.*

And this is where I am a little bit lucky. As a teacher, I am fortunate to enjoy a summer break with my children, and, to be honest, given the current climate of education in America, it is one of the bright spots in a gloomy, depressing mess. But every year I fall prey to the same evil trap; it snags me in the dark winter months of hibernation and tightens its grip as the icy thaw reveals the promises of spring. It seems harmless at first, really. I begin to say things like, “It can wait; I will work on it this summer.” Or, “I don’t have time to worry about that right now, but I will have time to care about it in the summer.” Or, “I am really busy right now, but let’s get together this summer!” I will do it in the summer. I will fix it in the summer. I will check on it in the summer.

On my desk, there are post-it notes with lists of books to read this summer. I joined a book club in the spring – something that I have wanted to do for years – because summer vowed to bestow endless days of freedom that I could not possibly fill on my own. My kids created lists of activities that they intend to check off before the first day of school. And I said, “No problem! It’s summer!” My spring cleaning was never finished, and a general inventory of our house is in order. “No worries! We have all summer!” And the garage needs cleaned out. And I really want to learn to knit while I have time. And I have a chair that I want to refinish. And I have been waiting for the time to look for some new decorating ideas. And my photo albums are so far behind that I’m not sure what I was even trying to commemorate anymore. Just uploading and organizing and ordering all of those pictures will be a HUGE job . . . definitely a task to save for summer.

And we need to catch up on some doctor appointments this summer.

And I can’t wait to invest time in my blog every day!

And I am TOTALLY going to redeem myself as a mother by forcing encouraging my kids to keep up with their summer homework assignments this year.

And I told loved ones that we would spend time together, you know, in summer. The boys and I would have lunch with old friends. We would take road trips to visit those at a distance. We would meet neighbors at the park every week. We would have SO MUCH TIME!

So the fourth of July hit me with a bang last week, and not just because of the fireworks. It was a reminder that summer is slipping away, that the promises she made me remain unfulfilled. There really aren’t more hours in a summer day. More sunshine, yes. More hours, no. Life is still busy. With kids home from school, there are more messes to clean up, more snacks to prepare, more arguments to officiate, more activities to coordinate. Time does not decelerate in summer, just as it doesn’t slow down on the weekends or during a coveted week of vacation.

I have not read one book from my post-it notes. My blog has been quiet and lonely. My kids are dreadfully behind on their summer homework. My projects aren’t finished. (Or started.)

And I still don’t know how to knit.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m exceedingly grateful for the time that I can devote to my family when I am not working in the summer. I don’t take it for granted. But all of the lists, all of the unfinished projects, all of the tasks that remain incomplete and dreams that remain unfulfilled – well, they can drag a girl down. And, no, we have not been moping around the house, avoiding all of the fun. We have been having fun, and maybe that’s part of the problem. Or maybe it’s not. This whole balancing act is exhausting, and the truth is that after eleven years of parenting I’m still not exactly sure how this is all supposed to work.

Maybe I am lamenting how quickly time passes. The empty grid, those clean white boxes on the calendar that seem swollen with potential at the start of each year, fills in a flash with the exciting and, more often, the mundane demands of life. The days bend and flip and slide from your hands like a fish escaping back to the water. You try to hold on, but time is elusive, gone so quickly, and what is left behind? Maybe a picture . . . that might, eventually, find its way to a photo album . . . maybe.

Or maybe I am frustrated that I have not planned better, that I put so much off until summer in the first place. Maybe I am just venting my aggravation with myself – that I am not rising before dawn, that I have not maintained a structured plan for every hour like I do when the hamster wheel is in motion. I’m sure that I could have accomplished more by now if I had been more diligent. Then I would not be tormented by reminders of my lackadaisical attitude, like the remnants of fifth grade that my son unloaded several weeks ago, still neatly stacked in a corner. That’s what I should be doing right now – sorting piles instead of writing about them. No wonder I am a hot mess. And I’m pretty sure that I could have knit a sweater by now if I had my stuff together. 

Or maybe my go-go-go personality is just trying to process the potential of life outside the wheel. Although it fills me with anxiety, maybe there is joy in NOT living from a to-do list for a few days or, if you are fortunate, a few weeks. Maybe there is peace in NOT waking up to an alarm every single day. Satisfaction in NOT prioritizing the unimportant just to cross it off a list. Fulfillment in NOT planning the most efficient way to dissect the day but in allowing the day to unfold organically. Happiness in NOT accomplishing something but in enjoying something, instead.

As with so much of my life, I am still figuring it out, seeking balance, sorting through the different perspectives and emotions. Maybe your legs are aching, growing weary on the hamster wheel, as well. Maybe you can relate.

If you don’t have time to ponder it today, don’t worry. You will have more time this weekend.

That’s what she promises, anyway. But I wouldn’t trust her.

photo credit: <a href=”″>Hamster in a wheel</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a href=””>(license)</a&gt;