The Rockwood Files: Back to school angst

rockwood files colorBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

Our 12-year-old groans every time he sees a back-to-school commercial, which lately seems to happen once every five seconds. (I can’t blame him. When adults go on vacation, the last thing we want is to be constantly reminded that our regular jobs are about to start up again on Monday morning.) So my kids are milking these last few days of freedom for all they’re worth – wearing pajamas until noon, playing Marco Polo in the pool and enjoying lazy evenings without a hint of homework.

back-to-school3The kids may think I’m ancient, but I’m young enough to remember the special brand of angst that comes with the first day of school. The one that stands out most in my mind is the night before the first day of fifth grade.

Fifth grade was a big deal because, in the town where I grew up, it was a kid’s first departure from the sheltered simplicity of elementary school. It was separated from all the other grades and housed in a building across town – sort of like Lord of the Flies, only with backpacks. I’m not sure if school officials set fifth grade apart because there was no room in the elementary school building or because they wanted to protect the rest of the town, just in case all that pre-teen hyperactivity were to spontaneously combust.

I spent the last half of the summer of 1983 worrying about what I should wear on the first day of fifth grade. It had to be something way cooler than what kids wore to elementary school – that much was certain. So my mother took me back-to-school shopping at the Belk department store on Main Street and I found a red and white outfit made by Esprit, a brand that was uber-cool for 10-year-old girls. The jeans had this red belt that put the final, fashionable touch on what I hoped would be the outfit to launch me into fifth grade popularity.

The night before the first day of school, I laid out my new outfit so everything would be ready to go the next morning. But where was the cute red belt? It was missing! I double and triple checked my closet. I looked in the laundry room, the shopping bag, the car, and every square inch of our house. It was just gone, and I was devastated.

My mother kept saying something ridiculous like, “Just wear a different belt,” as if that was the obvious solution to a trivial problem. And I didn’t have enough tearful words to explain to her how my entire fifth grade identity and future happiness hinged on that one red belt that was now, in a cruel twist of fate, lost forever – probably floating around in the same black hole where stray socks, sunglasses and signed permission slips go.

More than 30 years later, it seems absurd that I shed tears over a red belt the night before fifth grade, but it made perfect sense at the time. Because the tears were really about fear – of the unknown, of not fitting in, of being in a new situation that you don’t feel old enough to handle. And of course there’s always the dread of dealing with “the jerk,” and every school year tends to come with at least one of those.

Sometimes we grown-ups don’t give kids enough credit for just getting through the first day of school. Every year it’s like clearing another emotional hurdle, and any number of things – like locker location, homeroom assignment or even a missing red belt – can trip a kid up. The first day of school requires much more than notebooks and No. 2 pencils. It takes guts. For all those kids facing yet another new adventure, good luck and Godspeed.

gwen rockwoodGwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s new book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

Photo credit: Lisa Mac Photography

Life with Ladybug: Are you up for The Kissing Challenge?

the kissing challenge

By Shannon Magsam

A blogger over at the MOPS website issued a Be Brave 2014 Kissing Challenge yesterday, noting that some married couples who may have kissed passionately while dating – or when they first got married – have let those lip-smacking sessions go by the wayside.

I kiss my husband quite a bit, but lately we’ve been passing like ships (lips?) in the night. A peck on the way out the door, a kiss on the back of my neck when I’m at my computer, a brush of the cheek when one of us goes to bed first (I’m still having trouble adjusting my sleep schedule from summer mode to back-to-school mode). But we haven’t shared any real lip-lockers lately, to tell you the truth.

So I’m gonna do it. I’m taking the challenge. Who’s with me?

Here’s a paragraph from the post about The Kissing Challenge:

“The Be Brave 2014 Kissing Challenge is a commitment to kiss your husband passionately every day for a month. Yes, I said a month. Pecks don’t count. I’m talking about real kisses. The kind of kiss that leaves you breathless and makes onscreen kisses pale in comparison. It doesn’t have to be a make-out marathon, but it does have to be the kind of kiss that says, “Welcome home. I’m glad to see you, and just in case you’re wondering, I can’t get enough of you.”

I started the challenge yesterday. When my husband came home from work, I pulled him into our bedroom and laid one on him. His reaction was …. very positive.

After the kiss, he happily said, “That was a nice welcome home! I’ll take that every day.”

Mission accomplished.

I didn’t tell him about the challenge, although I don’t think secrecy is required. I want organic results plus I don’t want to feel like I “have” to kiss passionately every day (I’m rebellious like that).

If you’re joining me in this kissing challenge with your own honey, let’s meet back here in a month and discuss the results. I bet we’ll all see some changes (for the better) in our relationships.

If you need some convincing, here are some links to stories about why kissing it’s good for us (click to read):

Kissing as a way to fight the common cold?

And a way to burn calories?

People who kiss more often are more satisfied with their relationships.

Kiss more to live longer.

P.S. — If you don’t want to participate in the kissing challenge, what about a bear hug challenge with your kids? Give your kids an actual, full-on hug every day for a month.

Are you and your lips in? Let me know in comments or email me at mamas{at}nwaMotherlode{dot}com. 

shan, blue dress, circleShannon Magsam is mama to Ladybug (a salty/sweet tween girl who still likes things like superheroes and unicorns, thank goodness) is wife to newspaperman/entrepreneur John and is co-founder of

Empty Nexter: It’s our time to take the lead

By Carrie Perrien Smith

I love the flexibility and freedom that empty nesting provides me.

We all give so much to our family during our child-rearing years that we need the break — but never for long. We have much left to give so we turn to our communities or dive deeper into our career.

Like so many other parents, I volunteered to help with activities my daughter was involved in. We build a nice volunteer résumé and a strong portfolio of skills in the process. By the time our kids are grown, we are ready to stretch our wings even more.

We sharpened our communication, sales, motivation, project management, and human relations skills. Most of us are ready for the challenge.

Over the last ten years, my résumé has grown to include leadership roles in eighteen charity organizations. They all challenged me — in good ways and uncomfortable ways. But it’s all good. I promise. At the bare minimum, I learned a lot.

Leading takes some guts, whether it is in your company or your community. Sometimes just overcoming a difficult situation with your dignity intact is a big victory. But at the bottom of it all, we gain that sense of accomplishment that comes from serving with purpose.

Finding the Place to Reflect on My Challenges

I’ve been pruning these overgrown knockout rose bushes at the entry to our neighborhood. You know the ones. They are popping up in mass plantings because they flower all summer.

The only problem is that they aren’t maintenance-free. Their spent blossoms never drop unless you prune them. Plus they are prone to damage and disease. And the older branches must be pruned away occasionally to make room for the newer growth. They just need some tender loving care to be all they can be — a lot like humans.

knockout roses, carrieThere are eight of these bad boys in the entry flowerbeds. They hadn’t been tended since the flowerbeds were replaced last summer. I tackled it an hour here and there over several days.

Now I can drive into the neighborhood without thinking “someone should really do something about those.” In a couple weeks, they’ll be tricked out with new blooms and leaves for the second half of summer.

Tending a flowerbed is a great time to slip away into my thoughts. This time, I needed to reflect on why I choose to lead.  It isn’t easy but I learn so much from the experience, and it gives me a unique opportunity to mentor others. And together, we accomplish more than I could ever accomplish alone.

I’ve traveled a tough few days as a leader in my current volunteer role. I needed these moments alone to think. I had some hard questions and needed to prepare for some uncomfortable conversations. These eight unkempt thorny wonders gave me the time to sort out the events of the previous few days.

And There I Heard a Still, Quiet Voice

I’d grab my leather work gloves, pruning shears, and bucket each morning and head over to tackle a pair of the sloppy, uneven bushes. Like an old friend, the warm morning air embraced me. And then a still, quiet voice whispered lessons in my ear as I carefully pruned, making decisions about what goes and what stays.

Each day, it would reveal a new lesson or two until I had these eight. Maybe each lesson was a gift for completing a bush. At the end of it all, I had the courage to address what I must and the peace to forgive what I didn’t.

It takes courage to prune a branch when it’s in full bloom, even when you know the branch is negatively affecting the overall health and structure of the bush.

You can’t be afraid of the thorns. To prune correctly, you have to get to the base of the plant. If you prepare with the right gear and evaluate the bush carefully, you can gather most of the information you need to make the cut. The rest is intuition.

Trust your intuition.

The dead and diseased limbs have to go. Don’t wait. They will damage the healthy parts of the bush. Wait and you’ll have to replace the whole thing. Then you’ll have a new undersized bush where an established bush once thrived.

Sometime a scrawny branch needs nurturing for a year, but it’s worth keeping because it will be important to the structure in the future.

A bush with strong, established roots is worth pruning, nurturing, and developing.

You make a few mistakes when pruning. But if you make the kindest cuts, the bush will do its part in the recovery. After all, every novice gardener deserves a few passes on their mistakes.

Prune your own bushes first. Teach others to prune but don’t complain about the way others prune their bushes — unless you want to prune their bushes too.

New Growth for Old Bushes

By the time you read this post, all the uncomfortable leadership tasks I need to handle for today will be behind me.

I’m sure they will go better than I anticipate. That is the way it usually goes, isn’t it? Our organization will be better for it. In fact, we’ll all be better for it. And these eight mature rose bushes will be ready for the next phase of their growth — just like me.

Carrie Perrien Smith-51-Twitter-SquareCarrie Perrien Smith is mama to Darcie and a pack of black dogs (Jazmin, Midgieboy, and Chloe — in pack order), grandma to Robert, wife to world-traveler and Walmart-blue-bleeding Tom, daughter to Wayne and Phyllis, speaker bureau and publishing company owner, Business: Engaged! small business radio show host, community activist, singer in a party band called Paper Jam, and home improvement enthusiast. Follow her on Twitter @soarwitheagles or contact her at

The Rockwood Files: Lessons from the old school

rockwood files colorBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

I tossed a new book into the beach bag and headed out the door with the kids to swim team practice. We both dove in – me into a world of words and them into the bright blue water of the pool.

A few pages into the book, I realized I was pressing my thumb into the right-hand margin of the page, expecting it to automatically flip the same way it does when I read books on my Kindle or smartphone. Nothing happened, of course, and I laughed at how easy it was to forget that my old-school real-life book wasn’t going to react to a touch the same way an electronic one does.

As much as I love reading electronic books, it’s nice to hold the real deal in my hands again and use a pen to underline my favorite parts. New technology is great, but there are a few things worthy of a visit back to how it used to be.

One of the best things that has happened for my kids this summer is discovering the magic of an old-fashioned record player. It was a gift from our friends John and Susan, who have been so dear to our family for so long that they have earned honorary uncle and aunt status with my kids. When they arrived for a visit this summer, the kids looked skeptical when Uncle John hauled in a large carrying case with a Califone record player inside which he’d bought from eBay.

califone record player“Your kids are really going to like this,” he said as he set up the record player and slipped an ancient album out of its plastic sleeve and onto the turntable. “Trust me on this. Just give it a little time.”

At first, the kids stared at the record player as if Uncle John had just hauled a dusty dinosaur fossil into the house. They’d never seen anything like it. He showed them how to put a record on and how to switch the setting from 33 to 45, depending on the size of the record. Then he showed them how to set the needle down ever so gently on the rim of the record and watch it glide across the vinyl.

I loved the record player because it reminded me of the one I had in my bedroom as a kid. And I wished I’d kept all those old records I used to play over and over, like Eddie Rabbit’s “Drivin’ My Life Away” and Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.” I remembered how excited I was the first time I got the Grease Album and unfolded it to see the movie photos of John Travolta and Olivia Newton John inside.

But it wasn’t nostalgic for my kids, who have never known any other way to play music other than touching a playlist on a smartphone. Would the magic exist for them, too?

After a few days of spinning records, the kids are hooked. Their favorite record so far is a Disney long-playing album that includes songs from The Jungle Book, Lady and the Tramp, Snow White and many more. When 7-year-old Kate goes missing, I can usually find her sitting by the record player listening to the song “Everybody Wants to Be a Cat.”

Uncle John said the only thing as much fun as playing records is finding more records at the thrift store for 50 cents or a dollar. The kids found one called “Never Smile at a Crocodile,” from the Peter Pan soundtrack, and we’ve heard it a few jillion times now – a new record for what is a very old record.

We love all things technology and gadgets and progress, but I’ve got to admit that there’s something pretty wonderful about an occasional spin back in time to the “old school.”

gwen rockwoodGwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s new book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

Photo credit: Lisa Mac Photography

Life with Ladybug: How to de-clutter (written by a recovering slob)

By Shannon Magsam, co-founder of and mama to 1 little lady(bug) cleaning

My husband took two straight weeks off from work this summer.

We went to Florida one week and the next week we stayed closer to home and did something we grasshoppers have never done before while on vacation: we purged.

We cleaned out closets, the garage, the office, Ladybug’s bedroom.

Nobody was more surprised than we were that we’d spent vacation days doing something so boring.

But we’ve been realizing something over the years: less clutter equals less stress.

Nothing gets my husband’s goat quite like going out to the garage to find a tool, only to trip over a mountain of misplaced crap to reach that tool (which is likely covered in more junk that we haven’t used in three years).

What we did with all that stuff: We took two old microwave ovens to the Washington County Environmental Affairs office (they deal with electronics), left two old vacuum cleaners and a few other odds and ends by the curb for the city to pick up, and we took LOTS of stuff to Goodwill (including two old fax machines). We took our nice, but we-never-wear-them clothes to Plato’s closet and got a little cash. We took a huge collection of books to the Dickson Street Bookstore to sell.

As we moved through various parts of the house, de-cluttering and cleaning like fiends, we got to experience something we quite liked: we started enjoying our house more.

The more we purged, the better we liked it.

Therefore, I highly recommend you try it, too. If you’re into that, here are my Top 5 How-To De-clutter Tips, written by a recovering slob (that would be me):

1. Don’t overthink it. If you do, you’ll spend all your time trying to gather cleaning supplies and trash bags and then your energy will be sapped before you even get started. If you want to clean out your closet, just go in there and start pulling stuff out.

Start making piles: of things you want to keep, things you want to give away and things you want to throw away. If you wait until the end of the drag-things-out-and-assess-them exercise then you’ll know if you need more bins for storage or a over-the-door shoe cubby.

Or maybe you’ll get rid of most everything and you won’t need any of this. Chances are you only wear about six things in your closet over and over anyway.

2. Do it when you’re in the mood. I know, some of you are thinking it will never happen if you wait until the mood strikes. But if you start thinking about how good you’ll feel once it’s over, you WILL get in the mood. And one victory will make you want to score another one. Organized the closet? Yes! Now you know how good it will feel to get that bathroom de-cluttered!

3. Find a cleaning buddy. Having my husband work with me while he was home on vacation made it lots more fun — and productive. Maybe you and a friend can switch out helping each other purge. When it comes to almost anything (including exercise) it’s better with a friend.

4. Be brutal. If you’re in doubt, throw it out. I have been absolutely ruthless with my own crap and my daughter’s crap. I tossed stuff I’d kept for years — or I donated it if it was in good shape. It feels good knowing that some other child will get to enjoy my daughter’s puzzles, books or clothes now that she’s outgrown them.

5. Win small battles first. You must have small, obtainable goals. You need to tackle one area at a time, not the whole house. That would be too overwhelming. Once you’ve conquered a few smaller projects you’ll feel more confident to stand atop the rubble of bigger projects with your big ole victory flag.

Some extra slobster notes: The older I get, the less I enjoy “things”. I used to collect little trinkets, cute figurines and mementos from trips. Not anymore. I like experiences. Now the only things I bring back from trips are memories and pictures.

Well, while were in Florida that first vacation week I did buy a whimsical refrigerator magnet.

Speaking of the refrigerator … you’re next, mister!

Not today, though. Because today’s my birthday. I may de-clutter while on vacation, but this grasshopper refuses to clean out the refrigerator on her birthday.

shan, blue dress, circleShannon Magsam is mama to Ladybug (a salty/sweet tween girl who still likes things like superheroes and unicorns, thank goodness) is wife to newspaperman/entrepreneur John and is co-founder of

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