a revolution in christmas traditions …

The other day, I received an email about revolutionizing Christmas shopping, and I thought it was worth sharing.  Really. Worth. Sharing.  My dad would have *loved* this! I mean come on, a country-wide anti-big box Christmas shopping campaign, sign him up! He hated everything about WalMart from their Chinese toys to their Mexican manufacturing plants to their ‘you get 10% less profit per year every year you sell your product in our store’ payment plan to vendors who ‘finally’ made it into Walmart.

This year, I am going to make EVERY effort to do my Christmas shopping here, in Evansville, and from my friends and business owners.  Also, I intend to purchase only things that will truly warm the hearts of my family and friends – including my children.  I need your help!  If you own a business, make a product, create something beautiful, offer a service, sell something, or know someone who does, please list your name (or their’s) here in the comments or comment on the facebook post for this blog.  Include your contact information so other people can also revolutionize their Christmas with you!  Together, we can make an impact and keep our precious dollars where they belong … right here.

So, Papa Gus, this one’s for you …

Christmas 2011 — Birth of a New Tradition

As the holidays approach, the giant Asian factories are kicking into high gear to provide Americans with monstrous piles of cheaply produced goods … merchandise that has been produced at the expense of American labor.  This year will be different.  This year Americans will give the gift of genuine concern for other Americans.  There is no longer an excuse that, at gift giving time, nothing can be found that is produced by American hands.  Yes, there is!

It’s time to think outside the box, people. Who says a gift needs to fit in a shirt box, wrapped in Chinese produced wrapping paper?  Everyone … yes, EVERYONE gets their hair cut.  How about gift certificates from your local, American hair salon or barber?

Gym membership?  It’s appropriate for all ages who are thinking about some health improvement.

Who wouldn’t appreciate getting their car detailed?  Small, American, especially, locally owned detail shops and car washes would love to sell you a gift certificate or a book of gift certificates.

Are you one of those extravagant givers who think nothing of plonking down the Benjamins on a Chinese made flat-screen?  Perhaps that grateful gift receiver would like his driveway sealed, or lawn mowed for the summer, or driveway plowed all winter, or games at the local golf course.

There are a bazillion owner-run restaurants … all offering gift certificates, and, if your intended isn’t the fancy eatery sort, what about a half-dozen breakfasts at the local breakfast joint.  Remember, folks this isn’t about big National chains … this is about supporting your home town Americans with their financial lives on the line to keep their doors open.

How many people couldn’t use an oil change for their car, truck or motorcycle, done at a shop run by the American working guy?

Thinking about a heartfelt gift for mom?  Mom would LOVE the services of a local cleaning lady for a day.

My computer could use a tune-up, and I KNOW I can find some young guy who is struggling to get his repair business up and running.

OK, you were looking for something more personal.  Local crafts people spin their own wool and knit them into scarves.  They make jewelry, and pottery and beautiful wooden boxes.

Plan your holiday outings at local, owner operated restaurants and leave your server a nice tip.  How about going out to see a play or ballet at your hometown theatre?

Musicians need love too, so find a venue showcasing local bands.

Honestly, people, do you REALLY need to buy another ten thousand Chinese lights for the house?  When you buy a five dollar string of light, about fifty cents stays in the community.  If you have those kinds of bucks to burn, leave the mailman, trash guy or babysitter a nice BIG tip.

You see, Christmas is no longer about draining American pockets so that China can build another glittering city.  Christmas is now about caring about US, encouraging American small businesses to keep plugging away to follow their dreams.  When we care about other Americans, we care about our communities, and the benefits come back to us in ways we couldn’t imagine.

Let’s make THIS is the new American Christmas tradition.

Share this post.  Forward this to people on your mailing list.  Post it to discussion groups.  Send it to the editor of your local paper and radio stations, and TV news departments.

This is a revolution of caring about each other, and isn’t that what Christmas is about?

for the happy,

~ kj


keep those ones for the herpes…

So, a while back my mom called me because she neded my help. She was helping her friend move and they were packing up the bathroom and were going through the medicine cabinet. Could I help them decipher which medicines she should keep and which ones she should dispose of? Sure.

I mean, I’m no doctor, but I’ve stayed at plenty of Holiday Inn Express Hotels and I’ve been under the care of a pain management doctor for a while, I’m pretty sure I could help out, right? How bad could this get? Two 60 year old ladies packing up a house sounds totally innocent, RIGHT?!?

The conversation starts out simply enough …


Pitch it.


Why does she have them?

Sometimes she throws her back out.


Cyclo? Cyclobenzaprene?.?

Muscle relaxer, probably for her back. Keep.



Here’s a little box of Lexapro. Here, Rebecca, you should probably be taking these now.

Hmmm, keep, I guess.


Xanax. Maybe keep?

Here, put these in my purse.


ACYCLOVIR? Seriously? Acyclovir? That’s generic Valtrex. Do you know what that’s for?


HERPES!! HAHAHAHAHAHAH!!! Your old lady friend has herpes!!!!

Rebecca!! You have herpes?!? What the hell? I guess you need to keep these. Gross. I cannot believe you. These you could have put away. Geez! Some things you just do. not. need. to. know!  I mean could you not have kept those in your purse or something? Good God!

I do not have herpes! That cannot be MY medicine! Let me SEE THAT! Who’s name is on that bottle?!? Oh, that is my name? Well, when did I get herpes? SERIOUSLY, WHEN DID I GET HERPES?!? Where did this come from?  Oh. my. god. Do I have herpes?!?

Um, mom, ask Rebecca if she ever gets cold sores, like really terrible cold sores?

She said she does. WHY? Who cares! She wants to know about the herpes!

Mom, that is the herpes. Keep that one.

Oh. Rebecca! You’re fine! This is for your cold sores, you idiot!

Oh, I remember now.

Bring those pills back that I told you to put in my purse.


for the happy (pills!),

~ kj

free birth control for everyone …

It’s been way too long since I posted up a new blog, and I have a friend that always asks “where are all the funny stories from your old blog?”  Well, I guess, either I’ve become immune to the disgusting, or they are growing out of it! Either way, here is recycled post from an old blog.  Be warned, it is not for the faint of heart!  Actually seems pretty timely too, since Mark just fixed the toilet last night that has been down for about 2 months!

… and now i need new rubber gloves

warning: if you have a weak stomach, turn around now. do not pass go. do not collect $200. just run far, far away.  if you are a mother disregard the warning. you will be just fine.

yesterday, #3 had a great time smashing all the bugs in the bathroom. ants. thank you to whomever donated the blowpop stick covered in gum to the bathroom trash can. i strategically positon ant traps and remove trash.

today, more ants. awesome. #1 reports that they are coming out of the holes in the wall drilled by the bug man. holes were drilled to apply any powder to inside of walls.  maybe he just drilled holes and inserted blowpops to draw all the ants from the neighbors house into mine. they probably pay better.

also today, i was the lucky winner in the ‘who gets to empty the trash smasher that we have been filling with trash for a week without a bag in it’ contest. yumm-o.

that kind of grossness is for amateurs.

the supreme almighty disgustingness started innocently enough. i heard small feet head for the bathroom. (yes the one with the ants. that’s how we learned where they are coming from.)  after several minutes of silence, i began to worry. “are you ok?” um, yeah. “no, really. what’s wrong?” um, nothing.

oh shit.

no shit.

holy shit.

did i mention there was shit?

picture in your head a small child around the age of 8 half naked holding a plunger in his hand with a look of complete shock on his face.

what … are … you … doing?

i need some help.

with what?

getting all of this to go in that hole. (finger pointing into toilet.)

he has poo on his feet, knees, cheeks (upstairs and downstairs), abdomen, hands, fingers, wrists, and the back of his elbow!

you do not use a plunger to jam the stuff in the hole.

oh. sorry.

i throw him in the shower. suit up in my hazmat gear for clean up, and then he catches me pitching his calvin klein undies in to the black trash bag.

what are you doing with those?

throwing them away. they’re soaked in poo.

well, grammy would scrub them for me.

oh really. then i’ll save them for you and you can take them to grammy’s and ask her to do it or you are welcome to do it yourself because i do not scrub manure out of little boy’s underwear.

it’s your job.

this bag is big enough for your body. don’t start with me.

needless to say, the toilet is still not working and now i need new rubber gloves.

just think of this as free birth control.

for the happy,


i remember …

Today is a happy day. We are heading to the Mountains today! Six years and one day after my dad died, I am finally feeling better, lighter and freer.  Weird, but it took six years and one day. A whole bunch of other shit happened in those six years, but six years and one day and I have taken a huge weight off of my shoulders.  So … if you read the other post on Dear Robin Letters, the end is the same, but the beginning is different. I feel different today, really. Ahhhhhhh ……

Oh, AND 14 years and one day after Mark and I got married. It really makes yesterday a *little* tricky for both of us that both the happiest and saddest day of my life are celebrated on the same day.  My dad’s eternal way of making me say ‘i remember’.

If you don’t follow along on Dear Robin Letters, here is what happened over there last night …

(If you read it over there, it ends the sae, you don’t have to read it again. ;) )


Today is the sixth anniversary of my dad’s death. I had the great honor of giving the eulogy at his amazing, Irish Catholic funeral outside of Chicago in October of 2005. My dad’s funeral is half the reason why I can’t hear bagpipe music without wanting to strangle the guy in the kilt. The other half is wondering what’s going on under the kilt.

Here is what I said that beautiful day about my wonderful father to a packed house …

Dear Dad,

Thank you … thank you for everything that you gave to me and to all of us gathered here today. I don’t mean the “things” that you gave us, but rather *you*. You gave us joy, and friendship, and laughter, and trust, and memories, and knowledge, and kindness, and most of all, love.

Love is why we are here today. Love gives us memories, and the memories we have of you cover so many facets of our lives. Memories of you invade my thoughts constantly and have for quite some time. I remember the simplest and quietest of moments when I think of you. I remember things like playing Pom-Pom, and what an incredible ice skater you were – how you could literally skater circles around ALL of us.

I remember driving lessons with you. We would drive this way and that way, and magically, every single time, we would end up at Dairy Queen for One Chocolate Malt – just one – because I needed my two hands for driving.

I remember how smart you were. You knew all the answers. You could fix everything. You could do anything.

I remember horseback riding, and hay bales, and Turkey Trots, and those insane ponies, and Babe.  

I remember how you helped us with sports techniques, homework problems, science projects, car troubles, kids at
school trouble. You helped us with everything.

I remember the craziest things. I remember when you would come home from work in the summer and it was HOT!, and
we would play Jump-or-Dive for hours.

I remember Cass Lake and Tom’s Resort and the Porcupine Mountains and of course, Airport Road in Michigan. I remember
when you taught us what we needed for survival in the woods in case of a bear attack. “It’s all very simple” you said, we needed a camera with a flash to stun the bear, a pocket knife to wound him, and a lighter to finish him off.

I remember when we had to hike a million miles back down the trail to find Billy’s shoe, and how whenever we went to Michigan, you always got us a place with a *hot tub*.

I remember this little jig you would dance in your overalls and work boots as you came in to the family room before work. I remember how funny you were, the jokes you would tell, the college dorm pranks you taught me, the funny stories that you would always share with us.

I remember.

I remember everything.

We all remember.

What I remember most is love. Your love for us was true and amazing – just like you. You loved us all so much and it always showed. You were devoted to your family. You gave us everything we ever wanted or needed.

I only wish we could have done the same for you.

I wish you were here today to deliver one of your great confidence inspiring lines like, “You’re Kelly Burns! Of course you can do it! These people don’t know who they’re messing with!” Because today, I really need it.

Today, I am sad. We are all so sad that you are gone. I am sad that my 2 boys won’t grow up around you. As I was lamenting over this sadness the other day, my friend said that even through my sadness, I should not be blind to how lucky I am. He told me, “You are lucky because he got to meet your children.”

And I am – lucky. We all are. We are SO lucky to have known and loved you. So, thank you, Dad, for everything, for the jokes, for the stories, for the love.

That’s who you were, and that’s how we will remember you.

You will always be here with us…

at the dinner table …

when the Sox win …

for that damn thankful corn ritual at Thanksgiving …

waiting your turn for a present from ‘Santa’ …

around the table having a chat …

for a chocolate coffee cake …

you will always be here with us.


I miss you, Dad, … already!





for the happy,

~ the one kj


dear robin …

What is a robin? Just a bird? The first sign of Spring?
 A sign of renewal, an awakening of Earth alerting us of a new beginning?
It could be all of these things.

To me, a Robin is so much more than that. A Robin is power, strength, grace in the face of adversity, an amazing grin that can light up a room, a sneaky giggle, a leader, a believer, a giver, mother, wife, sister, daughter, friend, and most of all a beloved.

Now that her battle is over and she rests peacefully in Heaven, what do we do? Our struggle continues.  We miss her, and it hurts. With broken hearts, we go through the motions of each day telling ourselves “if I just keep busy, it won’t hurt so bad”.  Well, I hate to be the one to tell you, but it will still hurt. It will still hurt until you address all of those grief emotions head on, and if you don’t you will end up just like me … 6 years later, still going through the motions. Putting on a great show and using every last ounce of energy to just hold it all together.

Let’s rewind a few years …

In 2002, I had a 5 month old son and I had just moved to Evansville, 6 hours from my family in Chicago, when my dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. The treatment path he chose was not the one suggested by his world-renowned physicians.  He chose quantity of life over quality.  As he sat in the doctor’s office, he was told that he had 6 months to live with out treatment and would steadily decline and die in about 6 months, but no one knew fo sure how long he would actually live – 3 months, 6, 9, 5 years?  His other choice was to receive insanely toxic (not typically toxic) chemotherapy to reduce his tumor, have a radical Whipple procedure (if the tumor shrunk), and then see what happened.  He chose the chemo.  He lived for an incredibly long time for someone with Stage 4 Pancreatic Cancer – 3 years, but he didn’t really *live*.  He spent his days in bed weakened from the constant vomiting.  My dad had never really been one to sit still, and now that’s all he did. The medications he was on, and there were many of them, wreaked havoc with his vision, so he had trouble reading – another of his favorite pastimes.  It was the most painful thing my family has ever done, watching my father die, right before our eyes. It took a toll on us. There were surgeries and procedures, and weekly trips into Chicago to see the doctors and for treatments. It wore us all out, not just my dad.

Finally, the chemo had done its job! The tumor was small enough, and it could now be removed! We couldn’t be happier! Or could we?  We were all there at the hospital that day for the incredibly long surgery.  The surgery he had that day, a modified Whipple, removed his pancreas, part of his stomach, part of his intestine, bile ducts, part of his liver, and maybe more, it was a big deal.  My mom doesn’t speak Doctor very well, and I wanted to be sure I heard everything he said, and I did. My sister fainted when she saw my dad in the ICU recovery room. “GET HER OUT OF HERE!” I commanded. God dammit! Am I the only one with a fucking brain in this family?!?  My dad had executed a DNR order and came out of surgery on a ventilator.  When he started to wake up, he realized his breathing was being assisted, and he immediately tried to rip the breathing tube out.  I had to calm him down and explain to him that it was just there to make him comfortable. He kept gesturing that he wanted to write something down. I got him a pen and paper. He was lying flat on his back, just out of a 9 hour surgery, on a vent, unable to speak, and desperately trying to tell me something.  All he could do was scribble. Then he looked at me like ‘you got it?’.  I just said to him “I’ll handle it for you, dad.”

Shortly after that, I left the hospital. We were spending the weekend with friends out in the suburbs. I took two xanax on the drive back and drank so much that night, I’m surprised that I didn’t die. The next morning, I was supposed to go back in to the city to see my dad before I headed back to Evansville, and I didn’t. I justified it by saying that he wouldn’t remember anyway.  But you know what? I do. I remember not going, and I still regret it.

After that surgery, he spent 28 days in ICU.  28 days!  For 28 days my mom would drive about 40 miles one way to sit all day with my dad.  Shortly after he came home from the hospital, he had some scans done to see that all the cancer was gone. A day we had waited for for a long time. When I heard the results, I could have SCREAMED. I think I may have.  Since his very large tumor was gone, his body had stopped fighting off the cancer. This had allowed it to pop up all over his body … lungs, liver, kidneys, stomach, intestines, you name it. All that work, all that torture, all that medicine, FOR THIS?  It wasn’t fair!  I was 30 fucking years old and my dad was going to die.  This was some serious bullshit, and I was so MAD!  He kept fighting for a few more months. 

In September of 2005, there was a special walk in Chicago for Pancreatic Cancer Research.  My dad was in the hospital this weekend.  Our whole, big extended family was there, and we Paraded for Papa Gus with pride.  We visited him in the hhospital after the walk, me, Mark, and our 2 boys.  He loved our boys. Ian had just turned 1 at this time, and he’s a red-head. My dad used to always say,”Is it OK if I call him pretty, Kel?”  You can call him anything you want, Dad. Just get better.  That procedure was the beginning of the end for my dad.  When they sent him home a few days later, it was in Hospice Care. My mom called me and said “You need to be here.” I had just seen him a week before, walking down the halls of the hospital, holding my babies, making jokes, laughing, smiling, and now he was semi-conscious lying in the living room in a hospital bed. WTF? I sat there all day and held his hand. Every once in a while he would speak up. You see, the White Sox were in the World Series that year, and every time my mom thought he was asleep, she would turn the game off and put one of her shows on. One time she put the movie ‘Ray’ on, and my dad, who 2 seconds earlier had been snoring, grunted, “Put the damn game back on. I was watching that!”  I left on Monday night.  He died Tuesday, October 4, 2005 at 8:30 PM.  Which just so happens to be my wedding anniversary. I guess he never wanted me to forget the day he died. Oh, and the Sox won the Series that year. Finally!

I have NEVER dealt with the grief of losing my dad. I just push it away, push it down, push it over, stay busy with other stuff, and I feel like shit. I will never be better if I don’t bring those feelings front and center and deal with them, address them, and put them wherever it is that they belong.  Because sitting in the back of my throat choking me is definitely not where they belong.

The reason the all the info, the TMI, the super long post, is this … when you lose someone, you have to face those feelings, like a car crash, because if you don’t your life will become a car wreck.

OK! Now to lighten things up just for a minute … in the spirit of dealing with feelings, I have launched The Dear Robin Project! Wahoo! You can read more about it in a minute, but what I want to say about it is that when I wrote about Dear Robin, I actually felt like a weight had been lifted off of my chest! A 6-year-old weight.  A weight I probably should have moved quite a while ago.

So, Robin, thanks for helping me deal with those old feelings by hitting your loss head on.  I could not have done this without you! Thank you. Thank you! THANK YOU!  I love you, and I miss you, and I can’t wait to wear tiaras with you again in Heaven!

for the happy,

the one kj

   The Dear Robin Project

On September 10, 2011, my dear friend Robin died.  She had been battling cancer of an unknown origin that impacted her ovaries, bones, and lymphatic system for over 13 months.  She had done everything in her power to rid her body of these awful cells including putting everything in God’s hands, and he did not disappoint her.  Whatever your beliefs are, they are not to be debated here.  Robin was welcomed into Heaven, into God’s open arms, where she was finally freed from her pain.  She was 33, and among the family members she left behind are her husband and her two young daughters ages 3 and almost 5.

Robin was an amazing woman, funny, smart, captivating, mother, wife, daughter, sister, … beloved.  We all have a special memory of her – maybe how we met, or the funniest story she ever told (fly in the mouth, anyone?), or one special memory that no one else would have ever noticed.  Wouldn’t it be lovely if we all got together and wrote these memories down and sent them to her?  Then they could be saved forever for her girls.  What if we put them in a book?  What if we though bigger than just our Robin?

What about the people who never met our Robin.  I bet they have a ‘Robin’ in their lives – someone important to them that died too soon.  Someone they were afraid to say goodbye to because it just hurt too badly.  Maybe their Robin was taken suddenly and there wasn’t a time for goodbye; no last hug, no peck on the cheek, no last squeeze of the hand.

What would you say to your Robin if they were here RIGHT NOW?  I love you.  Thank you.  I’m sorry.  I wish you had not suffered so much.  I would trade places with you for one more day.  Look what I’ve become!  There are many things we all wish that we could have or would have said to our Robin before their life ended.  Not all of us had the opportunity, or maybe we had the opportunity, but we were too frightened or too uncomfortable to share the things that were in our heart.  When we hold on to these thoughts with the idea of ‘I wish I would have told him/her ________’, it can weigh heavy on our hearts.  Let your hearts be lightened by giving yourself this gift of telling your Robin what is in your heart.  

I started this project at Robin’s funeral.  Many of the attendees were very young and had never experienced such a loss.  I had 1,000 cards printed with ‘Dear Robin’ on the top, and I had a sign made instructing people what to do with the cards.  I am going to take those cards along with these ‘Dear Robin’ letters and create a book.  Proceeds from the Dear Robin book will benefit The Robin’s Nest Charitable Fund, a charity started in Robin’s honor and with her help.  The charity, when fully funded, will help those on their journey to conquer cancer with smaller expenses that insurance never covers such as a missing car or mortgage payment, groceries, gas bill, or something even bigger like a trip to Disney for special memories for when dad is gone, or to fly your sister in for what just might be your very last Thanksgiving.

The bottom line is that The Dear Robin Project is all about healing and helping anyone and everyone because we all have a ‘Robin’.

If you know someone who could benefit from writing a Dear Robin letter, please share this with them. It is for everyone!

To submit your letter, or for more information about The Dear Robin Project, please contact Kelly Johnson at DearRobinLetters@gmail.com. I’m sure there is some sort of legal form that should accompany this that says you are giving me permission to use your letter in my book, but I don’t have that yet, so, until we get that waiver ready, please add a separate paragraph after your letter that says that Kelly Johnson and the Dear Robin Project can use your letter for publication.  Thank you for participating, and I hope you find some peace when you write your letter!

9/11+10 …


Ten years ago on 9/11 was the first day I ‘saw’ my oldest son. That was how the day ended, but here is how it began …


I was getting ready for work; Mark had already left, as he was working in Peoria that day (about 3 hours away).  I was half listening to the Today Show as I was racing around, and then I sat down on the corner of the bed to really dial in to the broadcast.  I called Mark to make sure he was listening to the radio. As I was sitting there with my phone in my hand talking to Mark, watching the Today Show listening, explaining, trying to comprehend … at this point, this was still just a plane crash, the second plane crashed into the second tower live on TV.  What the hell had just happened?


On my 30 minute drive to work, I listened to the radio the entire way … the only thing that was on was coverage of the plane crashes into the Twin Towers.  Just as I was pulling into the parking garage, the first tower fell.  We had clients in that building.  I hauled my 5 month-pregnant-self up to my office on the 13th floor and was amazed to find all of my co-workers not at their desks.  Our office was a large open room with groups of desks, no cubicles or offices, with a HUGE floor to ceiling window at one end that faced the city of Chicago.  Everyone was standing at the window, watching to see if Chicago would be attacked next.  We had an office there too.  We evacuated several of our offices in major cities that day and in the offices that we didn’t evacuate, I’m pretty sure no one was working any way.  In the corporate office, we brought a TV in and stared at it all day in disbelief.


The towers falling, the Pentagon, Pennsylvania, the constant news coverage, it was so surreal.  Nothing had changed for us, our office looked just the same, my friends were still intact, how could this be happening?  We watched together for hours and we just couldn’t believe our eyes.  The devastation was unnerving.  What was even scarier was the knowledge we would gain later about how and when the terrorists had infiltrated our systems, how they have changed our perception of safety, changed our vocabulary, our holidays, the way we remember.


One of the eeriest things about 9/11 was the grounding of ALL of the flights to and from everywhere.  Where we lived was kind of under (way under) a landing pattern for Midway Airport, so we would see and sometimes hear many planes each night.  For the week (5 days, I’m not sure) after 9/11 that the planes were all grounded, it was so eerily quiet at night. At first, you couldn’t quite put your finger on what was missing, but then it was just creepy.  We couldn’t wait to see those lights in the sky again.  One amazing thing was that my boss at the time, an entrepreneur, was a partner in another business, a charter airline.  During these days, they were one of the very few people in the air because they were flying airline executives to crash sites.  Just one of those crazy things.


Anyway, back to the actual day … after a very emotional day, I was really looking forward to my very first ultrasound to see my very first baby, and Mark was racing home to make sure he could be there with me.  He had told me that morning before he left, before 9/11 happened, to make sure I gassed up my car so we wouldn’t have to stop that evening on the way to the doctor.  Well, in all of the morning’s excitement, I didn’t.  And then gas was $6 a gallon and there were 85 people in line at the gas station.  Wouldn’t you know it that on the day the US declares war on terrorism, Mark declares war on me for not putting gas in my car at the right time!  We were late to the appointment, but they were accommodating.  We did not find out the baby’s gender, which drove almost everyone we knew crazy.  We loved it.  In February of 2002 we had a boy.  He’ll be 10 soon.  (I can’t believe I have a 10 year old!)


We’ve come a loooong way in the ten years since that day.  We’ve gone from 0 kids to 3, we have moved a long way from Chicago, we are both business owners, we are both working very hard on finding our real happy, and we have grown so much as individuals, a couple, and most importantly, as a family.  We work hard and we play even harder.  We choose to surround ourselves with good people, and magically, life is more fun.  The sink is usually full of dishes, there is always laundry waiting to be done, and the grass – well, that will get mowed someday!  We are busy having fun with our kids or spending time on this amazing activity we call grown-up time, nothing crazy, just some time with other grown-ups!  We used to do it all the time before we had kids and we loved it, so we’re adding that back on our To Do list.  Our kids are in a lot of sports (times 3) so I’m basically a chauffeur from 3 PM to 8 PM each day.  We do the best we can each day and then we flop in to bed immediately after they do … ahem, 8:35 … and try to stay awake past 10 PM.


My hope for the next 10 years is that we can find more success in happiness, and bring more harmony and balance to this place I call Crazy Town. Maybe a routine would help?  Ya think?  We learned this week that life is short and you never know what is going to happen.  Be in it for the happy!  We are.


for the happy,


the one kj

happy to be an ibex …

A paradigm shift. After you get that call you may have a paradigm shift. Big or small, but something shifts.

“Hello, ma’am? This is Dennis with SPOT Rescue Services. We just received a 911 alert from Mark Johnson’s SPOT locator.”

“Are you shitting me?”

“No, ma’am. We don’t joke about these things. Do you know where your husband is?”

“Apparently stuck on the side of a mountain somewhere with his dumbass friends, but you know exactly where he is, don’t you?”

I knew he knew this because a SPOT is a GPS locator/Messenger system that adventurers carry as an extra measure of protection in case of emergency. It has 3 buttons. The first one, when pushed, sends a message to everyone you choose that says “We’re OK, this is where we are … ” then you click on it and a map pops up and it’s all cheery and fun. For the second button, you can program in your own message. Our message is “No Emergency. Send Help.” Looking back, this message is just dumb. If you don’t have an emergency, why the hell do you need help?

The third button, the 911 button, when pushed, activates a series of very interesting events.  It sends a signal to the SPOT Rescue Service Center in Montgomery, Texas (where some amazing and calm men and women work).  Those people then work on calling your emergency contacts that you have entered into their website.  After speaking with your contacts, they call the local authorities, and begin formulating a plan on how to rescue the button pusher.

So, on July 14th, 2011, at 7:15 Colorado time, after much debate, Team Ibex pushed the button.  After speaking with SPOT, I had the extreme pleasure of speaking with a 12 year old sheriff from Chaffee County Colorado. I hope to God I never encounter this man-cub in real life. I know he was ‘just doin’ his job’ by using the last precious hours of daylight searching FOR THE VAN, but we did have GPS coordinates for exactly where the guys were located. Duh. Onward. After asking SPOT to take him off my hands, he was no longer my problem.  Along with my Father-in-Law, we tried to launch a rescue that night, but it just wasn’t in the cards. It wasn’t fair to ask what would turn out to be 18 men to risk their lives to start a rescue at night. We would have to wait until morning. 

My greatest concern was that someone was ill. I mean truly ill, like heart attack ill. In my wildest dreams I couldn’t see this being a terrain issue or a twisted ankle, something that seemed like a minor obstacle to them. I mean a twisted ankle to them would be like a game! “Let’s rig something up and haul him outta here!” is what I could see in my mind. As far as terrain was concerned … they had more than one mountaineering guide with them. But the SPOT is a one way device, and we would have to wait to learn that they were just ‘cliffed out’, a new term for most of us. Basically, they went hiking and ended up in a mountain climbing situation – with no gear.  So, at this time, there were 9 men on the side of Mt. Princeton in Colorado waiting for help and wondering if anyone had heard their ‘call’. There were 9 wives at home and only 1 knew what was happening.

That was the night of the big Harry Potter Premier, and several of us wives were chatting via FB and text while this was all happening. I was in Florida with my boys, and I couldn’t. wouldn’t. didn’t dare say a thing. I really didn’t know anything. What good would it do to have 9 of us scared to death? So I waited. With my cell phone in hand during the entire midnight showing of Harry Potter 7 Part 2, 2,062 miles away from my husband on the side of that mountain. I sat in an aisle seat waiting to hear from SPOT.  What was the final word? Was the State of Colorado willing to fly over with a helicopter and drop a radio down to them just so we could know if everyone was ok?  SERIOUSLY?!? Who. Lives. Like. This?  Sure, Honey, I’ll get you some more popcorn. (!)

Movie ends, run out of theater, get on phone “Any news?” “No. No helicopter.” Sad face. “Ok, I’ll talk to you in a couple hours. Thanks for all you’ve done.” It’s now been about 6 hours since SPOT called me. I’m just tuckered and know I have a big day coming up, yet I can’t sleep. Imagine that.

I squeeze in a couple zzz’s and am up at the crack of dawn.  I’m right on the phone with SPOT and the Search and Rescue Coordinator (SAR) and I now know that the SAR team will be heading out in waves. Sentries to find the guys, followed by medical team to make sure everyone is OK, and then the rest of the extraction team, 18 guys in all. The rescue is going to take ALL DAY. I’m not sure if I’m going to make it all day, and I’m not on the mountain. The saving grace was that my in-laws were also traveling in Colorado and were on-site for the rescue. Every once in a while, my FIL would find cell reception and call with an update. It was a VERY long day.

After I had a good handle on what was happening, I had to call the wives of those 9 men. Not an easy task. Some of them were not to pleased that I had not told them the night before – even though I had talked to them about other things. One of them was packed and ready to leave in the 3 minutes we were on the phone! It was a long day for all of them too, and I think now, they are thankful I spared them the extra 12 hours of worrying. We were tough together and are better friends for what we made it through that day. We are Ibex … tough, resilient, quick thinking, strong.

At one point, I spoke to the SAR Commander. A very accomplished military veteran. A hard ass. An old timer. I was asking how the rescue was going to be executed. “Ma’am, once everyone has been cleared as healthy, we will hike them out to the top of the falls. Then everyone will be harnessed in and they will rappel the falls (Agnes Vaille Falls – 300 feet tall) one pitch (rope length) at a time until everyone is safely down. Then they’ll hike out, get debriefed (insert underwear joke here!), and be released.”  My reply was, “Hmmm. So, this rappelling the falls, is this kind of like when your kids act like assholes all day and you reward them by taking them out for ice cream right before bed?”  After a VERY long pause, this extremely serious man in an extremely serious situation giggled and said to me, “Well ma’am, it just might be.”

After all 9 Ibex were safely off the mountain, my FIL called me “They’re down! But you won’t hear from them for a while because they are waiting for all of the rescuers to make it safely down too.” That was the longest part of the day. And the nicest thing anyone has ever done for the Search and Rescue Team. The rescuers could not believe that these guys had waited to make sure that THEY were safe. Of all the rescues they had ever performed, no one had ever waited on them. Ever. Our husbands maybe goofy, and frustrate us at times, but just like our kids, they have manners, dammit! It made me proud to know that in the midst of exhaustion and dehydration and hunger (although none of them are really in danger of starving to death in a day ;) ), they waited.  A girl might have hugged at this point and said “Friends forever!” They probably just shook hands and did that manly head nod thingy. Friends forever.

So many people ask me why I ‘let’ my husband(the one on the right) go to Colorado. Uh, what?  Don’t you let your husband go fishing? You do know his drunk ass could fall off the boat and drown, right? So many people ask me if I will ‘let’ my husband go back to Colorado. YES! In a heartbeat! It is the one place on earth that he and his friends can unwind. They have stressful lives! They need a break! Lay off! So they got stuck on a mountain and had to be rescued. At least they were smart enough to carry a SPOT and be able to be rescued! Besides, if they hadn’t gotten stuck or been rescued, then we wouldn’t have been able to throw a kick ass party and raise a bunch of money to donate back to the SAR team that rescued them!  Plus, now we can differentiate this trip from all the other ones they will be taking over the years to come!

One little random thought … The SPOT is orange, and Mark has this old, orange Patagonia jacket that he just can’t get rid of because he bought it on the day of our first date.  We laugh every time he talks about donating it. It’s never gonna happen.  So, it was just ironic to me that so many people wore orange to the party on saturday night.  If you were there, you probably didn’t notice, but I did.  Things that make you go hmmm.

July 14-15th were tough days for Team Ibex, and because of that we think a little differently now at Casa Johnson. It has been happening slowly. We actually evaluate how important things are to us … friends, financial stuff, clothing, extraneous purchases, etc. Is it good for the end result? Does it feel better if we do A or B? Summer sucked for me, but I can feel fall in the air, and we both LOVE fall. It’s when we fell in love. It’s when we got married.  To fall in love in fall is so wonderful because you get fall every year. If you fall in love at a concert, you might not ever get that again, but we get fall every year! And it makes me happy every year!

for the happy,

the one kj


Chaffee County SAR, This Bud’s for You!Team Ibex!

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