Week Six: "Thorns and Roses"

Last week as I was preparing dinner,  I was reflecting on how easy this challenge has been thus far.  Aside from washing some socks in a hotel sink and schlepping around a lavender suitcase, it’s not nearly as hard as I thought it would be.  I imagined I would spend each day craving stuff I couldn’t buy, but that hasn’t been the case. When I finished cooking, the kids washed their hands, we set the table, said a prayer, and everyone sat down to eat.  I had heard a story earlier in the day about how the Obama’s have a dinnertime ritual.  They play a game called “Thorns and Roses” where everyone shares a thorn and a rose – a bad part and a good part of their day.  While my thorns and roses may not be as exciting as those of the leader of the free world, I thought the Dannemillers could try the game.  After all, this year is about focusing on what’s important, and this seemed like a great way to invest some quality time with the kids.


The game turned out to be a smashing success.  The usual bickering of “Stop staring at me, Audrey!” and “You’re not the boss of me, Jake!” was replaced by thoughtful commentary on the happy and not-so-happy parts of our day.  I was amazed at how such a simple game could help us reconnect as a family.  Audrey even added the categories of “Volcano” and “Tree.”  “Volcano” is something sad, (Ex:  Audrey is sad because her stuffed animals aren’t real), and “Tree” is something funny (Ex:  Audrey says she farts in the bathtub on purpose because she likes the bubbles).

When we finished eating, the kids asked us if they could have dessert.  After such wonderful dinnertime behavior, we couldn’t refuse.

Jake asked, “Can we have some ice cream, Daddy?”

“I don’t think there is any left.”

Audrey chimed in, “But what about the pink stuff?”

“That’s cherry ice cream, Audrey!” Jake clarified, waging his continued war on ambiguity in our house.

“Yeah honey, that’s all gone.”

I looked over at Gabby, and her mouth was wide open in disbelief.

“But Daddy!  We just bought it!”  Audrey spoke as if I had intentionally ripped the stuffing out of Dumbo.  “I only had one scoop!  How can it be gone?”

Gabby interjected, “You’re going to have to ask your dad about that one, kids.  All I say is, if you’re ever trapped on a deserted island with your dad, you’d better keep a close watch on your sweets.  It’s every man for himself when he’s around.”

“Well Jake,” I reasoned, trying to sound like the dad from the Brady Bunch, “sometimes Daddy gets hungry after you guys go to bed, and I have a snack.”

Jake, once again citing the family rule book, “Ice cream isn’t a snack!  It’s dessert!”

Gabby jumped in to save the day, “It’s OK kids, we still have some Rocky Road.”

I made a guttural noise.

Gabby turned to me and shared her Look of Mild Disapproval. TM  “Don’t tell me…”

More grunting.

“But that’s my favorite!”


Gabby stood up, pointed at me and shouted,


The kids are half-laughing, half-crying.  As Gabby moved toward the freezer to verify, I said, “Gabby, that’s not how the game works.  I don’t think Michelle Obama calls Barak a ‘Thorn.’”

“She would if she folded all his laundry and he paid her back by eating all the ice cream!”

Gabby found half a scoop of Rocky Road left in the carton.  The ultimate slap in the face.  Then she went to the pantry where she pulled out a gallon Ziplock bag, once filled with an assortment of oatmeal raisin goodness.  “Why do we have a bag full of crumbs in the pantry?  Where did all the cookies go?”

She knew the answer.  I hid my head in shame.  Gabby used it as an opportunity to hold a family meeting and teach the kids a new word called “Self-control.”

The next morning I went to the gym.  Prior to picking up lots of heavy things while trying not to soil my pants – A.K.A. Scott’s strength training session – I stepped on the scale.  I put the large sliding weight at 150lbs.  Then I slid the smaller one along the beam toward the right.

A little more.

A little more.

Wait.  That can’t be right?!

I juggled the big weight to make sure it was firmly set in the 150lb. slot.  It was rock solid.  I kept moving the little weight to the right until the scale finally balanced.  But the reading was incorrect.  WAAAAAAAY off.

It must be weighing heavy today, I thought.

Time to recalibrate the machine.  I hopped off the platform and zeroed out all the weightsWith me off the scale, and the weight set at zero pounds, the scale was perfectly balanced.


I noticed the sweat towel slung over my shoulder.  Figuring it was made of some ultra-dense, five pounds of cotton fiber, I threw it on the ground.  I stepped on the scale again.  It continued to lie to me, telling me my five-pound towel only weighed four ounces.

Later that morning, Gabby said,

“I think the scale at the gym is broken.”

“Me too!”  I echoed.  Happy with her validation.

“Yeah.  I think it’s two pounds off.”

“That’s all?  Just two pounds?”

“Or maybe three.  All I know is that it can’t be right.  There is no way I lost three pounds last week.”

“LOST three pounds!?”


And then it hit me.  I now understand why this Year Without A Purchase challenge has been so easy for me.  Apparently, every time I wanted to buy something new.  A shirt.  A drill.  Socks.  Pants.  Suitcases.

I ate them instead.

I have gained seven pounds since our challenge started.  The pleasure rush of new purchases has been replaced by a gluttonous snack-tacular gorgefest that can only be described as disgusting.  I ate two half-gallons of ice cream in four days.  Three bricks of mild cheddar and two boxes of Wheat Thins in a week.  Prior to our toaster oven meltdown, I consumed three bowls of cereal topped with two Eggo waffles as an after dinner nosh.  If I keep this up, I will begin to resemble the USDA’s nutrition pyramid, with the “cinnamon roll and French toast” food group giving me a wide-yet-jiggly foundation.

The good news is, I can blame God.  After doing a bit of research, I found that the Creator of the Universe made our brains in such a way that they crave this substance called dopamine.     Dopamine is released in our brain when we experience pleasure.   Such as when we eat an entire sleeve of Thin Mints.  Incidentally, dopamine is also sent into overdrive when cocaine enters the blood stream.  I think it’s time we took a good hard look at the list of ingredients in Girl Scout cookies.

We also get a shot of dopamine when our expectations are met.  The bigger the expectation, the bigger the shot.  This is the reason shopping can be so addictive.  We crave something and imagine ourselves having it. This creates a bit of tension that we resolve with some retail therapy and a Visa card.  The bigger the craving, the bigger the release.  But notice the big lie here.  Your brain doesn’t actually want the object of your desire.  It wants the chemical release.

It wants to end the wanting.

This explains why my daughter spent a whopping 12 minutes playing with the stuffed poodle that had been on her Christmas list for 8 weeks.  She didn’t want the poodle.  She wanted relief from the wanting.

You read that right.  Relief from the wanting.

And we get stuck in an endless loop.  I get a new car.  I enjoy it for a time.  But I want something newer.  Why?  So I can ultimately end the wanting.  Then I’m happy with the new car until I start fixating on another.  Then the wanting starts, and I won’t stop until I get it.  It’s lunacy.

So, time to go “cold turkey” on the wanting.  Or find an alternative.  It’s time to break the cycle.   Just as soon as I eat that last scoop of Rocky Road.