Shopping the Middle

imagesIt was a Tuesday night and Scott and I had just come from a local restaurant where we had enjoyed a happy hour special.  Just in case you did not get the significance of that statement let me repeat it to be clear.  My husband and I went out for happy hour during the week. It was not for a special occasion, not in-between running from one event to another, not because I had a meeting for a sport, school,volunteer, work, charity or committee of any kind.  We were at Costco to buy a land line phone.  As we are coming up the aisle we see a teacher, coach, parent and friend with his three little ones and his teacher, coach wife walking towards us.  She is pushing the flat bed cart, He is pushing the regular oversized Costco cart with two of his kids in the cart and one in the ‘front seat’.  The three kids are all eating slices of pizza with varying degrees of greasy mess and success.  They greet us with big smiles and “What are you doing here?” We laugh and say buying a phone and you know other unnecessary items.  His eyes get real big and he says “You are shopping the Middle! We avoid the Middle of Costco” He turned and looked at his wife and then laughed as his daughters cheese oozed off her slice of pizza dropping on her brothers lap.  “Someday we will shop the Middle too!”costco-is-the-perfect-example-of-why-the-minimum-wage-should-be-higher-1

I am still laughing at that revered look and comment. I, Kari Johnson am an empty nester and I get to shop the Middle!  We have downgraded our cable package and our internet usage.  We added a land line because we are “saving money” by bundling services so for the first time in many years we have a home phone.  We got rid of the land line to save money now we  got it back to save money.  I have not been grocery shopping in three weeks, if we go out to dinner and bring food home we actually get to eat it.  I put it in the fridge and low and behold the next day it is still there.  We bought a sleep number bed and it is fabulous.  We go to bed at 8:30 and nobody makes fun of us, needs a poster board or asks me to edit a paper at 10:00pm that is due the next day.  My family room has been transformed from an athletic shrine of four stellar athletes trophy’s, awards, uniforms, and varsity letters to a tribute to my love and obsession with Otters. My kitchen counter does not have water bottles, cups, shoe laces, mouth guards, or notes for me to sign from last  week.  I do not trip over the shoes, coats, or backpacks on my way to let the dog out in the night. I have not used the expressions “What do you live in a barn?” “You are gonna be late” or “Seriously??”IMG_8324

In my one month of experiencing life without kids in my home daily I have been questioned multiple times if I am really okay.  You seem to handle this so well, are you really celebrating and enjoying it? You were so involved at the school, in the sports, do you miss it? What do you do with all your time?  Are you bored? Have you been to any games or stopped by the school? These  questions are usually from parents still entrenched in the wonderful craziness of full-time at home mothering.  They ask with hope and a bit of incredulous disbelief that this will ever happen to them.  They are right.  I gave 100% to my kids, their school, sports, events, teachers and social life.  I was the first one to get there and the last to leave.  I screamed loud, passionately and was probably a bit over the top.  I honestly do not know how to do things any other way.  I juggled, organized, cooked for an army, took on way more than I should have, and loved every minute of it, well, not every minute. I was THAT mom so I understand the questions.

My answer is an unconditional, resounding, YES! I am loving it.  I do not miss the chaos and the crazy schedule.  I have not been back to a game, or even visited the school.  This is not because I do not care or don’t want to see people. I do like football but gosh sitting at home with a glass of wine and cuddling up with a book while my other friends are freezing, bundled, and screaming for the first down is pretty great. I absolutely loved being a part of it, I would do it again in a heart beat. Yet for me, the gift of life is in its many stages, and being able to embrace each stage and give myself 100% to the moment I am now living is truly a blessing.

That being said, I miss my kids.  I send Jessie a card every week.  I text and talk to them when they have time and sometimes when they don’t.  We just got back from a family weekend in Montana with Jessie, I have visited Isaac and Christian on separate weekends and will hopefully see John this Sunday when he has his first regatta with the novice crew team of Seattle University. IMG_8323 I wake up every day and on my way down my stairs I say good morning and touch each of my kids portraits and do the same in reverse when I go to bed at night. When I say my prayers at night I thank God for the honor of being their mom, that they survived being a Johnson kid and for the amazing husband and partner I get to enjoy these stages with.  It is different, but I really like shopping the Middle.


Bend Senior High Football: More Than a Game

My daughter Jessica is now a junior in high school, in eighth grade she was kicker for the junior high football team.  Now she kicks for the JV football team with hopes to be the Varsity kicker her senior year. She is 17-17 in extra points and has two touchdown saving tackles.  Her nick name given by the coach is “perfect”. She wrote the following essay for her writing 121 class is allowing me to share it with you.  I love that girl and am so proud of her choices.

Bend Senior High Football: More Than a Game


The bus rolls to a stop in front of the dreary Marist High School in Eugene, Oregon. Behind the cracked and faded paint, worn away by the constant rain, stands a football field. The vibrant, lively green stands out against the white and black buildings, which happen to be the Marist High School colors. I gather my scattered items, displaced after the three-hour bus ride, and file off the bus with the rest of the team. Lacking clear direction, we congregate near the sidewalk, lost sheep without a shepard to guide us

“Boys, follow me.” Coach Brown’s voice reaches us through the fog. There is a rustle of air as all 30 boys, and the other Bend Senior High coaches, start to walk at the same time towards the voice. Silence settles over the players, just like the layer of mist as they march towards the locker room. Dressing and preparing for the game happens in a hurried manner, and when everyone is done, Coach Brown poses one question to the team. “Why do we play football?” Then, he promptly exits the locker room, clearly expecting us to follow in his wake.

As I stumble out, the rest of the team by my side, my mind is preoccupied with the question. I don’t notice the click of cleats on concrete, the mist which instantly soaks deep into the bones of every person, or the small crowd gathered on the rickety visitor bench. My mind is deep in thought, contemplating what my answer would be. For many people who don’t have first hand knowledge of playing football, the answer may be clear based on preconceived ideas about the sport. Football has earned a bad reputation from all different levels, starting at the pro level, and working all the way down through high school. Professional football is often associated with scandals, money, and hard hits. College football can give the appearance of dumb jocks who receive special treatment, for instance, lower standards to be accepted to the college. Collegiate players then receive full ride scholarships, and still complain about not being “paid”. High School Football is often seen as a popularity tool, a team of dumb boys, and a method of entertainment on Friday night. People with these preconceived notions may quickly be able to jump to a conclusion to answer the question, I however cannot. 

“We’ve prepared for this”…“This is our time”… “Hit hard, go hard”. I am brought back to reality by the snippets of conversation I hear. The words ring out, a call for greatness from each and every player. Like a pack of wolves, chasing their prey, the team sprints to the sidelines, ready to play. The mist picks up to a flat-out rain, leaving all on the field as wet as if they were in an actual shower. As we take the field for the first time that night, our crisp white jerseys, and white pants, contrasted with the glinting, gleaming blue helmets, shine bright despite the rain, our armor as we ride into battle. The whistle blows, and I, along with the rest of the team, start running towards the Marist football team, a carefully synchronized and practiced art of kickoff. My foot solidly connects with the ball, letting out a thwack as it sails in the air to the other team. Seemingly in slow motion, a white helmet of the Marist team scoops up the ball, and begins to return the kick. I watch in slow motion as the white helmets makes it past not just one, two, three guys, but the entire team. Suddenly, as if the slow motion clock was turned to fast forward, the white helmet is in front of me; I am the only thing standing between him and a touchdown. 

Now might be a convenient time to mention I am a girl, playing on a high school boy’s junior varsity football team. Like any of the boys would do, I solidly plant my feet, and take the hit. As I stand and dust myself off, my mind registers the roar of the crowd, so loud, one might believe we just won the world championship. The boys, also known as my teammates, stand stunned for a second or two, then proceed to attack me, jumping, hitting, and punching me, in other words, their way of celebrating. I look down at my once white jersey, which is now covered in mud so much so that one would never guess the jersey was originally white, and think to myself, “This is why I play football.” Forgetting what everyone else believes is the culture of football, I realize why I play. The determination, seen in the pre-game cheer, the will power to do what the other team cannot, the desire for greatness, kinship, and empowerment that one receives, this is why I play football.

A shrill whistle cuts across the field, signaling halftime. Soaking wet, and cold, yet totally excited from the first half results of the game, the boys and I stride into the locker room. As we sprawl out, draping ourselves across various benches and seats, Coach Brown walks up to some of the players talking and checking in with them. A few of the other coaches are talking to players, giving valuable advice, and others still are in a corner talking to each other. Brown walks by every player, sometimes commenting, giving a compliment, or just a touch on the shoulder. When done with this, Brown once again poses the question, “Why do we play football?” I glance around the room, and every single eye is on him. No one talks, whispers, or moves. He has captured our attention. In this moment, I see Coach Brown in a new light, no longer Coach Brown, but Father Brown. He is a dad to each and every player in the Bend High football program. He talks, comforts, teaches, helps, and also poses the difficult questions. Continuing with this thinking, the boys on the team are all brothers, they sweat together, change together, win together, lose together. The other coaches are uncles, providing good tidbits of information, and supporting the role of Father Brown in raising us into a proper football program. In the middle of this family analogy is me, the single sister. While I am off in space thinking about the question of why, and the new realization I just came to, Coach Brown has moved on, and is talking about the game. “We need to protect Jessie, she is our kicker, we need her, she should not have to save the touchdown with a tackle.” This plays right into the idea of me being the sister, protected by the brothers and dad. As Brown wraps up his halftime talk, and we once again prepare to take the field, I find another answer to the question of why. I play for family, the family I found in the team. 

As one pack, we storm the field, ready to play for 2 more quarters. The second half of the game rushes by, filled with pouring rain, clashing helmets, and the occasional touchdown on our part. The final whistle is blown, and the game is over. Tired, yet excited about the win, the boys and I pile onto the bus, dripping with rain water, and sweat from a job well done. As we sit on the bus, patiently preparing for the long drive home, Coach Brown comes on the bus, and says proudly, “I think you have figured out why we play football, for the feeling that each of you feel right now.” Despite the cold, wet, miserable temperature, I feel a warm glow deep inside my body. The feeling of hope, determination, tenacity, discipline, and self-empowerment provide this fire inside me. Football gives life light, warmth, meaning, in other words, football provides a reason to live. 

The bus slowly begins to pull away from the droopy, worn down buildings that make up Marist  high school. A boy on the team, leans over to me and says, “Feels pretty good, right?” I only nod my head, but in my mind, there is so much I want to say. I think about the culture, family and personal gain that comes from football, and believe that every person should have the opportunity to experience something like this. I turn my head back to the boy, and say, “Football really is more than just a game.”


Fill in the Blank Friday Johnson Style: Sports


Fill in the Blank Friday Johnson Style: Sports

I am on the island with my three boys and my dad and so once again my fill in the blank is all about the male point of view. It kinda cracked me up that as I asked these questions the brothers would try to guess what the other would say and had a hard time coming up with one answer. “Ooh that’s a hard one” they would laugh and say one thing, then switch their answer then back, then think of someone, or something else.

What is your favorite sport to play?

Isaac: Basketball
John: Football
CJ: Basketball
Gpa D: Golf

What’s your favorite sport to watch on TV?

Isaac: Pro football and Pro basketball
John: Pro football
CJ: College football and basketball
Gpa D: College basketball

What is your favorite sport to watch in person?

Isaac: Basketball because you can get close to the action
John: Football
CJ: College football
Gpa D: grand kids sports

If you could meet one sportscaster who would it be?

Isaac: Charles Barkley
John: Jeff Van Gundy, Chris Berman
CJ: Kirk Herbstreet, Brad Nessler
Gpa D: Dick Vitale

If you could meet one athlete who would you choose?

Isaac: Lebron James/Ray Lewis
John: Derek Rose/ Tim Tebeau
CJ: Stephan Currry/ Russel Russbrook
Gpa D: Drew Brees

Favorite college football and basketball teams

Isaac: FB = Oregon State Beavers BB = University of Tennessee Volunteers
John: FB = University of Florida Gators BB = University of Florida Gators
CJ: FB = University of Texas Longhorns BB = University of North Carolina Tarheels
Gpa D: FB = university of Oregon Ducks. BB = Gonzaga University Bull Dogs

What is a sport you have never played but would like to?

Isaac: Lacrosse
John: bike the tour de France
CJ: Golf
Gpa D: Ice Hockey

What X-Games or Olympic event would you do if you could?

Isaac: Luge
John: Big Air Motor Cross
CJ: Half Pipe Snowboarding
Gpa D: Bobsledding

What is the most embarrassing or funniest thing that has happened to you while playing a sport?

Isaac: In sixth grade shot a basket for the opposing team.
John: I tackles an official on my way to tackle my guy.
CJ: I was at a basketball tournament on an Indian reservation and with a full crowd I air balled a free throw.
Gpa D: I was in graduate school playing on a golf team and I hit a ball into a tree and it needed up behind me.

What is your proudest moment so far in your sporting career

Isaac: I was sick a lot this season and so when I came back to play they had me on the bench. In my first game back off the bench I scored more than any other player and got my starting position back.
John: Dead lifting 330 pounds
CJ: Coming back from a 20 point deficit at half to lead my tam to a win by one and I had my high score of 34 points.
Gpa D: being chosen to be All League football as a junior in high school



let me brag just a bit

I feel like it is a very interesting line to walk being a parent and a writer.  My kids have given me pretty much free rein to tell their stories from my point of view.  They have been gracious and tolerant and even helpful when I have asked for pictures or how they remember it.  I have shared some personal things about them and about our family.  When my husband, Scott, was preaching on a regular basis he would always ask their permission if he wanted to use a story about them in his sermons.  We have tried to keep the communication open and would never intentionally embarrass any of them with our renditions of our lives.


As teenagers this becomes even more tricky.  They love the attention they get.  It is fun to be written about, but because I am so honest in my portrayal of all of us, it is sometimes not easy to read, or hear about.  Sometimes, seeing it in black and white is a bit too clear to be comfortable with.  I have also not wanted this blog to become a brag fest about how great my kids are.  You know the Christmas letters you get every year, that give you the highlights of that family’s year, and the kids are amazing, the job is great, the household is beautiful and you want to throw up?


So tonight I am going against my own self imposed rules and bragging.  I am super proud of all of my kids.  The four of them have each made huge step towards maturity this year and in spite of their crazy mother may actually turn out okay.  In particular, I would like to shine the light on John and Jessica.  The two of them both pulled off a four point, or all A’s for the whole academic year.

John with his visual impairment, and perfectionist ways was often up till the wee hours of the morning getting a project or assignment done. It is hard to put into perspective just how difficult this is for him, but imagine the energy it takes you to get through a day at work or school. Now multiply that by ten, or even twenty times and you might get a glimpse of what it takes for him to navigate classrooms, hall ways, note taking, crowded spaces and social interactions.  Add to that he is a perfectionist and hates for any one to help him in any way. Then remember that he has kept a good attitude and actually been pleasant to be around.  It is truly a huge accomplishment.  Scott and I are in awe, and prouder than peacocks in heat.


Jessie as a freshman took chemistry, biology, advanced algebra 2, and the most rigorous History and English that sophomores are allowed to take.  She took Spanish 1 and added a leadership class when she was asked to be on Student Council.  Jessie then had to take a health class on-line because she had no other time in her day.  Now this alone would be pretty great for anyone to pull off but she also played three sports, was active in her youth group, and had an active social life as well.  Through it all she has maintained a great attitude, has been very helpful to both Scott and I, and rarely has any  girl, or boy, drama.


This week John finally spent the money he had been saving for two years of gift cards,  gift money, and other funds he had earned and bought himself a 32gb iPad.  Jessie who has been saving her earnings, and gift money got an iphone.  They both paid with their own money, and did not ask for us to contribute.   We honor their efforts in the classroom and as teenagers who are leaving a positive example for all to see.



A Hair Cut Towards Maturity

Christian left this morning at 6:15 for basketball camp. He looked alert and somehow older. He wanted to drive to the school. He did a very good job. Last Thursday, he got his permit after a number of attempts. On Friday we went to Portland for a basketball tournament with his high school team, we rode with my friend Denette, and her five kids. Her oldest, Jaylin is on the team with Christian and they have become good friends. He and his sister Savanna are from a prior relationship and their dad is African-American. We have bonded being white parents of ethnic children, and in Bend, there are very few of us.

Bend though I love it, is not known for its diversity. I always make the joke that when we moved here in 2001 we doubled the black population. This is actually not far from the truth. It has improved dramatically over the years we have been here but they do stand out. One of the draw backs of this, is the lack of barbers who know how to cut black hair. I know this seems trivial but it is a big deal. Scott has been cutting the boy’s hair for years and if they want a close shave he is perfect. They are however, getting to the point where looks matter a bit more, and style has become a major issue.

This being said we have tried a couple of places in Bend to get their hair cut. It has not been very successful, and ended in us paying for what Scott could do at home. Denette used to live in Portland and knew where in Portland to take us to a black barber shop . I was excited, Christian was less than thrilled. “I do not need a hair cut, mom, I like it fine” he tells me. This of course is no surprise because anything that draws attention to himself makes him uncomfortable. I smile, and say too bad, you are getting a hair cut. This is an opportunity to have it done right and so you will get it done. This is not a battle I will lose. Big sigh, a roll of the eyes and a pouty face.

I of course am undeterred. I am excited to be down town in Portland, and I have wanted to get him to a african american barber for a long time. With Denette driving and knowing where to go I am just enjoying myself. The place she is taking us to is called “The Terrell Brandon Barber Shop” and he was a past NBA player. We arrive, and Christian does not want to get out, Jaylin is not getting his hair cut so CJ looks at me pleadingly to not make him do this.

Needless to say, I was right and Christian loves his haircut. He admitted that there were definite differences between this haircut, and others he has had before. He really liked his barber, and mentioned that black men do know how to cut black hair. Christian looks older, the cut is clean, and very “swag”. He joked about his hair cut making him a better basketball player and there was a bit more confidence in his walk. That was a battle worth fighting and money well spent.

Saturday Story Time: Bitter-Sweet

Saturday Story Time: Bitter-Sweet

The discussion has been on going for most of the year. The decision, though his to make was a family topic. While for Christian, basketball has always been a passion, Isaac’s take on it has been a bit more laid back. He loves the game, loves playing in games, enjoys the his teammates and is quite good. His height and natural talent lend him an ease of playing that is fun to watch.

It has been a frustrating journey for him at times. He has struggled with knee issues and this year he was diagnosed with Asthma. Isaac is willing to work hard, but he also needs lots of affirmation(who doesn’t.) He does not sit well, so sitting on the bench is more difficult for him just because of the way he is wired. This past season, his junior year was particularly difficult. Between being sick, figuring out the asthma thing, and his knee he had quite a bit of time on the bench.

I have written about my excitement about having two children on the same team. The fun of watching these boys who have been playing against each other in our back yard since they were five and seven. The pride I have in seeing them both succeed. I have also mentioned how hard it is for the younger brother to excel past the older and get more playing time, accolades, and respect. Their relationship has stayed strong and much to Isaac’s credit he has been nothing but supportive of Christian.

Isaac has always said he has no desire to play in college, he has no aspirations of NBA other than to get court side seats when he is rich. He plays for the love of the game. This year he lost most if not all of that joy. Playing became work, and he did not like it. He was frustrated with his lack of playing time, lack of energy, and what he felt was lack of respect for his abilities.

This became troublesome for all of us. It is never easy to see your child struggle, it is never easy to see both sides so clearly but no easy answer. It will be his senior year, do we need to make him play? Do we need to force him to finish what he started? Will he regret this decision later in life when he is looking back? Scotty and I have talked about it, worried about it, and argued both sides. We have tried to put our feelings aside, tried to not let our love of the game, and our joy at seeing him play taint our judgment. It has been much more painful than I thought it would be.

The three of us made the choice to have him play Summer ball and hold off on a final decision until the Fall. Go to camp, have fun, see if anything changes. Isaac was committed to this, and had every intention of following through. In a tournament with a pick-up team the weekend before Summer ball started he re-injured his knee. This was not the way we wanted to start. He went to the trainer and just started practicing and playing in games this week. On Wednesday he took himself out of the second half of the game, telling coach his knee was hurting and he wanted to be able to play in the tournament this weekend. I only came to the second half and was frustrated to see him riding the bench again.

It came to a head last night at nine o’clock when he said he had left his shoes and brace in the locker at school, so he would not be able to play this weekend. Scotty and I had been mentioning to each other that perhaps his sickness, his attitude, and his knee hurting, this might be a passive aggressive way to not make a decision. I was done with sitting on the fence. I forced the issue and called him on his crap. Isaac you need to make a choice, it is not fair to your team, yourself, or your family if you play this game any longer. Do you want to play or not, no more half way, no more complaining, you are in or you are out. Your dad and I are not investing any more time, energy or money into your something you clearly are done with.

To my great surprise he said, “Mom you are right, I want to quit. It is not fun, and I am done.” I looked at him, he was confident and sincere. Okay, well, you need to tell coach tomorrow. “What? Why? Can’t I call him? What if I text him or wait till Monday?” No Isaac, you need to step up and own your decision, this is a huge part of your growing up. More grumbling, whining and then finally a defeated “okay.”

Today Isaac stepped up to the plate, looked his coach in the eye and said he was done. I was so proud of him, and so sad at the same time. He made a choice, he did it the right way. Today we had the bitter-sweet joy of watching one of our sons play high school basketball, and one of our son’s take a giant step toward adulthood.

Saturday Story Time: Sports, Traveling, and Family



I sit outside on the grass. Gus is with us this trip and so I want to give him as much time out of the car as possible. From where I sit I can hear the buzzers from the different courts going off, the squeak of the sneakers on the court and male voices indistinct but clearly coaching. I do not have to be in the gym to know the smell, the sweat, the emotion that is rising to the top of the building and leaking out the sides. This scene is going on all around the country, for our family it is basketball. For other families it may be gymnastics, volleyball, a chess tournament, or a jazz band concert. It is the life of any family that has kids that are involved in any extra curricular activity.

As I continue my time outside of the arena, kids of all ages come by. Dad’s and coaches always talking about the game that just finished. Discouraged, encouraged, heads low, big smiles, I see it all. Swaggering, man-child young men, with beards and tattoos, spinning the ball on a finger and swearing about a bad call. Little boys, holding on to their mom’s hand, as they excitedly relive the one shot they made.

This weekend was a short trip. Just a two and a half hour drive. Others, are much further. The ride to the tournament is always more exciting than the ride home and the car smells so much better on the way their than the way back. I put Gus in the car, walk to the entrance. I pay my five dollars and enter the gym. Today it is at a basketball facility called The Hoop, more often, it is at high school gyms. The format is the same, no matter where they play. It is either hot, or very cold. It is loud, and whistles are hard to distinguish from one court to another.

We watch our children compete, and yell at the Refs. We celebrate their victories, and complain about their losses. The ride back to the hotel or home is very quiet, or very animated depending on the outcome. Christian is always quick to thank you for coming to his game. He loves to have you there, and even though he rolls his eyes at my big mouth, he makes sure we know he is aware of the sacrifices we are making to give him the opportunity to play. Isaac is off with another team at a different tournament. In June “Summer ball” starts and they will be on the same team again. Jessie will play as well, so the juggling begins again.

These weekends are time-consuming, expensive, and at times, very stressful. These weekends are fun, the friendships made are special, and the competition and exposure for our kids is important. We are lucky because both Scott and I love the game of basketball and road trips are a way of life for us. I often get asked how we manage with four children involved in multiple sports. I guess we do not think about it that much, you just do it.

As a family we bond as we share in each others victories, and defeats. We have conversations on the trips that do not happen any other time. We share in the love for a game and our love for each other. We have made choices, and though it sometimes makes me crazy, and I think I hear basketballs bouncing in my sleep, our family is closer and stronger because of the sports involved life we have chosen.