Postcards from the farm.

Dear friends,

We just returned from Mr. Mom’s family reunion in Iowa. It was three days of wonderful in the middle of America’s heartland, chock full of tall tales and friendly competitions and fond remembrances and happy reunions and sleepy babies and farm-fresh food and even a few fireworks.

Of the 100+ folks in attendance, I had previously met fewer than a dozen. The old-timers say it was the biggest crowd ever for a family that’s been gathering for decades. Mr. Mom thinks it’s been about 35 years since he last returned to his grandparent’s farm for an extended visit with his aunts and uncles and cousins. I’m not sure why it took us so long to make our way to the family homestead, but I’m sure glad we showed up for “the big one.”

Mr. Mom’s family is descended from German and Scottish stock. His grandparents — Allan and Della — purchased their first farm for $35 an acre in 1935. Della birthed 13 children and all but one lived into adulthood. Mr. Mom’s mother, Rita, was number five. It is an understatement to say Allan and Della and their children worked hard on the farm. The large, beautiful and productive acreage that exists today and is being farmed by their grandchildren and great-grandchildren is testament enough, I think, to Allan and Della’s legacy of hard work and self-reliance.

I could spend a thousand words telling you all about everything I saw and heard on the farm but I couldn’t begin to do it justice. Instead, I’ll share a few of my favorite photographs.

group

These are Allan and Della’s descendants — about a hundred of them in this photo alone.

By the way, I took the photo after Mr. Mom’s cousin gave me a lift (about a 25-foot lift) on his front-end loader. I snapped the photo with one hand while holding on to the platform with the other. I’m dreadfully afraid of heights (and Mr. Mom’s family could tell by my body language and facial expression, I suspect) but I really wanted a great group photo. I think I got it!

lift _Snapseed

These guys weren’t afraid at all of riding on the lift. Bunch of show-offs!

beantoss _Snapseed

Games for adults included bean bag tossing and cow chip throwing.

watermelon _Snapseed

Watermelon was plentiful. Leftovers were not.

Apple bobbing attracted the little ones . . .

wet

for both waterplay . . .

apple

and dessert.

volleyball

The agile among us tried their hand at volleyball.

For the record, I am not agile.

pond

Which explains why there’s no photo of me swinging off the rope into the pond.

teeter _Snapseed

The teeter-totter would have have been more my speed but it was occupied almost all weekend.

swinging

As was the swing-set.

wheel _Snapseed

And the hand-cranked corn sheller.

horse _Snapseed

And the pony ride.

tour

The farm equipment tour attracted young and old.

sleeping

And reunion-goers of all ages sometimes required 40 winks or more given the pace of activity.

paul2

But there were smiles all around . . .

dean

and plenty of hugs

sue

and even a height adjustment for Mr. Mom’s vertically challenged Aunt Sue.

backseat

In the end, we came home tired and sleepy, but the best kind of both, the kind where you know happy memories will linger far longer than vacation fatigue.

With gratitude {for summer road trips and kids who’ll still tag along with their parents},

Joan, who’s always wondered how life would have been different if she had been born into a big family, but thinks marrying into one is a nice substitute

The blue.

Dear friends,

packed

I’m flying into the wild blue yonder today. I’m practically giddy with excitement. I have my camera, sunglasses, a visor, industrial-strength sunscreen, cute summer outfits, and an assortment of sandles. What more could a tennis-spectating mother need for a trip to Phoenix?

Kate sent me a text message as she boarded her flight yesterday: I’m about to get on the plane. Love you.

Like her mother, flying makes Kate nervous. I tend to send messages and make phone calls to loved ones right before and after flights, too. I can’t wait to join her under the big blue Phoenix sky this evening, where we’ll both be happy to stand on terra firma.

Speaking of the blue, I received a hand-written note yesterday from a friend. It was completely unexpected and thanked me for my “advice, counsel, humor, mentorship and friendship for the past seven years.” It mentioned a mutually challenging experience and closed with “When the turkeys get you down — just wanted you to know — someone is in your corner.”

Any day is a good day to receive such a kind affirmation, but I can’t think of a better time than when I’m flying out for an adventure and some much-needed R&R. I don’t anticipate any difficulties but, hey, you never know. I might need bail money.

With gratitude {for May junkets and unexpected greetings from the thoughtful souls who enrich my life},

Joan, who’s lucky indeed to have so many dear friends on speed dial

Snapshots from New York.

Dear friends,

I’ve been resisting writing a travelogue post about my recent trip to New York City.

Mostly because it would bore you death, not because I wouldn’t love to do it.

As much as I’m a small-town girl, I adore cities, especially New York, and there’s nothing more I’d rather do than write at length about every detail of my six days there. (Mr. Mom will affirm this. I think he’s tired of my one-track conversation, but he’s still politely listening).

So for your sake, I decided to consolidate my favorite impressions and photos into a Top 5 list.  By the way, Kate would have a totally different list. This is Joan’s opinion only and everyone knows Joan is one opinionated broad.

Joan’s Short List of New York City Wonders (in no particular order):

MOMA ought to be designated one of the Seven Wonders of the World. I got goosebumps and shed a tear or two during the few hours we spent there. Really, it was sublime overload. It made me think heaven is probably filled with art. Anyway, besides works by Dali and Pollock and Monet and Rothko and Mondrian and Van Gogh and so many others that made me marvel, I was absolutely smitten by this piece by Edward Ruscha:

The gallery text reads: “In capital letters, ‘oof’ floats against an empty blue backdrop, suspended somewhere between image and language and between iconicity and absurdity.”  Ruscha’s delicate balancing act is deliciously irreverent and ironic and reminded me why I love modern art. And you know what else I love about MOMA? Cameras are allowed! I took a slew of photos of both art and gallery text as a personal memoir. Thanks, MOMA curators. You totally made my week.

Broadway simply can’t be beat as an entertainment destination. I had the good fortune of seeing two shows and wished I could have seen 10 more. “Jesus Christ Superstar” was brilliant — a post-modern vision of the passion story with a soundtrack that everyone my age knows well. I couldn’t help singing out loud to most of the songs. “Hosanna” was especially well staged with a chorus line waving giant aluminum palm leaves.  And “Nice Work if You Can Get It” with Matthew Broderick was two hours of old-fashioned Gershwin fun chock full of eye-candy costumes, slapstick humor and more songs you know all the words to. My next dream vacation is to spend five days in Times Square doing nothing more than seeing as many shows as can be crammed into 120 hours. By the way, the discount tickets line in Times Square is a bargain one should not lightly dismiss. Yes, it’s crowded. Yes, you have to wait in a long line. But it’s also a fun way to pass a couple of hours. I wouldn’t be smiling if it weren’t.

Ground Zero is hallowed, mystical ground. There’s a vibe to the place I can’t describe — except to say it’s simultaneously reverent and celebratory. I almost passed it up thinking it would be overrun with tourists (it was), which would ruin the moment (it didn’t). My last trip to NYC was in 1999, at which time I stood on the observation deck (107th floor) of WTC 2 and took in the wondrous view on a cold but clear winter day. This trip, I laid on the grass of the Memorial in silent meditation and concluded the view of the emerging four towers was just as spectacular.

Buddy of Cake Boss has it going on! The man is not just a TV star — he’s a pastry God. I was all set to conclude the whole “Hoboken Baker” schtick was just a hefty fork-full of reality-television schlock. But his baked goods were ungodly good and unbelievably fair-priced. Props to him for not jacking up his prices in the wake of his television success. And next time you go to the Big Apple, make time in your schedule to visit Hoboken. (You can get there in 15-20 minutes from almost anywhere in Manhattan on the Path 33 subway line.)  Hoboken is totally underrated, which I’m sure has everything to do with the fact that New Jersey is its surname.

Street performers are one of the coolest free benefits of big cities and NYC abounds with talent. Kate and I sat and watched these two  guys near Times Square for quite a while. I couldn’t help but give them a few bucks. I always give street performers a few bucks. I mean, if they’re going to the trouble of entertaining me for free, how can I not give them a little legal-tender appreciation?

With gratitude {for the trip of a lifetime and 144 hours of uninterrupted time with my sweet CupKate},

Joan, whose face is hurting because she still can’t stop smiling

It’s a beautiful day in New York.

Dear friends,

It’s Saturday morning and I’m sitting in a Starbucks window seat on the Upper West Side drinking my latte and watching the world walk by (so very “You’ve Got Mail”).

It’s a beautiful day in New York City.

Over the last four days, my responsibilities and anxieties have melted away and all that remains is one fabulous, monumentally memorable mother-daughter trip.

I’m relaxed. I’m happy. My heart is full with gratitude for the gift of this time with Kate. I’m guessing it won’t surprise you to hear that I have very nearly burst into tears a million times — so many things have moved me these last few days. Even as I type this and look out the window while waiting on Kate to fill her coffee order, I am overflowing with joy.

There is beauty everywhere.

We’re off now — to soak up one last day in the city. Truth is, though, we could be anywhere. Mostly I am off to soak up one more glorious day of memories with my sweet child.

Here’s wishing you a wonderful Saturday, too!

With gratitude {for all the love and beauty in this world},

Joan, who is convinced travel is a fool-proof tonic for the soul

From tears. To smiles. To oh crap. To cardiac arrest. To laughs. To epiphanies. Holy cow what a day!

Dear friends,

Yesterday was one wild ride.

It started with tears at home because, you know, I got all choked up over my own post even as I was posting it. (Yes, I’m a goofball.)

But then things started looking up as I read your very kind and insightful and empathetic comments, both on this space and on my Facebook page. (I can’t thank all of you enough for sharing your stories and bolstering my spirits.)

Then on my lunch hour I finally got around to booking our trip to NYC — er, Hoboken — for Kate’s graduation gift. I had been procrastinating because — while I’ve been to NYC four times in my life, I don’t know it all that well — and I was fearful of making dreadful, regrettable mistakes. On the other hand, I wasn’t about to pay $500 a night for a hotel room, so I eventually had to just pick one and go with it.

So I chose a little “boutique” hotel on the Upper West Side. (I don’t know why, maybe because it was close to the subway, and I stayed in Times Square once and didn’t find it all that appealing, and I didn’t think I wanted to be downtown, so I just, you know, went with the one with the pretty pictures and the good price.) And after I picked the hotel and prepaid for it, I realized it’s so “charming” and so “historic” it doesn’t have an elevator. And some of the reviews said it sometimes doesn’t have hot water, either. So lord only knows what I’ve gotten us into in the name of frugality.

And then I checked the price of Broadway tickets and had a heart attack. I really want to see Book of Mormon but I really don’t want to pay $600 for two tickets, so I’m trying to decide whether it makes sense to just stand in the Times Square discount ticket line and take our chances when we get there. (Thoughts, anyone?)

Then I sketched out our itinerary for all five days and couldn’t decide if Little Italy or Chinatown was the better bet. MOMA or Met? NBC Studio Tour or TV and Movie Sites Tour? Fifth Avenue or Garment District or SoHo for shopping?

Then I found this — a handy little map of all the shopping in Soho and it pretty much sealed the deal.

Then I got dizzy trying to decide if we could tour Ground Zero and Liberty/Ellis Island in one day, so I abandoned trip planning until I can get my wits about me.

Then I came home, where my entire family dog-piled into the kitchen because we were all starving. And, for once, I made supper while my kids made lists of the friends they plan to invite to our Memorial Day float trip. And Parker — who’s not my most decisive child — was really having trouble narrowing down his extensive list of social contacts to fit into an 8-man raft — causing me to lose patience.

And Kate finally stepped in and said “Parker! Have tryouts and make cuts!”

Which made every last one of us laugh out loud, even Parker. And in that moment — that moment where we were all together and laughing and eating and having fun — I remembered what so many of you said to me about savoring every moment.

And I did.

I surely did.

With gratitude {for the clarity to put down my hanky and embrace your wise words},

Joan, who knows even if the hotel she picked yesterday is a flea-bag, it still won’t be her biggest travel blunder ever, because her friends still tease her about the time she purchased Royals vs. Yankees tickets for their girls weekend in Kansas City only to get to Kauffman Stadium and realize the game was at Yankee Stadium

The Js.

Dear friends,

Three sweet daughters in their matching outfits before they got old enough to just say no.

Every summer for a very long time, I’ve gone on a trip that I look forward to more than most anything else in my life.

Girls’ Weekend!!! (The exclamation points indicate a squeal.)

I know plenty of women who kick up their heels together on a girls’ trip. Heck, I think they made a movie about it — a little picture called “Bridesmaids.”

But my particular girls’ trip is more awesome (awesomely better?) than anybody else’s because I go with my childhood friends. And my childhood friends happen to have daughters who are childhood friends — and we bring our daughters on our annual trip. So we’re a group of BFF mothers with a group of BFF daughters, all having the time of our lives together every single summer.

The women in my life most dear to me are known as the Js. I don’t why the stars aligned in this way, but at age 10 when my mother moved us to our hometown, I became fast friends with Jamie, Johnna, Julie and Janet. We are the 5Js and we’ve remained close friends to this day. Until a year ago when I moved away, four of the five of us lived in our hometown.

In the early years, only three of us (and our daughters) traveled. Along the way, another one of the Js was able to join our summer trips. Our first trip was in 1993, only a few months after Kate was born. She just turned 19, so you get the idea how long the Js and our daughters have been doing this.

In the early years, we went to a lot of amusement parks and water parks in every major city within a day’s drive of our hometown. Our exotic destinations included spots like Wichita, Kansas City, St. Louis, Branson, Oklahoma City, Dallas, Tulsa, and San Antonio. In recent years, we’ve spent most our time shopping and eating in those same cities — and always staying up late and laughing ourselves silly in our hotel rooms. We laugh at old stories we love to tell every single year (our daughters — two of whom are now in college — never seem to tire of hearing about the J’s high school adventures), and we tell a few new stories in our lives by way of catch up.

In the early years, we bought our daughters matching outfits and dressed them alike for our outings. I don’t remember at what age they declared “no more,” but I can’t help that I miss the sweet young faces of our daughters in their matching outfits gracing our trip photos. These days, we tend to buy matching t-shirts at one place or another.

This year, the girls are coming to my house because they haven’t yet visited me in my new place. We plan to hit a nearby outlet mall and take a float trip on the river. I’m going to cook something really yummy for them and show them the sights in our scenic new home, and I’m sure the seven of us will camp out in my den until the wee hours laughing and being girls.

In keeping with the new age we live in, I planned this year’s trip by text. And without fail, after the date was agreed upon yesterday, I got texts from all my girls saying things like I can’t wait! I miss you!!! Love you!

I love my girls and their daughters and I can’t wait to see them, too.

With gratitude {for friends who know the name of the first boy I kissed, who shopped for prom dresses with me, who hold a grudge against the boy that broke my heart in college, who stood by my side as I married Mr. Mom, who diapered my babies, who cried with me when my mother died, and who would turn heaven and earth upside down for me if I needed them to},

Joan, who can’t imagine what life would be like if her name didn’t start with J

Two gifts. One less than comfortable zone.

Dear Friends,

First, this:

Eight months ago I moved to a new state by myself — with little more than a suitcase, a cell phone and a laptop — and left behind my house, my family and my worldly possessions.  Two months later, my family and my possessions showed up on our new doorstep — but sometime in between those two events, my favorite gold earrings disappeared.

A lot of things disappeared in the move, actually, but most of them I don’t remember. And with the exception of my cupcake tins (which to this day have never been located), the only lost item I sincerely missed was my gold hoop earrings.

They were not expensive. (I’m not an expensive-jewelry type. My favorite watches can best be described as cheap and I have a stash of $5 bracelets I adore.)  Still, they were the perfect size, the perfect style, the perfect tone of gold, and I wore them all the time until they disappeared eight months ago.  Suitable replacements, though valiantly shopped for, never materialized and I despaired that gold hoop earrings would never again grace my wardrobe.

Then Friday morning, while packing for a business trip, I found them in the far reaches of a rarely used overnight bag. Oh my god! I shouted, startling the cat. My earrings!

My perfect earrings were the perfect gift for a cold Friday morning, made even colder by the fact that I was leaving on a jet plane and would be deprived of a weekend wrapped in the warm company of my family.

Second, this:

On this particular trip, I’m traveling with a signed copy of Jonathan Franzen’s memoir, “The Discomfort Zone.” It was a Christmas gift from a friend who had the good fortune of meeting Franzen last year and the generous instinct to buy a copy for me.

I think there might be something wrong with me because I’ve never longed to travel as much as other folks I know. I adore road trips and my family has taken many memorable and enjoyable ones. But ask me to get on a plane or any other form of public transportation that involves crowds and lines and waiting, and suddenly I’m less enthused.

Business trips are even less enticing, as the curiosities, indignities and absurdities of post-911 travel can significantly diminish any enjoyment you might hope to eek out of a trip, even one to southern Florida in January.

In my case, I caught a late evening flight to Fort Meyers with a stopover in Orlando. The flight was full, and exactly half the passengers were noisy and rambunctious children, while the other half were adults exhibiting cold and flu symptoms.

The man on my right had a wet and urgent cough that made me cringe about every two minutes of the two-hour flight.  I’m not sure if it also unnerved the woman on my left or if she had other issues, but as soon as she settled into her seat, she drew her scarf up around her face and tucked it under the rims of her eyeglasses so that every inch of her face underneath her eyelashes was covered. Then she pulled her coat over her head, where it remained until the plane landed.

I could go on . . . about the twitching teenagers in the row in front of me, the ill child two rows behind me, the flight attendant who spilled wine on me, and more; but I imagine you’ve been there, done that too.

Fortunately, my book pulled me into its story and most of the flight’s annoyances receded quickly. He’s a bit of a neurotic pessimist, that Franzen, but even his dark and brooding recollections were an improvement over my immediate surroundings.

So, hey. It wasn’t my greatest day. But I found my favorite earrings and I enjoyed an interesting read on what would have otherwise been a miserable flight. Some days, you take what you can get.

With gratitude {for small favors from the universe and thoughtful gifts from friends},

Joan, whose nightmares involve Contagion-like scenarios and who thinks public transportation could be improved considerably if everyone wore medical face masks and latex gloves

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