A lifetime of love.

Dear friends,

This quilt story is a long one. But it’s so dear to my heart, I hope that you will grab a cup of coffee, settle in, and indulge me in the telling.

I’ve written before about my oldest and closest friends — the Js. Joan-Marie, Jami, Janet, Johnna and Julie all grew up together. Four of the Js have known each other since Kindergarten. I joined the tribe in 5th grade when my mother moved us from Tulsa to “Mayberry,” the loveliest hometown ever. Three of the Js still live in or near Mayberry (as I did until three years ago) and we remain fast friends to this day.

Today’s story begins with my friend, Janet. Here we are, circa 1976, preparing for an appearance in Mayberry’s Pioneer Days Parade.

jbandme

Janet and Boney Joanie enjoyed their stint as Minnie Mouse and Raggedy Andy so much, we parlayed the experience into a four-year stint as “Spuddy and Spry” in our high school’s clown troupe. We shared a love of acrobatics and performance and we spent untold hours in her yard and mine perfecting our tricks and tumbling routines. At one point, we both learned to juggle and Janet learned to ride a unicycle in pursuit of a more entertaining performance.

Janet was petite and remarkably strong and athletic. I have vivid memories of her standing on her head and pushing up into a handstand, which she could hold on balance as long as she desired. I was far too tall and skinny to have much athletic potential, but I could contort myself into all kinds of shapes and I was a fearless and loyal companion of the girl I idolized.

jbandme2

We were inseparable for years and I can’t count the number of sleepovers we shared. At her house, we listened to Barry Manilow until the wee hours then wedged ourselves into her twin-sized bed where we slept like interlocked Lego pieces. At my house, we begged my mother to make us SOS (a hamburger and white gravy concoction we loved) and watched television on the tiny black-and-white set in my bedroom.

Years later, Janet and I would also “share” pregnancies. Her first child, Sarah, was born on Dec. 8, 1992, and my CupKate was born exactly three months later on March 8, 1993. Janet and her husband were living in Texas at the time and both her mother, Carolyn, and I couldn’t wait to see baby Sarah. So Mr. Mom, Carolyn, and I loaded up in our 1967 Plymouth Belevedere and made the trip to Ft. Worth as soon as she was born.

I was six months pregnant, uncomfortable, emotional, and unsure what to expect. I’ll never forget baby Sarah’s non-stop wails and what seemed like incessant breast-feeding sessions. Janet and her mother seemed unperturbed by the noisy soul demanding all the attention in the household, but I was suffering from pregnancy exhaustion and I was more than a little unsure how well suited I would be for infant care.

Fortunately, I found my sea legs quickly, and by the time Janet Elaine and Sarah Elaine visited Kate Elaine and me three months later, all was well. (It’s no surprise we love the symmetry of a shared middle name.)

Like Janet and me, Sarah and Kate have been friends forever. This is one of my favorite photos of our girls at age two.

kateandsarah

While Kate was quiet and reserved, Sarah was a tempestuous swirl of energy and passion. In their youth, they were a feminine yin and yang not unlike Spuddy and Spry.

It doesn’t seem possible these adorable babies are turning 21. Or that these beautiful, sweet, and mature girls are ours.

KateSarahPromCollage

Sarah is like a second daughter to me or, more to the point, the kind of daughter you would select for yourself if there was choice involved in these kinds of things. She’s smart, thoughtful, passionate, loyal and, despite her boisterous beginnings, sweetly considerate, focused, and determined.

So when Janet texted me on Halloween to ask if she might commission a quilt for Sarah’s 21st birthday, I couldn’t say no. I was flustered I had so little time, and chagrined I didn’t think of it myself much earlier, but I sprang into action.

Turns out, Sarah is studying abroad in Malawi next month, so Janet suggested I create an “African themed” quilt. I had no idea what that meant but, together, Janet and I decided it meant bright (an array of Batik prints seemed perfect), simple (large panels of fabric with a bit of patchwork and sashing), and personalized (with Sarah’s name, trip dates, and an appliqued African dancer).

See what you think:

janetcollage

Janet texted me yesterday to share this photo.

sarah

I can’t see Sarah’s hands, but I’m going to take this as two thumbs up.

With gratitude {for a lifetime of love and a new generation to nurture it},

Joan, who’s already received another commission and can’t wait to get going

A Thousand Miles.

Dear friends,

women_marathoners_lg

I am a runner. I have been for more than 20 years. I don’t look like the women above. For one, I don’t wear those silly short-shorts. (I’m prone to chafing.) Two, those strides? Well, those are not the strides of a 50-year-old, nonathletic woman running 11-minute miles. But when I’m running, in my mind, I am one of those kinds of women — strong, determined, capable.

And maybe that’s why I run. Because whether it’s real or imagined, I like feeling strong and capable. I like feeling as if I’ve done the hard thing. I like defeating the voice in my head that says “Don’t get up. No big deal.”

So after two years of mostly anemic running efforts, I have pledged to run a marathon. A different kind of marathon, one I call the year of a thousand miles.

I’ve mentioned this quest to a close circle of family and friends and they all say the same thing: Why?

And I say why do people climb mountains? Why do people compete in 26-mile marathons or Ironman competitions? Why do people push themselves physically to achieve hard things?

I don’t know. Maybe we’re trying to prove something to ourselves. To others. Maybe it’s part vanity, part human competitiveness.

Whatever my combination of factors is, I want to spend my 51st year doing something hard. Mustering discipline like never before. Digging deep and finding something new and/or startling inside me.

And that’s why I chose this particular goal. Because I’ve been running a long time. I’ve run a half marathon and multiple 8-, 10- and 12-mile runs. I’ve run 20- and 30-mile weeks many times. But I have never ran 20 miles a week for 52 weeks in a row, and that’s what a thousand-mile goal represents.

Twenty miles a week is a little less than three miles a day. To many runners, three miles is a piece of cake. But the thing is, if you take a day off, you need to run six miles the next day. If you take two days off, you need to run nine miles the next day. You can do the math — a runner can fall so far behind it’s impossible to catch up, so exceptional discipline is required. And it’s the discipline part of this puzzle that appeals to me.

I’m three weeks into this deal and I’m about five miles behind schedule. A three-day layoff due to a business trip my first week out of the gate put me immediately behind, but I’m determined to chip away at my deficit. Actually, I’m determined to bank some miles so that if I get sick or go on another business trip or have any unplanned life experience, I won’t fall seriously behind.

All of this assumes I don’t experience an injury, of course, and that’s a real wild card. I’m already feeling the increased miles in my knees and hips and I have no idea if my body will hold up under the strain. But I think it will feel good to try.

My previous personal record is a little more than 800 miles in a year (two years ago, in 2010). Close, but not so close I have confidence I can ace this.

By the way, if you read this post, you might be tempted to assume this is all a mid-life crisis. Maybe it is, but it doesn’t feel that way. If I have any great insights as I run my way through this, I’ll let you know. In the mean time, I welcome your good thoughts.

With gratitude {for two legs that have so far held me in good stead},

Joan, who has already informed Mr. Mom that if she meets her goal, she plans to throw one hell of a Thousand Mile Party on her 51st birthday

Some reflections on fifty.

Dear friends,

The author, front and center at a family picnic, circa 1969.

The author, front and center at a family picnic, circa 1968.

I turn 50 on Monday.

1962 seems another world ago. Jackie Kennedy. The Cuban missile crisis. Love Me Do. James Meredith.

I’ve seen so much and so little. My life is expansive and somehow tiny, like a sliver of light that slips under the door of a darkened room and beckons me to cross the threshold into something bright and exciting.

I have so much — and I want so much more. Not things, you know, but moments. Of all sizes and all sentiments, moment after moment fitting into this intricate, zigsaw puzzle I call my life. I’m greedy that way. I want more love, more joy, more reflection, more grief, even the inconsolable kind, more sweat-spit labor and tired bones, more ragged emotion, more evidence I’m here, heart still beating, mattering to somebody, being somebody’s mooring, or if not, at least a bright spot no matter how transient.

I’ve been grumbling about this milestone for nearly a year. In recent weeks my outward angst has magnified, why I’m not sure. Vanity surely plays a role. I’ve said a woman can’t be sexy and 50, but that’s not true and so maybe I think it’s only so for me. Truth is, though, I’m still the apple of the eye of the only man who matters, the one who daily reaches across the gulf that is our king-sized bed just so his hand can rest on my hip. He still desires my glances, my kisses, my laughs, and who can estimate the inestimable value of a man whose affection is so evident? I am still a prize, it seems, in those sparkling blue eyes I first looked into on Christmas Day 27 years ago, a blind date that turned into blinding devotion.

I want to feel alive, pulsing, resisting decay with every ounce of my energy, even as my energy depletes, unceremoniously, unaware of the urgent stirring inside me. It must always be this way, I suppose, this quickening of the heart even as the limbs stall. It is Mother Nature’s great joke, this divergence of passion and intellect from stamina and dexterity. You can have it, sister, but you can’t have it all, not at the same time, she whispers to me.

I seek to outwit her. To fiercely disprove her, and so I contemplate ambitious goals, like running a thousand miles in my 51st year. Who knows if I will or I won’t. In truth, I won’t be better or worse for it, but I might feel a tiny bit victorious in having beat back one more time the crone who seeks to claim me.

So there you have it. My heart laid bare on the eve of an occasion I have dreaded but should surely celebrate given the alternative. We’re going out to dinner tonight and I’m wearing heels and drinking wine as if age has no recourse but to ignore me. Perhaps I’ll ignore it, too, Love.

(Maybe I’ll even start calling everybody “Love” because inappropriate eccentricity is kindly tolerated in women of a certain age.)

With gratitude {for another birthday},

Joan, who has no memory of the family occasion pictured above, who can’t figure out what’s on top of her head for Pete’s sake, and who has recently started seeing in Parker’s profile glimpses of her brother (photographed behind her in the orange shirt and who died four years later), which makes her heart full to bursting

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