I am a mother.

Dear friends,

mother - 1 (1)

I am a mother and that is all I know. My children run through me like blue through a river and I can’t remember me before them.

I wrote these words when my now-adult children were babies. My sentiment reflects both the all-consuming nature of motherhood and, perhaps, its most poignant paradox: namely, the intertwined DNA and lives of mother and child, which we are forced to untangle, against our strongest instincts, if we are to be considered a success.

So . . . I guess I’m a success. HA! My kids have flown the nest and both appear to be thriving as young adults with jobs and bills and loves and professional conundrums and personal heartache and everything associated with making your way in this world.

And just when I thought my raison d’etre might shrivel up and die if I don’t get a grandchild soon (and neither Kate nor Parker look remotely close on that front), I received the sweetest little surprise and reminder of my value in this world, at least to two people.

My dear Kate nominated me for Mother of the Year . . . and I won. Now, just in case you’re tempted to laugh out loud like Mr. Mom did at the news, let me explain both the backstory and Mr. Mom’s thinking.

Not long after I learned Kate had nominated me at American Mothers, Inc., I mentioned it in passing to Mr. Mom. We were both in the bathroom for our morning routine and I said “Hey, did I tell you Kate nominated me for Mother of the Year?” After laughing uproariously, he stammered a bit. “Uh . . . Mother of the Year of what, honey? Of the world? Of our town? People magazine Mother of the Year?”

“Of America!” I said a little too defensively, even though this wasn’t quite true.

“Wow,” he offered. Then silence. Then “That sounds like something the Pioneer Woman might win. I’m just not sure you’ve got the following, honey.”

Okay, so he’s clearly right about that. But turns out, the only following I really care about is my own kids, who are super pumped to learn their mom has been named Missouri Mother of the Year. (Upon learning of the outcome of Kate’s nomination in a family text, Parker called me a “bad ass,” high praise from a Millennial male, kin or not.)

You can read about the many accomplished and inspirational state mothers by clicking here. We’ll all be traveling to Washington, D.C. in late April for the national convention, during which a national Mother of the Year will be named. (You can’t know how relieved I was to learn there is no swimsuit competition. Unfortunately, best I can tell, my featured talent of eating buttered crackers while lying on the sofa watching Hallmark movies won’t score me any points.)

The irony of me being named mother anything is not lost on me. For the first decade of my parenting years, I had benefit of a loving and tireless nanny (my mother). For the last several, I had the luxury of a patient and devoted stay-at-home father (Mr. Mom). To the outsider, one might say I outsourced my mothering to those more skilled and available. At one point, I felt very much the imposter, a motherly Barney Fife — a Deputy with no bullets in a town where the Sheriff is both beloved and wise.

I’d like to say my motherly angst only flared up when my kids were younger and I missed a tennis tournament or school assembly or watched Mr. Mom handle parent-teacher conferences alone. But the truth is, as recently as last fall, my insecurity made an appearance after Kate totaled her car and I only learned about it at the end of a 14-hour work day after Mr. Mom had already handled her hysterical phone call and assorted logistical matters such as towing, filing an insurance claim, and securing a rental car.

Kate had been on her way to our house for the weekend when her accident happened. I came home from work around 9:00 pm and joined the entire family in the den and not a word was said about the drama of the day until I casually asked “Hey, why is there a strange car in our driveway?”

After Kate re-told the story of her frightening accident, my response was “So, I don’t even get a text? When were you all going to tell me?”

“We’re telling you now,” Mr. Mom said. Then, sensing my hurt, he added “Honey. You were in meetings and events all day and evening. There was no need to worry you. Kate and I handled it and she’s home safe and all is well. And you sailed through your long day without extra worry.”

The motherly impulse to be needed, to solve all problems, to reassure and soothe our children is hard to overcome and I needed a few minutes to lick my imaginary wounds. But I quickly realized — who wouldn’t desire for their children to have benefit of two engaged and loving parents? Am I really going to let my ego get in the way of Kate’s exceptional relationship with her father, and Mr. Mom’s remarkable composure and problem solving skills in a moment of crisis? Of course the answer is no, and so later than night I thanked him for allowing me to focus on my work obligations on what was literally the busiest day of the year in my business.

What Kate taught me — everyday and through her nomination — is that I am a mother. And she is my daughter, no matter who else mothers her and no matter whatever else I do, in my work, in the community, or at home. My role has shifted over time but its value has never been in doubt by anyone but me. My dear sweet Kate had a nanny and a mama and a Mr. Mom and our little village raised a strong woman with a big heart who fiercely loves us all, including her mom of the year.

With gratitude {for the opportunity to be a mother of any kind},

Joan-Marie, daughter of Colleen, granddaughter of Joan and Marie, three remarkable mothers, each in their own way

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Big news. But first suspense. And old favorites.

Dear friends,

newspaper

I have some big news to share, news that I’m positively verklempt about, but that I can’t share right now.

(Don’t you hate people who do that?)

Here’s the deal: the news will come soon, and will come in the form of a press release. And when it does, I’ll share it with you. Until then, I’ll just say that it represents an affirmation that speaks to my very soul as a woman, as a mother, as a person who thinks gratitude is the very best virtue to cultivate.

In the mean time, there might be some new visitors to this blog as a result, so I’ll take this opportunity to to show you around a bit and share some of my favorite stories with you. Stay as long as you like. And if you are stopping by for the first time, introduce yourself yourself in the comments. I’d love to get to know you.

With gratitude {for unexpected surprises and happy news, even if it’s top-secret for the moment},

Joan, who wants you to know she did not win a book contract, or a Pulitzer, or a Nobel, or a Presidential Medal, or even the Pillsbury Great Bake Off, but who thinks her little surprise is better than them all

Some of Joan’s Favorite Stories

About mothering:

Parkie Park and the blue moon

The downhill side

A love letter

About marriage and family:

Cat on a high dive

Questions for my dying father

An Easter story

Hell Away

A Valentine

About sorrow and loss:

Witness

About life’s small pleasures and joys:

Communion

About meditation and reflection:

Life and the ephemeral meaning I seek to ascribe to it

Half-assed Buddhist

Some reflections on fifty

Time lapse

 

The Mountain: Please, God, tell me it’s not really 2018 and this thing is still going on.

Dear friends,

2018 - 1

It’s been 20 months since I last wrote an update about our mountain saga. You might have forgotten about it. You might have thought that it was over. You might have thought — if you read my last post — the case had been resolved in our favor.

<insert rueful laugh here>

HELL to the NO on all counts.

A lot’s been happening, none of which I’ve been interested in writing about. In part because of the Great Clean Out of 2017, wherein I pretty much gave up writing in favor of a major home re-organization and purging project. In part because . . . what can I say? I hate this case.

But last week a new friend told me she had read my mountain story in its entirety and I started thinking about how unraveled the whole narrative is and how much still hasn’t been told. So I decided to dip my toes back in the story, ease into the memory of it all, and share the parts I can remember and bear to tell.

In this post, I told you about another landowner on the downhill side of the Unfriendlys who had discovered our nasty neighbors had encroached on his property, creating a cloud on title and complicating his efforts to sell his lot. Mr. Mom and his brother Lloyd bought the two-acre parcel from the frustrated owner and undertook the legal action to force the Unfriendlys to move their fence and their fancy locked gate back to its rightful place — off what is now our parcel and off the county road. The process meant we spent yet more money on yet more (and different) attorneys — and like everything legal, it took forever — BUT we prevailed. The end result was that Junior Unfriendly was highly annoyed when he was forced to spend some $18,000 to move his fancy electric gate. (Seriously, the damn thing looks like the entrance to South Fork, clearly an attempt to signal “Important People Own This Property.”) But, more importantly, it meant we now owned property adjacent to the Unfriendlys that was accessible by a county road, which rendered our ownership of the Unfriendlys mineral rights usable and relevant again. It felt like a small victory. We hoped it was a signal things would start moving in our direction.

At some point it became clear that following the Appellate Court’s ruling in our favor in August 2013 that the Unfriendlys had no intention of settling with us. Rebuffing Mr. Mom’s efforts to negotiate a financial payment for the easement and avoid yet another bench trial, the Unfriendlys made it clear they’d see us in District Court. So last March, Mr. Mom and I made the long drive to Pueblo for yet another week in court.

(I want to pause just a moment here to give emphasis to a point that’s easy to skim over. The Appellate Court ruled in our favor in August 2013 and remanded the case back to District Court. And it was three and a half years later in March 2017 when that subsequent trial took place. I honestly can’t remember what happened in that span of time and why it took so long. I could look up the details, but the point is . . . it represented more delay, more frustration, more pointless legal bills, more years in which we couldn’t access property owned by our family for more than four decades).

I know I took notes during the trial last March. But I recall very little. Here’s what I do remember. One, it was clear from the beginning the same judge who had ruled against us in the previous district court ruling was now gunning for us. Two, Mr. Mom kept saying the whole thing was an open-and-shut case, but I could sense we were in for another screwing. The Appellate Court ruled we would prevail if we could prove the road the Unfriendlys wanted us to use as an alternate route was private (and therefore not legally accessible to us). We felt like the evidence was irrefutable. The evidence included both documents and testimony the road was built and maintained by private landowners, was gated and locked and was not used by the public, and the landowners in question had for decades paid taxes on the property containing the road. A County Official even testified the road was NOT on their books and they did not maintain it or claim it.

The Unfriendlys claimed it was a public road because, among other things, a county snowplow had a few times driven down the road for a distance (we pointed out and the snowplow driver testified — in search of an easier place to turn around), and utility workers had occasionally used the road (we pointed out and documents proved — by permission of the landowners), as well as other spurious and silly claims.

It took four days for us to say our piece and the Unfriendlys to say theirs. During the entire show, I focused on three things. 1) The Judge. 2) Our attorney, Matt O’Malley, and 3) the Unfriendly’s attorney, Dick Slick. (You can read this post if you want a recap on the bumbling, lying, snake-of-a-Dandy I’ve dubbed Dick.)

The judge seemed frustrated we were back in her courtroom. (Her previous verdict was overruled. Who wouldn’t be?) She made continuing snide comments about how this case has gone on for far too long and had been a “travesty” and I could tell her sympathy didn’t lie with us.

As for our attorney, he didn’t seem on his game. Or maybe I should add he didn’t look well. I privately told Mr. Mom that O’Malley looked like a walking-talking heart-attack and I fervently hoped he didn’t expire.

Dick Slick was most definitely on his game. His old assistant, Sven, was gone, and his new guy seemed a lot less on the ball. But Dick was as groomed and bombastic and sarcastic and melodramatic and . . . awful . . . as ever. I refused to speak to him, even when he tried to exchange insincere pleasantries with me. He made me clench my jaw and seethe with anger every time he told a new lie. During one break while we were all cooling our heals in the hallway, Mr. Mom and Dick both ducked into the men’s room at the same time. (Awkward, I thought.) When Mr. Mom returned to my side, I said quietly “I wondered if both of you would come out alive. I half expected you to kick his ass in the bathroom and call it good.”

Mr. Mom laughed and whispered to me, “Listen, that guy is . . . not right. I mean it. You should have heard him. He was on the toilet grunting and straining and moaning. Like, he seriously was in distress. I think his karma is all bound up in his bowels.”

I laughed out loud. It was a terrible thing to take delight in, but I admit I did. His hair may be as perfect as the Werewolf of London, and his suit may be expensively tailored and his lies effective, but his gut . . . his gut knows the truth.

We came home from Colorado prepared for another long wait, but the verdict came relatively quick. By late summer, O’Malley gave us the news that the judge had ruled against us. I wasn’t surprised. I didn’t cry. I didn’t even curse or get upset. I had foreseen it. Facts mean nothing in this case — at least they mean nothing in this District Court. And I had sat through a week’s trial knowing O’Malley was lining up all the chess pieces for a strong appeal and that — we prayed — the Appellate Court would once again see through the charade and would enforce case law.

But because we lost, the Unfriendlys filed another claim for us to pay their attorney’s fees. So in December, Mr. Mom drove to Pueblo yet again for a hearing on that matter.

This is important for me to say out loud. For you to know. Because it is emblematic of everything I despise about this case. The Unfriendlys claim to have spent nearly three times what we have on legal fees. Yet neither they nor Dick Slick can produce any shred of evidence that the transactions have occurred. There is no letter of engagement or retainer agreement. There are no billings. There are no cancelled checks or bank records (from either the law firm or the Unfriendlys). They are all missing. A couple of years ago when Mr. Mom had to go to court for an earlier hearing on this topic (before it became a moot point because the Appellate Court overruled the District Court), Dick Slick testified that Ukranian hackers destroyed his computer records. Yeah. He said that out loud. Ukranian hackers ate his homework. This time around, however, he blamed it on Sven. Just so you know, our attorney, O’Malley said in court, “I just want to get this straight. In the last hearing you said you could produce no records because of Ukranian hackers. Now you’re blaming an ex-partner?” (I know it won’t surprise you to know we can document every dime we’ve spent on attorney’s fees, both through billings and bank records.)

So, yeah, we could end up owing tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees for the Unfriendlys that no one can document or prove were owed, charged or paid. It’s inexplicable but I’ve learned in this case, sometimes, the absurd is reality. It’s all in the hands of a judge.

And in yet one more twist that no one will believe (or maybe you will if you’ve followed along this far and this long, and therefore you grasp that this case is not normal), we learned yesterday that our attorney, Matt O’Malley, died suddenly this week. For those counting, he’s the second attorney who’s died in the middle of our case. (He’s the third who’s expired, if you remember Dave Moore, the guy who had a mental breakdown and stopped responding to filings and showing up in court unbeknownst to us back in 2009.)

So, yeah, we’re less than two weeks away from our appeal deadline and our attorney is dead. There’s just no delicate way to say that. And no need to gnash my teeth about it. I suppose one of his partners will seek an extension and take over. Maybe I should be more solemn or reverent about the loss of a human life. But I called it. Almost a year ago I called it. And I’m numb to it.

And numb, right now, is a lot better than the alternative.

With gratitude {for whatever gets me through the night},

Joan, who spent a good portion of December on the sofa watching Christmas movies on the Hallmark channel and Turner Classic Movies, and who gulped their cheesy optimism and happy endings as a tonic to real life, especially Miracle on 34th Street, where the courts run smoothly and the judge is sensible and kind, and a happy ending for all is guaranteed

PS: I am well aware this post is dark. And I’m not usually dark. I’m working on it. I’ve taken up Yin Yoga and I’m meditating and walking regularly and it really is helping. Equanimity may not be just around the corner but it’s out there somewhere and I’m actively seeking it. You may not be surprised to learn I had some blood work done recently and my results were concerning. Three years ago, all my numbers were in the “green” (good) range, and now several are in the yellow (concerning) and red (problem) range. My doc looked at my scores and asked me if something bad happened last year. I laughed out loud. “I laid off 10 people and stopped running and gained 15 pounds. Oh, and I lost a court case.”

Maybe that explains why I was obsessed with my house last year. It was a convenient diversion, and the clean and clear space brought a sense of calm and order to my world. It’s the perfect environment for me to get back to normal in. And I will. If I know anything, it’s that I fervently believe in the power of goodness and love, and I’ll hang on until the scale tips to that side. Maybe I’ll start writing more regularly. It has always helped me make sense of the world.

And, for the curious or concerned, Mr. Mom is doing fine. Like me, he gained weight last year. But, heck, we’re getting older and we eat like kings, so whattya gonna do?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Great Clean Out of 2017.

Dear friends,

The master bedroom during the middle of a closet purge.

Before the arrival of every new year, I find myself contemplating resolutions. I’ve always thought of myself as the Queen of Self Help. Someone who has both the drive and resourcefulness to set ambitious goals and meet them. Ready, set . . . GOOOOOOOOOO!

And then I cave.

(My philosophy is if a goal isn’t intimidating enough to make you cave early on, it’s probably not worth being called a goal. Cleaning the kitchen, for example, requires little forethought or dedication.  It’s a “just do it” kind of thing. But cleaning and organizing the whole house? That’s enough to make you gulp. That’s a goal. )

But, sometimes, after I cave, I find the fortitude and the stamina to take a deep breath and dig back in. It seems to me the persistence to keep digging in, again and again, is the key to any kind of success. And though I haven’t always persisted in every endeavor I’ve pursued, I recently completed a very big goal worth writing about.

Dubbed the Great Clean Out of 2017, my goal was to clean and organize my home in a way I had never before pursued. I was feeling leaden, a bit cornered by the clutter, and looking for a fresh start. I know my age has something to do with it, but I was slowly starting to panic about the size and maintenance demands of our home. I told Mr. Mom how frightened I was of becoming one of those old couples whose home “caves” in on them because they lose the ability to keep up with things. One day they wake up old and surrounded by too many objects too many decades out of use or style. It’s a literal nightmare for me.

So I vowed to tackle our entire home and to give myself a year to do it. It seemed reasonable and the more I thought about it, the more my motivation grew. I started telling everyone of my plan. I vowed to not only clean and organize, but to purge. And purge some more. Followed by a side of purge.

I made a list. (Because nothing feels as good as check marks on a list.) I divided big jobs into little jobs. I knew I would never find the motivation to clean and organize the laundry room, for example. It’s too big, too full of built-in cabinets that had been stuffed and ignored. So I wrote down 45 items on my list, items I thought sounded manageable, such as “Kitchen desk,” and “Night stands” and “Buffet drawers” and “Coffee cart.” Things I could do in less than an hour so that I might feel energized to tackle another item on the list. Then another.

My strategy worked. I started 2017 with a bang and, by March, I had checked off more than a third of my list, including two really big/challenging spaces such as the dish pantry and the kitchen. (It took me multiple days spread over two weeks, but cleaning out every single drawer and cabinet in my kitchen — as well as scrubbing and streamlining every surface — was a true mood booster and personal triumph.) I was stoked.

Then life got hard and my enthusiasm waned. Long hours and challenging dynamics at work diffused my focus on my goal and sapped my energy. I tried to keep plugging along but the check marks slowed.

The one thing on my list I had been too overwhelmed to break down into smaller chores was the basement. I had written BASEMENT in all caps at the bottom of my list, a visual representation of the enormity of the task.  I put it on the bottom of the list because I rationalized my Great Clean Out would be deemed a success if everything but the basement got done. I mean, who would blame me? It was so stuffed that we couldn’t even walk around. Much of the contents were boxes we were too exhausted to unpack when we moved into this home, topped off with six years of stuff we should have purged but chose instead to throw in the basement.

Fortunately, my daughter offered to come home for Labor Day weekend and help me. Between her and Mr. Mom, who did all the heavy lifting and hauling off while Kate and I sorted, purged, organized and cleaned, we finished the basement in a single (albeit long) day.

There’s nothing quite like completing a project that has intimidated and plagued you for years. Finishing the basement was like a tonic, and it gave me the energy to check off a few more items on the list in the following weeks.

I was so inspired, I even added new items to the list. I decided to paint and recover my dining room chairs, a project I started before Thanksgiving and finished today. I painted the buffet and the mantle and two mirrors. I made a new slipcover for the ottoman in the den. I cleaned and repainted our deck furniture and bought all new cushions. I replaced the light fixture over the kitchen island. I hired a company to clean our carpets. After Parker moved out, I redecorated the guest room with new side tables and bedding and cleaned out his long-ignored closet. I bought a new mattress and all new bedding for the master bedroom. I reupholstered a wing chair. I bought a new sofa and recliner for the living room and new slipcovers for the sofa in the keeping room.

As 2017 drew to a close, I had two remaining chores on my list — the dreaded laundry room and the refrigerator.

First — I know a refrigerator should be cleaned regularly, not part of a major purge. But I spontaneously scribbled it on the list thinking it would be an easy win, and then I proceeded to ignore it for a year. By the time I completely emptied it last week and scrubbed every surface with soap and water, it was in dire need. If you need a mental boost and decide to do nothing else, clean your refrigerator. It seriously might have been the most energizing and pleasing project I completed all year.

Second — despite breaking the laundry room down into four manageable items on my list, I ignored it until the bitter end. I gave serious thought to skipping it all together, thinking I could still pat myself on the back for doing everything BUT the laundry room. But on Dec. 30, still clad in my pajamas at 11:00 am, I decided to dive in. I even tackled one item not on my list — our four-drawer filing cabinet (which happens to reside in the laundry room), which hadn’t been attended to in more than a decade.

Guess what? I found my “lost” passport. I found my daughter’s immunization record, which she had asked for last fall but which Mr. Mom couldn’t find despite digging through the filing cabinet. I found three savings bonds I didn’t know we had, gifts to my children 20 years ago from a family friend. I found our wills, which I thought had long ago been lost. Score four for the motivated mother cleaning in her PJs on the day before her deadline!

Now that I’m done, I’m enormously gratified to say that I literally touched (and cleaned or purged) every single item in our home. The only thing I ignored was the garage. It’s Mr. Mom’s space so I never even put it on the list. And I don’t feel bad. It needs a lot of love (and a deep clean) in my opinion, but it’s not my hill to die on.

With the interior of the house “done,” I’ve started thinking about the outside. When spring arrives, I hope we will find the energy and inspiration to power wash our exterior and our driveway. We need to re-stain the deck and wash the windows. But I really just want to enjoy the satisfaction of finishing the Great Clean Out of 2017 for a while before I think about the next list of projects.

Because the truth is — keeping up a house is never-ending, just like keeping a drawer or cabinet tidy takes continual attention. If I hadn’t ignored things for so long (hello basement), a year-long clean out wouldn’t have been necessary. But since it was, necessary, I’m awfully glad to have it behind me.

With gratitude {for finishing},

Joan, who once set a goal to run a thousand miles in a year and didn’t achieve it, but thinks the Great Clean Out might have been even more demanding.

PS: I’ve included quite a few photos in case you are curious and/or looking for inspiration to tackle your own dreaded chores. Under the label of truth in advertising, I should note a whole lot of personal interests took a back seat to this year-long endeavor. Yes, I cleaned and organized my entire house and purged several pick-up loads of excess baggage. But my quilting took a hit and I finished only one small baby quilt and a few pillows in 2017. My fitness took a real dive. Cooking and baking seriously diminished except around holidays or special occasions. And my writing was non-existent. I guess what I’m saying is everything comes at a cost. I spent an entire year focusing on our home at the expense of other interests and I’m looking forward to a change-up in 2018.

A clean desk is so satisfying. And handy.

Freshly scrubbed and de-cluttered, the kitchen project was enormously satisfying.

 

The reorganized cleaning pantry.

Refurbished deck furniture.

Room to spare in the reorganized sewing room closet.

The BASEMENT! Clean and organized after only six years.

The refreshed guest bedroom.

Refurbished dining room chairs.

The living room.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Everything I know about weight loss I learned after 50.

fullsizerender

“Bony Joanie”

Dear friends,

The headline is not exactly true; on some level I succumbed to the allure of so-called “click bait.” But it is true that I’ve had a lifelong struggle with feeling okay about my body/managing my weight. And the struggle is — mercifully at age 54 — virtually over.

As a young person, I was known as “Bony Joanie.” The photo above makes the reason for my nickname abundantly clear (knock knees much?). But despite how angular I was — a good thing by modeling standards — I felt bad about my appearance. Being buck-toothed and freckled didn’t help a girl who desperately wanted to look like Malibu Barbie. But mostly I was a head (or more) taller than my peers and in my mind, height equated to being “big.” My senior year in high school I was crowned Football Queen and I was taller than my escort. My adolescent psyche found this humiliating. (Let’s think about this: I was voted “Queen” by a group of male contemporaries and yet failed to accept it as an affirmation because of a single physical attribute. What can you say about the mind of a young girl?) So even though I was 5’10” and 130 pounds, I still felt BIG.

I was in my late 20s before I owned my stature. Marrying a man who is 6’6″ and broad-shouldered probably had a lot to do with that. The good news was that I no longer felt too big to be around others. I even started wearing heels regularly. It was a real breakthrough.

Still my weight fluctuated a lot. By 25 I was no longer bony. I gained the Freshman 10, then packed on another 10 post-college. My weight went up and down with the vicissitudes of my life, including pregnancy and job stress. I lost 30 pounds before my wedding; gained 52 with my first pregnancy; lost 18 in preparation for my 20th high school reunion; and lost 10 pounds too many times to count when discontent surged as a result of tight clothing. Through it all, I pinballed between 1) careful eating and regular exercise, and 2) sloth and eating with abandon. It’s a pretty typical story for many of the women I know.

But a couple of years ago, I started eating better. Like, really better. And it’s made a difference in my weight maintenance. I fluctuate between being vegan and vegetarian, but I’m not a nut about it. I eat the occasional chicken wing or hamburger when the cravings are strong. But 18 out of  20 meals are plant-based and involve a predominance of whole foods. I rarely eat desserts or sweets. My biggest vice is diet soda. (Sometimes I swear it off for months at a time. Other times, I indulge regularly. Such is the continuing saga of human cravings for comfort and familiarity.)

And I run regularly. I’ve been a runner for 31 years. I’ve taken off for long periods (especially in the baby years), but I’ve never entirely stopped. In the last decade, I haven’t laid off for more than a few weeks at a time. And it’s made a difference in my fitness level.

A couple of years ago I read an article that said weight management is 9 parts eating right and 1 part exercise. It’s proven so true in my life that I think the two ought not to be talked about in the same breath. Because here’s the deal: you can be a healthy weight but a long way from fit. And you can be overweight and demonstrably fit. I’ve been both combinations so I know fitness and weight are not inextricably linked. So here are my two truths:

If you want to be fit, or strong, or have improved stamina and endurance, EXERCISE to achieve those results. Fitness is a health and lifestyle goal in and of itself. If you exercise only to lose weight, you likely aren’t enjoying it (meaning there’s a good chance it won’t “stick” as a lifelong habit). Besides, I know plenty of people who have lost a lot of weight while doing nothing more strenuous than walking. So the goal of losing weight doesn’t have to “condemn (you) to the gym.”

If you want to lose or maintain your weight, EAT to achieve those results. Weight management is a goal in and of itself. It’s true that adding a little exercise to your routine jump starts your metabolism. And regular exercise allows you to eat more than if you were sedentary. But it’s not necessary to your weight management goals.

Ten months ago I saw a photo of myself that I didn’t like. Even though I had been eating healthy, I had been consuming more calories than was necessary for my age, metabolism and activity level — and my weight had crept up over time. I decided to cut back on my portions and it made an immediate difference. I lost 10 pounds quickly and felt measurably, physically better. A few weeks later, I realized I had let my fitness slip considerably, too, so I amped up my running program. I lost another 10 pounds. Eventually I lost six more pounds and realized I weighed less than I had in a decade. I was tempted to say “Holy cow, that was easy.”

It wasn’t, of course, easy. What I mean is that it wasn’t fraught with panic, self-loathing, guilt, deprivation or any of those other emotions I know so intimately.

It was, however, rooted in awareness. “This is what I’m choosing to eat today.”

It was rooted in discipline. “I’m keeping track and monitoring the result.”

It was rooted in patience. “I allowed myself to lose track of my weight and fitness goals for a while now. It’s not realistic to turn this ship around in two weeks. (Or two months.)”

It was rooted in equanimity. “All things come. And all things go. Accept the seasons of your life for the lessons and gifts each bring.” (Let me tell you . . . of all the gifts being over 50 have brought me, equanimity is surely at the top of the list.)

Interestingly, I had an overly indulgent February. Two business trips and plenty of good food and alcohol later, I noticed my weight had crept up a bit. Not a lot. Five pounds. I didn’t panic. Nor did I beat myself up. I became aware. And a couple of weeks after becoming aware, 2 of those 5 pounds vanished. It was another breakthrough, of sorts — the kind that makes me ponder the long trajectory of wisdom and my intersection with it.

By the way, I feel compelled to point out I’m no expert on health and fitness beyond the impacts both have had on my own well-being and what I’ve learned, mostly informally, through an awful lot of research, reading and reflection. The diet and exercise industries are a combined $40+ billion enterprise so there’s plenty of expertise right at your fingertips. You know you better than anyone else, so read up and ask yourself how it applies to you (if it applies to you). Ask a knowledgeable friend or professional source for additional resources. Trust your body intuition. Become aware.

Most of all, tell yourself the truth about the choices you make, the motivations inherent in those choices, and the predictable results. Because that’s where the real breakthrough — at any age — comes from.

With gratitude {for, what else, the awareness and equanimity that seems to come with age in Mother Nature’s ironic trade-off},

Joan, who nobody calls bony anymore but whose dear friend recently called skinny and lit up the pre-frontal cortex of Joan-Marie’s brain in a Pavolovian response tied to her Barbie-worship days

img_9175

“Skinny Joan”

The Great Clean Out of 2017.

kitchen

Dear friends,

One of my favorite memories about my unconventional father is his “honor garage sales.” Although I spent most of my life separated from my father, I lived with him for two full years in college. (It was a little weird; after all those years apart we were suddenly adult roommates.) Bob loved money and loved cutting a deal, but he didn’t much care for the logistics and customer relations aspects of hosting a garage sale. So he tagged all his items and displayed them in the front yard with a sign describing the rules of his garage sale. (“Take your item and leave your money in the envelope in the mailbox.”) Then he drove to the neighborhood bar where he threw back a few and waited out the crowd. Several hours later, Bob came home to an envelope full of money and a mostly cleared yard. What a deal!

I’ve started off 2017 with a New Year’s Resolution to purge my life of excess baggage.  My approach is a little different than Bob’s but it works for me. I made an extensive list of every “space” in my home to be purged, cleaned and/or reorganized. I mentally gave myself a full year to do the job, but I was exceptionally industrious in January and made a ton of progress. I purposefully avoided a list that said “Clean Den” because I knew it would be overwhelming. The key to success, I figured, was the satisfaction of seeing regular check marks indicating progress on my list.

In that spirit, my list says things like “De-clutter nightstands.” “Purge jewelry drawer.” “Tackle the den bookshelves.” You know . . . bite-size, manageable chunks. So far, I’ve tackled my dish pantry (it took an entire day); my dining room buffet; every single drawer and cabinet in my kitchen (all 39 of them), including the kitchen counter tops, coffee stand, and kitchen appliance cart; hung a new light fixture in the kitchen (okay, Mr. Mom did that, but I helped); repainted the fireplace mantle and screen; purged and reorganized the front coat closet; Mr. Mom’s closet; the mud room (really a glorified alcove); the master bathroom sink cabinet; every table surface and wall in the living room; and the half bath counter top. I’ve hauled too many car loads to count of purged possessions to a local charity resale store. And I’ve still got a long ways to go.

Including a basement that’s not even on the list because it’s too overwhelming.

But hey, it’s only February, right? And you ought to see my house. It really is looking so good.

I’m not sure that any woman who calls herself Magpie and has an entire pantry of dishes (on top of all the dishes in her large kitchen) can ever claim to be a minimalist. But, lordy, you ought to see how de-cluttered my house is looking. There are tables and counter tops and walls with plenty of open space. The drawers are organized. There are EMPTY drawers! (Okay, there’s one empty drawer in my buffet, but still. It’s EMPTY!) I actually gave away one bag of table linens and several boxes of dishes, my most treasured collections.

And I feel so good about my newly airy 2500 square feet of dwelling space!

Actually, I feel guilty. A little. Because no good deed goes unpunished in the Magpie psyche, I feel bad for living in such a big house and having spent money over the years on so many possessions I’m now giving away. But I read this article earlier this week and decided to “own my mistakes” and “let go.” And even Mr. Mom has given me an important affirmation. A couple of weeks ago he said “Things are really looking good honey. The key, I think, now is to maintain it. Quit bringing stuff home.”

No penance for past sins. Just forward progress. He’s a gem of a guy, ain’t he?

And I really feel like I’ve turned the corner emotionally. I amused my friends when I declared I was going to pare a little each year until five years from my death I would live in a very small space and be free of possessions. They are anxious to know how I’m going to know when I’m five years from death. But I figure barring a tragic accident or very sudden illness, I’ll know. And I’ll trim accordingly because I’m committed to not leaving a trail of possessions for my loved ones to deal with. It’s not what defines me, much as I’ve allowed it to as reflected in my self-selected nickname.

It’s worth mentioning my friend and colleague died suddenly two weeks ago at age 59. I absolutely adore his wife and our circle of friends’ shared grief has been a bit of a wake-up call. Life is short. Hug your people. Tell them you love them every day. Get your shit in order and focus on love and kindness, not things. I hear the message, dear universe.

I’m not only cleaning out the physical clutter, I’m sweeping away the emotional detritus. Or trying to, anyway. And I’m telling everyone I care about in every way I know how — I love you!

And there’s a minimalist quality to those three simple words that are fitting, don’t you think?

With gratitude {for the energy and inspiration to clean, for the incredible luxury of worldly goods I can share with others, for a large circle of peeps to love, for today’s breath},

Joan, who thinks Bob almost had it just right and is seriously contemplating a “charity garage sale” where everything is free, first come, first served, and wonders what you think about her crackpot idea

 

 

 

Money for nothing.

begginghand

Dear friends,

Monday, Mr. Mom drove me to a doctor’s appointment because 1) it’s 90 miles away and 2) I dearly value time in the car with my favorite guy and he’s very good about indulging me on car trips. As we were leaving the big city, we encountered what is sometimes called a “panhandler” while stopped at a busy intersection. I instinctively reached for my wallet but quickly remembered it was empty.

“Do you have any cash?” I asked Mr. Mom.

“For what?” he said.

“The man. Holding the sign,” I said as I pointed in the gentleman’s direction. “I want to give him some money and I don’t have any.”

The light turned green as Mr. Mom explained his wallet was buried in his back pocket.  We left the intersection without helping a haggard looking man whose cardboard sign said he was hungry.

We were silent for a bit then Mr. Mom asked “How often do you do that? Give money to strangers.”

“Every time I can,” I answered. “If I see someone asking and I have cash on me, I give it. Last week when I visited Kate in Tulsa, we encountered a fellow at an intersection and I gave him all I had, which was $10.”

I could tell Mr. Mom was surprised but had no further comment.

Earlier in the day, while waiting at the doctor’s office, I overheard two women talking. I wasn’t trying to eavesdrop and it took me a few moments to piece together that between the two of them (presumably an adult daughter and her older mother), they were having trouble coming up with $8 for the daughter’s co-pay. The mother had a debit card with $6 on it and the daughter was rummaging through her purse for change. That’s when I discovered my wallet my was empty. I was about to offer my own debit card when the nurse called my name. I walked into the examination room feeling guilty for not insisting the nurse give me a moment to help.

I haven’t always been this way. I used to be notoriously cash poor. I carry a credit card and a debit card and use them almost exclusively, even for minor purchases like coffee. When I worked in the big city I was frequently approached by individuals seeking money and almost always turned them away with a truthful statement: “I’m sorry. I don’t have any cash on me.”

But in recent years I’ve started carrying cash for the express purpose of giving it away. I consider it just one form of the variety of charitable contributions I am committed to. (In case you’re wondering, higher education, Planned Parenthood and the ACLU are all high on my priority list.) But in regard to my cash donations, I’m not very methodical about it, honestly. I have no scheme for “who” merits “what.” I’ve given as little as $1 and as much as $40 depending on how much cash I have on me and how in need the person making the request appears.

I find it curious that I’ve been occasionally criticized by friends and acquaintances for this practice.  The critics seem convinced that panhandlers are “too lazy” to work, or use the money for alcohol or drugs. And don’t get the critics started on the “fake veterans” whose “ploy” they find particularly objectionable.  I have no idea how anyone seems so sure of their conclusion that the needy aren’t really in need. They are strangers, after all. So what do we know about them except the fact that they are asking for money? I want to say to the critics “On what basis are you making this assumption?” but I usually keep quiet.

A few times I have said this: “Have you ever thought about what circumstances would lead an individual to ask a complete stranger for money and think that is the preferred option over all others? I have. And I’ve concluded things must be pretty desperate — or other viable options exhausted — to compel someone to beg.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about the “bootstraps” theory of life. Especially American life. There seems to be a strain of the American psyche that values self-determination, rugged independence and individual industriousness above all else. I admire self-made men and women. I do. But I also think not every soul on this earth can pull themselves up by the bootstraps — for a variety of reasons that I’m in no position to judge. It doesn’t make them less than. And it doesn’t make them pitiable. It does make them worthy of my help.

There’s been a renewed emphasis in the last couple of years, especially on social media, on the notion of “paying it forward.” Again, I find it curious that folks want to buy breakfast for the person in line behind them at McDonald’s but don’t want to help the person asking for it face-to-face. I’m not trying to judge. I’m trying to understand. Both are money for nothing, in my book, but somehow the unseen person seems so much worthier.

For what’s it worth, this reflection on the “bootstraps” theory isn’t meant to be a political statement. But I will admit I’m politically exhausted and dispirited right now. I’ve allowed myself to wallow a bit about the Bannon-ization of the White House, which is just plain wrong. Say what you will about anybody in the White House right now, it’s up to ALL of us to build a better world. So I’m trying to focus less on what elected officials are doing wrong in my mind, and more on what I can do right.

And I’m putting my money where my mouth is, or in this case, in the requestor’s hand.

With gratitude {for days mercifully long gone when a co-pay put me in a bind},

Joan, who for too many years criticized her mother for giving her last dime to anyone who needed it and now understands Colleen was doing the Lord’s work in her own way

PS: I’ve written around this topic before so forgive me if you think I’m a harpy. But this post sums up my feelings on the topic of entitlements versus opportunity and is, in my humble opinion, worth your time if you’re so inclined. And this is my favorite post on the topic of begging.

India Travelogue, Ep. 20:

indiaep20

When I started this, I had no idea I’d write this many episodes. But here I am. I can’t say how many more I’ll post, so I wanted to pause for a moment with a postcard-worthy snapshot I took of our Kerala riverboat ride. If a photo is worth a thousand words, this one needs no caption. I never could have imagined this and yet, in an odd way, it looks exactly how I thought India should.

India Travelogue, Ep. 19:

indiaep19

This photo is from the same evening as yesterday’s post, shot while I walked at night through a small village in Kerala. I was surprised that all the doors were open and you could see inside every home and shop. (So unlike America, where we close ourselves off.) Because I’ve sewn my whole life and love to quilt, this scene stopped me in my tracks. We pay lots of money in the US for antique, treadle sewing machines. This one was a beaut. I thought about my fancy Bernina machine at home that probably cost more than the annual income of several of the families in this village combined. Some things are universal though: the owner of this shop saved an impressive pile of scraps. (I would have enjoyed sorting through them because what quilter doesn’t love a pile of scraps?)

India Travelogue, Ep. 18:

img_8542

I snapped this photo on the next to last day of our trip. We were in Kerala and took a boat ride to a scenic spot where we ate whole fish steamed in banana leaves at a modest, roadside stand. The proprietor beamed with pride when we praised his cooking as the best of our trip.

While returning, our guide suggested we stop our boat early and walk the rest of the way through a small village. The sun was setting and we spent a good bit of time standing outside a temple where people were singing and praying. By the time we walked back to our waiting van, it was dark. As we passed the open doors of village homes, I couldn’t help but pause and look inside.

I felt nosy looking too long, and a little intrusive taking this photo. Most of all I felt humbled by the life that is mine.

White. American. Educated. Healthy. Prosperous.

Why are these blessings mine and not others?

I’ve long known I’m an incurable existentialist and answering questions such as this can be a fool’s errand. Or naval gazing of a sort that is the purview of a prosperous, white American.

So I did the only thing I knew to do. I quietly whispered “Namaste” to the open door and continued my journey.

***

Namaste is a traditional Hindu greeting translated as “The God/light in me honors the God/light in you.”