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

Butt Nakey.

Dear friends,

This is my boy.

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He has hops.

photo[6]

Hops is what you say when you want to be urban-cool and you mean “He can jump.” I’m not urban-cool but I want to appear to be in front of my boy so I say hops.

He has big hops.

I am in love with my boy.

I loved him when he was a baby, depriving me of sleep for most of my 30s with his incessant, nocturnal restlessness and fussing.

tipin

I loved him when, at age three, he nightly sang a song called “Butt Nakey.” I’m pretty sure he meant “buck naked” but you have to admit butt nakey is far more lyrical. He always seemed to have an ear for that sort of thing.

He sang his original composition at full volume, not surprisingly while naked, typically after a bath and before pajamas.

Sometimes he sang it while chasing his sister.

She hated the Butt Nakey song.

She also hated his second favorite song, “Here Comes the Penis,” which he often sang immediately following “Butt Nakey.” “Here Comes the Penis” required a special guitar riff, which he played, also while naked, also while chasing his sister.

photo[1]

I love to remind my boy of how much I love him. I reminded him the other night, while telling the Butt Nakey story in front of company, and his facial expression suggested he doubted the sincerity of my declaration of love.

A couple of days later, he tweeted the following: I saw a unicorn today. Okay, I saw a girl who ate a meal without posting a picture of it on Instagram. Same thing.

I think he was taunting me. I think his Tweet was retaliation for talking about Butt Nakey.

tipin

I won’t hold it against him.

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I’m too much in love to succumb to resentment.

With gratitude {for a son who has made me smile every day of his life and will forgive me for my immense love and the stories it spawns},

Joan, who has been teasing her boy of late for his “No-Shave November” beard but only because that’s her job as his mother and she doesn’t want him to know she secretly loves his beard, too

It’s starting to look a lot like Christmas.

Dear friends,

I spent my evenings last week putting up the new Christmas tree in the Den and spreading a little holiday cheer around the house.

The tree is loaded with all our favorite ornaments:

xmastree

The mantle is festooned:

manatle

And the buffet is adorned with my Grandmother’s Santa Mug collection:

buffet

I’ve got more than a dozen large totes of Christmas decorations. Given that I limited myself to a single tree, the mantle, and the buffet, I think I showed considerable restraint. (I also sent a tote with Kate so she could decorate her college apartment even though I know I’ll have to haul it home for the summer). Gone are the days when it looks like the Macy’s Christmas Store exploded in every room of my home.

Now all I need to do is buy a handful of additional gifts and get to wrapping. I gave up on the whole holiday card thing years ago. I’m deeply appreciative of those folks who take the time to send them, but in an era of Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and blogging, there’s really not anyone who desires to keep up with us who can’t do so electronically. I don’t know if I’ve succumbed to the forces of modernity or indolence, but I’ve succumbed.

And, finally, I made reservations for our family at our favorite restaurant for Christmas Eve. I’ll cook on Christmas Day, but our family has always celebrated both occasions and last year I decided I didn’t really have to prepare two lavish spreads in less than 12 hours. The impulse to do it all has faded, thank goodness.

So that’s it. My list is checked twice and the stockings are hung with care. It’s starting to look and feel a lot like Christmas.

With gratitude {for a season of maternal maturity when Christmas can feel like relaxed contentment},

Joan, who’d love to tell you all about the cool tradition she decided to start this year but is still keeping it a surprise from Kate and Parker, who are known to read her blog now and then, so she must keep her lip zipped until after Christmas

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

Oh Tannenbaum.

Dear friends,

I bought a Christmas tree on Sunday. For most people this would not be remarkable; for me, however, it represents my first tree purchase in more than a decade.

I’m notoriously cheap when it comes to some things. Food is not one of them. Certain other necessary items such as fashionable clothing and shoes and purses are also not among the things I scrimp on. Nor are Christmas gifts.

But holiday decorations — I’m always looking for 80% off or better. Which explains why I only buy lights and wrapping paper and such on the day after Christmas and why our family used the same faux Christmas tree for as long as everybody can remember.

When we left Oklahoma 18 months ago, our not-so-gently-used Christmas tree had long passed its expiration date so we tossed it rather than pack it. The problem was, once we settled into our new home I couldn’t find a tree I considered suitable for our thoroughly modern home.

Maybe I was homesick. Maybe I was too sentimental to unpack all my careworn ornaments and hang them on a new tree in a place that didn’t yet feel like home. Or, maybe, as I claimed, a traditional tree would look silly in my contemporary living area. Whatever the reason, I decided to make my own “modern” tree. (It was a cinch. Mr. Mom cut a tree branch and I spray painted it, strung a bit of tinsel and lights, and hung a few tree-themed ornaments.)

At the time, I thought it was Charlie-Brown cool and funky, my own little art installation. Holiday visitors to our home said they liked it, but I secretly wondered if they were just being polite.

See what you think:

Anyway, this year I just couldn’t get revved up to create another funky tree. Even though Kate is off to college and there’s no way I could ever talk Parker or Mr. Mom into helping me decorate a traditional tree, I was itching to pull out all my beloved ornaments collected since my childhood and throughout my kids’ school years.

For me, Christmas is about cherished memories and my memories, for better or worse, are inexplicably tied to my ornaments. There’s the ones I made in grade school and gave to my mother. There’s the ones I sold to raise money for my high school cheerleading squad. There’s the ones given to me in college by my sorority sisters. There’s the ones hand-painted and given to me by a family friend. There’s several given to me by coworkers over the years. There’s the ones collected for my children, who were allowed to select their favorite Disney characters and Barbie dolls.  There’s a slew of “Baby’s First Christmas” and 2nd, and 3rd, and so on, for both Kate and Parker. And then there’s the ones Kate and Parker made in grade school out of dough or Popsicle sticks and beads. There’s far too many to fit on a single tree, but that’s part of the fun, rotating the display each year.

So I broke down and bought a new tree. I decided to give it a run in the den, where the furniture and colors are far more traditional and where a tree overloaded with homespun ornaments won’t look so out of place. I think I’ll spend Saturday decorating the new tree and playing Christmas carols and walking down memory lane and probably even getting weepy, but what’s the Christmas season without a few tears, nostalgic or otherwise?

With gratitude {for a lifetime of Christmas memories packed away in tissue paper},

Joan, who invites you to tell me about your Christmas tree and favorite ornaments because she’s convinced she can’t be the only woman who knows and treasures the origin of every single ornament in her stash

Beyond the adjectives.

Dear friends,

It is the evening of Thanksgiving as I write this. I’m sitting in a comfortable chair by the window, which is slightly cracked so I can hear the rain. Kate is asleep, gripped by a long nap that won’t seem to release her. Her roommate, Houda, is sitting beside her in bed, glued to her laptop where she’s spent most of the afternoon typing furiously. Parker is stretched over the loveseat in the kitchen, eating cheese and crackers. Two of our visitors, Lusy and Barb, are at the kitchen island drinking hot tea and eating creme brulee. Doug and another visitor, Kristina, are in the den, talking tennis.

Life is perfect.

A year ago as I fretted over my oldest child leaving for college, I never could have dreamed our Thanksgiving holiday would bring us a houseful of international guests and so much joy in seeing my sweet CupKate cross our threshold again. I didn’t know then that different, as in my life is going to be so different when Kate leaves, often means lovely if you can scrounge up just an ounce of patience.

I kept my camera close by most of the day to catch the memories. I snapped this shot of Kate’s roommate:

And this shot of everyone filling their plates:

And this shot of us gathered around the table:

And this shot of a new dessert recipe I tried:

And this shot of my dinner plate because oh lordy:

After our meal we all crowded into the den, where the Tryptophan worked its magic and I fell asleep on the floor and missed half the video the girls had chosen.

Later, Mr. Mom and I rallied just long enough to do the dishes before collapsing in the den again for more television, more food, more laughter, more everything wonderful.

Speaking of wonderful, that’s the word the girls keep using to describe my cooking. The turkey, the leek bread pudding, the ginger cake with cinnamon whip, the creme brulee, the spiced cranberries, the brown sugar and ginger mini cheesecakes — it was all wonderful today. I joked I would have to teach them more English adjectives and they joked I would have to teach them to cook.

Perhaps, but tomorrow I’m teaching them the art and science of Black Friday shopping. We’re headed to St. Louis for treasures unknown.

Those of the known variety, however, are right here with me during this precious moment in time.

With gratitude {for a life marked by more adjectives than wonderful can begin to describe},

Joan, who will be wearing her sweat pants and athletic shoes during Black Friday shopping because you never know when you might need to break into a full-out sprint

Abundant blessings.

Dear friends,

Not what we say about our blessings but how we use them is the true measure of our thanksgiving.

— W.T. Purksier

My heart is full this Thanksgiving, brimming with gratitude for our abundant blessings.  Our table is full and our bounty is evident.  A house full of guests, love for each other, good health, a delicious meal shared in safety and comfort . . . peace . . . these are the jewels of this day I dare not take for granted. May we use these blessings, in measures large and small, that reflect a glad and generous heart.

And I wish you, dear friends, abundant blessings.  Drop in sometime this holiday weekend, won’t you, and leave me a comment letting me know how you’re spending your Thanksgiving?  Power eating . . . football cheering . . . napping . . . traveling over hill and dale to see loved ones . . . whatever your activity, I wish you good cheer and godspeed.

I’ll be here on our beautiful Missouri acreage, happily humming ‘round the kitchen, delivering stealth hugs and kisses to any child within arm’s reach, and steeping in the life God has granted me.

With gratitude {for abundant blessings},

Joan, who’s got 13 tasks on her Thanksgiving to-do list today and has already completed three of them while the six other souls in her home sleep soundly

True confessions. And other Thanksgiving musings.

Dear friends,

I have a confession that will shock you.

It might even make you think differently about me, about who you think I am.

But since I’m all about gratitude, and since it’s hard to be grateful if you can’t be honest, I’m going to tell you my deep, dark secret.

Until today, I had never . . . cleaned my oven.

I know. It’s shocking that a 49 year-old-woman who’s been a homeowner for some 25 years has never cleaned her oven, but it’s true.

Here’s the deal: my mother always did it for me. I’m not sure what’s more shocking — that I’ve never cleaned my oven or that I’m willing to admit my mother always did it for me, but I’m laying it all out here because it’s the season of Thanksgiving and, today, I’m grateful for Easy Off.

By the way, I want to tell you the details of my oven saga because I don’t want you to think I am the kind of woman who would call up her mother and say “Oh hi, Mom. Say, if you’re not busy today, can you drop by and clean my oven?”

The very first home I owned had been a rental. It was a charming brick cottage, but it needed some TLC and, before I moved in, Mom and I spent four hard days of labor cleaning it. My mother had been a property manager for 20 years before she retired and she knew a thing or two about cleaning. Whenever I had a project (painting, wallpapering, cleaning, yard work), my mom was the type of person who would show up ready to work and always, always volunteered for the hardest, nastiest job on the list.  Thus, she cleaned my first oven.

A year later, Mom became our full-time nanny and from that point on, oven cleaning was her deal. (Along with so many other deals I could never repay her but hope I can some day pay it forward with Kate and Parker.)

Anyway, here I am, 18 months into a new house (in which the oven had been spotless when I moved in but was now filthy because, you know, almost two years of cooking!) and holy cow who knew oven cleaning was such a pain?

As much as the Easy Off helped, I can’t really say it was easy to get the grime off. In fact, I didn’t get it all. But I got most of it and my double ovens look a far sight better now than they did this morning. I have a tremendous sense of accomplishment.

In addition to tackling my ovens, I also cleaned every speck of my refrigerator inside and out. That’s another job I never really had to do because of 1) Mom and 2) Kate.  After Mom wasn’t around to help anymore, Kate had a terrific habit of cleaning and rearranging the frig every so often. She’s far more picky about it than I am. I think she’ll be proud when she gets home tomorrow from college and sees the fruits of my labor. It’s very, very organized and sparkling clean.

Finally, I took a bucket of soapy water and a cloth to my kitchen cabinets. You  might guess that’s another chore I never do. I’ll wipe a spot here and there, but a full-scale cleaning is beyond my pay grade. Today, though, it just seemed like the thing to do.

You might wonder what prompted my cleaning frenzy and, of course, it’s not surprising: holiday company. Kate will be home in less than 24 hours and she’s bringing four of her tennis teammates with her for the long holiday. You might have heard me mention that she’s the only American on her team, so there you have it — I succumbed to a fit of cleaning in preparation for the most American of holidays lest our international visitors think poorly of us.

I also made a trip to the grocery store where I dropped $335 lest five college athletes get hungry over the next few days.

With gratitude {for a spotless kitchen, a full pantry, and a soon-to-be-full home, just what this mother dreams of for Thanksgiving},

Joan, who invites you to give Mr. Mom a shout-out today, his 49th birthday, which we’ll celebrate tomorrow with homemade lasagna, chocolate mousse cake, and a houseful of international visitors

Best if eaten within 7 days.

Dear friends,

I have a friend who doesn’t eat leftovers. Ever. And her definition of leftover is any food that is more than about 20 minutes old. (Am I right, Sandy?)

My family? My family eats leftovers all the time, where family equals me and Mr. Mom and all the time equals FOREVER for Mr. Mom and FOR SEVEN DAYS for me. If you ask Mr. Mom, there’s no expiration date as long as the food in question still smells okay.

Do you have any idea how long it takes for food to start smelling bad?

Yesterday I was driving home for lunch and I called Mr. Mom to ask “Anything in the frig I can eat for lunch?”

“Um . . . sure,” he said. “I just ate some old mashed potatoes, but they were okay. And I ate some sauteed mushrooms that I don’t even know how old they were. I’m sure I can find something for you to eat.”

How appetizing, I thought.

As it turned out, I found some tuna salad that I made on Sunday, four days prior. It was fine and there was enough to make a sandwich.

But while I was eating, I remembered the exact date I made those mashed potatoes that Mr. Mom had just consumed. It was October 27. How do I know this? Because my mind just works that way.

(Actually, here is the way it works: I knew I had cooked the mashed potatoes and since I only cook on weekends, and since I didn’t cook the mashed potatoes last weekend, it had to be two weekends ago, during which I made Salisbury steak and mashed potatoes for supper on Sunday, Oct. 27.)

The mushrooms? Three weekends ago (Sunday, October 21).

I know. All I can say in Mr. Mom’s defense is that he has never once gotten sick eating leftovers. Apparently the nose knows.

By the way, that photo above? We ate that last night. It’s Pizza Nachos featured on Tasty Kitchen on November 5. One thing I love about Mr. Mom (besides the fact that he is a human garbage disposal) is that he takes dinner orders. The day I saw this I sent it to him and Presto-Bravo, two days later, we had it for dinner! In case you’re curious, I highly recommend it. Crunchy like nachos, tastes like pizza, easy to make — it’s yumily. (Yumily is my new word for a greater degree of yummy.)

Anyway, there were no leftovers. Mr. Mom made two skillets full. He and I shared one and Parker ate the other. So we won’t be having that for lunch tomorrow.

Or dinner 23 days from now.

With gratitude {for a man who makes cleaning out the frig a chore I hardly ever have to tackle},

Joan, who prefers her friend Caroline’s term, encore meal, rather than leftovers

Putting on your big-girl panties.

Dear friends,

This is a photo my CupKate posted on Twitter Friday night of her tennis team.

I wish I could tell you they were dressed up for a happy occasion, but that’s not the case. Instead, they were going out to dinner with their coach to tell him goodbye.

Not long after Kate arrived in August for the start of her freshman year, it became clear there were issues with the tennis program. I’m not going to air dirty laundry that’s not mine to air. (In fact, I know very little. One thing you learn quickly after your child goes to college is that parents have little-to-no rights to information.) I’ll simply say the fall season was cancelled and the coach is leaving following an NCAA investigation.

It was a shocking development to say the least. Kate and I spent all of last year touring eight different colleges. I had pinned my hopes on a private Jesuit university several hours away, but Kate chose her current location — a small public university in our home state — because she instantly bonded with the coach and with these girls. I adjusted, and to say we both set sail with high hopes is an understatement.

But you know what? The universe immediately handed Kate a difficult but valuable lesson, chiefly that life doesn’t always work out like you planned. Two weeks into what Kate imagined would be an idyllic college tennis career, life smacked her upside the head with a big dose of adult reality: humans makes mistakes, institutions are fallible, and life goes on. I’m proud to say Kate put on her big-girl panties immediately and has been dealing with it in the most admirable way.

Kate is the only American player on her team. The other seven girls hail from Morocco (the girl in purple to the right of Kate, who is Kate’s roommate), France, Russia, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. I don’t know if cultural differences have played a role, or if it’s a matter of youth, but I can tell you Kate’s teammates were having difficulty navigating the complexities and uncertainties of this very difficult situation.

So I sprang into action. If there’s one thing I know how to do and do well, it’s how to navigate administrative and organizational hurdles. Some would say I’ve made a career out of  making bureaucracy work to my advantage. I became the team’s ombudsman, advising them, scripting them, helping them prepare and organize their inquiries and responses and, hopefully, calming their nerves. The girl nicknamed “Frenchy” started calling me “the Tiger” (la tigre).

When Kate told me this, I laughed out loud. If you’ve followed the controversy over author Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, you know I’m more of a laissez-faire kitten-mother than a tiger. Still, I knew the name was offered with affection and gratitude and I pledged to wear it as a badge of honor (despite the Asian stereotype). And I couldn’t help but think of the seven other mothers, thousands of miles and four languages removed from their daughters’ situations, and hope it would give them comfort knowing one of us is well positioned to help.

None of us have any idea what the future will bring. A new coach, certainly. How that will affect these girls, their tennis careers, their college experiences and, ultimately, their adult lives is anybody’s guess. I advised Kate to ride out the year and see what unfolds — and she’s doing that with her famously mature approach.

The truth is — she had a drawer full of big-girl panties before she went to college so I had nothing to worry about.

With gratitude {for a girl who can roll with the punches with the best of them},

Joan, aka la tigre du tennis meres