Blessedly boring.

Dear friends,

I’ve been away for a while, transfixed by a life that is blessedly boring.

Last night I sat in my easy chair watching the storm coverage on cable. I had a computer on my lap and a dog wedged in beside me, as well as a blanket and a beverage and all the comforts of a working power grid and an intact roof.

Our cold and overcast Midwest weather seems like a gift by comparison.

I ran yesterday morning in humid, 29-degree weather and I won’t offer a single word of lament. Yes, it’s unseasonably chilly and yes, I’d prefer a little sunshine — but so what? I have a blanket and a dog and a computer on my lap. No one can complain about those conditions!

You know what I’ve been doing since we last chatted?

Nothing.

Really, nothing. I’ve napped — in between long, winter’s snoozes. I’ve read. I’ve cooked and eaten plenty. (Pioneer Woman’s salisbury steak is great, by the way.) I’m watching television and running and chatting with friends.

In other words, life is sedate. Easy. Relaxed.

Maybe that’s what autumn is meant to be?

I don’t know, but I know I’ll take it any day.

With gratitude {for my currently boring life},

Joan, who was about 30 before she learned the definition of a bore is not a boring person

The activity formerly known as awful.

Dear friends,

After a couple of months of flat-out laziness, I vowed two weeks ago to get back in the running groove. I bought some news shoes hoping they’d put a literal spring in my step and I hit the road.

And lord was it awful.

During the first run, it was so awful I thought I would vomit. And I wanted to cry. Vomit and tears, the awful combo.

During the next run, I thought it was so awful I wanted to collapse at minute 3, and again at minute 11, and again at minute 24 and again at 29:30 when I finally gave up and walked the last 4/10ths of a mile home.

During a couple more runs, I thought it was so awful I seriously questioned why I was doing it and why I shouldn’t just throw in the towel. Lazy is as lazy does, I thought.

During another run, I thought it was so awful I might never again enjoy this thing I started doing in 1985 and have done regularly since then (where regularly equals taking a few lazy breaks and having a few lazy pity-parties now and again).

During the next run, I thought it was merely awful. (No elaboration needed.)

And after yesterday’s run, I thought to myself: Well, that was not awful.  Not good. But not awful.

By the way, awful has nothing to do with my performance in terms of time or distance. It has to do with how I feel. Awful — all 70 or so degrees of it — refers to how bad my legs hurt, how weak I feel, how taxing the hills are and how much they make me want to scream at the heavens, how bad my lungs burn, how loud I wheeze, how embarrassingly red and blotchy my face gets . . . you know — awful.

Anyway, as soon as I mentally declared yesterday’s run as not awful, I wondered what it would have been like to spend the last two weeks describing degrees of good.

As in “That run was one-part-per-million good.”

Or “That run felt really good for both of my hands.”

Or “That run felt good for exactly three minutes” or “good for nearly four blocks” or “good for the first 100 strides.”

I like to think I’m not usually a glass-is-half-empty kind of gal, but holy cow, what does it mean when I describe a part of my life in degrees of awful?

Yes, it means I’m out-of-shape. Yes, it means I’m feeling sorry for myself. Yes, it means I’ve got a long ways to go to feel comfortable and strong in my stride again. But it also means I’ve got a lesson or two to learn about finding the right attitude to conquer this thing called life.

So I snapped myself out of it and vowed to extend a little gratitude to the activity formerly known as awful.

And then I remembered that just a couple of weeks ago during a dinner party, I chided a guest for describing her running as jogging. “I’m slow,” she said. “I don’t really run. I jog.”

“Are you kidding me?” I snapped back.  “Anytime you are not walking, you are running! Give yourself credit. You could choose to walk, but you don’t. And if you’re not walking, you are running, sister!”

I’m running, baby. And it may only be 189-parts-per-million good right now, but that’s better than any part awful.

With gratitude {for any part of good I can get},

Joan, who thinks her friend Nancy is right when she said “Turquoise shoes always make you run faster”

Just this.

Dear friends,

There’s absolutely no reason for me to write this post. No urgent topic. No compelling story to tell. Nothing really.

Just this:

I’m sitting in my kitchen, staring out the window at the beautiful Missouri foliage and drinking coffee while my family sleeps in for Fall Break.  And my heart is full. Full to bursting.

So many times, it seems, we are pushed and pulled and frustrated and exhausted and worried and terse. I sometimes get a Bad Case of the Terse and I hate it even as I feel it overtaking me.

But every now and then, in fleeting moments, we soak up a drop or two of now. Of just this. For me, I relax my jaw. (My jaw is hardly ever relaxed by the way.) A surging tide of calm washes over my heart and I startle myself by actually being in my surroundings. I feel the comfort of my favorite chair. I see the soft stubble on Mr. Mom’s face. The narrowing of Parker’s eyes when he grins. The delicate beauty of Kate’s hands.

That, my friends, is God.

I may startle you by saying that because I never talk about God. (That’s because I figure God is not mine to talk about. God is yours to experience and I get fidgety, frankly, when people start talking about God like God is the celebrity on this week’s cover of People magazine and they’re all Oh, yeah, I know ALL ABOUT God.)

I won’t say anymore because you don’t need to hear it. But you may want to feel it, see it, let it wash over you and flood your heart like beauty sometimes does on a Thursday morning for no particular reason.

With gratitude {for tiny quiet moments just like this},

Joan, who has no agenda for the day other than cooking a great supper for her family and soaking up as much of this as she can

Who’s the boss?

Dear friends,

I don’t ever blog about work.  The reason why can be found in the words of the famous blogger, Dooce, who was fired for writing about her boss and later declared”Be thou not so stupid.”

However, I am the boss in my particular work situation and so I figure maybe I can get away with writing about myself just this once.

Anyway, yesterday was Boss’s Day. Or is it Boss’ Day? Or Bosses’ Day?

Let’s just say it was The Day Of the Boss (for those who don’t know the exact rule for plural possessives on words ending in “s,” which I’m ashamed I cannot cite from memory, grammar snob that I am).

Anyway . . . look what I found on my desk yesterday . . .

A basket full of food stuffs from “The Hill” in St. Louis!

If you know anything about St. Louis, you know The Hill is an Italian food lover’s dream. And tucked among the cheese and the salami and the sauces and the LaFlorentine Torrone candies was a gift certificate for my favorite Italian restaurant on The Hill, Charlie Gitto’s. (Dear Charlie, please reserve a table for six Saturday night. We’re bringing friends for dinner. Love, Joan)

Do I work with the coolest (clearly most generous) people or what?

And besides their lovely and oh-so-thoughtful gift, the four women and two men responsible for this gift wrote the kindest sentiments on my card. When I moved to Missouri 18 months ago to take this job, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. What I got into was a team of some of the hardest-working, talented, and kindest professionals I’ve ever known. I’ve had some hard days, no doubt. But never because of my “direct reports.” They’re champs and they make me look good every single day.

While I’m on the subject of me looking good, I’ll tell you a funny story I may never live down. My staff teases me because of what they call my “large vocabulary.” I’m constantly using words they ask me to define. (Sometimes I make up words just to jack with them. One day I said a person we all consider to be a blowhard was “speechifying.” I normally would say “pontificating” but I worried it might be too obscure and figured speechifying was self-explanatory. Turns out, not so much.) Anyway, one day not long after I arrived, we were meeting about a problem that was long-standing, complicated and exceedingly frustrating. As the meeting wore on, I wore down. Whereas I normally would have asked “Who in our organization has the authority to change these policies?” I simply blurted out (out of frustration) “Who’s the boss of this?!”

My staff didn’t know me well then, so they all looked down, stifling their laughter, while one brave soul spoke up and said quietly, “Uh, you are, Joan.”

Ever since then, they remind me (with a wink) “You’re the boss, Joan. Whatever you say, goes.” As I wrote to them yesterday in a thank you note for their gift: “I hate the label “boss” — but on this day, I am more than happy to wear the mantle if it means serving beside all of you.”

With gratitude {for the best colleagues this working mother could ask for},

Joan, who stumped a few folks in a recent memo with the word “impracticable”  but wishes to argue it’s the perfect compromise word between a course of action that is not quite impossible but also not merely impractical

The road to my house.

Dear friends,

This is the road to my house.

As you can see from the photo, today is a little overcast. Pretty breezy, but a beautiful 64 degrees. Autumn is in full splendor.

I had one heck of a week, working 42 hours in the last three days alone. But on this glorious Sunday, I paused on my way to the grocery store to snap a photo because, otherwise, how would you ever believe me when I say I live in one of America’s most beautiful spots?

It’s clear now, isn’t it, why Mr. Mom and Parker are so happy with our little patch of paradise, our 15 acres of wooded bliss, chock full of wildlife living under the big Missouri sky?

And me? I complain a lot about those darn hills. (Especially when I’m running up and down them, as I did four times last week — hooray for me!) But I never fail to appreciate their beauty, or the ways in which they delight our spirits even as they exhaust my incline-weary running stride.

I’m right where I told you I would be today. On the sofa, with a a cup of coffee and stack of magazines and my laptop. I’m narrowing down tonight’s supper menu, which will likely be a whole roasted hen, wild rice and Basmati dressing with sausage and sage, cheese grits and corn pudding, and sauteed kale with garlic and red onion. Between the view and the menu, I can’t think of anything more restorative to fill my short weekend respite.

With gratitude {for a glorious Sunday and a three-day work week starting tomorrow},

Joan, who might be disappointed if at least one reader doesn’t note how insanely steep and unrelenting the hills are, thereby commiserating with the flatlander who hasn’t yet made her peace with running in this part of the world

Happy, happy. Tingly, tingly.

Dear friends,

I’m currently counting down the days until October 17, which is the evening Kate will arrive home from college for Fall Break.

Besides the fact that I can’t wait to see CupKate again, Fall Break is my absolute favorite (quasi-)holiday. Mr. Mom and I were married on Fall Break in 1991. That’s right, we celebrate our 21st wedding anniversary next week. And Parker turns 17 a couple of days later. So between Kate coming home, an anniversary to celebrate, and a birthday that allows me to spoil my favorite teenage boy, I’ve got a lot to look forward to. Oh, and did I mention I’m taking two days off so I can really soak it up?

First though, I’ve got a bit of work to do. It’s one of those weeks around my office . . . you know, a week that involves three consecutive dinner events, a 7:00 am business breakfast, and a 14-hour work day on Saturday. So if you don’t hear from me much, don’t worry.  By Sunday, I’ll be collapsed on the sofa, tired but smiling as Fall Break approaches.

With gratitude {for that happy-tingly sensation I get every autumn as family celebrations roll around},

Joan, who spent an enjoyable hour on Sunday decorating her mantle with autumn/Halloween items as a “welcome home” for Kate who, according to Twitter, seems to be as anxious as her mother for Fall Break to get here already

Poetry in motion.

Dear friends,

Elizabeth Barrett Browning said “Earth’s crammed with heaven.”

Sure was ’round my corner of the world yesterday. Mr. Mom and Parker and I spent a lovely fall evening watching Parker’s friends and classmates dominate a varsity soccer match. Dominate is not an exaggeration. Our team won 5-1 and advanced to 14-3 on the season.

After watching my very first high school soccer match last night, I had only one thought: Is there anything more beautifully athletic and carefree than 16-year-old boys chasing soccer balls?

Oh my mercy — it was poetry in motion. It was poetry in testosterone.

And then, afterwards, while walking across the field to our parked car I had a second thought: It would really suck to run across this grass as fast as I can and then fall down.

Oh my mercy — how do they do it?

Ah . . . youth. I’d like to say it’s wasted on the young, but in fact, it’s perfectly, wondrously, immaculately bestowed upon those who can enjoy it most. The innocent, the optimistic, the idealistic, the limber. The resilient.

Oh to be all those things again!

Last night, though, it was good enough to watch it. To hear it. To be reminded of my own dim memories of what it was like to run, run, run as fast as I could across lush green lawns on perfect fall nights when there’s a hint of something in the air, something sweet, something clear, something pure, something just beyond what we know and into the realm of what we cannot grasp but will chase until we fall.

Heaven, I think, as the poet said, crammed right here on earth.

With gratitude {for green grass, crisp air, and blessed youth, even if it’s no longer mine},

Joan, whose nostalgia ran deep enough last night to carry her to the concession stand for a Kit-Kat bar

When life hands you lemons, make soup.

Dear friends,

I had a not-so-great day at work Monday.  By the time I got home, I was cranky. In fact, Mr. Mom was on the phone with Kate when I walked in and  interrupted him to ask when dinner would be ready. He said to Kate “Gotta go, hon. Mom had a bad day and her forehead is wrinkly. I need to get dinner on the table.”

I understood the wrinkly comment was about my expression — not my skin tone. And truth is, I felt much better after I ate. We had leftovers from our dinner party Saturday night — roast pork loin with spicy tomato sauce, mashed potatoes, and a lovely balsamic vegetable medley.  I never fail to appreciate the boost that a good meal can give my day.

For that reason, after we ate dinner, Mr. Mom and I spent an hour or so together in the kitchen making vegetable soup. If ever there was a tonic for life, vegetable soup is it.  Whenever life gets hectic, I tend to make bad food choices, especially at lunch. Life has been hectic lately and I have the cheese and bacon fries to prove it.

So after dinner Monday night, I announced that I needed a batch of vegetable soup to right my lunch-ship and Mr. Mom offered to help. There’s something therapeutic about couples cooking together — at least in our home — and the combination of good food on the stove and good company in the kitchen improved my day considerably.

“Honey,” Mr. Mom remarked as he chopped rosemary and I added wine to the pot, “what would you do if I ever got hit by a bus?”

“Holy cow,” I said. “I guess I’d have to get married again right away.” I barely concealed my grin.

“You could marry a famous chef,” he offered.

“No way,” I said. “I don’t think executive chefs take orders well. And you’re my perfect sous chef.”

I measured the spices and he prepped veggies and we continued to chat about our day and fill the pot with whatever caught our eye. By the time we finished, it was brimming with onions and sweet bell pepper and cabbage and garlic and corn and black beans and carrots and tomatoes and wine.

And love. Lots and lots of love.

With gratitude {for times when the best recipe for soup and life are miraculously one and the same},

Joan, who was delighted beyond words when one of her guests Saturday night suggested we name our new group the Gratitude Dinner Club