The Art of Friendship.

Dear friends,

I’ve been a busy bee lately. Not just with the sewing and quilting the projects I shared in my last post, but also spiffing things up around the house.

If 2017 was the year of the Great Clean Out, 2018 is the year of the Great Spruce Up.

I don’t know . . . “spruce up” sounds so blah. And I’ve been anything but. I’ve been energized and energetic in a way I haven’t been in a long time. It feels so good to tweak my home. It’s a process that gives me great joy and creative inspiration.

The main project I want to show you today is an art refresh. Here’s what my living/dining room (can you say “open concept?”) looked like in December 2016.

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The sofa you see in this photo was moved to the den and I purchased a new, more modern one last year for this space. The old sofa is currently at the upholstery shop being recovered in a plush navy fabric that will be perfect for the cozy den (recently refreshed with a new coat of paint, new drapes, and a new light fixture, all of which I’ll show you in a big reveal when the sofa returns).

But what I really want you to notice today is the art above the sofa. When we moved into our home 7+ years ago, those large panels were left behind by the previous owners and were blank. I thought they were so odd — both the burlap covering and the blankness — then I realized they are acoustical panels meant to absorb sound in the vaulted living space.

When an artist friend from Oklahoma visited shortly after we moved in, I mentioned how creatively stumped I was by that large stretch of wall space and asked if she’d be interested in a commission to create art for it. (I envisioned a triptych, probably square, probably abstract). My friend Alisa hesitated for probably half a second then declared “Let’s paint the panels you have!”

And so with nothing more than leftover black interior latex paint, an old trim brush (not an artist’s brush) and some red craft paint (pretty much all the supplies I had on hand), Alisa created the beautiful art you see in this photo. She painted on my front lawn. In about 20 minutes. Her husband Greg, who suggested the inspiration for the design after noticing a painted tray sitting on my ottoman, was kind enough to re-hang the panels for us by perching on a rickety ladder that Mr. Mom steadied. It remains the best housewarming gift I’ve ever received.

But as my home has slowly evolved from a mix of colors, some of them warm and earthy, to a cooler, predominately grey-and-blue palette, the art just didn’t jive. When a scheduling quirk meant that I’d be driving to Tulsa two weekends in a row for family occasions, I immediately texted my friend and asked if she’d re-do my gift if I brought the panels to her this time. Of course she said yes. And the result delights me.

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Here’s a close-up view of the second panel.

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The project was fraught with complications but I managed to make it work. The first was fitting all five panels in my two-seater sports car for the first trip to Tulsa. (The largest panel is 5-foot by 2-foot and fit in my car with a mere 1/4″ to spare.) The second was a painting disaster of my own doing. I had told Alisa I would paint the panels grey to save her time, but it was a disaster. (The paint just blobbed on the canvas and wouldn’t spread. See the evidence below.)

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I texted Alisa in a panic, very nearly in tears. She assured me all was not lost and encouraged me try gesso (a product artists use to prep their canvasses). Of course I had to drive two hours to find it (since I didn’t have time to buy online and wait for delivery), but it worked like a charm. It worked so well, I left the canvasses as is and never painted them gray.

For the second trip to Tulsa, instead of traveling alone, my husband, my son, and my son’s girlfriend were joining me. I had planned to rent an SUV for the trip but availability was limited in my small town. I managed to secure the only available vehicle for that weekend (a Chevy Traverse), and after a little logistical planning and a trip to the rental lot to measure the cargo space, I determined it would fit my entire family, our luggage, and the art. Thank goodness for stars aligning!

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If you compare the first photo to the second, you’ll notice the changes — other than the sofa — are pretty subtle. I edited the walls a bit (removing a few framed pieces) to make things a bit more airy. I changed out the chandelier shades from burlap to grey linen. I bought new grey and white drapes to replace the seafoam ones and I removed the blue window shades.  I painted the dining room chairs grey. I simplified the rugs from a layered look to a single rug. I switched out an end table and added some live plants. And I moved the bar from a display configuration on the desk behind the sofa to a hidden cabinet in order to visually declutter the space.

And just in case you’re curious, here’s a couple of shots of my mantle and the part of the room you can’t see from the other photos:

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I’ve now turned my attention to the master bedroom where I’m doing another refresh with new paint, light fixtures, rugs, etc. It’s not finished but rest assured I’ll reveal that space, too, just as soon as I get can.

With gratitude {for friends and helpers},

Joan, who wouldn’t really mind being called JoJo, in keeping with her favorite interior designer Joanna Gaines.

 

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I am a mother.

Dear friends,

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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

 

 

 

 

Big news. But first suspense. And old favorites.

Dear friends,

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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,

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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?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Everything I know about weight loss I learned after 50.

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“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

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“Skinny Joan”

India Travelogue, Ep. 12:

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One of the most fascinating (and hair-raising) aspects of my trip was the sights and sounds to be found on India’s roads. I could write five posts about it (and might) but today’s reflection is about what I called the “clown car” effect. Everywhere I looked, there were motorized vehicles with about triple to quadruple the riders they were designed for.

Case in point: scooters were everywhere and we rarely saw one or even two riders. More typically, there were three to five riders. One memorable exception I saw was a single rider transporting a full sized refrigerator on the back of his scooter. Understandably, the fridge took up all the room that would have otherwise been allotted to additional riders.

Riders rarely wore helmets. Most wore sandals. Women rode side-saddle. And you just haven’t seen family togetherness until you’ve seen a family of five zipping down the road at nearly 50 mph on a single scooter — young son, father, young daughter, mother and infant (on mother’s lap) lined up like a cartoon illustration you can’t imagine until you see it in real life.

Efficiency rather than comfort or safety seems to be the name of the game. How else do you explain four to five folks riding a tractor down the road (I saw this multiple times), or dozens of folks riding in a dump truck (I couldn’t count them all but I’m guessing maybe 50 souls), or cars carrying two to three times the American legal limit?

Bicycles, farm and heavy equipment, carts pulled by livestock, busses, semis, rickshaws (both pedaled and motorized), scooters, motorcycles, cars, trucks, vans . . . you name it. If it had wheels or legs and could move forward, I saw it in traffic, both urban and rural.

Interestingly, during two weeks of travel, I didn’t see a single highway patrolman (I assume they have them) and I only saw one accident. India’s roads are jam-packed with what might best be called improvised modes of transportation but people are alert and seem to maneuver far better than many of the American motorists I encounter daily. Mario’s got nothing on Kumar, man!

 

 

India Travelogue, Ep. 10:

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I’ve told you about the folks I encountered in India who seek money from tourists either as a handout or by providing nominal services. What I haven’t told you about is the hawkers. Actually, I don’t like that term. It sounds pejorative to me (much like “beggars”), but I must admit there’s a level of aggressive selling of cheap souvenirs that can seem off-putting to the uninitiated. And much of the work is done by children.

The boy in this photo approached me outside the Taj Mahal and I must admit I was immediately smitten. I mean, look at that face! And unlike most of the sellers, he seemed devoid of desperation or frenzy. He was soft-spoken and unfailingly polite. He had an air of confidence that was neither brazen nor feigned and he was unlike any of the multitude of peddlers I met on my trip. I looked into his eyes and knew I would undoubtedly buy whatever this exceptional boy was selling.

First, he offered me a keyring featuring a tiny painted Ganesha (elephant god). He had a package of 12 and I told him I wanted them all, but I offered him a fraction of his asking price. My bargaining was a ploy, really, to ensure our walk together lasted a while. After I finally agreed to $5, he next offered me a boxed set of crudely carved and decorated marble souvenirs. Once again, I offered him a fraction of his asking price before finally agreeing to $5 as a way to prolong our conversation.

My friend also found him charming and her negotiation for keyrings gave me the opportunity to snap a photograph. I’m so glad I did because I would have paid $10 just for the pleasure of talking to him. That I also have a photograph to remember him by is the icing on my Taj Mahal cake.

Epilogue: I gave away all the keyrings and the marble boxed set during my office’s Christmas gift exchange. I was surprised how much my co-workers treasured the trinkets and gratified that a brief interaction that meant so much to me brought holiday joy to my colleagues.

 

India Travelogue, Ep. 9:

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There’s something so ethereal, so chimerical, so magically entrancing about the Taj Mahal that it doesn’t seem real. And I think that’s why I love this photo so much. It literally doesn’t look real. It looks like a painted backdrop in a Broadway musical.

I think it’s because the air pollution we encountered in Northern India gave this magnificent relic an other-worldy feel. I found the effect oddly fitting, as if the Gods had lowered a cosmic veil to obscure its stunning beauty from immodest admirers.

I had no idea what to expect. I knew it would be awesome but I failed to anticipate how jaw-dropping its scale, artistry, and symmetrical perfection would be. The only metaphor that comes to mind is Brigadoon. Once you step inside the massive gate and glimpse the Taj for the first time, you are stunned beyond belief. This must surely be a dream, you think, and you pray you won’t wake up.

Yesterday I mentioned that I grew up thinking the word “Indian” applied only to people like my Cherokee relatives. Despite my parochial upbringing, I knew about the Taj Mahal. It was part of a phrase my Okie mother invoked anytime she thought I had gotten too big for my britches. Sometimes she’d call me “Miss Astor” (after Ava Alice Muriel Astor, NY socialite and daughter of John Jacob Astor).  Other times she’d say “You don’t live in the Taj Mahal, you know!” For years, I thought the Taj was a palace rather than a mausoleum. I knew it was far away, from another time, and probably beyond my ability to visit.

When I toured the Taj Mahal, my friends and I sat on the “Diana bench” for a photo and I couldn’t stop thinking about my mother. She would have been gobsmacked by my stories (and frightened out of her socks that I had traipsed off to a place like India). Oh, how I would have loved to tell her all about it and about the Indian stranger who called me “Diana” when I walked by. She would have said “Ain’t that something!” about a million times and I would have felt even more like the little girl from the small town who visited the magical place her mother only dreamed of.

Colleen would have loved the Taj, and I’m quite certain she somehow thinks my britches are perfectly sized for the world traveler she inspired.

 

India Travelogue, Ep. 7:

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Most experts will tell you never to eat “street food” when traveling. And it’s good advice, I suppose, but it also limits your culinary adventures considerably.  For health reasons, I went to India believing I would only drink bottled water (and, in fact, I’d only brush my teeth with bottled water) and I would not eat any food that wasn’t prepared in a reputable  and hygienic restaurant.

Turns out, I broke rank. When I passed this street vendor in Munnar, I couldn’t resist. After more than a week of eating traditional Indian dishes for breakfast, lunch and dinner, I was stopped in my tracks by the sight and smell of two American favorites — sweet corn and boiled peanuts. I hollered at my friends and insisted they backtrack and consider this opportunity. Most of them looked at me like I’d lost my mind, but my friend Vandana, an Indian native who organized our trip and served as the arbiter of all things “advisable” (or not), inspected the cart and declared this vendor was probably safe.

And, so, I got my corn and peanuts, sprinkled of course with cayenne pepper because it’s India and cayenne is de rigueur.

Standing by the side of a busy road near a congested tourist attraction (Eravikulam Lake), I savored every bite of my corn and peanuts — served in a Dixie cup with a plastic spoon the size of a paper clip.

The verdict? Praise the lord.

Epilogue: Look, I’m no Anthony Bourdain and I’m not suggesting you take unnecessary risks with your GI tract while 10,000 miles from home. But in hindsight, I’m convinced I passed up a lot of tasty and perfectly safe treats by being overly cautious. In fact, I traveled to India with an armory of pills and elixirs for every stomach ailment known to mankind. In the end, all I experienced was a little “sluggishness” of the digestive tract, which happens every time I leave home, no matter the distance.

India Travelogue, Ep. 4:

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Before I left for India, I confided my anxieties about the trip to my friend and meditation teacher. She has been to India many times (to serve the poor rather than vacation like me) and she told me the trip would be “the edge of (my meditation) practice.”

I knew she was right but I didn’t know how right until we traveled by train. Two trips on the train (one 12 hours and one 18 hours) will remain my least favorite travel experiences.

I feel silly talking about it but I will say this: I’m so white and so American I had envisioned a very “Sex in the City” kind of adventure. (Remember the episode when Carrie and Samantha took the train to LA?) I thought we’d have cocktails. Instead, if you’ve ever seen the movie “Reds,” and you remember the scene where Diane Keaton meets Warren Beaty at the crowded and chaotic train station in pre-revolution Russia, it was like that, only depressingly un-cinematic.

Rather than recall the specific conditions (which were crowded and dirty beyond anything I’d ever experienced), I’ve reflected on why I was so outside my comfort zone, why I felt so unmoored, why I was convinced I might just perish right then and there.

Truth is, other than length, the second train ride was easier and more enjoyable than the first. Probably because I knew what to expect. We played cards, we laughed, we ate snacks, we had quite a scare when our friend left the train at a stop to buy food and we thought she’d been left behind. (Turned out, the train didn’t leave the station; it merely switched tracks and our friend made it back on just fine.) I even slept a little on the second trip, unlike the first.

Looking back in my photos, there’s nothing that’s shocking so I’m still not sure why I felt the way I did. But maybe it has to do with that old saying “The train has left the station.” For a girl who’s spent a lifetime planning contingencies and exit strategies (and polishing her bubble), once you’re on the train, you’re on it. And you are most definitely not in control.

And maybe the universe knew a train ride was the perfect antidote for my shiny bubble and accelerator for my meditation practice.