Oh. Hey. Hi.

Dear friends,


This lovely 2013 day planner is available here.

I haven’t intentionally been ignoring you.

I have been unusually content in some ways, and contentment for me often leads to quiet reflection.

Life has been both perfect and hard, and I’ve been living it instead of writing about it. But I’ve missed you and I thought I ought to pop in and say so.

Our holidays were everything I needed. Kate was home from college for three weeks and I luxuriated in her company. Christmas break was low-key. On Christmas Day, we had a Barbecue feast that was super-simple to prepare and left me plenty of time to laze around with the kids. We dragged an air mattress into the den and piled on blankets and pillows for a marathon movie session. We tackled a zigsaw puzzle. (Who knew CupKate was a puzzle whiz?) We invited friends over and played board games. We had a bonfire. And then we spent New Year’s Eve in Memphis watching my alma mater (The University of Tulsa) kick butt in the Liberty Bowl and enjoying the flavor of Beale Street blues and seafood. The last two weeks of 2012 were so perfect I was lulled into a dreamy stupor, making Jan. 2 a particularly sharp jolt back to reality.

So the hard parts? Well, there’s been more developments on the mountain. Nothing I’m ready to write about. In fact, like most of the saga, Mr. Mom has been handling it alone in quiet frustration because I’ve blocked it out, so I really don’t understand the details of the latest developments yet; mostly I just tried to distract myself while I watched him spend hours on the phone with attorneys and surveyors and adjacent landowners and the dozens of characters that populate this unfathomable story. My most fervent wish is that this chapter of our lives will end in 2013.

Also — I’ve been running, chasing the thousand miles I said I wanted to conquer in my 51st year.  Lawzy, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into.  It’s been a mental and physical challenge that I wholly underestimated. The first three weeks almost reduced me to tears several times and very nearly convinced me I could never do this. I have ached. I have been so tired I lost all concentration at work, and I have gone to bed at 7:00 pm more than once. I have mentally shouted at the gods and cursed them for my lack of strength and  stamina. I have found myself hating Missouri and blaming its godforsaken hills for my misery. I’ve sunk to the lowest possible emotional depths a runner can reach without quitting.

I have a glimmer of hope, however, that I’m turning a corner. In fact, I need to wrap up this post so I can head out for a run. I must log a minimum of 10 miles this weekend and I’ve got a hot date with Mr. Mom later this afternoon so I need to get after it.

But, hey, you know what? My waist is making a slow reappearance in my life. It used to be a beautiful thing and it just might be again, who knows? And the other evening my left leg was aching so badly I asked Mr. Mom to massage it. He did two better: He massaged it, he told me how toned my legs were becoming, and he brought me a heating pad. A good man is such a glorious thing and I never fail to count my blessings when I notice them.  Which is one more reason I need to make an appearance here and remind you to do the same. It’s a great way to ease into 2013, friends.

With gratitude {for a sparkly, blessed, challenging, infuriating, totally-normal new year},

Joan, who invites you to tell her how you’re easing into 2013 and what you hope the year holds for you

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

50 shades of drivel.

Dear friends,

I’m going out on a limb here for more reasons than I will enumerate, with the Top 2 being 1) I’m more comfortable being a cheerleader than a critic and 2) I love a bandwagon as much as the next blogger even though this particular one makes me cringe, but . . . I spent the last few days reading the book pictured above.

Let me for the record state I didn’t buy said book (thank god). Friend handed all three to me and said “Enjoy!”

Let me for the record state I have never read a bodice-ripper in my life, so I’m not familiar with the romance genre and therefore have no context by which to evaluate this title. If you are a romance fan (or maybe I should say erotica fan . . . are they two different genres or simply two ends of the spectrum?) I invite you to enlighten me.

Let me for the record state I had no idea what the book is about because I’m primarily a non-fiction gal and I hadn’t picked up on the buzz.  I think I had heard the word “porn” used about this book, but I had not heard “BDSM.” So, yeah, I walked in blind.

But now let me state this: I know good writing when I see it and I’ve seen (savored, actually) volumes of it in my lifetime. I like to think I’ve even strung together a decent phrase here and there. I was NOT shocked by the sexually explicit narrative. But I was absolutely floored that such horrid writing, meager characterization, ridiculous dialogue, bad grammar, and page after page after page of repetitive and cliched imagery could be strung together, sold to the masses, and rise to the top of the Times list. Holy cow . . . I’ve apparently been out of the popular fiction category for a long, long time.

I was talking to another friend who has read it and she said “I like good smut as much as the next middle-aged married woman, but I think the most disturbing thing is that it’s porn, bad porn, written on a 4th grade level. That’s just wrong.”

We joked I would title this post “See Dick and Jane F*&$.” But that’s just wrong, too, so I refrained.

I get how filmed porn turns out the way it does. But I guess I thought if you were going to the trouble to write porn, there’s an advantage to doing it well. I told Mr. Mom that to my way of thinking, a narrative template for porn that could be wildly successful involves a happy marriage, an attentive husband, AND sexual fireworks.  Maybe I should write that story and see if I can get as rich as James.

By the way, on my beside table right now in various stages of completion are:

  • In one person by John Irving (literary fiction)
  • The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking (science non-fiction)
  • Griftopia by Matt Taibbi (non-fiction social criticism)
  • No impact man (non-fiction activism)
  • Acceptance and commitment therapy: an experiential approach to behavior change by Hayes, Strosahl and Wilson (academic psychology text)

Add “50 Shades” to that pile and it’s pretty easy to figure out which one isn’t like the rest.

So, really, I shouldn’t even say a word. This book is out of my league.

But it did prompt a bit of soul-searching, which the best and worst of popular culture always does for me. Mostly my inner dialogue was something like “Really? This is how millions of women want to be entertained? No wonder my blog hits are so low. What happened to nobility and writing with the power to uplift and improve, as well as provoke? Where are our better angels?

This summer, it seems, they’re in the smut aisle.

With gratitude {for the real-life formula that beats contrived fiction any day},

Joan, who thinks maybe Mr. Mom is on to something when he asserted that 25% of males 50 and older suffer from ED so it’s no wonder 50 shades is a chart-topper

Welcome home, Mr. Mom.

Dear friends,

Mr. Mom will be home today. He’s only been gone for a few days, but I miss him terribly. In honor of his return, I’m republishing a story I wrote about him for Valentine’s Day a few years ago. He might be a creaky old man, but he’ll always be my sweetheart.

With gratitude {for love, sweet love},

Joan, who loves to call her man an old man with various other adjectives preceding it depending on her mood

A Valentine.

First published February 14, 2009

Twenty-three years and 52 days ago, I met Mr. Mom on a blind date.  And six years later we got married by the skin of our teeth.

But today — when I’m reminded of the particular way Cupid’s arrow pierced my heart so long ago —  I feel like meditating on love’s bloom.  After all, a Valentine is nothing if not a promise, and what could possibly offer more promise than the heady fragrance, alluring color and enduring propagation of love’s blossom?

A couple of weeks ago I had lunch with a girlfriend who was on the outs with her husband.  She didn’t want to vent so much as she needed a sympathetic ear to walk with her down marriage’s meandering path.  I listened and she processed, and by the time lunch was over she left with new insights and a softened heart.  But in the middle of our discussion about love’s annoyances, I inexplicably thought of a story about Mr. Mom, which I told her, but not without choking back tears.

And it seemed so strange to me, this sudden sweep of emotion over Pad Thai in a noisy restaurant during a conversation that was essentially about the millions of ways the male species make us bat-shit crazy.  And they do make us crazy . . . so crazy that on certain days, a certain woman might be inclined to sew her husband up in the sheets.

I know this doesn’t make sense to you.  It’s one of those inside jokes all couples have — code language that communicates emotion in an instant.

In our house, “sewing him up in the sheets” refers to a story Mr. Mom first told years ago and swears is true.  He claims he knows a guy who knows a guy who drank too much and had a tendency to get ugly with the wife when he drank.  And one night, after years of enduring drunken ugliness, the woman waited for her husband to pass out, then she sewed him up in the sheets.  And once he had been securely stitched in place, she picked up a baseball bat and beat the holy hell out of him.  And according to Mr. Mom’s legend, the man never drank or acted ugly again.

And Mr. Mom knows when I say I’m going to sew him up in the sheets that I’m on the edge of crazy and his next word might just push me over the cliff.  But what he probably doesn’t know is that, sometimes, the telling of his kindness moves me to tears.

My mother met Mr. Mom not long after I did.  And she only said two things to me about him.  First: “Lord, Joan-Marie, that is the skinniest boy I’ve ever seen.”  And second: “He’s very kind.”

I’d like to think that 23 years ago I was smart enough to know kindness is the first mark of a good man, but I wasn’t.  I think it’s a lesson the universe wanted me to learn — how to be kind and generous — and so I ended up with a partner whose every day in our home is marked by putting others first. Some readers might be inclined to assume I’m talking about everything Mr. Mom does for me.  And heaven knows he does a lot.  But I’m not talking about how much I love him because he cooks and cleans and runs errands and cares for children and generally makes my life easier.  If you read this post, you know there were many years of our marriage when our roles were reversed, when he worked very long hours and I carried much of the domestic burden.  So while his kindness is today marked by an uncommon level of service to our family, it wasn’t always that way.

But what has been a constant from Mr. Mom is a measure of respect and affection I don’t often see in other men.  There’s always been the sense from Mr. Mom that we’re in this together, no matter what, and that partners give first, take later.  I didn’t know that when I met him and it’s a lesson I still sometimes fail at today — both as a spouse and as a parent.  But his enduring example leads me toward a better me, the me I aspire to see reflected in his gaze.

When Kate was born 16  years ago, we spent a few extra days in the hospital because the little squirt had demanded a difficult c-section.  And during one of those luxuriously quiet evenings in our hospital room when both sleep and nursing help were still plentiful, I invited Mr. Mom to join Kate and me in the bed.  As the three of us spooned in the twilight and the silence, I whispered to him “Everything good in my life has come from you.”  I have no idea if he remembers that moment or the sentiment, but I still feel as strongly about those words as I did on that day.  He is my genesis, bringing both love and joy into a life that would be adrift without his sure rudder.

In case you’re curious about the story I recently told my friend, the story that moved me to tears of gratitude during a conversation in which she’s sharing love’s difficulties (yeah, that’s a little awkward), it’s this:

When I graduated with my master’s degree last May, Mr. Mom gave me a special gift.  He’s not known for hitting home runs with gifts, particularly if left to his own devices.  In fact, I once told him he’s a 2 on a gift-giving scale of 1-to-10.  But on that day, which represented the culmination of years of hard work and personal sacrifice and a lifetime of feeling like I’ve never quite done enough, he handed me a small jewelry box.  At first, I thought he might have actually gone for the grand gesture and purchased a diamond of some sort.  Instead, I was surprised to open the box and find a small pewter turtle inside.  And then he said this:

“In Native American mythology, the turtle represents burden because it carries the world on its back.  And you’ve been the turtle for so long in our family.  Now that you’ve accomplished this very significant achievement, I hope you’ll release some of your burden, let go of worry, and enjoy your life with me and the kids.”

And how can a girl possibly turn down an offer like that?

Red alert.

Dear friends,

Not me, but I wish.

Source: Pinterest

In contrast to Tuesday, Wednesday was a very good day. (Down, up . . . remember when I said life is a rollercoaster?)

The chief reason for my Wednesday goodness was 90 minutes spent at the salon. New color, new cut, a lip wax, a couple of glasses of wine because my stylist is just that cool, and all is well in my world.

When I got home, Mr. Mom was trying to tell me a story from his day, but I was a little preoccupied with my hair. I was standing in front of the mirror, frankly admiring the color job and inspecting my upper lip, when I interrupted his story and said “But do you like my hair?”

I’m married to a man of vast patience who does not insist, really ever, that his needs come first. And after all these years, he’s used to me interrupting him. So he stopped talking, took a long look at my hair, and finally said. “Yes. I do like it.” (Bing, bing, bing! Give the man a prize for his excellent answer!)

“What about the color?” I said. “It’s redder. Do you like this color?”

“Sure,” he said, in what sounded like a sincere tone. Then he paused for a moment and finally offered, “It doesn’t look all that different to me. I liked it before and I like it now and it doesn’t seem like much of a change.” (Quick quiz for any males reading: Is this a safe answer for a husband?)

I must have given him a funny look (read: not a safe answer) because he quickly responded: “Honestly, honey, I’m probably not the best person to ask. I mean, you’re talking to a man who didn’t even comb his hair today.”

And there you have it. The entire secret of our happy marriage: Yin and Yang.

Well, that and brutal honesty.

With gratitude {for the man, who 27 years earlier called to invite me to dinner and was told no, not tonight, because of an unfortunate encounter with Miss Clairol that resulted in moss green hair, and who was completely, unreservedly undeterred by something as inconsequential as dating a girl with green hair},

Joan, who in her lifetime has been a tall blonde, a tall brunette, a tall redhead, a tall green-headed toad, and is currently sporting a lovely blend of all those shades except green

You and me’s just a Fool’s Paradise.

Dear Friends,

I came home from Florida yesterday, still smelling of sunshine and seafood but tingling with anticipation to see my family.

Seventy-two hours is nothing to be away when you’re busy working and trying to eek out a little fun in between the work.  But it’s a lifetime when you’re in a hotel late at night, uncomfortable in a bed that’s not yours, listening to strange sounds from a strange parking lot outside your window instead of the breathing of the man next to you, whose breathing you adore and which makes you feel like everything in your life is safe and good as long he’s breathing next to you.

When I’m away from my family, it’s the little things I miss.  And for some odd reason, Sunday night as I went to bed for my last night in Florida and reflected on those little things, I thought of this:

Mr. Mom and I are serious fans of the Coen brothers. (You know, Joel and Ethan, writers and producers of some of the most brilliantly scripted movies of the last 25 years?) Mr. Mom introduced me to them via Raising Arizona when we first started dating. And ever since, he’s been quoting select lines from that movie and many other Coen classics whenever a situation applies.

For example, like the bumbling bank robber Gale Snoats (John Goodman) in Raising Arizona, I have a habit of telling Mr. Mom to do two things at once. In the film, Snoats shouts at his victims to freeze and to get down on the ground, to which a puzzled hayseed replies: Well, which is it young feller? You want I should freeze or get down on the ground? Mean to say, if’n I freeze, I can’t rightly drop. And if’n I drop, I a-gonna be in motion.

So whenever I issue two orders at once to Mr. Mom, he always stops, smiles and says: Well which is it young lady? You want I should stir the pot or get the milk out of the frig? Mean to say , if’n I stir the pot . . .

I could recite a long list of other examples of Coen dialogue in our routine conversations, but one that really tickles me is that lately Mr. Mom has taken to quoting Raising Arizona to Kate’s Chihuahua, Sweetpea. There’s a scene in the movie where . . . well, just watch for yourself (it’s only 30 seconds long).


Mr. Mom is the one who, more times than not, lets Sweetpea out of her crate in the morning and follows her through the house to open the back door for her potty break. Sweetpea runs out of her crate in Kate’s room and down the hallway and, at the exact point she must turn to go to the door, Mr. Mom says in his best Ed McDunnough (Holly Hunter) voice, “Turn to the right!”

I don’t know if Mr. Mom knows I hear this every morning. And I don’t know if he knows I smile every time I hear it. But I do know that quoting Raising Arizona to Kate’s dog is only one tiny reason I find him so wonderfully essential to my life.

With gratitude {for our little Fools’ Paradise},

Joan, who’s pretty sure Sweetpea enjoys Mr. Mom’s humor, too, even if she hasn’t exactly said so