Stick With Me

Let me begin by stating that this entire thing is Bob’s fault.

For as long as we have been together, Bob has tried to get me to invest in really nice running shoes. Bob, a distance runner for decades, has always worn very nice running shoes and he has always encouraged me to do the same.

“You gotta take care of your feet, Joanna,” he would say while shaking his head and looking disparagingly at the soles of my sub-par athletic footwear.

I’m very brand loyal (only Asics) but I’ve always selected their most basic running shoe even though Bob has told me over and over again I should buy their high end running shoe.

“I’m not a runner-runner, Bob. I’m more of a jogger. Joggers don’t need fancy shoes,” I would explain before grabbing my coupons for the sporting goods store and hopping in the car to go buy my discount sneakers before the sale ended.

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This past Father’s Day, we set out to do some shopping for Bob and ended up shopping for me instead. This is probably a metaphor for our marriage or something but whatever.

One of our stops was a lovely little running store we have frequented in the past. The store carries my favorite brand of running shoe and, with both a need for a fresh pair and an unfortunate increase in heel pain, I reluctantly agreed to try on Bob’s favorite high-end version.

“You know this is all hype,” I declared loudly while lacing up a shoe that cost roughly the same as my parents’ first house.

Then, I stood up, started walking gingerly around the store and was utterly dismayed to discover that my heels felt like they were being cradled by unicorn hooves and cotton candy clouds, so amazingly comfortable and supportive were these fancy, fancy running shoes. This was not the outcome I had anticipated.

Now, the rules of marriage dictate that you admit when you’re wrong but I do not like doing that so I put the shoes back and went to look at a cut-rate version. The salesperson, wisely assessing that she was not standing in front of some full-price-paying sucker, was quick to inform me that the version I had tried on was actually last year’s model and were thus, deeply discounted. This was exactly the motivation my Midwestern sensibility needed to close the deal. I may not have had a coupon but a hefty discount was involved bringing the overall price point down into a range that wouldn’t make my pioneer forefathers cry.

I bought the fancy running shoes. Bob wore an air of, “I told you so.”

For about two months, there was nothing but joy in wearing my new shoes. They were so supportive and my arches were so happy. We picked up a new pair for Bob, too, in July and that’s how we came to be wearing matching running shoes and I can only assume matching tracksuits are not too far behind because marriage is magical like that.

At some point last month, I noticed that a part of the left sole of my new shoe was sticking to the floor as I walked. I assumed I had stepped in something – probably something gross on my own kitchen floor – and I just needed to rinse the bottom of my shoe off. I did that but discovered the next day that it hadn’t worked.

A few more walks on our gravel roads that I was sure would rub any soda or fruit snack residue off failed to do so and I found myself still listening to an increasingly annoying click-click of my left shoe sticking to the floor with every step I took. I couldn’t really see anything visible on the underside of the shoe that would be sticky so I was flummoxed.

That’s when I escalated things and turned the problem over to Bob. “It’s sticky somewhere on that shoe and I can’t clean it,” I lamented. Bob lives to be the hero in these types of situations and quickly reached for his pocket knife, eager to solve this problem which he absolutely was unable to solve.

“It’s still clicking?” Bob asked incredulously the next day when I complained that my fancy shoe was still clicking. “But, I cleaned it all out,” he explained. “It’s still clicking,” I confirmed. “Maybe I stepped in some sort of industrial glue or something at work.”

A couple of days later, after the kids started asking what that clicking noise was anytime I walked into the room, I grabbed the rubbing alcohol and a dishrag and got to scrubbing the sole of my new fancy running shoe. “This has GOT to work,” I said to myself in an increasingly frantic fashion.

It did not work.

Now, before I tell you what happened next, I need you to know how absolutely unnerving the clicking noise was. I go for long walks because I am seeking exercise, relaxation, rejuvenation, and a desperate escape from my (annoying but beloved) children. I am often so in need of peace and quiet that most days I don’t even listen to music or podcasts – just the sounds of the nature that surrounds me. You can see why the click-click of every step I took with my left shoe would absolutely enrage me.

Also, and this should be obvious by now, I can be… obsessive about certain things.

Which explains why, one unfortunate afternoon, when the click-click of my fancy running shoes had clicked-clicked one too many times, I asked Charlie to go find me the biggest grit sandpaper he could locate in the basement workroom. I was going to solve this problem once and for all.

Which is how Bob came to find me one evening upon his arrival home from work, sitting in a kitchen chair, sawing away at the sole of my fancy running shoe, little shards of plastic and rubber flying to the floor.

“IT’S STILL CLICKING CAN YOU EVEN BELIEVE THAT BOB I MEAN WHAT ARE THE CHANCES THAT EVERYTHING WE’VE TRIED WOULDN’T WORK YOU KNOW?” I asked with a facial expression akin to Jack Nicholson in The Shining.

The sandpaper had to work. It just HAD to. But, it didn’t. I slipped the shoe on, took a couple of tentative steps, heard the click-click of my left sole on the kitchen floor and promptly passed out from rage.

When I awoke, I was so incensed that I started taking the entire shoe apart. At this point, I was convinced I was going to have to buy a new running shoe anyway because, “I can obviously never wear these again,” Bob heard me mutter as I walked back to the bedroom pulling laces vehemently from their holes.

And, that’s when I found it.

When I pulled out the shoe’s insole, the footbed that slips in and out of the inside of the shoe, the remnants of a security sticker could be seen. One of those security stickers with the silver thing running through it that would set off the store’s alarm if the shoe was taken out the store doors before being deactivated at the register. Located right underneath the ball of my left foot. Over months of sweaty use, the sticker had pretty much disintegrated and slid away so only the sticky residue was left behind. This residue clicked-clicked every time I took a step as the insole came momentarily unstuck from the inside sole of the shoe.

I must admit, it was a very “the call is coming from inside the house” kind of a moment.

After some more scrubbing, the residue was removed from the inside of the shoe, the footbed reseated and, like magic, the clicking ceased. My shoe has recovered. I am not entirely sure I have.

I blame Bob.

On Generosity

The five of us spent a long weekend this past July exploring the western side of our home state of Virginia, puttering down and then back up the Shenandoah Valley. It was a fun few days of exploring places we had never been before. We found downtown Roanoke to be delightfully eclectic and Natural Bridge State Park to be rightfully impressive but, more than any other stop on our trip, we really loved the little town of Lexington, Virginia.

Lexington is home to two universities that sit, quite literally, side by side: Washington and Lee University and Virginia Military Institute. We set out to explore both while we were in town. We learned that Washington and Lee was named to honor, in part, George Washington. He saved the school from what was certain closure in 1796 through the gift of about $20,000 in stock. A gift that, at the time, was tremendous. It allowed the university to stay afloat and continue operations.

A friend had recommended touring the Lee Chapel while we were on campus so we headed there next. We were probably the only ones on the tour that didn’t know Robert E. Lee’s history with the university or that he was buried in the basement with the majority of his family members only one floor removed from where we were standing. The chapel itself was simple but lovely and, as we learned from the docent, had been saved from ruin in the 1960s by a corporate benefactor that funded the restoration of the trusses that give the chapel its beautiful curved interior ceiling.

A building we would not be standing in on a campus that would no longer exist if not for the generosity of others.

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When our summer travels took us back to the Midwest earlier this month, we decided to break up the long drive with an overnight stop near Pittsburgh. I booked a hotel and messaged a lovely friend I met earlier this year that I remembered lived nearby. I asked if she’d like to meet up for dinner and we made plans to pick a restaurant. When I mentioned I’d have my family with me, she didn’t even hesitate to suggest that we all congregate at her house instead and order in pizza. “The kids can jump on the trampoline and run around,” she explained. I’d never been to her home or met her children or husband nor had she met mine but when she realized we’d all be there, after traveling a fair distance in the car, she was quick to offer an evening that would be easier on everyone.

During that same trip home, a neighbor from the street I grew up on made the same offer when I asked about grabbing lunch together while we were in town. I used to babysit her kids when I was Henry’s age and I had not seen her or her husband in way too long. She didn’t even blink before suggesting we all congregate at her house for lunch. Which we did, spending a glorious afternoon in her home and on her back deck, enjoying great food and great company and gorgeous midwest summer weather which is better than anyone else’s summer weather anywhere. It was so much more pleasant than navigating a restaurant with my three kids.

Two generous women, crafting some of our favorite memories of the trip through something as simple as hospitality.

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Millie has recently taken up skateboarding. She borrows Charlie’s board and helmet and tools around the garage or the nearby school’s playground. I’m not surprised. Millie and skateboarding: makes sense. Last weekend, she convinced Bob to take her to Starbucks and then over to the skate park in the neighboring town. Bob said yes. Bob always says yes.

Now, the skate park is an intimidating place. The first time we took Charlie there, he was too overwhelmed to enter the fray. But, Millie wanted in. In with all of the people that really know how to skate. The experts whizzing by without helmets and knee pads – or shirts – doing fancy footwork and trick moves. It’s all very busy. Except for the teenager there early that Saturday morning that wasn’t too busy to spend 45 minutes teaching Millie some basic skateboarding skills. Bob relayed the story about how kind and patient this kid was. I was surprised and also touched at how much time he had spent with her.

Turns out, Bob said the kid was there with his father who was also helpfully pointing out useful things his kid could teach Millie.

Generational generosity, taught by example.

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I’ve been looking for more ways to be generous. Looking for more ways to give of my time, my talents, my voice, my money. It’s so easy to get busy and frazzled and to forget. Forget to help. The teacher that needs a room parent. The friend that needs a night out. The kid that needs an unbelievable amount of patience.

Generosity is rarely about the big stuff, like saving a university. It’s really all about the other stuff – the smaller stuff.

My hope is that we all find ways to be more generous. To recognize a need and step in to fill it.

Can’t hurt, might help, as the saying goes.

Strung Together

On a recent weekend away, we stopped at a national park to take a look around. The temperatures that day had climbed into the high 90s and it was unbearably hot. As Henry stepped out of the car, he lamented the heat exclaiming, “UGH. It’s so HUMID.”

From somewhere on the other side of the car, Millie replied calmly and clearly, “No, that’s just the sweat of your enemies you’re feeling.”

One morning a couple of weeks ago, Bob decided to make pancakes for the kids. It’s always fun to watch them groggily emerge from their bedrooms following the scent of maple syrup. When Millie wandered in, Bob immediately went to embrace her in a good morning hug which she crankily declined.

“If you even so much as look at me, I will stab you in the brain with this fork,” she declared whilst wielding her breakfast cutlery. We all looked up from our assorted tasks and collectively responded, “Whoa, dude. That’s way harsh.” Millie looked at Bob and exclaimed cheerily, “I’M JUST JOKING!”

As she turned and walked towards the table we heard her mutter under her breath, “Don’t worry. This fork probably couldn’t penetrate the skull anyway.”

Everything is fine but also we’re all sleeping with one eye open.

Speaking of Millie, she is our easiest-to-please eater. She always has been. She’ll try most any food. She’s adventurous and curious. She gets ridiculously excited about her favorite foods. She’s positively giddy when I make her most treasured meal – ground beef tacos seasoned with that orange seasoning mix you get in the packet at the grocery store.

Bolstered by virtually unfettered access to cooking competition shows on Netflix, the kids suggested we have a family cook-off showdown of our own. Charlie and Bob decided to pair off (of course). Millie decided she would be the judge (of course). That left Henry and I as a team (we always are).

Each team picked a night to prepare dinner and Millie had an elaborate and indecipherable points system that took into account originality, presentation, and whether or not dessert was included.

I don’t want to knock Bob’s kitchen skills but Henry and I totally won. Hands down. It… wasn’t even a competition. But, it took like, three hours to prepare dinner from (mostly) scratch and, my word, I would not last as a pioneer wife. I was too tired to even touch the dishes. Also, let me know if you’d like my sister’s winning recipe for meatloaf. There weren’t even any leftovers.

We’ve been making it a point this summer to come together for dinner most nights. Between my work commitments and the kids commitments, both dinner and dinnertime had become a scattered and random affair the first half of the year. We just simply fell out of the habit.

But, we kickstarted the effort this summer. Gathering each night around the dining room table to chat and laugh and linger. And, it’s been lovely. Turns out, my kids are very funny and I enjoy spending time with them after all.

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Speaking of dinner around the table, I finally found the wing chairs for my dining room that I have been searching more than a year for. I found them on Craigslist. I wasn’t sure if people still USED Craigslist but, out of desperation, I logged on looking for wing chairs I was certain I would never find. Turns out, a nice elderly couple downsizing from their large suburban home near the city was selling exactly what I was looking for.

Now, here’s where I admit that I’ve never, ever purchased even a single thing from Craigslist despite using the site years ago to offload dozens of furniture pieces over the course of four homes and two major house renovations. I’ve only ever been a seller. Never a buyer.

I was a little nervous when it came time to pick the chairs up and I had to take Henry for moral support but the couple could not have been nicer, the chairs were exactly as described, and they only smell ever-so-slightly like someone else’s house.

I am now completely addicted to looking for gently used, high-quality furniture at rock bottom prices sold by old people moving to patio homes. Turns out, those are the people still using Craigslist.

Speaking of my new chairs, it feels like the dining area is finally complete. It’s organized and decorated and soothing – something I’m trying to duplicate in every area of our house.

I am on a mission and that mission is to organize the hell out of everything.

I’ve been cleaning and clearing out every corner of our home. Every room. Every closet. Every nightmare underneath-the-bed scenario. Every single space. Ruthlessly discarding every piece of garbage that is anywhere. My kids are so confused, too. I’ve tried to “include them in the process” like all of the good advice columns tell you to do but there is a point where it’s just not really possible anymore and someone has to be the grownup and tell Millie that not every gum wrapper is a treasured piece of art and explain to Charlie that there’s a limit to how many deer skulls one ten-year-old should have in his bedroom.

But, they’re on to me. They know I’ve been throwing things away without their permission. Millie started grilling me about what happened to an Easter basket with a broken handle she got as a party favor two years ago that I dragged out from the back corner of her closet and threw in the garage garbage can approximately six minutes before her interrogation began. I just shrugged my shoulders and said I had no idea. I mean, I’m just straight up lying at this point.

Someday, my kids will read these words and realize that their mother lied and lied to them about what happened to that puzzle of the solar system they never even once put together or that stuffed animal that was kind of ugly and they will confront me with the truth and I still won’t feel even an ounce of guilt.