Motivational Psychology and Marital Bliss

The cactus he would bring me from Arizona
The cactus he would bring me from Arizona

In 1996, I married the adorable man who proved, when we were dating, that he was metaphorically willing to uproot a massive cactus from the desert and bring back to me.  18 years later, sitting across from a tender but completely uncomfortably dressed “Tin Man” in his brand new, trendy yet stiff Baldwin jeans I insisted he wear, I realize that my husband truly is THE SAME MAN I FELL IN LOVE WITH.  I am lucky.  This is a wondrous truth that many women cannot uncover amidst the clutter of annoyances and distractions that make up our lives.


20 years later, trying to walk in stiff jeans
20 years later, trying to walk in stiff jeans

 I had chosen something “trendy and fresh” for him to wear – and “given” it to him for Father’s Day.  Selfish me.  My husband would have preferred  a new pair of cargo shorts from Costco.

I was a little irritated, at first, when the expression of exasperation began creeping onto his face during our anniversary dinner.  But then we began laughing.  This ridiculously confining “millennial outfit” I had forced him to wear became a metaphor for our strange yet powerful union:  over the years, we each asked seemingly impossible things of the other and the marriage grew stronger and more resilient in spite of the war wounds those changes left behind.

If you are reading this and it makes no sense, maybe you haven’t been married long enough to experience the tug-of-war that marriage can be at times.  Or maybe you chose a spouse more like than unlike you.  In any event, I am happy I chose my husband, so completely opposite myself in every way.  I humbly acknowledge his willingness to don stiff pants to make me happy and I will never ask him to wear them again.

Like a circus trainer holding a fiery hoop, I have challenged this sweet man to jump to prove his love and adoration and he has never failed.  I think after 18 years and 2 children, I can put the circus props and stiff jeans to rest and let my spouse be himself!

No more of this!
No more of this!

It’s not a circus act, it is a LIFE.  There are many days when I feel as though the demands of marriage and family are seriously cramping my style.  But then the image of my sweet husband in those stiff pants creeps back into my memory and I laugh out loud:  he has done his fair share of operating outside his comfort zone, too!

Welcome To My Mid-Life Crisis

9 lives2002_mini_cooper_s-pic-8750964173784534205556964_3969215241468_697743296_nWho ARE these people that become so selfish and self-absorbed in their late 40’s and 50’s?  Pathetic.  Cliche.  So. Not. Me.


I have decided that I need a lobotomy or a conversion experience or both to expel the demons of MID-LIFE CRISIS lurking within!

We have all witnessed the predictable path of men’s mid-life:  the younger woman, the sports car, the sudden interest in physical appearance.  Cliche, right?  I lived through a mid-life crisis, of sorts, with my husband who is 11 years older than me.  His was definitely fraught with personal and financial torment, but it brought us closer instead of farther apart.  It made our family stronger.  Now it’s my turn.  And thank goodness I woke up and recognized it for what it was (is) before it was (is) too late.  True to my character, I’ll refer to my mid-life crisis in one simple phrase:  OVER-INDULGENT.

My life is becoming the metaphor of drinking from a fire hydrant to satisfy one’s thirst.  It’s too big, too much, too fast.  I suspected that navigating my children’s adolescence while walking through my own mid-life might be tricky.  They need guidance, wisdom and support from a SANE adult who is willing and able to step outside of the self and enter the world of the young adult’s psyche without the need for affirmation or adulation.  Let me repeat:  without affirmation or adulation.  That’s the part that stings!  Four years ago, when my daughter began her journey into adolescence and our family was undergoing a massive uprooting from our rural dream life back to the city, I used to joke innocently, I thought, about “Momma’s not getting a lot of love back these days.”

 The unsolicited hugs and flattering emulation had come to a screeching halt.  I was becoming “invisible” and it hurt.


Fast forward four years later with a husband who is turning 59 and a son in the throes of adolescence, too.  I realize my entire identity has been wrapped up in 3 separate individuals for more than a decade – my children and my husband.  And I am angry with myself.  I feel robbed of my youth.  I am going to REBEL!!!!!

Enter “Party Girl” Joanie, living large in the city.  Meeting peeps for drinks.  Sipping on amazing wine while making dinner.  Just being glamorous, right?  WRONG.  Oh, so wrong.  One drink every other day became two drinks every night.  And recently, it became A BOTTLE.  There was never ENOUGH of ANYTHING to affirm that I was ALIVE and SEPARATE FROM MY FAMILY.  My own cool mid-life self – living as though I had 9 lives.  But I only have 1.  Time to re-evaluate.

I thank GOD for the wisdom of my 15-year-old daughter and the unwavering love of my gentle husband who have enlightened me of late about my reckless behavior.  But in a way a rebel can accept and digest – non-threatening.  My daughter simply asked me recently whether I would be willing to remain sober long enough to pick her up at 10:00 PM from a party.  Simple and direct question, right?  It felt like a thunderbolt jarring my brain into a million pieces!  What is WRONG with this picture when your daughter has to ask such a question?

My “aha” moment was brief and we all escaped relatively unscathed.  I am 36 days sober today and plan to stay that way – after all, I am just as “interesting” over-indulging in sugar-free popsicles as I was champagne!  Now to the paradigm shift in my parenting and relating to young adults versus small children.  As tough as it is, I am beginning to accept that I can shift from a total domination decision-making model to a shared one with my kids.

When my daughter was about 3 and struggling with sharing her toys at play group, her adorably honest retort to the nonstop encouragement from adults to “share with others” was:  “I want to share with ME!”.  This is the battle I find waging within my middle-aged heart and soul as it confronts the challenges and responsibilities I have taken on in my life.   But I am not going to express my frustration in ways that drive my family apart and tear at the fabric of my most important relationships any longer.  I am putting my “BIG GIRL” panties on and moving forward towards 50, muffin top and all.

Yes, you heard me right:  I am at that delightful age where I weigh more than my IQ!


So, together with my bruised ego and expanding waistline, I choose to embrace Mid-Life and all the AWKWARDNESS it brings.  Ironically, I am going through a more awkward phase than my adolescents.  But it is THEIR time of discovery, not mine.  I can choose, every day, to “rebel” a little in ways that are harmless and not self-destructive.  I think I will get a Mini-Cooper!




The Women Behind Us All

Mary Blanche Greenwell
Far right, my Hot and Happening Aunt Blanche in the Waves

I recently went on a self-indulgent, whiny rant about how it is still not possible for women to “have it all” (career and family).  It was misguided.  It quickly became apparent to me from my friends’ reactions that my preoccupation with the notion of “having it all” is obsolete and a waste of time.  Smart women make use of their talents and available resources to craft “manageable,” healthy lives for themselves and their families every single day.  So what was I bitching about?  Maybe the gnawing feeling I have had since my 30’s that, for me, juggling 2 kids, a household and a career is more than I can handle?  Maybe a sense of disillusionment over a lie the feminists of the 70’s “sold” to women of my generation – that, not only COULD we have it all but we simply MUST?

I was raised by a traditional 1950’s housewife with 7 children.  As the youngest child, I had the unique opportunity to observe from the “caboose” the long train ahead of me that was our family life.  I know my Mother struggled to give each one of us what we needed while also compromising her personal desires to be a writer, artist, social reformer and business woman.  She simply did not have the time in one lifetime to do it all – like the rest of us. Enter my Mom’s greatest personal supporter – her Aunt Blanche.  Born in 1907, the only girl in a family of 8 children, Mary Blanche Greenwell became one of the first Waves in the United States Navy to arrive in Seattle during World II.  Witty, fun-loving and kind-hearted Aunt Blanche was my Mother’s childhood anchor.  She cherished her precocious niece.  For one thing, little Rhetta looked more like Aunt Blanche than her own Mother and this tickled her.  When Aunt Blanche left for the Waves, my Mom was a young girl, an aspiring journalist.  Mom remembers typing victory speeches and mailing them off to Aunt Blanche who was away serving in the Waves. Today, the 70th Anniversary of D-day, is a perfect opportunity to reflect on our heritage and the women who paved the way for later generations to “have it all.”  I am grateful beyond words for my great-Aunt Blanche and her service to this Country.  Above all, I am thankful that she loved my Mom so well all throughout her life.  She gave Mom a sense of meaning, hope and connection through the tough years of raising 7 young children born within a 12-year span.

In a letter written to my Mother in 1960 after she became a mother of 1 child herself, Aunt Blanche wrote:  “Even I with my one, decisions to make work to get done always hanging over me – I get overcome and feel that it’s too much.  Then I get remorseful and feel above all that I’m not a good mother because I get so cross. I’m sure every mother feels this way.”

These were compassionate and comforting words to my Mother from the woman she admired most in all the world.  Somehow, both women carried on, mothering and living and juggling it all simultaneously.  I cannot possibly believe that my silly little rants about “having it all” should be taken seriously with the humbling heritage of strong women I am fortunate to have in my life!

The Neighbors to the East

Image  What do property lines, cemeteries and Memorial Day have in common?  A short poem by me might help illuminate:  

We’ve got neighbors to the East and neighbors to the West

But the neighbors six feet under

are the ones we like best!

I am a taphophile.  The Urban Dictionary defines taphophilia as “a love of funerals, graves and cemeteries.”  So it is no surprise  that living across from one of the most beautifully maintained, serenely perched cemeteries for 6 years brought me immense joy.  Especially since my front door faced East and the light reflecting from the many headstones at sunset cast a brilliant bronze and pink aura across a rolling lawn of native Kansas prairie grass each and every evening.  Sigh.  The sunsets and that special reflecting light from the headstones in the cemetery got into my soul.  And the nagging neighbors did everything in their power to kill my swag (as I have overheard my kids say).

Just West of our beautiful bucolic home and surrounding acreage things were far less pleasant.  The neighbors wanted justice by any means and their leader was “The Gray Man,” innocently dubbed so by my seven-year-old daughter who often witnessed him patrolling our pastoral route in front of our home she named “the twisty road.”  Long before our family arrived in this Land of Wonders called Kansas, a Homeowner’s Association had established covenants about the use of its subdivision land.  Conflict arose over differing opinions when what we believed to be our back yard was, in their opinion, the neighborhood park.  Fighting over a tiny parcel of land that had originally belonged to Osage Indians made life with young children in a small community entertaining for locals and tedious for our household.  But the neighbors could never rob me of my nightly sunsets and fantastic strolls through Highland Cemetery.  

In 2009, our battles with “The Gray Man” and his posse were in their 5th year and, quite frankly, becoming most redundant for me.  I sought solace in the beauty of the cemetery and it was there that I discovered a most wondrous treasure:  the headstones of our newly inaugurated 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama’s great-grandparents, Rolla and Leona Payne.  Ha!  Rememberef as fine, hard-working Midwesterners by neighbors, the Paynes retired to Winfield in 1956 until their death and burial across the street from my future home in 1968.  To me, this ironic fact reduced all the petty bickering with the neighbors to the West to mere folly.  Like the Paynes, my family were outsiders seeking nothing more than the same peace and serenity from a land that never really rightfully belonged to anyone except Native Americans.  Covenants be damned!  Image


Each Memorial weekend hundreds of families visited the beautiful cemetery on the twisty road that was once a haven of peace for mea and a treasure trove of silk flowers, blown by the fierce Kansas winds from their proper places, retrieved by my children and gifted to me to grace our dining room table.  The table which overlooked our beloved neighbors to the East.

Why The Lunch Lady Should Be Every Kid’s Best Friend


I served a six-month “term” (or “sentence,” in some cases!) as a Food Service Aide in an elementary school.  YES, Glamorous JOANIE was a LUNCH LADY!!!  And you know what?  It was my favorite job ever!  Once you get past the weird smells, unpleasant kitchen co-workers, ridiculous rules, loud clanging noises and insufferable heat, being a Lunch Lady ain’t half bad!  Here’s why:  imagine being the ONLY person in a child’s school day who is there simply to pleasantly provide a service with no expectations beyond basic courtesy.  This truth is every Lunch Lady’s secret weapon, but we don’t all use this super power to its maximum potential.

During my six month hiatus from the adult world working as an elementary school lunch lady, I met all kinds of lunch ladies:  young moms looking to earn a little cash while their children attended school; retirement-aged lonely widows whose grandchildren are grown; exasperated older women trying to get away from recently retired husbands, or worse, husbands who had been laid off from long-term careers and possibly robbed of their retirement benefits; fun moms (ME!) and last, complete and total social misfits (also me!) just looking to work 9 months out of the year with few hassles and do whatever weird thing they are into the other 3 months.  So you see, children encountered Lunch Ladies that ran the full spectrum of personal commitment to the HAIR NET SOCIETY.

I first decided I LOVED being a lunch lady when my boss told me not to EVER help any child, for any reason, acquire food that was not paid for.  REALLY?  This sounded odd to me but I soon realized what kind of ridiculous pressure school food programs are under to “turn a profit.”  The goal really is to meet government standards to maximize the school’s reimbursement potential.  Somewhere far down the line is the goal to nourish children’s minds and bodies to encourage and support healthy growth and natural curiosity to learn.  “Charlie,” (I can’t possibly remember the child’s actual name), shuffled toward the lunchroom cash register one day wanting to have a second milk. My boss was glaring “knowingly” at me as if to remind me that this was a major “lunchroom offender” of the worst kind:  he did not have enough money in his account for a second milk!!!!  What’s a compassionate Lunch Lady to do???  What any loving MOM would do.  I slipped the kid an extra milk (so what?) and put 35 cents of my own money in the register.  Big deal.  The next day, “Charlie” did not try the same “trick” again.  Instead, he very sweetly whispered in my ear, “Thank you for what you did for me.”  Our trusting bond was established!  “Charlie’s” body and soul had been nourished (come on, people, kids don’t suddenly become “consumers” when they enter the lunchroom – they are kids and if you aren’t nice to them, within reason, lunch just becomes another set of expectations they have to meet to gain your approval).

I knew I was sunk in my total adoration for the children that went through the lunch line when I decided to place a balloon on my cash register station to announce my birthday and encourage hugs from my darling patrons!  And hugs abounded that day.  So why did I quit this dream job, you wonder?  It was not because of the children or the school environment.  I think at a certain point it just did not feel fun anymore because of the pressure to make the lunchroom a profitable business.  I am not criticizing the school lunch program, I understand it is not all fun and games.  School lunchrooms are almost as heavily regulated as hospitals and long-term care facilities.  To work there requires a commitment to regulatory standards first and devotion to the “clients” next.  That was the wrong order for me.

But I will always have my “invisanet” (ew!  hairnets are made with actual human hair now for a more “natural” look!) to remind me of the most humbling and fulfilling job I ever had. In short, be nice to your Lunch Lady:  there could be an extra corn dog nugget in it for you someday!



My Rescue Dog Rescued Me

I have never been a “dog person.”  But 2 years ago, consumed with grief over the passing of my Dad, I went looking for answers.  For months after Dad died, nothing felt the same.  I was beginning to worry I might not ever experience life the way I had before again.

Draped across my couch one Sunday evening, I turned to The Long Island Medium, Theresa Caputo, for help.  Her readings give surviving loved ones so much hope and comfort.  Her common message is, “Know that your loved one is present with you.”  So, I asked Dad, “If you are present, could you show me a sign?”.

The next morning I got my sign.  Unleashed Pet Rescue placed an adorable, unforgettable photo on Facebook of the canine love of my life, Pudgey, the cocker spaniel puppy.  I reached for the phone and called Mom to ask her what kind of dog Dad had when they met.  “A cocker spaniel,” she answered.  “What was his name,” I asked.  “Pudgey.”  I hung up the phone and never looked back!  Even though I had promised my sweet husband I would never do anything as reckless and irresponsible as adopt a puppy without his consent, that is exactly what I did.

Pudgey and I hit it off famously in that special “meet and greet” room for potential pet owners and their new pets.  Everyone working at the shelter that morning already knew my story and they were all pulling for Pudgey to hitch a ride back home with me.  They explained that Dad had probably encountered Pudgey at the infamous (not to me, anyhow) “Rainbow Bridge” in heaven.  Dad had loved and held his childhood pet then decided to return him to Earth to comfort his baby girl. I BOUGHT IT AND THE PUPPY and off we went from the Rainbow Bridge to my house in Fairway, Kansas.

If Pudgey was my destiny, I reasoned with myself, and my Dad actually was sending me his childhood puppy from the Rainbow Bridge in heaven, then of course Mike would understand.  Wrong!  It took several days for Mike to come around to accepting my totally impulsive, irrational adoption decision.  It was fall and by summer, Mike and Pudgey were inseparable.  And the grief that had once enveloped me like a heavy fog had subsided.

Eckart Tolle, spiritual teacher and author, believes that dogs and cats bring us closer to our Divine selves by helping us be fully present in the moment.  Unlike humans, cats and dogs are not preoccupied with ego-driven fears and concerns such as worrying about whether or not one is liked.  They are too happy having fun in the here and now!  I know I am a healthier, happier person because of the relationship I have with my adorable dog, Pudgey.  I will never live without a canine buddy ever again.  Woof!


Forgot his darling picture!!!!

Cheeky Street

Dickie Have you ever known somebody so interesting, enigmatic and universally loved that they could go by just one name? That was my Dad, “Dickie.” In fact, Dickie had such a quick wit and unique nature he had more followers than friends. When our family was planning a celebration to remember him, friends lovingly referred to the event as “Dickiepalooza!”.

Dickie was one of those guys who preferred to be in his chair at home undisturbed. But when you took him someplace, he was always the funniest, most charming guy in the room. I loved the fact that I was his youngest child and 5th daughter. I felt it gave me a special cache, a claim to fame.

The best part about Dickie was his utter lack of interest in others’ fascination with him. He was just doing what he did. Watching him as I was growing up, I learned many…

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DickieHave you ever known somebody so interesting, enigmatic and universally loved that they could go by just one name? That was my Dad, “Dickie.” In fact, Dickie had such a quick wit and unique nature he had more followers than friends. When our family was planning a celebration to remember him, friends lovingly referred to the event as “Dickiepalooza!”.

Dickie was one of those guys who preferred to be in his chair at home undisturbed. But when you took him someplace, he was always the funniest, most charming guy in the room. I loved the fact that I was his youngest child and 5th daughter. I felt it gave me a special cache, a claim to fame.

The best part about Dickie was his utter lack of interest in others’ fascination with him. He was just doing what he did. Watching him as I was growing up, I learned many essential lessons about life. Here are a few:

1. Always be generous to those in need. Dickie could not stand to see people or animals suffer. One time, our whole family of 9 was at a busy restaurant and our server, a single Mom, dropped the entire tray of food on her way to serve our table. Immediately, Dickie thought about what a huge dent paying for that lost meal might put in her budget. He paid the bill…TWICE!

2. Always dance. All 5 of us girls attended all-female Catholic high schools that hosted annual Father-Daughter dances. It was Dickie’s favorite night of the year. Very light on his feet and possessing lots of rhythm, Dickie was often the last Dad to leave the dance floor, making his daughters so proud.

3. Always keep people guessing. In some ways, maybe he did like being enigmatic. Dickie loved telling the story about the time he and Mom were eating at a well-known New York City restaurant where my sister-in-law was working (Joe Allen). Because everybody loved Linda, the staff made sure Mom and Dad experienced top-notch service. They were seated near a table that included Jeremy Irons, Charles Grodin and Steve Martin. Dad noticed the 3 actors motion to the server as they were watching his table. While nodding towards my parents, Dickie and Rhetta from Portageville, Missouri, one of these fabulously famous actors asked, “Are they anybody?”.

4. He knew me. My sweet husband told me this the day Dad passed away in 2011. This touched me profoundly because Dad was pretty much a mystery to me. I do know Dickie was generous with his words of praise and one of the things he admired about me was that I was “totally uninhibited.”

So, Cheeky Street is dedicated to my generous, dancing, unique and loving Dad, whose magnetism puts him in the company of other people with one-word monikers such as Sting, Cher and Madonna: the one and only Dickie!!!