My Blog has moved.

July 12, 2016 § Leave a comment

Walkswithstress Readers,

Thank you for following my blog so many years ago. I have started writing again and have moved to a new blog location. Please join me!

Thanks for your support!



Changing Rooms

October 5, 2011 § 7 Comments

This week, my only child turns eight.  While this isn’t a momentous milestone, it feels like a transition to me.  My baby…toddler…preschooler…kindergartner… is now my little boy with his own opinions, thoughts, questions, stubbornness (I have no idea where he gets it), and an incredible sense of humor.  I love him because he is outgoing but also introspective, courageous but with a sliver of trepidation that causes him to reach for my hand or look to me for answers before acting on impulse.  He is cautious but not afraid to try…with friends, with school, and even with himself.  I see him stand along boundaries and question the next move.  And I applaud with my heart when he takes the leap.

With this transition of turning eight, I felt a need for change.  In my home, we have two master bedrooms and two smaller bedrooms.  This past weekend, we moved him to the other master bedroom, redecorated, gave him a TV, video games and video chairs, and told him that was his new room.  He went to my sister’s house the day before while we worked on it until midnight and then the next day we covered his eyes, led him up the stairs and said, “Here you go!”  And he went…jumping on his bed, rocking in his chairs, and laughing, as if to say, “Thank you for letting me grow up a little right now.”

 When we decorated the nursery eight years, we put him in one of the smaller rooms.  It felt safe, like that’s where an infant should be.  Even during the dark midnight feedings when I would be dreary-eyed and wander by instinct down the hall like Pavlov’s dog reacting to his cry in the baby monitor by my bed, that room was a haven.  Sometimes I barely opened my eyes as I lifted him from his crib, fed him and rocked him back to sleep. 

I realized while taking down the decorations from his walls this past weekend that every bit of him was reflected in that small room.  His first drawings of Scooby Doo.  His Tae Kwon Do trophies.  An old Thomas the Train chair sitting ragged in the corner.  An enormous plush Elmo, stuffed with love into a corner of the closet – present but hidden so his friends wouldn’t see it.  A library of books ranging from Dr. Suess to The Magic Tree series.  Oh how he grew in that room! Like a construction crew, my husband and I toiled, taking piles of old toys and clothes to charity and trash to the dumpster.  His old room was transformed into a beautiful new guest room; his new room now the next chapter of his life.

When the dust settled, I stopped and looked around, projecting into the future on a day when he might be headed off to college.  I saw an older, more aged version of myself looking around his room and remembering the day when we led him up the stairs and said, “Here you go!”

What would I wish I had taught him before he left our home?  The very things I believe he has already grasped.  Never be afraid to try…with friends, with love, and even with yourself.  When you stand on the edge of your boundaries, be wise enough to stop and think.  Pull back when your gut says no.  Jump with all of your might and courage when your heart says yes.  And know, no matter what, know that you are loved.

Turning eight isn’t a big deal, really.  No major milestone, right? Yet I feel like I’ll remember this birthday forever.   Over the years I have struggled with guilt, self-doubt and worry about my role as a mother.  I have sometimes belittled myself because I work.  Worried that he somehow lost out because I wasn’t there 24/7.  But I seem him – thriving, and I remember that I’m doing okay too.  Last night I heard him sing to himself in the shower.  A happy kid.  And I sighed, thankful.

I hear that the next ten years are the tough ones. God grant me the grace. The patience.  The love.  And the wisdom to remember that he is struggling to know when to jump, when to leap, and when to hold back.  And also the wisdom to know that as a mother, so am I.

For more blogs on parenting, view my blog at Working Mother magazine:

Running or Fleeing?

September 22, 2011 § 3 Comments

My husband and I always have a joke. When we see some lone soul running along the side of a country road, we pose the question, “Is he/she running or fleeing?”  If you could see the faces of these people, sometimes you would assume fleeing, because running is painful…and hard.  Like why in the hell else would they be out there in sub-zero weather, or equator-like heat, to pound out the cement, putting mile after mile behind them with gritted teeth?

Because sometimes running really is all about fleeing.  Because sometimes when you have woken up 100 times in the middle of the night unable to work through all of the ailments, you lace up and go.  When it starts to hurt, you focus. And when you start to focus, you forget that it hurts.  And at the end of trek, you have finally reached resolution.

Tomorrow I’m heading out to do something called RAGNAR, which is a 200-mile relay from Cumberland, MD from Washington, DC.  I’m on a relay team of 12, half of whom are better runners than me.  And I honestly don’t care.  Because it means I still get to run, and pound the cement, and hand off a baton to someone waiting at the other end who is counting on me to show up.  But moreso, it means that the shadows that haunt all day at work (someone cooking raw onions, a loud coworker droning on and on about her kids, the drama, the politics, the ridiculousness of it all) that folds into the rest of my  life (my kid’s homework, what to pack for lunch, don’t forget to make the coffee) becomes compact and synchronized in my thoughts like a package waiting to be opened during a run.  UPS has arrived! Here’s your life, now open each package and address it.  And when I run, I open the packages like they are gifts…one at a time…because I’m sure each requires its own special attention.  This is my life, after all.

So I took two days off of work to run RAGNAR. Collectively, it has cost my team almost $4000, sans charity donations, just to be in this over night excursion over mountains and into city. We’ll sleep in vans in sleeping bags.  We’ll shower in local high school gyms. Somewhere along the line, a church is hosting a spaghetti dinner.

Why am I going? Why have I packed my backpack? Because I need to flee, not run…and deal with myself, all that is lingering, and all that I can’t resolve.  My husband said he’ll meet us at the end, which I really need.  Because the art of fleeing is discovery, a temporary disconnect to gain perspective. The answers sometimes suck but offer fuel to go on and find resolution.  And at the end, when I’ve pounded (or limped through) that last mile, I know that I will crave what I have left behind.  And the miles in between are beautiful because they help me know the difference.

When you see someone roadside, gritted teeth, are they running or fleeing? Sometimes it is both.  Tomorrow I will run the RAGNAR relay to remember that its okay that it can be both.  And that the art of running and fleeing is LIFE.

Why I Will Never Be a Granola Girl

June 2, 2011 § 6 Comments

I decided a long time ago that I was going to become a granola girl. Just like those earthy REI-catalog women, clad in mountain boots, sporty windbreakers and braided hair, I was going to hike trails, eat freeze-dried food and scale great elevations carrying a big backpack. When friends called to traverse a river in a canoe, I would be the go-to girl. Let’s pitch a tent on a mountainside and subsist on the river stream eating God-given nuts and berries!

The reality check took hold soon after when I realized that nature provided no place to shower, pee, or apply my makeup.

Circa 1989; Spring Break of my sophomore year in college. I had traveled to Myrtle Beach for an outdoor camping adventure with my boyfriend and some other friends – earthy people who wore their hair long and their makeup light, nary a curling iron amongst them. I took pause when I saw the tent pitched yards away from the lapping ocean waves but grew more concerned with I saw a pile of outdoor camping “gear” consisting of archaic-looking pans and utensils. An unopened jar of spaghetti sauce rolled on the sand next to a crackling fire which was no doubt produced by rubbing together sticks.

We had passed at least six or seven decent fast food restaurants within a mile of the state park and I wondered out loud, “Why would anyone cook out here when we can have an Egg McMuffin?” I endured eye rolls, snorts, and even overheard someone whisper, “Convenience Camper” to which I tossed my perfectly hair-sprayed hair, stomped away and sat in the air-conditioned car while my boyfriend assembled a tent.

That evening, lying flat on the hard ground with only a thin, sheer layer of nylon taffeta supported by metal poles to protect me from the imminent gruesome death of being eaten by one of alligators roaming the beach, I realized that I was unable to connect with nature in ways others had achieved. I could not hug a tree for fear that a swarm of ants or a wayward squirrel might get me. I feared the tree snake.

Yet the dream to be a granola girl endured. After college when I was fully employed, I had the means to buy gear and I did so with a fervor. Skiis that were used twice. Hiking boots that only ever hiked the corridors of the mall in search of the perfect sale. Bandanas in twelve colors. Backpacks, rugged jeans and the occasional flannel. I would look the part and then become the part!

But sometimes I would forget and arrive for an outdoor adventure unprepared. My brother, a certified organic boy, once invited me to go mountain biking with his friends. I arrived in a perfectly coordinated outfit wearing white shorts, a pink t-shirt and matching ballcap. One-third of the way down the mountain, I drove through a large dung pile no doubt left behind by a burly bear. It sprayed upward and covered me. I screamed like the girl I am! Frustrated, my brother rode back up the hill to rescue me. He escorted me to the bottom where he gave me a Gatorade and a wet wipe and continued on. I sat on a tree stump swatting at flies, decrying my plight.

Throughout the years, I have continued to live in granola girl denial. Recently, I put down my Eddie Bauer catalog and told my husband we should buy a travel trailer and traverse the country. Our son would know nature and grow up with wonderful memories of camping, Smores and bug bites. We were at the RV dealer the next day, towing home a mobile oasis complete with air conditioning, a microwave and satellite TV. I would finally achieve granola girl status!!

March 2011: The Maiden Voyage to the Florida Keys. After six trips to super Walmart to stock the beast with essentials like a microwave bacon tray and upgraded bedding, we hit the road. Three states and 54 South of the Border billboards later, we hit bad weather in the form of a tornado crossing interstate 95 in Dunn, NC. I didn’t actually see the tornado because my head was between my legs while I straddled my seven-year old son to the floor of the truck. My husband confirmed that we drove through it. Aside from the hail and damaging winds, we survived. We pulled off at the next exit and helped a nice family who had lost windows and a rear view mirror in their rented RV. They were Disney-bound. Fellow granolas in pursuit of Wally World.

Back on 95, as the clouds cleared we continued on, my husband determined to make up for lost time. As I drifted off to sleep in the back of the King Cab sometime around midnight, my son drooling on my arm, I heard cars honking. My husband pulled over. I stuck my head out the window and said, “What happened?” The bumper had been damaged during the tornado and our bikes took the hit: his lying somewhere in the middle of interstate 95, mine dragging behind the camper causing sparks and my son’s holding on for dear life.

I looked at my husband and said in earnest, “Let’s go find a hotel. Preferably one with room service.”

May 2011: The granola girl journey continued. We headed to Delfest, an outdoor music festival in Cumberland, MD. The Delfest web site boasted a lineup of great artists, kid’s activities and fun for all. More importantly, it showed pictures of earthy girls in bandanas and tank tops. My fellow granola sisters! After two trips to Walmart to stock the beast, we headed to the mountains.

Nothing could have prepared me for what lie ahead. The festival fairgrounds sat in a valley, downstream – a cess pool of run-off mountain water. After four days of rain, the ground had turned to a mud river.

Having never learned from my encounter with the pile of bear poop, I walked out again into nature to be among my earthy sisters and bearded men, my husband shaking his head at my pristine white shorts and brand new leather flip flops saying, “Why bother?’” As I sunk into the mud, losing all sight of my feet, I was forced to concede that he was right and march right back into our air-conditioned travel trailer to replace my cute white shorts with a pair of cuter khaki shorts rolled at the bottom with a button on the side, matching tank top and clean shoes.

While I watched TV and prepared microwave popcorn for my son and his friend, I peered out the rain-soaked window at my husband heading to the music festival, sludging barefoot through the mud perfectly happy, never looking back, and at one with the filth. I realized that if I never become the outdoor adventurer I strive to be, I have compromised and married the granola guy. My other half and better half.  Muddy feet and all.

Why The Donner Party Ate Their Kin

January 11, 2011 § 4 Comments

If you know the story of the Donner party, then you know that in 1846, a family called the Donners set out for a cross-country trip to California in a covered wagon train. Story has it that they were caught in a blinding snowstorm. From there, the details are sketchy. Some historians claim that the Donners perished in a frozen heap one wintry morn. Others purport that a select few survived and rather than perish from starvation, resorted to Cannibalism in order to make it to the Gold Rush. I know they were snowbound with relatives and ate each other to cover up the evidence.  Following is a modern day example of what happens when you’re snowbound with relatives.

Captain’s Log: January 2011/Pre-Apocalyptic Snow

Am living in Burl Ives hell.  Weather man says wintry wrath of God to hit east coast.  Have not been to grocery store. Trip to 7-Eleven for mandatory supplies reveals no milk or bread.  Husband returns with beer and Little Debbie snack cakes.  Outside a single, gentle snowflake falls.

 Captain’s Log: Wintry Wrath of Hell (the next day)

5:02 a.m. Awaken to Air Hogs helicopter whirring over bed. Son cracked out on Whoppers stands in doorway aiming AirHog guns at husband. Oblivious husband, sleeps, alternately farts and snores. 

Rations count: 1 dozen eggs, 8 strips bacon; 2 boxes Little Debbie Swiss Cake Rolls; 12 beers. ½ box of Triscuits (half-open on living room couch).

6:30 a.m. “Mom, can you open this? Mom, where are the batteries? Mom, look at this. No, look at this. Watch this. I’m invincible. What does invincible mean? Yeah, I’m that. Watch. Can I take the cushions off the couch and jump on them?”

“Mom. Watch. This.” “MOM!”

8:30 a.m. Son has built cushion city and trapped cat in pillow jail.

Rations count: 10 eggs, 6 strips bacon, 2 boxes Little Debbie cakes; 11 beers. Triscuits eaten by dog. 4,750,589 snowflakes fall gently on the dormant grass outside our 4-bedroom Colonial.

9:36 a.m. Husband comes downstairs. “Did you make coffee yet? What’s for breakfast? STARVING!”

“Mom! Watch! This!”  Cat flees from makeshift prison wearing Build-a-Bear Batman suit.  

Rations count: 8 eggs, 5 strips of bacon, 1 ½ boxes of cakes. 10…9…beers. Am scooping up Triscuit crumbs and sprinkling over 2% fat cheese stick as lovely appetizer.

12:22 p.m. While others in suburban development are playing board games and making cocoa, I sit half-blind, stabbed in eye by fake, plastic sword whose packaging guarantees “realistic, life-like battle sounds.”  Son runs through house in nothing but underwear and Ninja cape. Attempts to thwart son impeded by my over consumption of rations (beer and swiss cake rolls). Am lying in heap by fireplace, assuming role of roadblock while Gravedigger and Big Foot monster trucks fight epic battle for redneck domination.

Have just settled down for a long winter’s nap.

Rations count: Some eggs and bacon. 4 Little Debbie cakes.   7 beers.  8,968,112 snowflakes gently blanket my neighborhood.

12:44 p.m. Awakened from winter’s nap. “Mom! Mom!”


Husband: “Do you really think this is the best time for a nap?

2:56 p.m. Have now tunneled to neighbor’s house for backup rations (beer) and more cakes. Return with ½ bottle Boones Farm and stale Oreos. 4,822,890,555 snowflakes bury my yard.

6:22 p.m. Using brillient Homeland Security survival skills, have pieced together make shift meal of cheese dogs and ramen noodles. Drunk all liquid rations. Am eyeing cooking sherry.

8:19 p.m. Son sleeps on pile of Legos. Husband gives come-hither look. Like black widow, may kill after mating. Will eat with nice Chianti and fava beans. Visit to pantry reveals no beans. Will eat him with side of peas. No Chianti. Will eat him with peas and cooking sherry.

Captain’s Log: Post Snowmageddon

Work. Work! I’m going to work!

6:13 a.m. Car stuck in snow.

Have returned to house to eat family. Rations count: One egg.

784,822,890,555 snowflakes slowly melt in my yard.

Men and Exterior Illumination: A New Olympic Sport

December 21, 2010 § 75 Comments

Most men complain when the holidays arrive and it’s time for exterior illumination. I know deep down that it’s really a competitive sport. He with the most expensive electric bill in the month of December wins.

I think an Exterior Illumination category should be added to the next Winter Olympics. Men from all walks of life will participate in a race to create the tackiest Christmas displays possible. Contenders will navigate through an obstacle course by running through a wall of attic insulation, leaping over a corpse pile of dismembered plastic lawn reindeer, and climbing a 50-foot ladder held together with lawn bag twisty ties and duct tape. The winner will be the first in the neighborhood to get baby Jesus, Mary and all of the wise men out on the lawn next to the inflatable penguin before the electric company fires up the auxiliary backup power.

My late father should receive a posthumous gold medal for exterior decoration. He was my hero because he would, without fail, haul out the ladder the morning after Thanksgiving, disappear into the attic and emerge with dusty boxes containing items such as a rainbow colored menorah, which was always missing at least two bulbs (why we had this, I’m not sure — we were not Jewish), a yard Santa pulled by four reindeer (I think at one point the other four went to live on a “farm”– AKA hauled off to the landfill), and a glowing snowman who at one point had been kicked in the head and had its carrot nose decapitated.

Following the trip into the attic, my Dad would stand in the front yard, systematically disrobe and then scratch all exposed body parts, convinced that he was suffering from attic insulation allergy. Normally, nothing phased the man. This is the same guy who would blow up like Veruca Salt if he even looked at shellfish, but loved it so much he’d go to dinner at Red Lobster, order the Fisherman’s Feast and take four Benadryl, falling asleep halfway through the cheddar biscuits. Mom always had to drive home.

Like a real man, my father had a penchant for big, glowing Christmas lights. Not the skinny, twinkly kind but rather the fat multi-colored orbs that could be viewed from a satellite on its way to Mars. From a distance, the earth would look blue-gray and peaceful, a gentle ball bobbing in the serene universe. And then the Christmas season would arrive and the blue ball would exude a glowing pimple otherwise known as my house. I was convinced that NASA had tagged it as a potential host cell where travel-weary aliens stopped in for a siesta. Like the Motel 6, we left the light on!

When tackling the exterior of our split foyer, staple guns be damned. My father used a hammer and nails, pounding his way across the roof to get each bulb properly in its place. In the end, a tangle of extension cords hung dangerously outside of my brother’s bedroom window, innocently waiting for a snow fall to spark an electric storm. Meanwhile, my house glowed like the Amityville Horror house for the entire month of December. If Dad was feeling particularly lazy, January got the shaft as well.

Folklore has it that before electricity, when there were no lights within a house after bedtime, people would place lighted candles on the windowsill for travelers. We produced the opposite effect. It was usually during this time that my neighbors invested in window shades and stopped speaking to my parents.

This year I noticed that no one in our neighborhood had decorated their homes. I nudged my husband and said, “We need to do something – it’s like the neighborhood that Christmas forgot out there.” Begrudgingly, he headed to the Walmart and spent enough on inflatable Snoopys and pre-lit candy canes to fund the Walton family well into retirement. The next night, our neighbor’s house was decked out in a brilliant display of red and green Christmas lights, glowing in electric, competitive joy. And without skipping a beat, the Winter Olympics had begun.

Have any good exterior illumination stories? Share them here! Or follow me on Twitter: @joannewallmark

Man Make Wheel. Man Fix Wheel. Oog.

November 23, 2010 § 6 Comments

Although I’m a part-time feminist, which means I am one when I feel like it, my husband and I have been able to come to a quiet, unwritten understanding of who does what in our marriage. In mankind’s earliest days, I would have gathered nuts and berries and produced things like tasty soup and hats fashioned from giant, prehistoric beaver tail. He would have hunted and brought home great meats and bear hides. But since we don’t run from things that eat us anymore, we’ve settled into more of a modern, conventional give-and-take. I decided I will provide clean clothes; food. He takes on the jobs I want absolutely nothing to do with including the following:

1) Anything requiring a plunger
2) Anything left on the carpet that was expelled from either end of the dogs or the cat
3) The killing of things with more than six legs
4) The car

Yesterday morning, while driving to work, one of my tires deflated mid-roll. With my stealth, Andretti-like driving abilities, I maneuvered the car off the road and into a parking lot. I got out to look at the defeated tire and called a co-worker to rescue me. At noon, my husband met me at my car. We stood road side, surveying the damage. He said nothing. I said nothing. Then we turned into cave people. Man made wheel. Wheel break. Man fix.

“Broke,” I grunted, pointing to the wheel.

Affirmative return grunt. (Him)

“What that?” I say, pointing to the small, round, infant-sized tire and pile of rustic tools that he magically produced from a special, Narnia-like place that existed below the covering in the trunk space.

(I peered into the hole, imagining a cornucopia of car-fix-it parts in an Oz world teeming with munchkin-sized mechanics who decided to hang with Glenda the Good Witch rather than face certain annihilation by the Warlock of Retail Tire Sales. The Lug Nut Guild.)

He brought forth the first tool. “That crank for jack,” he explained. “Oog.”

“What that do?” I grunted back. “Ugg.”

“Crank pump car high,” he said. Before inserting it into the jack, he held the tool high, like a mighty warrior who had just whittled the first arrow head. I took a step back, as if he had just brought forth magical fire from twigs and heat from the sun.

(Note: What ensued next is purely the fault of the Swedes. I drive a Saab, and have come to learn that the Swedish believe that all things can be put together with a bent piece of metal and crude instructions involving illustrations with lots of arrows but no actual words. If you don’t believe me, buy furniture from IKEA.)

“Umph.” He made several attempts to get Swedish metal contraption to turn, resulting in the scraping of his knuckles on the gravel.

“What wrong?” I said, peering over him.

“Piece of shit!” he responded.

Grunt. (Him)

Grunt. (Me)

“What for lunch?”

Grunt. (Him) “$#*^#u)!!@{ !!”

“I say what for lunch?”


Over tasty soup, he nursed his scrape wounds while I showed him the paper cut I received while moving a stack of work documents from my trunk into the back seat.

“My cut worse.” I tell him.

Grunt. (Him)

I probably could have changed the tire. In college, I did manage to put together an entire living room consisting of things like an IVAR wall unit, ARSTID lamp, and KARLSTAD modular sofa with a 3-inch Allen wrench and IKEA picture guide. But the point is, I didn’t have to. I called the guy I can always count on and he got dirty hands and bleeding knuckles using rudimentary tools to rescue a cave woman in distress.

If we ever visit Sweden, I’m going to bring along a Philips head screwdriver and a roll of duct tape, maybe some power tools — just to show them how we fix things in America. Ugg.

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