Stories indexed with the term ‘Jo Mathis’

Column: Happiness in Motion

Jo Mathis

Jo Mathis

I attended an open house at The Health & Fitness Center at Washtenaw Community College not because I wanted to work out, but because I’d heard it was the most fantastic rec center in the entire world.

I learned two things that day: It really is the most fantastic rec center in the world. And working out can indeed be that joyful, endorphin-releasing high I’ve heard about but rarely experienced.

I felt strong. I felt pampered. I wanted to sell my house and move closer to WCC so I could work out every morning and live happily ever after.

At the very least, I hoped a bit of that excitement would carry over long enough to pump up the at-home workouts. Didn’t happen. Not even a little. I have an elliptical machine in my office next to a window facing a TV. I have no excuse other than this: I don’t wanna.

Can anyone else relate? It’s two months into the new year. How’s that work-out resolution working out? [Full Story]

Column: The 31 Days of Cooking

When I moved from Illinois to Michigan as a newlywed 30 years ago, I had no job, no friends, and no real reason to get out of bed except to finish the thank-you notes.


Jo Mathis, proving that she did, indeed, bake a successful pineapple upside down cake.

I would lie there, waiting for a reason to start the day.

And then I’d think: Dinner!

It might have been 8 in the morning, but by gosh my nice new husband would have a spectacular meal waiting for him by the time he got home from work.

Cooking was a new challenge for a girl who’d gone through college eating catsup-drenched spaghetti and buttered rice straight from the pot.

I’d happily plan the menu from my new Betty Crocker’s Cookbook (now tattered and splattered and too precious to pitch). I’d go to the grocery store a mile away and carefully select the ingredients for that night’s feast. With plenty of time to indulge my inner Suzy Homemaker, I created color-coordinated, well balanced dinners – complete with salad, bread, dessert, and garnishes (!) – which I served cheerfully in that tiny candlelit kitchen.

Oh, how I loved to cook.

Then I got a job. And then I got pregnant and had a baby –  every three years. And somewhere along the way, I lost the joy of cooking. Special events, sure. Thanksgiving dinner, lasagna for company, spaghetti and meatballs with garlic bread on a cold Sunday night? Fine. But the daily dinner became something I did because it had to be done.

Luckily, as I lost interest in cooking, my husband discovered he loves it and is far better at it. So we’ve been eating well all these years, even as I’ve harbored a tinge of envy at his passion and talent for cooking, as well as some guilt for being a slacker at the stove. [Full Story]

Column: In Praise of Quirks

Jo Mathis

Jo Mathis

At the sobering close of the Michigan-Michigan State game, I turned to walk out of the stadium.

“I’m sorry I was cheering so loud,” said the friendly Michigan State fan behind me.

“No problem,” I said. “I found some earplugs in my pocket.”

I then pulled back my hair and revealed the Jujyfruits candy I’d brought with me to nibble on, but decided instead to use as noise-blockers. They were pliable and non-sticky – much better than real ear plugs. In fact, I spent much of the fourth quarter wondering why the good folks at Jujyfruits don’t promote this idea.

“Quirky,” said me husband, using the word my family frequently dubs my common sense solutions to life’s little challenges.

We all think we know best, and that our way is the best way. But I insist there is always more than one right way to do anything. [Full Story]

Column: Give Me The Simple Life

Jo Mathis

Jo Mathis

You wouldn’t know it by looking in my closet or my basement or any other part of my house for that matter. But I am a minimalist at heart.

Yes, just give me the simple life.

That’s why I found myself nodding to this list of 21 things Americans are learning to live without by Rick Newman of U.S. News and World.

A good little mantra: Who needs it?

When he was 80, French poet Paul Claudel wrote: “No eyes left, no ears, no teeth, no legs, no wind. And how astonishingly well one does without them.” I’m keeping all the body parts I can, thank you very much. But as for superfluous stuff: Buh-bye.

Purging is suddenly more thrilling than accumulating. In fact, whenever anyone comes to the house now, I feel bad if they don’t leave with a parting gift: A popcorn maker. A box of sweaters. A couch.

A little deprivation can be a good thing. [Full Story]

Column: This Empty Nester Loves Skype

Sometime between counting the days before she left for her freshman year of college and predicting she’d not return til Thanksgiving, my daughter apparently decided she just might miss me a little bit. Or maybe she feared my reaction to the empty nest after 28 years of full-time motherhood.

Jo Mathis using Skype, a video chat application.

Jo Mathis using Skype, a video chat application.

In any case, Tori installed a webcam and Skype on my computer so that we can have regular video chats.

This wouldn’t have occurred to me. Though Skype has been around for seven years, my experience with it was mostly spotty audio conference calls that were more irritating than anything.

“Trust me,” Tori said as she clipped the webcam to my monitor. “You’ll love this.” [Full Story]

Column: Free to Love Craigslist

Jo Mathis

Jo Mathis

[Editor's note: Jo Mathis was a columnist and reporter for The Ann Arbor News until it closed in July 2009.]

Many factors led to the shutdown of The Ann Arbor News one year ago, and most begin with a capital I.

Because of the Internet, Google became a verb that allowed instant, round-the-clock information, much of which was provided free of charge by newspapers that nonetheless expected people to continue paying for the print version.

Because of the Internet, there are endless ways to fill free time, which meant the daily newspaper became less and less a necessary part of people’s routine.

Because of the Internet, advertisers – by far our main source of income – could reach more targeted audiences at a much lower cost. (A snippy subscriber once said the only reason she got the paper was for the Meijer ads. I wanted to ask, “Haven’t you heard of”)

And because of the Internet, a nerd named Craig Newmark was able to start a little thing called Craigslist, which put a deadly dagger into classified sections everywhere. [Full Story]

Column: Life’s Wake-Up Call

Jo Mathis

Jo Mathis

If I had thought about my brother yesterday, I might have pictured him walking home from work, or barbecuing in his backyard in Colorado, or standing there with that familiar smirk, ready to spew some sarcasm.

But most likely I didn’t think about him at all. Yesterday – as far as I knew – all was right in his world.

The news was delivered with one fast pitch. There was no “I’m not feeling well” one week followed by “I’m going in for tests” the next, before moving on to “They think it might be bad news; I’ll know in a few days.”

Just: Prostate cancer. Stage 4. Nothing they can do.

“We’re all going to die,” he said. “It’s just a matter of when.” [Full Story]

Column: Why They Call It Grand

Jo Mathis and her granddaughter

Jo Mathis and her granddaughter, Anna Christine.

No matter how you prepare for life’s big events, you never know how you’ll feel til you’re in the moment, often seeped in disbelief that the anticipated is actually happening.

And so it was when my first child was about to give birth to her first child. As Christie rested between contractions, her doctor looked up at me with a smile and asked: “Are you a first-time grandparent?”

What tipped her off? The fact that I was standing behind Christie’s head with a camera, sobbing?

Moments later – at 10 p.m. on 5-5-10 – a gooey little alienesque creature burst onto the scene amidst our cheers, tears, and one big sigh of relief from her mother.

People had told me that grandparenting is indescribably delicious, and now I know for myself why they call it grand. [Full Story]

Column: Who Knows What’s Ahead?

Jo Mathis

Jo Mathis

Since my father’s death in February, my siblings and I have been working on Project Keep Mother Busy.

This isn’t difficult, as our upbeat little mama is still interested in what’s next; still in some ways that fun-loving brunette from Staten Island. She’s good company.

The other day, while leaving a bakery, I picked up and handed her a brochure about The Housing Bureau for Seniors’ Senior Living & Housing Awareness Week May 7-16. The week is billed as a one-stop chance to gain information, resources and approaches to help make decisions for better living.

Well, you’d think I had just given her a check for a million dollars. Who knew housing was such a big deal to her? After all, she’s in good health. She lives in a condo, where she doesn’t have to worry about yardwork.

But she wants a place that offers a continuum of care, beginning with independent living and ending with nursing care, or hospice. She wonders how her health will be in a year or so, if she’d become a burden to her kids, and what she’d do if there were a medical emergency and nobody around to help.

And no offense to us, but she’d like to be around a few more people her own age.

This is why on Friday I’ll be taking my mother to the Living & Housing Expo at Washtenaw Community College, and to some open houses at senior housing communities the rest of the week. [Full Story]

Column: Letting Go

Jo Mathis

Jo Mathis

My father, the quirky, crusty, and surprisingly sentimental Don Collins, went to bed the other night and never woke up.

At 84 and in failing health, he was set to move to an assisted living facility in two weeks, never again to enjoy my mother’s cooking or daily attention. Instead, he slipped away on the sunny Thursday between my daughters’ birthdays, reluctant, it would seem, to ruin their days.

My mother, siblings and I quickly drove to St. Joe’s, where our initial grief was gradually tempered by quiet acceptance. A social worker suggested we each spend time alone in the room with him. His hand was still warm as I said goodbye. [Full Story]

Column: Putting the L in Valentine’s Day

Jo Mathis

Jo Mathis

Ghazi Abuhouleh is one smart man.

I spotted the Ypsilanti resident Friday morning carefully choosing a romantic valentine for his wife, Dalal. And this was after he’d bought her a diamond ring, as well. Though he’s been married less than two years, he knows the No. 1 rule of Valentine’s Day: This is not the time to be practical.

“I don’t buy that boring stuff,” said Abuhouleh, who opts instead for perfume, a pretty blouse, or jewelry.

Some guys, however, have a practical streak. And some guys shop for practical women who’ve told them not to spend money this year on chocolates (the calories!), flowers or jewelry.

Some of these men will be tempted to make a mistake on Sunday, and I feel it’s my duty to warn them. Men: If you plan to give your woman anything that is associated with a chore, save it for another day. [Full Story]

Column: A Li’l of This & That

Jo Mathis

Jo Mathis

It’s been a wild and crazy month and my mind is darting in a million directions, like some of those frenetic commercials you see on TV. So this column, ladies and gentlemen, will be one I call “A Li’l of This, A Li’l of That” – a little Conan, a little Idol, and a few other random thoughts thrown in between.

One of the country’s best-loved columnists was Herb Caen, a San Francisco columnist for 60 years. He called his column “three-dot journalism” because it was mostly a collection of pithy items broken up by ellipses.

I know I’m no Herb Caen. (And I’d be dead if I were.)

But I’m giving it a whirl. And because I’m not taking up any costly newsprint, I may just keep going and going. [Full Story]

Column: All I Want for Christmas

Jo Mathis and her oldest daughter, Christie.

Jo Mathis and her oldest daughter, Christie.

Every year, we say we’re cutting back on Christmas presents. And every year, we go a little crazy anyhow.

So December 25 has always been one big bloated day of blatant materialism. Even the dog had her own little pile, which she mounted and guarded for dear life.

It’s been great fun.

But this year, we mean it. We’re cutting back.

My oldest daughter, Christie, in fact, declared some months ago that because she had enough stuff and we all had enough stuff, she no longer wanted to exchange gifts. For the rest of her life.

She’s still very generous. It just doesn’t translate into things you buy at the mall. Last weekend, for instance, she treated her sisters to dinner at Olive Garden followed by “Holiday Nights in Greenfield Village.”

And this Christmas morning, without spending a dime, Christie will come by with a surprise gift we’ll always remember. [Full Story]

Column: Leaving the Comfort Zone

Jo Mathis

Jo Mathis

I don’t willingly leave my comfort zone. And don’t tell Oprah, but I’m comfortable with that.

I don’t skydive. I don’t sign up to melt in a Sedona sweat lodge. And I do not speak to big groups of people if I can possibly help it.

It’s not that I mind being the occasional center of attention. This picture of me, for instance, was taken on my last day at The Ann Arbor News minutes after my boss had left the building.

I am lying on my belly on his desk.

But I was among friends. It just sort of happened. And I didn’t actually say anything. (Unless you count: “If this had been my desk all along, this paper would not be closing!”)

All this is to explain why nothing within me wants to be among those speakers at Friday night’s Ignite Ann Arbor.

And why I already admire the 15 people who will. [Full Story]

Teaching French By the Book

Jo Mathis

Jo Mathis

There’s nothing worse than facing a room of 25 college kids – and boring them, says University of Michigan French instructor Jenni Gordon.

In Paris years ago, the Ann Arbor resident discovered the power of storytelling in the classroom. Recently, in an attempt to help her UM students grasp the difficult concept of imparfait (imperfect past tense), Gordon wrote and illustrated a bilingual children’s story to share with them.

It worked.

The story of a little girl named Mathilde stirred within the students so many memories of childhood. “Suddenly, lots of people had a story to tell in the past tense!” said Gordon.

Now Press Lorentz/littleBeast Books in Ann Arbor has published Gordon’s story of Mathilde, a little girl with mixed feelings about her new baby brother. It’s titled both “Les Problemes de Mathilde” and – on the flip side – “One day, I had enough!”

The story is already a hit with the 20-ish crowd. [Full Story]