Half-assed Buddhist.

Dear Friends,

buddha-lotus-flower-symbol

Today I read this essay by author and LGBTQ activist Dan Savage about the Duggar Family and enjoyed it so much I shared the link on Facebook and Twitter. Fair warning: if you are queasy about matters of sex and religion, don’t read it. Dan is an openly gay man and the Duggars are a conservative Christian family with a reality television show  on TLC (“19 Kids and Counting”), and these two polar opposites mash up in Dan’s essay about like you might imagine. The essay is simultaneously funny and crude and thought-provoking and reminded me that this wild soup we call American culture is indeed fascinating.

As much as I was tickled by the humor in Dan’s essay, I couldn’t help but be bothered by his assertion that families like the Duggars (and, by extension, their beliefs) are “actually pretty scary.”

Don’t get me wrong. I’m almost as far removed from the Duggars’ point of view as is Dan, but I’m not frightened by their particular strain of patriarchal theocracy (Dan’s words). I’d just as soon bite off my tongue as advise my daughter (or son) according to Duggar philosophy, but the fact they believe what they believe and live how they live doesn’t frighten me. To each his own, I always say. And, yeah, I get Dan’s point that the family is proselytizing their beliefs, but so is he. Heck, what is this blog but propaganda for my world view?

I could write an entire post about how the temptation to be scared by people unlike ourselves is the root of our world’s problems, but that’s not my point today. My point today is that Dan’s essay reminded me of a season in my life when I spent considerable time examining the issues at play in Dan’s dispute with the Duggars. Many years ago, I wrote an essay on the topic which was published in a now-defunct online forum for female writers, and so I was inspired to pull it out of my archives and share it with you today.

Consider this another fair warning: I write about sex and religion with considerable candor and if that’s not your bag, skip this one. I promise I won’t be the least bit frightened.

With gratitude {for my friends from varied faith traditions — Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, Christian, and Bahai, — including those with no prescribed faith, all of whom accept me just as I am, which is exactly what I think Jesus would do},

Joan, who’s been half-assed at far more than Buddhism but hopes you aren’t keeping track

***

Half-assed Buddhist

I first tried my hand at proselytizing the summer after sixth grade.  I had just spent a week at Vacation Bible School sponsored by our town’s First Baptist Church.  Full of the kind of evangelical zeal one experiences after singing 10 rounds of “This little light of mine” and chugging five Dixie cups of Cool-Aid, I announced to my two best friends that they were going to hell.

“Really? Why?” one friend, a Catholic, said to me as the three of us climbed the high-dive ladder at our city’s swimming pool.

“Because you aren’t Baptist,” I replied matter-of-factly.

The thing is – neither was I.  Oh, sure, I had been baptized months earlier but it was at the First United Methodist Church, which I attended regularly under the watchful and approving gaze of my paternal grandmother.  I don’t recall why I was two-timing with the Baptists that summer, but it wouldn’t be the last time in my life I summarily traded teams.

My other friend, a non-denominational, looked really hurt and simply said “That’s not nice.”

“Well, it’s true,” I retorted, and sometime between leaping off the edge of the diving board and surfacing in the middle of the deep end, I forgot the topic entirely – including the fact that I was going to hell, too, by my own definition.

By the time I was 17, I spent considerable time contemplating damnation.  Still a regular church-goer, I had heard enough sermons to realize I was a sinner.  And the worst part was, I enjoyed every minute of it.  My senior year of high school, I discovered sex . . . glorious, immoderate, sweaty, teenage sex.  Usually in a car, but sometimes in the park or even a bed if my boyfriend and I could score an unoccupied house, sex became my favorite diversion.  Such wanton behavior made church attendance a tad uncomfortable, especially given the mere hours that typically separated fornication from communion. Plus, I was still more than a little confused by the seemingly intractable divisions between Christian denominations – divisions that just a few years earlier had led me to declare my best friends hell-bound.

It just didn’t make sense to me that one group of Christians could be so certain that their path to salvation was absolute while their brethren down the street were damned.  If the jury wasn’t in on this thing, why should I waste my time? So, one Sunday morning, I announced to my mother that my church-going days were over.  “Why?” she asked, stunned.  “Because I don’t enjoy it.  And you don’t go.  So I don’t really think it’s fair for you to tell me I have to.”  She said nothing and I went back to bed where I stayed every Sunday morning for approximately the next five years.

My sophomore year of college I briefly contemplated returning to the fold.  I had my eye on a really cute guy in English Lit and I started finagling ways to talk to him before and after class.  It didn’t take long for him to invite me to his place. When I arrived, he offered me a Coke and we sat down at a cramped table that served as both his eating and study space.  He shoved his textbooks aside, pulled out a black flip chart, and announced he was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He told me he liked me a lot, that he thought I was really smart and pretty, and that he wanted to share his faith with me.  I was thrilled.  “He thinks I’m pretty and smart!” I mentally gushed as he opened his guide to the Mormon faith and launched into the most earnest testimony I had ever witnessed.

Somehow – despite the fact that I was imagining him making out with me with the same conviction he was delivering his salvation appeal –his lavishly illustrated flip chart slowly caught my attention.  I wondered how I could have grown up in the Bible Belt and yet never have heard the extraordinary story of Joseph Smith and his golden tablets.  I was mesmerized, and more than a little moved by Joseph’s words:  “So great were the confusion and strife among the different denominations, that it was impossible for a person young as I was . . . to come to any certain conclusion who was right and who was wrong.”

“Oh my gosh,” I exclaimed, “I know just how he felt!”  I talked about my lifelong distress over conflicting absolutes.  “How do I know what’s true?” I asked, as sincerely as one could while discussing religious beliefs with a hot new crush.  His eyes gleamed as he continued his story and I was momentarily lost in my imagined future with this guy.  I just might find the remedy to my existential angst and the man of my dreams at the same time!  So eager was I to convert (and cavort!) that I interrupted him before the punch line.   “So where are the golden tablets?” I asked.  “Can I go see them?”  Joseph Smith’s golden tablets were just the kind of confirmation I’d been waiting on and I was ready to sign on the dotted line if I could just glimpse these magnificent and holy relics.

Then my Mormon friend dropped the bomb: the golden tablets had been spirited away by a heavenly messenger.  Faith was required of me to believe Joseph’s testimony and to receive God’s grace through Jesus Christ.

Damn.  I’d been down this road before.  Crushed, I said thanks but no thanks, and Elder Sexy and I parted ways forever.

A couple of years later, I graduated from college and moved as far away from home as a small-town girl could imagine – Boston’s Beacon Hill.  I roomed with two pot-smoking boys my age and explored a fascinating world where old money, new immigrants, and liberal politics were the ingredients for an alluring blend of cultural goulash.  One Saturday night while hanging around Harvard Square, two polite and clean-cut men struck up a conversation with my girlfriend.  I was ready to catch the train home, but my friend was really getting into these guys.  By the time we finally boarded the Red Line back to Boston, she told me she had their phone numbers and had agreed to meet them the next morning.  “For coffee?” I asked.  “No.  For church,” she said.

I would soon learn this was no regular church.  A year later, my family would call it a cult.  Ten years later with a little more perspective and a lot less bitterness, I called it an extremely effective marketing machine.  The Boston Church of Christ (BCC) was the precursor of what is known today as a mega-church.  Insidious, ingenious, infatuating – BCC was a Venus flytrap of spiritual misfits and its church leaders saw me coming.

The Church of Christ claims to be just that – Christ’s original church, free from denominational strife and dogma. This was no “mainline” Church of Christ like the one in my hometown, I was told. This was the Boston Church of Christ – the one true church and a spiritual beacon to the world’s lost souls.

Looking back, I know I was drawn to BCC by its followers. Young and old, American and immigrant, highly educated and blue collar, the 2,000-strong membership reflected Boston’s diverse demographic mix that I so loved.  I worshiped alongside Harvard Ph.D.s and Somerville laborers, all equally fervent in their conviction that BCC offered a panacea for all spiritual ailments.  As much as I had abhorred pat answers in the past, I literally jumped in with both feet, agreeing to a second baptism when church elders suggested my first, administered by Methodists so many years ago, wasn’t valid.  It seemed God wanted me to punch my membership card one more time.  Always a good sport if not a devout parishioner, I said what the hell and gave it a go.  Maybe this one will stick, I thought.  Most religious experience is nothing if not contradictory, so I ignored a personal paradox to satisfy my spiritual wanderlust.

What distinguished BCC from all other churches I had previously experienced, indeed what drew me in, was the devotion of its followers.  Unlike the Methodists I had known back home, these guys were serious.  I once attended a revival service where the faithful contributed more than one million dollars.  It still astonishes me today that some 2000 followers put cash, checks, and deeds totaling seven figures in passed collection plates.  I don’t recall how much I gave that evening but I know it wasn’t sacrificial in the way church elders had been encouraging all week; nor in the way that my friend did when she sold her condo and gave a check to BCC for more than $100,000. Long before “What Would Jesus Do?” became a ubiquitous bracelet, the leadership of BCC exploited their version of the concept by encouraging asceticism for the sake of church coffers.  By the time I left the church and moved home, I realized I had mistaken fervor for truth.

In later years, I would approach truth as a human construct that is ever-shifting. I would qualify truth by asking “Whose?”  I quit worrying about the afterlife in favor of the here and now.  Not surprisingly, my focus on “the moment” led me to Buddhism.

A basic Buddhist premise teaches that dualistic thinking – the categorization of the world in black and white terms — is the source of all human suffering.  We self-torment with categories that are sharply drawn and that leave little room for the ineffable. Buddhists see that good and evil are shades of the same color.  We can draw an arbitrary line in the sand if we wish, but perhaps it would serve us well to look inward, to understand why we’re drawing that particular line, grasping for one kind of outcome and afraid of another.

I recently tried to explain this notion to a longtime friend who is as devout and earnest a Christian as I have ever known. I probably seem like a libertine to her  (or worse, a relativist) and she couldn’t understand why – raised a Christian – I couldn’t now continue to play along.  I struggled to provide an answer in her terms, and I finally offered, “I guess I needed a God who’s more expansive than the Christian God I was taught about in my youth.  I needed some new tools and different perspectives to confront and examine the notion of my soul.  And I find that the Buddhist teachings are helping me . . . helping me see myself and all religious thought in a new, more accepting light.”

My friend paused for a moment while she considered my answer, then finally she looked me in the eyes and said with a surprising dose of consternation, “Yeah, but you’re a half-assed Buddhist!  I bet you don’t even go to temple.”

I laughed heartily and hugged her and told her she had no idea how perfect her label is.  My god, what is a Buddhist but one who embraces the haphazard, the unsatisfactory? Her proclamation would be a badge of honor from that moment on, I told her, because it beats the hell out of the skeptical and cynical Christian of my youth.

Yes, my journey inward is sublimely half-assed; but for all its insufficiency and incompetency, it is still magnificently, reverently a journey into me, into the shadows of my heart where I am connected to and commune with both humanity and divinity, in all their definitions. For whatever reason, I never could seem to follow Jesus to the Kingdom of God inside me, but I can’t help but think it’s a good place to end up now and I’m grateful for the tour guide that got me there.

Mr. Mom, Emeritus.

Dear friends,

sinkfix

I dare you to find a maintenance technician with better legs.

In my world, when a distinguished colleague retires, he or she is awarded the title of “Emeritus” if — in fact — the individual’s service and achievements have been exceptionally meritorious.

It’s an honorary title, bestowed infrequently, to only the best.

So imagine my great pride — and melancholy — in telling you Mr. Mom is becoming an Emeritus Caretaker.

In other words, he’s retiring. From Mr. Mom-hood.

Which, in a weird sort of way, really means he’s going back to work. Outside our home.

The transition, which begins today, is more than bittersweet. I’m happy for him because he’s happy for him. He’s been toiling as our caretaker for nearly a decade and with Parker off to college now, there’s only me to care for.

(Not to make light of this. Everyone knows I require a lot of care. And feeding.)

But the last three years in particular have been difficult for him with the Mountain, and he needs both a distraction and an intellectual challenge that doesn’t involve case law or laundry stains. And there’s no denying that with two kids in college, the extra money will be great.

But neither of us made this decision because of money. We made it because — like the last time we transitioned our roles and lifestyle — our careful consideration led us to a mutual conclusion.

We both agreed if we hate it, he’ll quit. I don’t expect him to hate it. I’m not sure about me.

We live in a small town with a first-rate university, a well-respected medical system, and our fair share of manufacturing and scientific industry. It’s a great place to get a job if you’re highly educated. Not so great if you’re a highly skilled tradesman with no desire to work for yourself anymore. So Mr. Mom will be joining the millions of Americans who commute far outside their community to serve as a maintenance technician with a food manufacturing company located an hour away. He’ll be working second shift with a good deal of overtime, which means our evenings watching re-runs of Gunsmoke while enjoying a cocktail are coming to an end. In fact, it means a lot of his free time is coming to an end.

And I’m no dummy, but I think it means some of my free time is coming to an end, too, as we figure out how to divide up responsibility for things like laundry and housekeeping and grocery shopping and all the things he used to handle solo.

It’s weird when I think back about how personally challenged I was by our transition to the lifestyle I now relish. I wrote about it in this essay and, at the time, I really was confronting an existential crisis. (Giving up control of the laundry was a big deal for me, which I’m not proud to admit.) Now — it’s not that I dread stepping back into the role of housekeeper/errand runner, it’s that I’d be lying if I didn’t admit my life is comfortable and I enjoy having Mr. Mom’s full attention and energy. I’m pretty sure evenings at home alone will be lonely until I adjust.

On the flip side, I’m so proud of my mate. Once we made up our minds, he embarked on a job hunt with great enthusiasm, careful research, and impressive results. After being unemployed for what feels like a lifetime in today’s fast-changing world, he found a good-paying job with solid benefits in less than a month. He impressed his new employer on day one, while touring the plant for an interview, when he made several suggestions to improve production efficiency based on just a few tweaks to the equipment.

So . . . that’s my big news. I don’t know what to think yet. Like everything else we’ve tackled, we’ll play it by ear and adjust as necessary. I have butterflies in my stomach, which after 23 years of marriage ain’t a bad thing.

Oh — but there’s this! What in the WORLD will I call Mr. Mom now that he’s not Mr. Mom?

Maintenance Man? Hunk o’ Husband? Hot Legs? I’m at a loss for worthy pseudonyms and welcome your suggestions.

One thing’s for sure. He’s more than deserving of the title Mr. Mom, Emeritus.

With gratitude {for a life that unfolds just as it needs to, just when it needs to},

Joan, who loves that man of hers more than you can imagine

A new kind of foodie.

Dear friends,

I’ve been happily tucked away, these days of late, cooking and empty-nesting and enjoying the transition to cool weather and shorter days. My acid-reflux is almost entirely under control, without medication, which in the (modified) words of our Vice President, is a big freaking deal!

I’ve been meatless since Sept. 8 and I haven’t missed it once. I bought two new cookbooks and it’s been a culinary wonderland in my kitchen. If you follow me on social media, you know I’ve posted endless photos of my new, healthier approach to eating.

Despite having dabbled in vegetarianism for years (actually, I’ve called myself a flexitarian many times), I’m still a little surprised how good food can be without meat when you put your mind to it. Let me be clear, though: I haven’t given up all animal products. I still eat yogurt and cheese daily, and I eat eggs a few times a week.

I’m pretty sure it’s not just the meatless approach that has improved my reflux. I’ve also cut out most processed foods (except for the occasional saltine). Once again — this is a big freaking deal, giving up packaged snacks. A couple of weeks ago, Mr. Mom and I were watching television and he mentioned how much he wanted a snack. “Just think,” he remarked, “a month ago I would have said that and we would have finished off an entire bag of chips while watching the Daily Show.”

You won’t be surprised to hear that my partner in crime, who’s always been more than happy to follow my lead in the kitchen, has lost 20+ pounds. Don’tcha just hate men and their metabolism? Still, I’ve lost half that amount, without trying. I didn’t set out to lose weight, though I certainly needed to. I set out to cure myself, and I seem to have hit upon the recipe: meatless meals + much smaller portions + no eating at least three hours before bedtime, which for me means no food past 6:00 pm. I’m also taking a probiotic supplement and digestive enzymes with each meal.

Take a look at just a few of the beautiful dishes I’ve made in the last few weeks:

blackpeppertofu

This black pepper tofu was Asian-restaurant quality.

leek

These leek fritters were filling and comforting.

parsnips

These roasted parsnips and sweet potatoes with caper vinaigrette were a platter of health and beauty.

onions

These stuffed onions were mild and sweet and reminiscent of stuffed shells — a perfect alternative to a heavy, baked pasta dish.

pita

This pita sandwich with black bean hummus and veggies was a perfect lunch on the go.

polenta

This creamy polenta with slow-baked Roma tomatoes and a poached egg is a perfect weekend breakfast.

I’ve also made black-bean burgers, Indian hash, tofu enchiladas with green sauce, lentil/quinoa pilaf and salads galore — all of which delighted my culinary sensibilities while protecting my GI tract.

But — by far — the best vegetarian recipe I’ve made to date is this spectacular rice dish:

ricechickpea

It’s called basmati & wild rice with chickpeas, currants and herbs. Even Mr. Mom, who’s been a big fan of my new concoctions, took one bite of this dish and said unequivocably “This is the best vegetarian recipe you’ve made!”

The combination of two kinds of rice with chickpeas (spiced with curry powder), sweet currants and fried onions is unbeatable! If you’d like the recipe, click here. I’d recommend you triple the amount of curry powder in the recipe as I did. You won’t be sorry. By the way, if you have a well-stocked spice pantry, I also recommend you make your own curry powder. I used this recipe, with the only modification being I doubled the amount of ground chili pepper. I guess you can tell by now I’m not afraid of a little heat in my food. I have two dear Indian friends and their culinary influences and tutoring have definitely rubbed off on me.

In eight days, Mr. Mom and I are heading to one of America’s culinary meccas to celebrate our 23rd anniversary. I planned our vacation to New Orleans before I turned over a new leaf, but I’m confident I can eat well there while staving off reflux. I plan to indulge in my favorite treat — oysters on the half shell — hopefully without incident. Whether I can spend an entire week in the French Quarter without succumbing to the allure of beignets remains to be seen. I’ll no doubt take a ton of photos and let you know.

In the mean time, Kate’s coming home for Fall Break, I’m working a 60-hour week due to a flurry of special events, and we’re celebrating Parker’s 19th birthday (with Kate as Executive Chef for our family dinner Thursday night!). I’ll circle back around when the dust has settled to catch you up.

With gratitude {for the bounty of God’s green earth and great chefs, distant and near, who’ve helped me make the most of it},

Joan, who has a whoppin’ big announcement to share with you when she returns, not to be all sneaky or anything, but a little bloggy anticipation is a good thing

PS: If you’re as smitten by these dishes as I have been, I highly recommend you buy these two cookbooks by Chef Yotam Ottolenghi: Plenty and Jerusalem

Acid: 1. Joan: 0.

Dear friends,

soup

Joan’s Miso/Soba/Tofu Soup. So simple, so clean, so comforting.

A few months ago, I had a vivid dream I was having a heart attack. I woke up groggy and fairly suspicious I was having a real heart attack instead of a dream about one. I even awakened Mr. Mom, but after a few moments of assessing my symptoms, I realized I really was suffering from a wicked case of heartburn.

I had been waking up miserable for a long time — bloated, gassy, and nauseated but without the tell-tale “burn.” It wasn’t until the heart attack dream that I bothered to Google “heartburn,” after which I figured out I had all the classic symptoms of acid reflux.

My first instinct, of course, was to load up on over-the-counter medicines. Surely a cocktail of Tums, Pepto-Bismol and Zantac could quell the fire within, I reasoned. It wasn’t until Labor Day — when an excessive platter of barbeque chased by beer and pie resulted in 24 hours of misery — that I was finally prompted to consult my physician.

The prescription-strength Zantac my doc prescribed did nothing to calm my symptoms. I went back to my doctor and ended up with a prescription for a popular proton pump inhibitor, although I was more than a little unnerved by the two-page list of possible side-effects.

I had been joking with colleagues that food is my only joy in life, so I wasn’t about to declare my diet the enemy. But there was something about the warnings on my medicine bottle that persuaded me a lifestyle change might be advisable.

Thus, I’ve spent the last two weeks keeping a detailed food diary in an attempt to identify possible culinary modifications.

It may be a little too soon to go all Sherlock Holmes on my case, but it appears that cutting back on meat (where cutting back = eating vegetarian) has helped quite a bit. It also appears that with the exception of chocolate (to which I have an immediate reaction), various foods and spices aren’t the triggers as much as timing and quantity.

For example, I ate yellow curry three times with no reaction. (The curry was plenty spicy and oily, the combo of which can be troublesome for many folks.) Then I ate spicy Mexican twice, with painful results. The difference was that I ate modest amounts of the curry at least three hours before bedtime, while I consumed far too much Mexican food not long before turning in.

Big meals or regular snacking after 7:00 pm are a recipe for middle-of-the-night disaster, it seems. So far, making a few timing adjustments and eating far smaller portions appears  more manageable than what I feared would be the wholesale elimination of all joy in my life.

I’ve always been a fan of tofu, so switching from meat to soy has been easy-peasy. And loading up on vegetables and whole grains has been similarly effortless. The biggest adjustment has been staying out of the kitchen/pantry after 6:00 pm, when every snack known to man calls my name.

Acid Reflux may have gotten the first punch, but my footwork is improving and I wouldn’t count me out yet.

With gratitude {for a new emphasis on culinary diversity and moderation},

Joan, who, after months of acid-reflux insomnia and 4:45 am wake-up calls to run, spent somewhere north of 15 hours in bed on Saturday and finally woke up heartburn free and well-rested, praise the Lord

 

Kitchen therapy.

Dear friends,

yellowcurry

Whenever life beats me up, I retreat to the kitchen. There’s nothing like a day spent puttering over the stove to help me find my center. Chopping, measuring, blending, sauteeing, frying, tasting, stirring . . . all are a form a meditation for me. Eating my creations afterwards is my Zen moment.

I spent a good portion of Sunday making a shopping list and visiting the grocery store to restock my empty pantry. I cooked chickpeas, which I later turned into hummus, and quinoa, which I turned into this yummy Asian salad I found on Pinterest. I chopped bags and bags of veggies, then I fried up some firm tofu in order to pack “Super Bowl” lunches next week. (By the way, if you like tofu as much as me and don’t have a tofu press, get one now. I love, love, love mine!)

But the highlight of my day was a yellow curry that surpassed the one Mr. Mom and I ate at a new restaurant last Thursday. We’re longtime fans of Thai food so we were thrilled when a new Thai restaurant opened up in our town. Their yellow curry was so good I was inspired to make my own.

I consulted several recipes on the internet but couldn’t find a single one that was precisely what I wanted. So what follows is Joan’s adaption, culled from a variety of sources. It’s not difficult, and it doesn’t have to cook long, but it does take time to prep. The payoff is totally worth it, though, so I hope you’ll give it a try soon and let me know what you think.

And you don’t even have to wait until a bad day.

***

Joan’s Yellow Curry

1/2 recipe yellow curry paste (see recipe below)

1 cup cooked, chopped chicken (I used leftovers from a rotisserie chicken)

1 medium potato, peeled and chopped small

1/2 medium white onion, cut into thin slices about 3″ long

2 carrots, shredded and chopped

1 7-oz jar of pickled baby corn, drained and rinsed

2 TBLS vegetable oil

1 cup chicken broth

2 13.5-oz cans of coconut milk

Chopped fresh cilantro

Hot cooked rice, I prefer Jasmine

Put vegetable oil in large saucepan and heat over medium high heat. When sizzling, add onions and carrots and saute until tender. Add coconut milk, chicken broth, and curry paste and stir well. When mixture is almost boiling, add potato and cover until mixture boils. Lower heat just a bit and cook about 15 minutes or until potatoes are nearly tender. Add chicken and corn, cover again, reduce heat to low, and allow to simmer for another 15 minutes or so. Taste and adjust flavors as needed. If not salty enough, add salt or fish sauce. If too sour, add brown sugar. If not hot enough, add cayenne pepper. I made several adjustments while cooking my curry, adding salt, sugar and cayenne until it was “perfect.”

Serve a cup full of hot curry over a bowl of jasmine rice. Top with chopped cilantro.

Yellow Curry Paste

You can buy curry paste in the Asian aisle of many stores. But I always prefer to make mine fresh. It’s easy, and you can taste the difference.

1/2 stalk lemongrass (this is only occasionally available at my grocery store; they were out this week so I omitted it)

2-4 serrano peppers, chopped with seeds left in (I used 2 but recommend 4 because I had to add cayenne at the end to boost the heat)

2 shallots, sliced

4 garlic cloves

1 thumb sized piece of ginger, peeled and sliced

1 tsp coriander

1 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp cumin seeds

1-2 TBLS cinnamon (I used 2 but Mr. Mom recommends 1)

2 TBLS fish sauce

3/4 tsp turmeric

1/2 tsp white pepper

1/4 cup brown sugar

2 TBLS ketchup

1/4 cup lime juice

1/4 cup coconut milk, or just enough to keep your food processer blades moving

Put all ingredients in your food processor and blend thoroughly. Store in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks.

With gratitude {for a day spent in my happy place},

Joan, who has no explanation for why it’s taken her this long to cook a yellow curry since Mr. Mom orders it every time we eat at a Thai restaurant

Gathering up all my brave.

Dear friends,

For the last few weeks, I’ve been acutely attuned to the distressing situation that has unfolded a mere 90 miles away from me in Ferguson, Missouri. I’ve followed social media intently, I’ve devoured information on news sites, and I’ve given a lot of thought to what it means to me as a Missourian, as an American, as a mother, as a human who cares passionately about social justice and civil rights.

I’ll refrain from drawing conclusions at this moment about precisely what happened between the police officer and the young Michael Brown. There are ongoing investigations and I suspect we’ll be years down the road before we have anything close to “clarity” on how the particulars of the incident and the aftermath reflect on our system of policing and justice, not to mention our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

But here’s what I know. Whether we acknowledge it or not, there are distinctly different realities of life in America based on race, gender, age, sexual orientation, education, wealth and geographic location. What one man calls justifiable force, another calls oppression and discrimination. What one man deems “justice,” another deems “just us.” Socio-economic factors create a unique “lens” for each of us and until we can view the world through multiple lenses, many of them foreign or possibly distasteful to us, we cannot begin to approach “truth.” To say otherwise is to ignore that evil and corruption thrive despite our best intentions, or to fall prey to the myopia that threatens to permanently disable our nation.

***

So it is through this dismaying, nay disorienting, perspective that I am saddened to tell you Mr. Mom and I recently received devastating news. We lost our lawsuit.

Our attorney sent us the judge’s verdict a couple of weeks ago with an email message that said “It will make you want to throw up.”

Not in the “gag me” way you might refer to when something is annoying. In the “fall to your knees and retch” way until you are hollow-eyed and certain the injury is mortal.

I haven’t filled in many of the blanks for you about the condemnation trial we attended in April. I honestly haven’t been able. I felt in my gut it didn’t go “our way” and I guess I wanted a few months of denial between what I thought was the reality of the trial and the resulting ruling from the judge. But reality gut-punched us recently and we still haven’t caught our breath.

Losing our case means our land remains inaccessible (except via a 10-mile hike through the adjoining national forest). It also means our family is responsible for the Unfriendly’s legal fees. If their testimony is to be believed, they have spent three times what we have. At one point in the trial, their attorney referred to one of our claims as “outrageous.” During a break shortly thereafter, our attorney whispered to me “The only thing I’ve heard in court today that’s outrageous are the fees their damn attorney is charging them!”

We will appeal the ruling. It is our opinion, and our attorneys’, that the judge ignored the instructions handed down from the Appellate Court. That she ruled in contradiction to case law. We won our last appeal when the prior judge contradicted case law, so who knows?

***

Late into the night when we first heard the news, when Mr. Mom and I lay in bed, silent, unable to fathom the future, financially or emotionally, I finally said this:

“Listen. I understand. I understand the inclination to become fatally cynical. To succumb to rage. To believe that everything you’ve thought to be true about life is a lie. I feel it right now with an intensity I cannot describe. I am angry and I am disillusioned and I want to hurt somebody equal to our pain.

But here’s the thing. Our loss represents land and money. Land and money. We are not angry or cynical because our child is dead through injustice. We are not suing because some big corporation poisoned our water and gave us cancer. We are losing land and money. In the meantime, we are managing to put our children through college and they are by all accounts thriving. We have a strong and loving marriage.

We are losing land and money. Let’s remember what we still have before we risk sinking with this ship.”

***

So, I’m thinking of Glennon Melton and her words of wisdom. I’m gathering up all my brave and trying to do the next right thing. It ain’t easy, believe me. I’m not nearly as kind and patient as I want to be. I have long stretches of despair and regret and bitterness. I’m clinging to a faith that love and hope prevail in the end, even in the face of evidence to the contrary. I’m limping on tender feet, hurt beyond words, unsure how one keeps from drowning in the tsunami of fear and trouble and worry that rises over us.

Still, I refuse to end with anything other than gratitude. Despite this very big thing that has gone grievously wrong for far too many years, so much has gone right. I know it. I see it. I feel it. And if I can gather up enough brave, maybe I can trust in it.

With gratitude {for, as always, the partner that makes this journey bearable},

Joan, who welcomes your good thoughts and kind words but asks that you not dwell on injustice. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that justice is in the eyes of the beholder and what feels like a travesty to us is heralded as right and proper by the Unfriendlys. Please don’t tell me how shocked you are or how unfair this seems. Life is ridiculously unfair to legions of souls every day, most of them far more afflicted than I. If you have anything to offer, offer us equanimity, in the belief we will rest in it, heal in it, and pass on more than our share to those around us.

The words.

Dear friends,

words

It’s not very often that I am unable to find adequate words to express my feelings. But the last two days have been overwhelming, so let’s just say that the experience of sharing my story on Momastery is beyond words I can string together at this moment.

I’ve been out of town for two days, more than a little sidetracked by a packed schedule of business meetings. Wednesday night when I got to my hotel room after a late dinner and I finally had a moment to read the comments — here on my blog, on Glennon’s blog, and on the Momastery Facebook page — all I could do is cry. I sat in my hotel room and cried and cried, and then I turned out the lights and cried some more. Not for me, because I’ve sat with my story for a good long time.

I cried for all the readers and all their brutiful stories and all the love and wisdom and pain they poured into their comments.

One of the readers asked what happened between my daughter and sister on their lunch date. Another wondered what’s happening now between P and me. The quick answer to both is that I’ll try to tell you as soon as I have the words.

What I do have the words to tell you about today is just this one tiny thing that was so . . . enormous . . . I still can’t quite believe it.

I was sitting in my office on Tuesday when my phone rang. It was “Amy from Momastery” who said she’d been trying to track me down to ask if they could publish my essay. My first thought was “There’s people at Momastery?”

I know. It’s not like I expected Glennon to call me from her cloffice. I never expected anyone to call, ever, so my ears were ringing and my face was turning red and I was a little bit dizzy and I was trying desperately to listen to the woman talking to me.

It was a very quick call. She asked me to email her a bio and my social media links and I said okay. The call was ending and I was trying not to be an idiot but it was hard, you know, because I was talking to “Amy from Momastery” who clearly knows Glennon, so holding the phone while I realized there was only two degrees of separation between me and Glennon at that moment made me — if not an idiot — at least a boob. I think I actually asked Amy if she knows Glennon and without waiting for her to answer said something like “Please tell her I’m delighted she chose my essay.”

And then, right after I said that, I was momentarily blinded when the world exploded into a sparkly, shiny, swirling Disco Ball of Jubilation because Amy said “I liked your essay and gave it to Glennon to read. Forgive me . . . it’s a little crude . . . but Glennon read it and all she said was ‘She writes like a mother-fu%&er.’”

That, my friends, was a sacred moment. It was a gift. One I will never forget.

If you are at all tempted to be put off by the language: don’t even go there.

My closest friends know I love a choice expletive. I watch what I say in polite company and certainly what I put in writing because I’m sensitive to the tastes of others, but in my safe place, I let ‘er rip. It would be totally like me, when talking to a close friend, to say something like “Sure, I like Anne Lamot and Joan Didion and Elizabeth Gilbert but Glennon Melton? Glennon is a mother-fu%&ing writer.”

So in six words, I instantly understood the intention of the message. And I instantly understood Glennon was my kind of gal. And — more importantly — I instantly understood I had been given the gift of being allowed inside the circle. And when women let other women inside their circle, they are doing the Lord’s work, no matter what words they use.

I hung up and immediately sent Amy the requested email with my bio and links. And this PS: “Please tell Glennon that as of today, I will instruct my husband and children to etch on my headstone ‘She writes like a mother-fu%&er.’ I will wear that badge of honor the rest of my life.”

And my husband and children know I am serious. Okay, maybe not on my headstone, because I plan to be cremated. But in my mother-fu%&ing eulogy somebody better say it.

It’s all I ask for.

With gratitude {for words, words, words, profound, profane, glorious, wondrous, plain and simple words that teach us and heal us and bring us into each others circles},

Joan ,who writes, well, you know

 

Welcome to Gratitude.

Dear friends,

If you’re new to this space, if you wandered over from Momastery today to poke around or say hello, it only seemed right for me to be the first to welcome you.

I’m absolutely delighted you are here.

I’ve been blogging for almost 10 years, under two mastheads. For all of that time and through hundreds of stories, no more than about a hundred folks ever showed up. I’ve got way more stories than I do people. I’m not complaining. It’s been a cozy place, a safe place, mostly filled with people who know me in real life and would listen to my stories even if I never wrote them down.

So since you don’t know me, and you aren’t likely to hear my latest story at your dinner party or when we bump into each other at the grocery store, I feel a little nervous. I feel like the new girl who just moved into your neighborhood and isn’t sure whether you think her wave is friendly or weird.

But, actually, this is my neighborhood, so I think the polite thing is to show you around.

Here’s the deal: Most of what I write about is completely unnecessary. Like you really need another cake recipe or photo of my children or details about the quilt I’m sewing. I get it. But I’m still grateful for the friends who show up regularly and tolerate my babbling or latest obsession.

But once in a blue moon, something pops into my head, and a story more urgent, more consequential, more discerning makes its way straight from my heart into this space as a kind of offering from one hopeful tramp to another.

And on those days, rare as they are, it’s pretty cool. Nothing in the world makes me happier than writing. And nothing about writing makes me more joyful than knowing my words resonated with you.

So if you’re in the mood to explore, here are a few of my favorite stories. From me to you.

Some Reflections on 50

Witness

The Beverly Hillbillies

The Minions Want You to Know the Truth

Beans Knocked Cornbread Outta Sight

Just This

My life of Entitlement

My Love Affair with Mayberry

One Little Teary Burst of Joy

With Gratitude {for Glennon},

Joan, who has one more story she wants to tell you about Glennon but is still figuring out the right words

 

Great-great-great.

Dear friends,

A few weeks ago, I was cleaning out my linen closet and stopped to linger over two precious quilts my paternal grandmother made for me. Gram was an accomplished seamstress and crocheter and I was the happy recipient of much of her work — doll clothes, special occasion dresses and costumes, afghans and quilts, and more.

I’m the only one of Marie’s three grandchildren, six great-grandchildren, eight great-great-grandchildren, and one great-great-great-grandchild who has taken up sewing and quilting. It made me sad to think that the generations beyond Marie’s grandchildren wouldn’t have tangible evidence of Gram’s prolific talent. So, on the spur of the moment — which is how I make so many decisions — I decided that Gram’s first great-great-great-grandchild ought to have something handmade and that I would offer it to her in honor of the original Marie. I think it would tickle Gram to know I’ve picked up quilting and that her third great-grandchild’s first grandchild is a beneficiary. (Catch that? Third great-grandchild’s first grandchild? Yeah, talking about six generations gets a little tricky!)

The grandmother in this instance (my first cousin once removed) shares Gram’s name, just like me. Barbara Marie is nearly a decade my junior but I started my family late so our children are the same age. Here’s a photo of my CupKate at her first birthday party with Barbara’s first child, Jane, and another cousin, also named Kate. (My Kate is in the front; her cousin Kate is behind her; and Jane is in the back.)

Jane&Katecrop

And, a generation later, here’s a photo of Jane’s precious daughter, Evie Jane.

eviejane

Evie just turned three. I haven’t had the opportunity to meet her yet but — based on the many photos her grandmother and mother have shared — she seems to be full of spunk. But she’s also a girly girl, enamored of all things pink, especially pink hair bows. I decided her quilt ought to be full of sugar and spice and everything nice so I settled on a mixture of homey and fun fabrics in a pink and blue palette. See what you think:

evie quilt cu

My quilting tastes run more to the modern, whereas Gram’s were very traditional. So I tried to meld the two for Evie Jane’s quilt. The front features a more traditional composition of my design. (The block is called “square in a square” and is constructed using a technique known as foundation paper piecing with the blocks set on point.) The back – with its pieced design incorporating a remnant of the fabric’s selvedge and raw-edge appliqued initials – is a nod to modern quilters. Here’s a view of both sides in full:

evie quilt Collage

I often photograph my quilts while they are under construction and post the pictures on my Instagram and Twitter feeds. When Barbara saw the photo of a close-up of this quilt, she commented “Reminds me of Gram.” She didn’t know, of course, that the Unaquilter was about to ship the quilt to her granddaughter, so when I saw Barbara’s comment on my Instagram feed, my heart instantly soared and I trusted I had made the right choices for my tribute quilt.

There’s nothing quite as personal as the gift of a handmade quilt, both for the quilter and the recipient I suspect. When I look at my Gram’s quilts, I think of all the things I loved most about her. I think about how she always managed to buy me the things my mother couldn’t afford even though she was a widow living on my grandfather’s railroad pension. I think of how she used to let me do crazy things, such as fill a bowl with Pringles, pour Ranch dressing over it, and eat the concoction with a spoon like cereal. I think of her fried chicken — breaded and fried in a cast iron skillet first, then finished in the oven until it was as tender and soft as the mashed potatoes and skillet gravy she served with it. I think of her endless patience for the antics of me and my cousins who loved to spend time at Gram’s house so we could douse ourselves in her White Linen perfume and dress up in her jewelry and white leather evening gloves. I think of the $100 check she mailed me each and every month I was in college and the way she beamed on the day I graduated. I think of the hard candy she always kept tucked away in her “pocket book” and that she would pull out and hand to me if I started coughing in church. I think of the way my name sounded coming off her lips, Joan-Marie, both when she was proud as punch of me and when I  needed correction. I think of how so much of who I am and what I hold dear is a direct reflection of the woman whose third and final grandchild came to her late in life when she had the time and freedom to dote.

I know Evie will feel the same way about her Ba-Ba, and even though she didn’t know Gram and doesn’t yet know me, I hope when she snuggles under the Magpie’s quilt she will think of the woman whose name her grandmother and I share and who lives on through the stories of those of us who loved her.

With gratitude {for Marie},

Joan, who let out a big sigh of relief when she finished this quilt because, let’s face it, she’s been a little lazy lately

Well that didn’t last long.

Dear friends,

lovepillow

Remember how I told you I tackled a couple of big projects to keep me busy during my first summer of empty nesting?

Well, yeah. It’s already over.

I don’t know what I was thinking because everybody knows I go crazy when I start something. (Honestly, I can start and finish a project faster than most people can think one up.)

I finished the guest room makeover earlier this week and it’s left me scratching my head. So what’s an idle girl to do but enroll in an online class on foundation paper piecing (a rather complicated quilting technique) in an effort to stay busy.

Anyway Parker’s room, er the guest room, looks so much better.

Before I show it to you, though, I want to show you my inspiration photo. I was browsing through Pinterest and admired it. About a day later my brain clicked and I decided “Hey, I think I’ll make over the spare bedroom like that photo I saw.”

inspiration

Source: Pinterest

I love the combination of spa blue walls, black drapes, natural blinds, navy and red accents and the green chevron pillow. The room I’m working with is small so I wouldn’t have nearly as much space for furniture and accessories, but I knew I could make my own version work.

Here’s my interpretation:

bedroom

For such a small room with so few accessories, there was a lot to do. I painted the golden oak bed and dresser black, and painted the antique oak mirror white. I painted the walls. I bought new bedding, added curtains, a rug, and a nightstand. Changed out the lampshade and wall art. And added dresser-top accessories.  This, after cleaning out the closet and all the dresser drawers.

Since my room is small and I don’t have a wide angle lens, I couldn’t get a good shot of the dresser, but here’s my best try:

dressertop

Parker ribbed me about the mirrored tray. But when he inhabited this room full time, he had a bad habit of leaving his contact lens solution and case on the dresser. The solution he spilled daily on the dresser ruined the finish in several spots, so I instructed him that now, as a guest in this room, he needed to use the tray. I think he rolled his eyes while I was busy making the bed.

Mr. Mom ribbed me about the “goofy-dog-in-a-sweater plate.” I reminded him that at age 7, his son practically memorized our encyclopedia of dog breeds and can still recite chapter and verse of every breed known to man. “It’s an homage to Parker,” I countered. I think he and Parker both rolled their eyes as I carefully arranged the items on the dresser top. By the way — the glass vase replaces the pickle jar Parker throws his change in. Sometimes this crew I live with just needs a little classin’ up.

Here’s a better shot of the mirror:

mirror

Mr. Mom was aghast that I painted the hand-carved oak frame. But you know what? It didn’t bother me in the least. My mother gave this treasure to me  more than 30 years ago after literally pulling it out of a trash dumpster and replacing the broken mirror. It has hung in my home all of my adult life and I like to think she’d like the new look. After all, I get my urge to redecorate often from her. Every few months she was painting something, or refurbishing something, or moving things around. She had the itch just like me and I know she’d understand.

Here’s a shot of the bedside table and lamp:

bedsidetable

Parker’s girlfriend gave the guest room two thumbs up when she visited. Parker’s dirt-bike riding buddy dropped by and said “Dude. Your room turned girly.”

All I know is I’ve got two different groups of overnight guests coming later this summer and I think they’ll appreciate my efforts.

After all — look at this before photo:

before

I know. It was fine for my teenage boy — not so much for an idle empty nester.

You won’t be surprised to learn Mr. Mom encouraged me to “learn to sit on the porch” after hearing me wonder aloud “Now what?”

I tried it. For about 5 minutes before enrolling in my quilting class.

I’ve run out of rooms to make over, but I can sure spruce up a few beds.

With gratitude {for inspiration, energy, and an indulgent partner who patiently helped with moving furniture and all chores involving power tools},

Joan, who learned long ago from her friend Carolyn you ALWAYS paint the wall with select samples and study them in changing light for a few days before making a decision because NOBODY can make a good choice based on a paint chip

PS: I didn’t plan it this way, but the guest bedroom perfectly coordinates with the guest bathroom I redecorated a couple of years ago and featured in this post. Guess I’m more drawn to the black-blue-red combo than I realized.

PSS: In case you’re curious, the wall paint is Benjamin Moore’s Aura in Harbor Fog. It is one of this month’s House Beautiful featured colors, though I didn’t know that when I chose it. I never use anything but Benjamin Moore and their Aura line is pricy but smooth as silk and durable.

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