Guess what’s happening on the mountain?


Dear friends,

There’s a lot happening on the mountain. I haven’t written about it, in part, because it’s complicated and, in part, because it’s all moving so fast. But since I’ve been away from this space for a while I thought I’d give you a quick, simplified, update to get my blogging juices flowing again.

In this installment, when I was at the bottom of the pit of despair, I told you about an adjacent landowner with a lot for sale whose property had been encroached upon by the Unfriendlys. (In 2010, Junior had moved his fence and electric gate off the boundary of his property onto the adjacent landowner’s property and onto a county road.) This encroachment created a “cloud” on the landowner’s title, complicating his attempts to sell the property.

I viewed the situation as another example of the Unfriendly’s ruthless, despicable, unstoppable behavior and the story  made me despair even more. Mr. Mom, however, saw it as an opportunity, and he wasted no time seizing it.

You might recall that when the district court ruled against us, we were left landlocked. At this point, the Unfriendly’s mineral rights, which Mr. Mom had purchased as leverage, became a moot point because, as we learned, you can only exercise mineral rights if you have access to said property. With no access, we had no legal way to pursue our mining claim and, thus, posed no threat to the Unfriendlys.

When Mr. Mom learned the Unfriendlys had encroached on an adjoining landowner looking to sell, he stepped in. Last year, Mr. Mom and his brother bought the landowner’s 2-acre parcel for cash at a bargain price. The tactic gave us immediate access to the Unfriendly’s property, meaning we could pursue our mining claim and once again use it for leverage in settling our easement dispute. However, the encroachment forced us to petition the court to clarify the boundary in a quiet title action.

Then, once the Appellate Court ruled in our favor in the previous court case, it meant we had successfully forced the Unfriendlys to defend multiple fronts simultaneously — an ancient war strategy cleverly adopted by Mr. Mom.  Better yet, because the Unfriendlys had unwisely encroached on a county road, the county was enjoined in our petition to the court and has a stake in seeing that the Unfriendlys correct the situation.

So for the last year, this is what Mr. Mom has been working on. He hired a boundary attorney to pursue the encroachment; a mining attorney to pursue our mining claim; and he’s still working with O’Malley on the condemnation hearing, which is scheduled to be heard in district court in April.

Yes, we’re racking up legal bills, but so are our neighbors. (Two things we’ve learned about attorneys: You get what you pay for. And like doctors, you’d best hire a specialist. You don’t want a dermatologist doing the job of a cardiologist.)

So it’s not surprising that we were recently contacted by a man named “Pal,” who says he’s a friend of the Unfriendlys (there’s an oxymoron, huh?), that he has been empowered to negotiate on their behalf, and that the family wants all of this to stop. He says Mrs. Unfriendly’s husband is quite ill, Mrs. Unfriendly is becoming more and more unfirm, and Junior and his sister never wanted to fight anyway. Pal says they want to settle.

Their opening volley suggests otherwise (it would take an entirely new post to describe the ludicrous details of their proposed settlement), but still — it’s a sign we’re getting on their nerves.

‘Bout time, don’t you think?

With gratitude {for the patience, wisdom, dogged determination and tactical brilliance of an ace strategist},

Joan, whose new obsession is House of Cards and, murderous instincts aside, thinks Mr. Mom is about as adept at managing enemies to his favor as Frank Underwood

Moderation is not my strong suit.

Dear friends,


A few days ago I told you about the Great Caffeine Detox of 2014, so I thought I ought to tell you things are going great. I’ve been headache free for days, I’m drinking more water than I ever thought imaginable, and my mind is once again clear and able to focus. Boo yah!

The other thing that has developed in an unquenchable level of energy. Marathon quilting is only one manifestation of this energy. Last weekend, I spent an entire day single-handedly spring cleaning my home. My boys were gone from dawn to well past dusk and I had the house to myself. I had planned to watch movies and take a nap, but early in the day I noticed Parker and his friends had tracked some mud in the house and I stopped to clean it up.  Twenty-four hours later, I had managed to:

  1. rearrange the furniture, rugs, throw pillows and lamps in four rooms,
  2. sweep in places that hadn’t been swept in a long time,
  3. sort through surplus books and box up dozens of volumes for charity,
  4. do the dishes and scrub the kitchen,
  5. do a load of laundry,
  6. reorganize my quilting supplies
  7. and do a thorough organization, cleaning and purging of my kitchen desk and all its drawers.

Tonight, it finally occurred to me that the source of all this energy might have a teensy bit to do with the fact that in addition to giving up caffeine, I also stopped biting my nails in 2014. I’m a lifelong nail chewer and two weeks ago my nails and cuticles were gnawed to the nub and dreadful looking. In fact, in the last weeks of 2013, my obsessive nail biting was rivaled only by the persistent eye twitch I had developed. (I can only imagine how mentally balanced I appeared while sitting through several meetings simultaneously chewing and twitching.)

Oh, and there’s one more thing. I also started a new eating plan, wherein I do a modified fast two days a week. (Read more here.) A friend recommended it and I was intrigued and dove in head first, as I am known to do.

So I’m not drinking caffeine, I’m not biting my nails, and two days a week I’m not eating. I’m not sure why I tackled three vices at once but, hey, when you’re cleaning up your life, I guess it pays to use a big broom.

With gratitude {for this burst of new-found willpower and energy, for however long it lasts},

Joan,  who realizes she’s a bundle of nervous energy but will take any kind of energy she can get

One sizzling quilt.

Dear friends,

Can you believe that I recently completed quilt #16?

Granted, three are baby quilts and two are mini-quilts, but still. In some 38 weeks, I have made SIXTEEN quilts. It’s kind of amazing and kind of crazy. (Okay, lots of crazy.)

Yesterday, I put away my sewing machine after quilting all day Saturday. I needed a break and I was a getting a little unnerved by how much the center of my home resembled the floor of a garment factory.

Besides, I’ve decided to start sewing elsewhere. Eventually, I plan to take over Kate’s room. Next fall, she will be leasing an off-campus apartment in her college town, and I think the days of her needing a bedroom here for extended periods are over. I’d be sad, but I’m cheered at the prospect of a dedicated sewing space.

Until then, I’ve decided to start sewing in my bedroom. It offers far more space than Mr. Mom and I really need and has a huge window, in front of which I plan to locate the new desk/sewing table I’ve ordered. At least when I make a mess in my bedroom, I can simply shut the door and I’ll still have clean a table for family dinners.

In any case, this is an awfully long preface for what I really wanted to tell you — which is quilt #16 is a real sizzler. I absolutely adore it. See what you think:


I made it as a surprise for someone many of my readers will recognize: the author of the “Sizzle Says” blog. If you read her blog, too, you already know Sizzle had a tough 2013. A quilt seemed like just the thing to send her a little cheer.

I wish I could say it was my idea, but it wasn’t. Regular reader and friend Maridel sent me an email in early December recruiting me as her partner in crime. She paid for the materials and I contributed the labor. Together, we shipped it off to Sizzle on Jan. 6  with wishes for health and happiness in the new year.

I’ve only seen a few photos of Sizzle’s home, so I had to guess that modern fabrics and design with a mix of soft and bold colors would fit in. Here’s the quilt in full:


Sizzle tweeted that “thank you doesn’t seem like enough for the beautiful quilt handmade by my friend.”

I assured her that thank you is always enough.

Trust me. I’m a bit of an expert.

With gratitude {for friends in need and friends in deed},

Joan, who’s headed to Florida next week for a business trip and expects she’ll take a little sewing hiatus until February

Just in time for the Super Bowl!

Dear friends,


Ever since we made Buffalo Wings for our non-traditional Christmas dinner, I’ve been craving them. Problem is, they’re a pain to make (all that deep frying!) and not particularly healthy in big doses. I’ve noticed a wave of “buffalo” style recipes lately and I decided lettuce wraps would be a healthier alternative. Unfortunately, I didn’t like any of the recipes I found.

So I made my own. It’s perfect, and I mean that most sincerely. And , hey, just in time for the Super Bowl!

You can thank me on Feb. 3.

Joan’s Buffalo Chicken Lettuce Wraps

1 head of iceberg lettuce, carefully torn into large leafs

3 stalks celery, split lengthwise and sliced thinly

1 large tomato, chopped

3 medium carrots, peeled and cut into sticks

1 rotisserie chicken, skin and meat removed

6 TBLS butter

1/4 to 1/2 cup Frank’s Hot Sauce, depending on taste

2 oz blue cheese, crumbled

Bottled blue cheese dressing (or make your own using this fabulous recipe)

Remove meat from rotisserie chicken and chop or shred. Discard skin.  Discard carcass or use to make broth. Combine chicken, butter and Frank’s hot sauce and heat in microwave until butter is melted, about 1.5 minutes. Mix well and taste. Add more hot sauce if desired.

Serve all ingredients salad-bar style. You can make wraps or layer the ingredients tostada-style over large lettuce leafs. Serve carrot sticks on the side. This recipe served 2 adults and 2 teenagers in our family.

With gratitude {for healthier, easier recipe alternatives, just in time for a Super-Duper eating day},

Joan, who loves her some Buffalo wings but doesn’t like the heartburn that accompanies a multi-wing indulgence

PS: this dish goes especially well with Anheuser Busch Shock Top Belgian White beer, especially the 6% version sold in Missouri

With much love,

Dear friends,


Yesterday I was in my office opening mail and came across a large envelope that was marked “personal.”

I didn’t even notice the return address before I opened the envelope to find a Christmas card and a stack of very old papers and letters. I opened the card quickly to see that it was from Mr. Mom’s Aunt Ruth, a relative I met for the first time last summer at this family reunion.

Ruth is in her mid-80′s. To me, she looks almost exactly like Mr. Mom’s mother, Rita. I have missed my mother-in-law terribly since we moved to Missouri, and seeing as she wasn’t able to attend the Iowa reunion, I spent two days soaking up the company of her seven siblings who did. Ruth and I bonded immediately even though we’d never met. I filled her in on Rita’s children and grandchildren and she told me stories of the family and the farm. At one point while we were talking, she looked at me intently and said “My, you are beautiful.” I laughed loudly and said “Oh, Ruth, I knew I loved you!”

As I poured over the contents of Ruth’s envelope, I found a slip of paper upon which Ruth had typed: “I have been sorting through old cards and letters. Perhaps you and yours would like to have the enclosed. If nothing else, collect the stamps. Ha.”

The package was a treasure trove of family history. Among the enclosures were: a scrapbook page containing the 1955 wedding announcement for Mr. Mom’s parents, along with a wedding invitation and an embossed napkin; a baby announcement for Mr. Mom’s sister mailed from Rita to Ruth in 1959; an undated still-life drawing by Rita; a poem written by Rita to her sister Ruth on the occasion of Ruth’s 10th wedding anniversary on March 10, 1956; and several letters from Rita to Ruth over many years.

Earlier that morning, I had written a Christmas card to my mother-in-law telling her how much I missed her and the years when we lived just down the road from each other and spent every Christmas together. My heart was more than a little heavy — and then I opened a surprise envelope and so much of Rita’s life spilled out. Both the gift and my longing were overwhelming so a flood of tears soon spilled onto the stack of papers in my lap.

I didn’t have time to read every letter at that moment and, besides, like a favorite box of candy, I wanted to savor the contents. But I did pull out one letter from the stack dated Jan. 4, 1968, and began to read a detailed and personal letter between sisters. Eight pages long, it included an update about each of Rita’s four children. My heart skipped a beat when I reached this passage:

“(Mr. Mom) is a darling, so sweet and good-natured. He likes so much to have someone talk just to him and listen just to him. He wants to help and to share, and he tries very hard to be nice. There is a little jealously between him and (his younger brother), but it’s mostly one of wanting a little more attention for himself. He likes to set the table and help vacuum the rug and he’s pretty good about picking up toys. If he catches his mama or his daddy sitting down, he’s sure to crawl into his or her lap. He makes some charming observations about various things. For example, one day when I came home from school, he was playing in the front yard with his little neighbor friend. I said “Come on in and get ready to go.” He asked “Where are we going?” I said “I’ll tell you in a minute.” So he turned to his little friend and said “Mama doesn’t know where we are going.” And one windy day, he was looking out the window watching the trees sway and he came to me and said “I know what makes the wind blow. It’s the tree branches that move around and push the air all over.”

I don’t know if Ruth could have imagined how moved I am by her thoughtful gesture and how much I treasure the contents of her envelope. It’s a much-needed tonic for the woman who misses her husband’s mother, her own mother, and the regular family interactions lost over so many miles.

With gratitude {for the old-fashioned act of letter writing, the inclination to save paper ephemera, and a sweet aunt’s Christmas gift to a sentimental fool},

Joan, who’s not one bit surprised Mr. Mom’s helpfulness and good-natured disposition was on full display at age five

Bang up job.

Dear friends,


We’ve been so busy ’round my house I haven’t had a chance to tell you about a major development in our lives.

The development is part of why we’ve been so busy.

We had a big winter storm last week, during which I was unlucky enough (stupid enough, inept enough, pick-your-adjective enough) to wreck my car.

I’m fine. Only my pocketbook and my pride are damaged and both will recover. But my trusty 2005 Honda Accord with 180,000 miles bit the dust.

I bought this car off the showroom floor after test-driving a number of makes and models. After being convinced I would buy a very mature Volkswagon Passat. After being certain there was no car that would make my heart go pitter-pat like my first (a 1968 Mustang), so why try?

But the six-speed manual Accord Coupe with the v6 engine had so much git-up-and-go (where git-up-and-go equals Joan squealing the tires on the test drive), I was instantly smitten. And I was convinced I would drive my silver bullet AT LEAST until Kate graduates from college.

But it appears the universe wanted to me to have a new car, because the Honda was totaled last Thursday on an icy hill of a busy, roller-coaster highway near our house.

So much for plans.

Anyhoo, Mr. Mom and I are off to St. Louis today to test drive several models. Parker, our resident expert, created our short list. I love that he listed the Scion SRS twice. (Subliminal advertising, perhaps?) I love how he spells Volkswagon. I love that he is a walking-talking Consumer Reports when it comes to anything automotive and that he really wants me to know the Mustang was rated Car and Driver’s best drive under $30K and that it has the best torque, whatever torque means for my driving experience.

I also love that he rolls his eyes whenever I say no new-fangled Mustang could ever compare to my beloved ’68 pea-green pony, so why try to recreate my youth? (Lest you are unclear about my passion for my original Mustang, read this love letter.)

You can bet I’ll keep you posted on our progress. In the mean time, I’m enjoying having extra time with Mr. Mom as he chauffeurs me around town.

With gratitude {for a car and driver},

Joan, who’s really trying to ignore Parker when he suggests she buy a 2014 “Gotta have it green” Mustang and add a custom-painted frog to the rear panel because who needs that kind of temptation?

Day 8: The Unfriendlys. An Update.

Dear friends,

Boys love the mountain.

The last time we were on our mountain, Parker was a lot younger.

On day 8 of this month of Thanksgiving, there’s nothing more gratitude-inducing than the most recent update in our mountain saga.

When we last talked, the appellate court had ruled in our favor and we were in a holding pattern, waiting on the Unfriendlys. Their options were to appeal to the Supreme Court, settle with us, or go back to District Court for a hearing regarding our request for immediate possession. (Immediate is such an ironic term in our case since we’ve been legally barred from our land for more than four years.)

The Unfriendlys didn’t appeal. (A little surprising.) And they didn’t settle. (Not at all surprising.)

Which means we’re headed to court for a three-day hearing in front of a new judge in 2014. We received notice this week of a court date in February. Then we received notice that date wouldn’t work and would be reset, perhaps in April. Set, reset . . . it’s typical in our experience. At least we know the next step, even if we can’t pinpoint the date.

This time around, we’re the plaintiffs and the Unfriendlys are the defendants. That’s a big deal. The burden of proof is on them to prove their proposed hypothetical road (that they claim we should construct through seven other land-owners’ properties and up a 600-foot granite bluff that would require extensive blasting) is cheaper, quicker and more ecologically sound than the gravel road that already exists across their property to ours.

Knock on wood, common sense and property case law will prevail in the coming year.

With gratitude {for one more step toward reclaiming our family property},

Joan, who’s trying to focus on the finish line and not to dwell on how much family time on the mountain has been lost to this senseless dispute

Day 7: Friends and beans.

Dear friends,


I’ve long been a fan of Martha Stewart, even after she went to jail for insider trading. I’ve watched her show, purchased many of her books, and plopped down more than a few bills at Macy’s for her signature home goods. But when she recently criticized food bloggers — well, that’s more than I can stomach.

Practically all the new recipes I cook come from food bloggers. Some of my favorites are Rebecca at Foodie with Family, Lisa at the Cutting Edge of Ordinary, Ree at Pioneer Woman, Krysta at Evil Chef Mom and Annie at Phoo-D.

Krysta and Annie fall squarely into the “not professional” category that Martha dared to snark about — meaning they do it for the love of food and aren’t professional chefs, stylists or writers. Both have been on long hiatuses (they have real life to attend to), but I continue to go back to their archives regularly for favorite recipes. And I can only imagine how much Martha must look down her nose at Pioneer Woman. A home cook who landed on the NY Times Bestseller List and scored her own cooking show? Sacre bleu!

Every single one of women I’ve mentioned on my short list are individuals I’ve gotten to know outside their blogdom and whom I consider friends, even if our relationships are purely virtual. And who wouldn’t rather turn to a friend first for a great recipe?

So suck it, Martha. You’re talking out of your you-know-what on this one.

Case in point: Krysta reappeared on her blog this week with a new recipe that Mr. Mom made for me last night. It’s pure heaven and I want you — no I IMPLORE you — to try it.

Frijoles con todo, otherwise known as bean magic.

Click here for Krysta’s recipe. I won’t bother to say anything more than you deserve to cry in your beans in you never try these beans.

Mr. Mom wants you to know he doubled the recipe and thought it was just right for our family of three. That probably says more about our lumberjack appetites than Krysta’s recipe. I will simply say we ate 2-3 bowls each, because they’re that good, so you really might want to cook more.

With gratitude {for friends with great recipes and frijoles con todo, the perfect comfort food for a chilly fall night},

Joan, who’s also offering a shout-out for her home cook who takes requests, aka Mr. Mom

Sunday in the park.

Dear friends,


In the moments when I’m not actually quilting, I’ve been obsessively thinking about quilting.

I realize this is not a revelation, but contrary to what you might think, I’m not pondering the technicalities of the craft, but rather the marketing.

Communications and marketing fill a good bit of my day job, so I can’t help the way my brain works, I suppose. For example, I spent almost as much time thinking about the marketing of my latest quilt as I did constructing it. (Forget the fact that I have no real way to sell it at this moment given I’m awaiting my business ID number and I am so busy sewing that I’m not making much progress on the long list of action items required to actually launch Magpie Quilts.)

I’ve been thinking that quilts have a functional use, of course. But given how much they cost — unless they’re made in China and you buy them at Wal-Mart — they’re also a lifestyle choice, on the one hand, and an expression of what we love and value, on the other hand.

And so given the assumption that a quilt is much more than a blanket, I’ve been thinking of quilt design names and advertising copy that support investing in a lifestyle choice (versus making an inexpensive purchase at a big box retailer).

My latest creation, photographed above, is “Sunday is the Park.” I even wrote sales copy because, you know, I can’t help myself.

Sunday in the Park

(Gone Fishing, #1 in a series)

A picnic basket. A shady spot under an oak tree. And a beautiful whole-cloth quilt on which to stretch out and spend a lazy afternoon with your sweetheart. These are the elements of a relaxing Sunday in the park, and Magpie Quilts’ latest design creates the perfect landing spot for your next outdoor excursion.

Gone Fishing is the first in a series of Sunday in the Park quilts. It is made from 100% cotton fabric and features charming pink and green prints. The front is whole cloth, which highlights the full beauty of a pastoral scene depicting a young brother and sister at their favorite fishing hole.  The back features four large panels in two coordinating prints with window-frame sashing. The quilt is entirely hand-made — pieced, quilted and bound by a single artisan in her Missouri studio — and measures 58″ X 58″, making it suitable for covering your lap as well as your picnic spot.

All Magpie Quilts are safe for the washing machine if laundered in cold water with a gentle detergent and dried on a low-to-medium setting. The batting is an 80/20 cotton-polyester blend, which gives the quilt an exceptional drape and a light weight.

Magpie Quilts is the brainchild of a woman who grew up in a heartland town she calls Mayberry, where catching fireflies on summer nights, sleeping under quilts hand-stitched by the local quilting bee, and sharing the bounty of a backyard vegetable patch never went out of vogue. Her quilt designs combine both vintage-inspired and contemporary fabrics in unfussy patterns that evoke a simpler time, a slower pace, and a love for the creature comforts of home.

I know, I know. Hyperbole is also my talent. When Joan equals “artisan” and her dining room equals “studio,” you know my sales pitch is on overdrive.

Maybe I don’t really want to sew as much as I want to design and market quilts. I’ve got two additional quilt lines already percolating in my brain: “Gram’s Porch,” featuring quilts reminiscent of summer nights spent on your grandmother’s sleeping porch; and “Aunt Hazel’s House,” featuring quilts reminiscent of your favorite aunt’s welcoming hospitality. I may sew them one at a time for the rest of my life, but I’m enjoying daydreaming about a vast creative enterprise. So, thank you, friends, for indulging me as I pretend to be the world’s next quilt auteur.

With gratitude {for an obsessive brain I can’t shut off if I try},

Joan, who knows Martha Stewart/Laura Ashley-empire aspirations might create Donald Trump-style hubris and vows to avoid pomposity and bad hair

The Mountain. {An OMG update.}

Dear friends,

One year ago this week, I shared this about our mountain story:

Thus, as of August 17, 2012, our motion to reconsider and multiple responses were on the judge’s desk awaiting a ruling, for which he may take up to 63 days to respond. If the judge does not rule in that time frame, it is considered a denial of our motion to reconsider. If denied, O’Malley is prepared to file a motion to appeal with the appellate court.

So that’s it. My story has caught up with real time. Real time involves a lot of waiting. Waiting doesn’t make for a very interesting story.

Boy have we been waiting. There have been some other developments along the way, but nothing I’ve had the energy or interest to write about.

Whenever you have a long wait ahead of you, it’s easy to distract yourself in the early stages. But in recent weeks, as the clock has ticked toward a year since we filed our appeal with the appellate court, Mr. Mom has gotten antsy. I’ve felt his restlessness and his anxiety and it has distressed me. Earlier this summer I pretty much told him to cool his jets. “Who knows when that damn court will rule?” I snapped. “You might as well get used to waiting. And you better prepare yourself for the worst!”

The ruling came today.

It’s 14 pages long. It’s hard to read . . . so much convoluted legalease through most of it. But two sentences from page 6 are very clear:

(Mr. Mom and family) contends the trial court erred in granting summary judgment to the (Unfriendlys) and in failing to vacate the summary judgment. We agree.

Do you get it? The trial court erred. The appellate court agrees with us.

That’s a stunner to read over a Fuji Apple salad on your lunch hour. Then I read this on page 13.

Judgment reversed and case remanded for the trial court’s consideration of all elements of (our family’s) claim.

Explains why that woman with the Fuji Apple salad was crying in the corner at Panera, huh?

This story started in 2004. It didn’t end today, nine years later, but it sure took a turn for the better. For the rational.

The Unfriendlys have 41 days to appeal this court’s decision to the Colorado Supreme Court. Or they can settle with us and give us an easement. Or we can go back to district court for “consideration of all elements of our claim,” where — as the ruling points out — “the (Unfriendlys) bear the burden of proving the existence of a practical, reasonable, and cost-effective alternate route to (our family’s) property.”

We don’t know which way it will go, but we like our chances in all three scenarios.

And that’s the most optimistic thing I’ve said about the mountain in nine years.

Can I get an Amen?

With enormous gratitude {on a random Thursday in August},

Joan, who despite today’s optimism still expects the Unfriendlys to fight tooth and nail, unlike Mr. Mom who thinks they will settle, so you can place your bets here if you like, winner gets a quilt

PS: Mr. Mom, Parker and I celebrated today’s news with take-out Chinese. I didn’t particularly like any of our fortunes, but I saved all three as a memento of this day. When we are next able to set foot on our property, I’ll leave them as an offering at the Unfriendly’s gate.

PS #2: I know this post is a bit understated. The reversal of an unfavorable court ruling by a higher court, the removal of a financial judgment against us, and the path to a long-awaited easement are BIG DEALS. Yes, I shed a few tears, but there were no high fives and no champagne toasts. Instead, Mr. Mom and I went to bed early and tried to absorb the news. “Thank you for sticking by me all these years in my insane obsession,” he said quietly in the dark. It felt like the biggest I-love-you he ever offered.


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