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

 

The best cake you’ll never bake.

Dear friends,

iceboxcake

I made a cake on Saturday that was not only a showstopper, it was surprisingly easy to put together. Combine showy with simple — and throw in amazingly good flavor — and you’ve got yourself a winner.

My friend Gina was hosting a pool party to celebrate the birthday of a mutual friend, Mary. We’re a group of ladies who have bonded around food so Gina wisely planned a potluck to take advantage of diverse culinary talents. I was tagged for the cake because . . . well you’ve read my blog before, right? Some would say I kind of have a thing for cakes.

But on this day of this week, I just couldn’t get myself revved up. Many of my favorite cakes require specialty ingredients and six or more hours from start to finish. After a week of working double shifts on my home improvement projects, I didn’t have it in me. Honestly, my friends were lucky I showered before I showed up.

Fortunately, I tripped across this Lemon & Thyme Icebox Cake on the blog She Wears Many Hats.

I won’t repeat all the ingredients and directions here because you can and should simply click on my link to her beautiful blog. But I will say a few things about this cake that the author doesn’t.

First, if you don’t have access to fancy-pants cookies, don’t sweat it. I live in a small town and all I could get my hands on was good ol’ vanilla wafers. They worked perfectly. You’ll need two boxes, and you’ll use about 20 cookies per layer.

Second, don’t be tempted (like I was) to use something other than honey to sweeten the cream. The combination of thyme, lemon and honey is both brilliant and sublimely simple. It’s why this recipe works, so don’t mess with it.

Third, make your candied lemons a day in advance. You don’t have to of course, but it’s a time saver you’ll appreciate. By the way, if you’ve never had candied lemons, don’t be tempted to skip this step. They are not only beautiful, they are addictive. Between Mr. Mom, Parker, and me, it’s a wonder we had any left to top the cake.

Fourth, when I first started whipping together the cream cheese, honey and lemon juice, it looked like a watery, curdled mess and I panicked. Don’t. Just keep whipping it with the electric beater and it will eventually come together. More whipping is good in this instance. Fear not!

Fifth, the first layer of this cake is a real challenge. Basically, you’re being asked to put a ring of cookies on a plate and smear them with a sticky mixture of honey and cream. The cookies simply won’t stay put and “spreading” the mixture on top of them is laughable. I ended up dropping mounds of the cream mixture on top and doing my best to smash it around in anything resembling a layer. But from then on, you’re home free because the cookies stick to the cream beneath them (kind of like tiles on grout) and it all works. Next time I make this, I might try putting a little cream mixture on the bottom of each cookie to see if I can get the first layer of cookies to stick to the plate.

Don’t worry about slicing the cake when you’re ready to serve it. (But do refrigerate it first for 2-3 hours. Despite the fact that the entire time I was assembling this cake, Mr. Mom and I were dunking Vanilla Wafers in the cream mixture and eating them, I think it tastes better chilled and you need time for the cookies to absorb the moisture of the cream.) Slice it like you would any cake and transport the slices from the cake stand to a plate with a cake server. You won’t have any trouble.

In case you’re curious, the cookies and the cream melt into a lovely texture that is — to me — reminiscent of Tiramisu. The combination of a light, lemony flavor with a light texture is perfect.

The next time you need an easy but elegant dessert, I hope you’ll give this one a try. After all, it’s Magpie tested and approved!

With gratitude {for other, more qualified bloggers with fantastic ideas just when I need them},

Joan, who came home from the party and took a two-hour nap, which alcohol aside, is in her book the sign of a really fabulous shin-dig

Guess what’s happening on the mountain?

fu

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,

MjAxNC1iNzQwY2QxOGNiNDRmODU2_52c83870d2672

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:

sizzlecu

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:

sizzlequilt

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,

buffalolettucewraps

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,

ruth

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,

carlist

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,

beans

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

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