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

Empty nesting.

Dear friends,

studiocollage

A few sneak peeks of my work-in-progress sewing studio.

I’ve been away from this space for a long time.

I didn’t plan to take a hiatus . . . I’ve just been savoring every moment of my last weeks with Parker at home and I guess I lost track of time.

But guess what? He’s already off at college. (His program in Heavy Equipment Operations at our state’s technical college started June 2.) And Kate flew the nest, too, and decided not to return home for the summer. Instead, she rented an off-campus apartment in Oklahoma in hopes of playing USTA tennis with her coach and landing a summer job that lasts longer than the summer.

It’s weird — having no chicks in the nest. Mr. Mom and I have experienced three whole days of It’s-Just-You-and-Me-Babe Freedom. We have no idea what to make of it yet, so I have no pronouncements to offer.

Okay, maybe I have one: In times like these, it’s best to distract yourself.

To that end, I dove head-first into the deep waters of home improvement. You may recall that two years ago when I struggled with Kate leaving for college, I had no plan. The combination of idle time and her unoccupied bedroom haunted me for weeks and I vowed to avoid a repeat with Parker. It was a coincidence that we moved Kate to her Oklahoma apartment and Parker to his college dorm over the same weekend, but it was not a coincidence that I drove straight home and immediately embarked on two redecorating projects.

First, Kate’s former bedroom is being repurposed into my quilting studio. The to-do is long but the results are immensely gratifying. I mean, come on! I may have lost a daughter (and her assorted furnishings), but I gained a dedicated sewing space. I’m not suggesting it’s anything close to an even trade, but it sure takes the sting off. The recently painted black bookcase (to match my sewing table), the glass canisters filled with brightly colored fabric scraps, the celery green cutting table (a thrift store bargain), the Jadite bowl of fabric pears — it all delights me to no end. I’m quite a ways from finishing the entire space, but I can’t wait to give you a tour when it’s perfect.

Second, Parker’s former bedroom is being repurposed into a guest room. I know to some mothers’ ears this will sound harsh. “He leaves for college and you empty his bedroom?”

But here’s the deal. His academic program is only a year long, after which he will be employed and, if things go according to his 10-year plan, he’ll be traveling extensively. He told me he thinks it would be “cool” to operate a crane in New York City. The point is — the boy has dreams and plans and they don’t include living with me anymore. When he is at home, he’ll need a bed, not a bedroom. (And, let’s be honest, the presence of “his decor” in “his room” makes me miss him even more so I’m creating a room that doesn’t remind me he doesn’t live here anymore.) Plus, I have overnight guests coming later this summer and his boring white walls, oak furniture, and teenager bedding and posters simply won’t do.

Some people drink. I paint. To each his own method of coping, I say.

Anyway, I’m busy cleaning, painting, organizing, decorating, and generally pouring every ounce of my personal time into two big projects. I hope it will be Labor Day before I look up and notice my house is empty, by which time I’ll be used to it. (Makes sense to me!)

With gratitude {for interesting distractions and a partner-in-crime who seems willing to indulge my every DIY whim},

Joan, who has been remarkably composed during this difficult transition and still thinks she’d feel better if she’d just have a good cry

PS: I’ve been away so long, I can’t leave now without telling you about five, very important developments since you last heard from me.

ONE: Parker went to his first (and last) prom. To say he looked handsome in his tux is an understatement. Don’t believe me? Take a look at this boy!

parkprofile

TWO: Kate’s college tennis team once again qualified for nationals and competed in Orlando, FL. I didn’t get to attend this year due to work obligations but I’m bursting with pride for “my girls.” Their final ranking for the season is number #19. IN THE NATION.

NCAA

THREE: When Kate moved to Oklahoma, she took SweetPea with her. THINK ABOUT THIS! Both my kids and my dog left home at the same time. Okay, I know SweetPea is Kate’s dog. But she has lived with me for 8 years. It’s like a death in the family, I tell you.

sweetpea

FOUR: During the time I was gone from this space, Mr. Mom and I spent a week in Colorado for our mountain trial. I haven’t had time or inclination to write about it. Long-story short: It happened and we’re awaiting the judge’s verdict. There’s a lot of drama and twists and turns (including a near-death experience with a star witness and my verbal altercation with the Unfriendly’s attorney), but I’m saving it for later.

FIVE: I am married to the kindest, most considerate man in the world. If he wasn’t the foundation of my empty nest, I’m not sure what I would do. Just sayin’.

Hell away: My messy beautiful.

*** This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project.  To learn more and join us, click here. And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, click here. ***

Dear friends,

phyllis & jm beach

P and me, circa 1968.

The fact that Kate called me from college during the middle of a business meeting, which I was leading but which I interrupted to answer, was odd enough.

Her questions were even odder.

“I have Sunday off and I’m going to the city to have lunch with Aunt P. I was wondering if you know of a good place to eat in her neighborhood. Also, I want to go to the cemetery and place flowers on Grannie’s grave and I don’t know how to get there.”

On the surface, there are easy answers to Kate’s questions. But my sweet daughter unknowingly unleashed a hornet’s nest of angst in two simple sentences — so much so that I excused myself from the meeting to step outside, where stepping outside equals stepping into the vast wasteland of  my emotion on the topic of my sister.

I’ve had what can politely be described as a “difficult” relationship with my sister. At the time of my mother’s death nearly four years ago, she and I were estranged for reasons not necessary to detail here but related to her lifetime of addiction and my lifetime of carefully cultivated anger. Right before my mother passed, Mom said very little other than she’d had a good life and she wasn’t afraid to die. But she had a final request: “Please stay close to P,” she asked quietly. “She doesn’t have anyone and she needs you.”

Let me tell you — I could write an irrefutable essay on why deathbed requests should be immediately outlawed, but that’s not the point of this story.  To those living and those departing, deathbed requests are an unfair entreaty, or at least that’s how I felt after eight weeks of being the only family member holding vigil at my mother’s side during her final illness. But faced with my mother’s last request to do the one thing I knew I couldn’t do, I did what any loving daughter would do.

I lied.

“Okay,” I whispered. “I will.”

Six months later, I moved out of state. I moved for a lot of reasons, but being five hours away from my sister was surely at the top of the list.

And, now, here was my daughter, away at college and willing to drive two hours to have lunch with her aunt, whose calls I mostly don’t answer and whose texts I only occasionally return. I’ve always believed the universe sends people signals when they most need them. On this day, I thought the universe must be drunk, too. I didn’t like this signal and it surely was nothing more than a kind of cosmic glitch, an errant sign that had nothing to do with me.

But I took a deep breath and answered my daughter’s questions amid the traffic noise outside my office. I was surprisingly composed but unsurprisingly terse. I told her my sister lives in a terrible neighborhood and there’s no decent place to eat within miles of her house. But don’t take her anywhere fancy, I cautioned, because she looks like a homeless person. And don’t bother going to the cemetery because the grave is still unmarked and you won’t be able to find it. It’s a long story, I said, with the kind of exasperated tone that made it clear the failure to buy a headstone had everything to do with my sister’s broken promises.

It was the worst kind of explanation a mother could give a daughter, especially one as good-hearted as mine. It was shameful, really, but it was all I had. Love didn’t exactly win at that moment.

You know — those of us who are fans of Glennon Melton would break a leg to meet her. I adore Glennon, but you know who I really want to meet? I want to meet Glennon’s Sister. I want to pull Sister aside and ask how she managed to be Sister to the Drunk all those years. Because during my sister’s awful, horrible years when she stole my car and my money and my jewelry and found every way humanly possibly to hurt my mother and nearly got herself killed, more than once by a drunken male companion — I stayed the hell away.

I made sure P knew she was not invited to my wedding. I made my mother promise not to take my children around her. When she was sent to jail, many times, I never bothered to ask where or why or for how long. I refused to visit her in the hospital after she was nearly beaten to death with a steel pipe until my mother tearfully begged me to go, after which I stood in the doorway of her dingy hospital room because I wasn’t brave enough to cross the linoleum abyss between my anger and her pain.

You know, for as hard as it must be to be Drunk — and Glennon has given me so many insights into that experience — it’s also hard to be Sister. I’m not making excuses, I’m just saying sobriety, especially my kind of protective sobriety which looks a lot like furious disapproval, is hard, too. The addicted and the sober — we’re like two jagged stones tumbling down a dirt road, crashing into each other and knocking off our smooth edges, unintentionally making each other sharper and scarring up the soft earth around us. We might be doing the best we can, the only ways we know how — and for Pete’s sake we ought to give each other a break given the circumstances — but it’s so ugly and so painful we don’t know what to do so we just keep tumbling.

Surprisingly, though, after my mother died the anger I had nurtured about my sister over so many years began to fray in a way that startled me. The unraveling of what had safeguarded and sustained me, the tattering that had moved beyond the edges into the center of my tightly woven gall, left me unsteady, as if I had lost the only emotional compass that worked for me with P. I sought a counselor’s assistance because the problem with losing your anger is that it’s not immediately replaced with an emotion you know how to work with.  The absence of fury doesn’t create compassion.  It’s something more like benign forbearance, which isn’t particularly conducive to family reconciliations. The counselor advised me to set the boundaries I needed to protect myself, but to commit to taking action in keeping with my values. Apparently the boundary I needed was 300 miles wide.

I figured I’d think about the values part later.

You know, my husband has this theory that the incarcerated aren’t the only ones in prison. He believes the wardens — and the System that retains them — are locked in the same dreadful dynamic, and the keepers aren’t any more free to leave than the criminals. Who’s to say which side of the bars is more subjugating, he asks?

His insight resonates with me because I haven’t known for a long time who’s on what side of what jail, P and me. She’s paid a steep price, including her health, a good bit of her sanity, and an unbreakable tether to her daily dose at the methadone clinic.

But I’ve paid a price too, one I’m just beginning to calculate. I’ve never believed in a literal hell but I can tell you hell away is a torturous place, maybe exactly what God warned us about, but so close to our noses that we humans couldn’t see it and instead we told stories of fire and brimstone because, you know, speck in her eye.

I don’t have a tidy answer today. I know P loves me, because she never fails to tell me. I know I love her too, because I am starting to let myself feel it, no matter how hard I try to resist and how few times I say it. I know we are sisters because we are breathtakingly imperfect in our sameness and because a million years ago, when she was 16 and I was 6, we rode around in the car together, the windows rolled down and the am radio playing Janis Joplin, who taught us “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.”

The lyrics held true for her and I suddenly think they have held true for me, too.  Maybe we were destined to spiral downward together, to plumb the depths of our souls in tandem until she hit the rock bottom of reckless addiction and I hit the rock bottom of hardened sobriety.  The landing always hurts, I suddenly realize, but there’s comfort in finding hard ground, in stopping the free fall.

Who knew we would be emancipated together 45 years later?

With gratitude {for daughters, sisters, and second chances},

Joan, but, like my sister, you can call me JM

messybeautiful

 

 

Home remedy.

Dear friends,

I took a few days off over Spring Break with ambitious plans, most of which didn’t come to fruition.

I spent my first day cleaning house and my second day re-organizing my dish pantry. Over the course of several months, the pantry had become a junk closet — one you  could no longer walk into because the floor was covered with piles of objects I was too lazy to put away. But by day’s end, it was clean, tidy and organized.

pantry

Despite my early productivity, additional plans to clean out my quilting cabinet, wash windows, take care of some nagging paperwork, and finish a quilt-in-progress never materialized.

Instead I watched television, took more naps than I can count, and abandoned my dreams of vacation productivity in favor of a very slow pace — so much so that by Friday evening, I was feeling pretty let down.

Whenever I’m feeling lethargic, there’s nothing like a day in the kitchen to re-charge my batteries. Cooking has long been my fail-safe home remedy to cure what ails me. Cooking and baking are both my motivation and my therapy.

I started early with a tried-and-true cake recipe. By the time Mr. Mom woke up and joined me for coffee, he wondered if someone had lent me a hand in the kitchen.

rear

Note to self: Black yoga pants aren’t the best baking attire. No wonder pastry chefs wear white.

After the cake, I set my mind to three new recipes culled from a cookbook by Food and Wine and one from a food blog. By 5:00 pm dinner was on the table, and oh what a table it was!

tabletop2

There was Maple Glazed Chicken with Mustard Jus; Brown Rice and Barley Tabbouleh with Apricot and Mint; Roast Zucchini with Ricotta; Romaine and Avocado Salad with Garlic-Anchovy Dressing; and Vanilla Layer Cake with Raspberry-Cointreau Filling and Chocolate Buttercream Icing.

When food is this good, it’s a treat.

When it’s beautiful too . . .

cake

It’s almost too good to be true.

And it totally makes up for a few undone projects.

With gratitude {for a happy Saturday to end my vacation and the best Spring Break meal in a million years},

Joan, who urges you to try every single one of these recipes because aren’t you hungry now? And PS: Is there anything that perks up a table more than a cheery vintage tablecloth?

Booty camp.

Dear friends,

Three weeks ago, one of my running buddies admitted to me and another friend that she had been two-timing us. As in — pursuing another fitness regimen on our “off” days.

Rather than being miffed, I was intrigued when she said she had attended “boot camp,” an aptly named exercise torture device that I have heard of, but had never experienced.

It’s free, she said. At a local church, she said. Come along, she said.

So I went. And LORD HAVE MERCY did I experience it.

For the uninitiated, boot camp is an hour long, high-intensity, old-school workout not for the faint of heart. It involves jumping jacks and push ups and sit ups (the old-fashioned kind, not wussy crunches) and sprinting and lunges.

And burpees.

Never heard of a burpee? I hadn’t either until three weeks ago, when I immediately recognized 1) I AM OLD, 2) I AM TRAGICALLY UNFIT, 3) I AM FEARFUL.

Here’s sort of what a burpee looks like:

marines_burpee

Thing is, you don’t do it slow. You do it fast. And bouncy. See that squat in position two? From there you BOUNCE to position three. Then you BOUNCE from position three to position four. Then you bounce STRAIGHT UP IN THE AIR.

Then you immediately repeat it. Over and over and over again for 45 seconds.

If you can do a burpee, it will make you want to kill yourself. If you can’t do a burpee, which I couldn’t, it will make you laugh maniacally while you try, then cry bitterly from humiliation when you fail, then make you want to kill yourself. (But in a way far less painful than a burpee, of course.)

I had no idea that a thing that looks so simple could be so hard, where hard equals a feeling approximately equivalent to sucking the flames of a blow torch into your lungs while simultaneously crushing your upper arms and legs in a vise.

Yeah, it’s that awesome.

Anyway, after my excursion to boot camp, I couldn’t walk upright or sit without moaning for three days. I ate Advil like Pez. And, curiously, I went back to boot camp four days later, determined not to let the burpee break me like when Sgt. Foley screams at Mayo for his D-O-R!

I even practiced burpees at home under the tutelage of Mr. Mom, who said my technique was wrong (NOT TRUE), and Parker, who said my upper body is too weak (BINGO!). By the way, “practice at home” equals one or two tries because after that, I’m too tired to try again until the next day. BURPEES ARE THAT HARD.

Anyway, today I finished my 7th boot camp workout and I did all the burpees I should have done except one. In the last three seconds of my final 45-second rotation, I lost all strength in my body and failed to do the final burpee. Instead, I rolled over into the fetal position and — unlike the shame of my first day at boot camp — felt nothing but honor for having given the &%$# burpee everything I had.

Did I mention we do burpees at 5:30 in the morning?

Yeah, so I’m just saying . . . well, I’m just saying I’m awesome for even showing up. (By the way, if you haven’t heard of Kid President, Google him. Or watch this short video. In the words of Kid President: “Being a human is hard. Some days, you ought to get a high-five for getting out of bed.” Amen, brother!)

After arriving back home following today’s victory, Mr. Mom asked me how “booty camp” went. (He calls it booty camp as a nod to the improving shape of my backside. He’s sweet that way.)

I said it was awesome. I said I did burpees. I said I claimed victory even though I fell one short of a boot camp’s worth of burpees.

And in the immortal words of “Lynette” in the final scene of the greatest boot camp story in cinematic history: “Way to go, Joan! Way to go!”

With gratitude {for good friends, good medicine, and a cracker jack drill sergeant},

Joan, but you can call me GI Joan

The Unaquilter strikes twice!

Dear friends,

zebra

I’m not sure why I’ve been blogging so infrequently lately. Part of it is an exceptionally busy time at work combined with a revved-up workout schedule, but part of it is that I’ve been trying to catch up on backlogged quilts.

I finished two of my languishing projects last week. Both are for baby girls due later this spring so I really needed to get going. One quilt was for a colleague and features the most adorable and whimsical animal print ever. I had so much fun stitching up this quilt that I would have been tempted to keep it for myself had it not been crib sized.

Here’s another view of the adorable Cori Dantini fabric line.

giraffe2

The second quilt features a lone, framed star on front and an impressionist floral on back. It was an improv design with mix-and-match fabrics including a couple of pink prints left over from my Cori Dantini stash.

brittquilt.jpg_large

For some reason, this quilt gave me fits and I spent two nights ripping out row after row after row of stitches after discovering multiple puckers on the back. Ugh.

On the bright side (literally), my favorite part of this quilt was the white-on-white floral fabric with simple white quilting.

whiteonwhite

This quilt is for a friend of my CupKate’s. I’ve known B since she and Kate met in Kindergarten. I don’t know where the time went and I can’t believe I’m already creating wedding and baby gifts for my oldest child’s friends.

Still, I had so much fun I bought another star pattern — aptly titled Swoon — that I’ve been eying for months.  And I’ve got just the girl in mind for it.

Once I cross a few more projects off my to-quilt list, that is.

With gratitude {for a busy but productive spring},

The Unaquilter, aka The Magpie, who wants to come back in her next life as a Cori Dantini-illustrated magpie

Life and the ephemeral meaning I seek to ascribe to it.

Dear friends,

0

Source: torufukuda.com

I’ve had the oddest week. Not so much a week as an off-key symphony of gasps and stumbles and indignations and re-opened wounds and thoughts about my life and the ephemeral meaning I seek to ascribe to it.

I made a Facebook post on Tuesday about how awful my day was and felt immediately guilty. Because, you know, the Ukraine. If the cultural and socio-economic gnashing of teeth and splitting of skulls we’ve come to know as geopolitics doesn’t incite guilt in you, I’ve also got examples close to home.

One friend’s father is dying of organ failure. He put off seeking medical attention because he couldn’t afford it. Another friend’s mother is gravely ill with an unexpected, often fatal illness, the kind that blindsides the loved ones of otherwise healthy people who end up dead in less than 48 hours. My friends’ blushed faces, their tears, their cracked voices and halting logic overrun by emotion remind me of 2010, the Year I Lost My Mother. I cry for them and I cry for me, knowing their wounds are fresh and will take years to heal and, even then, the scar tissue will occasionally bind them until they wince with pain at unexpected moments.

On the day I cursed life, many of my Facebook friends darted out from behind the social network curtain to send me cheer, to commiserate, to remind me of both happier and sadder days. And so I watch the curious parade of status updates — a recipe, a birthday celebration, “prayer warriors” bound by cause and faith, political rants, happy babies, vacations, and sporting events — and I think to myself that the world spins with or without my participation, without the injured or dying or dead and with no regard for either the gleeful or the grieving. This makes me feel at once small and enormous. I am inconsequential, as are my moods, and yet the world, the glorious, infuriating, life-sustaining and soul-sucking world continues to spin around me, spinning so fast that I am compelled to stand perfectly still, like the spindle in a centrifuge, unswerving, observant, disquisitive about the meaning of my Week of Crap until a kind of willing equanimity washes over me, the immensity of which swells my heart with reconciliation for my mysterious earthly journey.

And I think we’re all just plodding — hopeful tramps looking for the slightest evidence of grace in the next soul we meet, so we can shake a hand, offer a word, compare notes, and head on down the road, none the wiser but maybe a wee bit closer to the divine that lives in all of us.

With gratitude {for a week that reminded me of a Jackson Browne song, perhaps a little less harmonious but just as lyrical},

Joan, who’ll get up and do it again, Amen

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

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 777 other followers

%d bloggers like this: