A tale of two trees.

Dear friends,

xmastree

If you’re like me, Christmas is the most sentimental time of year. By the time my birthday rolls around in early December, I am inevitably lulled into a month-long reverie of reminiscences that make January and its stoic resolutions seem like an especially cold slap in the face.

Decorating the tree has long been the focus of my nostalgia. I have collected dozens of ornaments over nearly 40 years. I’d like to claim they are each carefully wrapped in tissue and stored in tidy containers, but the truth is while some are, most aren’t, and my containers wear the heavy dust of a basement I rarely venture into.

Still, when I open my boxes and begin the ritual of adorning the tree, it’s as if the concentrated essence of Christmases past fills the room like the steamy aroma of mulled cider. My kids know the drill: I put on my favorite Christmas music (classics recorded by the likes of Tom Petty, the Eagles, and John Mellencamp); Parker manages the bird’s nest of wire hooks, pulling them free one by one; Kate attaches a hook to each ornament and passes it to me; and I select the perfect spot for each and every ornament. Along the way, I tell the same stories year after year after year.

“This doll is the from the set of six wooden ornaments I sold in high school to raise money for my cheerleading team. This is the dough ornament I made in middle school, the only one Grannie saved. This is the cross stitch ornament my sorority sister at TU gave me my junior year. This is the first ornament I purchased for Kate after she was born. This is the first ornament Parker made and brought home from Kiddie Kollege. This is the ornament I bought on the trip to Yellowstone – remember how sick Parker was with chicken pox on our trip?”

Besides my own enjoyment, the annual recitation is likely a thinly veiled stab at maternal immortality.  If I keep telling the stories, as my rationalization goes, my kids will remember them and pass them on. And some December day, four or five or six generations from now, my timeworn ornaments will hang on a tree and remind a great-great-great-somebody of Joan-Marie. Sometimes I think that’s all a mother really wants. To be remembered.

But this year, for the first time, we broke with tradition. I was at the dining room table sewing up a birthday quilt for a friend back home – too busy to pause I declared – so Kate decided to take charge. Parker fell in line with the hooks and Kate carefully curated my collection with a discerning eye.

“I’m done,” she declared, far too soon to have paid proper homage to each of my ornaments. “What?” I said. “You can’t possibly be!” “Come look,” she teased. “It’s beautiful. And not at all like your tree.”

And there, in our den, was a Christmas tree straight out of a magazine. “Look how balanced it is,” Kate said, beaming. “It’s a perfect mix of white, gold and red. Not cluttered. Not overdone.”

I was speechless. There were no popsicle-stick stars with plastic beads hot-glued on. No Hallmark/Disney frames with faded photos of every deceased but beloved pet in our family’s history. No tiny coffee mugs with each of our names painted on, purchased on family road trips from roadside souvenir joints. It was if our ornaments held a beauty contest and only the loveliest and most elegant made it on stage.

“It’s beautiful,” I said, surprised by an unexpected dose of equanimity. “Really, it is. I can’t believe I like it, but I do. You’ve done a lovely job.”

“I like it, too” Parker added quickly. “Since we’re finished, can I go hang with my friends now?”

And just like that, this old dog proved she could learn a new trick, even on the touchiest of topics, on the most sentimental of days. Instead of insisting my children watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” with me (another of Joan-Marie’s treasured traditions), we turned down the music, turned up the college football game, and settled into a new holiday rhythm, one no less modulated by a mother’s heart, but newly attuned to the vicissitudes of family affections.

With gratitude {for holiday family time, whether by my own design or another’s},

Joan, who likes her Christmas trees like her baked potatoes — loaded

Mesmerized by the food.

Dear friends,

bisuits

Remember in my last post when I said nothing makes Mama happier than being in the kitchen? Holy smokes — I put that thought to the test after I spent three hours Saturday and five hours Sunday preparing a single meal.

The test results:

Mama cooking = happy camper.

Mama surveying the mess after =UGH.

Here’s a slice of happy:

foodbanner

Here’s a hunk of UGH:

dirtykitchen2

I shouldn’t complain too much.  Mr. Mom helped with some of the prep and he and Kate did most of the dish washing. It clearly takes a village to prep, cook and clean up after a meal for eight hungry souls and a menu that features:

  • Baked ham
  • Fried chicken tenders
  • Classic Parmesan risotto
  • Pasta salad
  • Buttered new potatoes
  • Roast medley of broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts
  • Green salad with homemade bacon bits, croutons and blue cheese dressing
  • Sweet and sour radishes
  • Jalapeno deviled eggs
  • Buttermilk biscuits
  • Blueberry bundt cake with lemon glaze
  • Sweet iced tea

Kate recorded our elaborate spread in a Vine video, which she labeled “Feist for 8.” When I tweeted a jab for her spelling, she replied “Not my fault! I was mesmerized by the food!”

Which, I figure, is as lovely a compliment as a chef can get.

With gratitude {for my favorite Sunday ritual, aka cooking up loads of love},

Joan, who can’t understand why radishes are so under-appreciated among Millennials, particularly when sliced and marinated in vinegar and sugar

PS: In case you’re curious, most of the recipes were mine, except the cake (from Lisa at The Cutting Edge of Ordinary), the potatoes (from Rebecca at Foodie with Family) and the blue cheese dressing (from My Baking Addiction). Take my word for it: make the cake, like now; stop buying bottled dressing and you can thank me later; once you make these potatoes, you’ll be addicted.

She ain’t nothing but a hound dog.

Dear friends,

Meet Lily Pad.

lilysleep

Her name is Lily but, of course, I prefer Lily Pad. (Two-name first names are a big deal in my family in case you don’t remember so she’s getting the VIP treatment.) Parker suggested I call her Lady Lily Pad but I think Her Highness the Duchess of Lily Pad is more distinguished.

I snapped this photo of her in the truck on the way home Sunday. She assumed this position about 10 minutes into our 5-hour drive and slept the entire way home. I loved her the minute I met her in a parking lot on Friday afternoon. But once I saw that wrinkly forehead that is the telltale sign of a hound dog, I swooned and knew she’d always be ours.

Her foster mom told us she is part Labrador Retriever and part Redbone Coonhound. Based on appearance and personality, she seems all hound. She sniffs as if it’s an Olympic sport and she’s a gold medalist. And she’s definitely got the energy and drive of an Olympian. She’s a bit hardheaded but she’s also so very sweet. She’s the first big dog that I’d consider living inside my home — assuming she’s trainable, of course. Right now, she’s a puppy on overdrive and we’re just trying to survive the first month of puppy parenting, which involves crate training and keeping everything you own from being chewed into smithereens.

Ed has been friendly to her (Ed’s friendly to everybody though). Sweetpea has not. In fact, Sweetpea acts as if she wishes Lily Pad would suddenly disappear. Or die. Sushi the cat is terribly worried, as evidenced by a panicked stare and a forehead almost as wrinkly as Lily’s.

Parker is trying to get used to rising early and turning in late so he can walk Lily before school and at bedtime. Mr. Mom is trying to get used to a demanding daycare schedule for what is essentially a highly mobile, diaperless infant with very sharp teeth. (Lordy, lordy I forgot how much work puppies are.) I apparently am in the catbird seat because I don’t have to walk her or train her and I get the pleasure of enjoying her company on my schedule.

And isn’t that a convenient way to have a baby?

With gratitude {for all the good and bighearted folks in the dog rescue world, especially the Oklahoma woman who is responsible for getting Lily to us},

Joan, who wishes to warn you in advance that you will likely tire of Lily photos and stories long before she does

March, muffins and motherly musings.

Dear friends,

IMG_1655

I made Banana Nut Muffins this morning. I had four very sad bananas on my counter and unlike most weeks when I simply toss expired fruit, I turned the bananas into a tasty breakfast for my boys — breakfast being a relative term since I’m typing this at 10:30 am and both of them are still fast asleep despite the aroma of warm muffins.

In case you’re curious, I don’t have a go-to muffin recipe. I found this one last night and decided to give it a try. My only word of review is YUM. My only alteration to the recipe is that I added half a cup of chocolate chips. By the way, I’ve been adding chocolate chips to banana muffins/bread since 1986 when my Boston roommate showed me her trick. If you haven’t had chocolate chip banana nut muffins before, I exhort you to try them.

(My teenage son, if he read this, would ask for the definition of exhort. I think he wonders why I favor non-standard words. All I can say is that I learned it from my mother. And I guess I’m passing it on, though I rarely hear my children say things like “I exhort you.” I love the fact that my mother was a high-school dropout and yet had the vocabulary of a highly educated person. She was a voracious reader, proving once again the good that select books and periodicals can do in your life.)

Now that I’ve prattled on about my muffins and my mother, will you indulge me in a few words about my daughter? I’m just bursting my buttons with pride. Her tennis team is on an impressive winning streak. This weekend, they played and whipped two opponents in San Antonio, including an upset win over a ranked team, which gives them a 9-1 record at the mid-point of their season. Besides the fact that I’m delighted for these young women, I’m tickled pink because Kate got her first two wins.

When Kate made her college choice, she knew she would be joining a talented team. She knew she’d be getting top-notch tennis instruction, but she didn’t know if she’d ever play a match her first season or two. When the program’s longtime and nationally recognized coach departed not long after her arrival, her tennis future seemed pretty uncertain. (I don’t mean to sound like a mother who values athletics over academics, but because Kate aspires to become a tennis coach, her athletic and academic futures are entwined.) The new coach has clearly hit the ground running, and so has Kate. After playing a handful of exhibition matches, she got the opportunity this week to play her first matches among the “Top 6.” (The team has 8 players, 6 of whom play any given match.)

Kate won her singles match 6-0, 6-1. She and her partner, Lusy, won their doubles match 8-0. Those zeros  in a match score — they’re called “bagels” in tennis. And a bagel is a beautiful thing when you serve one up to your tennis opponent.

So, yeah, Mom is over the moon. Kate’s 20th birthday is Friday and we’re traveling to Oklahoma to watch two days of tennis matches and host a birthday dinner.  The weekend following that, Kate will be home for two days in what suffices for spring break for the tennis team. The weekend after that, we’ll have the great pleasure of watching her squad play two Missouri teams just a few miles from our home. With three consecutive weekends where we get to see Kate, March just may be my new favorite month.

Oh — one more thing.

While we’re visiting Kate, we’re going to meet this little girl.

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She’s a rescue dog. Her foster mother thinks she’s part Lab, part Redbone. Mr. Mom thinks she’s part Walker. She is all parts adorable and, if the stars align, she’ll come home with us. We’ve been thinking of adopting a new dog ever since Frito died, and if this adoption happens, March will be officially perfect.

With gratitude {for the most wonderful, springy, time of the year},

Joan, who tackled her spring project list yesterday with a Pinterest idea that she looks forward to telling you about soon

Oh. Hey. Hi.

Dear friends,

2013

This lovely 2013 day planner is available here.

I haven’t intentionally been ignoring you.

I have been unusually content in some ways, and contentment for me often leads to quiet reflection.

Life has been both perfect and hard, and I’ve been living it instead of writing about it. But I’ve missed you and I thought I ought to pop in and say so.

Our holidays were everything I needed. Kate was home from college for three weeks and I luxuriated in her company. Christmas break was low-key. On Christmas Day, we had a Barbecue feast that was super-simple to prepare and left me plenty of time to laze around with the kids. We dragged an air mattress into the den and piled on blankets and pillows for a marathon movie session. We tackled a zigsaw puzzle. (Who knew CupKate was a puzzle whiz?) We invited friends over and played board games. We had a bonfire. And then we spent New Year’s Eve in Memphis watching my alma mater (The University of Tulsa) kick butt in the Liberty Bowl and enjoying the flavor of Beale Street blues and seafood. The last two weeks of 2012 were so perfect I was lulled into a dreamy stupor, making Jan. 2 a particularly sharp jolt back to reality.

So the hard parts? Well, there’s been more developments on the mountain. Nothing I’m ready to write about. In fact, like most of the saga, Mr. Mom has been handling it alone in quiet frustration because I’ve blocked it out, so I really don’t understand the details of the latest developments yet; mostly I just tried to distract myself while I watched him spend hours on the phone with attorneys and surveyors and adjacent landowners and the dozens of characters that populate this unfathomable story. My most fervent wish is that this chapter of our lives will end in 2013.

Also — I’ve been running, chasing the thousand miles I said I wanted to conquer in my 51st year.  Lawzy, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into.  It’s been a mental and physical challenge that I wholly underestimated. The first three weeks almost reduced me to tears several times and very nearly convinced me I could never do this. I have ached. I have been so tired I lost all concentration at work, and I have gone to bed at 7:00 pm more than once. I have mentally shouted at the gods and cursed them for my lack of strength and  stamina. I have found myself hating Missouri and blaming its godforsaken hills for my misery. I’ve sunk to the lowest possible emotional depths a runner can reach without quitting.

I have a glimmer of hope, however, that I’m turning a corner. In fact, I need to wrap up this post so I can head out for a run. I must log a minimum of 10 miles this weekend and I’ve got a hot date with Mr. Mom later this afternoon so I need to get after it.

But, hey, you know what? My waist is making a slow reappearance in my life. It used to be a beautiful thing and it just might be again, who knows? And the other evening my left leg was aching so badly I asked Mr. Mom to massage it. He did two better: He massaged it, he told me how toned my legs were becoming, and he brought me a heating pad. A good man is such a glorious thing and I never fail to count my blessings when I notice them.  Which is one more reason I need to make an appearance here and remind you to do the same. It’s a great way to ease into 2013, friends.

With gratitude {for a sparkly, blessed, challenging, infuriating, totally-normal new year},

Joan, who invites you to tell her how you’re easing into 2013 and what you hope the year holds for you

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