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

A lifetime of love.

Dear friends,

This quilt story is a long one. But it’s so dear to my heart, I hope that you will grab a cup of coffee, settle in, and indulge me in the telling.

I’ve written before about my oldest and closest friends — the Js. Joan-Marie, Jami, Janet, Johnna and Julie all grew up together. Four of the Js have known each other since Kindergarten. I joined the tribe in 5th grade when my mother moved us from Tulsa to “Mayberry,” the loveliest hometown ever. Three of the Js still live in or near Mayberry (as I did until three years ago) and we remain fast friends to this day.

Today’s story begins with my friend, Janet. Here we are, circa 1976, preparing for an appearance in Mayberry’s Pioneer Days Parade.

jbandme

Janet and Boney Joanie enjoyed their stint as Minnie Mouse and Raggedy Andy so much, we parlayed the experience into a four-year stint as “Spuddy and Spry” in our high school’s clown troupe. We shared a love of acrobatics and performance and we spent untold hours in her yard and mine perfecting our tricks and tumbling routines. At one point, we both learned to juggle and Janet learned to ride a unicycle in pursuit of a more entertaining performance.

Janet was petite and remarkably strong and athletic. I have vivid memories of her standing on her head and pushing up into a handstand, which she could hold on balance as long as she desired. I was far too tall and skinny to have much athletic potential, but I could contort myself into all kinds of shapes and I was a fearless and loyal companion of the girl I idolized.

jbandme2

We were inseparable for years and I can’t count the number of sleepovers we shared. At her house, we listened to Barry Manilow until the wee hours then wedged ourselves into her twin-sized bed where we slept like interlocked Lego pieces. At my house, we begged my mother to make us SOS (a hamburger and white gravy concoction we loved) and watched television on the tiny black-and-white set in my bedroom.

Years later, Janet and I would also “share” pregnancies. Her first child, Sarah, was born on Dec. 8, 1992, and my CupKate was born exactly three months later on March 8, 1993. Janet and her husband were living in Texas at the time and both her mother, Carolyn, and I couldn’t wait to see baby Sarah. So Mr. Mom, Carolyn, and I loaded up in our 1967 Plymouth Belevedere and made the trip to Ft. Worth as soon as she was born.

I was six months pregnant, uncomfortable, emotional, and unsure what to expect. I’ll never forget baby Sarah’s non-stop wails and what seemed like incessant breast-feeding sessions. Janet and her mother seemed unperturbed by the noisy soul demanding all the attention in the household, but I was suffering from pregnancy exhaustion and I was more than a little unsure how well suited I would be for infant care.

Fortunately, I found my sea legs quickly, and by the time Janet Elaine and Sarah Elaine visited Kate Elaine and me three months later, all was well. (It’s no surprise we love the symmetry of a shared middle name.)

Like Janet and me, Sarah and Kate have been friends forever. This is one of my favorite photos of our girls at age two.

kateandsarah

While Kate was quiet and reserved, Sarah was a tempestuous swirl of energy and passion. In their youth, they were a feminine yin and yang not unlike Spuddy and Spry.

It doesn’t seem possible these adorable babies are turning 21. Or that these beautiful, sweet, and mature girls are ours.

KateSarahPromCollage

Sarah is like a second daughter to me or, more to the point, the kind of daughter you would select for yourself if there was choice involved in these kinds of things. She’s smart, thoughtful, passionate, loyal and, despite her boisterous beginnings, sweetly considerate, focused, and determined.

So when Janet texted me on Halloween to ask if she might commission a quilt for Sarah’s 21st birthday, I couldn’t say no. I was flustered I had so little time, and chagrined I didn’t think of it myself much earlier, but I sprang into action.

Turns out, Sarah is studying abroad in Malawi next month, so Janet suggested I create an “African themed” quilt. I had no idea what that meant but, together, Janet and I decided it meant bright (an array of Batik prints seemed perfect), simple (large panels of fabric with a bit of patchwork and sashing), and personalized (with Sarah’s name, trip dates, and an appliqued African dancer).

See what you think:

janetcollage

Janet texted me yesterday to share this photo.

sarah

I can’t see Sarah’s hands, but I’m going to take this as two thumbs up.

With gratitude {for a lifetime of love and a new generation to nurture it},

Joan, who’s already received another commission and can’t wait to get going

Packages near and far.

Dear friends,

bdaygift

Last week the Unaquilter mailed two packages and received two packages. I swear I didn’t begin my quilt odyssey for the benefit of return favors, but this time it worked out that way.

One package was from my mini-quilt secret swap partner and came all the way from Australia. What a surprise!

The second and favorite package came from longtime friend (and regular reader) Maridel, who sent me some beautiful fabric and a pincushion for my birthday. Isn’t it the most perfect gift you’ve ever seen? I plan to spend today stitching up quilted coasters as holiday gifts for co-workers, so Maridel’s timing is perfect, too.

By the way, one of my packages found its home last week (while another is still in transit), meaning I can finally show you one of my latest creations. It’s a sock monkey quilt made for a young girl who ADORES sock monkey. Take a look at the quilt and the girl.

rachelcollage

rachel

Her name is Rachel and her father is a friend and former colleague. They live back home so I never see them anymore, but Rachel appears occasionally in my Facebook feed, sometimes with her beloved sock monkey in tow. When I tripped across the sock monkey fabric line while shopping recently, I realized I knew one young girl who would likely find the fabric as charming as I did. I just couldn’t resist.

With gratitude {for the surprise symmetry of brown paper packages},

Joan, who’s got two more big quilting projects on tap for December and January and won’t mind a bit if continued wintry weather facilitates quiet evenings holed up sewing

Day 3: The race.

Dear friends,

race

I did it!

I ran my first race.

I finished my first race.

It was so much more than I expected.

It was more nerve-wracking. (Where-to-go and what-to-do issues worry me. Fortunately, everybody was very helpful and answered every single one of my questions. And my irrational fear of getting off course because I’ve fallen behind and can’t see the runners ahead of me never came to pass, not to mention the course was well marked.)

It was more challenging. (Uphill start, roller-coaster middle, uphill finish tells you everything you need to know.)

It was more taxing. (I started too fast and never really caught my breath, but managed to push through it nevertheless. I think my loud wheezing scared a couple of people, especially when we realized I was breathing too hard to drink the cup of water handed to me by the race volunteers. But, hey, nobody questioned my effort.)

It was more rewarding. (I came in 31st out of 61 runners. Middle of the pack, baby! I had no idea being solidly average could feel so damn good.)

It was more interesting. (I ran with all kinds of folks. Among the people I beat was a 13-year-old boy in his pajamas and robe, and a woman I only know casually but who’s very fit and who I would have wagered could smoke me. Among the people who beat me was a women about my age who confessed at the starting line that she’s a heavy smoker and runs in the hopes it will persuade her to give up nicotine, and a colleague who’s 10 years my senior.)

It was more fun. (Afterwards, race organizers invited runners to the local brew pub, where we all enjoyed a complimentary beer. After that, my regular running buddy and I went to breakfast with two other racers. Corned beef hash, eggs over easy, and biscuits and gravy were a fabulous prize for having conquered my fear.)

It was more surprising. (I placed third in my age group and won a prize. How’s that for positive reinforcement? Yes, there were only five ladies in the 50-59 category, but I was less than three minutes behind the first two.)

It was more alluring. (There’s a local race on Thanksgiving morning and I’ve already persuaded Kate and her college roommate, Kris, to join me. I have a feeling there are many more races in my future.)

It was more more. (Who knew a little weekend competition among souls of all ages and abilities could bring out the athlete in me?)

With gratitude {for unrealized fear turned into inspiration},

Joan, who kindly asks that you hum the Chariots of Fire theme song when you think of her

Sad. With a side of busy.

Dear friends,

sadapple

In every year of my work life, there are two weeks so busy that all others pale in comparison. One is in April and one is this week. It’s one of those weeks where my assistant prepares a two-inch binder with 20 tabs and dozens of sheets filled with details about the meetings, appointments, dinners, and other special events I will either attend or preside over.

Had I not fallen prey to a bug of some sort and stayed home several hours on Monday and Tuesday, this week would have easily topped 70 hours. As it is, I probably won’t surpass 60, which I suppose is a blessing all things considered.

So that — in part — is why you haven’t heard from me for a few days.

I’ve also been sad . . . which combined with busy tends to result in “lights out” on this page.

Saturday is my mother’s birthday. It also happens to be my 22nd anniversary, and when it finally occurred to me a week ago that the date was rapidly approaching, instead of thinking about ways to express my continuing affection to Mr. Mom, I thought about how much I miss my mother. I was trying to prepare for a dinner party, but instead I sat on my bed and cried.

I can’t believe she’s been gone three years. I can’t believe I still cry when the magnitude of her absence hits me at weird moments. I’ve always thought it is important to honor the grief, though, so I took a break from cooking and spent a half hour in solitude thinking, in part, how much Mom would have liked my menu and thought my dinner party kicked butt.

By the way, in case I never told you the story . . . on our wedding day Mr. Mom and I pretended we forgot my mother’s 62nd birthday. We had breakfast with her and she spent most of the day helping me decorate our reception hall, but I never said a word. At the reception — after we cut the cake — I stepped forward to speak, intending to tell everyone it was my mother’s birthday and to deliver a loving tribute. Instead, I dissolved into tears and Mr. Mom had to speak for me. After we sang Happy Birthday to her, I gave her a surprise gift: a mother’s ring made by the same childhood friend who made my wedding band. A few years later Mom told me it was the best birthday of her life.

I remember that on the days I miss her. On the days I think I didn’t bring enough light and love into her life, I remember that day and it helps.

Then on top of my run-of-the-mill sadness, I learned on Monday that one of Kate’s friends from back home died after an extended illness. Ashley was a beautiful and radiant 20-year-old woman and her loss has left my hometown — and my daughter — reeling. The funeral is today and Kate will be there but I won’t (what with all the events in the two-inch binder with 20 tabs).

I know a little something about Ashley’s parents’ pain after watching my mother lose an adult son. Still, in spite of everything I think I know about grief and heartache, I find myself with few words of understanding or comfort because losing a child at the cusp of adulthood seems to me a grievous and unbearable loss.

I know. Losing a child anytime is a grievous and unbearable loss. Maybe this feels especially acute because I have two children who are on the cusp of adulthood. Two children who were friends with the girl who departed her promising and sparkling life so very early and who remind me how precious and fragile every loved one is, whether 18 or 80.

So I’m sad. With a side of busy.

All things considered, I’d rather be sad, because it reminds me to snap out of busy, which is just another way to describe an auto-pilot life where insufficient attention is paid to what are often inconvenient but urgent matters of the heart.

With gratitude {for emotions that remind me I’m human and I’m living a magnificent and messy and beautiful and brutal and ephemeral life},

Joan, who really wishes she could hold Kate’s hand today and will be so very glad to give her a big hug when she arrives home late tonight for Fall Break

Working girls.

Dear friends,

warhol

Dolly Parton by Andy Warhol
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

Six hundred miles and 36 hours later, I’m home from the third annual Ozarks Rendezvous.

The gathering of five former colleagues — who at one time all toiled under the same roof in Tulsa, Oklahoma — was more fun than I imagined. Filled with award-winning food, fun, art, wine, laughter and a night in an incredibly hipster hotel, the weekend was a tonic for my favorite crew of working girls.

The central activity of the gathering was a visit to the Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville, AR (the town that Wal-Mart built). Before I tell you what I think about the museum, which opened not quite two years ago, I will offer a disclaimer that our band of five professional, solidly middle-class women understood that our free museum admission was only marginally “compliments of Wal-Mart” (as the greeter informed me). I was acutely aware that it is the legions of uninsured, low-wage workers subject to Wal-Mart’s ignoble labor practices that generated the vast fortune represented by Crystal Bridges.

With that sober acknowledgement (and my longstanding disdain for Wal-Mart) as preface, I can’t help but tell you that the museum is a stunning achievement in architecture, art collecting, and the art and science of making art accessible. Practically every important name in the pantheon of American art is represented at Crystal Bridges, from Norman Rockwell to Mark Rothko, from Frederick Remington to Andy Warhol, from Thomas Moran to Jackson Pollock, from Winslow Homer to Joseph Albers. I alternated between marveling at the art right in front of my nose and marveling at how Alice Walton managed to collect it all and make a tiny town in Northwest Arkansas an art destination. If you ever have an opportunity to drop by Crystal Bridges (or, heck, to travel far out of your way), you should add the museum to your must-visit list.

By the way, don’t let the museum’s odd name discourage you from taking it seriously. After I mused — perhaps a little too loudly — that it sounded like a new-age retreat center, and my friend remarked that it reminded her of a cheesy Country and Western singer, a museum docent quietly and kindly informed us that the museum is built over a body of water known as Crystal Springs.  I felt a little guilty, then, for disparaging the museum’s name, but we still joked that it surely must be a marketing impediment to all those who would lump it in the same class of tourist attractions represented by the Precious Moments Park and Chapel just down the road in Carthage, MO.

After a long and satisfying afternoon at the museum, we spent an even longer and more satiating evening at The Hive, our hipster hotel’s even hipper restaurant. Over cocktails and three courses, we discussed everything from politics, to the state of our respective careers, to religion, to family and children, to feminism, to easy gossip about personalities of mutual interest.  During a particularly amusing conversational diversion regarding technology in the workplace, we laughed so hard I lost my breath and nearly popped my trouser button. It was the perfect ending to a splendid day with friends far and farther, who’ve worked hard to nurture the bonds of friendship stretched by geography but reinforced by abiding affection.

With gratitude {for the restorative power of time spent with girlfriends},

Joan, who met the first of her former colleagues in 1988 when both had Working Girl hair, wardrobes, and career challenges, but nothing close to Harrison-Ford romantic prospects

Superstitioulicious.

Dear friends,

black cat

Source: Etsy

Friday the 13th might be a day of superstition for most but it was delicious for me.

First, I was walking across campus when a group of college boys whistled at me. It was bizarre to say the least. They were sitting under a tree talking in a language I didn’t understand. I walked right past them and as soon as they were behind me, I heard the unmistakable and conspicuous male signal that needs no translation. I can’t remember the last time it happened to me and, given my age, I would have figured it was meant for any other female within 100 yards except there weren’t any. I smiled bigger than I’ve smiled in a long time and kept on walking — with, possibly, slightly more pep in my step because I was clearly rocking my black skirt and super-cute pumps. Mr. Mom says the boys must have been leg men, claiming it takes one to know one. I don’t know and I don’t care because it sure made my day.

When I got home, I had a hand-written note in the mail from a friend who was recently Unaquilted. I’ve told you about Sweet Sarah before. She’s getting married soon and was the surprise recipient of the blue quilt featured in yesterday’s post. She’s marrying the little brother of one of my “J” friends and I couldn’t resist giving the lovebirds a quilt to cuddle under. I wrote that I hoped they’d make lots of memories with it, perhaps even spill a little wine on it in the interest of having fun as newlyweds.

In her thank you note to me, Sarah said:

Thank you so very much for our first (and favorite) wedding gift . . . We used it in our engagement pictures and it looks great. We loved your note about making memories with it and somehow it ended up with bird poo on it during our photo session. We both laughed because it got broken in right off the bat. Thank you to you and (Mr. Mom) for being a couple to look up to. You both are an inspiration to me.

Now, lordy be . . . if there’s anything more encouraging than a wolf whistle, it’s got to be a heartfelt message like Sarah’s.

Who needs a lucky day when Friday the 13th is this superstitioulicious?

With gratitude {for admirers of all ages and genders},

Joan, the long-legged Magpie

Stained glass showoff.

Dear friends,

I have a dear friend who makes beautiful stained glass windows. Her home is a showcase of her work and I’ve long thought I should a commission a panel for my home. The supplies are expensive and her time is valuable so I’ve just never quite pulled the trigger, but I’ve always admired her talent and wished I could do the same.

For the record, my friend, Alisa, is multi-talented. She also cooks and gardens and sews and paints (fine art) and builds (cabins) and pretty much does anything she sets her mind to. She’s been a creative inspiration to me as long as I’ve known her, which is pushing 30 years.

Anyway, I spent Saturday fabricating my own stained glass window of sorts on — you guessed it — my sewing machine.

stainedglassfront

The colored panels are a fabric called “Squared Elements” and, up close, they remind me of little windows. Take a look:

stainedglasscu

The gray strips around the panels reminds me of the soldered lines in stained glass, which might be as close as I ever get to using an electric hand tool.

I got the idea for this quilt from a photo I saw on Pinterest, which I replicated. I know there’s a whole sub-culture of Pinterest haters, but I’m not one of them. I’ve gotten several good ideas from my favorite pinners. (And not all the recipes are worthless. I know several really good food bloggers whose recipes are regularly pinned so, as always, consider the source.)

Before Saturday, I had never made a quilt with sashing (strips of fabric surrounding a block or fabric panel) so I wasn’t quite sure how to do it without instructions. But I figured it out and only had to pull out my seam ripper once. These kinds of challenges are, for me, the “puzzle” of quilting and why I keep resisting patterns and going my own way.

By the way, another one of my longtime friends received this quilt in the mail last week and called to say she was thrilled. I was so happy to hear she liked it — and even happier to hear it had arrived on her doorstop at the conclusion of a very bad day, which turned around when she opened my box. Aren’t surprise greetings and packages the best?

Speaking of surprises, I was astonished to hear my friend say that her mother saw the quilt and exclaimed “Is there anything Joan can’t do?” It’s something I’ve said about my friend Alisa many times, and a description I never expected to hear about myself . . . which just goes to show: talent is in the eye of the beholder, so looking upon yourself with kinder (outside) eyes is a gift to be relished.

With gratitude {for unexpected gifts that go both ways},

Joan, who has decided instead of Crazy Quilt Lady, she shall be known as the Unaquilter and her manifesto shall be Fabric Happiness for Everyone!

Restitching the favor.

Dear friends,

Forty years ago, I was an ungainly young girl, where ungainly equals skinny, bucktoothed, freckled, and half a foot taller than most of my contemporaries. Looking back, you could have called me a living illustration of the word awkward.

Of all the things that made me uncomfortable about my appearance, I was most sensitive about my height. In the ’70s, clothing sizes were much more limited than they are today.  If you were “unlucky” enough to be both skinny and tall, you had a heckuva time finding clothing that fit. All my shoes were flats, all my jeans had fringed bottoms (I let out the hems to create another half inch in inseam length), and all my nightgowns looked like they belonged to a child five years my junior. I fretted excessively over my lot in life.

Then one year, my dear friend Julie gave me a special gift: an extra-long flannel nightgown that she had sewn herself. I couldn’t believe when I opened up the package and tried on the gown to see that it fell all the way to the floor! For the first time in my life, my feet and ankles were not visible under the hem of my nightgown, even when I raised my arms. I later learned that while making my special gift, Julie had forced her brother — a tall farmboy — to try on the gown and stand still for several minutes while she pinned the hem to the proper length. I’m not sure Julie’s brother has ever forgiven her for that onerous chore and I chuckle to this day when I imagine a teenaged cowboy trying to stand still in a flannel nightgown just so Boney Joanie could have one garment that didn’t make her feel like a freak.

<Go ahead . . . take a minute to smile about such a touching gesture of friendship>

Anyway, despite the fact that I, too, knew my way around a sewing machine, I never managed to make a single item for my friends. And as you know if you’ve been reading my posts, I only recently took up sewing again after a 20-year hiatus.

So it seemed high time to return the favor, don’t you think?

That’s where this little cutie comes in.

tucker

He’s the apple of Julie’s eye, her first grandchild, a tow-headed little boy named Tucker. Here he is “watering flowers” with JuJu on her front porch.

He turns 1 on July 9th and, earlier this week, I sent a package to him with this in it:

tuckerquilt

I think it’s my cutest quilt yet (says the woman who’s made all of three quilts). Here’s a closer look:

tuckerquilt2

I’m pretty happy with those purty stitches, thanks to my new Bernina. There’s not an unintentional pucker or pleat anywhere, and my corners are beautifully mitered. It’s my best work yet, and I couldn’t be happier to share my new passion in tribute to my thoughtful friend. It’s been a long time coming, but I hope sweet little Tucker sleeps as contentedly wrapped in my quilt as I did in the nightgown his grandmother made long ago.

With gratitude {for lifelong friends of the J variety},

Joan, who learned in her 20s to embrace her stature and now regularly wears high heels because she’s still only the third tallest person in her family

The blue.

Dear friends,

packed

I’m flying into the wild blue yonder today. I’m practically giddy with excitement. I have my camera, sunglasses, a visor, industrial-strength sunscreen, cute summer outfits, and an assortment of sandles. What more could a tennis-spectating mother need for a trip to Phoenix?

Kate sent me a text message as she boarded her flight yesterday: I’m about to get on the plane. Love you.

Like her mother, flying makes Kate nervous. I tend to send messages and make phone calls to loved ones right before and after flights, too. I can’t wait to join her under the big blue Phoenix sky this evening, where we’ll both be happy to stand on terra firma.

Speaking of the blue, I received a hand-written note yesterday from a friend. It was completely unexpected and thanked me for my “advice, counsel, humor, mentorship and friendship for the past seven years.” It mentioned a mutually challenging experience and closed with “When the turkeys get you down — just wanted you to know — someone is in your corner.”

Any day is a good day to receive such a kind affirmation, but I can’t think of a better time than when I’m flying out for an adventure and some much-needed R&R. I don’t anticipate any difficulties but, hey, you never know. I might need bail money.

With gratitude {for May junkets and unexpected greetings from the thoughtful souls who enrich my life},

Joan, who’s lucky indeed to have so many dear friends on speed dial

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 614 other followers

%d bloggers like this: