Labor of love.

Dear friends,

I had the most wonderful holiday weekend — four days to be exact — nestled in the comfort of family, food, and love’s labor.

Kate was home from college with no agenda other than relaxing and catching up on family time.

Mr. Mom was home and, with the mountain burden finally lifted from his psyche, happy and present. (As opposed to restless and distracted — not that I’m criticizing him, but holy cow it feels good to be on the brighter side of that ordeal).

Only Parker was absent — busy earning money in Missouri’s productive hay fields — but still popping in long enough to share a meal or two with a family hungry for each other’s company.

Since no one had an agenda, since everyone was content to just be (with long stretches of “being” in front of the television to keep up with the US Open), I was happy to putter. And my puttering consisted of light cooking and cleaning with some heavy-duty sewing.

You could have guessed, couldn’t you, that I would tackle another project during the long weekend? I started Friday morning and finished Sunday night and couldn’t be happier with the results.

johnnaquiltcu

This one is going in the mail today to a friend. That’s all I’m going to say, lest I ruin the surprise.  But few words don’t mean few photos, so here’s another view:

johnnaquiltfront

And another:

johnnaquiltback

If ever I worried I might someday become a crazy cat lady, I can now release that fear for I have become the crazy quilt lady. I’ve definitely descended deep into the rabbit hole, but it’s become a labor of love, a vast creative outlet that offers an irresistible opportunity to stitch up a tangible and lasting expression of my love and admiration and send it to an unsuspecting recipient.

It’s like the quilt lottery, only you don’t have to buy a ticket and I’m the real winner (with huge recurring payoffs in joy).

With gratitude {for long weekends with my favorite people and pastimes},

Joan, who thinks a quilt with an inspired back is a lot like a purse with a pretty lining . . . delightfully unnecessary but so worth it

The happy thing. Part 1.

Dear friends,

Remember yesterday when I said I had a million-bazillion things running through my head — some happy, some tearful, some funny, and so on? Well, here’s one of the happy things:

Bloggers Karen and Wendy over at After the Kids Leave gave me a big ol’ shout-out on their blog. They think I’m awesome (awesome?) and said I remind them “of the importance of being happy for what life has given us.”

Here’s the deal. They are way cooler than me and THEY HAVE 507 FOLLOWERS. (I have 41.) So I’m, like, wow. Thank you, Karen and Wendy. It’s pretty neato-bandito to know somebody besides my family and hometown friends are reading.

Their recognition involves paying it forward, which I’m happy to do. But first, I’m supposed to tell you 7 things about myself. The way I blather on and on  — well, I just can’t imagine there’s anything you don’t already know about me (especially any reader who followed me over from my old blog). But I’ll jump in because lord knows I can talk about myself.

  1. I used to be a clown. Really.  The kind with a painted face, funny wig and costume who performed with other clowns doing things like tumbling, pantomime, and silly skits. Say what you want, but I contend that juggling and entertaining finicky audiences of all ages was the best training ever for a working mother, wife and executive.
  2. The best decision I ever made was marrying Mr. Mom. If I would have turned left instead of right back in 1988, my life would be totally different. I’m grateful every single day for our abiding partnership.
  3. The best compliment I ever got (Carole are you reading?) is that I’m always game. Carole is a dear friend who once told me the thing she likes most about me is that I’m always up for whatever wacky adventure she wants to pursue. Need a partner in crime? Need a Mikey to take the first bite? Call Joan. (Also, see point number 1.)
  4. Mr. Mom would tell you the thing he was attracted to most when we were dating is that I can keep a confidence. I know. That’s an unexpected thing to hear about a woman who now blogs (blabs) to the world, but back then, I was as tight-lipped as a Soviet spy. Case in point: (PSSSST — I’M REVEALING STATE SECRETS NOW) When Mr. Mom met me, I was going to college and living with my father, who was a bookie. Much later when Mr. Mom put two-and-two together and realized I hadn’t said a word to him about my father and none of my friends knew either, he decided I was a woman he could trust.
  5. Ready for a bombshell? I used to belong to a religious cult. At least that’s what some people called it. To me, it was a post-college phase that didn’t last long but scared the bejesus out of my family. I wrote an essay about it. Maybe I’ll share it someday. (This revelation is further evidence of point number 3.)
  6. If I could remake my life and be anybody or anything, I envision myself as a revolutionary, a la Emma Goldman or Margaret Sanger or Noam Chomsky or Che Guevara or Cesar Chavez or Ralph Nadar or Crystal Lee Sutton (“Norma Rae”). I once said my epitaph would be “She was a free spirit struggling to transcend the constraints of a conventional life,” but maybe that’s just the romantic in me.
  7. Maybe the thing I like most about myself is my determination. “The Mountain” notwithstanding, I’ve got the fortitude of a marathoner. I’ve never thought I had enough intellect or talent to win anything, but play the perseverance game and I’ll come out on top every time. I watched a mother with no education, scarce resources and three alcoholic husbands set her jaw and endure hardship every day of her life, so I’ve never doubted for one second I could outlast the SOBs. (Holy cow, I might just have drummed up the mustard to beat those Unfriendlys!)

So that’s it. Tomorrow, I’ll spread the love to blogs I adore. Please come back. Learning about those folks is far more entertaining than hearing about me.

With gratitude {for two new readers who inspired me to contemplate my life, which is always a welcome exercise in thanksgiving},

Joan, who never really aspired to be a clown, per se, but joined the troupe her freshman year of high school to be near a senior boy she was sweet on and ended up performing for four years straight

Good morning, Sarah!

Dear friends,

I have a friend from back home named Sarah. She’s one of the most adorable 20-something girls you’d ever want to meet and she tweeted this yesterday:

Sarah is the daughter of a woman I went to high school with named Shelli. Shelli’s adorable, too, so it runs in the family. (In fact, back in high school another friend of mine used to say about Shelli: “Isn’t she the most adorable girl ever?”)  Anyway, Sarah has told me before that she likes to start her morning with Debt of Gratitude, and that thought alone makes me happier than you can imagine. Probably happier than Dr. Pepper, m&m’s and my blog make Sarah.

I was not having a stellar day yesterday. It was my first day back at work after returning from Oklahoma and it was jam packed with meetings and other obligations in which I had little interest. Everybody knew I had just returned from taking Kate to college and everybody kept asking me how I was doing.

I smiled. And I said fine. But really . . . I wanted to burst into tears. So when I saw Sarah’s Tweet mid-day, it sure perked up my melancholy little heart.

“I can’t be sad and mopey,” I thought to myself. “I have to go home and write something for Sarah!” I wish I had something more creative, something more profound, something more substantive than “thank you” to offer her (to offer all of you, really), but I don’t.

Still, since this is a blog devoted to gratitude, I can’t exactly argue with an expression of appreciation, no matter how modest.

So thank you, Sarah, from the bottom of my heart for evicting me from Mopeland and back to real life where I count my blessings every day.

With gratitude {for Sarah and all my readers whose daily visits enrich my life},

Joan, who also wants to give a shout-out to Debbie, her first college roomie who made her home-to-college transition so much more bearable all those years ago

PS: While I’m counting my blessings, will you indulge me just a moment? I want to show you some photos I took of Kate at college. She’s in a lovely environment and it gives me comfort to know her world is a pretty, happy place.

Kate outside her new apartment. She’s on the 2nd floor. Hooray for the built-in Stairmaster!

Kate’s bedroom. We both were pleased with the pink-and-black decor and the $20 craigslist desk. Hooray for cheap chic!

Kate and her roommate, Houda. Houda from Casablanca. I love saying that! You know what else I love? Houda is Muslim and speaks Arabic. Hooray for cultural diversity in Kate’s life!

Smile, please.

Dear friends.

Long day yesterday.

Happy day yesterday.

Went to work early and got home late, but it was a good day. Good day at work, good day for my family. Oh, and Mr. Mom was feeling poorly, but now he’s feeling better.

And it all added up to a bedtime smile.

I tripped across this on Facebook right before I went to bed last night. It made me happy.

So even though I was pooped, I decided to share it with you in case it might make you happy.

Here’s hoping you have a good day, too.

With gratitude {and a smiley face},

Joan, who is willing to admit that maybe it was the glass of wine with dinner (her first one in a month) that contributed to the bedtime smile, but who looks a gift horse in the mouth?

Joan-Marie and the wonderful, beautiful, no bad, very good day.

Dear friends,

Leap Day was one kickin’ day around my parts.

It was sunny, it was 64, and holy schmoley it was the most perfect not-spring day. Like one of those days when you have to squint, even indoors, because everything in your orbit is incredibly brilliant.

And, hey . . . remember that dress, that cute little number I bought in Florida?  I figured I wouldn’t be able to wear it until April, but today’s weather was so gorgeous my kicky spring dress made its first appearance in February. Check it out:

I normally avoid all photos involving my figure, but my dress made me so happy today I just had to snap a photo of it on my way out the door this morning. I’m a lumpy, dumpy middle-aged woman, but that dress made me feel good, inside and outside. And at my age, you gotta celebrate those moments when you get them.

And if feeling good wasn’t enough, I got to have lunch with my birthday friend and several other new friends. We told stories and laughed so hard and so loud we got a couple of looks from nearby diners. That lunch made me feel, finally, wonderfully, at home — after 10 months in this new town. Honestly, I left the restaurant feeling like a kooky female version of Stuart Smalley who was just so darn happy to have some friends and fit in.

By the way, the birthday cake turned out pretty cute despite the big crack that made it a bit lopsided. I piled some fresh daisies on it, along with a glass dragonfly, and even in bad office lighting on an iPhone camera, it made me proud.

Then, I don’t really talk about work, but . . . I went back to the office after lunch and this thing totally turned out in my favor. It was one of those projects I’ve been workin’, you know for months, and today it all came together. Just like I had hoped (and planned). Always a plus.

And after that, I got a text from Mr. Mom about the mountain. The mountain I don’t talk about. I can’t really go into all the details yet, but today — for the first time in our long and dreadful situation — we caught a break. Things took a turn in our favor. A big ray of hope broke through the dark clouds after four years of legal BS, and I can’t help but be struck by the fact there’s some definite cool karma cooking for it to happen on Leap Day.

Then I went to the salon and enjoyed some wine, and some fruit, and some cheese and crackers, and some great conversation, and a spiffy cut and color job.

And, finally, I came home and ate the last slice of Soda Fountain Ice Cream Pie and watched Idol. And we all know how much I love Idol.

So can you see why it was a wonderful, beautiful, no bad, very good day? I think you can.

With gratitude {for days so totally awesome they require multiple adjectives and make me talk, like, a crazed Valley Girl},

Joan, who hopes your Leap Day was worth gushing over, too

Everybody got something they want to sing about.

Hey peeps,

(For 56 days straight, I have addressed you as “dear friends.” But every now and then you gotta break out of your rut.)

I found this on etsy and I wanted to show it to you.

And it’s exactly what I wanted to talk to you about.

You know — happy things. Like how a co-worker walked into my office this week and offered me a pair of Bose speakers she found in the supply closet. I almost turned them down. I said, “But I don’t have any music on my computer.”

This child with the spare speakers told me there’s a cool thing called free music on the internet. So she plugged in the speakers and pulled up Pandora and poof! I was grooving at work. I knew I was a little behind but, peeps, I had no idea.

The first song that popped up was called “For me, it’s you” by Train. Holy cow, that’s some good music not made by the Beatles or the Rolling Stones or Led Zeppelin or any of the other 34 bands from my youth to whom I have been slavishly devoted.

(Quick left turn: In my job, I sometimes get to book entertainment. And the speakers-girl is my Gal Friday who handles all the details. We were looking for some musical entertainment this week for a gig we’re hosting and she had a long list of affordable options from a talent agency, including KC and the Sunshine Band and REO Speedwagon. And I said “What, Foghat was already booked?” And if that made you laugh, if every band whose name you still know is now on the casino circuit, then welcome to Joan’s age group, who did not know free music still existed on the internet after the Feds busted all the Napster co-eds.)

Anyway, that cool song by Train . . . it reminded me of you. I think it’s supposed to be a love song, but it made me think about how much I want to sing about you, and the way you show up here, and share your stories with me, and give me advice, and tell me when my words resonate with you, all of which makes me deliriously happy in the same way a really great song can.

So today, peeps, the happy for me is all you.

With gratitude {for free music and . . . you},

Joan, who Abracadabra-swears she is friends in real life with the former drummer of the Steve Miller Band and, therefore, figures she is not more than 3 degrees removed from every aged rocker she idolizes

Wouldn’t it be nice?

Dear friends,

Wouldn’t it be nice to spend a quiet Sunday at home?

The kind of Sunday that starts with a run (because you’re determined to stay on track)?

The kind that is spent mostly in the kitchen, cooking up a roast beef with mushroom gravy and a potato cake with tart apple and Jarlsberg cheese, both of which make you thank your lucky stars for leftovers?

The kind where you write sappy sentiments on Valentines cards and wrap gifts and then tell your teenagers to open them today, because who needs to wait until Tuesday?

The kind where your favorite guy says Wow when he sees the dinner table and Oh My God when he eats your lemon-coconut cake, then eats another piece immediately?

The kind where you and your peeps — after stuffing yourselves silly — gather ’round the television to watch the Grammys so that your children rave about some group you’ve never heard of and you rave about the Beach Boys and remind the youngsters that Brian Wilson is a musical genius you listened to on vinyl?

Maybe if we think and wish and hope and pray . . . it might come true.

With gratitude {for Sundays at home that remind me life is even better than a love song},

Joan, who went to bed Sunday night with a mile-wide smile on her face but was too exhausted to blog about her Valentine’s supper until another day

Joy to the me.

Dear friends,

Not me, but I aspire to feel this joyful every day.

Source: Pinterest

In case you haven’t figured this out about me by now, I’m a knuckle-down kind of gal.

I’ve been described as stoic, serious, determined, decisive, no-nonsense, persistent, and ambitious (among other less flattering adjectives).  No one has ever accused me of being fun. In fact, I’m probably known as a bit of a buzz-kill.  Best I can tell, I never get social invitations based on the bet I’ll get the par-tay started.

While in Tulsa last weekend, I had breakfast with an old friend whose good advice has been a staple in my life.  After we caught up on everything that happened in our worlds since I left town, she asked “So what are you doing to bring joy into your life?”

I nearly choked on my eggs.

“Joy?” I said, as if she had suggested I should be bringing nuclear fusion into my life.

Truth is, I still have no answer.

Okay, that’s not true. I cook and bake almost every weekend and that gives me a great deal of satisfaction. I enjoy it immensely but I’m not sure I would say I’m joyful while doing it.

Fact is, I can’t really tell you what makes me joyful. I think this might be a problem. And it probably explains why Mr. Mom suggested as nicely as he knew how not long ago that I need to “lighten up.”  Have more fun. Quit taking life so seriously.

Knowing me, after he said it, I probably thought to myself something like “Oh sure, I’ll get right on that. Yes, sirree, I’ll be sure to have more fun right after I finish solving all the problems at my office and getting our new lives arranged and helping Kate navigate the rest of her life via the college search process.”

If I am honest, I will say that I have spent my life behaving as if joy is a momentary destination rather than a daily state of mind.  I tend to spend long stretches of time planning for large joyous celebrations (such as vacations, outings, holidays) rather than looking for and enjoying tiny bursts of joy in my everyday life.

I started this blog because I realized late last year that I needed to cultivate gratitude in my life – to consciously and determinedly identify blessings and take time to savor them. It has worked in many respects. I’m successfully cultivating appreciation for life’s small blessings, while reducing frustration and discontent in the process.  But I am learning that one can be simultaneously grateful and pensive. Joy is not an automatic response to gratitude.

This I did not count on. It seems to me that gratitude is more of a cognitive response (a reasoned conclusion to an analytical process), while I consider joy to be an emotional reaction. Analysis, I’m good at. Spontaneous gaiety, not so much.

But maybe I’m wrong about that. Maybe joy is a fundamental condition of the heart, as much as gratitude, as much as love, as much as hope.

So what’s a girl to do when she wants to bring joy into her life? Should I start by trying to have more fun?  (I realize joy is not the exact same thing as fun, but I can’t remember the last time I had fun and yet failed to feel joyous.) I welcome any and all suggestions for how a tightly wound worrywart can get her joy on.  That child in roller skates in the photo? That’s my new standard of joy. I may not get there every single day, but I’m betting if I work at it I can beat my recent average.

With gratitude {for friends and loved ones who ask me the hard questions},

Joan, who was terribly disappointed when her three oldest friends told her she was the Miranda Hobbes in their foursome, but couldn’t really offer a solid counter-argument

Because sometimes all you need is a new dress.

Dear Friends,

Lately I’ve been thinking deep thoughts about small things, where deep equals not quite as profound as Jack Handy but introspective nonetheless, and small equals hardly earthshaking in magnitude but certainly consequential in my Plebian life.

And while I think these deep thoughts about simple gifts, and modest pleasures, and sweet treats, and marital kindnesses are key to my little gratitude project, there’s a side of me that’s so much more, shall we say, consumeristic. (Is consumeristic a word or did I just make it up? Note to author-self: when searching for a word that means “prone to gratuitous consumption,” it’s so much easier to rely on your imagination than a thesaurus.)

Will you think less of me if I admit this little number made me mind-bogglingly happy recently?

Isn’t it adorable? And while my figure doesn’t even approximate the model’s, it still looks pretty great even on my middle-aged, lumpy self. Banana Republic wasn’t whistling Dixie when they claimed it was “fit to flatter.” (If it looks good on me, it’s “fit to work miracles.”)

Best of all, I got it on sale.  And shall we just be honest about how happy that makes most girls? Squeeeeeeeeeel!!!!

Cute spring dress + on sale = bye, bye winter doldrums.

With gratitude {for consumeristic math and modest indulgences},

Joan, who believes you can’t buy happiness but you sure can rent it for a while

Grumpybritches.

Dear Friends,

If there’s anything worse than Monday, it’s Monday after a long weekend. And if there’s anything worse than Monday after a long weekend, it’s Monday after a long weekend when Monday is really Tuesday.

Did you work yesterday? If you did, and if Monday was a holiday for you, then you know what I’m talking about. I can’t decide if the severe crankiness I encountered in everyone in my universe was a bad case of Holiday Lag (just like Jet Lag, only when you’re adjusting to the transition from time-off to back-to-the-grind), or if it was Holiday Lag compounded by a collective realization that “holy crap it’s 2012 and I’ve already blown all my resolutions and fallen tragically behind despite my pledge to catch up over the holiday.”

Aren’t new years supposed to bring new horizons? New opportunities? Fresh perspectives and rejuvenated psyches? I guess that sounds good on paper, but what I encountered in the workplace yesterday was harried souls with frazzled faces and worn nerves.

Don’t get me wrong – I wasn’t whistling on my way in the door. In fact, I overslept. And when I woke up late, I looked at my calendar only to discover I had scheduled an 8:30 am meeting with a Very Important Person and I had half the necessary time to shower.

(By the way, who does that? Who schedules an 8:30 am meeting with a VIP on the first day back after a holiday? I’ll tell you who does that! A woman who is severely distracted by holiday-itis and who is so eager to get out the door before a long weekend she is clearly not paying attention.)

Suffice to say, showering at warp speed in order to be on time for a meeting on Jan. 3 is not exactly how I planned to kick off 2012, my year of gratitude (where gratitude equals all good things achieved via better planning and clear thinking).

So in the door I rushed, only to discover just about everybody was having a far worse day than me.

I actually said these words to one person early in the morning: “Wow. I’m sorry you’re having such a bad day. You know my new year’s resolution is to focus on gratitude. In doing so, I’m hoping to avoid worrying over things I can’t control and improve my outlook and productivity.”

Yeah. I knew it was a mistake as soon as the words escaped my mouth.  The person didn’t say as much, but the person’s . . . um . . . body language and facial expression were pretty clear indicators.

But you know what those words did for me? They made me realize I didn’t want to be the crankypants sitting across from me. And that, my friends, is a powerful motivator.

With gratitude {for making my meeting with one minute to spare},

Joan, who’s wearing her anti-crankypanties

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