Love. Sew. Patch.

Dear friends,

Despite the horrendous Headache Threat Level that has nuked my entry into the new year, I have managed to rack up three — that’s THREE — quilt finishes so far in 2014.

I figured my head hurts whether I’m up or down, so save 14 hours spent in bed on Dec, 31-Jan. 1, I’ve been sewing through the pain.

As for the first finish, I can’t tell you about it until it arrives at its new home, later this week or next. Same for the third.

But the second finish was for Kate, and she’s headed back to college in possession of one of the cutest and warmest quilts I’ve made.

Take a close-up look:

tenniscu

Last spring, I attended some pretty chilly college tennis matches (where chilly equals wearing a coat, hat and gloves and still being cold). I noticed some of the girls carried blankets to wrap around themselves in between matches and that’s when I got the idea that my CupKate needed a tennis-themed quilt to take on the road.

I purchased the fabric nine months ago and even cut it into the proper size squares. And then I got distracted by other projects and the tennis quilt has sat unattended all this time.

I vowed to get it done before she left home in January, but two commissions kept me busy through December. By Jan. 3, I knew I had less than a week to get it done so I sprang into action, spending all of last weekend sewing, squaring and arranging 122 blocks of green, yellow and black fabric. (Kate’s college colors are green and black.)

I failed to take a photo of the entire quilt before she packed up and left home, so here’s one she took with her phone from her apartment. It’s not great quality but you get the gist:

tennis

On Black Friday, I just happened to score some extra-soft white flannel with tiny lime polka dots for $1.75 a yard. It made a perfect — and extra warm — backing for the quilt. And while shopping the day after Christmas, Kate tripped across some black fabric with miniature tennis balls and multi-colored racquets that was perfect for the binding.

I’m so glad to get this one off the sewing table and into heavy rotation. Kate’s tennis season starts Feb. 4 and, if January has been any indication, she’ll need every ounce of warmth she can lay her hands on.

With gratitude (for deadline-induced productivity},

Joan, who’s relieved to report she’s been headache-free for a couple of days, though her energy level is still in the basement without liquid stimulants

PS: If you are at all interested in the quilt pattern, it’s called a disappearing 9-patch and you can find a tutorial here

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

Tough love.

Dear friends,

I’ve got tennis fever. It’s that time of year so I can’t do anything but spread my disease to you. Forgive me, won’t you?

Here’s the first cool thing I want to share:

n

My girls won their match 5-0 last weekend and now they’re headed to the Sweet Sixteen in Phoenix.

So am I, by the way. My plane ticket is purchased, my rental car is reserved and my hotel room is booked. I’ve done everything but pack my bags, which will happen on Sunday. I leave on Tuesday, and the girls start play on Wednesday. They will play every day until they lose.  I will scream loudly every day until they lose, or until I fry in the Phoenix sun, which with recent highs of 100+ might come sooner than one thinks. Either way, I’ll be in heaven even if the temps feel like hell.

Did I mention MY GIRLS ARE GOING TO THE SWEET SIXTEEN?!!!!

Oh, sorry. I’m suffering from a kind of Tennis Tourette’s and I can’t stop blurting it out.

Here’s another cool thing: My boy’s doing pretty good too.

We’ve lost track, but he’s won something like 12 straight matches. Recently, he served 11 aces in a single match. At 6’7″ tall, his serve is formidable. His doubles partner is about the same height, but weighs a good 30 pounds more than Parker. To say they are an intimidating duo at the net is an understatement.  I’ve heard tell some of their opponents are skeered. Don’t blame ‘em a bit.

The other day, one of his less experienced teammates was so awed by Parker’s serving display he later asked “Has anyone ever returned one of your aces?” I don’t mean to poke fun, but we sure got a belly laugh out of that one. You see, by definition, an ace is an UNRETURNED serve.  (So the answer is no.) You gotta love the kiddos that are working hard to learn the game.

While I’m in Phoenix following Kate’s team in the National Championship, Mr. Mom will be home following Parker’s team in District and Regional competition. Both are rough assignments, but we’re the kind of parents that don’t shy away from the hard jobs.

I know they’ll thank us some day for our tough love.

With gratitude {for two kids who make me proud every day to be their mother, not because they happen to be terrific tennis players, but because they happen to be terrific souls who also play my favorite sport},

Joan, who resisted the headline “by the time I get to Phoenix” because quoting Glen Campbell ages her more than she cares to admit

My current excitement level.

Dear friends,

I’ve had a less-than-lovely April, mostly due to a demanding work schedule, but here’s two things that have happened in the last 24 hours that ratcheted my excitement level way, way up.

CJ_Cregg

Kate has recently gotten interested in the West Wing. I love every single thing about the West Wing, especially CJ Cregg, who I fancy I could be if I tried. Today Kate tweeted that some episodes were “wayy” over her head. To which I suggested that we should spend our summer watching the series together so I could explain the context. To which she agreed. To which my inner political nerd squealed. As if I wasn’t already soooooo ready for summer to be here (it snowed today, for Pete’s sake!), that totally sealed the deal for this television-loving, poly-sci junkie mom.

And, as if that wasn’t enough to amp my excitement meter, Kate’s college tennis team received an at-large bid and #2 seed in the NCAA Division II Women’s Tennis Championship Tournament. Holy smokes that’s cool!

tennis2

Because of their favorable bid, they play their first match at home on Saturday. You can bet your left arm I’m making the trip. As a Freshman reserve, Kate is unlikely to get a match, but it matters not to me. I love these girls, I’m a rabid fan of the team, and I’ll be there cheering loudly.

By the way, the winner of Saturday’s match advances to the round of 16 in Phoenix, Arizona on May 8. Have I said holy smokes that’s cool?

So April may have given me a wild ride, but I cannot complain about the destination.

With gratitude {for plenty to look forward to},

Joan, who wishes President Josiah Bartlet was around to save the day

Putting on your big-girl panties.

Dear friends,

This is a photo my CupKate posted on Twitter Friday night of her tennis team.

I wish I could tell you they were dressed up for a happy occasion, but that’s not the case. Instead, they were going out to dinner with their coach to tell him goodbye.

Not long after Kate arrived in August for the start of her freshman year, it became clear there were issues with the tennis program. I’m not going to air dirty laundry that’s not mine to air. (In fact, I know very little. One thing you learn quickly after your child goes to college is that parents have little-to-no rights to information.) I’ll simply say the fall season was cancelled and the coach is leaving following an NCAA investigation.

It was a shocking development to say the least. Kate and I spent all of last year touring eight different colleges. I had pinned my hopes on a private Jesuit university several hours away, but Kate chose her current location — a small public university in our home state — because she instantly bonded with the coach and with these girls. I adjusted, and to say we both set sail with high hopes is an understatement.

But you know what? The universe immediately handed Kate a difficult but valuable lesson, chiefly that life doesn’t always work out like you planned. Two weeks into what Kate imagined would be an idyllic college tennis career, life smacked her upside the head with a big dose of adult reality: humans makes mistakes, institutions are fallible, and life goes on. I’m proud to say Kate put on her big-girl panties immediately and has been dealing with it in the most admirable way.

Kate is the only American player on her team. The other seven girls hail from Morocco (the girl in purple to the right of Kate, who is Kate’s roommate), France, Russia, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. I don’t know if cultural differences have played a role, or if it’s a matter of youth, but I can tell you Kate’s teammates were having difficulty navigating the complexities and uncertainties of this very difficult situation.

So I sprang into action. If there’s one thing I know how to do and do well, it’s how to navigate administrative and organizational hurdles. Some would say I’ve made a career out of  making bureaucracy work to my advantage. I became the team’s ombudsman, advising them, scripting them, helping them prepare and organize their inquiries and responses and, hopefully, calming their nerves. The girl nicknamed “Frenchy” started calling me “the Tiger” (la tigre).

When Kate told me this, I laughed out loud. If you’ve followed the controversy over author Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, you know I’m more of a laissez-faire kitten-mother than a tiger. Still, I knew the name was offered with affection and gratitude and I pledged to wear it as a badge of honor (despite the Asian stereotype). And I couldn’t help but think of the seven other mothers, thousands of miles and four languages removed from their daughters’ situations, and hope it would give them comfort knowing one of us is well positioned to help.

None of us have any idea what the future will bring. A new coach, certainly. How that will affect these girls, their tennis careers, their college experiences and, ultimately, their adult lives is anybody’s guess. I advised Kate to ride out the year and see what unfolds — and she’s doing that with her famously mature approach.

The truth is — she had a drawer full of big-girl panties before she went to college so I had nothing to worry about.

With gratitude {for a girl who can roll with the punches with the best of them},

Joan, aka la tigre du tennis meres

#greatshot

Dear friends,

I’m one of the those parents who brags about my kids on Facebook. If this annoys you, I’m sorry. I can’t help myself. Consider it a symptom of an almost empty-nester. Maybe I’ll lay off for a few years after Parker moves out, but I’m sure I’ll be a prolific grandparent bragger as soon as the opportunity presents itself. (But please, opportunity, don’t present yourself too soon.)

The good news is I am friendly to other braggy parents and grandparents. I never get annoyed and I almost always leave “Great job!” and “Congratulations!” comments on other parents’ posts. (And I’m not just trolling for compliments. I truly enjoy reading about the accomplishments of my friends’ children and I consider it my civic duty to spread the love on Facebook.)

Anyway, my point today is to level the score between my children. I’ve done an awful lot of bragging about Kate, what with her being a senior and going off to college to play tennis. But I have another tennis player in the house and fair play dictates I give Parker a bloggy shout-out.

I just got his tennis photos back from the photographer. Parker’s wearing his game face rather than the smile I would have preferred, but I suppose that’s what boys do.

Yesterday, Parker’s team won the first round of competition in their district tournament. Parker lost his singles match, but he and his partner won their dubs match handily. I took the day off so I could spectate and be a mother, which included making sandwiches for the team and tweeting about Parker’s four aces.

Did I mention I also brag on Twitter? If you can’t use social media for self-and/or-family-promotion, what’s the point? I mean really?

Besides, there was hardly anybody there to witness the match so I had to tweet about it. (As did Kate.)

The sole spectator is me. Despite the loneliness of being a high school tennis fan in this part of the country, new media has helped create a virtual crowd. (At least three likes on my “fourth ace” Facebook post seemed like a crowd.)

School will be out soon and I promise to move on to other topics besides my kids. #ormaybenot

With gratitude {for a Monday better than most},

Joan, an equal opportunity gasbag, braggart, blatherskite, boaster, windbag, bigmouth (and Thesaurus-lover)

For two interesting views on Facebook bragging, read this post by Yoonanimous and this post by Glennon Melton. Yoona made me laugh (and think Oh God, I do that!) and Glennon made me pause (and think Oh God, I do that!).

#siblinglove

Dear friends,

So I told you already I had a crap day this week, followed by another crap day. Then I didn’t post anything at all so I’m assuming you knew the crap was still flying.

And in the middle of the flying crapeze, also known as just another day, I took a second to check my Twitter account. I admit it. I was at work, you know working, and I checked my Twitter account. And look what I found:

And suddenly the crap melted away and all was right with the world again.

Parker was at our school’s conference championships playing tennis. Kate is the team manager. She was supposed to be texting me scores, but instead, they both were apparently stretched out like cats, napping in the sunshine. It made my heart swell. And when I turned back to my work, everything didn’t seem nearly as craptastic. Love has a way of doing that, you know.

(By the way, I later found out that Parker and his teammate took fourth place in doubles, while the team won 3rd in the tournament. Hooray for our boys!)

So here’s to sibling love. And Mamma love. It does a heart good.

With gratitude {for the fact that I’m tech-savvy enough to actually know how to use Twitter and stumble across these glimpses of my children’s lives},

Joan, aka @MayberryMagpie if you care to follow her

Before I run, I have to tell you the funniest tennis story I’ve heard in a long time.

In case you’re not a tennis fan, here’s a little background. If you’ve ever watched a professional match, you may have noticed there are people standing around the court doing all sorts of things. A few of those people are “line judges” meaning they decide whether the ball bounces in or out. In amateur tennis, there are no line judges. The players call the lines themselves. And since the player receiving the ball gets to judge his opponent’s shot (and, therefore, determine whether he wins the point or his opponent does), there is an incentive to cheat.

If you don’t play tennis, just imagine a basketball game where a man on defense is allowed to decide whether or not a basket counts. Yeah. Things can get crazy.

Now, I’ve played a lot of tennis and I can tell you 99.99% of players are honest. But every now and then you run across a cheater. Or a guy who understands gamesmanship. And don’t disparage gamesmanship. Some of the best players in the world are also great gamers. (Think McEnroe.) In fact, some amateur players advance far above their talent level purely on gamesmanship.

Mr. Mom is a former tennis coach and he always taught our kids to challenge a cheater by cheating him back. In other words, send an immediate signal that “Hey, I can play your game, too.” He also taught his players that kids make honest mistakes, and if you think your opponent made one, ask “Are you sure?” when he calls the ball out. (A lot of honest kids will correct themselves on a bad call when questioned.)

This tactic doesn’t work with the gamer, of course.

Anyway, apparently there’s a kid named T on Parker’s team who’s a pretty clever gamer. According to Parker, T recently hit a shot out by a foot. His opponent immediately shouted “Out.”

“Are you sure?” T asked politely.

“Yeah, I’m sure” said the opponent.

“Okay,” T said. “Hey, how about we play rock-paper-scissors to decide the point?”

“Uh . . . . . . okay” said the opponent.

And wouldn’t you know it? T won a totally free point on his bad shot that a blind man would’ve called out, all because he outwitted an inexperienced player who fell for the gambit and then was lucky enough to call scissors over paper.

Sometimes a little clever goes a long way.

Old school.

Dear friends,

It was a beautiful day yesterday. Sunny, blue skies, 68 degrees.

SweetPea loves tennis as much as I do.

SweetPea and I spent the afternoon and evening at the tennis courts watching Parker play. No dogs are allowed at the courts. I guess nobody told SweetPea and she couldn’t read the sign.

We had a great time eating the finger sandwiches I made and chatting with the parents and rooting for our team, who lost by the way. But Parker and his partner won their doubles match in a tie-break — the last match and only win of the day. They were heros at the very last moment.

Parker got two “Gatorades.” (It’s a tradition with the team. If you hit an overhead hard enough for it to bounce over the fence, which is kind of humiliating to the opponent, the fans yell “Gatorade!” and the coach owes you a bottle.)

The opposing coach was an interesting fellow. He was, shall we say, a little high strung. A squat man in shorts and a windbreaker, he was fond of screaming at his players about things like scorecards and the number of balls being used during warm-up. He also got a little wound up about how the players were announcing their scores and, at one point, he stormed on the court during Parker’s match to yell at his kid about it. (A real no-no, but our coach was a gentleman.) I was a little annoyed but I kept my cool and simply shouted “Way to keep score Parker!” after every point he won thereafter.

On another point, Parker aced his opponent on a low-skidding serve that flew wide. It was a beautiful first serve, and there was no shame in missing the return, but the coach yelled at his kid “You could have gotten it if you’d lunged!”

It  was so ludicrous it made me laugh out loud. Mr. Mom just called the coach “old school.” I’ll have to get used to that approach, I think, because  Mr. Mom said the same thing about the college tennis coach who’ll be welcoming Kate in the fall.

Until then, here’s to a beautiful spring and summer chock full of afternoons at the tennis court.

With gratitude {for spirited competition and fun all around, win or lose},

Joan, who, at 6-ft. tall, is a monster at the net

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