The long goodbye.

Dear friends,


Six years ago this week, my mother died after a brief illness. A couple of weeks later, Mr. Mom and I went to Colorado for a trial involving our mountain dispute. Both experiences were traumatic in their own way.

And while experts advise you never to make a major life decision in the wake of trauma, I did just that. Shortly after returning from Colorado, I announced to Mr. Mom that I wanted to re-make my life. A month later, with my family’s support, I put our dream home in “Mayberry, OK” on the market and began searching for job opportunities in other states.

A lot has happened since then . . . much of it chronicled on this blog. One thing that didn’t happen, however, was the sale of our home in Mayberry (which I dubbed “Magpie Manor” in a nod to my nickname and the home’s grand style).

I could go on and on about why our home didn’t sell, but it probably suffices to say our handicap as remote landlords combined with irresponsible renters who kicked in doors and broke windows and (yes, this part is true, brandished firearms when we sent repairmen to deal with problems they initiated) set up some pretty difficult conditions. It probably suffices to say that those conditions were compounded by the fact that we purchased the home at the peak of the housing bubble and were forced to sell, post-crash,  in an economically depressed county.  A little over a year ago, while visiting my father before his death, I dropped in on our renters and found a barnyard animal in my living room. To say I was distressed about the condition of our home is an understatement. I remember calling Mr. Mom after I drove away and wailing through my tears “Our home will never sell with a pig in it!”

For the longest time I have felt like the poster child for the fall-out of the housing crisis, with one important exception: we have managed to hang on financially.  There are so many times I wanted to simply walk away and let the bank foreclose, but I didn’t for a variety of reasons, some noble, some practical.

But last spring I had a mini-meltdown and declared to Mr. Mom that we would sell by the end of August or walk away. I drew a line in the sand, as unwise as that tactic usually is. I called the realtor and told her to slash the price to whatever would sell.

The good news is, we sold. We are finally, mercifully, released from the burden of a second mortgage on a home far away.

The bad news is we sold at a substantial loss. And I’m not just talking about an equity loss. I’m talking about writing a big, fat check at closing just for the privilege of saying goodbye (where big and fat equals a shocking percentage of my annual salary).

But as much as this sale represents a major financial set-back and heartbreak I won’t soon forget, I can’t help but remember everything wonderful and good and magical about the big white house on the brick-paved street that my family called home for five years. I can’t help but think about the new owners and hope they will love and care for Magpie Manor as much as I did.



Will they love its broad porch and view of a main thoroughfare through “Mayberry?”


Will they love the original oak floors and trim, and stately french doors with beveled glass?


Will they love the grand living room with its gigantic front windows and 12-foot ceilings?


Will they love its cozy kitchen with more outrageously sized windows and an abundance of natural light?


Will they love the original chandelier that I carefully relocated from the dining room to the downstairs bathroom and fastidiously polished during the time we lived there?

Will they love the sun room with its Southern exposure, and the mudroom with its charming brick floor, and the basement with its rustic “coal room” tucked in the corner, and the study with its built-in desk, and the four spacious bedrooms, one in each corner of the house with incredible views? Will they scrub the home’s porch and polish its floors and tend to its yard? Will they care for its carriage house and bask in the charm of its historic style? Will they host big parties and give everyone a tour because the home deserves adoring eyes? Will they breathe easier when they walk in the door because there is no better place to be than the big white house on the brick paved street?

My heart can’t imagine any answer but yes. To the new owners: we loved the big white house with all our hearts and souls. We wish it — and you — good fortune and Godspeed.

With gratitude {for a path through . . . long and trying though it was},

Joan-Marie, granddaughter of Cren and Marie, friends to the big white house’s original owner, Billie B., a dapper man who must’ve loved the home’s style as much as he loved the crisp, seersucker suit and straw boater he wore when he posed for a photo on the front porch, circa 1925.

Two Years.

Dear friends,


Two years ago this month, Mr. Mom and I had just returned from a week in Colorado for a second District Court trial in our decade-long mountain saga. Mr. Mom was optimistic about our chances. I was not.

Some three months later, my pessimism confirmed reality when the court ruling arrived via email and we learned we had lost. I gathered up all my brave and wrote this post.

We were immediately advised by our attorney to appeal the ruling. The appeal has been almost two years in the making. A multitude of documents and briefs and motions have been prepared and edited and filed on our behalf. A mountain of legal bills have been paid. Mr. Mom has spent countless hours and untold sleepless nights helping our attorneys build and refine our argument. Last month, the Appellate Court held oral arguments in our case. We watched a live stream of the proceeding as our attorney answered questions posed by the three-judge panel.  Then we closed our browser and began yet another waiting game.

Mr. Mom was again hopeful. The only way I know how to describe my feelings is lost and afraid. So much of the saga is over my head, as we long ago descended into the depths of arcane boundary law. Mr. Mom has dug in with a ferocity that is unmatched among laymen. He has read and researched and learned nearly every aspect of case law that applies to us. He has always possessed a nearly photographic memory and he can recall the tiniest details related to our case with ease and accuracy. He watched the oral arguments attuned to every nuance. For me, it was a lot of words I couldn’t follow. I found myself reacting like a child with thoughts such as “She seems like a nice judge. Maybe she’ll rule in our favor.”

For the last month we’ve been on pins and needles, wondering when a ruling would arrive. Our attorney said his instinct told him we’d hear in 30-45 days. He was correct. The ruling arrived this week.

I can’t say we won. I can’t say we lost.

The final verdict hinges on one tiny fact that — based on the evidence in the trial record — couldn’t be proven or denied by the Appellate Court. It all depends on whether a particular road near our property is private or public.

If private, we win.

If public, the Unfriendlys win.

Thus, our case has been remanded — once again — to District Court for determination.

During our second District Court trial, a witness for our side (a landowner) testified the road is private. A witness for their side (Junior Unfriendly himself) testified it’s public. The Appellate Court ruled there was insufficient evidence for them to make a determination. Obviously, whether a road is public or private should be a matter of public record and we believe we can prove it’s private. But I’ve also learned over 10 years that even simple facts can be distorted and challenged in ways that are highly effective in litigation, so I fully expect the Unfriendlys to unveil a convoluted (and fallacious) argument for why the road is public.

Our fate is once again in the hands of a District Judge. We’re 0-2 on that front, by the way. (Interestingly, we are 3-0 in the Appellate Court. I learned not long ago that only 15% of all appeals are successful in getting a verdict overturned. That we’re batting 1.000 with the Appellate court tells you a lot about the District Court in Pueblo.)

The whole public-private thing may seem confusing but it’s really quite simple. For the Unfriendlys to prove we have access via another route, the route has to originate with a public road. We’ve known for 40 years the road in dispute isn’t public (the locked gate that controls access to the road is just one sign) but, once again, we expect the Unfriendlys to dispute our claim.

We don’t know how long it will take to get a date in District Court. We might be looking at 2016 and we might not.

Several weeks ago I lamented to Mr. Mom how difficult a year 2015 was. Between the court case, difficulties with our house in Oklahoma that still hasn’t sold, my father’s death, and my illness and surgery, I wished out loud that 2016 would be the year we got rid of the house and the mountain saga ended in our favor. It’s only April, but I can’t help but speculate that the wish gods aren’t on my side.

Still, as our attorney said after the ruling “We’re still swinging!”

With gratitude {for another chance to not only claim our stake but actually be able to drive to it},

Joan, who watched The Revenent recently and really related to the scene where the nearly dead Hugh Glass clawed his way out of a grave to continue the fight

PS: I’ve condensed this post down to a tiny fraction of what’s been happening legally. The Appellate Court ruling is 48 pages, for Pete’s sake. As the Dude says “There’s, uh, a lot of ins and outs, man.” Mr. Mom could explain it to you but, trust me, you wouldn’t enjoy it.



Dear friends,

I’ve been quiet for some time now, leaving this space empty of my reflections even as I’ve missed the solitude offered by writing and the friendships nurtured in this forum.

I had surgery two days before Christmas. It was nothing very serious, an ailment common to women my age, but it sucked the wind out of my sails in a surprisingly fierce way and I’m only now beginning to lengthen my stride.

While recovering at home for two and a half weeks, I did little more than sleep, watch television and read. Mr. Mom kindly fussed over me and many friends sent greetings (and flowers and chocolates!), but I’m exiting the experience with a new appreciation for the fortitude required of aging. No wonder, I thought to myself many times, that old folks fail after surgery. The isolation is real and discouragement easily sets in when both mobility and workaday distractions are in short supply. To be honest, I had a bit of a frightening glimpse of my future. (And while it may be, God willing, two decades my future, it’s still sobering to have tasted the bitter pill of senescence.)

Once my doc gave me the thumbs up, I rushed back into the world at something very close to full speed. I’m running again, a lick faster than I was before surgery just because I’m determined to beat back the crone that seeks to claim me. I’m traveling quite a bit for my job (three weeks in a row this month). I’m filling my weekends with quilting and classes and dinner parties and decorating projects, all in an effort, I think, to deny my age.

But I’ve also sat in the stillness quite a bit, too. And the most surprising revelation of my quietude is that my parents weren’t crazy after all. I think of my mother in the last 10 years of her life and, for the first time, I understand her.

I understand her heightened indecision and her anxieties and her sudden tears and her longing for more time with loved ones. I understand her careful step and her anxious questions and sleepless nights and seemingly endless need for reassurance. I understand the lines of her face, pulled downward by gravity but also by apprehension as the uncertainty of her adult children’s futures weighed heavily on her. I understand her heart, so eager, so full, so ready to give its all even as her energy lapsed.

And I wonder what it would have been like to have had this understanding in her presence? To have held her hand as one who knows, rather than as one whose love is strong but whose discernment is impaired by the ego and impatience of middle age?

I don’t dare ask why because that is a fool’s errand, but I do wonder, and then hope my ponderings lead to at least a snippet of hard-earned wisdom I might share.

In the mean time, I sit with her. In my meditations. In my dreams. In the quiet of my mind. I hold her hand. I tell her I love her and miss her. I tell her how wise she was. I marvel at her courage and generosity. I ask her about my children in the hope she’ll reassure me as she did when they were babies and I was the most tentative of mothers.

I write her name, Colleen, in every corner of my heart and sing the song of her devotion as my lullaby, trusting her love to lull me through this night.

With gratitude {for understanding that is better late than never},

Joan, who’s looking forward to Spring and every form of rebirth that goes with it




A puppy story.

Dear friends,

I’m one of those folks who love the holidays. Part of it is my inner child, who never grew too old for Christmas morning surprises. And part of it is that the year-end represents a season of diverse celebrations for our family. From late October, when we celebrate our wedding anniversary and Parker’s birthday, to Thanksgiving, when we celebrate Mr. Mom’s birthday the week before Turkey Day and mine the week after, to Christmas and then New Year’s Eve, the winter holiday season is my favorite (albeit busiest) time of year.

This year, though, we encountered a series of significant misfortunes that had me wondering if the Grinch might steal my family’s entire season of celebration.

First, there were illnesses that left Mr. Mom and I wondering if we were just getting old or suffering from something more serious. Then a series of financial troubles hit Parker, and us, several times. (Why does it always feel like financial setbacks mirror celebrity deaths by coming in threes?) Then, Kate, ended up in the ER and urgent care on two separate occasions and my maternal worrying shifted into overdrive because the only thing worse than a sick child is a sick child 300 miles away. By the time Thanksgiving rolled around, we had cried a collective “Uncle” and hoped for a holiday reprieve.

Unfortunately, it was not to be. On the day before Thanksgiving, less than 12 hours after Kate and her two dogs arrived home, her youngest went missing. “Tank” is a five-month old mini-dachshund and the newest love of Kate’s life. While Kate was lunching with a friend, Mr. Mom was supervising a potty break for four dogs (Kate’s two along with our two brand-new puppies) and Kate’s doggies disappeared.

The grand dame, Kate’s 10-year-old Chihuahua, “SweetPea,” was easy to find. But Tank proved impossible to quickly locate. Within an hour, we realized he was really lost and we kicked into high gear, walking the woods near our home, talking to neighbors, and posting a Facebook alert.

Not long after dark, we received a phone call from a stranger who said he was hunting nearby and spotted Tank. We moved quickly to the exact location the hunter described but struck out despite thoroughly combing the area. Several hours later, Kate couldn’t bring herself to go to bed without Tank, so she and her boyfriend decided to drive the neighborhood. Believe it or not, they spotted Tank running down the middle of a busy county road. She jumped out of the car and took chase, but Tank was clearly frightened (and speedy!) and he disappeared into the woods before she could catch him. The entire family grabbed flashlights and joined Kate in the woods for an energized but ultimately futile search that ended at midnight when we were exhausted and chilled from a cold rain.

You can imagine how the next few days went. Alternately heartsick and hopeful (a man two miles away reported seeing Tank on Thanksgiving afternoon!), we spent our days and nights knocking on doors, walking various wooded areas near us, driving the roads, monitoring social media, and trying our best not to dissolve into a heap of despair (although a trip to urgent care when Kate came down with strep throat almost pushed me over the edge).

The Thanksgiving meal? We ate it, uninspired and not particularly grateful. Black Friday shopping? We called it off in favor of additional search and rescue missions. Holiday family photos? Perfunctory at best. (We had so looked forward to a group photo with both our old and new canines, but with Tank gone, nobody felt like smiling.) Decorating the Christmas tree? We did it in the hope it would boost our spirits, but despite a valiant effort, we went to bed Saturday night with heavy hearts and fading hope.

As Mr. Mom and I talked in bed that night about our shared sorrow, he told me a story about “the year (he) ruined Easter.” When he was eight, his family made a shopping trip to buy groceries for the holiday meal, including four dozen eggs to color. (Four siblings, four dozen eggs.) As he carried a sack of groceries into the house, he stumbled on the porch and fell on the bag of eggs, crushing all but eight. His frugal and long-suffering mother was determined to make do, so each child got two eggs to color. He chuckled as he recounted hiding and finding the same eight eggs – over and over – among four kids that Easter. As he recalled how angry all his siblings were about his clumsiness, I burst out laughing and felt instantly better. It was a precious moment of humor and normalcy in an otherwise miserable holiday weekend.

Believe it or not, things went downhill from there. Kate left Sunday afternoon to return to college and it was as sad a departure as I’ve ever seen. Within a couple of hours, she called to report she had hit debris on the Interstate and blown a tire. We talked her through that and three hours later, she called again, this time hysterical. A young girl had pulled out in front of her and Kate broadsided the car.

Honestly, that’s when I was tempted to shake my fist at the universe and scream “Really?” but Kate was uninjured so I held it together for everyone’s sake. We spent two hours on and off the phone as she filed a police report and determined her car was drivable the last 50 miles. At midnight, as we were waiting for Kate’s final text that she had made it safely back to college, Mr. Mom heard an odd sound coming from the porch. He opened the door to find a very frightened Tank on our stoop – emaciated, shivering, and crying like a baby.

We all cried like a . . . like a homesick puppy that night – Mr. Mom and I at home, and Kate via FaceTime. Our reunion was as tearfully jubilant as it was unexpected, a Christmas miracle to our grateful hearts.

I know you might be thinking . . . a puppy story? Yes, it’s sappy. Yes, it’s clichéd. But it’s also true that sometimes the only thing you need to remedy a ton of trouble is a four-pound wonder.

With gratitude {and all good wishes for your own miracle story this Christmas},

Joan, who has filled her empty nest with two new Chihuahua puppies and promises to tell you all about them soon.


Tank and Sweetpea after being reunited





The Magpie Manifesto.

Dear friends,


Maybe it’s age, maybe it’s a sign of the times, but some days I am tempted to jump headlong into the pit of existential despair and allow myself to be swallowed by irrevocable disheartenment.

I know. Not exactly the maxim of the Gratitude Girl.

This week I was grievously buffeted by the news around me. One corporate leader is going to jail for 28 years for knowingly selling tainted peanuts that sickened and killed people; one corporate leader admitted his auto company created an emissions system meant to defraud consumers and evade environmental regulations; one corporate leader defended his “market based” rationale for buying a life-saving drug then increasing the price 5000%. Meanwhile, many of our presidential candidates are appealing to the basest human instincts, including an exclusionary, belittling, deceitful and winner-takes-all doctrine. And if that wasn’t enough to discourage us, millions of human lives are at stake as Middle East conflicts continue to escalate and those seeking refuge are literally washing ashore.

Really, how does a tender and seeking soul find its way in the midst of all this?

The other night, Mr. Mom and I discussed at length the Syrian crisis. Mr. Mom said he’d be willing to “adopt” a refugee family, where adoption means bringing them into our home and sponsoring them financially. He asked if I would be willing and I said yes, but our conversation went nowhere because how does one do that, anyway? I even spent some time researching the topic, seeking out online information and resources about the United State’s program to accept (in my opinion, far too few) refugees. I found no path for taking concrete action beyond contributing to various charitable organizations, which seems like my reflexive action far too often when I am moved by the need around me. I work in philanthropy so I will never disparage the role it plays in improving our world, but so often I’m yearning to do more than write a check or endorse a cause but am somehow stopped short of translating my passion and my compassion into something that feels more like direct action.

Yesterday I heard a newscaster say one of the Pope’s messages during his US visit will be to encourage others to “serve people instead of ideas.” This hit in me the gut in a way only a moral authority can provoke. I’m not Catholic and I’ve never looked to the Pontiff for guidance, but I’ve found Pope Francis to be the kind of leader our world desperately needs. His words made me ask myself how many times have I served ideas instead of people? (Maybe just as importantly, how many times have I reduced people into mere ideas, especially people I think represent ideas I find distasteful?) How have I actually, tangibly served people beyond my family, friends and colleagues? Honest answers elude me, as does the conviction that I am one person who can make a difference in the midst of so much human suffering.

In times like these, I look inward. I examine the roughest clods of my intentions, determined to unearth bits of beauty and grace that only the divine can inspire. I seek solace in what I know to be the kindness and love that live within all of us. I face myself and the universe with a tenderness that is both terrifying and necessary to take another step, to wake tomorrow, to confront the world and my place in it with hope as my shield against the outrage and cynicism that dog us all.

Many times I reiterate – sometimes to myself, sometimes to others – my values. Doing so sometimes makes me chuckle as I think I sound a little like Aibileen Clark in “The Help.” “You is kind, you is smart, you is important,” I mentally shout to myself and to the unseen broken hearts around me. Inevitably, I end up meditating on the two pieces of wisdom I find most centering: the Buddha’s “Do no harm” and Jesus’ “Do unto others.” I wonder if earnestness counts in the face of human frailty as conspicuous as my own as I seek a path lit by altruism and look for even a single hand I can hold along the way.

I don’t pretend to have answers, dear friends. Some days I ache with the knowledge that my time is short, my focus too self-serving, and my reach barely beyond my nose. I struggle to find substance in the paucity of my effort. Some days I even shake my fist at my God-given sentience, an existential ingrate prone to irritation by the spiritual chafing of an examined, some might say privileged, life.

And then, just when the despair threatens to swamp me, I somehow quiet. I remind myself to trust in all that is larger than me. I let go of the corporal and rest in the discarnate, in the mystical psalm that connects you and I to each other and sings the praise of a love that is universal and unending, even as I struggle to understand it. I offer three words of encouragement, to myself first, then to whoever is closest.

Breathe. Notice. Love.

Breathe. Why do I forget this simple instruction, which is the easiest way to reboot, to extend myself a kindness?

Notice. I will not sleepwalk through this day. I will take note. I will acknowledge. I will honor that from which some turn away. I will praise and affirm those who inspire it; I will grieve for and hold those who need it. If nothing else, I will bear witness.

Love. Because that is the beginning. And that is the end.

With gratitude {for three simple words, the best I can do in these times},

Joan, who got some very good news yesterday and so is reminded the sun will come out tomorrow

You didn’t really think I was going the rest of my life without dessert, did you?

Dear friends,


As you might guess, I’ve been spending a lot of time in the kitchen. While I’ve been a relatively attentive home cook since college, I’m feeling very ’90s lately — as that represents the era when I had babies and first devoted considerable time to preparing food (versus merely assembling or reheating food-like stuff). Back then, I had few utensils and fewer skills and minimal understanding of how food ingredients and techniques worked together. Every dish required a recipe, and every recipe required an investment of mental and physical energy. Eventually, my knowledge and my skill expanded considerably and I learned both to cook from memory and to improvise.

So that’s why going “clean” the last month has left me feeling like a kitchen novice. A plant-based diet can be highly satisfying but it requires its own set of knowledge, skills and ingredients. I finally got my footing enough to experiment today, and what better to experiment with than dessert?

After all, did you really think I was going to eat kale and quinoa for the rest of my life?

I decided to start simple. I had no dreams of vegan cupcakes. Instead, my taste buds hearkened back to my childhood and one of my grandmother’s staple desserts, the humble Apple Crisp.

One of the reasons a plant-based diet offers so many health benefits is that whole or minimally processed foods do not prompt a strong insulin response. I’ve been amazed how much better I feel now that my blood sugar isn’t spiking after every meal or snack. The more I eat this way, the more I’m searching for foods and recipes that fit the “whole or minimally processed” criteria.

That’s why Apple Crisp came to my mind. It’s built around apples and rolled oats — two foods considered staples of a healthy diet. After perusing several recipes, I created my own, trying to keep it as “natural” as possible.

The result was as tasty as I remember, without a lot of the “gunk.” See what you think.

With gratitude {for the original Marie and her culinary legacy},

Joan, who’ll never fry a chicken with the same perfection as her namesake but may have matched her in the quilting category

Joan-Marie’s Apple Crisp

5-6 small to medium apples, cored and thinly sliced (I used Gala, but you can use a mix or your favorite variety)

2 TBLS lemon juice

2 TBLS cornstarch

3/4 cup rolled oats

1/4 cup buckwheat flour

2 TBLS flaxseed meal

1/4 cup sliced almonds, or more if you like

1/3 cup brown sugar (loose, not packed)

2 TBLS vegan butter (I like Earth Balance, but Coconut Butter would work well too)



Pure Maple Syrup

After slicing your apples, put them in a bowl and sprinkle them with lemon juice. Toss to combine. Sprinkle them with cornstarch, cinnamon to taste (about 1-2 tsp) and a generous pinch of salt, then toss again to combine. Finally, pour in some Maple Syrup to taste (I used about 2 TBLS) and mix thoroughly.

Pour the apple mixture into a well-seasoned cast iron skillet (I used a 10″) and spread the slices around the pan evenly. (Alternately, you can always use a metal or glass baking dish of your choice, but I prefer cast iron.) Set the skillet aside, pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees, and make the oat topping.

Combine rolled oats, buckwheat flour, flaxseed meal, sliced almonds, another generous pinch of salt, a hefty sprinkle of cinnamon, brown sugar, and the butter. Work with your fingers until the butter is evenly distributed. Sprinkle the oat topping over the apples making sure it is evenly distributed. Give the whole skillet a light drizzle of Maple Syrup. Bake for 1 hour.

Serve alone, or if you’re not worried about dairy and/or sugar, with whipped cream or ice cream. Serves 4-6 depending on how big your appetite is.

Preparation Notes

The apples: You’re right. I didn’t peel my apples. Mostly because I’m lazy and I don’t mind apple skins. If it bothers you, peel yours, although you’ll never persuade me the ROI is worth it.

The maple syrup: I’m no expert, but I’ve noticed the “granola crowd” loves it. But you have to buy the pure stuff, otherwise it’s just corn syrup and maple flavoring. It’s pricey, but my modest research indicates it is better for your blood sugar than most alternatives.

The brown sugar: Yes, I’m aware it’s nothing more than white sugar with added molasses. I know it’s bad for you. I caved at the last minute remembering my Gram’s Apple Crisp, but I’m not convinced it made that much difference in terms of taste. Next time I make Apple Crisp I’m going to leave it out and see what I think.

The flaxseed meal: This stuff is packed with Omega 3 oils and fiber and I put it in practically everything now. It has a nutty flavor that I think added a lot to this recipe.

The almonds: I like them a lot, but you could use any nut you have on hand. Pecans and walnuts come to mind as tasty alternatives. I almost sprinkled some sunflower seeds on at the last minute but decided against it because I thought my sweet Gram would have shuddered.

The buckwheat flour: Besides the fact that buckwheat flour is gluten free, it offers a lot of health benefits so I used it instead of regular flour. If you’re not familiar with it, I encourage you to check it out.

Tasting Notes

Yes, it’s been 30 days since I ate dessert, but I still moaned when I took my first bite. It was every bit as good as I remembered. Maybe better because I knew my version was vegan and significantly cleaned up.

I’m not gonna lie — you can’t eat dessert and feel as good as you do when you eat a salad. I definitely had a bit of a sugar rush, which may owe more to the size of my portion than the dish itself. But the feeling was short-lived and it was a good reminder that desserts should be enjoyed in small portions and on infrequent occasions. Still . . . if you’re gonna eat sweets, it’s hard to imagine you’ll find one as reasonably healthy as this one. Keep your portion modest and there should be no guilt with this one.


Dear friends,


My “gut reboot” is complete and, as promised, I’m here to tell you about it.

(Because what’s the point of self-improvement if there’s no one to tell, right?)

When my friend Patti told me about the plan (and the book), I was skeptical. A 21-day cleanse sounded about as much fun as a 21-day root canal. Perhaps she caught me at a weak moment. I had just fallen off the treadmill a day earlier. (This was a literal treadmill accident, not a fall “off the wagon” so to speak.)  I was feeling particularly old and vulnerable. And bad.

The thing about feeling bad is — like the frog in the proverbial pot of hot water — you don’t know how bad you feel until you don’t feel bad anymore. Headaches, sleepiness, lethargy, persistent GI distress . . . I chalked it all up to age and stress.

I didn’t realize it wasn’t normal. Until it wasn’t.

I started to feel better by day 3 of the cleanse. By day 10, I was really grooving. Now I’m all but a few days away from a month and I have no intention of stopping.

I’ve only had one headache the whole time. I’ve had ZERO stomach/GI issues. My energy is improving daily. Mr. Mom said my skin looks clearer, younger. (I’ll take it!) My “brain fog” has finally cleared. With the exception of two late nights worrying about my kids’ trouble du jour, my sleep has been uninterrupted and restful. My running and weight training are improving. (In fairness, fitness breeds fitness so I’m not trying to suggest eating better has made me fitter; but I’m certain feeling better and having more energy has improved my exercise.) I’ve lost 10 pounds. All in all, it’s been a 21-day boon.

If there’s a downside, it’s that eating is no longer easy. It takes planning and preparation to eat healthy. You guys know I’m a pretty decent cook and baker and I’m having to learn new ways and new ingredients. I’m in unfamiliar territory but gaining my footing daily.

My transition to a plant-based diet has been a slow evolution since I officially became a vegetarian a year ago. Still, forgoing meat is relatively easy, especially if — like me — you rely on packaged and convenience foods. The beauty of this cleanse is that it helped me break my reliance on convenience foods. First, I came to realize that “cheese tots” or “chips and dip” really aren’t a lunch option I should consider a viable option as a vegetarian. Second, it broke me of my reliance on cheese and crackers or PBJs as totally acceptable dinners (or breakfasts, or snacks). Third, it helped me understand that life goes on (and goes on well) without refined carbs and dairy.

I am reluctant to call myself a vegan now, though I’m still not eating dairy. The premise of “Clean Gut” is that you eat a very restricted diet for 21 days (no dairy, no gluten, no caffeine, no alcohol, with other restrictions on many fruits and starchy foods like potatoes, rice and corn). At the end of the cleanse, you reintroduce common “trigger” foods and test your reaction. I have successfully reintroduced gluten, but I’m only eating limited amounts of oatmeal and whole grain bread. I may try whole grain pasta later but, so far, I haven’t missed pasta one bit. I reintroduced potatoes last night (with a vegan mashed potatoes recipe I found online) and found that even the cleaned up version sat really heavy on my stomach. While I experienced no major GI distress as a result, I realized I no longer enjoy eating foods that prompt an “ugh” after dinner. I still need to “reintroduce and test” dairy and corn, but I’m in no hurry. I feel so good I’m staying the course.

Speaking of ugh, the best habit this cleanse helped me form is to quit eating when I’m 80% full. I have to admit, when I first read this advice in the book, the concept was lost in translation. I’m a clean-your-plate girl. Always have been. I know what full feels like but I have no idea what 8/10ths full means. Almost full? Not quite full? Still hungry? Hungry I know!

Despite being fuzzy on the concept, I gave it my best. For someone as lost as me, someone who knows what the hour after the Thanksgiving meal or Pizza Night feels like but has no idea what it means to stop eating before you are satiated, the best I can describe it is this: Stop when you still want more. Stop before you are ready to stop eating.

Stop before you are ready to stop eating.

This advice is not just about stopping. Although that’s hard enough to do. It’s also about how much to put on your plate to begin with. Recalibrating what constitutes a meal. As a young girl, a meal meant two helpings of everything. As an adult, it has meant excessively large portions (and still sometimes helping myself to seconds).

If you’ve ever done any reading on this topic, you likely already know it takes your brain 20 minutes to catch up with your stomach. Meaning — if you eat until your stomach feels full, 20 minutes later you will feel over-full. Over-full became my full. Which is why “less than full” has been so perplexing to me.

But I’m learning. And in the mean time, I’m having fun exploring new websites and cookbooks and recipes. I’ve had a couple of fantastic vegan successes (like the lasagna I featured here) and I’ve had at least one spectacular fail (a vegan “meatloaf” we shall never speak of again). Kudos to my boys for taking it all in stride.

With gratitude {for the chance, daily, to remake my life in healthier, happier terms},

Joan, who purchased the poster pictured above because it reminded her of Mr. Mom — who’s been an exceptionally good sport about eating more vegetables for the last year — and because he really does make her heart flutter

PS: I invite you to check out the websites of the books pictured below to learn more about a plant-based diet


Click here for Clean Gut

Click here for the Kind Diet

Click here for Oh She Glows

More yummy. Less yucky.

Dear friends,

lasagna (1)

I’ve been away from this space for a while. Life after loss is always an interesting hokey pokey. One step forward, one step backwards, a little sideways shimmy and start over again.

A few weeks ago I was feeling particularly dull and lethargic and — not knowing if my symptoms were the result of grief’s natural progression or some bad habits I picked up during my father’s illness and death — I decided to make some healthy changes.

First, I gave up soda pop. Now the truth is I hadn’t been a pop drinker for more than a decade, but between May 1 and August 1, the desire for something comforting on long road trips to Oklahoma found me guzzling it almost daily. Most people lose weight when they’re under stress, but I put on 5 pounds over the summer and I’m certain it was the many, many cans of 7-Up I drank. Fortunately, I didn’t have much trouble snapping out of my delirium and giving it up.

Second, I recommitted myself to fitness. My running was severely curtailed during my father’s illness for a million excuses, some legitimate, some not. But beyond the running, I’ve been feeling unusually weak, as if getting myself up off the floor is a major chore. One night while talking in bed, Mr. Mom and I decided to start going to the gym together for weight training. Maybe we’re both feeling old or maybe we needed the mutual encouragement and support, but we’re almost three weeks into a new regimen that has put some pep into both our steps.

Finally, after a year of vegetarian eating, I’ve gone vegan. For at least the last six months, I’ve been noticing an increase in GI difficulties. I won’t get too graphic except to say giving up meat solved my acid reflux but I’ve still been suffering from a variety of stomach difficulties with symptoms that lead me to conclude I might have Irritable Bowel Syndrome. A friend of mine told me about a book called Clean Gut. Written by a cardiologist, the book’s recommendations helped my friend feel better than ever. (Side benefit: she lost 20 pounds.)

The basic premise is that our gut is the center of our health and vitality and we can solve many of our own problems by being far more thoughtful about what we put into it. The book recommends a very strict diet called a “cleanse” for 21 days. (By strict, I mean no sugar, no gluten, no dairy, no alcohol, and no caffeine, with some other restrictions related to starchy, sugary whole foods like corn, potatoes and fruit.) After the 21 days, which is essentially a re-boot of your GI system, you reintroduce common “trigger” foods, such as gluten and dairy, one at a time and test your reaction to them. If you have a strong reaction, you need to eliminate the food from your diet. If you have a mild or moderate reaction, you need to limit your exposure.

I have long wondered if I have a gluten or dairy sensitivity, so following the book’s advice made sense to me. Beyond that, it gave me a framework for taking matters into my own hands and solving my own problems, hopefully without a visit to the doctor’s office or a prescription for medicine.

I’m only 7 days into the cleanse but I can already feel a big difference. I feel like the mental fog is slowly lifting. I’m not yet back to my old self, but I’ve blown away some mental cobwebs and I feel more awake and focused. More importantly, my stomach feels a WHOLE lot better. I don’t want to say too much too soon as I plan to write a post detailing the whole experience at the end of the 28-day cycle but, suffice to say, it works. And I’m excited about the possibilities.

In the mean time, here’s a really good recipe I developed this weekend for a gluten-free, dairy-free lasagna pictured above. (The Caesar Salad is vegan and is from The Kind Diet, another good book recommended by a colleague.)

For anyone who followed me from Mayberry Magpie, you may remember I have a killer Classic Lasagna recipe that I perfected over many years. It includes lots of meat and cheese, along with a white sauce, and it’s so good I’ve never found a better lasagna (and I’ve tried many at every restaurant imaginable). I have to admit the idea of any lasagna beside my classic recipe left me more than a little uninterested. But I promise this one is good and I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t mean it. My tastebuds are as picky as they come and this dish left me completely, utterly happy to have eaten it. Even Mr. Mom said “I don’t care what you call this, it tastes good.”

Best of all, my gut was happy. No sleepy, no sicky, no burpy is a great way to end a meal, especially one that thoroughly satisfies, especially with a dish that usually sits heavy on the gut or induces a long nap.


With gratitude {for friends and good books},

Joan, who purposely avoided telling you about the tragic treadmill accident she had on a recent trip to the gym, except to say if anyone had recorded it she would be a viral internet sensation (and she still has the bruises and deep scabs to prove it)



1 batch Red Sauce (see below)

1 batch Cashew Risotto (see below)

2 very large or several small zucchini, sliced and roasted (see below)

2 cups packed fresh spinach

Olive oil

Fresh parsley, chopped

Italian seasoning

Salt and pepper to taste

For the Red Sauce:

1/4 cup olive oil

6 oz. wine (I prefer dry red, but sweet white is good too)

1 medium onion, finely chopped

2 large cloves minced fresh garlic

2 28-oz cans crushed tomatoes

1 TBLS sugar

3/4 tsp. red pepper flakes

1/2 tsp. salt

1 tsp dried Italian Seasonings

Cracked black pepper to taste (I like a lot, probably close to 1 TBLS)

Heat olive oil in large, heavy Dutch oven over medium high heat (I prefer cast iron). Add onion and garlic and cook until onions are translucent. Add wine and stir and continue to cook until at least half of the wine has evaporated.

Add tomatoes and seasonings and cover; bring to a boil, then stir well again and reduce heat to low. Simmer with lid on for as long as you can; preferably an hour but 20 minutes will do in a pinch, stirring occasionally and adding a bit of water if sauce needs thinning after a long simmer. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary. If too acidic, add a bit more sugar.

For the Zucchini:

While the red sauce is simmering, prepare your zucchini. Wash well, trim off ends, and slice lengthwise as thin as you can (1/4” works well, but you can go thicker if you have difficulty. Just don’t slice them very thick.) The key here is to slice your zucchini to resemble lasagna noodles, long and not too thick.

Brush both sides with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and put on a baking sheet. Roast in a 400 degree oven for at least 20 minutes. The goal is to sweat out much of the water and get the zucchini at least halfway cooked. It’s okay to leave them in longer and let them get browned in spots. The brown bits taste really good. I have gone for as long as 40 minutes before depending on thickness. By the way, you can prepare the zucchini ahead if you like. They’ll be fine at room temperature for several hours or in the fridge for 3 days. If you happen to be grilling, you can also grill the zucchini and save it for this and other recipes.

For the Cashew Ricotta (from The Simple Veganista):

1 1/2 cup raw cashews, soaked

1/2 cup water

Juice of 1 large lemon or 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

1 tablespoon nutritional yeast

1 garlic clove

Dash of onion powder

Salt & cracked pepper, to taste

Soak the cashews for at least two hours in a bowl of water, covering the cashews with about an inch of water as they will puff up a bit.

Drain cashews and place all remaining ingredients into a blender or food processor, blend scraping down sides as needed until creamy. Taste for flavors adding any additional ingredients. Some like a salty ricotta so feel free to add as much salt as you want.

Store in refrigerator in an air tight container for an hour or two as this will stiffen the mixture a bit. You can also just prepare your dish with it straight away without refrigeration if needed.

Makes approximately 2 cups. Stores in refrigerator for up to a week.


Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Coat a 11”X14” deep dish with olive oil or Pam and layer ingredients in the following order: red sauce, zucchini noodles, spinach leaves, cashew ricotta, a sprinkle of Italian seasonings and chopped parsley. Repeat the layers as many times as you like, reserving enough red sauce to end with it.

If you find the cashew ricotta difficult to spread, just drop dollops of it around the dish and use a spatula to flatten it out and spread it around. Don’t worry if you move the spinach around a bit, just do your best to spread the ricotta around so it’s not in big clumps.

Bake for approximately 40 minutes until bubbly and edges are turning brown. Let stand 15 minutes before cutting.

Preparation Notes: I know it looks like a lot of work, but I made this from start to finish in about an hour (not including final baking time). You can always use sauce in a jar to speed things up, but try the homemade sometime. It really is worth 20-30 minutes of your time. We stopped buying sauce in a jar 10 years ago and have never looked back. Both Mr. Mom and I can make this sauce from memory in no time, and we use it for pizza, spaghetti, baked ziti – all our Italian recipes. You can double or triple the recipe and freeze extras for convenience.

And the zucchini and cashew ricotta can be made in advance, too. If you have everything on hand, you could layer this recipe up and have it in the oven in about 10 minutes.

If you are not gluten sensitive, you could add regular or whole wheat lasagna noodles in your layers and make this more of a classic veggie lasagna. But I’m avoiding gluten right now so that’s why I substituted zucchini for lasagna noodles. The great thing is that I didn’t even miss the wheat noodles – plus this recipe offers the added benefit of not sitting heavy on your stomach or making you sleepy afterwards!

PS: I forgot to mention — yes, the red sauce has a tablespoon of white sugar in it. That’s because it’s a recipe from my pre-clean eating days. I think all red sauces need just a bit of sweetener to balance the acidity. If you’re sensitive to sugar, replace it with your favorite alternative . . . Stevia, maple syrup, brown rice syrup, agave juice, the choice is yours.

In memory.

Dear friends,

Bob Crenshaw Army

My father passed on Sunday, just nine short weeks after I learned he had brain cancer. Ever since I got the phone call Sunday morning just after 4:00 am, time has slowed down. Hours last days, and days last weeks, and I remember every little thing I thought I had forgotten. I’m in that odd space where grief seems like lead in my limbs and gravity threatens to crush me until the tiniest kind word or gesture lifts me up in unexpected ways and my heart swells again and I think “Maybe I won’t die of heaviness after all.”

We buried him yesterday and because I have an unnatural and acute fear of anyone I love suffering from a bad eulogy, I wrote my father’s. I’m sharing it here because talking about him and writing about him is comforting. Glennon Melton says when someone suffers a loss, gather up all your brave and rush in. You don’t have to know what to say or what to do, you just have to show up. I’ve been amazed at the people who have shown up, with texts and phone calls and emails and cards and gifts and — in the case of Mr. Mom — more kindnesses and favors than you can possibly imagine.

I needed your brave and I thank you for it.

With gratitude {for kindnesses from near and far},

Joan-Marie, daughter of Robert, son of Marie, family of an Indian Territory town that will always be home

My Father’s Eulogy

I want to begin by saying – strange as it sounds – how happy I am to be here today. This place, this cemetery, means so much to me. I feel like I grew up here and I’m certain my cousins know what I’m talking about. For my grandmother Marie, my great Aunt Hazel, my Aunt Mary, my cousin Big Betty (not to be confused with my cousin Betty Marie) and her sister Virginia, this place meant so much to them that they visited often and they dragged us kids along. “Let’s go to the cemetery” someone would say and off we’d go! I remember doing cartwheels and playing chase with my cousins while the adults did whatever it was they did here and so it never seemed like a sad place to me. When we had a family reunion at my house in 2009, three or four generations of us loaded up in cars and came here after our dinner. I have a photo of Daddy from that day standing near this spot. For the five years I lived in this town as an adult, I even used to run through here at 5:30 am, morning after morning, never once deterred by the thought of running through a pitch black cemetery alone. My family is buried here and the family of my lifelong friends are buried here and so there is something profoundly intimate and comforting about coming to this place today to honor my father. I want to thank all of you for being here to honor him as well.

A few weeks ago when I found out Daddy was sick, I wrote an essay titled “Questions for my Dying Father.” In it, I reflected on all the things I don’t know about him, all the things we didn’t talk about, like his service in World War II or, of course, his wives. I mentioned that I knew what his favorite steak was but not all the places he had worked — and I wondered how I had failed to learn such important details of my father’s long life.

A friend of mine emailed me not long after I posted my essay. Carolyn is a fundraiser for a facility that provides long-term care and aging services, so my friend has an informed perspective on the needs of elderly patients and their families. She reassured me by writing “Knowing your Dad’s favorite steak is infinitely more important than the stuff of life’s resume. The rib-eye is what matters and I’m glad you are there for him.”

It was such a kind and thoughtful thing to say to a daughter who spent far more time away from her father than with him. And it helped me move on from what I don’t know to what I do.

What I know about my father is that he was one of a kind. Everybody who knew him knew that. Highly intelligent and well spoken, he had the ability to command the attention of others whenever he wanted. He could cut to the chase like no one I know, and I suspect his directness complicated his life at times but you always knew where you stood with Bob. By the way, I have a reputation for candor and directness, too, so there’s no question whose daughter I am.

He enjoyed solitude and he spent a lot of his time there. I often wondered about the paradox of a man who married so many times yet liked to be alone as much as he did. The demands of solitude include being comfortable with your own thoughts and abilities and Daddy was clearly confident enough to sail his own ship. I think there is a unique valor required to stand alone, to swim against the tide, and I’ve always admired his sturdy self-reliance and willingness to – as he put it – “call his own shots.”

He was eternally optimistic. His love for gambling is proof of that. In fact, I think his willingness to put down his money and bet it all is a sign of immense idealism. Nobody would call Bob a pragmatist, he of the grand gestures and generous spirit. He told me not long before he died that he often loaned money to his friends and neighbors. Now I had always known that if you needed money, Bob was the man to see. Of his neighbors, he told me “Sometimes they pay me back and sometimes they don’t.” He could tell you in a heartbeat how much he was owed and by whom, and yet he never seemed to be keeping a tab beyond the dollars and cents of this life. For someone who was never rich, he shared in abundance.

When I was in fifth grade, I made straight As my first semester. He told me if I kept it up, if I made straight As all year, he would give me a hundred dollar bill. I spent months pouring through the Sears and Roebuck catalog at my grandmother’s house, making lists of what I would spend my money on. In 1972 you could buy a lot with a hundred dollars and I mentally spent my money 20 times over with various lists of goodies to be purchased. I earned the grades and Daddy paid up, of course, but I think he knew it wasn’t the hundred dollars that was the gift. But rather — the months of anticipation of a hundred dollars is where the real fun is. After all, he played the lotto up until the end of his life and he always said if he hit big, he’d share it all with his family.

Despite his generosity and candor, he could also be circumspect. I was looking through some old files the other day and I found a letter from my mother to me in 1988 when I lived in Boston. She had been writing me and begging me to move home but in this particular letter she wrote “I talked to your father today. He told me not to pressure you and to let you make up your own mind.” Then she told me that if I did decide to move home, he had already figured out three different plans for moving my household halfway across the country. That was just like Daddy: he understood the virtue of self-determination but could make you a plan like nobody’s business when needed.

Most things in this life that are wonderful or extravagant or refined, I learned about from my father. I ate my first lobster with him. I had my first room service meal with him, and I thought it was so fancy that our dinner came on china plates topped with silver domes on a rolling cart. I remember sitting at his kitchen table with him and eating steamed artichokes with drawn butter. He taught me how to eat the soft flesh of the artichoke petal with my front teeth. He made a terrific crab salad and avocado dip. I usually say I got my cooking skills from my mother but I know I got my taste from my father. He took me to restaurants with starched white tablecloths and crystal chandeliers. Once, when my mother offered to take me and my grandmother out for a hamburger, I protested saying “I want to go to a place like Daddy would take me. I want to go to a restaurant with atmosphere.” To this day I judge a restaurant by my father’s high standard.

My friend Carolyn has a philosophy about parenting. She says one parent brings the tree and one brings the ornaments and a child needs both to make Christmas out of her life. There’s no doubt that Daddy brought the decoration, the sparkle, to the life of his youngest daughter.

I love him and I will miss him.

String of pearls.

Dear friends,


I’ve been quilting again. Actually, I haven’t paused much since last time I showed you my work. Yesterday, I got one more baby quilt crossed off my list and I couldn’t wait to show it to you.

It’s for the first grandchild of a friend and colleague. Sweet baby Pearl was born two weeks ago but I’m a bit behind so she’s just now getting it.

It’s not her first quilt and it will be far from her last. Her grandmother is a talented seamstress and both her great aunt and her great grandmother are experienced quilters — so my little creation is just one of many handmade keepsakes the little girl will have. At first I thought twice about making a quilt for the first grandchild in a family of sewists but then I decided what the heck. Once I found out the baby would be named Pearl, I couldn’t resist making her a quilt with one of my favorite fabric lines called “Pearl Bracelet” by Andover Fabrics.

And, really, can you have too many quilts?

I decided not.


My quilt is a petite 39″ X 39″ so I think it will be perfect for tucking into small spaces like car seats or playpens.

Pearl’s mother decorated her nursery in bright, gender neutral colors so I chose several hues from the fabric line. In fact, I bought far too much material so, after finishing the front, I decided to piece the back with all the leftover colors.


I like how the rows of bracelets are slightly off-kilter as it gives the quilt a bit of a fun-house vibe. And I think the curves on the front of the quilt are a nice contrast to the cascading frames on the back of the quilt.

Not long ago I discovered a terrific long-arm quilter in a city two hours from me. To save time, I’ve been sending my quilts to her for quilting. I rather like the precision of a computerized long-arm quilting machine and Crinkleove does fantastic work. Plus, outsourcing the quilting allows me to make even more quilts. (There’s some 22,000 stitches in the quilting alone so you can see why these things take time.)

Speaking of even more quilts . . . I’ve got to run. I’ve got to get going on a quilt for an upcoming wedding gift.

With gratitude {for so many happy reasons to sew},

Joan-Marie, who for obvious reasons loves old-fashioned baby names