More cake. Please forgive me.

Dear friends,

Photo by Instagram, Lomo-fi filter

I wanted to write something pretty for you last night. But I was busy baking something pretty instead.

I know . . . enough of the cake. You must be thinking how much desert can one family eat, for Pete’s sake?

Last night, though, I was baking a birthday cake for a friend.  You guys know I usually only bake on Sundays, and at a leisurely pace. Pulling off a Triple Lemon Layer Cake (with homemade lemon curd filling) was a stretch for a weeknight. I was still at it long after I wanted to go to bed, futzing with that annoying fracture you can see in the bottom right corner of the photo.  My top layer split in half and that lemon curd is some slippery stuff. Had it not been for take-out pizza and a glass of wine, I may have had a Tuesday night baking breakdown.

I trust you’ll forgive me — for my writing lapse and for boring you with yet another cake story. On behalf of my friend who really deserves a killer birthday cake, I appreciate your understanding.

With gratitude {for buttercream frosting that hides a multitude of cake sins by the rushed baker},

Joan, who figures eating Margherita pizza and lemon curd for supper counts as both a vegetable and a fruit

Time lapse.

Dear friends,

Some days I look in the mirror and I don’t know who I am.

The cheeks, once taut and freckled, are softer. They have yielded to gravity in ways that suggest time has accelerated, like a time-lapse photograph of a person you once knew but is now obscured by the gauze of age.

The belly, once a slight bulge, barely a cushion between two sharp hips, has startled me recently with its surge forward and resemblance to my mother’s.

The arms, once so thin my nickname was Boney, are ample now, stronger now, the limbs of a woman who confidently strides through most of her days but longs for the striking angularity she sees only in her daughter.

The ankles are distant outposts but are at least comfortingly familiar, old friends mostly frozen in time save a few purple veins that now circumnavigate their half globes.

The breasts, they are not mine. Once upright, creamy, small but sufficient, they are victims of a landslide, the effects of which cannot be reversed by any type of artificial lift. They hang around, sullen, refusing to submit to garments that seek to restrain their sprawling desire.

The silhouette, once erect and lithe, a young shoot reaching up, up, up, has compacted, settled, reshaped itself, now all curves, a pear that is a little too ripe, too soft, but still wearing a lovely sheen, a gift that is slow to fade.

This woman who stares back at me is not me. She is an iteration of me – Joan 10.0 in a line of who knows how many versions. I may not recognize the woman in my skin, yet I feel her heart beat every .75 seconds while I tell her stories, nurse her wounds, guard her dreams, live her love.

She is the woman dying, renewing, grasping, letting go, sinking, swelling, evolving ever warily into the new thing, pleasing still if one catches glimpses of the whole rather than the parts.

She knows she is greater than the sum of her parts, stronger than whatever recent frailty has startled her, more beautiful than the fading bloom of youth’s itinerant glow. Wisdom is age’s greatest bargain and so wrap yourself in its comfort, settle in, and be kind to the person you are ever becoming.

With gratitude {for that soft-focus lens known as perspective that is the gift of age},

Joan, who believes more strongly than ever that time is on her side

We all scream for ice cream.

Dear friends,

You know what made me really happy yesterday?

Seeing this on my supper table.

After eating the comfort meal of all comfort meals (Panera’s Mac & Cheese, Pioneer Woman’s BBQ Meatballs, and buttered broccoli), we topped it off with Soda Fountain Ice Cream Pie. A concoction of fresh strawberries, vanilla ice cream, malted milk balls, crushed sugar cones, and whipped cream, it was the perfect desert for cuddling up in front of the Oscars.

If you’d like to make your own, you can click here for the recipe.

With gratitude {for ice cream done-up yummy and the best seat in the house on Oscar night},

Joan, who agrees with Alec Baldwin’s Tweet: You can’t argue when Meryl Streep’s name comes out of the envelope

Dine, people!

Dear friends,

I was watching the Food Network Saturday morning (a favorite activity) and had a nails-on-a-chalkboard experience.

A television cook, who shall go nameless because there’s no need to be unkind, finished preparing her meal and said this: Don’t bother setting the table. Just grab a napkin, maybe set up a TV tray, whatever.

Really? You just invested all that time and care to make meatloaf, baked mashed potatoes and sautéed string beans — all from scratch — and you’re willing to just grab a napkin?

How is it we can worship the food like never before but have abandoned the art of dining?

It made me sad. It made me wish I had a television show so I could proselytize:

Set the table! Dine, people!

I have long believed that family meal time is sacred. A home-cooked meal served on a lovely table in the company of loved ones will cure nearly all ills — nutritional, social, and spiritual.   Delicious food and inspiring tablescapes are the perfect combination for mealtime communions that create lasting memories.

My family dines together several times each week. Sunday is our elaborate meal. I typically cook and bake most of the day, and more times than not, my table is dressed with linens and flowers. During the week, our meals are much simpler — whatever Mr. Mom can whip up that’s tried and true on our list (spaghetti with scratch meat sauce, grilled pork chops with roast potatoes, stuffed green peppers, garden salad with grilled chicken, and sesame noodles are staples for us). But whether it’s at our dining table or our kitchen island, we always sit together. We always eat on real plates, even if we use paper napkins. And we often have dessert, either leftover from whatever I’ve baked on Sunday, or from our stash of store-bought cookies and ice cream.

Maybe grab-and-go meals work for some families, but supper for us is when we connect. When we really talk. When we remember what it means to be a family.

I’m kind of a nut about it, but if the number of kids who have gravitated to our home at mealtime over the years is any indication, I must not be too nutty — because we often seem to have a spare kid or three to feed.

And absolutely nothing makes me happier. A cook is most fulfilled when forks are raised by smiling diners.

With gratitude {for a mother and a grandmother who knew how to cook a proper supper and whose meals are the source of my fondest memories},

Joan, who hopes you’ll click here to head over to Domestic Dilettante for photos and recipes of her most recent Sunday Supper, which is so easy you’ll have plenty of time to set the table

If you haven’t yet watched Worst Cooks in America on the Food Network, you must. The shock, the frustration, the cursing . . . who hasn’t been there in the kitchen? On yesterday’s episode, one contestant kept yelling “My TooFoo is not melting! My TooFoo is not melting.” Because, you know, she thought the tofu in her Asian noodles needed to melt. If you need to feel instantly better about your culinary skills (or enjoy peeing your pants), tune into Food Network and watch the best non-scripted comedy to come along in years.

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

Joisey girls.

Dear friends,

Not long ago I was kvetching to a friend about how much I’ll miss Kate when she moves away to college, about how time is slipping away, about . . . oh, you know — that thing that mothers do.

And my wise friend, who has been the source of many good ideas and advice over the years, suggested I needed to plan a girls’ trip with Kate — a week’s getaway after she graduates from high school, just the two us, as a kind of rite of passage/celebration/cementing of the mother-daughter bond experience.

I was all over the idea and mentioned it to Kate immediately. I told her we would go anywhere she wanted to go (within reason of course, which my girl is nothing if not reasonable) and to think about it.

A couple of nights ago I followed up with her.

Joan: Have you been thinking about where we might go for our girls’ trip?

Kate: Anywhere is fine, Mom. Wherever you’d like to go, I’m sure I’d enjoy it.

Joan: No, no, no. I want you to pick. It’s your trip.

Kate: Well, I was talking to a friend and I was thinking how fun it would be to go to Hoboken.

<insert screeching tire sound>

Turns out, guess who is in Hoboken?

Photo credit: hddavila2007

Our favorite baker ever, Buddy of Cake Boss!

Kate started her confectionary odyssey before I did. In fact, she’s the one who inspired me to take up baking. Long before I was spending my Sundays making multi-layer, filled cakes from scratch, Kate was creating and selling these little delights:

So Hoboken it is! And while we’re in the neighborhood, I suggested we ought to drop in on the Big Apple. Because there’s just a few things we might enjoy over there, like hanging around outside 30 Rock and stalking Tina Fey.

I’m so excited, I’m tingly! I’ve been to NYC three previous times, in 1976, 1987 and 1999, but Kate has never traveled there. The last time I was in Manhattan, I went to the top of the World Trade Center for the first time. Kate and I both want to see Ground Zero.

If you’ve been to NYC more recently than 1999, would you do a girl a favor and drop me some suggestions? Where should we stay? Where must we eat? There’s so much to choose from, I need a carefully edited itinerary and would welcome your input.

With gratitude {for the anticipation and excitement of planning a big trip},

Joan, who in her secret dreams believes she could have been a real-life Carrie Bradshaw, pink tutu and all (except for the Mr. Big part because she is clearly more into the Mr. Moms than the Mr. Bigs)

We have a winner!

Dear friends,

After months of consideration and thousands of miles traveled, Kate has chosen a college to attend next fall.

Hooray for Kate! Hooray for her parents!

We ended up right where we started. Exactly where I figured she’d be. But since Kate’s first choice wasn’t her parents’ first choice, we thought the process of considering options was important.

And so we encouraged her to apply to no fewer than seven or eight universities. All were within a three-state area surrounding our home (Kate’s preference, not ours). And all offered women’s tennis programs at the NCAA Division-II level (the most important factor for Kate, who we never imagined would become the family jock).

We drove thousands of miles to make six campus visits over a four-month period. We poured over stacks of printed materials, surfed countless web pages, and exchanged emails and phone calls with many university faculty, coaches and administrators. Mr. Mom, Kate and I discussed the pros and cons of each school ad nauseam. In other words, we conducted a really typical college search.

In the end, my little chickadee proved herself to be a homing pigeon, choosing a regional university not far from our former home in Oklahoma – a school that offers both her academic program of choice (dietetics) and a first-rate tennis program.

Because I won’t be a bit surprised if Kate changes her major more than once before settling in, I focused less on degree programs available at our prospective schools and more on the quality of student life opportunities. In the end, however, it was tennis through-and-through that sold Kate.

Her school of choice boasts a tennis program that has competed in the national championships 17 out of the last 20 years and has produced six first-team All-Americans. The coach, as you might imagine, is old-school — tough as steel, demanding, and no-nonsense. He told us his regimen is rigorous and that his players cry regularly. He told us Kate won’t be a scholarship player and, in fact, she likely won’t compete for the team during her first two years. But the coach – who has won both National Coach of the Year and Conference Coach of the Year many times — promised Kate that if she’d commit, he’d make her the best tennis player she has the ability to be, and that’s the golden ring my girl is reaching for.

So the first part of our work – the agonizing over “where will she go?” – is done. I feel mightily relieved to have that part of the puzzle solved.  There are plenty more riddles to ponder, but I’m leaving them for another day.

For now, I’m celebrating a hard-fought victory – a family search for their daughter’s future that didn’t involve drama, acrimony, ultimatums, false pride and/or hope, or unspoken hurt feelings.

Like our favorite girl, we tried to be sensible and respectful in our deliberations. We started out with three different notions of what Kate’s future should look like and managed to come together for the first, critically important choice. Indulge me, please, if I give us all a pat on the back.  We just accomplished no small feat without a hint of resignation or regret, best I can tell.

The rest of the details, I hope, are all gravy.

With gratitude {for a family that has always managed to make me proud},

Joan, who would like to ask the universe for one more favor, please, which is the sale of her home in Oklahoma before the first tuition payment is due because two mortgages + college = oy!

The post that wasn’t.

Dear friends,

Source: Allposters.com

Last night I was busy being a mother to children who needed me.

And so the post that was to be, wasn’t.

I know you’ll understand that I spent my time doing the thing that was needed most and that I always consider my highest calling, instead of composing a few pithy thoughts to share with you.

With gratitude {for the honor and joy of raising the two dearest souls I know},

Joan, who would like to offer you a few words on mothering she wrote in 1999 but are still as true to her heart today as they were all those years ago

On being a mother

I am a mother and that is all I know.

My children run through me like blue through a river and I cannot remember me before them.

Before little hands snapped necklaces off my neck in a shower of beads as sudden as a summer storm; before the bluest eyes I have ever known searched mine for traces of anger or love; before four dirty, bare feet raced across the backyard to be the first to greet me on a day when the office made me indispensable and made me late; before the sweet skin of my children became the only perfume I craved; before ten cold toes invaded my warmth at 3:00 a.m. and I awakened only to long for ten more; before I knew my dream could be a freckled girl and a sandy boy who take my breath when I watch them sleep; I did not know anything.

My babies crept inside me in ways I cannot shake. I delivered them into the world in crying, surgical fits and though they escaped my body, they imprinted my soul with a code I cannot crack.

They are me and I have forgotten the world in ways beyond theirs. I interpret meaning through routine and, as we march through days, I sometimes stop to listen to a rhythm that reminds me why my heart beats.

When my son asks me to sit beside him on the porch, only to climb onto my lap and describe the boundaries of his universe while his cheek is warmed by mine; when my daughter alters her path to take my hand and walk alongside me; when two small voices rise in pitch until they crack and tumble into the bath water amid soapy waves, I know that grace envelops me.

When my daughter says “I just want to make you happy” after I praise her for eating all her peas; when my son’s quiet song makes itself known only to me; when my daughter’s gift is a picture with the words “my mom is a great mom”; when my son grabs my neck and holds on as if I was leaving his life instead of his bed, I know that nothing I can do is worthy of their hearts or as precious as their love.

I know that the beauty of life is in small moments, not large, and that very precious, very small moments are to be unearthed every day by a mother’s hands from the roughest clods of her life.

I know that a child’s voice is the purest, and that no amount of noise can drown its innocence and love.

I know that wisdom is not in what may be had but in what may be shared.

I know that dreams are not discovered until a child enters your life.

I know that hope is unending as long as I am a mother.

Somebody tell her to step away from the computer.

Dear friends,

I beg for your forbearance.

I’m adrift in a sea of unrestrained nostalgia. It all started with this post and the photos of my kids I took last weekend before the Sweetheart Dance.

After creating that post, I spent a couple of hours wading through the hundreds (thousands?) of photos we managed to recover after my computer crash.

You know that beautiful 18-year-old girl who looked so grown up in her party dress and sensible Toms?

Yesterday, she looked like this:

I promise it was yesterday. I remember it like it was yesterday so it had to be yesterday.

And that 6’4″ handsome boy in the shirt and tie? He looked like this last week.

I bet you won’t be surprised to hear I cried — big ol’ weepy tears — on the day Parker insisted on cutting off those curls. It broke my heart and I’ll never be the same. (I’m praying for a grandson with curls. It’s my only hope for emotional redemption. Once you’ve lived with beautiful-boy curls like those, you never want to live without them.)

Oh, and I found this photo:

It’s the best photo I’ve ever snapped on the best family vacation we ever took. This photo was taken on our mountain. Our mountain that I don’t talk about anymore, lest I cry. Someday . . . someday I’ll tell you the story.

And just look at this little slice of heaven:

I grew a wildflower garden in my backyard for several summers in our old home. It made me happy every single day of the growing season. And it’s the only old photo that didn’t make me want to cry . . . because I can’t make my teenagers babies again, but I can plant another wildflower garden in our new place. You can bet I’ll be getting on that as soon as the last freeze is safely past us. I should warn you, though, if I’m successful, you might be seeing a lot of wildflower photos on my blog this summer.

I also found this shot, one of a series of photos of our former home I took one evening at sunset. I had seen a similar photo in a magazine and desperately wanted a shot like that of my home. A photographer-friend gave me tips on using a tripod and a long exposure — and two hundred photos later, I had a handful of photographs that perfectly captured a summer evening at our home.

I’ll never forget that evening, or that view of our house on my hometown’s brick-paved streets.

I’ll never forget any of these moments, actually. They are treasures all, entwined around my heart so tightly it takes my breath away.

With gratitude {for a lifetime of mostly happy memories, many of them captured on film},

Joan, who loves her words, every single one of them, but knows these photos say it all

Atelier? Chick Corner? A little of both, please.

Dear friends,

I spent a good part of Saturday unpacking art and craft supplies and making a workspace for myself.

In our former home, we had a large and light-filled sunroom with a southern exposure. I co-opted half the room as a crafting area and gave it a formal name — the Magpie Dream Studio (Magpie, after my former blog moniker). I miss it.

In our new home, I’ve spent 10 months pondering where to set up shop. Should I decamp in our basement (spacious, and the mess is hidden)? In the laundry room (huge, with oodles of built-in cabinetry and a desk)? In the back-entry alcove (tucked away, perfect size for a desk, and near a large pantry)?

As it turns out, the basement got filled fast thanks to Mr. Mom’s workbench and the kids’ ping pong table. He also co-opted the laundry room. I know it sounds like a strange place for him to hang-out, but our laundry room is a gigantic space. It’s filled with light, and because of the built-in desk, it’s a perfect place for our large iMac computer. With both a computer and washing machines handy, the laundry room has become Mr. Mom’s Man Cave. And the back-entry alcove — my final choice for a crafting space — has been consumed with jackets and shoes and boots and bags. It’s just waiting for me to hire a carpenter to build a mud-room type bench and cabinets.

So every single space I contemplated has been otherwise occupied. There was only one other possible location — an alcove in our master bedroom. It wasn’t really on my list because — I don’t know — it just seemed like a mixed metaphor, of sorts.  But, upon further reflection, the idea began to grow on me.

Our bedroom is plenty large enough. Like the rest of the house, it’s light and bright, and the alcove is near a large window. I have an easy chair and side table near a television in our bedroom, which is situated right by the alcove, so I could go back and forth between my new crafting corner and my reading/TV corner. And, best of all, it’s one of the quietest spots in the house. All it would take is some shuffling of furniture.

I started by moving a bookcase that had been nestled in the alcove to another location in our home. Then I scavenged a work table (my grandmother’s antique oak table from my former Dream Studio), a shelf, a slip-covered chair, a pin board, and a lamp from other rooms — and I was almost in business.

Here’s what it looked like before I got organized.

Photo by Instagram, 1977 filter

That stack of family photos had been hanging on the wall above the bookcase before I moved it. I took them down to make room for the new set-up, not sure what I’d ultimately do with them. But once I got everything organized, I realized they’d look just fine (and provide inspiration) hung salon-style back where they began.

It looks like this now:

Here’s another view:

The green shelf is part of a two-piece bookcase that’s been unused since we moved. It makes a perfect cubby for organizing things.

Remember my friend Maridel, the collage artist I introduced you to in this post?  Here’s a couple of shots of her creations, strategically placed to inspire me.

Did you know that shells and stones . . .

and tiny vases could be such lovely works of art?

I’m itching to make my own, along with a collaged greeting card series I’ve got percolating in my brain.

After almost a year on hiatus, I’ve got just the place I need to get creative. Not as large as the space I was used to, but quite lovely nonetheless.

With gratitude {for a quiet place to dream},

Joan, who must leave this post to run to the kitchen, her other dream studio, where some peaches are calling out to be made into pie