With much love,

Dear friends,


Yesterday I was in my office opening mail and came across a large envelope that was marked “personal.”

I didn’t even notice the return address before I opened the envelope to find a Christmas card and a stack of very old papers and letters. I opened the card quickly to see that it was from Mr. Mom’s Aunt Ruth, a relative I met for the first time last summer at this family reunion.

Ruth is in her mid-80’s. To me, she looks almost exactly like Mr. Mom’s mother, Rita. I have missed my mother-in-law terribly since we moved to Missouri, and seeing as she wasn’t able to attend the Iowa reunion, I spent two days soaking up the company of her seven siblings who did. Ruth and I bonded immediately even though we’d never met. I filled her in on Rita’s children and grandchildren and she told me stories of the family and the farm. At one point while we were talking, she looked at me intently and said “My, you are beautiful.” I laughed loudly and said “Oh, Ruth, I knew I loved you!”

As I poured over the contents of Ruth’s envelope, I found a slip of paper upon which Ruth had typed: “I have been sorting through old cards and letters. Perhaps you and yours would like to have the enclosed. If nothing else, collect the stamps. Ha.”

The package was a treasure trove of family history. Among the enclosures were: a scrapbook page containing the 1955 wedding announcement for Mr. Mom’s parents, along with a wedding invitation and an embossed napkin; a baby announcement for Mr. Mom’s sister mailed from Rita to Ruth in 1959; an undated still-life drawing by Rita; a poem written by Rita to her sister Ruth on the occasion of Ruth’s 10th wedding anniversary on March 10, 1956; and several letters from Rita to Ruth over many years.

Earlier that morning, I had written a Christmas card to my mother-in-law telling her how much I missed her and the years when we lived just down the road from each other and spent every Christmas together. My heart was more than a little heavy — and then I opened a surprise envelope and so much of Rita’s life spilled out. Both the gift and my longing were overwhelming so a flood of tears soon spilled onto the stack of papers in my lap.

I didn’t have time to read every letter at that moment and, besides, like a favorite box of candy, I wanted to savor the contents. But I did pull out one letter from the stack dated Jan. 4, 1968, and began to read a detailed and personal letter between sisters. Eight pages long, it included an update about each of Rita’s four children. My heart skipped a beat when I reached this passage:

“(Mr. Mom) is a darling, so sweet and good-natured. He likes so much to have someone talk just to him and listen just to him. He wants to help and to share, and he tries very hard to be nice. There is a little jealously between him and (his younger brother), but it’s mostly one of wanting a little more attention for himself. He likes to set the table and help vacuum the rug and he’s pretty good about picking up toys. If he catches his mama or his daddy sitting down, he’s sure to crawl into his or her lap. He makes some charming observations about various things. For example, one day when I came home from school, he was playing in the front yard with his little neighbor friend. I said “Come on in and get ready to go.” He asked “Where are we going?” I said “I’ll tell you in a minute.” So he turned to his little friend and said “Mama doesn’t know where we are going.” And one windy day, he was looking out the window watching the trees sway and he came to me and said “I know what makes the wind blow. It’s the tree branches that move around and push the air all over.”

I don’t know if Ruth could have imagined how moved I am by her thoughtful gesture and how much I treasure the contents of her envelope. It’s a much-needed tonic for the woman who misses her husband’s mother, her own mother, and the regular family interactions lost over so many miles.

With gratitude {for the old-fashioned act of letter writing, the inclination to save paper ephemera, and a sweet aunt’s Christmas gift to a sentimental fool},

Joan, who’s not one bit surprised Mr. Mom’s helpfulness and good-natured disposition was on full display at age five

A tale of two trees.

Dear friends,


If you’re like me, Christmas is the most sentimental time of year. By the time my birthday rolls around in early December, I am inevitably lulled into a month-long reverie of reminiscences that make January and its stoic resolutions seem like an especially cold slap in the face.

Decorating the tree has long been the focus of my nostalgia. I have collected dozens of ornaments over nearly 40 years. I’d like to claim they are each carefully wrapped in tissue and stored in tidy containers, but the truth is while some are, most aren’t, and my containers wear the heavy dust of a basement I rarely venture into.

Still, when I open my boxes and begin the ritual of adorning the tree, it’s as if the concentrated essence of Christmases past fills the room like the steamy aroma of mulled cider. My kids know the drill: I put on my favorite Christmas music (classics recorded by the likes of Tom Petty, the Eagles, and John Mellencamp); Parker manages the bird’s nest of wire hooks, pulling them free one by one; Kate attaches a hook to each ornament and passes it to me; and I select the perfect spot for each and every ornament. Along the way, I tell the same stories year after year after year.

“This doll is the from the set of six wooden ornaments I sold in high school to raise money for my cheerleading team. This is the dough ornament I made in middle school, the only one Grannie saved. This is the cross stitch ornament my sorority sister at TU gave me my junior year. This is the first ornament I purchased for Kate after she was born. This is the first ornament Parker made and brought home from Kiddie Kollege. This is the ornament I bought on the trip to Yellowstone – remember how sick Parker was with chicken pox on our trip?”

Besides my own enjoyment, the annual recitation is likely a thinly veiled stab at maternal immortality.  If I keep telling the stories, as my rationalization goes, my kids will remember them and pass them on. And some December day, four or five or six generations from now, my timeworn ornaments will hang on a tree and remind a great-great-great-somebody of Joan-Marie. Sometimes I think that’s all a mother really wants. To be remembered.

But this year, for the first time, we broke with tradition. I was at the dining room table sewing up a birthday quilt for a friend back home – too busy to pause I declared – so Kate decided to take charge. Parker fell in line with the hooks and Kate carefully curated my collection with a discerning eye.

“I’m done,” she declared, far too soon to have paid proper homage to each of my ornaments. “What?” I said. “You can’t possibly be!” “Come look,” she teased. “It’s beautiful. And not at all like your tree.”

And there, in our den, was a Christmas tree straight out of a magazine. “Look how balanced it is,” Kate said, beaming. “It’s a perfect mix of white, gold and red. Not cluttered. Not overdone.”

I was speechless. There were no popsicle-stick stars with plastic beads hot-glued on. No Hallmark/Disney frames with faded photos of every deceased but beloved pet in our family’s history. No tiny coffee mugs with each of our names painted on, purchased on family road trips from roadside souvenir joints. It was if our ornaments held a beauty contest and only the loveliest and most elegant made it on stage.

“It’s beautiful,” I said, surprised by an unexpected dose of equanimity. “Really, it is. I can’t believe I like it, but I do. You’ve done a lovely job.”

“I like it, too” Parker added quickly. “Since we’re finished, can I go hang with my friends now?”

And just like that, this old dog proved she could learn a new trick, even on the touchiest of topics, on the most sentimental of days. Instead of insisting my children watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” with me (another of Joan-Marie’s treasured traditions), we turned down the music, turned up the college football game, and settled into a new holiday rhythm, one no less modulated by a mother’s heart, but newly attuned to the vicissitudes of family affections.

With gratitude {for holiday family time, whether by my own design or another’s},

Joan, who likes her Christmas trees like her baked potatoes — loaded

Bang up job.

Dear friends,


We’ve been so busy ’round my house I haven’t had a chance to tell you about a major development in our lives.

The development is part of why we’ve been so busy.

We had a big winter storm last week, during which I was unlucky enough (stupid enough, inept enough, pick-your-adjective enough) to wreck my car.

I’m fine. Only my pocketbook and my pride are damaged and both will recover. But my trusty 2005 Honda Accord with 180,000 miles bit the dust.

I bought this car off the showroom floor after test-driving a number of makes and models. After being convinced I would buy a very mature Volkswagon Passat. After being certain there was no car that would make my heart go pitter-pat like my first (a 1968 Mustang), so why try?

But the six-speed manual Accord Coupe with the v6 engine had so much git-up-and-go (where git-up-and-go equals Joan squealing the tires on the test drive), I was instantly smitten. And I was convinced I would drive my silver bullet AT LEAST until Kate graduates from college.

But it appears the universe wanted to me to have a new car, because the Honda was totaled last Thursday on an icy hill of a busy, roller-coaster highway near our house.

So much for plans.

Anyhoo, Mr. Mom and I are off to St. Louis today to test drive several models. Parker, our resident expert, created our short list. I love that he listed the Scion SRS twice. (Subliminal advertising, perhaps?) I love how he spells Volkswagon. I love that he is a walking-talking Consumer Reports when it comes to anything automotive and that he really wants me to know the Mustang was rated Car and Driver’s best drive under $30K and that it has the best torque, whatever torque means for my driving experience.

I also love that he rolls his eyes whenever I say no new-fangled Mustang could ever compare to my beloved ’68 pea-green pony, so why try to recreate my youth? (Lest you are unclear about my passion for my original Mustang, read this love letter.)

You can bet I’ll keep you posted on our progress. In the mean time, I’m enjoying having extra time with Mr. Mom as he chauffeurs me around town.

With gratitude {for a car and driver},

Joan, who’s really trying to ignore Parker when he suggests she buy a 2014 “Gotta have it green” Mustang and add a custom-painted frog to the rear panel because who needs that kind of temptation?

A lifetime of love.

Dear friends,

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

See what you think:


Janet texted me yesterday to share this photo.


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

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

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

Packages near and far.

Dear friends,


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

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

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

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



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

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

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

Day 29 and 30: Yeah, yeah, I’m behind.

Dear friends,


On day 29 and 30 of the month of Thanksgiving, I was so busy being happy I didn’t have time to post why I was happy.

So much for daily posting!

But rest assured my daily gratitude was in full force.

I don’t know why, exactly, but my joy-otometer has been red-lined. Something about having a house full of college girls and plenty of time to cook and nest. I did more dishes in six days than I’d care to do in a month, but I suppose if you’re gonna eat home-cooked food, you’re gonna have to hit the sink. It was a small price to pay for so many smiles and a Tweet from my daughter on day two of her break that said “You know you’re home when momma’s in the kitchen cooking away.”

To return the favor, Kate decorated the house for Christmas while I quilted. Talk about luxury! Parker hauled the boxes up from the basement and Kate unpacked and arranged. From my vantage point at the dining room table, I gave advice and sang Christmas carols while my Bernina merrily hummed along in unison.

I learned that Kate is much more a minimalist than I am — even in my new pared-down phase. Declaring my approach to Christmas trees “cluttered,” she created a lovely if spare tree in a perfect balance of red, white and gold trim. She also took an understated approach to to the mantle. At the last minute, I pulled out several of my favorites, including the old-fashioned wooden sign I like to hang in our kitchen, and we called it good. There’s just enough holly-jolly adornment to know it’s Christmas without being overwhelmed by either the decor or the eventual chore of putting it away.

Finally, in a furious burst of seasonal energy, I finished two quilts and mailed them to unsuspecting recipients. (Photos to come when the gifts are no longer surprises.) Standing in line at the Post Office I was insanely happy at the prospect of sending my latest creations out into the world. And in a perfectly symmetrical turn of events, I arrived home to find a package for me: eight new bundles of fabric from my favorite online retailer, ensuring the Unaquilter is restocked to spread all kinds of joy throughout her land.

With gratitude {for nearly everything that makes my heart full, crammed into a single, glorious week of November},

Joan, who turns 51 today and is too happy to care (unlike last year’s angst-filled milestone)