India Travelogue, Ep. 4:

indiaep4

Before I left for India, I confided my anxieties about the trip to my friend and meditation teacher. She has been to India many times (to serve the poor rather than vacation like me) and she told me the trip would be “the edge of (my meditation) practice.”

I knew she was right but I didn’t know how right until we traveled by train. Two trips on the train (one 12 hours and one 18 hours) will remain my least favorite travel experiences.

I feel silly talking about it but I will say this: I’m so white and so American I had envisioned a very “Sex in the City” kind of adventure. (Remember the episode when Carrie and Samantha took the train to LA?) I thought we’d have cocktails. Instead, if you’ve ever seen the movie “Reds,” and you remember the scene where Diane Keaton meets Warren Beaty at the crowded and chaotic train station in pre-revolution Russia, it was like that, only depressingly un-cinematic.

Rather than recall the specific conditions (which were crowded and dirty beyond anything I’d ever experienced), I’ve reflected on why I was so outside my comfort zone, why I felt so unmoored, why I was convinced I might just perish right then and there.

Truth is, other than length, the second train ride was easier and more enjoyable than the first. Probably because I knew what to expect. We played cards, we laughed, we ate snacks, we had quite a scare when our friend left the train at a stop to buy food and we thought she’d been left behind. (Turned out, the train didn’t leave the station; it merely switched tracks and our friend made it back on just fine.) I even slept a little on the second trip, unlike the first.

Looking back in my photos, there’s nothing that’s shocking so I’m still not sure why I felt the way I did. But maybe it has to do with that old saying “The train has left the station.” For a girl who’s spent a lifetime planning contingencies and exit strategies (and polishing her bubble), once you’re on the train, you’re on it. And you are most definitely not in control.

And maybe the universe knew a train ride was the perfect antidote for my shiny bubble and accelerator for my meditation practice.

 

India Travelogue, Ep. 3:

indiaep3

I am not a well traveled individual. Although I have seen all but seven of the US states, prior to going to India, I could name the foreign countries I’ve visited on three fingers (Mexico, Brazil and Canada).

Since I had never left the American continent, I was sensitive about being perceived as a stereotypical US resident (ignorant, rude, entitled) by the locals. I tried so hard to be warm and friendly and polite and respectful in every situation.

Well, you can take the girl out of her bubble but . . .

Case in point: one day we were driving through a number of smaller towns. Many of my friends were dozing but I became fascinated with the array of merchants flanking the main roads through these towns. Most were in makeshift stalls, many no bigger than maybe 8’X8′. I saw a couple of what could be termed “variety” stores (to use a nostalgic American term from my youth), but many were single-item affairs (brooms in one, chairs in another, snacks in another). I began calling them out. “Oh look, there’s an auto mechanic’s shop! There’s a broom store! There’s a store selling pots and pans!” I even saw a man ironing in one stall. (An ironing store? I chuckled at my inability to name it quickly.)

When we drove past the one pictured above, I said “Oh look! It’s a second-hand clothing store.” My two Indian friends burst out laughing. Between their guffaws, one said “Oh Joan, it’s first-hand. It’s just dirty.” I was so embarrassed and realized immediately how privileged my world view had become. 

So yeah. I got that going for me.

Epilogue: I think the Indians got it going on. In many ways, these small merchants made me nostalgic for my “Mayberry” upbringing, where my neighbors’ businesses thrived before the big-box, Wal-Mart, soul-sucking economy choked them out.

India Travelogue, Ep. 2:

indiaep2

One of the most difficult aspects of traveling in India is the emotional toll on tourists of those who seek money. (I’ve always hated the term beggars.) I’m not trying to make a political or moral argument about society, I’m just saying the experience was hard.

Mostly those who sought money were children, but there were also many women and the occasional disabled man. Their numbers were far too many to ignore and their persistence is remarkable. I had carried a large number of $1 bills for this purpose. I most often gave singles but I sometimes gave as many as five as at a time.

One time, I was approached by a group of boys as I waited for my friends to return to our tour bus. After I gave them each a bill, our tour bus driver chided me. I smiled at his admonition. I have no answer except I dare you to look into the face of need and not respond. I told him there are individuals in America who do the same. Mostly, in my area, they are older men who stand by the interstate exits. And I told him I give them money too, far more than I was sharing with these children.

He asked me to follow him a short distance, where he pointed over a low wall and I saw a group of boys, perhaps 10 or 12 years old, sitting cross-legged on the ground and playing cards. “That’s what they do with your money!” he exclaimed. I smiled again. “They look hungry,” I said.

Of all the experiences I had in India, these momentary interactions where we met eyes and I acknowledged our shared humanity and offered what I liked to think of as a traveler’s gratuity will stay with me most poignantly.

 

India Travelogue, Ep. 1:

indiaep1

Everywhere I went in India, several times a day, I was asked to take photos with locals. At first I didn’t understand and thought the individuals and/or groups were asking me to photograph them. I finally realized they wanted to pose with me.
I was clearly a giant among them and I assumed my stature was such an oddity it merited photographing. But my friend Rama said “They don’t see many white faces and I think it is the combination of your very light skin, red hair and light eyes.”
This particular group of schoolgirls were touring a palace (somewhere in Karala — I’m still struggling with all the unfamiliar names because we visited sooooo many locations) when I heard them giggling behind me and the girl in blue shyly asked for my photo. Their English was broken so we struggled a bit to communicate, but after I thanked them and offered the traditional well wish of “namaste,” the girl in blue exclaimed “You so cute!”
I realized on this trip I’m not really a trouper when it comes to sightseeing. I kind of had the attitude “You’ve seen one palace, you’ve seen them all.” But the magical — no other word explains it — connections with the people, even in halting, imperfect language, is what made the trip for me. I will never forget these beautiful, warm, curious girls. And it tickles me to death to think that all over India, I’m on somebody’s social media feed just as they are on mine.

The long goodbye.

Dear friends,

nowatahouseatnight

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.

exterior-nowata-house-1

 

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

diningroom4

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

IMG_5815.JPG

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

nowata-house-1-11

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

nowata-house-1-8

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,

2015-calendar

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.

 

Lullaby.

Dear friends,

www.pinterest.com

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.

tankandsp

Tank and Sweetpea after being reunited

 

 

 

 

The Magpie Manifesto.

Dear friends,

breathenoticelove

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,

applecrisp2

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)

Salt

Cinnamon

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.