The words.

Dear friends,

words

It’s not very often that I am unable to find adequate words to express my feelings. But the last two days have been overwhelming, so let’s just say that the experience of sharing my story on Momastery is beyond words I can string together at this moment.

I’ve been out of town for two days, more than a little sidetracked by a packed schedule of business meetings. Wednesday night when I got to my hotel room after a late dinner and I finally had a moment to read the comments — here on my blog, on Glennon’s blog, and on the Momastery Facebook page — all I could do is cry. I sat in my hotel room and cried and cried, and then I turned out the lights and cried some more. Not for me, because I’ve sat with my story for a good long time.

I cried for all the readers and all their brutiful stories and all the love and wisdom and pain they poured into their comments.

One of the readers asked what happened between my daughter and sister on their lunch date. Another wondered what’s happening now between P and me. The quick answer to both is that I’ll try to tell you as soon as I have the words.

What I do have the words to tell you about today is just this one tiny thing that was so . . . enormous . . . I still can’t quite believe it.

I was sitting in my office on Tuesday when my phone rang. It was “Amy from Momastery” who said she’d been trying to track me down to ask if they could publish my essay. My first thought was “There’s people at Momastery?”

I know. It’s not like I expected Glennon to call me from her cloffice. I never expected anyone to call, ever, so my ears were ringing and my face was turning red and I was a little bit dizzy and I was trying desperately to listen to the woman talking to me.

It was a very quick call. She asked me to email her a bio and my social media links and I said okay. The call was ending and I was trying not to be an idiot but it was hard, you know, because I was talking to “Amy from Momastery” who clearly knows Glennon, so holding the phone while I realized there was only two degrees of separation between me and Glennon at that moment made me — if not an idiot — at least a boob. I think I actually asked Amy if she knows Glennon and without waiting for her to answer said something like “Please tell her I’m delighted she chose my essay.”

And then, right after I said that, I was momentarily blinded when the world exploded into a sparkly, shiny, swirling Disco Ball of Jubilation because Amy said “I liked your essay and gave it to Glennon to read. Forgive me . . . it’s a little crude . . . but Glennon read it and all she said was ‘She writes like a mother-fu%&er.'”

That, my friends, was a sacred moment. It was a gift. One I will never forget.

If you are at all tempted to be put off by the language: don’t even go there.

My closest friends know I love a choice expletive. I watch what I say in polite company and certainly what I put in writing because I’m sensitive to the tastes of others, but in my safe place, I let ‘er rip. It would be totally like me, when talking to a close friend, to say something like “Sure, I like Anne Lamot and Joan Didion and Elizabeth Gilbert but Glennon Melton? Glennon is a mother-fu%&ing writer.”

So in six words, I instantly understood the intention of the message. And I instantly understood Glennon was my kind of gal. And — more importantly — I instantly understood I had been given the gift of being allowed inside the circle. And when women let other women inside their circle, they are doing the Lord’s work, no matter what words they use.

I hung up and immediately sent Amy the requested email with my bio and links. And this PS: “Please tell Glennon that as of today, I will instruct my husband and children to etch on my headstone ‘She writes like a mother-fu%&er.’ I will wear that badge of honor the rest of my life.”

And my husband and children know I am serious. Okay, maybe not on my headstone, because I plan to be cremated. But in my mother-fu%&ing eulogy somebody better say it.

It’s all I ask for.

With gratitude {for words, words, words, profound, profane, glorious, wondrous, plain and simple words that teach us and heal us and bring us into each others circles},

Joan ,who writes, well, you know

 

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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.

jbandme

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.

jbandme2

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.

kateandsarah

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.

KateSarahPromCollage

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:

janetcollage

Janet texted me yesterday to share this photo.

sarah

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,

bdaygift

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.

rachelcollage

rachel

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 15: The favor chain.

Dear friends,

leaves

So I have this neighbor three houses down from mine.

And my neighbor happens to work with me. I don’t want to be all specific about the work sitch, so let’s just say she’s down the chain from me. And when I get ideas, she gets the “fun” of implementing them. She’s really great at implementing ideas, whereas I am only good at dreaming them up, and that’s just one reason why I love working with her.

Today, on my way to the office, I drove by her house and noticed her yard was awash in autumn leaves. She’s a widowed working gal living among retirees and a stay-at-home dad (Mr. Mom), all of whom have plenty of time to rake their leaves.

My neighbor would have more time to rake her leaves if I didn’t have so many ideas at work needing her attention. So I called Mr. Mom and asked, very politely, if he would mind raking her leaves because, you know, I’ve been keeping her busy and she might feel bad that everybody’s lawn is clean but hers.

He’d already raked and burned another neighbor’s leaves so he really didn’t mind, but he refused to do it without knowing “her preferences.” (This is where the woman who’s never raked leaves in her life learned people have preferences about this sort of thing.)

So I called my neighbor under the pretense of details related to a meeting later that day and I mentioned her leaves. Because she’s a nice person who indulges me but probably thinks I am either an exceptionally nosy neighbor or colleague, or both (the mixing of which can be tricky), I managed to end the conversation with enough information to get Mr. Mom going.

And, of course, he got it done pronto. So when she went home for lunch she saw that her weekend’s chore had been taken care of.

Which made her really happy.

Which made me really happy.

And I have to say: this favor chain idea — where someone does me a favor and then someone else returns the favor for me — well, it really rocks! You should try it.

With gratitude {for the endless favors, large and small, granted to me by almost everyone in my life},

Joan, who’s not the least bit OCD about autumn leaves and actually prefers the view with them on the ground but conforms to societal standards as long as Mr. Mom provides the labor

Day 6: The project.

Dear friends,

I started a new project today — a quilt for a special friend.

It’s a surprise, so I won’t say much here except I hope she likes it.

Based on what I know and what others have told me, bright colors, bold graphics, and a modern layout will please her. I skipped using a pattern and decided instead to improvise the size and placement of each fabric piece.

Here’s a sneak peek:

improv

Once the quilt has been gifted, I’ll tell you the story of the person it’s for. And when I show you the finished quilt along with the story, I think it will all come full circle in the way that only a lifelong friendship, a milestone occasion, and a mother’s love can stitch together.

In the meantime, I’ve got to get back to the sewing table, er, dining room. I’m on deadline.

With gratitude {for the joy of piecing together the story of a life},

Joan, who loves nothing more than a tight deadline and a challenging assignment

Working girls.

Dear friends,

warhol

Dolly Parton by Andy Warhol
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

Six hundred miles and 36 hours later, I’m home from the third annual Ozarks Rendezvous.

The gathering of five former colleagues — who at one time all toiled under the same roof in Tulsa, Oklahoma — was more fun than I imagined. Filled with award-winning food, fun, art, wine, laughter and a night in an incredibly hipster hotel, the weekend was a tonic for my favorite crew of working girls.

The central activity of the gathering was a visit to the Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville, AR (the town that Wal-Mart built). Before I tell you what I think about the museum, which opened not quite two years ago, I will offer a disclaimer that our band of five professional, solidly middle-class women understood that our free museum admission was only marginally “compliments of Wal-Mart” (as the greeter informed me). I was acutely aware that it is the legions of uninsured, low-wage workers subject to Wal-Mart’s ignoble labor practices that generated the vast fortune represented by Crystal Bridges.

With that sober acknowledgement (and my longstanding disdain for Wal-Mart) as preface, I can’t help but tell you that the museum is a stunning achievement in architecture, art collecting, and the art and science of making art accessible. Practically every important name in the pantheon of American art is represented at Crystal Bridges, from Norman Rockwell to Mark Rothko, from Frederick Remington to Andy Warhol, from Thomas Moran to Jackson Pollock, from Winslow Homer to Joseph Albers. I alternated between marveling at the art right in front of my nose and marveling at how Alice Walton managed to collect it all and make a tiny town in Northwest Arkansas an art destination. If you ever have an opportunity to drop by Crystal Bridges (or, heck, to travel far out of your way), you should add the museum to your must-visit list.

By the way, don’t let the museum’s odd name discourage you from taking it seriously. After I mused — perhaps a little too loudly — that it sounded like a new-age retreat center, and my friend remarked that it reminded her of a cheesy Country and Western singer, a museum docent quietly and kindly informed us that the museum is built over a body of water known as Crystal Springs.  I felt a little guilty, then, for disparaging the museum’s name, but we still joked that it surely must be a marketing impediment to all those who would lump it in the same class of tourist attractions represented by the Precious Moments Park and Chapel just down the road in Carthage, MO.

After a long and satisfying afternoon at the museum, we spent an even longer and more satiating evening at The Hive, our hipster hotel’s even hipper restaurant. Over cocktails and three courses, we discussed everything from politics, to the state of our respective careers, to religion, to family and children, to feminism, to easy gossip about personalities of mutual interest.  During a particularly amusing conversational diversion regarding technology in the workplace, we laughed so hard I lost my breath and nearly popped my trouser button. It was the perfect ending to a splendid day with friends far and farther, who’ve worked hard to nurture the bonds of friendship stretched by geography but reinforced by abiding affection.

With gratitude {for the restorative power of time spent with girlfriends},

Joan, who met the first of her former colleagues in 1988 when both had Working Girl hair, wardrobes, and career challenges, but nothing close to Harrison-Ford romantic prospects

Superstitioulicious.

Dear friends,

black cat

Source: Etsy

Friday the 13th might be a day of superstition for most but it was delicious for me.

First, I was walking across campus when a group of college boys whistled at me. It was bizarre to say the least. They were sitting under a tree talking in a language I didn’t understand. I walked right past them and as soon as they were behind me, I heard the unmistakable and conspicuous male signal that needs no translation. I can’t remember the last time it happened to me and, given my age, I would have figured it was meant for any other female within 100 yards except there weren’t any. I smiled bigger than I’ve smiled in a long time and kept on walking — with, possibly, slightly more pep in my step because I was clearly rocking my black skirt and super-cute pumps. Mr. Mom says the boys must have been leg men, claiming it takes one to know one. I don’t know and I don’t care because it sure made my day.

When I got home, I had a hand-written note in the mail from a friend who was recently Unaquilted. I’ve told you about Sweet Sarah before. She’s getting married soon and was the surprise recipient of the blue quilt featured in yesterday’s post. She’s marrying the little brother of one of my “J” friends and I couldn’t resist giving the lovebirds a quilt to cuddle under. I wrote that I hoped they’d make lots of memories with it, perhaps even spill a little wine on it in the interest of having fun as newlyweds.

In her thank you note to me, Sarah said:

Thank you so very much for our first (and favorite) wedding gift . . . We used it in our engagement pictures and it looks great. We loved your note about making memories with it and somehow it ended up with bird poo on it during our photo session. We both laughed because it got broken in right off the bat. Thank you to you and (Mr. Mom) for being a couple to look up to. You both are an inspiration to me.

Now, lordy be . . . if there’s anything more encouraging than a wolf whistle, it’s got to be a heartfelt message like Sarah’s.

Who needs a lucky day when Friday the 13th is this superstitioulicious?

With gratitude {for admirers of all ages and genders},

Joan, the long-legged Magpie

Restitching the favor.

Dear friends,

Forty years ago, I was an ungainly young girl, where ungainly equals skinny, bucktoothed, freckled, and half a foot taller than most of my contemporaries. Looking back, you could have called me a living illustration of the word awkward.

Of all the things that made me uncomfortable about my appearance, I was most sensitive about my height. In the ’70s, clothing sizes were much more limited than they are today.  If you were “unlucky” enough to be both skinny and tall, you had a heckuva time finding clothing that fit. All my shoes were flats, all my jeans had fringed bottoms (I let out the hems to create another half inch in inseam length), and all my nightgowns looked like they belonged to a child five years my junior. I fretted excessively over my lot in life.

Then one year, my dear friend Julie gave me a special gift: an extra-long flannel nightgown that she had sewn herself. I couldn’t believe when I opened up the package and tried on the gown to see that it fell all the way to the floor! For the first time in my life, my feet and ankles were not visible under the hem of my nightgown, even when I raised my arms. I later learned that while making my special gift, Julie had forced her brother — a tall farmboy — to try on the gown and stand still for several minutes while she pinned the hem to the proper length. I’m not sure Julie’s brother has ever forgiven her for that onerous chore and I chuckle to this day when I imagine a teenaged cowboy trying to stand still in a flannel nightgown just so Boney Joanie could have one garment that didn’t make her feel like a freak.

<Go ahead . . . take a minute to smile about such a touching gesture of friendship>

Anyway, despite the fact that I, too, knew my way around a sewing machine, I never managed to make a single item for my friends. And as you know if you’ve been reading my posts, I only recently took up sewing again after a 20-year hiatus.

So it seemed high time to return the favor, don’t you think?

That’s where this little cutie comes in.

tucker

He’s the apple of Julie’s eye, her first grandchild, a tow-headed little boy named Tucker. Here he is “watering flowers” with JuJu on her front porch.

He turns 1 on July 9th and, earlier this week, I sent a package to him with this in it:

tuckerquilt

I think it’s my cutest quilt yet (says the woman who’s made all of three quilts). Here’s a closer look:

tuckerquilt2

I’m pretty happy with those purty stitches, thanks to my new Bernina. There’s not an unintentional pucker or pleat anywhere, and my corners are beautifully mitered. It’s my best work yet, and I couldn’t be happier to share my new passion in tribute to my thoughtful friend. It’s been a long time coming, but I hope sweet little Tucker sleeps as contentedly wrapped in my quilt as I did in the nightgown his grandmother made long ago.

With gratitude {for lifelong friends of the J variety},

Joan, who learned in her 20s to embrace her stature and now regularly wears high heels because she’s still only the third tallest person in her family

The blue.

Dear friends,

packed

I’m flying into the wild blue yonder today. I’m practically giddy with excitement. I have my camera, sunglasses, a visor, industrial-strength sunscreen, cute summer outfits, and an assortment of sandles. What more could a tennis-spectating mother need for a trip to Phoenix?

Kate sent me a text message as she boarded her flight yesterday: I’m about to get on the plane. Love you.

Like her mother, flying makes Kate nervous. I tend to send messages and make phone calls to loved ones right before and after flights, too. I can’t wait to join her under the big blue Phoenix sky this evening, where we’ll both be happy to stand on terra firma.

Speaking of the blue, I received a hand-written note yesterday from a friend. It was completely unexpected and thanked me for my “advice, counsel, humor, mentorship and friendship for the past seven years.” It mentioned a mutually challenging experience and closed with “When the turkeys get you down — just wanted you to know — someone is in your corner.”

Any day is a good day to receive such a kind affirmation, but I can’t think of a better time than when I’m flying out for an adventure and some much-needed R&R. I don’t anticipate any difficulties but, hey, you never know. I might need bail money.

With gratitude {for May junkets and unexpected greetings from the thoughtful souls who enrich my life},

Joan, who’s lucky indeed to have so many dear friends on speed dial

Who’s the boss?

Dear friends,

I don’t ever blog about work.  The reason why can be found in the words of the famous blogger, Dooce, who was fired for writing about her boss and later declared”Be thou not so stupid.”

However, I am the boss in my particular work situation and so I figure maybe I can get away with writing about myself just this once.

Anyway, yesterday was Boss’s Day. Or is it Boss’ Day? Or Bosses’ Day?

Let’s just say it was The Day Of the Boss (for those who don’t know the exact rule for plural possessives on words ending in “s,” which I’m ashamed I cannot cite from memory, grammar snob that I am).

Anyway . . . look what I found on my desk yesterday . . .

A basket full of food stuffs from “The Hill” in St. Louis!

If you know anything about St. Louis, you know The Hill is an Italian food lover’s dream. And tucked among the cheese and the salami and the sauces and the LaFlorentine Torrone candies was a gift certificate for my favorite Italian restaurant on The Hill, Charlie Gitto’s. (Dear Charlie, please reserve a table for six Saturday night. We’re bringing friends for dinner. Love, Joan)

Do I work with the coolest (clearly most generous) people or what?

And besides their lovely and oh-so-thoughtful gift, the four women and two men responsible for this gift wrote the kindest sentiments on my card. When I moved to Missouri 18 months ago to take this job, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. What I got into was a team of some of the hardest-working, talented, and kindest professionals I’ve ever known. I’ve had some hard days, no doubt. But never because of my “direct reports.” They’re champs and they make me look good every single day.

While I’m on the subject of me looking good, I’ll tell you a funny story I may never live down. My staff teases me because of what they call my “large vocabulary.” I’m constantly using words they ask me to define. (Sometimes I make up words just to jack with them. One day I said a person we all consider to be a blowhard was “speechifying.” I normally would say “pontificating” but I worried it might be too obscure and figured speechifying was self-explanatory. Turns out, not so much.) Anyway, one day not long after I arrived, we were meeting about a problem that was long-standing, complicated and exceedingly frustrating. As the meeting wore on, I wore down. Whereas I normally would have asked “Who in our organization has the authority to change these policies?” I simply blurted out (out of frustration) “Who’s the boss of this?!”

My staff didn’t know me well then, so they all looked down, stifling their laughter, while one brave soul spoke up and said quietly, “Uh, you are, Joan.”

Ever since then, they remind me (with a wink) “You’re the boss, Joan. Whatever you say, goes.” As I wrote to them yesterday in a thank you note for their gift: “I hate the label “boss” — but on this day, I am more than happy to wear the mantle if it means serving beside all of you.”

With gratitude {for the best colleagues this working mother could ask for},

Joan, who stumped a few folks in a recent memo with the word “impracticable”  but wishes to argue it’s the perfect compromise word between a course of action that is not quite impossible but also not merely impractical