Dear friends,


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stop before you are ready to stop eating.

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

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

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

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

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

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


Click here for Clean Gut

Click here for the Kind Diet

Click here for Oh She Glows

In memory.

Dear friends,

Bob Crenshaw Army

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

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

I needed your brave and I thank you for it.

With gratitude {for kindnesses from near and far},

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

My Father’s Eulogy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I love him and I will miss him.

Questions for my dying father.

Bob and JM 1962

“Hi Daddy,” I said cheerfully. “How are you feeling?”

“No good,” he said, firmly but quietly. He sounded far away and tired, which he was. “No good” came out sounding like one word . . . nogood . . . as if enunciation of separate words was a chore. It was the same answer he’d given me the last few days in a row. Why I kept asking is a bit of a mystery. He’s 93. He’s dying of kidney and brain cancer. He’s in hospice and hasn’t eaten in nearly a month. Do I expect him to suddenly report he’s feeling better?

“I have a question for you” I said confidently, as if I had rehearsed. Truth is, I had, sort of. Mentally at least.

“I want to know about your wives.”

“What?” he asked. He sounded astonished or possibly just confused. Like maybe he thought the phone wasn’t working properly. Or maybe his brain wasn’t. Cancer does weird things.

“Your wives. I want to know about them. You never talk about them.” My heart was pounding.

“Oh Joan-Maire,” he said, his voice and his precious little stamina trailing off. “You’re asking me to remember things. ”


I remember things, but the problem for me now that my father is dying is that I don’t remember enough. I don’t know enough. For years, I didn’t hear enough or see enough and I don’t know the stories. Like any writer, stories are precious to me, the jewels of my life and my connection to my family and it feels like there simply aren’t enough stories about my father to knit me to him. After 52 years, he’s like a ghost. I see him out of the corner of my eye but I can’t really know him.


One recent evening I told Mr. Mom in tears that I couldn’t even begin to write an obituary or a eulogy for my father. I took great care with my mother’s, but here I am at the end of my father’s life and I don’t know basic facts like where he was born, where he worked, the dates of his service in WWII, who he was married to. How had I failed to gather this kind of information all these years?

“Listen, honey” Mr. Mom said, trying to comfort me. “Think about it. We’ve been married 23 years and in all those years he’s never once talked about himself.  In the times I’ve been around him, he might say ‘Isn’t it great the Saints won the game?’ or he might tell you about a horse he bet on, but he’s never said one word about himself. You know how your father is.”

My husband’s sweet attempt at absolution calmed me, but I vowed to ask my father a different question each day during my phone call to him. I started with the wives because, why not?


It’s a family secret how many times my father has been married. Most bets are on seven, but those who know for sure (his parents, his sister) are dead. Growing up I knew it was a lot but my mother and my paternal grandmother never talked about it for obvious reasons. Of all the things that bothered me about my family when I was young, his marriages wasn’t one of them. I didn’t know the word unconventional back then but I  knew he was, and in some silly, school-girlish, unexplainable way, it made him a kind of folk hero in my eyes. Everybody knew Bob marched to his own drummer.

Once long ago — I don’t remember when or the exact circumstances of the conversation — my mother told me Daddy wasn’t honest with her about his past marriages. She said not long after they married, my grandfather pulled her aside and said “I don’t know what Bob told you, but you’re wife number X.” For the life of me, I don’t remember if my mother told me the real number or demurred, as she often did on the topic of my father, but it drives me crazy that I don’t now know. Why did I ask so few questions when I was in the best position to do so?


On the fourth day of the long week I spent getting him settled into the nursing home, arranging hospice, and disposing of his personal possessions according to his handwritten instructions, he looked at me and sighed and said “This is no way to die.” I wasn’t sure what to say but he quickly added “Everybody should die like your aunt,” referring to his sister who got out of bed one morning about six years ago and simply keeled over. I was standing beside his hospital bed, leaning on the railing, looking at his bald head and his pale skin and his still-sparkly eyes and thinking how far this scenario was from what I had imagined would be his end. “I know Daddy,” I offered. “But I, for one, am glad you’re here with me today.” His eyes watered, betraying emotion I had never before seen in him and he looked straight into my eyes and smiled. “You’re a good Daddy,” I said, my voice cracking, as I leaned over, kissed him on the lips, and closed my eyes just long enough to hold back my tears and think it’s too bad he couldn’t drift away that very second.


Since I have so few stories of my father to tell, I go over and over them in my head. Perhaps my favorite is from my wedding day. As you know, my name is Joan-Marie. Joan is my mother’s mother and Marie is my father’s mother. My entire life I went by Joan, unless you were family or happened to be in the company of my father, who was prone to correcting you if you dared abridge it or made the mistake of choosing some abominable variation like Joanie. As we rehearsed our vows in front of the wedding party, the minister — who we didn’t know because we had a destination wedding with rent-a-clergy — kept calling me Joan. At one point, I stopped him and said “Will you please call me Joan-Marie? Please, out of respect for my father.” I hadn’t planned it and I don’t even know why I said it, except it seemed strange to be in the company of my parents and to be called something other than Joan-Marie on my wedding day. My dad shot me a look. It was a millisecond of pure love and gratitude amidst a whirlwind weekend but I knew we were connected in that moment no matter how many years we had been apart.


My second favorite story about my father doesn’t even involve him. My mother and my paternal grandmother and I had gone on a Sunday drive, as we often did during my childhood. The day had turned out to be a wild goose chase. We were looking for a landmark we never found and had gotten lost more than once. On the way home, we were all three sitting in the front seat of my mother’s car and I had my head on my grandmother’s lap and my feet on my mother’s lap. We were hungry and my mother suggested we stop for a hamburger.  “No!” I said adamantly and sat up straight. “Take me someplace nice. Someplace like Daddy would. I want to go to a restaurant with atmosphere.”

I was maybe 11 years old. I didn’t really know what the word atmosphere meant, but I recognized it when I saw it. My father had taken me to places with chandeliers and starched white tablecloths and lobster dinners in places like New Orleans and New York. I barely remembered it but I knew he had treated me to the kind of high class establishments he favored. I might be stuck in the boonies with my mother and grandmother, but I wanted them to know I knew the difference.

They laughed and laughed at me and I suppose they already knew I was my father’s child.


As I was sorting through my father’s belongings, I ran across an envelope of assorted papers and photographs. Among the photographs was the one at the beginning of this post. I’d never seen it and don’t recognize the surroundings, but I recognized my grandmother’s writing on the back: “Robert and Joan-Marie, August 24, 1965.”

Among the stack of papers were letters he wrote to his parents while stationed in Italy and North Africa during the war. One was a will he typed and signed in case he was killed as a 20-year-old soldier. I was staying with my cousin who lives near my father’s nursing home and after we went to bed, I stayed up late into the night reading my father’s correspondence. Many were signed “Your loving son, Robert.” It was the first and only glimpse I’d ever had into the young man he used to be. I recognized his refined and polite prose but not the affection, the humor, the warmth, the thoughtful reflection so evident in his letters. I cried myself to sleep that night, grateful for the carefully preserved history I had in my possession and sorrowful for the one-dimensional father of my memory.


“Never live close to your kinfolk,” my dad used to say.  I heard him say it a number of times and never asked why he felt that way. I suspect it was, at least in part, because he was a heavy drinker and an unrepentant gambler and book-maker and his kinfolk disapproved, as did his ex wives and his youngest daughter. His philosophy probably made his world a little less complicated in one sense because for most of my life, I saw him very infrequently. The flip side to that coin is that my father’s meager presence made him almost a mythical figure in my childhood. He was a kind of Santa Clause, a jolly gift giver who showed up on special occasions only, drunk and generous.  His drinking deeply hurt his sister and his mother, whose disapproval of my father’s lifestyle was a constant. My mother married three alcoholics in a row, so she said nothing, and later, one of the things I most admired about my mother was that even with all the reasons she could have counted to badmouth him, she always managed to take the high road. In the last years of her life, she grew close to him. She did his laundry and took him dinner and chided me when she thought I should call him more often.


The subject of calling him is a sore spot, so who better to bring it up than my mother? When Kate was a baby, my father had what I refer to as a mental breakdown. He was later diagnosed as bi-polar, which explained a lot, but at the time he was acting nonsensically and several members of my family were worried. At one point, I felt he was a danger to himself so I contacted the authorities and he was detained for three days. We went to court and he convinced the judge he should be released. He was deeply wounded by my intervention and we didn’t speak for years. I rationalized it was his choice to stay away but truth be told it was at least as much mine. I figured he’d gotten by all those years without his family meddling in his affairs and told myself to keep my distance, which was easy enough given his oft-stated philosophy. Eventually, he started calling again, and once he even called to chide me himself for my infrequent contact. In the most unkind moment I ever shared with my father, I told him I was doing the best I could to raise my children and that I was sorry to disappoint him. And then I added “You know, Daddy, when I was 10 and wondered where in the hell you were, I never once asked why you didn’t call me more.” It was a terribly cruel postscript to a painful phone call and I’ve always regretted it.


If you ask about my father to anyone who knows him, the first thing you’ll hear is that he’s smart. He’s also well-spoken. Meticulous. Demanding. Magnanimous. Opinionated. Precise. Generous. Grand. Infuriating. Optimistic. Calculating. Mercurial. Dictatorial. I saw all these sides of his personality and more, and now I wonder why it was so hard to know something more of him than his moods.

On a day he was adjusting to the nursing home and frustrated with me, he reminded me sternly “I’m still calling the shots!”

Later when I told Mr. Mom, he said “You gotta hand it to him, Joan. Bob has always called the shots. He’s lived life on his own terms and I admire him for that.”


I’ve traveled to Oklahoma twice since I learned my father has terminal brain cancer. On one visit he was lying down, in pain but uncharacteristically chatty. We were talking about our shared passion — a good meal — and he said “You know what my favorite steak is? It’s . . .”

He trailed off and I could tell he was searching for a name.

“A ribeye?” I said.

“Yes, a ribeye! I love a good ribeye steak!”

“Me too, Daddy,” I said. “It used to be my favorite steak before I became a vegetarian.”

“What’s your favorite steak now?” he asked.

The irony was lost on him and I laughed out loud, delighted by the humor of the moment and the fact that I knew the answer to a question about my father.


On another visit he was sitting up, quiet, and obviously in pain. He wiped his head and said, almost under his breath, “You know, sometimes I wonder what this life is all about.”

“Me too, Daddy, me too.” He dropped his chin to his chest and I said “Have you figured it out yet? I’d like to know.”

He paused for a long time then whispered “I think we’re just here to take care of one another.”

I figure we have. In our own ways. Maybe not the storybook way, maybe not the best way, but in a way uniquely ours, in a place strangely more intimate and more lovely than I ever imagined as a possible destination for Robert and Joan-Marie.

Welcome to Gratitude.

Dear friends,

If you’re new to this space, if you wandered over from Momastery today to poke around or say hello, it only seemed right for me to be the first to welcome you.

I’m absolutely delighted you are here.

I’ve been blogging for almost 10 years, under two mastheads. For all of that time and through hundreds of stories, no more than about a hundred folks ever showed up. I’ve got way more stories than I do people. I’m not complaining. It’s been a cozy place, a safe place, mostly filled with people who know me in real life and would listen to my stories even if I never wrote them down.

So since you don’t know me, and you aren’t likely to hear my latest story at your dinner party or when we bump into each other at the grocery store, I feel a little nervous. I feel like the new girl who just moved into your neighborhood and isn’t sure whether you think her wave is friendly or weird.

But, actually, this is my neighborhood, so I think the polite thing is to show you around.

Here’s the deal: Most of what I write about is completely unnecessary. Like you really need another cake recipe or photo of my children or details about the quilt I’m sewing. I get it. But I’m still grateful for the friends who show up regularly and tolerate my babbling or latest obsession.

But once in a blue moon, something pops into my head, and a story more urgent, more consequential, more discerning makes its way straight from my heart into this space as a kind of offering from one hopeful tramp to another.

And on those days, rare as they are, it’s pretty cool. Nothing in the world makes me happier than writing. And nothing about writing makes me more joyful than knowing my words resonated with you.

So if you’re in the mood to explore, here are a few of my favorite stories. From me to you.

Some Reflections on 50


The Beverly Hillbillies

The Minions Want You to Know the Truth

Beans Knocked Cornbread Outta Sight

Just This

My life of Entitlement

My Love Affair with Mayberry

One Little Teary Burst of Joy

With Gratitude {for Glennon},

Joan, who has one more story she wants to tell you about Glennon but is still figuring out the right words


The best cake you’ll never bake.

Dear friends,


I made a cake on Saturday that was not only a showstopper, it was surprisingly easy to put together. Combine showy with simple — and throw in amazingly good flavor — and you’ve got yourself a winner.

My friend Gina was hosting a pool party to celebrate the birthday of a mutual friend, Mary. We’re a group of ladies who have bonded around food so Gina wisely planned a potluck to take advantage of diverse culinary talents. I was tagged for the cake because . . . well you’ve read my blog before, right? Some would say I kind of have a thing for cakes.

But on this day of this week, I just couldn’t get myself revved up. Many of my favorite cakes require specialty ingredients and six or more hours from start to finish. After a week of working double shifts on my home improvement projects, I didn’t have it in me. Honestly, my friends were lucky I showered before I showed up.

Fortunately, I tripped across this Lemon & Thyme Icebox Cake on the blog She Wears Many Hats.

I won’t repeat all the ingredients and directions here because you can and should simply click on my link to her beautiful blog. But I will say a few things about this cake that the author doesn’t.

First, if you don’t have access to fancy-pants cookies, don’t sweat it. I live in a small town and all I could get my hands on was good ol’ vanilla wafers. They worked perfectly. You’ll need two boxes, and you’ll use about 20 cookies per layer.

Second, don’t be tempted (like I was) to use something other than honey to sweeten the cream. The combination of thyme, lemon and honey is both brilliant and sublimely simple. It’s why this recipe works, so don’t mess with it.

Third, make your candied lemons a day in advance. You don’t have to of course, but it’s a time saver you’ll appreciate. By the way, if you’ve never had candied lemons, don’t be tempted to skip this step. They are not only beautiful, they are addictive. Between Mr. Mom, Parker, and me, it’s a wonder we had any left to top the cake.

Fourth, when I first started whipping together the cream cheese, honey and lemon juice, it looked like a watery, curdled mess and I panicked. Don’t. Just keep whipping it with the electric beater and it will eventually come together. More whipping is good in this instance. Fear not!

Fifth, the first layer of this cake is a real challenge. Basically, you’re being asked to put a ring of cookies on a plate and smear them with a sticky mixture of honey and cream. The cookies simply won’t stay put and “spreading” the mixture on top of them is laughable. I ended up dropping mounds of the cream mixture on top and doing my best to smash it around in anything resembling a layer. But from then on, you’re home free because the cookies stick to the cream beneath them (kind of like tiles on grout) and it all works. Next time I make this, I might try putting a little cream mixture on the bottom of each cookie to see if I can get the first layer of cookies to stick to the plate.

Don’t worry about slicing the cake when you’re ready to serve it. (But do refrigerate it first for 2-3 hours. Despite the fact that the entire time I was assembling this cake, Mr. Mom and I were dunking Vanilla Wafers in the cream mixture and eating them, I think it tastes better chilled and you need time for the cookies to absorb the moisture of the cream.) Slice it like you would any cake and transport the slices from the cake stand to a plate with a cake server. You won’t have any trouble.

In case you’re curious, the cookies and the cream melt into a lovely texture that is — to me — reminiscent of Tiramisu. The combination of a light, lemony flavor with a light texture is perfect.

The next time you need an easy but elegant dessert, I hope you’ll give this one a try. After all, it’s Magpie tested and approved!

With gratitude {for other, more qualified bloggers with fantastic ideas just when I need them},

Joan, who came home from the party and took a two-hour nap, which alcohol aside, is in her book the sign of a really fabulous shin-dig

Guess what’s happening on the mountain?


Dear friends,

There’s a lot happening on the mountain. I haven’t written about it, in part, because it’s complicated and, in part, because it’s all moving so fast. But since I’ve been away from this space for a while I thought I’d give you a quick, simplified, update to get my blogging juices flowing again.

In this installment, when I was at the bottom of the pit of despair, I told you about an adjacent landowner with a lot for sale whose property had been encroached upon by the Unfriendlys. (In 2010, Junior had moved his fence and electric gate off the boundary of his property onto the adjacent landowner’s property and onto a county road.) This encroachment created a “cloud” on the landowner’s title, complicating his attempts to sell the property.

I viewed the situation as another example of the Unfriendly’s ruthless, despicable, unstoppable behavior and the story  made me despair even more. Mr. Mom, however, saw it as an opportunity, and he wasted no time seizing it.

You might recall that when the district court ruled against us, we were left landlocked. At this point, the Unfriendly’s mineral rights, which Mr. Mom had purchased as leverage, became a moot point because, as we learned, you can only exercise mineral rights if you have access to said property. With no access, we had no legal way to pursue our mining claim and, thus, posed no threat to the Unfriendlys.

When Mr. Mom learned the Unfriendlys had encroached on an adjoining landowner looking to sell, he stepped in. Last year, Mr. Mom and his brother bought the landowner’s 2-acre parcel for cash at a bargain price. The tactic gave us immediate access to the Unfriendly’s property, meaning we could pursue our mining claim and once again use it for leverage in settling our easement dispute. However, the encroachment forced us to petition the court to clarify the boundary in a quiet title action.

Then, once the Appellate Court ruled in our favor in the previous court case, it meant we had successfully forced the Unfriendlys to defend multiple fronts simultaneously — an ancient war strategy cleverly adopted by Mr. Mom.  Better yet, because the Unfriendlys had unwisely encroached on a county road, the county was enjoined in our petition to the court and has a stake in seeing that the Unfriendlys correct the situation.

So for the last year, this is what Mr. Mom has been working on. He hired a boundary attorney to pursue the encroachment; a mining attorney to pursue our mining claim; and he’s still working with O’Malley on the condemnation hearing, which is scheduled to be heard in district court in April.

Yes, we’re racking up legal bills, but so are our neighbors. (Two things we’ve learned about attorneys: You get what you pay for. And like doctors, you’d best hire a specialist. You don’t want a dermatologist doing the job of a cardiologist.)

So it’s not surprising that we were recently contacted by a man named “Pal,” who says he’s a friend of the Unfriendlys (there’s an oxymoron, huh?), that he has been empowered to negotiate on their behalf, and that the family wants all of this to stop. He says Mrs. Unfriendly’s husband is quite ill, Mrs. Unfriendly is becoming more and more unfirm, and Junior and his sister never wanted to fight anyway. Pal says they want to settle.

Their opening volley suggests otherwise (it would take an entirely new post to describe the ludicrous details of their proposed settlement), but still — it’s a sign we’re getting on their nerves.

‘Bout time, don’t you think?

With gratitude {for the patience, wisdom, dogged determination and tactical brilliance of an ace strategist},

Joan, whose new obsession is House of Cards and, murderous instincts aside, thinks Mr. Mom is about as adept at managing enemies to his favor as Frank Underwood

Moderation is not my strong suit.

Dear friends,


A few days ago I told you about the Great Caffeine Detox of 2014, so I thought I ought to tell you things are going great. I’ve been headache free for days, I’m drinking more water than I ever thought imaginable, and my mind is once again clear and able to focus. Boo yah!

The other thing that has developed in an unquenchable level of energy. Marathon quilting is only one manifestation of this energy. Last weekend, I spent an entire day single-handedly spring cleaning my home. My boys were gone from dawn to well past dusk and I had the house to myself. I had planned to watch movies and take a nap, but early in the day I noticed Parker and his friends had tracked some mud in the house and I stopped to clean it up.  Twenty-four hours later, I had managed to:

  1. rearrange the furniture, rugs, throw pillows and lamps in four rooms,
  2. sweep in places that hadn’t been swept in a long time,
  3. sort through surplus books and box up dozens of volumes for charity,
  4. do the dishes and scrub the kitchen,
  5. do a load of laundry,
  6. reorganize my quilting supplies
  7. and do a thorough organization, cleaning and purging of my kitchen desk and all its drawers.

Tonight, it finally occurred to me that the source of all this energy might have a teensy bit to do with the fact that in addition to giving up caffeine, I also stopped biting my nails in 2014. I’m a lifelong nail chewer and two weeks ago my nails and cuticles were gnawed to the nub and dreadful looking. In fact, in the last weeks of 2013, my obsessive nail biting was rivaled only by the persistent eye twitch I had developed. (I can only imagine how mentally balanced I appeared while sitting through several meetings simultaneously chewing and twitching.)

Oh, and there’s one more thing. I also started a new eating plan, wherein I do a modified fast two days a week. (Read more here.) A friend recommended it and I was intrigued and dove in head first, as I am known to do.

So I’m not drinking caffeine, I’m not biting my nails, and two days a week I’m not eating. I’m not sure why I tackled three vices at once but, hey, when you’re cleaning up your life, I guess it pays to use a big broom.

With gratitude {for this burst of new-found willpower and energy, for however long it lasts},

Joan,  who realizes she’s a bundle of nervous energy but will take any kind of energy she can get

One sizzling quilt.

Dear friends,

Can you believe that I recently completed quilt #16?

Granted, three are baby quilts and two are mini-quilts, but still. In some 38 weeks, I have made SIXTEEN quilts. It’s kind of amazing and kind of crazy. (Okay, lots of crazy.)

Yesterday, I put away my sewing machine after quilting all day Saturday. I needed a break and I was a getting a little unnerved by how much the center of my home resembled the floor of a garment factory.

Besides, I’ve decided to start sewing elsewhere. Eventually, I plan to take over Kate’s room. Next fall, she will be leasing an off-campus apartment in her college town, and I think the days of her needing a bedroom here for extended periods are over. I’d be sad, but I’m cheered at the prospect of a dedicated sewing space.

Until then, I’ve decided to start sewing in my bedroom. It offers far more space than Mr. Mom and I really need and has a huge window, in front of which I plan to locate the new desk/sewing table I’ve ordered. At least when I make a mess in my bedroom, I can simply shut the door and I’ll still have clean a table for family dinners.

In any case, this is an awfully long preface for what I really wanted to tell you — which is quilt #16 is a real sizzler. I absolutely adore it. See what you think:


I made it as a surprise for someone many of my readers will recognize: the author of the “Sizzle Says” blog. If you read her blog, too, you already know Sizzle had a tough 2013. A quilt seemed like just the thing to send her a little cheer.

I wish I could say it was my idea, but it wasn’t. Regular reader and friend Maridel sent me an email in early December recruiting me as her partner in crime. She paid for the materials and I contributed the labor. Together, we shipped it off to Sizzle on Jan. 6  with wishes for health and happiness in the new year.

I’ve only seen a few photos of Sizzle’s home, so I had to guess that modern fabrics and design with a mix of soft and bold colors would fit in. Here’s the quilt in full:


Sizzle tweeted that “thank you doesn’t seem like enough for the beautiful quilt handmade by my friend.”

I assured her that thank you is always enough.

Trust me. I’m a bit of an expert.

With gratitude {for friends in need and friends in deed},

Joan, who’s headed to Florida next week for a business trip and expects she’ll take a little sewing hiatus until February

Just in time for the Super Bowl!

Dear friends,


Ever since we made Buffalo Wings for our non-traditional Christmas dinner, I’ve been craving them. Problem is, they’re a pain to make (all that deep frying!) and not particularly healthy in big doses. I’ve noticed a wave of “buffalo” style recipes lately and I decided lettuce wraps would be a healthier alternative. Unfortunately, I didn’t like any of the recipes I found.

So I made my own. It’s perfect, and I mean that most sincerely. And , hey, just in time for the Super Bowl!

You can thank me on Feb. 3.

Joan’s Buffalo Chicken Lettuce Wraps

1 head of iceberg lettuce, carefully torn into large leafs

3 stalks celery, split lengthwise and sliced thinly

1 large tomato, chopped

3 medium carrots, peeled and cut into sticks

1 rotisserie chicken, skin and meat removed

6 TBLS butter

1/4 to 1/2 cup Frank’s Hot Sauce, depending on taste

2 oz blue cheese, crumbled

Bottled blue cheese dressing (or make your own using this fabulous recipe)

Remove meat from rotisserie chicken and chop or shred. Discard skin.  Discard carcass or use to make broth. Combine chicken, butter and Frank’s hot sauce and heat in microwave until butter is melted, about 1.5 minutes. Mix well and taste. Add more hot sauce if desired.

Serve all ingredients salad-bar style. You can make wraps or layer the ingredients tostada-style over large lettuce leafs. Serve carrot sticks on the side. This recipe served 2 adults and 2 teenagers in our family.

With gratitude {for healthier, easier recipe alternatives, just in time for a Super-Duper eating day},

Joan, who loves her some Buffalo wings but doesn’t like the heartburn that accompanies a multi-wing indulgence

PS: this dish goes especially well with Anheuser Busch Shock Top Belgian White beer, especially the 6% version sold in Missouri

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


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