An Easter story.

Dear Friends,

It’s Easter morning and I am up early, drinking coffee and contemplating the day ahead of me. At my age, Easter isn’t what it used to be when I dressed my children in pastels and we hunted for eggs and ate chocolate until our tongues turned a creamy shade of brown. I’m a mother who no longer marks her life in the change of the seasons but in the change of family gatherings and rituals. Now that both Kate and Parker have flown the nest, they can’t always make it home for every holiday, major or minor, so I’m recalibrating what it means to celebrate Easter without my chicks ’round the table. Instead of dying eggs or preparing an elaborate family meal, I spent Easter Eve cooking for a new family that moved nearby. They’re vegans and, having transitioned to a vegetarian diet several months ago, I know how difficult it can be for a family on-the-go to find healthy, meatless meal options in our community. Cooking for others is a small act of neighborliness that perked up what has otherwise been a melancholy weekend.

For me, for now, Easter represents the last holiday I spent with my mother before she died. I still miss her so much it sometimes takes my breath away, and this time of year my mind often turns to our last Easter together. In April 2010, Mom was frail and I knew it, but as I contemplated the spring and summer ahead of me, I had no idea she’d succumb to her final illness on Independence Day and die before Labor Day. I remember in vivid detail the meal I prepared (of course I do!) and her utter delight in my menu and my table. She talked about how talented she thought I was and she said my lemon meringue pie was so good it was “outrageous.”

Mom had asked me earlier in that week if I would consider inviting my sister to my Easter meal. Without much consideration, I quickly declined. Mom came to my house anyway — she wanted so badly to spend Easter with Kate and Parker even if I couldn’t find it in my heart to include my sister, P. For the life of me I can’t now explain why I was so thoughtless. It’s a regret I’ll carry with me forever.

The one thing that cheers me from being too plaintive on what is arguably the most optimistic of all holidays is that I recently had lunch with P. I traveled to Oklahoma to celebrate Kate’s birthday last month and, while there, visited my sister. When Momastery published this post that I wrote about my relationship with my sister, a few commenters asked what became of Kate’s planned visit to P’s house. (P cancelled, saying she wasn’t feeling well.) Another asked about the nature of my relationship with P now. (It’s still complicated but improving.)

I had texted P a few days before my trip to ask if she would join Kate and me for lunch. She gladly accepted but then called a few hours before to beg off, saying she felt bad because she didn’t have a birthday gift for Kate and she didn’t have any nice clothes to wear. I encouraged her to come anyway. I told  her Kate didn’t care about gifts and neither of us cared how she looks. For the life of me I can’t now explain why I possessed benevolence on that day and so few others.

P decided to join us and surprised both Kate and me. She looked well, relatively speaking. (I had braced for the worst after hearing her say she looked terrible.) She was upbeat and funny and generous. Often, her conversation can be hard to follow but, on that day, she was mostly cogent. She was kind and I responded in turn. I can only think Mom had something to do with that. And I can only wish Mom had been present, but then in so many ways she was, moving our hearts even if she couldn’t sit at our table.

P gave Kate a small grocery bag filled with trinkets from her home, a sweet if makeshift birthday gift from a woman who has little to share these days. Because we were going to see my father later, she pulled an old photo from her purse to show us. The photo was of my father and me on a hotel patio. I didn’t recognize the occasion but my father later explained we were on a trip to New Orleans, his favorite destination. I also didn’t much recognize the long-haired young girl dressed in purple. Sometimes when I see old photos, or hear my family tell stories about us, it’s as if I am a victim of amnesia and while I can clearly see I’m the girl in the photo, I don’t know her.  So much of my childhood is lost to memory — a result, I think, of trying to forget the people and their addictions that threatened to swallow me.

When I think of the Easter story, though, I can’t help but contemplate the notion of redemption as it’s played out in my life. I can’t help but think of the resilience of families, even as circumstances threaten to shred any semblance of kinship. I think about how fragile the ties are that bind, and yet still bind. I think about two “half” sisters with different fathers whose mother desperately sought to knit them together and who must have died thinking she had failed at the task dearest to her heart. I think about deliverance, not from evil, but from dissolution, from each other and from God, which is surely as injurious to the soul.

I think about P. And me. And our next lunch.

With gratitude {for sisters and second chances},

Joan, who wishes you Easter blessings in abundance


Oh so merry.

Dear Friends,


I don’t know about you, but I’m a bit rigid when it comes to holiday routines. An improviser I’m not. I fastidiously plan all our family celebrations, from birthdays and anniversaries, to major holidays like Christmas, to even lesser holidays like Valentine’s Day. If there’s a celebration on the calendar, you can count on the fact I will have an associated timeline, to-do list, menu, and shopping list (organized by sub-categories for “groceries,” “gifts” and “supplies”) that I carefully create and monitor. I would argue my planning is a hallmark of the diligent, but truth be told, it’s probably just a hedge against spontaneity, which has never been my strong suit.

For some reason, though, this year I threw caution to the wind when I decided to ditch my typical Christmas plan by decorating before December 1. And, gasp, I even decorated before Thanksgiving. Normally I’m a real Grinch when it comes to pre-emptive Christmas displays. And, if you read this post, you’ll recall I have a veritable ritual related to my children’s involvement in tree trimming. But Sunday, November 23, was a cold and rainy day in my corner of the world and – with nothing better to do – I decided to deck my halls a full four days before Turkey Day. Mr. Mom was busy and my kids were at college and it just seemed like the thing to do for a sentimental old woman with time on her hands.

Of course when my children arrived home for Thanksgiving they were shocked to see the tree (in an unusual spot, no less), and the garland, and the bells, and my grandmother’s vintage Santa mug collection, and enough twinkly lights to fill a Target. “Wow, what got into you?” Parker said. “Oh . . .” whimpered Kate, “I was looking forward to helping.” I was stung by an immediate and familiar pang of maternal guilt, which was intensified when I arranged our Thanksgiving table a few days later and contemplated the clash of competing holiday décor on display in our dining room. I clearly had jumped the gun.

Despite my second-guessing, I felt a lightness about my decision and wondered what it would be like to have the Christmas season commence without the most time-consuming holiday chore hanging over my head.

A few days later, I was talking to a new friend, an older lady I recently met, about my early decorating spree. Dixie mentioned she just didn’t have the energy for such things. She said ever since her husband died a few years ago, she found Christmas decorating difficult. She recollected – sadly I thought – that she especially missed setting up her extensive Dickens village that used to bring her so much joy. “It’s just so much work,” she said, “and I can’t do it anymore.”

In any other year, I would have rushed to commiserate with Dixie. “Oh, I know EXACTLY how you feel,” I would have said. “I always feel so overwhelmed this time of year. There’s too much to do and sometimes I just want to skip it all!” But instead of this reflexive reaction that I’ve shared so many times with the similarly harried, a mindless statement borne of a working mother’s guilt and anxiety, I paused to listen to her words and, though I said nothing, Dixie’s sense of longing stuck with me.

I emailed her a few days later and offered to go to her home and do her decorating for her. She was gracious enough to take me up on my offer and that’s how I found myself in the midst of the most joyful and rewarding Christmas decorating spree ever.

Dixie indeed has a beautiful Dickens village, with every building and village amenity imaginable, including tiny carolers and dogs and electric street lamps and park benches and more, each carefully tied in bubble wrap and stored in their original boxes. When I was a young mother, I dreamed of collecting a Dickens village, but I couldn’t afford it. Unpacking and arranging Dixie’s village was like a Christmas dream come true. I felt like an 8-year-old girl who had just unwrapped Santa’s best dollhouse ever and – best of all – Dixie gave me full creative license to display the village however I wished.

While I “played house,” Dixie brought me tea and cookies and turned up the holiday music and told me about her life over the last 30 years in our community. After I finished assembling the display (and promised to return in January to put everything away), I couldn’t help but linger over another cup of tea, enjoying the scene before us and soaking up the unexpected joy of helping a friend, no matter how modest the task. It was a magical moment in time, one I will always treasure, made possible because I dared to step out of my comfortable routine and open my heart to the potential of something even more wonderful.

As this Christmas season offers its joys and challenges to you, as you deck your halls and bake your goodies and wrap your gifts and attend parties and otherwise seek holiday cheer in your own ways, I wish for you a moment of whimsy . . . a sparkling instant in which old expectations melt away and new memories – perhaps tiny but oh so merry – fill your heart with the love and joy of the season.

With gratitude {for holiday gifts of all kinds},

Joan, who loved her some Barbie back in the day



Dear friends,

A few weeks ago, I was cleaning out my linen closet and stopped to linger over two precious quilts my paternal grandmother made for me. Gram was an accomplished seamstress and crocheter and I was the happy recipient of much of her work — doll clothes, special occasion dresses and costumes, afghans and quilts, and more.

I’m the only one of Marie’s three grandchildren, six great-grandchildren, eight great-great-grandchildren, and one great-great-great-grandchild who has taken up sewing and quilting. It made me sad to think that the generations beyond Marie’s grandchildren wouldn’t have tangible evidence of Gram’s prolific talent. So, on the spur of the moment — which is how I make so many decisions — I decided that Gram’s first great-great-great-grandchild ought to have something handmade and that I would offer it to her in honor of the original Marie. I think it would tickle Gram to know I’ve picked up quilting and that her third great-grandchild’s first grandchild is a beneficiary. (Catch that? Third great-grandchild’s first grandchild? Yeah, talking about six generations gets a little tricky!)

The grandmother in this instance (my first cousin once removed) shares Gram’s name, just like me. Barbara Marie is nearly a decade my junior but I started my family late so our children are the same age. Here’s a photo of my CupKate at her first birthday party with Barbara’s first child, Jane, and another cousin, also named Kate. (My Kate is in the front; her cousin Kate is behind her; and Jane is in the back.)


And, a generation later, here’s a photo of Jane’s precious daughter, Evie Jane.


Evie just turned three. I haven’t had the opportunity to meet her yet but — based on the many photos her grandmother and mother have shared — she seems to be full of spunk. But she’s also a girly girl, enamored of all things pink, especially pink hair bows. I decided her quilt ought to be full of sugar and spice and everything nice so I settled on a mixture of homey and fun fabrics in a pink and blue palette. See what you think:

evie quilt cu

My quilting tastes run more to the modern, whereas Gram’s were very traditional. So I tried to meld the two for Evie Jane’s quilt. The front features a more traditional composition of my design. (The block is called “square in a square” and is constructed using a technique known as foundation paper piecing with the blocks set on point.) The back – with its pieced design incorporating a remnant of the fabric’s selvedge and raw-edge appliqued initials – is a nod to modern quilters. Here’s a view of both sides in full:

evie quilt Collage

I often photograph my quilts while they are under construction and post the pictures on my Instagram and Twitter feeds. When Barbara saw the photo of a close-up of this quilt, she commented “Reminds me of Gram.” She didn’t know, of course, that the Unaquilter was about to ship the quilt to her granddaughter, so when I saw Barbara’s comment on my Instagram feed, my heart instantly soared and I trusted I had made the right choices for my tribute quilt.

There’s nothing quite as personal as the gift of a handmade quilt, both for the quilter and the recipient I suspect. When I look at my Gram’s quilts, I think of all the things I loved most about her. I think about how she always managed to buy me the things my mother couldn’t afford even though she was a widow living on my grandfather’s railroad pension. I think of how she used to let me do crazy things, such as fill a bowl with Pringles, pour Ranch dressing over it, and eat the concoction with a spoon like cereal. I think of her fried chicken — breaded and fried in a cast iron skillet first, then finished in the oven until it was as tender and soft as the mashed potatoes and skillet gravy she served with it. I think of her endless patience for the antics of me and my cousins who loved to spend time at Gram’s house so we could douse ourselves in her White Linen perfume and dress up in her jewelry and white leather evening gloves. I think of the $100 check she mailed me each and every month I was in college and the way she beamed on the day I graduated. I think of the hard candy she always kept tucked away in her “pocket book” and that she would pull out and hand to me if I started coughing in church. I think of the way my name sounded coming off her lips, Joan-Marie, both when she was proud as punch of me and when I  needed correction. I think of how so much of who I am and what I hold dear is a direct reflection of the woman whose third and final grandchild came to her late in life when she had the time and freedom to dote.

I know Evie will feel the same way about her Ba-Ba, and even though she didn’t know Gram and doesn’t yet know me, I hope when she snuggles under the Magpie’s quilt she will think of the woman whose name her grandmother and I share and who lives on through the stories of those of us who loved her.

With gratitude {for Marie},

Joan, who let out a big sigh of relief when she finished this quilt because, let’s face it, she’s been a little lazy lately

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

Dear friends,


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

So much for daily posting!

But rest assured my daily gratitude was in full force.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day 28: The Turkey Trotters.

Dear friends,


On the 28th day of this month of Thanksgiving, I am grateful for the family and friends who humored me by starting the day with a 5K.

It was a chilly 25 degrees and I must have asked each person in our group no fewer than five times if they were dressed warmly enough. Parker answered yes more than once then froze to death without gloves and a hat. (Told ya!)

Must be why he flew through the course. He placed 6th out of 67 runners with a very respectable 24:17.

I flew through dinner afterwards.


And later, I’m going to fly through pumpkin cake and pecan pie.

A girl’s got to play to her strengths, don’t you think?

With gratitude {for one of the most memorable Thanksgivings ever},

Joan, who didn’t come in last (or even next to last) among her group, which is no small feat given she was the oldest of the six Turkey Trotters

Parkie Park and the Blue Moon.

Dear friends,

I had a magical day yesterday.

There was, of course, a blue moon and I stood outside in the cool night air to bask in its rare glow. It was a lovely, peaceful moment, standing in my yard in the moonlight while listening to the quiet hum of my home from just beyond its shadow.

Then I came inside and took this photo of my boy.


He ate an after-school snack then fell asleep on the sofa and stayed there until bedtime. After snapping this photo I rubbed his head because I can’t help it. Rubbing the head of men I love is a compulsion. Then I thought about how when he was seven he used to hold my hand and tell me stories, and now he’s nearly seven-feet tall and still tells me stories but won’t hold my hand. So I rub his head when he sleeps and I touch him whenever I’m within arm’s reach because I can’t help that either. He’s nearly grown and sports a beard but he will always be Parkie Park to me and I can’t imagine not reaching for my beautiful boy every chance I get.

Then we all turned in, and just as I was about to fall asleep, Mr. Mom said very quietly “I love you, Bunny. I figure I ought to tell you at least once every blue moon whether you need it or not.”

It made me smile because we say “I love you” almost every single time we fall asleep together. Sometimes I say it, sometimes he says it, but we almost always say it, one then the other. And not in that perfunctory “luv ya” way you might say as you hang up the phone.  We say it in a quiet, deliberate way. Almost like a prayer because it’s that important.

I fell asleep thinking there’s no greater blessing than loving mightily and being loved in equal measure. Under any kind of moon.

With gratitude {for the magic of big moons and big hearts},

Joan, aka “Bunny,” and various and sundry pet names that shall not be disclosed

Abundant blessings.

Dear friends,

Not what we say about our blessings but how we use them is the true measure of our thanksgiving.

— W.T. Purksier

My heart is full this Thanksgiving, brimming with gratitude for our abundant blessings.  Our table is full and our bounty is evident.  A house full of guests, love for each other, good health, a delicious meal shared in safety and comfort . . . peace . . . these are the jewels of this day I dare not take for granted. May we use these blessings, in measures large and small, that reflect a glad and generous heart.

And I wish you, dear friends, abundant blessings.  Drop in sometime this holiday weekend, won’t you, and leave me a comment letting me know how you’re spending your Thanksgiving?  Power eating . . . football cheering . . . napping . . . traveling over hill and dale to see loved ones . . . whatever your activity, I wish you good cheer and godspeed.

I’ll be here on our beautiful Missouri acreage, happily humming ‘round the kitchen, delivering stealth hugs and kisses to any child within arm’s reach, and steeping in the life God has granted me.

With gratitude {for abundant blessings},

Joan, who’s got 13 tasks on her Thanksgiving to-do list today and has already completed three of them while the six other souls in her home sleep soundly

For your viewing pleasure.

Dear friends,

I should be ashamed to admit this, but I’m going to tell you anyway.

We have four televisions in our home.

And you’ve figured out by now that there’s four people in our house. So, yes, it’s not uncommon for each of us to watch television alone in a separate room — me in the master bedroom watching the Food Network or an old movie; Mr. Mom in the den watching the latest endurocross; Kate in her bedroom watching “Teen Mom” or “Friday Night Lights” or “The Office;” and Parker in the kitchen watching “Tosh.0” or “Ridiculousness” or “Storage Wars.”

It’s kind of shocking how varied our tastes are and how openly we disparage the choices of every other viewer in the household.

Occasionally, though, our sensibilities converge and it’s a beautiful thing indeed.

Last night, while waiting for Mr. Mom’s pork loin to finish on the grill, three of the four of us found ourselves gathered around the kitchen television, snacking and wishing supper would hurry up and cook already. Parker and Mr. Mom were watching “Pass Time,” a reality/game show on the Speed network where the objective is to predict the elapsed times of drag racing vehicles.

Believe it or not, I know a little about drag racing. And the other two motor heads that were in the room with me know a fair bit, too. Our competitive spirits flourished last night as we tried to best each other predicting times for a variety of vehicles.

(By the way, in case you’re wondering how a girl like me knows anything about drag racing, I have to attribute it all to Mr. Mom. In his 20s, he was an accomplished and money-winning racer. I didn’t spend much time at the track because that’s not exactly my kind of, um, mileau. But you can’t be married to a man obsessed with fast cars without absorbing some of the information. To this day, I know the sound of a fine running engine when I hear it and I have a good idea of how much money goes into building a 8.9-second car.)

Anyway, that show ended and the darn pork loin still wasn’t cooked. I tried to switch to “What Not to Wear” (an all-time favorite of mine!) and I thought Mr. Mom and Parker were going to wrestle the remote out of my matronly hands. We ended up watching “Workaholics,” a Comedy Central show that I can best describe as “The Office” meets “Beavis and Butthead.”

Mr. Mom and Parker promised it was funny. I was skeptical, but found myself laughing out loud only a few minutes in. I don’t often share a sense of humor with the juvenile and male tastes that dominate my household but, hey, it happened to work for all of us last night.

As soon as supper was fully cooked and consumed, however, Parker asked to borrow my car so he could watch game #1 of the NBA finals at a friend’s house. “Really?” I asked, shocked. “You don’t want to watch the game with Dad and me?”

Yeah. You know the answer to that question, don’t you?

With gratitude {for our family television hour, while it lasted},

Joan, who declares the best thing she has watched on television this week is the HBO documentary “Weight of the Nation” and the worst is “Housewives of New York City”

Following instructions.

Dear friends,

Look what I found:

Source: Etsy

For my dear friend who pointed out I have minions in the kitchen, I would suggest to her I’m just following the sign’s instructions.

Take, for example, our Sunday Supper. It was a Valentine’s Day extravaganza, and you can read about it here.  It took Mr. Mom’s help to do all the prep work (read: there was a mandolin and a drill involved), and the kids did all the clean up.

I just made it look easy.

Which is really why it’s so much fun to follow instructions, wouldn’t you say?

With everlasting gratitude {for those minions again},

Joan, who has an adequate collection of vintage aprons but is thinking she needs one of these, say in pink toile

Whip it. Whip it good.

Dear Friends,


At age 17, when pressed for a pithy “philosophy” to include with my senior portrait in our high school yearbook, I cribbed a line from Lennon & McCartney: I get by with a little help from my friends.

It was true 30+ years ago and it’s still true today.

I couldn’t be more grateful for the words of wit, wisdom and encouragement left by readers on yesterday’s post.  Let’s just say I was down in the dumps Monday night when I wrote the post. Then Tuesday . . . well, it was a doozy. It was one of those days that knocks you for a loop at work then smacks you upside the head when you get home.

But last night when I finally sat down after 8:00 pm to read your comments and compose this post, I smiled, I laughed, I nodded my head in agreement, and I said a silent thank-you for everyone who wrote to encourage me.

I was most tickled by Doug F’s clever analogy:

Life is roller derby. We’re the blockers, and our kids are the jammers. The jammers score the points. Our job is to whip them forward. This requires them to break away from the pack, at which point our main job is to be happy, pump our fists in the air and maybe gratuitously hip check somebody. Also: After the match, everyone gets beer, so it’s all good in the end.

I’ve known Doug a long time in my real life and he’s always been one of the most creatively talented people in my universe. At the risk of sounding gender-biased, it’s so like a man to embrace his “role” in the game with gusto. (Remember Mr. Mom’s advice about roles in this post?) But underneath that male detachment and clever wit lies a real nugget of wisdom: my job is to help Kate break from the pack by whipping her forward — then cheering her on. Doug, your words were so what I needed to hear and I thank you for putting them in terms that were crystal clear (as well as downright funny). You know what they say: a spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down.

Dee and Debbie and Cyrina (who commented on my Facebook page) are from my hometown, women a little older than me whom I admire so much. Hearing their personal stories and knowing “they made it through and so will I” was a much-needed dose of comfort and support from the town and the people I love most.

TexasDeb is a friend who consistently writes more insightful comments than I do posts. And knowing she has also survived the transition, with specific strategies to share, helps me focus on what I can do moving forward rather than wallowing in what I fear I will miss.

Dana is a new reader who encouraged me just by letting me know she’s about to walk my path and she’s fearful, too. Sometimes mothers just need to know they aren’t alone.

With gratitude {for you and the many friends who’ve helped me get by for, lo, these 49 years},

Joan, who would have worn a helmet and pads had she known Tuesday would be so brutal


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