Motel Dharma.

Dear Friends,

Neon Motel Sign and Arrow

I met a Buddhist monk last week. The encounter made me laugh, it made me think, it made me feel heart-full.

Like Melvin Udall (Jack Nicholson) in “As Good As It Gets,” I believe the highest praise you can give a person is to say he or she makes you want to be a better person. I left my conversation with the Venerable Pannavati aspiring to do so much more in this world, to radiate her kind of warmth and wisdom on all souls in my orbit.

The part that made me laugh: Pannavati was traveling through my town on her way to a larger city for a meditation retreat she is hosting this weekend. I mentioned to you a while back that I recently joined a local Sangha (a sanskrit word for a Buddhist community) and our leader was kind enough to arrange for several of us to have individual consultations with Pannavati at a local motel. The motel is on a busy thoroughfare and is more than a little “tired.” (I’m being kind. It’s the biggest dive in town.) Anyway, I showed up for my midday meeting, dressed to the nines because of an important work engagement, and ended up having to stand outside one of the rooms for several minutes while the monk finished a previous appointment. I’m pretty sure the heavily tattooed man in the parking lot who complimented my sports car and my clothes wondered why the person I was meeting didn’t immediately let me in the room. I’m also pretty sure a drug deal went down in the parking lot while I stood there. And, I feel quite certain at least a handful of townsfolk drove by the cheap motel, saw me standing outside one of the rooms, and felt sorry for Mr. Mom thinking I have a thing on the side. The whole scene was like something out of a Cohen Brothers movie and was NOT the kind of setting in which I expected to seek enlightenment.

On the other hand, it was probably just the kind of place Jesus would have gone to minister to the needy. In fact, I think he would have consorted with the cast of Motel Dharma so — in the words of my favorite Pope — “Who am I to judge?”

The part that made me think: Our entire conversation. I can’t explain it except it was like reading and absorbing five different holy texts in less than a hour. Actually, it was more like chugging all the wisdom in the world, if all the wisdom in the world could be poured into a beer gong and you could gulp it in a matter of seconds. (Disclaimer: I have never drank from a beer gong but I’ve observed the activity in my younger days and can appreciate the “intensity” of the experience.)

I wish I would have taken notes but I didn’t and so I’m still remembering and reflecting on many parts of our conversation. One thread of our discussion that still has its grip on me has to do with the nature of blame and forgiveness. I’ve spent a good bit of my life contemplating forgiveness (what it means, how to cultivate it, how to make it sincere) and yet it never once occurred to me that blame is a necessary antecedent to forgiveness. No blame, no forgiveness.

That little nugget rocked my world for a minute. (Or several thousand.) As Pannavati put it — and I’m paraphrasing liberally here because she was way more eloquent than me but my mind was too blown to capture it all — in any given situation involving two or more people, we each come to the intersection of our encounter with our “stuff” (where stuff equals our fears, anxieties, anger, desires, aversions, etc.) And we may think our stuff is really the other person’s stuff, but it’s not. It’s ours. We can do with our stuff what we will, but we only control our stuff, not the stuff of others. We may think the other person’s stuff is the root of our problem, and that of course causes us to blame the other person and their stuff, but the root of our problem is our stuff. If you own your stuff, meaning if you acknowledge it and deal with it, there’s no need to cast blame. And if you’re not blaming, who’s to forgive?

During a subsequent meditation on this theme, I thought of it this way. Does the flower forgive the clouds for stealing its sunshine?  Of course not! Therefore, can I approach the next situation where I might be tempted to assign blame and instead conclude that just as I am a flower striving to bloom, the clouds of unfortunate circumstance are merely trying to move along their path?

Yeah, it’s deep. I’ll let you know how I fare.

The part that made me heart-full: By the way, heart-full is my own made-up word because there was no other way to describe how overwhelmingly grateful I was. I am.

I live in a small town in a rural part of a flyover state. (Not so different from the small town in the rural part of the previous flyover state I lived in.) How I came to this moment, in this place, with this Sangha, to this intersection of earnest souls and wisdom and love and openness, Lord only knows.

It’s a gift like no other.

With gratitude {for what is},

Joan, who will never be venerable so she’s shooting for practiced

 

 

 

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

photo

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

Witness

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

 

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

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

Dear friends,

holiday

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,

turkeytrot2

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.

plate

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

Day 27: Girls bearing gifts.

Dear friends,

gifts

Kate and her teammates made it home today, just in time for a fabulous dinner of lemon cream pasta, grilled shrimp, Greek salad, and lemon-blueberry cake. Mr. Mom and I tag-teamed in the kitchen and I think the girls were impressed that dinner was served a half hour after Kate mentioned she was hungry.

More impressive were the gifts Kate’s friends gave us. Lusy, a sophomore from Slovakia, gave me a book with select sentiments about gratitude. (How perfect is that?) And her roommate, Kris, a sophomore from Russia, gave us a bottle of vodka from her homeland.

Girls bearing gratitude and liquor . . . I don’t think it gets any better than that! I think I’ll toast them with a Thanksgiving Day cocktail.

With gratitude {for the sweet college girls who have made our last two Thanksgivings holidays that I’ll never forget},

Joan, who, in preparation for Thursday’s 5K, will run at least 10K around the kitchen island today

Day 4: The hour.

Dear friends,

On day four of this month of Thanksgiving, I am thankful for THE EXTRA HOUR PROVIDED ME NOW THAT THE EVIL DEMON DAYLIGHT SAVINGS TIME is banished.

Can you tell I hate, HATE, HATE Daylight Savings Time?

I don’t understand why the US Government feels the need to jack with my biorhythms. Twice a year I’m discombobulated. Spring is the worst, of course, but even in the fall when we are given an extra hour, I’m still out of sorts for a while.

Despite my crankiness over this unnecessary adjustment, I put my extra hour to good use on Sunday. I made two terrific meals — Lazy Chilis Rellenos for breakfast and chicken pot pie and garden salad for dinner.

I also got off to a great start on a new quilt I’m making for a friend. I have 16 blocks to make in total and this is my first.

block2

At 20″ square, the block has 45 pieces and 36 seams. It’s no cake walk, but I’m enjoying the demands of the pattern, which you can find here. I have chosen 16 fabric combinations in blues, browns, reds, yellows, and greens, all of which are in modern prints, in contrast to the old-fashioned charm of the pattern.

This is the first of three quilts for friends I’m trying to finish by February, not to mention a table runner commissioned by a friend and regular reader.

Good thing Uncle Sam gave me an extra hour, huh?

With gratitude {for 60 minutes, which arrived just in the nick of time to tackle a project and to restore my sanity},

Joan, who has threatened many times to escape DST by moving to Arizona, but fears she can’t take the heat or the politics

So there might be a slight problem with my business plan.

Dear friends,

I spent some time Saturday working on the Magpie Quilts product line. Here’s a photo of an idea I had for quilted key rings:

keyrings

Each has coordinating fabric on the front and back with free-form, rustic stitching, and a one-word affirmation. (The bright green “love” ring is tongue-in-cheek given that the fabric features tennis balls.)

I spent about two hours working through construction problems. Now that I’ve figured out most of the issues, I estimate that I could produce them assembly-line style (rather than one at a time, as these were) and crank out 20 or so in about an hour.

There is 75 cents of materials in each and I’m thinking of selling them for $6.50. Too much? Imagine admiring a quilt, priced between $200 and $300 and thinking you’re not quite ready to pull the trigger, so you grab a $6.50 keyring on impulse.

Yes or no?

Whether you think my marketing approach is sound or not, the “slight” problem with my business strategy is that none of the keyrings I sewed on Saturday made it into my inventory closet. I mailed them all to friends. I couldn’t help myself. In the business, I think this is known as inventory “leakage.” If I were any kind of boss I would fire myself.

I think the point is that the revenue from Magpie Quilts is supposed to fund the Unaquilter’s postal habit. I might have to hire Mr. Mom as head of security.  Either that, or I need a product line that’s harder to pilfer.

So I’m off — to the factory dining room table right now to work on a framing idea. Frames are a pain to mail. Maybe they’ll stay put in the inventory closet.

With gratitude {for faith, joy and love — and the keyrings that proclaim them},

Joan, whose skeptical husband thinks $5.00 is the right price and encourages his favorite entrepreneur not to be greedy

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

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