Wherein Joan takes the stage and tries not to embarrass herself.

Dear friends,


Source: Pinterest

Earlier this week I attended a statewide professional conference. It was a terrific opportunity to network with other professionals and it was the first such event I’ve attended since moving to the Show Me State.

A couple of months ago, I had agreed to be a panelist for a luncheon presentation even though I hate speaking in public. Despite years of speech and debate training in high school, despite performing in a good number of plays and skits, and despite majoring in broadcast journalism for a while (during which I served a short stint as a radio news announcer), I HATE PUBLIC SPEAKING. It makes no sense to me that I have years of training and experience and still dread opening my mouth in front of large audiences — but I do. I hoped serving as one of four panelists meant I wouldn’t have to say much and wouldn’t embarrass myself.

So . . .

The four of us assembled on the stage and sat behind a draped table, a microphone in front of each of us. The moderator introduced us and began asking a battery of standard questions. My answers were brief and respectable. “So far, so good,” I was thinking. Then came an innocuous question: “What traits do you look for when hiring a (insert my industry) professional?”

The other three panelists rushed to answer the question. And their answers were appropriate by all measures. They look for intellectual curiosity. Ambition. Persistence. Good communication skills. A commitment to continuous improvement. All good stuff. I nodded my head in agreement as each panelist spoke.

Then the moderator looked at me as if to suggest “Don’t you want to say something?”

I leaned into the mike. “I agree with the panelists,” I said. “The traits they mentioned are all necessary to be successful in our field.” I paused. I leaned back in my chair. I thought I was finished.

Then I leaned back in, right before the moderator spoke up to move us along, and said “Uh, I have one more thing.”

I picked up the mike. I paused. “This probably sounds odd,” I said, pausing again as I tried to find the words to express my sentiment. “But I also try to hire people who are . . . kind.”

There was an uncomfortable silence. Or at least I was uncomfortable as I imagined the other panelists rolling their eyes and wondering what I might say next.

“Look, we’ve all worked with folks who are great with customers but are miserable to their colleagues. That doesn’t work for me anymore. Life is short, we spend more time with our co-workers than our family members, and I want to spend my time with people who are nice to each other. So I try to find people who value kindness and who treat each other  with respect and dignity.”

I sat back in my chair and felt myself perspiring. I was the only female on the stage. I figured the crazy woman on the panel talking about kindness had just convinced everyone in the room that she’s no go-getter. I work in a field focused on the bottom line and I assumed I just signaled my bottom line must be laughable because I said nothing about goals, or strategy, or productivity.

“Oh good lord,” I thought to myself. “THIS is why I hate speaking at conferences.” As I shifted uncomfortably in my seat, I silently pledged to myself to never again speak at a conference.

Soon enough, my discomfort ended as the panel concluded and I quickly ducked off-stage.

As I came down the stairs, I was surprised by a line of people. All wanting to talk to me. To tell me how much they appreciated my comments. To tell me how grateful they were to me for speaking up. To tell me kindness matters. To tell me to keep spreading the message. At the end of the line,  one very animated man exclaimed “I want to shake your hand! I want to know you! I want you to be my mentor!”

I laughed out loud. And all I could think to say was “Goodness. Thank you.”

So “thank you” I said, over and over. “You are very kind,” I said. “I appreciate you” I said.

Which, when you think about it, is a pretty decent strategy for meeting team goals.

With gratitude {for kind people everywhere},

Joan, who doesn’t claim to be a paragon of kindness in every work interaction but believes trying is a great place to start

The double bonus.

Dear friends,

Remember that lovely surprise I told you about yesterday? I can’t wait to show it to you!

After spending my entire Friday wandering hither and yon and returning late in the evening, I found this waiting for me in the kitchen:


There’s almost nothing that makes my heart go pitter-patter like tableware, especially that of the Jadite variety.

I opened the card to find a note from Kate saying that she and Parker and Mr. Mom stumbled across this bowl and thought I’d like it. “Just trying to repay you,” Kate wrote, “for all the nice surprises you randomly bring home for us.”

Mothers do nice things for their children because it’s in their DNA. To delight my family delights me, so it’s a win-win. That they are thoughtful enough to want to return the favor is a double bonus that makes me melt.

And isn’t my new bowl a perfect place to gather my stitched pears?


Between the thrill of a new sewing machine and a thoughtful affirmation that my three favorite people adore me, I’m wallowing in bliss this weekend. And if I have to wallow, I can’t think of a better place.

With gratitude {for my three sweethearts, emphasis on the sweet},

Joan, who’d love to hear about a random act of kindness that made you swoon

Just when the world seems like a scary place . . .

Dear friends,

If you spent your weekend anywhere but inside a cave, you might have been tempted  to conclude our world is a scary place. A place where violence is routine, nothing is sacred, and erring on the side of the angels is a laughably quaint notion.

I spent part of my weekend in that place, then I switched off the television and went looking for something hopeful. Something worth sharing,

And guess what I found in my email inbox?

I found a message from a reader who I’ve known most of my life. Juanita is the mother of a classmate and a former teacher of mine. We both hail from the little place I call “Mayberry,” my Oklahoma hometown that means so much to so many people I know and love.

Juanita left Mayberry a few years ago to live with her son in Texas, but over the weekend, she exchanged emails with a woman named Agnes who still lives in our hometown. Agnes is 97, lives by herself in a home just around the corner from the one I lived in, and still throws dinner parties. (My kind of lady!)

Agnes sent Juanita two recipes for dishes she planned to serve Saturday night — one for barbeque meatballs and one for bean salad. She attributed the meatball recipe to a “Mayberry First Baptist Church Cookbook” published in 1933. And she attributed the bean salad recipe to “Marie C,” my beloved namesake Gram who died 20 years ago.

Juanita forwarded the email to me, noting that if I didn’t already have my grandmother’s recipe, she thought I should have.

Lord have mercy — do I remember my grandmother’s bean salad! She made it for most holiday meals, many summer suppers, and I believe she even served it with canapes at the bridge and canasta parties she frequently hosted and that I thought — at the discerning age of 6 or 7 — were the height of chic entertaining.

I don’t have a single recipe of my Gram’s, so the email was like treasure to me. Just reading the recipe  — I could imagine seeing the salad in the green Frankoma Pottery serving bowl my Gram favored, and I instantly recalled its sweet-tart flavor.

It was an email — and a sweet gesture — that brought tears to my eyes and reminded me the world is really small, and most often kind, even when we might think otherwise.

With gratitude {for old friends, kindnesses from the heart, and memories of home},

J-M, who only wishes she could fry chicken and make lemon meringue pie like Marie

PS: If you’ve never made an old-fashioned bean salad, give my Gram’s a try.

Marie C’s Bean Salad

1 can cut green beans

1 can “shoepeg” corn

1 can green peas

1 small jar pimentoes

1 cup chopped celery

1 cup finely chopped purple onion

1 cup white vinegar

1 cup sugar

1/4 cup vegetable oil

Drain beans, corn, peas and pimentos. Toss together with celery and onion in a mixing bowl. Add sugar, vinegar and vegetable oil together in a small saucepan and heat to boiling to melt sugar. Let cool slightly then toss thoroughly with the vegetables. Chill before serving.

My love affair with Mayberry.

Dear friends,

If you know anything about me at all, you know I am an incurable small-town inhabitant.

I’ve lived in big cities – Los Angeles and Boston among them – and I delight in treks to New York and Chicago and Atlanta, but my heart has always been in Mayberry.

And, for me, Mayberry is more than a metaphor, more than easy shorthand for the kind of sweet, safe place we all long to believe in.  Mayberry is my home, or at least what I still profess my hometown to be and what I know small towns and communities all across America still are. Mayberry is real. Mayberry is true. At a time when it’s tempting to succumb to cynicism and divisiveness and a rampant strain of civic cholera that drains us of any sense of collective destiny, Mayberry has the power to darn the raveled edges of our humanity.

For some, Mayberry is nothing more than a fictional town from a television show so long gone as to be culturally irrelevant. With this week’s passing of Andy Griffith, many have paused to reflect on the man and his career, as well as his iconic character that epitomized the notion of Mayberry and came along just when American television viewers were eager to welcome a common-sense hero into their living rooms every week.

I grew up watching Andy and Barney and Aunt Bea, both in the show’s original run and in syndication.  But I also grew up in my own Mayberry where folks like Goober and Helen and Floyd were literally around the corner and made my childhood seem as idyllic as Opie’s. It wasn’t, of course, idyllic. My family and my community fared no better or worse than most in our state, but I somehow clung to the notion that a tight-knit group of folks could keep the ship afloat no matter the size of the swells ahead.

I read in the New York Times this week that “Eventually, the tumult and accelerated pace of the decade pushed The Andy Griffith Show aside, but not the notion that the moral center of the country lives somewhere in a small town.” The assertion made me cringe, though I’ve certainly promulgated the idea (chiefly through the writing of my former blog that was little more than a three-year love letter to my hometown).

Maybe I flinched because “moral center” has become such a politicized notion these days that I immediately thought of “Joe the Plumber” and the kind of fabricated, exploited, wholly manipulated dialogue that passes for civic debate in American modern life.  “Hogwash!” I thought to myself as I read the Times. Our moral center resides anywhere and everywhere two or more souls work together for a common good. I’ve seen it in my own Mayberry, I’ve observed it on the street I live on now, and I witnessed it on a corner last week in New York City. Just as my notion of God transcends a single doctrinal definition, my notion of collective conscience isn’t limited to a certain kind and size of town in a specific kind of place. The story of Mayberry is a particularly American script, but its narrative and characters and morals can be found anywhere we want it to be, anytime – like Andy — we allow kindness to trump cruelty, respect to outman contempt, gratitude to best greed.

Those inclinations are what Andy embodied, and they flourished in my hometown, which is why I love it so.  But the Mayberry I believe in will always be a reflection of the capacity of the resident’s hearts, not the size of the town.

With gratitude {for the blessings of having resided in more than one Mayberry in my lifetime},

Joan, who’ll always be Joan-Marie to the folks in her favorite Mayberry

Homeward bound.

Dear friends,

I was digging through the archive last night for today’s encore presentation and I tripped across a post I wrote three years ago about home.

It’s a sweet post, full of my particular brand of nostalgia, but what stopped me in my tracks was a comment from my reader and bloggy friend Sizzle. She wrote: Neighbors can become like family in that way. I can’t wait to own a home and settle in and have a neighborhood that is mine.

Well guess what? She did it! Just last weekend. Click here to read “Tales from the Big Move.”

Dontcha just love happy endings?

With gratitude {for dreams come true},

Joan,who wishes her longtime reader Sizzle (and her fiance, Mr. Darcy) a very happy homecoming

Homeward bound.

First published August 19, 2009

And every stranger’s face I see
reminds me that I long to be
homeward bound.
                     — Paul Simon

Three years ago next month I moved back to my hometown after more than 20 years of adult life spent in cities that — while sometimes enjoyable, fascinating, affordable, charming, or convenient — never felt like home.

I moved back to Mayberry not sure what to expect after so many years away, but certain of one thing: I’d know my neighbors.

I didn’t expect to like them all — who does? — but I expected to feel connected.  And life in my little town hasn’t disappointed, even when individuals have.  Despite one moment of uncertainty the first week we moved back when I experienced a what-have-I-done? panic attack at — of all places — the grocery store, I’ve done my best to savor and cultivate what it means to be a part of a community.

I’ve dropped in to check on friends who are having a rough time; I’ve offered meals to anybody I thought needed or would enjoy the hospitality; I’ve hosted a variety of gatherings in my home; I’ve welcomed kids of all stripes through our doors in the hope they’d find something welcoming and nurturing here.

This is nothing special, of course.  It’s what neighbors do.  I remark on it only because I lived for so many years in anonymous urban and suburban environments where sprawl and fear and privacy fences inhibited eye contact, much less meaningful connections.

And so now I live here and — despite my nostalgia and tendency to romanticize everything — I admit life isn’t perfect in Mayberry and neither are its citizens.  We’re human.  We draw judgments when we should refrain from an expedient conclusion, turn a cold shoulder when we should offer a warm embrace, share gossip when we should point out the honorable, forget to give the benefit of the doubt, and occasionally throw the baby out with the bath water.

But we also mow each others’ lawns, watch out for each others’ children, extend kindness and civility to those across the sidewalk or the counter, share the bounty of our gardens, and try to remember that community means our common destiny extends to the fellow next door as well as the fellow across town, to the fellow of privilege as well as the fellow on the margin.

We are neighbors.  We infuriate each other and we adore each other.  It’s a glorious tussle of virtue and frailty that defines our community and binds us, home to home, soul to soul.

An unexpected Easter blessing.

Dear friends,

So many of you reached out to me yesterday, both on this blog and my Facebook page, with kind words and expressions of sympathy for our family’s loss. I can’t thank you enough. Your loving messages buoyed me so much, especially those of you who knew and remembered Frito and shared your memories with me. I deeply appreciate  your support.

Many of our neighbors are as shocked as saddened as we are. The beautiful plant is from a young family a few doors down. I adore gerber daisies and pink is my favorite color, so I am cheered by this very thoughtful gesture. The warm embrace from those near us and from all of you has been an unexpected Easter blessing for which I am most grateful.

Easter is a tough holiday for me in the best of times because it is the last holiday I spent with my mother. So even before Frito passed, I was feeling more than a little melancholy. Our last Easter together was in 2010. Mom was frail, but happy as could be to share the day with us.

I’ll never forget the incredible meal I made — salmon en croute with lemon cream sauce, steamed asparagus, and lemon meringue pie. Mom always thought I was a good cook (that’s sort of like the pot calling the kettle black, but in a good way), but on what ended up being our last Easter together, she was  absolutely wowed. I had made the pie — her favorite — just for her and she called it “outrageous,” as in outrageously good. I thought I had let the meringue get a little too brown, but Mom thought it was perfect.

I am reminded of something my friend Deb said in a comment on this post a few days ago. She talked about “living in the warm reflection of (her mother’s) loving gaze,” and I never felt it more strongly than on that precious Easter with my mother.

I searched through my computer archive and couldn’t find a photo of Mom from that day, but I found the pie that knocked her socks off and it surely made me smile.

So, dear readers, happy Easter. And thank you. I hope you have something wonderfully, marvelously outrageous to enjoy on your Easter Sunday.

With gratitude {for all those who have lifted some of the weight from my heavy heart},

Joan, who gathered up her family and dined out today as both a distraction and a much-needed day off

Kind of a big deal.

Dear friends,

Kindness (no pun intended) is kind of a big deal for me.

What I mean is — I strive to be kind, in word and in deed. And I expect you to return the favor. It’s not that I’m a quid-pro-quo kind of gal. I’m  not. But I believe kindness is our most effective social currency. I try to spread it around liberally (it makes me feel good, it makes you feel good, so why not?), and I’m always puzzled and a little sad when someone else doesn’t.

I fell in love with Mr. Mom for many reasons, but I can say without reservation the chief reason is that he’s kind. In fact, my mother said two things about him after she met him for the first time. First: Lordy, that’s the skinniest boy I’ve ever seen. Second: He’s very kind.  My mother always did know how to get to the point.

To make sure my point is clear, I think it’s important to define what I mean by kind.  Kind people are thoughtful. They are empathetic. They extend the benefit of the doubt. They grant favors, particularly unsolicited ones. They forgive easily and quickly. They spread love through kind words and strive to leave others feeling better than they found them.

I’ve been thinking for a couple of weeks now about a post on this topic. There’s a woman I know who I’ll refer to as Jane.  Jane goes out of her way to avoid kindness. I’m not saying Jane is mean, although she has been unkind to me on a few occasions. Mostly what I notice is a complete absence of kindness in her demeanor, meaning you don’t feel a scrap of love or empathy or thoughtfulness when you interact with her.

Even when I extend a kind word to Jane, she has trouble accepting it. (Or I must assume she has trouble accepting it because she never comments, nor offers the customary “thank you.”)

Joan: You look really nice today. I like your dress.

Jane: <silence>

I try not to interpret silence as hostility but, frankly, it’s difficult. And I’m human, so if I think you’re hostile toward me, I tense up. I get defensive. I avoid you. Eventually, I might even justify thinking unkind thoughts about you because you started it, for Pete’s sake! And, best I can tell, Jane has many difficult relationships, so it’s not like it’s my problem.  (How’s that for one big, juicy rationalization? Jane started it and it’s all her fault!)

But Jane is a woman I really can’t be unkind to, so I’ve spent a lot of time trying to crack the code. And nothing, nada, I’ve tried has worked. This is unusual for me because I’ve cracked a lot of codes in my lifetime. I’m known to be good with people. And so failing with Jane just makes me feel worse about me and worse about her.

Until the other day. When I tripped across this sentiment while browsing the internet:

Source: La Boom

Notice it’s reminding us to be kind to ourselves rather than others. I wondered why for a moment, then I realized that kindness, like charity, starts at home. If you cannot be kind to yourself, you can’t possibly be kind to others.

And imagine how you would feel if your Brain never said one kind word to your Self. Your Self would feel under attack by that biatch the Brain, and — when under attack — Self’s first instinct is to pull in, toughen the exterior, put out the vibe You can’t touch me.

This notion gave me pause. I don’t know much about Jane, but I know she grew up disadvantaged. And based on how hard she is on others, I can only imagine how hard she is on herself . . . and how hard somebody from her past must have been on her to make Jane believe she needed to keep it up, even in the face of kindness from others.

Somehow, this helps me. It inspires me to keep extending the kindnesses, even if Jane continues to rebuff me. Whatever kind word or deed I extend to Jane might just be the only one she gets that day, from the people around her or from herself. And that’s a powerful motivator, I find. How about you?

With gratitude {for a mother and grandmother who instilled in me enough confidence and hope to properly cultivate kindness to myself and others},

Joan, who usually finds all the answers she needs when the questions stop being about her

Three small things. And one very important postscript.

Dear Friends,

Tuesday was a very random day.

By that, I mean it was a bit unsettled. It was up, it was down, it was hard, it was lovely, it confused me, it delighted me, it plum wore me out.

Many of my days have a decisive slant — meaning I could sum them up in one word. Today was super! Today was grueling! Today was productive!

But Tuesday was all over the place and defied a tidy description. Still, here are three points of interest about my very random Tuesday:

  1. I improved the day of someone I know. A person entered my orbit quite unhappy (scowling and complaining, actually) and left my orbit laughing and smiling. And this person sent me an email of thanks, afterwards. It took no real effort on my part other than a kind word and a willing ear. The encounter reminded me the universe sends us all kinds of messages — some dressed up as people in need of a tiny act of graciousness.
  2. I had lunch with a new friend and learned all sorts of interesting things about her, things that make me want to ask my new a friend a million more questions and plumb the depths of her energy and enthusiasm and generosity. But here’s the most intriguing thing I learned about her: her parents used to live on a golf course and drove a pink golf cart with a unicorn painted on the front. How cool is that? I promise if those were my parents, I could write the heck out of that story.
  3. I got an email from an old friend who said kind things about this blog.  Actually, she said it reads like a love letter to Mr. Mom. I take that as the highest praise. I wasn’t consciously aiming for it, but it makes my heart full to think “love” is the predominant vibe coming through. And it reminded me of this lovely sentiment.

Image courtesy of Etsy

With gratitude {for friends old and new and random Tuesdays},

Joan, who would be just fine if, when she passes from this world, people said she had great love

Parker said yes!!!

Just breathe.

Dear Friends,

I tripped across these words of wisdom yesterday on – of all places – Facebook:

One way to handle the impulses that bind us to suffering is through cognitive intervention. If we’re behind the wheel and another driver cuts us off, leans on his horn, or otherwise drives provocatively, we can construct a narrative to explain his aggressiveness: “He’s late for something, and probably not for the first time. He’s desperate to get there, and you know yourself what that’s like!” The same line of creative speculation works in the face of any form of hostility: “She may have just lost her job,” or “He just had a fight with his wife.” These kinds of stories, even if fanciful, offer us some breathing room, interrupting the reaction chain that binds us to suffering.   — Bodhin Kjolhede, Tricycle: The Buddhist Review

There are two thoughts from this passage that really resonate with me. The first is: breathing room. In today’s fast-paced, uber-connected, over-indulgent world, it seems like we have such precious little space or encouragement to breathe. To reflect. To consider for one moment something other than our own immediate need or impulse.

Take Facebook, for example, which seems to offer as its chief attraction a fascinating and addicting milieu of low-brow instincts, mundane chatter and pseudo-aspirational bromides. I consider the site a virtual testament to a world increasingly devoid of impulse control and thoughtful reflection, though its entertainment value and instant gratification keep me coming back even as it depletes my world of oxygen.

The second is: impulses that bind us to suffering. I dare say you aren’t human if you claim you’ve never allowed aggression or insolence to beget your own rude response. The notion that my own thoughtless impulses bind me to suffering really stopped me in my tracks and begged the question – am I willing and able to interrupt the reaction chain?

I wish I had an answer for you but I don’t. I do have the impulse to give it a try . . . to search for more breathing room in my world and, in doing so, to create space for grace and kindness and joy for others in my orbit.

With gratitude {for wisdom that transcends my own},

Joan, who endeavors to breathe deeply every day