Internal Compass

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"Those birds are flying north," Elizabeth said between handstands in the sand.

I glanced up and nodded my head. It's easy for me to tell the points of the compass when the ocean is in front of me. "Where did you learn about that?"

She shrugged and turned a cartwheel, yelling over the wind and waves, "They always fly north except when they fly south."

I pondered that piece of five-year-old wisdom and took a slow breath.

Chad's move has been rough. It's amazing how many little things I took for granted while he lived locally. I had the flexibility to call and switch days when work had given me a headache or to ask him to drop the kids of after dinner so I could go for a walk or run. If the kids wanted to stay an extra night with one or the other of us, it was a quick phone call, an easy agreement.

Then there are the bigger things.

For the nearly four years, I woke up nearly every morning and made my way to the front door to flick the security latch back before stumbling to the bathroom and the hot shower awaiting me. By the time I got out, I'd hear him fixing the kids breakfast, checking the calendar, asking why I still had leftovers two days after ordering Chinese.

I haven't seen him in almost two weeks. It's the longest we've gone without seeing each other in thirteen years. It feels odd. I sometimes walk to the front door in the morning and pause with my fingers on the latch before remembering our routine has changed.

I suppose in some ways we'd settled into a new rhythm, a mostly easy friendship born in the calm after the storm all those years ago. I look at him and no longer see my husband. I do, however, see a friend and the father of my children. I miss that guy.

Nightly phone calls or Skype chats are built in to our nightly routine. Sometimes the kids fight over the phone, each having more to tell their dad than can be said in a half hour. Sometimes they show him Lego creations. Sometimes they sit, content to know he's watching them, his face filling the screen while they draw or play.

It's hard to explain this fissure I'm feeling. Before and after have cracked, leaving a gulf I can no longer deny exists. The kids and I are struggling to find our footing in the shifting sand. We have our routines and when the pressure becomes too much, we run away to the beach where we watch the sun kiss the sea and collect pebble size shards of glass.

I worry, sometimes, what this division is going to do to them. I worry they'll feel divided, robbed of experiencing the picture of the family their dad and I grew up in. I worry they'll spend their lives struggling with their own relationships, questioning their value, their hearts.

Then, sometimes, I see signs they might be better than I was. Than I am.

"Do you always know which way is south?" I asked Elizabeth.


I spun her around in the violet twilight until her laughter is louder than the waves. "Quick! Which way is south?"

Stumbling and laughing, she stood up and pointed with confidence. She held the compass needle of her finger steady while I fished my phone from my pocket to check what seems slightly more east than I'd put south. The app lit her grin and confirmed her accuracy.

"But how do you know?"

"Because it just is."

Pondering 2015 Thus Far

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As I sat on my rowing machine while watching Food Network - because that's how I row (you missed me, didn't you) - I realized I had yet to write a blog post for 2015 and last year, I was nothing if not an absentee blogger. 

I'm not sure if I could put a finger on the reasons why blogging has fallen to the back burner. Part of it is probably because I'm trying to fit thirty hours into twenty-four and it was only natural something would fall and if something was going to fall, it should be my silly little blog rather than feeding my children. All of my writing time has been poured into working on my novel, writing for Momtastic, freelance beta reading and editorial development, and, sometimes, writing quick little stories. Stories that might have at one time found homes here.

I think another part has to do with this being the fourth year post-separation. The first year I was in survival mode, barely able to recognize myself. The second year, I found my footing to a certain degree. Life began to settle into a routine that took me into year three and then four. To me, at this point, I should have my act together. And yet, sometimes, I still have trouble finding my feet - though I have no problem finding anxiety. It seems odd, though, to write about that here. It's as if my statute of limitations has expired and without being able to formulate exactly why I'm still filled with fear of the boogie man, I elect to instead just not write.

I'm starting the year that will end with me turning forty. I have made no secret of the fact that I'm having trouble with that number. It also means I'm trying to set my house in order because shouldn't a woman of forty have life somewhat figured out or, at least, think of herself as a grown up?

(I'm also planning my mid-life crisis, but that's another post.)

Life is good. Don't get me wrong. Life is very good. There were key moments over the last few months when I've felt such intense love for the people in my life, my heart hurt. Over Christmas, we went to the Lake Park where the homes surrounding a now dry lake were decorated with flashing lights and smiling snowmen. As I sipped wine out of a red Solo cup and laughed at my children dancing in the disco lights with their friends, I looked around me and realized how important these people are and how vital to my life they've become.

And it's not just my friends. Rachel gave me a new little niece to love. Baby Ivy arrived on Benny's birthday and brought memories of rushing to see a new baby, of holding a wee little bundle, and the feeling of time I had when I looked at my baby sister holding her new baby.

I've been spending more time with actual people than with my virtual friends. Hiking, coffee dates, First Fridays, tea parties, movie nights, game nights, bike rides, beach days...most spent with my phone sitting silently in the bottom of a backpack or tucked safely on a shelf.

All of these things bring me peace and joy.

Still, there is upheaval in my future. Chad got a new job and is moving next week. He'll be living an hour and a half away, starting his next chapter filled with people I'll never meet and living in a house I will only rarely see. Our custody arrangement is shifting with this move, ending the easy flexibility that has made this whole experience so much easier.We're both worried. Worried he won't be able to see the kids as often as he wants. Worried the full weekly weight of childcare will be too much for me. Worried the kids won't adjust easily. They've had to adjust to so much already; it hardly feels fair to ask more of them.

Still, he's getting a second chance and for that I am truly happy.

I'll settle into a new normal, I'm sure. I have an amazing network of friends and family and people who feel like both. 

And I got a housekeeper. That alone might keep me sane.

Christmas Letter

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Season's greetings from Mandy and the Gingers! Though, honestly, if it were up to them, we'd be visiting each of you in person, cookies in hand. They are somewhat sticklers for traditional proprieties, as is evidenced by the sighs when I forgot to send out their birthday thank you cards and the patient "Mama's" when I confessed that I forgot to order Christmas cards. Again.

Ever since Chad and I separated, I've tried to get Christmas cards out on time. And every year I've failed. The ridiculous thing is that I love receiving Christmas cards. I love seeing families grow, smiling faces of those I adore, and messages from those I wish I were closer. I find myself saving them, wrapping them in string, and pulling them out each year to smile fondly at their cheery greetings.

It's not fair for me to receive and never send.

I'll try to do better next year.

In the meantime, since I've also been slacking on my blogging, I thought I'd attempt a bit of a Christmas letter. I've never done this before, so bear with me.

Dear friends and family,

We've had a busy year, though what year isn't? When I pulled out the Christmas decorations there were a few forgotten items on top the box that I swear I put out in the garage just last month rather than last January.

So what did we do?

Joseph played Little League and, while he wasn't the best player, won over his team mates with his easy smile and willingness to keep trying. In return, his team mates won of my heart for not chiding him when he ducked as the ball was being thrown at him.

Elizabeth spent most of the year jumping around in gymnastics. She was quite good. Not in that "we're training for the Olympics" way, but in that "Oh hey! She can do a pretty kick ass tumbling run."

Can I say "ass" in a Christmas letter? I'm thinking so since most nativity scenes seem to feature one or two. No. Literally. I'm not calling the Wise Men asses.

Joseph finished out second grade and started third. His report card came home with a jumble of letters and numbers and a note to parents to not mentally translate said digits to traditional grades. I, of course, ignored the note and am pleased to share that according to my calculations, he received at 5.9(S)(E) during his first trimester. His teacher also assured me he was a "very polite young man with exceptional manners".

Elizabeth started Kindergarten this year and in typical Elizabeth fashion, has completely taken charge of her educational career, informing her teacher, repeatedly of her displeasure in not learning how to read whole books by the end of the first day, week, month, and trimester. Her teacher has relayed to me that this displeasure is often expressed with hand on jutted hip and sighs of disappointment. Thankfully her report card also assured me that Elizabeth is a very polite and helpful young lady.

Either that or her teacher is afraid of her.

As for me, I'm still working on that damn novel. "Damn Novel" is currently the working title. I thought getting the initial story on paper would be the most difficult part.

Then I started to edit it.

I spend a lot of my lunch breaks listening to music while I trying to sort out plot holes and make my characters more realistic. I also spend a lot of my lunch breaks staring at the screen with my finger hovered over the "Delete All" command.

I'm still dating Steve. I'm still not sure why he hasn't run away. Probably because I have chickens and everyone knows dating a chick with chickens and who cans is the best idea ever.

We've traveled a bit this year -to Washington, a few trips to Disneyland, some day trips to Monterey. The older they get, the easier it is to jump into the car and take off to where ever the wind blows us. Honestly, except for the fact that all three of us get car sick, we're fantastic travelers.

We still live in our little cottage with our garden and our chickens. There was a little bit of fluctuation in that department with the gruesome death of Miss Clucks, the purchase of Ava, Peeps, and Gertrude who might or might not be George, and the departure to Nana's house of SnowWhite (Houdini) and Getrude (in case she's a George). If it all sounds confusing just nod your head and ask if we are still getting eggs.

To which the answer is yes. It was a bit barren there for a couple of months, but after I put golf balls in their nest, they started laying again. (Hand to heart. Golf balls.)

We've spent a lot of time with our dear friends and family, not as much time as I'd like, but there have been Supper Clubs and wine tastings, BBQ's and Grease sing-a-longs.

As I sit in my snug cottage, the heater humming, my stomach full, and the Christmas lights twinkling, I look forward to a weekend filled with dinners out, trips to the movies, and a party. I can count my blessings; healthy children, healthy body, cherished friends, phenomenal family, a passion I'm free to pursue with partners who support and encourage me, an ex I can still call my friend, in-laws that still treat me like a daughter, a boyfriend who tries to understand the dynamic, a job I enjoy with co-workers who make me laugh every day, and a boss who understands that sometimes I need to take a sick day to be home with a little girl who's biggest ailment is cured with hugs and snuggles and kisses.

Sometimes this year has been messy, stressful, and even heartbreaking, but in whole, it really is a Wonderful Life.


Adding Scars

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I watch a lot of forensic shows. While my tastes run more to Sherlock, Elementary, and Forever than CSI, it’s made me wonder what a medical examiner or detective would say if he or she happened across my body.

I can almost hear the clipped, dispassionate British tones. “Caucasian, female, mid to late thirties.”

That part would be most immediately evident. My favorite fictional examiners would then begin to show their magic.

“Two children as is evident by the multiple cesarean scars and stretch marks along her abdomen. Lack of tan line on left ring finger indicates single parenthood, though the slight indentation points to a divorce. Her hair does not appear to be colored or in a particular style. Her children are most likely very young, yet the polish on her nails shows she cared about her appearance, their length indicating she worked with her hands.”

Further examination would include…

“Tattoo on her left hip. An ace of hearts would point to a Vegas trip. Tattoo on her lower back of a claddaugh. She made a trip to Ireland, was of Irish heritage, or had recently wed. Or, perhaps, all three.”

I wear the marks on my body like a road map to my life. And on Monday morning, at 7:30 a.m., I’m going to add to the scars.

I’m nervous, coping with it the way I typically do: covering every imagined, far-fetched scenario with a bluster of humor while trying very desparately not to cry over the previously mentioned far-fetched scenarios.

“This is Julie from Dr. C’s office. I wanted to go over a few things with you prior to surgery.”

“I’m glad you called. I have a few questions.”

“I’m happy to help you if I can.”

“What are my odds of surviving this thing?”

There was a long pause while Julie tried to switch directions from the rote delivery of no food and water after midnight to possibility of death. “I’d say they are very good. Greater than the odds of surviving your commute to work.”

“Yes, but then I’m driving. Any chance I don’t have to go completely under and can just do some sort of local?”

“For three hours?”

“I wouldn’t mind watching a movie or something,” I suggested with a laugh.

“That would be distracting to the surgeon.”

“I suppose so. You know, Julie, the most difficult part of this is not being awake to hear him say ‘uh oh’.”

“I understand completely. I was a lot like you prior to my last surgery and I work here.”

“You do know that doesn’t make me feel better, right? I mean, what if that means you know the nurses had a hangover, the doctor’s hands shake, or the anesthesiologist is getting a divorce and prone to fits of sobbing?”

“I have a feeling you’re going to be just fine. People with a good sense of humor seem to recover more quickly.”

“What makes you think I’m joking?”

I’ve made the decision to get on this roller coaster, to add to my road map. I try not to think of what could go wrong during the three hour surgery or nearly five hours I'll be unaware. I try not to think about the pain of recovery and the limitations for the next month. I try to think of how good I'll feel, how long I've needed to get this done, how much happier I'll be.

I'm trying to tell myself I'm silly for being nervous and afraid.

Myself is not listening.

A few prayers and positive thoughts would not be remiss. Just to cover the bases.

Cauliflower Leek Soup

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It's finally starting to cool down around here and I've been craving creamy, rich soups. The only problem is trying to find one that leaves out the grains and potatoes I'm still trying to avoid.

I found this recipe on one of my favorite sites. And, since I can't leave well enough alone, I loaded it up.

Cauliflower Leek Soup

1 T. butter
1 T. flour or arrowroot powder
1 head cauliflower, chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 leeks, sliced
4 c. vegetable broth
3/4 c. milk
1 c. cheddar cheese, shredded
salt, pepper
cooked bacon (because everything is better with bacon)

1. Melt the butter in your pan. Whisk in the flour or arrowroot powder to make a roux. (If you're eating grains, use the flour. The arrowroot almost gives you that lovely roux flavor and texture but not quite. For those of us going grain free, we're used to it. For the civilians, though, the flour is where it's at.)

2. Add cauliflower, onions, leeks, and broth. Bring to a boil and then cover and simmer for about 30 minutes.

3. Use an immersion blender to break down the veggies and thicken the soup. It'll have the consistency of potato soup.

4. Stir in the cheese and milk. Salt and pepper to taste.

5. Serve with a nice bit of bacon crumbled on top and a little extra cheese just for fun. Because cheese is always fun.

Saying Yes to Crazy

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My phone chimed at 1:00, Melissa's name popping up in the window.

"Interested in putting up my dear friend and her band mate tonight? They are touring through and their place just fell through. Just checking. Dawn Mitschele if you wanna look her up on FB."

I mentally went over everything I needed to do in the hour and a half between getting off work and when my friends would be arriving for First Friday. The timeline was tight. The very thought of house guests sent my heart into an anxious race.

"I'm throwing a party at my house from 6:30-10:30," I hedged. "What time and do they mind bunk beds?"

"They don't mind and let me check."

"And Legos. There are always Legos in the Ginger's bedroom." My mind flashed to the general messiness I'd hoped to seal behind a closed door that evening. It was in contrast to my ideal guest chambers.

"She could be there anytime between 4-6. Her show is at 8. Probably back around 10-ish?"

I remembered the last time Melissa sent a friend to stay with me and what an amazing couple they were.

"She's super sweet. She studied abroad with Stacy and they were roommates in San Diego."

I thought of Stacy, one of the few people I was utterly comfortable with babysitting a three-year-old Elizabeth while I was in Boston and she was staying in LA.

"Okay," I typed. At least my house was relatively clean. I calculated the time it would take to change the bedding and decided I could do it. If I hurried.

Dawn messaged me shortly thereafter. She seemed friendly and easy going, assuring me they were fine with bunk beds and Legos were a constant at her band mate's house too. I discovered they'd be playing at the Avion and Claw, a local venue I've enjoyed and was less than a mile from my house.

After I got home, I rushed around, changing bedding, doing final clean ups. My friends were boggled. "You're doing what? That's nuts! Who are they? Is this safe?"

I laughed because, once embraced, this was the sort of crazy I love.

They arrived soon after, smiles on their faces. Dawn introduced me to Lee Coulter who had come bearing the children's book he'd written. My friends and I were charmed. When they left to eat dinner before their gig, we promised we'd come down and listen to the end of their set after First Friday.

I'm so glad we did.

They are amazing musicians. Truly amazing.

After they finished, we sat outside and were treated to a couple acoustic songs. "The people over there are annoying me with their talking," I told Lee crossly. After all, we'd escaped outside to be better able to hear the music during their set.

"I'll drown them out," Lee said with confidence. I listened as their voices combined and swirled, surrounding us with the power of talent.

There have been a few times in my life when I've listened to music sung in such a way as to make my heart pause in its beat, when the sheer energy of the song has enveloped me. This was one of those times. Greedily I wished for more, but even in my five glasses of wine in state, I knew their voices must be tired.

The next day, the kids came home jealous they'd missed a sleepover. We chatted over cinnamon rolls and grain free scones. Joseph asked if they were magicians.

"No," Dawn replied, "we're musicians."

"Good. Annie's safe then," he said. I tried to work up the courage to ask them to sing for the kids, but didn't want to seem like a rabid fangirl. Instead, I promised the kids we'd listen to their CD's after they left.

Soon they were loaded up. We stood outside and waved goodbye to our new friends, feeling richer for having met them. I popped in their CD's and I smiled.

Sometimes saying yes to something insane is a very good thing.
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