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.

xoxoxo
Mandy


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.

First Friday

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While I sat in silence on that beach so many months ago it seems like a fading dream, I had the realization that I've let myself become lulled into the idea face-to-face interactions are not a priority in a world where virtual relationships can be long-lasting and meaningful.

Two of my dearest friends live primarily in my computer. They are my partners, my confidants, my sanity keepers, my inspiration. They encourage me to stretch myself further than I dare. They push me past my comfort zones. They remind me the virtual world can enrich my life.

Still, there are people who I consider friends who live less than fifteen minutes away and, sitting on that beach, I realized I had not seen them in almost a year.

I congratulated them on new jobs. I prayed for them when their children were ill. I laughed at their husband’s antics. I shared their posts, argued their reviews, liked their pictures. I had relegated them to virtual friendships because of the sheer ease of it.

It was easy to click a “thumbs up” icon. It was easy, to click a “share” icon. It was easy to express dismay over bad news. It was easy to post a cheerleader sticker. It took less than a second and then I could move on to the next person.

Sitting on that beach while my fingers sifted through stone and glass, I realized I had turned my friendships into a video game. This person needs a lift. Level achieved. While always sincere, in my efforts to maintain contact, I’d actually lost the intimacy face-to-face contact brings. My community felt smaller somehow even as my number of friends grew.

While my core group and I see each other with some regularity, this other group of women I cherish had become, well, virtual. So I decided to do something with it and use social media to bring us closer.

I thought of the ways in which busy moms connect: book clubs, bunco, Pampered Chef parties. It seemed as if we needed an “excuse” to gather together, a distraction to justify spending time with our friends without our partners and children. Even in socializing, we needed to multitask.

I sent out an invite on Facebook.

“First Friday: It’s bunco without the dice, a book club without the book. A chance to get together without kids or partners, drink wine (or other beverages), eat simple but yummy snacks, and connect.”

People began to respond. Questions were asked. I explained it was a casual event. I told them to bring simple appetizers and not fret or spend too much time on them. I encouraged them to invite a friend, to come as early or stay as late as they like. And I told them I was making this a monthly invite and they would always be welcomed and always invited unless they asked to be removed from the list, which would not, in any way, hurt my feelings.

More responded. A few people I only knew peripherally were invited. Appetizers were planned out, wine was chilled, food filled the table. Waters were put on ice.


The evening still retained the heat of the day. Candles flickered in their holders. The conversation areas I’d set up merged until we all sat in a circle. I was reminded, once again, people are not their online personas. We laughed and visited, ate and drank. We listened to music, talked about our children, our fears, our celebrations. We discussed chickens and garden, recipes and lives.


We connected.

The First Day of School

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I stayed up late the night before school started, praying and fretting until I was too tired to stay awake. I went to bed and spent the night restless, worry nagging at my brain until the sun peeked through the blinds over my bed and the alarm began it's incessant shriek.

Change has always been difficult for me. Even when that change is something as amazing as the first day of school.

I fed my blossoming scholars blueberry pancakes and bacon. They sat in their fuzzy robes at the table, more excited than nervous. I carefully ironed their clothes, pressing wrinkles from the fabric with a hiss of steam. I braided Elizabeth's hair and styled Joseph's. I scrubbed the syrup from their cheeks until they were rosy. 

They stood on the porch, their bodies leaning towards the car and the adventures awaiting them. I pulled back as long as I could. One more picture. One more image to freeze the moment.


We dropped off Joseph first. Third grade is different than second grade. The teacher raises her eyebrows when the whole family troops into the classroom with cameras. I ignored her as I thanked a benevolent universe for giving me a son who understands his mom still needs those hugs and kisses. I waved goodbye as he found his desk in a classroom of children I've watched grow since Kindergarten and who suddenly seem so...grown up.

We had an hour before Elizabeth's drop off. We went home, us two girls, and painted her nails. I held her in my lap and breathed in the scent of baby shampoo, missing the soft milk smell of my baby. We went to her classroom where my girl, so confident and sure, walked into the classroom with a smile on her face.

There was a moment, a few minutes, when she realized I wasn't staying and the teacher she'd hoped to get wasn't the one she had. She crawled into my lap and curled her body into mine, squeezing my neck with her sturdy arms.

"Can little kids hug and kiss their mommies a lot in the classroom before it's time for them to go?"

"Lots and lots, baby. Lots and lots."

With a smile on my face, I hugged her tight and said, "You are going to be amazing!" She looked at me, smiled, and wiggled into her seat. I left, waving from the door. She waved back and turned her attention to her teacher. 

I made it to the parking lot before I started crying.

My babies are growing up and I'm not ready.

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