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.

Faded Shards

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I stood knee deep in the icy Pacific, not caring that the sun filtering through the fog was burning my shoulders. The water pushed and swirled around me as the tide made it's steadfast way higher and higher up the beach. My back ached and my quads burned from my bent position. Every few minutes, I thrust my hands into the water and pulled up a handful of pebbles, sifting through them to find the treasured sea glass.

This new obsession is still exercising its siren call. I stood in the water on my birthday and ran my thumb along the frosted and worn edges of glass. I worried the smooth edges with my fingers, drawing comfort in its texture. That same shard might have sliced my fingers when it was newer, shiner. It might have drawn blood if I stepped on it. It might have shattered into even smaller pieces if I'd dropped it.

I'm thirty-nine.

I'm staring forty in the face and the very idea of a number, a date on the calendar, irrationally terrifies me. Nancy called it the Forty Faultline, that crack in our story and life that opens like a vast crevice. I'm surrounded by youth in all its glory. Students with their youthful enthusiasm. New teachers with their smooth, unlined skin and smiling confidence. 

I remember my 29th birthday. I remember feeling as if my life was on track. I'd figured out this thing called "being a grown up". I was married to a man I loved madly, in a job I performed well, surrounded by friends who I adored, and had a body that could still wear short skirts.

Perhaps some of my apprehension is not so much fear of being older, but, rather, fear that ten years later, I've somehow gone in reverse in so many ways and fast forward in others. I wake up in the morning, feeling youth infuse me. I get out of bed with muscles sore from exercise - more sore than they would have been a decade ago. I move to the shower and see a woman with a sagging body. The lines around my eyes are deepening and the skin is slower to heal.

Those lines, I tell myself, are laugh lines, showing the joy of my life.

That skin, I tell myself, is stretched and pulled from carrying two healthy children. 

On a good day, I see the soft beauty of being slightly faded and worn around the edges. 

On a bad day, I miss the sharp sparkle of new glass.

A Prayer for the First Day of School

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Dear God,

It's me. Mandy.

Tomorrow I'll walk Joseph to his classroom for his fourth first day of school. I'll introduce myself to his teacher with quick words along with every other parent in the room. I'll watch him find his desk, his name written in black letters across the the top. I'll have time to take a picture, maybe two before I'm ushered out of the room.

Please, let him still let me give him a hug and kiss goodbye - even in front of his friends.

Please, let those friends be friends again. Let the summer not put a crack in their relationships and let them treat each other kindly.

Please, don't let older children tease or make fun. Let them see him for the amazing kid he is.

Please, let his teacher be charmed by his constant questions and willing grin. Let her recognize the kindness in his heart and know he'll try so hard to please her but be hardest on himself if he fails.

Tomorrow I'll walk Elizabeth to her classroom for the first day of school for the first time. I'll hand her teacher the supplies she requested and get in a quick word - along with every other parent in the room. I'll watch her find her desk, her name in bright colors on white paper. I'll have time to take a picture or seven before I'm ushered out of the room.

Please, let her be brave and not run for me as I leave. Let her confidence shine through as she waves goodbye.

Please, let her find good friends in her class who will accept all that she is and laugh and play with her. Let them be girls who use their imaginations and confidence to be kind rather than mean.

Please, help her remember she's only five once and not to be in a rush to be seven. Let her enjoy her class and her afterschool program with all the joy a kindergartener can muster.

Please, let her teacher see her dimpled grin and love her. Let her see her desire to learn and encourage her to passion and drive. Let her teacher realize my girl will never stop trying until she succeeds and will become single-minded in that pursuit.

Please, let this year go smoothly. Let it be filled with Friday afternoon dance parties, reading buddies, new books from the library, jump-a-thons, parent nights, new friends and old, talent shows, school gardens, and hundred day celebrations. Let the people I entrust with my children love them and guide them and know them.

And please give me the strength to let them go a little bit now so they'll be able to stand on their own in a few short years. Time is flying quickly now. Too quickly. Try as I might, I can't slow it down. Let me have moments of pause to savor and cherish before they slip through my fingers.

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