Celebration and Community

Dear Friend,

I’ve been thinking a lot about community lately. About what it means to have and build community. About my beautiful L’Arche community out in Washington, DC.

At the beginning of January, I flew back east to visit my family and celebrate the wedding of two dear friends from L’Arche. I surprised my Euclid family by showing up for dinner several days before the wedding (I say surprised, but I had been on the dinner calendar for weeks) and soaked in an evening of watching tv with the guys, sharing a meal, and passing the candle in prayer. It was a much-needed retreat into what once was a weekly ritual of simply ‘being with’ one another. After dinner at Euclid, I went down the street and made it to Ontario House just in time to join them for their after-dinner prayer, what a treat! The wedding itself was one of the most fun I’ve ever been to. In part, I’m sure, because I felt like I knew almost everyone there. At every turn, there was a new person to catch up with and another hug to give. Throughout the entire event, I was reminded of the ways L’Arche leads us to celebrate each other and each other’s gifts.

Then the week before last, my friend Waltico, one of the members of Ontario Home, passed away rather suddenly. Walton was a coffee drinking, pen stealing, paper folding, Cuban storyteller who had the ability to invite me into ever-needed quiet peaceful moments. Hearing him “purr” (even from another room) always gave me the sense that all was right in the world. One of my favorite things was hearing him come into the L’Arche office and rushing to find a pen and a piece of paper for him to horde in his mochila and to fold and tuck away in his front breast pocket. Since his passing, I have been overwhelmed by the way in which current and former L’Arche GWDCers have celebrated Walton together. Texts back and forth and an evergrowing collection of photos and memories shared on the “L’Arche GWDC Assistants and Alumni” Facebook group have been a constant reminder of how well L’Arche mourns and grieves together. What a gift this man and this community have been to me.

I still haven’t found this here in Denver. I have bits and pieces of it, but I can feel the difference between my ease at L’Arche and the struggle with which I begin building new relationships. After almost three years of being surrounded by the rituals and routines of a bustling tight-knit community, it’s tempting to feel isolated by my ever-changing schedule and limited time spent with people who know me so well. I had forgotten how much time and energy is needed to create that depth of familiarity. But yet there are glimmers of community beginning to shine through. Nights spent chatting with my roommates, moments laughing with my coworkers, and of course the gift of having one of my closest friends here in Denver as well. It’s been important for me to remember that the speed with which these new relationships gain depth and meaning cannot be expected to match that of what I experienced at L’Arche. That very few places have the same intentionality around building meaningful relationships that L’Arche has, and that for many people, that type of friendship building is new and/or different. I find myself facing the unknown, but full of hope and anticipation for the ways I will be able to continue developing this new community of mine.

Perhaps the hardest part of my first six months here in this place has not been in building community, but in realizing that I am much less sure about the program that brought me here than I had believed. Two classes and one semester in and I’m more confused about what I want to do with my life than I think I’ve ever been. Frustrated by the program’s structure, disappointed in my disinterest, I’m taking this next semester to do some deliberating and reevaluating, and of course some focused community building.

Lots of Love, Mandi Jo

Settling In

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Dear Friend,

Well, I’m starting to find my footing here in this new place. Every time I think about the fact that I’ve been in Denver for a full 20 days, I’m shocked. How can it have been that long? How have I been away from DC for almost an entire month?!?!? It’s mind-boggling to me that so much time has passed and yet here I am.

Today was the beginning of actually having some real structure to my life here in Denver. That is to say, I had orientation for my new job… For those of you who are wondering where, I’ll give you a clue: Bring on the red and khaki! Tomorrow is my first shift and then next week my first full week. I’ve enjoyed having a break, especially after feeling so exhausted when I left DC, but my savings account is going to be grateful for the reversal of money flow.

I’ve been working on several posts about the road trip out to Denver, a farewell to DC post, and several about things I’ve been doing over the past few weeks… but they don’t feel complete, so I haven’t shared them with you all. I find that I struggle to sit down and do things like write when I don’t have some sort of structure and routine, so hopefully my coming out of endless free time will help me finish those up and share them with you.

Until then, I’d like to share my Denver Donut Shop List. As you may know, I had a goal of visiting the Donut/Doughnut shops of the DC area, and I’ve decided to carry on the tradition. Fortunately for me, Denver has a much better selection – YUM!

Lots of Love, Mandi Jo

A Day Trip…

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Dear Friend,

Since moving to DC, I’ve become quite good friends with a woman named Eileen who works with me in the L’Arche office and is a part of my L’Arche GWDC community. Eileen is my partner in candy-dish maintenance and James Brown/Ray Charles office dancing, and will often refer to me as, “my girl, Mandi” and just generally makes me feel SUPER loved.

On Saturday, Eileen and I took a day trip to Harrisonburg, VA so that we could visit my family. You see, a few months ago I was telling Eileen about the people in the pictures I have at my desk and she said, “I’d like to meet those people.” I knew that I would enjoy being able to share my family and the place where I grew up with her, so we looked at our calendars and found a day that would work for us to go.

On Saturday morning, I met Eileen at her house a little before 9am, and after a little while of hanging out and getting ready together we got on the road. Over the two and a half hour drive we listened to the radio and chatted about life. At one point we even put in the Katy Perry CD that Alfonso, Andrew, and I had listened to on a trip to Harrisonburg several years ago. As we got closer, we started talking about all the things we were going to do throughout the day, and I started pointing out places we were passing that had memories attached to them.

Our first stop was at my parents house. We arrived and said hello to both of my parents and waved hello to my mom’s Shih Tzu, Po, who was being kept on a short leash across the living room. (Po is super sweet, but has absolutely no manners and will jump all over you if you let him. Even though we know that after about 5 minutes of excitement he will likely just want to lay down next to you, it’s best to keep him restrained with new people around) After we said hi, I took Eileen on a quick tour of the house so she knew where everything was (It’s not a big space, so this took all of 5 minutes). Then my mom, Eileen, and I jumped back in the car and headed out to grab some lunch together.

For lunch we went to Mr. J’s Bagels, which is one of my Harrisonburg favorites. When I visit the ‘Burg, I often gather as many of my friends as I can for a brunch together. Our brunches are almost always at either the Harmony Square Mr. J’s or at the Little Grill Collective, downtown. As we drove over, I was reminded of how I would go to Holy Bagel for lunch when my group was in Jerusalem on Cross Cultural and was telling Eileen and my mom about the tuna salad bagel sandwiches I would get. I must have been making her hungry, because that’s exactly what Eileen ordered! After we got our food, my mom and I realized that we had each ordered the same thing a Santa Fe sandwich on an egg bagel (the Santa Fe has: “Grilled turkey with Santa Fe seasoning, Muenster, lettuce, tomato and ranch dressing” and is delicious!)

Eileen wanted to see where I had gone to school, so after lunch we drove past Eastern Mennonite School, where I had gone to school for 6th through 12th grade. Then we parked by the Eastern Mennonite University Common’s and spent some time walking around campus together. As we walked around, I noted places like the art building where I had taken a lot of classes, and pointed out the Northlawn dorm where I had lived for my first two years as a student. We went inside the University Commons to explore the bookstore, see my grandpa’s chandelier, and look at all the flags representing the countries EMU has sent cross-cultural groups to as well as the places EMU students, faculty, and alumni call home. It was fun to try and find the flag of the places I’ve been, and see which places Eileen has gone to.

From the Commons we headed out towards the fountain. Eileen and I made sure to check it for pennies and saw one, but didn’t try to fish it out for fear of getting soaking wet. My mom told Eileen about how when she went to EMU (back in the late 80’s when it was still EMC) people would frequently get thrown into the fountain. I couldn’t remember frequent occasions of people getting thrown in, but I told them about the time my friend Megan and I went swimming in the fountain one November at midnight. They both thought we must have been crazy, but I obviously had to swim in it sometime and it’s not like you could just jump in any old time!

From EMU we headed towards Gift & Thrift with a quick detour to my storage unit. For the past few months, I’ve been bringing items I don’t need down to Harrisonburg as I am able, and putting them in my storage unit until it’s time for me to pack them into the Uhaul and drive out to Denver. On this particular occasion, I had brought a suitcase of my winter clothes and a few boxes of cookbooks, board games, and shoes. After our quick detour to drop those items off, we went to Gift & Thrift.

For my first two years at EMU, I had a work study job at Gift & Thrift. Sometimes I would be sorting household items in the back, but most of the time I was running one of the cash registers and keeping the store front looking good. What I remember most about working there, however, is how tired my feet would be at the end of a shift. Eileen and I scavenged the shelves for DVDs and cook books to add to our collections back home while my mom hunted down a light jacket made out of this lovely wool-blend. As we were perusing the store, Eileen modeled this amazing faux fur coat that we found before helping me pick out a pair of earrings to commemorate our trip (They have these really pretty red beads!). While we were there, we also bumped into several people who I know from growing up at Community Mennonite Church. I enjoyed getting to introduce them to Eileen since they already know a little bit about my life at L’Arche and in DC from “the social medias” and from talking to my parents.

As we got in the car after our Gift & Thrift perusal, we realized that we had a bit more time between then and our set dinner time than we had anticipated, and it was a hot day so we wanted to go somewhere with decent air conditioning. After a bit, we decided to head to the movies to watch Wonder Woman! I am a complete superhero movie crazed person, so this was right up my alley. I also hadn’t heard a single person say they didn’t like it and figured we would all enjoy watching Wonder Woman, AKA Diane, try and save the world. And it was true! When I asked Eileen what she thought afterwards all she said was, “Wow, I loved it!”

Once the movie was over, we headed to Martin’s to grab some items for dinner. We got a delicious loaf of this whole wheat/rolled oats bread, some salad ingredients, and not one, but TWO rotisserie chickens! Which, really, was unnecessary since we only ate one… but it made for an exciting trip to the store.

When the three of us returned to my parents house, we were greeted by my sister, Lydia, who had spent the day bridesmaid dress shopping with friends, and my Dad who had returned from an afternoon kayaking run. There was also a fun moment when Cleo(patra), the outdoor cat, came over and laid down at Eileen’s feet as if to say, “Love me, please!”

When he saw us, Dad said that there were some blackberry bushes with ripe berries out in the back yard. He asked if Eileen and I would be interested in helping him pick some to put on a post-dinner ice cream treat. We, of course, thought that sounded like a great idea, so he handed Eileen a colander, and the three of us went out back.  The stems of the bushes were a bit thorny, but the fun of exploring the back yard and filling the colander with all the ripe berries we could find was worth the need to be careful where you grabbed the bushes. As we picked, I was telling Eileen how I wished by brother Eli could have joined us, because I remember when he was little and he would spend hours picking and eating the berries that lined our driveway and would come back to the house with his face, legs, and hands stained purple from all the berries he’d eaten. Side Note: There’s no need to feel sorry for him, despite his missing this lovely evening together, as he’s currently off adventuring in Peru…

Once we had gathered all the berries we could find, we returned inside where my mom and Lydia had gotten everything set up for dinner. After sitting down around the table, Eileen led us in our dinner prayer and we began passing around the salad and bread as I carved up one of the chickens. Lydia told us about the different dresses she and her friends had tried on during their bridesmaid dress adventure, and Eileen and I talked about the Pandora stations (We have three: James Brown, Ray Charles, & The Beatles) that she and I like to play in the office when we’re working together. Between dinner and our dessert, my mom and Lydia took Po out for a short walk while my Dad, Eileen, and I listened to Ray Charles and James Brown and got our groove on.

When we had been picking berries, Eileen had asked my Dad if she could see his penny collection. Knowing Eileen is a pretty avid penny collector herself, my Dad had joked that he wasn’t sure he should reveal where his pennies were or they might become Eileen’s pennies. Eileen had turned to me and said, “He’s worried that I’m going to take his pennies. I don’t need his pennies, I’ve got my own pennies!” So before Mom and Lydia returned with Po, I retrieved Dad’s penny jar to show her his little collection. (Little being in comparison to Eileen’s collection, of course).

Once everyone was back at the house, we rinsed the berries and pulled the ice cream (which was actually gelato) out of the freezer. We had two small containers of Talenti Gelato, one was a “plain” vanilla, and the other was vanilla chai. We grabbed some bowls and doled out a little bit of each flavor before passing around the berries to put on top. I was so excited about it, that I didn’t get a picture to share with you all… but let me tell you now, vanilla chai gelato with wild blackberries may just be the best thing ever. Especially at the end of a hot (basically summer) spring day. Once we had finished our dessert, Eileen and I borrowed one of my dad’s Beatles CD’s and hugged everybody before we got back in the car to drive back to DC.

What an absolutely beautiful, fantastic, perfect day…

Lots of Love, Mandi Jo