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

Take me out to the ball game…

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Dear Friend,

Since moving to DC, I’ve rediscovered my love of baseball. For the past two seasons I’ve gone to 3-4 games and as of a week ago, have been able to go to two this season. At each game I inevitably end up bemoaning the fact that I stopped playing softball as a 6th grader. Such is the way of life I guess.

In mid-May I had gone to a Nats vs. Orioles game that was spectacular and really fun to watch. We were down throughout the majority of the game but came back to win it in the 9th. I had been pretty sure that it was going to be my only game this year since I’m leaving DC and could see how busy my calendar was getting between May and my “move date.” Fortunately for me, my friends Michael & Savannah invited me to join them for a game and I had enough space in my calendar to be able to say yes!

So on June 12th, we “jumped” into the van and headed to Nationals Stadium to see the Washington Nationals face off against the Atlanta Braves. While we were there, I was particularly impressed by the stadium staff we encountered throughout our evening. Now, I tend not to have strong feelings about the hiring choices made by an organization/ restaurant/venue/etc unless I have a pretty bad experience, so I think that the fact that this is what stands out to me about the game is relatively significant. And honestly I hadn’t paid too much attention to the staff at Nationals Stadium previous to this, so maybe this is just a normal day at the ball game for them. But I was blown away. I was particularly impressed by the inclusive hiring practices I noticed, (I even got break out some of my rusty ASL!) and left the game feeling so thankful for the staff members we had encountered throughout our evening. One gentleman in particular (whose name I won’t include here) helped us get to our seats and then kept an eye out for us at the end of the game to make sure we got where we needed to go.

While the Nats fell short in the end, it was definitely a lively game. In fact Savannah left at the top of the 9th to get the van so we could make a quicker escape thinking that the Nats were going to win it (9-8 Nats at the time)! But then the Braves got a home run with two on base (bringing the score to 11-9 Braves), after which I turned to Michael and said, “Mike, I just don’t know if we can do it.” And it was true, the Nats just weren’t able to come back and win it. Michael spent the whole ride home telling Savannah about the excitement of the inning she had missed and commenting on what he thought had led to the Nat’s loss (All about those “no good” relief pitchers and dropped balls).

What an amazing way to go. Nats – thanks for being my team these past few years. I’ll be seeing you when you come play the Rockies in Denver.

Lots of Love, Mandi Jo