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 Fashionistas Don’t Fall Far From the Family Tree

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 Fashionistas Don’t Fall Far From the Family Tree

Learning things about your parents is always weird.

I used to think that the pursuit of understanding where you came from was a pursuit that only those who are adopted could truly undertake. That for the rest of us, it’s too easy. Our answers are right there if we only know what questions to ask.

We’ve had the easy path outlined for us in bright flourescent genetic paint. 

But then you stumble across a box of your mother’s old clothes and you find not only skirts she sewed herself, but also the type of shirt you longed for her to let you wear at age 14.

A sweet little baby doll shirt that she loved probably at the same time that I was still little more than an idea. I don’t know. Maybe she had it before then.

I remember being in 9th grade and wanting more than anything else to be allowed to shop in the juniors department. The 70s were only just starting to make a comeback and I wanted my T-shirts to be both tight and tiny. Nevermind that the kindest description for my body type was skinny or waiflike. I just wanted to dress like the others girls.

And maybe this is part of why she resisted. It wasn’t because the shirts were too short in the midriff. It was because the fashions themselves reminded Mom of a time when she was much older than my little teenage self. By the late 70s, Momma was already a college graduate, a mother, and effectively a world traveller. Her teenager in the late 1990s had no business dressing like someone that mature. 

It’s also weird to learn that now her retro blouses would fit me but absolutely not her skirts. I’m 33 and like her I’m a college graduate, a mother, and a sorta world traveller (she’s got at least two more countries on me). Unlike my mother at that same age, my hips are epic. Not massive. Epic. It’s a good thing though. I like my hips.

It just means that if I want to set aside any clothes for Elle, I’d better hope she likes vintage when she’s 14. Otherwise girlfriend is gonna inherit hips and there will be no hope of any of us wearing these skirts ever again.


Skeletons in the Backyard

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My parents will soon move from the house where I grew up and I have mixed feelings about the whole endeavor.

It’ll be good because  they’ll leave Virginia and move closer to me, but in doing so, will move farther away from my sister.

They’re having a new house built ultimately so that they can age in place, but I have a hard time visualizing them in their new space.

Back in the spring, my sister and I jotted down a list of all of the nice features of that old house. Skylights in the kitchen — one car-garage (in a neighborhood that does not have garages at all) — well-maintained year-round garden. But there’s other things about that house too that not everyone will love nor any potential buyer will ever know about.

Things like the guinea pig skeleton in the backyard. Scooter, a hand-me-down calico colored guinea pig, died the night before we were going to take her to the exotic animal veterinarian. I remember checking on her periodically throughout the evening and then going in to find that she wasn’t breathing.

We’d had other pets die before, but Scooter was mine. She’d been my responsibility since a neighbor kid couldn’t take care of her anymore and she came to live with us. Her grief was mine to carry and deal with. I emptied out a shoe box and we buried her the next day in the backyard. Every year when my parents go to till up the soil in the garden I think about where she’s buried and wonder how much evidence of her would be left. I wonder if whomever buys their house will ever find her tiny skeleton in tact or just dig up her bones one at a time and know them for what they are — a memory of child-sized grief.


It’s “Mrs.” Ninja, actually

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When we adopted our cats Mr. Pirate and I had a very serious conversation. Whose last name should they have?

You don’t often think of pets as needing last names, until they go to the vet that is. Antigone’s name is fairly singular, but Harley is about as common as, well, his orange motorcycle namesake.

Categorizing patient records by first name is ridiculous regardless of who the patient is. So the cats’ last name is Pirate. I figured it would be good preparation for when we eventually had human kiddos since we agreed that our offspring would have whichever last name sounded better with the chosen first name. So Elle is Elle Pirate and as a result, I’m completely out-numbered in our household when it comes to surnames. We’re a house of Pirates and one Mrs. Ninja.

But it’s not a big deal. Mr. Pirate fell in love with me as he first met me – as Amanda Ninja. We always know when solicitors call and it’s a bit of a running joke when mail arrives for Mr. and Mrs. Pirate.

It’s just funny that I can’t deposit a check into our joint checking account if our names are on a check as Mr. Pirate and Mrs. Pirate.

Both funny ha ha and funny awkward.

Here’s the awkward:
In order to deposit the check without having him there at the bank with me and holding my hand, I can do one of two things.

  • Have him co-sign the check and then go back with our marriage license to demonstrate that I’m really who I say I am.


  • Ask the person who wrote the check to write us another.

We’ll be going with the first because the second just demonstrates poor manners. I may be a lot of things – and a stubborn lady who didn’t change her name when she married happens to be one of them – but I don’t have poor manners.

Here’s the funny ha ha:

This whole adventure only reinforces why I didn’t change my name in the first place. My last name is unique. I’ve often maintained that if you’ve met a Ninja, I’m probably related to him or her.

courtesy of

As far as I know, we don’t have any kin in Jonesboro, LA — but maybe we should road-trip there one day to check.

That was certainly true today.

As I pulled out my driver’s license to demonstrate that I am actually the person whose name is attached to the account, the teller remarked, “Oh. I went to school with some Ninjas.”

Eight years ago when we got married and moved to Colorado, Mr. Pirate and I happened to move into the neighboring county of where my dad and his siblings grew up. (In fact! Elle will go to school in the same school district as her Granddaddy, three great uncles and one great aunt.) The teller mentioned, that the Ninjas she knew lived in Fairview Estates and that she went to school with Dale Ninja.

Well guess who happens to be the niece of Dale Ninja?

I didn’t have a chance to let her reminisce, or to mention that my uncles all live in Oklahoma now. There was too much of a line growing behind me.

But maybe when I go back with my marriage license to deposit money into the checking account, I can let her know that my uncle is well and in good health.

That’d be the polite thing to do after all.



[Photo courtesy of Seriously. We need to go visit.]

On Grief and Grieving

Being a person is complicated.

My great-aunt died early yesterday morning and her death is something I’m grappling with in different ways at different times. Aunt FernI am full of regret that I didn’t get Elle out to meet her. She lived 2 hours away and I couldn’t be bothered to take my baby girl out to meet my Aunt Fern.

I am sad that she’s dead.

I am content with the manner of her death — as if my emotions in this matter at all — that she died in her sleep and as my dad put it: “She’s probably didn’t even know.”


Aunt Fern drove a school bus for a number of years and had one story she’d tell time and again whenever we got to together. Like many of my lady relatives of her generation, she’s on the shorter side and yet whenever she had to do her annual driver preparedness test, she spoke her pride about how she’d take her brake thumper and walk along the bus and point out all of the parts she knew. She knew her bus and even though I never rode with her, I don’t doubt that she was a damn fine bus driver.

I am also kind of done with mourning. But you can’t be. You can’t put your foot down and say this is the last time I will mourn because it will happen again. You open your heart and love and miss people when they’re gone until the day you die. It’s just the way it is.

Let’s add this one to the list of how I feel:

I feel like an emotional cripple that I can type this and only feel a dull ache.

Just felt like I needed to say these things out loud. Posts of actual content will likely resume next week. Dad will fly in for the funeral so that means we’re going to actually get stuff done on the Jade House.

Editor’s Note: Spell check helpfully pointed out that my writing is full of the passive voice today. Mlle. Holt would be so disappointed. My writing is getting sloppy and that’s why I need to pollute the Internet again with my ramblings.

Mother’s Day and Leftover Pie

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Mr. Pirate asked the other night what I would like for Mother’s Day this year.

Flowers. Just a little hanging basket of petunias to put out in the yard and attempt to not kill.

It’s my first Mother’s Day as a mom and although growing up my family always had the attitude that you didn’t wait for a holiday to tell someone they are important to you, it’s still kind of nice to have time set aside to say these things out loud.

My mom has always made finding gifts for her at birthdays and holidays difficult. She doesn’t like chocolate all that much. She’s a minimalist when it comes to accessorizing. She just doesn’t really go in for stuff.

She’s an actions speak louder than words kind of lady.

I remember being 8 or 9 and wanting to make my mom breakfast in bed as a special treat.

Never mind that she eats her breakfast standing up at the kitchen counter. Totally disregard the fact that the breakfast I prepared was my idea of the perfect breakfast: buttered toast with cinnamon and sugar with a side of cold cereal.

Mum’s daily breakfast? Yogurt or maybe hot cereal in the winter.

I didn’t have the diligence as a kid to actually get up before my parents on weekends, so I probably coerced her to get back in bed so that I could bring her a tray with breakfast.

I wanted to make her feel special. Even though I had a very limited skill set in the kitchen I wanted to thank her for all of the daily things that she did to make me feel special.

Things like, singing me to bed every night until I was in middle school (I secretly missed it when she stopped but was too much of a teenager to say so).

Or letting me hold our dog’s leash when we went for walks. It’s silly, but that made me feel like she trusted me. Even when our schipperke would dash ahead and nearly tug the leash out of my hand. Mum let me know that I was capable of handling responsibility and stout energetic dogs.

Had my younger self really wanted to surprise my mom, I’d have prepared for her the ultimate breakfast, leftover pie. The joy of leftover dessert as breakfast is another thing I learned from my mom.

The day after a holiday meant that anything was fair game for breakfast. Even pie.

My parents are visiting from out-of-state this weekend to visit Elle for the first time. This afternoon I’m going to make her a Be-bop a Rhee-bop Rhubarb Pie. It won’t be leftover pie for breakfast today, but it will be ready for tomorrow which ought to do the trick.

Maybe the sentiment on Mother’s Day is sappy, but I still think it’s worthwhile to take the time to show someone what they mean to you. Even if it is just a drop in the bucket in comparison to raising someone.


RSVP Dad On That Baby Shower

Recently, my male coworkers threw me a baby shower.

It was coupled with our monthly staff meeting so it wasn’t any big to-do. Just cake, pizza, me awkwardly being the center of attention, and then back to work. Baby is still 10 weeks away from go-time, but it is nice knowing that they too want to celebrate this new beginning that Mr. Pirate and I are about to embark on.

When I thanked my supervisor for the shindig he commented that I’ve started a new tradition. From now on, he said, we’ll have baby showers for all of the garage babies. Score one more for gender equality y’all.

As a lady mechanic I work in a male-dominated field. I am beyond fortunate that my fellow co-workers don’t treat me as inferior or less capable. My toolbox is pink, but beyond that, I’m just one of the guys.

The fact that my pregnant self has provoked a new tradition regarding celebrating life events is somewhat bittersweet though. We send around an envelope for weddings, retirements and funerals, but this was the first time that any of them had the opportunity to plan a baby shower. Our female administrative assistant confided later that the guys had no idea where to start or what you actually do at a baby shower. The sad part is compounded by the fact that the youngest garage baby (as in, person born while his or her dad was employed at our garage as a mechanic) is 14 months old and the oldest was married last summer.

As a society we want dads to be involved in their children’s lives.

And yet, there is this tendency to push dads to the sidelines when it comes to birth and babies. Products are marketed largely toward the female consumer. Very few restaurants feature a diaper changing station in the men’s room whereas it is a standard item in public women’s bathrooms.

Common workplace practices even shunt dads to the side. I get 12 weeks of maternity leave. Mr. Pirate gets one. As though one week is enough time for him to get acclimated to the presence of a new person in his life.

It isn’t fair.

Hands down I support gender equality. I want to go back to work after kiddo is born in large part because I want to demonstrate to my son or daughter that they really can be whatever they want to be. Male stylist. Lady plumber. Gentleman nurse. Female president. Gender should not dictate what a person can or cannot do.

But gender equality is not a one-way street. I don’t want to advocate for more professional opportunities for women and tell my husband he doesn’t know a thing about babies. For Pete’s sake — I don’t know a thing about babies.

Caring for infants is not some ingrained, natural part of my wiring exclusive to me being the one incubating this child. There are some things I’m apparently just going to know how to do (like the whole pushing thing), but there are other things — such as changing a tiny 8-ish pound baby’s diaper — I am going to have to practice. The same goes for my mister.

So maybe a good place to start when it comes to encouraging gender equality is to include men in the lives of these new people from the get-go. Invite men to baby showers. Advocate for dads to have actual paternity leave. Even, and maybe this is a little too new-age, treat men as though they are an important part of the family equation instead of pretending that their work is done once the bun is in the oven.

It’s just a thought.

Better Go Catch It

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When it comes to celebrating life, my family tends toward a slightly off-center way of doing things.

We are not your white picket fence type of holiday people. We scorn turkey at Thanksgiving in favor of firing up the grill one last time for burgers and brats. My dad and I once visited Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day too late for the wreath laying ceremony, and then just spent the rest of the day trekking through the wet grass looking for the soldier whose headstone had the same number designation as my birthday.

This is why my dad and sister flying to Colorado, so we can take an 8-hour road trip to Kansas to celebrate my aunt’s breast cancer journey makes perfect sense. After beating cancer once, a recurrence, a full mastectomy and reconstructive surgery, she proudly can tell you that she’s still standing. My sister and I, who both hate to run, started running the Wichita Susan G. Komen 5K three years ago just for her.

We figured that running sucks, but cancer sucks more. This year though, since being a baby incubator means I am not supposed to get my heart rate above 140 bpm, and with planning a November wedding, my sister really didn’t train this summer, we just embarked on the road trip because visiting Kansas at the end of September is awesome.

And although my pirate mister and I decided that maybe we shouldn’t host out-of-state family and do Jade House projects on the same weekend, I slipped and we did a couple anyway. You see, my sister is my dad’s big carpentry buddy. She’s nine years older than me and when I thought that playing with carpenter’s glue and nailing little blocks of wood together was a great idea, she was helping our dad rebuild the back deck. Or remodel the kitchen in a week.

They’re just a good team like that.

So when my dad said, “Hey. We still want to get you a new refrigerator as a house-warming present.” I agreed.

Our old refrigerator had several problems beyond its age:

  • It routinely piddled on the floor.
  • The seal along the top of the freezer door was gappy and blew cold air toward the ceiling.
  • One shelf of the refrigerator froze food on a regular basis.

Owen and I picked out a fridge and arranged for the install last Saturday while I would be in Kansas. That afternoon he calls to say the new one won’t fit. I grumbled that we measured the space and although bigger, the new one should fit.

Once again, physics says no. Two refrigerators cannot occupy the same space at the same time.

After sizing up the situation on Sunday, my sister and I developed a plan of attack. We’d just saw off the counter to the left of the fridge space until it did fit.

TLDR: We now have a circular saw and a refrigerator that can grow with us as a family.

Also, I kind of shorted out the dish washer while using the shop vac to remove the mouse poop we discovered under it. But that’s another story to be told another time.