Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Refugees

Just like a sturdy vehicle, every marriage needs a tune up every now and then. A twist of the bolts, a change of the air filter, a kick to the tires. So when I announced to Ashley that it was time for a check up, he sighed, rolled his eyes and asked, "What are we doing this time?"

He has a valid reason to ask this. Over the past 9 years of marriage I have dragged him to therapists, coaxed him to "couples" groups, and on one occasion even tricked him into seeing a psychic (that didn't end so well) all in the attempt to get him in touch with his feelings so that he would want to do "couple" things with me, like watching "Hope Floats" together while talking about the latest celebrity couple breakups. (R.I.P. Justin and Jessica)

My Master Plan was at work.

I paused for dramatic effect before announcing, "We are going to Marriage Camp!"
The excitement was lost on him. But instead of objecting, he let out a defeated sigh and went upstairs to pack. Because after 9 years of marriage he has learned that going against me is like swimming against the current- you will eventually get tired and start drowning- so it's best to curl up in a fetal position and ride out Wave Mandi until you safely reach the shore.

After arranging for child care and packing our belongings, we hurry off to the camp so not to be late for the meeting that starts at 8pm on Friday night. As I envision the weekend ahead I see us participating in exciting "trust exercises" where I am bravely climbing a rock wall while Ashley holds the rope and watches me in awe, feeling so blessed to be married to such a courageous wife. I picture us holding hands while meditating together sitting in a "circle of truth." This is going to be a great weekend.

And then I see this...

After we arrive at the camp and register, they tell us to take our seats in a room reminiscent of any standard church fellowship hall. I begin to notice that we are the youngest ones there- by about 20 years. Not to worry, I think, we will share in their wisdom of marriage and life.
Walking up to the front podium, the couple leading the meeting begins to speak. They bring out their notebooks and start reading verbatim from the pages.

Like... Literally. Reading. Verbatim. From the pages of the notebook. Line after line. With no pause. Talking about the technicalities of feelings and thoughts. For 40 solid minutes.

"Where the Magic Happens"

I look around me and notice the man sitting next to me has just entered the fourth stage of R.E.M. and is now starting to drool. His wife punches him in the arm and he twitches briefly before nodding back off. I look at Ashley who is giving me the full on "stank eye" and writing vigorously in his notebook, probably something along the lines of "Mandi Sux!" over and over again. By this time I am about to jump out of my skin with boredom. But since this was my idea and my pride is the most important thing in my marriage, I attempt to tough it out. That is, until they announce the schedule for the weekend which includes this same couple reading out of the same notebook, in this same room, for the next 48 hours.

To hell with my pride. I cannot take it any longer. Once the meeting is dismissed for the night, Ashley and I hurry back to our room where (after little to no convincing) I tell Ashley that we are hightailing it out of there. We take our bags, throw them over the railing down to the car and jump in like we are Bo and Luke Duke and never look back.

This could have easily been mistaken for the Ritz, right?.

On the way home I sheepishly look at Ashley and tell him that he gets to plan the next "Marriage Tune Up". To which he turns to me and says, "For my next marriage tune up, I am going on an all boy's camping trip- that will in no way include you. And that, my dear, will be the best marriage retreat that I could ever have."


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Like a Vegan...

"Don't have a cow" took on a whole new meaning for me this month as I decided to take on a Vegan diet. I would like to tell you it's because I am vigilant about reducing the effects of Global Warming, but let's face it, it's really because I heard that Jessica Biel eats a vegan diet and I would eat tree bark covered in bird shit if somebody told me that it would make my ass look like hers.
And so started my quest on forging for food that I could actually eat. And there are three things that I learned on this Vegan Quest:

1.) Tapioca "cheese" and I got married and then went through a nasty divorce shortly thereafter in the bathroom. I have since taken out a restraining order against it.

2.) There are a surprising (and depressing) amount of ways to prepare eggplant.

3.) If this is what it takes to look like Jessica Biel, then Roseanne Barr is now my new Idol.

Here are a few pics from the Highlight Reel:

Whole Grain Spinach and Artichoke Linguine

Eggplant Parmesean, Flash-fried Green Beans, and a Green Salad.

Meanwhile, Rinks has adopted the latest Atkins Diet for Babies as he refuses to eat anything but Hotdogs and Cheese. But I must say, his abs look great...

Thursday, March 3, 2011


My new exercise regimen started out innocently enough. I hate the treadmill, get bored with the stairclimber and so I wanted something different. So when my friend told me about a company called B.Fab.Fitness, a funky dance fitness class complete with moves that Beyonce would holla at, I said "Where do I sign up?"

And that is where the trouble began.

I am a mom. I am a wife. And now, I am a dirty, dirty stripper J-Lo wannabe. Thanks to my new dance workout, I have found my outlet to secretly entertain my deepest fantasies of being Janet Jackson, Shakira, and Beyonce; all rolled into one Bootylicious Trinity.

My first class started out tame, I wasn't sure if I still had the moves that I remember having when I was 18 and in da club.

And as it turned out. I did.

With one swoop of the hips and thrust of the pelvis, it all returned to me like I had just climbed on a bicycle. And then it was on. I never realized how growing into a responsible adult deprived me of the splendid nastiness of my youth, and now that I have it back, I just can't get enough.

Move over Shakira. Cause these hips? They don't lie.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Particular Freedom of Strawberry Shortcake

As I write to you at this moment I have orange hair. This occured as a result of my desire to go back to being blonde and a hair stylist's enthusiam for bleach. It isn't the first time that my hair has resembled the likeness of Strawberry Shortcake, and I am sure that it will not be the last. I am a slow learner after all. But there is something that happens when your appearance doesn't turn out the way you had hoped, when you look into the mirror and Angelina Jolie doesn't stare back at you. What is it?


We all know as women growing up in this society that so much value is placed on the way we look. And we are constantly being badgered with images of slim waists, silky hair, and smooth skin that tell us that we are not worthy as women if we do not adhere to these standards. We are less than.
But after this incident with my hair I was having a conversation with a good friend who called to tell me that her world was in a downward spiral. Why, you ask? Because her thighs were big.
It sounds funny now that I write about it, but it was no laughing matter for her. Like so many of us, she was so caught up in the number on the scale, the inches that crept up on the measuring tape, that she literally felt her life was crumbling in that moment. "You don't understand," she said. "I am fat. And not only am I fat, but I have been fat for a WHOLE YEAR and nothing I do seems to change that." I did understand. I had a baby more than a year ago and have been trying to lose the same 20 pounds since then, to no avail. But, call it my inner Yoda or Oprah, I surprisingly had some wits about me to talk to her about this fate and just like that, we both had an A-Ha! moment. "What about losing 30 pounds is going to change your life?" I asked, partly wanting to know the answer for myself. "I want to be happy," she said. "I want to feel good about myself." "You don't have to lose 30 pounds to have those things, you know. You can actually be happy now, and even feel good." She paused, "Well I do love to workout with my friends, we have a lot of fun and it's like an outlet for me." "Then focus on that," I said. "Stop looking at the number on the scale and beating yourself up everytime it doesn't move and focus on having fun. Because at the end of the day, you will remember how you felt, not how much you weighed. And P.S.- it all goes to shit in the end anyway, so you might as well enjoy it now." (Even my inner Yoda has the mouth of a sailor) This was a revelation for me too. Just the other day I got on the scale and had gained 6 pounds in a week. Naturally, I know that I didn't really gain 6 real pounds in a week; but that one number literally ruined my entire day. And later when I thought about it, I realized that nothing about my life had changed except for my knowledge of a number on a scale. Now as I talked to my friend I said, "You realize that you are going to walk through this world exactly the same at this weight as you will 30 pounds from now. Problems will not disappear. You will still get sad, you will still laugh, in other words, life is going to happen with or without you (and your thighs). But guess what? You are still going to be you, so why not love what you have rather than beat it into submission?" She laughed, it was a laugh of relief because she got it. And there is a certain power in that. The power that comes in realizing that you control the impact that you have in this world and what others think about you- whether it's positive or negative. And when you take your value off the size of your waist or the comparison of who looks more perfect (or who wore is better, thanks US Weekly) and focus on loving yourself and making others feel loved and accepted, then you my friend have just become the most beautiful person in the room.

Orange hair and all.

The New Look: Strawberry Shortcake gone wild.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Miss Understood- At Home Tennessee Article

Miss UnderstoodAt Home Tennessee columnist Mandi Gaskin tries to “Keep up with the Jones” only to find that being perfect is overrated.

We all know those people. The ones who wake up the roosters to get their daily run in, who bake pies because “they love the aroma of warmth in their house”, or wrap their Christmas gifts with handcrafted paper created by at-risk youth in after school programs. Not only do I know of these people, I am friends with them. And I can’t help but feeling like every time I buy store bought brownies or send my kid to school in something that is not monogrammed (gasp!) I am doing the world an injustice and falling short of my duties as mother and wife of the year. For instance, I watch my friend, let’s call her Stephanie*, as she works in the room of her house that is dedicated to Scrapbooking (!?!) and documents every breath of her child’s life- from the first haircut to the first time she stuffs an English Pea up her nose. When I proceed to tell her that I have yet to start a baby book for my little boy (he’s fifteen months… and in my defense, I have a steel trap for a mind) she looks at me like I just told her that I like to kick puppies and squander the dreams of little children. Then there is my friend Caroline* who, when she is not harvesting her own eggs to teach her children valuable lessons of where your food comes from, likes to make her own jam from local berry farms and packages them in cute berry jars (where do you even find those?) to give to her kids’ Sunday school teachers. She recently went on vacation with her family and came back with pictures that were straight out of a Pepperidge Farm commercial as they strolled through the countryside on bicycles adorned with vintage flower baskets and gobbled up ice cream from a local store they happened upon while chasing fireflies. This conjured up memories from my most recent family vacation where the heat index was about three degrees above the burning flames of hell and caused all of us to stare at each other in utter disgust. Too hot to yell, or be angry or even think clearly. At one point I felt sure that little Rinks was foaming at the mouth, but it just turned out to be sour milk. Perfect.
Motivated by my friend’s inspirational vacation, I decided that we would have delightful family outing as well, to show that we are the perfect American family. As we made our way to the countryside trails the next weekend, I guided Ashley to the rental bikes that were reminiscent of Pee Wee Herman’s Big Adventure, complete with a bell and a seat for Rinks. Ashley took one look and said, “You have lost your mind if you think I am getting on that. Who do I look like, Dick Van Dyke?” I proceeded to tell him that Dick Van Dyke was not only a legend of small proportions, but also made leisure biking look very hip and cool; and I hadn't even asked him to sing “Chim Chim Cheree” like I had originally planned! He wasn’t buying it.
On to Plan B. Since Ashley was not willing to assist me on my journey to Mother of the Year, I had to take matters into my own hands. And that meant one thing: A trip to Hobby Lobby. Granted, walking through the endless isles of paper, glitter, glue, and cute little wooden frogs that I had no idea what to do with made me a little dizzy, I was going to make Rinks a book he would never forget. So I began throwing items in my basket like I’m Naomi Campbell with her cell phone and at the end of my trip, I came home with… what, I am not sure… but I whatever it was, I was going to make it into a masterpiece. With Rinks being a rowdy 15 month old child, he wanted to help mommy make his book too. And of course letting my aspirations of the Perfect Mother get the best of me, I decided this was a good idea. This has since been labeled the Glue-In-The-Hair incident in our house, which resulted in Rinks having a spiffy baby mullet.
Exhausted, stressed, and now having a child that looks like he belongs in a Billy Ray Cyrus video, I decided to retire the dream. And now as I watch my perfect mom friends sew custom outfits for their children or feed the homeless with their gourmet leftover Risotto, I smile. Because tonight we are having chicken nuggets straight from the freezer, and according to Rinks and his undying love for chicken nuggets, that makes me Mother of the Year.

*Names have been changed to protect me from losing friends.

Mandi is a writer, a wife, and a mother. When she is not tending to her fresh herb garden, she is sitting on the couch letting the noodles burn on the stove because she is too busy watching “The Bachelor.”

**To all my readers, this will be my last article with "At Home TN" as I am focusing my efforts on an exciting new venture. Please stay tuned!!!