Dear Flora,

You are 14 years old today. And you’ve exceeded my every expectation for what having a teenager could mean.

You are passionate, and opinionated, and I love when you talk to me. You don’t always, and I respect that too. You have asked me not to post things about you, but I have asked if I could post this, after you review it. You said yes.

You have faced challenges this year, academically, physically, and, possibly, socially. And you have met them. I won’t go into them; that is between you and me and your father (and, in certain cases, your teachers). Suffice to say: I am impressed — and, if I am being honest, relieved. You saw the stakes, and you decided to not give up.

I am already proud of you. You have made me prouder.

You discovered your sport this year: you discovered rowing. For a long time, you played soccer, and when I asked you to do it last year, in seventh grade, it was a real fight. I asked you to ride out the season, and you did. You weren’t happy about it, and I told you if you did stay the course, I would never ask you to play soccer again.

I have stayed true to my word.

But, through one way or another, we have discovered rowing, or crew, and you have decided this is something for you. You have never complained about going to row; you ask if you have practice, and you have been disappointed when I have told you that due to other commitments (on my part) you couldn’t go. When a race requires a Sunday wake up before 6 a.m., you have never — not once — said, “You know what, maybe this isn’t for me.” When you heard your fall season was ending, you said, “What do I need to do to stay in it?” I said, “Maybe Saturday practices, but they start at 7 a.m.” You said, “I want to go.”

You are discovering your strengths. You are a creative problem solver. You are aware that you are not invincible, but you are finding ways to work around your obstacles. You aren’t waiting around for your dad and me to solve your problems; you are deciding that you have the smarts to solve them. We just have to be there for support and encouragement.

You aren’t afraid to hug me or your dad; you aren’t afraid to be loving. Yeah, your siblings drive you absolutely up a wall, but you also find wells of patience in order to deal with them. You have become more willing to try stuff; you have become more social, and you have friendships that seem true and strong.

You aren’t done growing and developing, and you have many a challenge ahead of you. This year has given me faith that 1. You know your father and I have your back; 2. You may stumble, but you won’t fall; 3. You have a core of steel in you that will see you through whatever you face.

I love you, my rainbow child, my first daughter. I love your quietness, your pensiveness, your willingness to speak up, and your deep and abiding strength. You may lose sight of your own inner strength over the course of the next few years; it seems to be a thing that teen girls go through. I hope you find these words when and if you do have self-doubt, and I hope you remember the love and believe your father and I have in you. And that you always find in it yourself to go on.

I’m cheering for you, now and always. I love you, my dear.

Happy Birthday,

Image: “Baby Cactus”, Watercolor, by Flora Mangine


(Yes, it’s today.)

For this next trip around the sun, I am focusing on a couple of things.

1. Managing my anxiety.

This is the biggest task for me on a personal level this year. My goal is to focus on what I have control of, and, you know, control it. What’s that old chestnut? The Serenity Prayer. Yeah, that.

2. Writing.

I did not write much last year, and after the burst of excitement I had from “finishing” my novel, I didn’t make much progress on publishing, either. I need to find a way of getting back to this.

3. Fun with family.

My children are getting older, which YAY!, but which also means I feel like I need to focus a little more on connecting with them over and above: Hey, it’s time for you to do these chores. Yes, we need to parent them well, with appropriate boundaries, but we also need room for roller skating and movie going.

4. Managing money and (FOR REAL THIS YEAR) doing stuff about the house.

5. Something outside of me.

I need to find a vehicle for me to be an active part of helping people, either via the political process or through volunteering. I mentioned this recently, and I am still open to suggestions. Writing letters and calling my representatives were exercises in frustration; and I already vote and donate (a little bit) to candidates I support.

So, anyway, happy birthday to me. My plans for the day include dinner out with the children and Dan, brownies, and a new cookbook.

Copyright for Buddha image: sofiaworld / 123RF Stock Photo
Copyright for cake image: rojoimages / 123RF Stock Photo

#OhMichael, Age 7

Dear Michael,

When people found out I was pregnant with a boy, I got a lot of “just waits.” I was assured that boys were very different from girls, of which I already had two.

But I had a girl, and I had a KATE. I questioned how much more rambunctious a boy could be than his irrepressible soon-to-be big sister.
It turns out it’s more a matter of style than degree.

You are a little more physically active, a little less able to sit still, than the energetic, outgoing Kate. You are sweet and open and affectionate; you talk CONSTANTLY; and *usually* you are very self-assured. You have a very active imagination, and you can play by yourself or with others for hours, inside the house with action figures or outside in the yard with a stick.

When given the choice, you will wrestle and play with Kate. When not, especially if you’ve already been wrestling/playing with her, you will sulk, and then go on on your own.

Let’s talk about that sitting still thing for a hot minute. You don’t have any problems in school. You’ve been a slow reader, but I don’t think it’s because you can’t read. You like the straight-ahead facts of math, and are picking it up quickly. Your spelling is improving, although your handwriting is not.

But dinner time is a challenge for you. You take a bite, and jump up. On the plus side, you are a great eater, although you wouldn’t know it to look at you, my little string bean. But you really cannot keep your butt in your seat through a meal. For that matter, watching TV is not your strong point either. You are on the move.

And: it’s fine. I will try to do better and be less annoyed.

You love to laugh. You have strong emotions. You don’t like when things don’t go your way, just like every other child in the world, you can respond with anger, tears, or both.

You are… particular. As in, you prefer things a particular way. An egg sandwich has to be made just so. You like routine, which is something I find ironic because as a baby, you just went from place to place with us. You like information, and you like to know what’s next. Maybe that is a direct response to being dragged around as a baby when we had stuff to do.

You depend on your sisters, but you also needlessly antagonize them. I do believe the latter is part of the job description “Little Brother.” You and Kate are probably a little closer temperamentally than you and Flora, and so I think you prefer Kate. You love hanging out with Daddy, and whenever a project is afoot, you know your role: Stand-by guy. This means when Daddy tells you to fetch, hold, or carry something, you are there to do it.

But my favorite thing about you, little buddy, is how affectionate you are and continue to be. You will give hugs any time, in love, comfort, or gratitude. You say, “Thank you” to me often, even sometimes for little stuff like stopping for ice cream. You require Daddy snuggles at bedtime, and will wait up for them if you can.

You are my best boy. Keep growing, keep going, keep loving.

Happy birthday, Michael.


Flora: You’re a Teen!

Dear Flora,

I really need to start writing these birthday letters ahead of time. I have been thinking of this letter since Friday, but we had a good and busy birthday weekend for you. A visit from your partner in drawing, which included an illustration of you; out to lunch and a Michael’s visit with your nonna and pap-pap; mall time and dinner with friends. Then Sunday, bacon for breakfast, a movie (okay, Casablanca, so this one was for daddy), and your chosen dinner of beefy cheesy macaroni, peas, and chocolate cake.

Your first official teen year finds you with a solid moral center and a great belief in right and wrong. We started watching LOST with you (you have a great love of the mysterious and supernatural), and boy oh boy. You have some opinions about how people should act!

I think this goes for the world outside of television as well. You and your friends seem keenly aware of the social issues and challenges facing you all as girls in this world. You are straddling the space between being a child (see the Charmander you chose at Build-a-Bear) and being a teen (see the chokers from Hot Topic). You are loyal to your friends, and you will stick up for them no matter what. So far, you have disdained romantic entanglements; you don’t even like people to hint at them with you.

School is not the highest priority for you. You love science and your science teacher, and in reading, you are learning a great appreciation for storytelling, but other than that? Homework gets done and things are checked off. You had a virus that held you out of school for nearly a week, and you were clearly frustrated that you were expected to do the work you missed.

While you have strong feelings, I can see you trying not to let them rule you. You try so hard to be fair and thoughtful. Your siblings definitely challenge you the most in this area. You are quiet and introspective, but you can be goofy. You love to laugh, and I love watching your humor develop. You can appreciate puns as well as more subtle forms of humor, and girl, your giggle is still among my top favorite sounds in the entire world.

I know that you doubt yourself at times, and I know you don’t want to disappoint anyone, especially me or your father. I am here to tell you: You are doing great. Cultivate your strengths. Continue to be curious and develop your talents. Continue to be kind to everyone around you, and stand your ground when challenged.

I got you, girl. I love you, and I am so proud of you.


Image “baby cactus” by Flora, one of her first watercolors

Kate, You’re 10!

Oh my Kate,

From my own mother-daughter relationship, I am aware how different daughters can be from mothers. I’ll never forget the look on my pharmacist’s mother’s face when, in fourth grade, I told her I wanted to be a writer.

But even so, I am still surprised at how very different you are from me. You are extroverted to the extreme. You have 107 best friends, including about 27 “besties.” When you tell me about your day, you go on long stream-of-consciousness ramblings that, more likely than not, stray into tall tale territory. You have fantastical stories about your friends, your school day, your life.

You are wildly silly, especially at the dinner table. You giggle yourself into hiccoughs most evenings. Some days, I find it exhausting but some days I find the energy to laugh along. You are affronted easily; for all your goofiness, you do want to be taken seriously. You don’t like being ignored, and you *really* don’t like being criticized. You have some thin skin, my dear.

As has always been the case, you have a lot of energy. You like gymnastics, and you are talking about taking up basketball. You are certainly tall enough! Your birthday outing will be to a roller skating rink for the second year in a row. You have managed to find several friends who have trampolines in their backyards, and we are all grateful for that.

You are easily affectionate, and you still like to cuddle up. You are managing being alone better; I think the Kindle helps with that. You are the only one who can manage Michael sometimes, a fact that Flora and I both find amazing. He listens to you; you can calm him down. I think sometimes it is because you can give him 100 percent of the attention he is craving, while Flora is impatient with him, and I am tending to him in a distracted state more than half the time.

While you are an indifferent student, you aren’t dumb. You are liked at school for your outgoing personality and your willingness to participate and help. You like to do well, but you aren’t thrown off when a grade is a B- instead of an A. You are in the chorus and you play, with much enthusiasm, the alto sax. If there was ever an instrument to fit your personality, it is the alto sax.

You want to take care of things. Getting you a gecko was a wise move; something on which you can lavish your love and attention; something to focus your responsible nature on. I think you will be a good pet owner.

You and I have fewer conflicts now than we have had in the past. I am adjusting to the fact that you are always going to live louder than I will, that your boundaries will always be bigger, that you wear your heart on your sleeve (much like your daddy). You will tend more toward impulsiveness than quiet introspection. My job is to feed your spirit and teach you to look before you leap, and to have patience during the times your spirit is hungriest and your leaping gets ahead of your looking.

I will always be here to catch you, baby girl.

Happy 10th birthday. You are bright and beautiful, and I will always encourage you to shine. I love you, my middle, my wild child. All my heart.


#OhMichael, Age 6

My dear Michael,

This is what happens when you are the youngest child.

Your birthday letter is nearly a week late. I am so sorry.

In the meantime: On your birthday, I made chicken (okay, rotisserie chicken), vegetarian corndogs, mac and cheese, and broccoli. At your request. We also had chocolate cake with vanilla frosting and multicolored sprinkles.


On Saturday, I took you and two of your friends to see Trolls. It was, to my mind, an unexpected delight. You and your buddies seemed to like it too. I’m pretty sure your favorite part of the movie was either, “No Troll left behind!” with its accompanying visual. Or the icees. It’s a toss up.

On Sunday, we had a little family/close friends party for you that you seemed to enjoy too.

So. I guess this letter is late, but you haven’t otherwise suffered for birthday attention.


You, my dear son, are tall and thin. Your BMI is a ridiculous 1.48. So, more chicken and corndogs and mac and cheese for you! Maybe some chocolate chip cookies, too.

You are very boy: you hop and jump and dance and bounce. You TALK. A LOT.

You are also the sweetest boy. You give and ask for hugs spontaneously. You still snuggle (when you’re not jumping). You want to be friends with everyone, and you truly do not have a malicious bone in your body. Which is not to say you can’t be a jerk to your sisters. It’s just that you’re not mean. When you were getting picked on on the bus, and you told us about a boy kicking you, and Daddy said, “Why didn’t you kick him back?” you were shocked. “Because I don’t kick people, daddy! I’m nice.”

You are smart, which is not surprising. What surprises me is your breezy confidence, your belief that you are simply good at anything and everything. You are similarly convinced you are correct about a lot of stuff that you know nothing about, which grates, but I’ll get you on the right path. Believe it or not, buddy, I know more about math than you.

And, you’re silly. You like to laugh, you like making other people laugh, you remember funny stuff from shows and movies. You are still working on telling a joke. Your current favorite, courtesy of Kate:

How do you make a tissue dance?
Put a little boogie in it!

You adjusted well to school after the first week. Full-day kindergarten is a major transition! You found soccer discouraging; I am hoping you will try it again, but if not, we’ve got to find something else for you to channel your energy. And you still have little meltdowns. You don’t like being told no, and you seriously don’t like being yelled at.

But you still will admit when you are tired and ready for bed, which is my favorite.


That is you, Michael: sweet, smart, silly, and skinny. I love all the boy you are. Again, I apologize for this being so late. But I know with a little extra snuggling, you will forgive me.

Love you, buddy,

Flora: The Growing Year

Dear Flora,

You are a Rock Star this year. I guess this is what developing maturity looks like.

You are handling sixth grade with grace and determination. You have become a straight-A student. Your teachers adore you. Your soccer coaches talked about how far you had come in the two years they have been coaching you. (I agree, and I thought so too, but I also am so ridiculously biased in your favor.)

You may be a little hard on yourself. You had struggles last year regarding organization and grades, and are clearly determined to do better. You are smart and talented enough to do better.

And you are doing better. One of your teachers actually suggested I let you know it was okay to chill out a little bit.

You are also showing a depth of emotional maturity that is reassuring. Something happened earlier this school year that threatened to throw you for a loop. And you came to Dad and me with it. I won’t tell the story — it’s not mine to tell — but I was so proud. I was proud for two reasons: 1. That you handled it exactly the correct way, setting your boundaries, and keeping them. Many adults don’t know how to do that. 2. That you trusted your father and me enough to come to us, tell us what happened, and believe us when we said you did the right thing.

You are still delightfully goofy. As a matter of fact, you are flat out funny. You have a wonderful sense of humor, sharp and observant. You love making people laugh, and you’re quite good at it.

When you aren’t on your tablet, you are drawing. You draw all. the. time. You must not be doing it too much in class, because your grades are excellent and your teachers haven’t mentioned it. You are better now when I ask you not to be on your tablet — you put it aside; you do what I ask. As a matter of fact, you don’t even get on your tablet most days until homework is done and the dishes are put away. Your ability to self-regulate has made me feel relieved.

Budding feminist cartoonist.

You draw comics. You draw animals. You draw people. You go through sketch books like crazy. Every other week, you need a new one. You draw stuff for your friends, but only if you want to. I call your cartoons #FloraToons. Thanks for letting me share them online, especially the one about Jesus walking his dog on water. You draw on the letters you send to your friend.

You adore your brother, and he drives you batty. You and your sister are best friends, except when you are decidedly NOT. You are still daddy’s girl. He even let you help him rack wine this fall, a special vintage he is calling Il Messaggero for his father.

I love you, Flora. I will always love you, and I will always advocate for you and the unique girl you are and amazing woman I know you will be.

Happy birthday, Florabean. I love you with my whole heart.


Happy Birthday (Week) to Me

My mother always says the day I was born was the happiest day of her life.

My father always points out that she was pretty drugged up at the time.

Generally speaking, I make my birthday a one- or two-day affair. On the day of, I try to do something nice for myself, by myself; and, of course, have cake.

This year, my birthday got an earlier than usual kick-off, and I am not complaining. My parents had called a couple of weeks ago and asked me to schedule a nice dinner out for Dan, me, and my brother and SIL. Unfortunately, that was hard to do (what with babysitters, Dr. Bro and SIL had a prior commitment, and so on). So the plan became family game night at our place with Nonna, Pap-pap, Dan and our children, and the two younger nephews, and then dinner out.

But then, we got a bunch of snow, so events were canceled, and game night and dinner became a big event with six adults and seven children.

I loved it.

Everyone arrived around 3 p.m. on Saturday, and we played Kerfluffle, and then Wit and Wager (which, please note, *ahem* Dan, I would love to get for my actual birthday, along with another pair of yoga pants and a yoga block), and then we all went to P.F. Chang’s. The children were fantastic, the food and drink were delicious, and the company just beat all.

After dinner, we went back to the house, and served out the homemade chocolate cake my mother brought from Erie with her, and which she had the children help her frost, plus gelato from the Market District. And then we played Boggle, at which it turns out, I am very bad. I guess I’m only good when words go one way.

Chocolate Cake
My mom is ridiculous, in the best way.

On Sunday, I drove a friend to the LTYM auditions, and then we visited awhile at our place. Dan and I vegged out on Star Wars movies (Episodes IV, V, and VI) throughout the day, and we cooked and served dinner for his parents.

It’s nice to do nice things for people.

Also please note, because of the snow storm, our lovely producers opened another day of auditions. Check out the details here, and go tell your story! See your name on this year’s poster!

ltym poster
Your Name Here.

For dinner, I had thrown meat in the slow cooker before I left to play taxi. Fortunately, it turned out well. I also made this lentil salad from smitten kitchen, which I loved, and the other adults liked well enough, but the children wouldn’t try (Flora thought I ruined lentil soup; Kate thought I ruined potatoes).

So it was a lovely weekend, and a fun way to mark my birthday with my parents before they started their annual snowbird tour.

Now I can’t wait for my actual birthday weekend!

How long to you like to celebrate your birthday?