Papa and Patron

My home is tastefully decorated with the things death leaves behind.  This is a bleached tortoise shell found near my husband’s home.  And a margarita.  There is a margarita in this picture, too.

Tomorrow is my dad’s 80th birthday and he’s been gone just a hair over 9 years.  He shared his birthday with another notable man, George Washington and liked to say that George chopped down the cherry tree to make him a birthday pie.

Obviously, he had a misconception about how fruit is harvested, but he did love a cherry pie!  On the occasion that my mom would make him a cherry chocolate cake instead, he enjoyed that, too.

As it just so happens, tomorrow is also National Margarita Day and I’m here to help you celebrate both.


A toast to my dad

In a shaker, muddle 12 dark, sweet, pitted cherries* along with the juice from one sorry sized lime like you find in grocery stores this time of year.  Squeeze it good; you need every last drop!

Add 1.25 fl oz of tequila.  I used Patron reposado because that’s the only tequila I’m currently on speaking terms with.  Also, tomorrow is Monday and a full moon; go ahead and use a heavy hand.

Add .75 fl oz of dark agave nectar and .5 fl oz of triple sec.

Along with 12 fresh ice cubes, shake for a long minute.

Prepare any shaped glass you want by rimming it with another, un-muddled cherry and dipping in sugar.  Add fresh ice cubes.  Don’t let the haters tell you that you can’t drink a margarita out of a martini glass.

Sit back, enjoy your drink, and think about my dad.  Or your dad.  Or yourself.  And whether you’ll live to be 80 or not, and hope that you do because you’re already more than halfway there and you’ve not had enough time to figure out all the things you want to do yet.



Special alternate ending

Did you feel a stirring in your loins when I mentioned cherry chocolate cake?

Me, too.

Mix 1 tsp Hershey’s Special Dark, 100% Cocoa powder, 1 tsp vanilla sugar, and a pinch of salt. Wet your rim with an un-muddled cherry and dip in this delicious mixture.

*If you live in an alternate reality or hemisphere, maybe you get really good cherries in February.  Where I live, we don’t.  Frozen, but thawed cherries are perfect for muddling and drinking.  And they’re already pitted.  Just make sure they aren’t packaged with sugar.  Cherries should be the only ingredient in the bag.  Or box.  Or food capsule.  I don’t know how they come in your world.

Impara L’Italiano

Italian flag2

Here’s a fun fact:  when I was in the Army I tested into the linguistics program.  To prove how very capable of making terrible decisions I am, I opted for a communication security program instead.  Why?  Because the language training took place over twelve months in Monterey, California.  Eighteen year old me couldn’t figure out who would want to spend a whole year in Monterey.  Twenty year old and beyond me knows the answer to this is, of course, me. 

Maybe, though, it ran deeper than that.  Maybe I knew that while I found it easy to learn languages on paper, I had a hard time speaking anything but English.  My tongue is stiff and dances like a white girl.  I dreaded having to read things aloud in French class in high school because I knew how terrible I sounded.  The Spanish I’d picked up along the way was zero help navigating the streets of Miami that time I had to shoe shop just hours before a cruise because I’d lost one half of every pair I packed.

Still, ever full of grand ideas, I set out to learn a little Italian before my upcoming trip. One of my local Facebook friends was hosting an exchange student from Italy who, as it turned out, also spoke French. That seemed like a logical place to start, so on a warm, November day I met Courtney and La-OO-ra* at Café Buongiorno. La-OO-ra brought her friend, Elisa, a German exchange student and classmate. Both girls were super-model-beautiful, but couldn’t have looked more different.

Elisa was smartly dressed in a pencil skirt and ironed blouse. With her porcelain complexion, round cheeks, brilliant blue eyes, and the only natural blonde hair in the whole 27614, she never stopped smiling. She looked like sunshine. I so hated that I had no good reason to learn German that I started questioning if I couldn’t, maybe, just work in a day trip by train from Paris to Frankfurt. A quick consultation of Google Maps ruled it out.

La-OO-ra had toasted skin, a long, brown, sun streaked mane, and petite, pointy facial features. Her style was casual and comfortable, yoga pants and a sweatshirt. In classic European teen fashion, she was adorned with golden bangle bracelets and hoop earrings. I made a mental note to grow my hair two more feet and start wearing jewelry.

I probably won’t start wearing jewelry.

I intended to set up a weekly study session in which La-OO-ra could help me dust off my decades old high school French and teach me some Italian, but she basically talked me out of it. She told me that Parisians are snobs and will look down on me for knowing only a little broken French just as they would look down on me for knowing no French at all. So to this I say, why even bother?

I did pick La-OO-ra’s brain for a few, key phrases in Italian. I felt bad that Elisa was being left out of the conversation. Even decades later, I too remember the special hell that is boredom to a teenager. So when La-OO-ra told me how to say have a good day (buona giornata), I asked Elisa how they would say that in Germany.

With her ever-joyful smile and twinkling eyes she quickly replied, “Oh, we would never say that to someone.”

This is hilarious – until you think about it. Except that thinking about it actually makes it funnier.

I continued with what would become my only Italian study session with La-OO-ra. I worried that it isn’t enough to be able to ask where the bathroom is, I wanted to be able to understand the directions; down the hall, second right, third door to your left, for example.

La-OO-ra raised an eyebrow and asked me, “How beeg you tink deese places are to be?”

Apparently, unless I plan only to pee in opera halls and museums, this will not be an issue. Besides, she told me, everybody in Italy speaks English and is enthusiastic to help Americans. I hope this is true.

Still wanting to learn some amount of Italian, I started using the DuoLingo app on my smart phone.  Equally, I attributed my early success to how naturally Italian seemed to feel rolling off of my tongue, and the app’s smart use of written, spoken, and speaking features.  Before long, I’d completed the Basics 1 program with no weak words.  I could say with great confidence, “Io sono una ragazza!”

This phrase means, I am a girl, and is said with the gesticulation that I intuitively know must accompany anything I ever say in Italian.  Let’s ignore for the time being that my gender is not ambiguous and that Italian men have a reputation for not needing to be told that someone is a girl.  And if we can, let’s also ignore that I technically should be saying, “Io sono una donna!” because I’m a woman who can no longer pass for a girl.

No sooner did I start feeling really good about learning Italian – and I mean, like, maybe-my-life’s-purpose-has-been-to-learn-Italian good about it – did I run across a New Yorker article titled Teach Yourself Italian by Jhumpa Lahiri.  Read it; it’s great.  But not right now.  Right now, let me bring this home.  This article is about an Indian born New Yorker of Bengali decent who studies Italian.  For years.  After eight years of study and several lengthy trips to Italy, she still found herself unable to fluently converse.

This was all the encouragement I needed to give up trying to learn Italian for my trip in March.  If, after eight years this brilliant woman couldn’t do it, how on earth was I ever going to learn?  So I started ignoring my DuoLingo app everyday when it pushed me notifications that it was time to study.  I soon forgot whatever other words I’d learned.  But worse, I’d resigned myself to being the ugly American who expected the whole world to speak English because I was lazy and ignorant.

And then this week I learned that Jhumpa Lahiri just published her memoir Interpreter of Maladies, – are you ready for this? – in Italian!  I might or might not have know about this if I hadn’t stopped reading her New Yorker article when I realized my own plight was hopeless.

So maybe I won’t learn enough Italian to carry on deep and philosophical conversations – this time.  But I can order una birra, or un bicchiere di vino, and that’s not nothing.  Re-energized in my pursuit of a second, completely indulgent language, I went on Groupon to find discounts on things to do while in Rome.  I either bought a couples massage, or a blonde hooker; it’s hard to say because I couldn’t read a word of the advertisement and had to guess based on the photo, alone.  It was forty euro, so either way, great deal!  Then I opened my DuoLingo app for the first time in over a month and got reacquainted with my old friend, Italian; this time with  a new goal. One day I will return to Italy and inquire of all the great opera halls, “Dov’è il bagno?”


*  La-OO-ra is actually spelled L-A-U-R-A, and must be pronounced by lightly rolling the ‘r.’ It is the most beautiful name I’ve ever heard, when pronounced correctly, and I want to change all three of my children’s names now.

In Ordinary Time


Catholics are going to hell.  I know this because the second Southern Baptist phase of my mother’s religious evolution coincided with my formative years, and she told me so.  Repeatedly.  This alone would have made catholic boys wildly attractive to me, had I known any in my small Appalachian town.  As fate would have it, I didn’t actually meet any until years and years later, after my mother transitioned into her Extra Terrestrials Created the Universe phase.  And wouldn’t you know it?  I married the first one I met.

While engaged, we sat before a vicar who unwittingly blew the starting whistle on what became, for me, a seventeen year wrestling match with Catholicism.  By that time, I didn’t believe in marriage or God, but since both were important to the man I intended to spend the rest of my life with, I thought, what the hell?  This was before I learned the important lesson that things you don’t believe in can still eat you right up.  Correction:  This was the beginning of that lesson, and another story for another time.

The vicar emphasized that the Catholic Church would never recognize my marriage to my catholic fiancé unless I had my first marriage annulled.  I had so many questions.

The first being, the church recognized my first marriage, the one where two non-Catholics got married outside of a catholic church?  Yes.  They did.

Secondly, but the church won’t recognize a Catholic’s marriage if it takes place outside of the Catholic Church?  That is correct.

Third, how does that make even a little bit of sense?  Cannon law.  But for the low, low price of some tens of hundreds of dollars, the Church can erase the first marriage, write the second one, and we could live holy ever after.  Happiness not guaranteed.  Installment plans available.  Must be over the age of reason.  Offer invalid outside of the continental U.S..

In the end, we hired a retired pastor who ran a wedding chapel beside a laundromat and imported him to the North Raleigh Hilton where we intended to have a non-religious ceremony.  Our plans were foiled when the father of the groom slipped the reverend a twenty to insert a reading of one of the Corinthians and the Lord’s Prayer.

Yea.  That’s where our plans went awry.

For the next decade I continued to butt heads with the Church through a botched conversion and then at every point along the arc of our marriage; birth, death, infidelity, divorce….  And then it was over.  When you’re not catholic and find yourself no longer married to someone who is, all of that just falls away.   But not quickly if you’re a Virgo that just doesn’t let shit go.

Almost another decade has passed and I find myself remarried, this time to a man who converted to Catholicism in order to marry his ex-wife.  He remains mum about how much he ever believed, but he stopped practicing when that marriage ended.  And like the beliefs of my mother before me, mine have also evolved.  I still don’t believe in marriage, but I believe in mine.  I do believe in God now, but not in an institutional kind of way.

Last year I began a pilgrimage to unravel the mysteries of passion, something my mother had, but that I lack.  It started with an itinerary to put myself in the way of passionate people in order to better understand them.  I’m still processing what I did and did not get from my trip to Graceland for Elvis’ birthday last month, and happily planning for my trip to St. Peter’s Basilica for Easter mass next month.  It has occurred to me that unlike my trip to Memphis, maybe I should prepare a little for my trip to Rome.  So in addition to meat and all beverages that are neither water nor alcoholic, this Lenten season I am giving up my long grapple with Catholicism.

On this Ash Wednesday morning I sat in St. Catherine of Sienna’s parking lot and silenced my cell phone to the best of my ability.  I ran through the mental checklist of rituals from all those years ago when we attended St. Raphael every time we visited my in-laws in Pittsburgh.  I remembered to cross myself, but forgot to genuflect.  For the first time ever, I did not feel like an imposture.  I wasn’t there out of some familial obligation.  I was there seeking understanding, just like everyone else; even if not understanding of the same thing.

The music was simple and the ritual of it all was quite moving.  The priest read the Gospel, then in the brief silence between the Blessing and the Distribution of Ashes, my phone received an e-mail – a sound that apparently does not turn off with any of the settings I adjusted in the car.  The perturbed look on the faces of the elders around me was no match for the horrified look of the little girl sitting immediately to my left as the four notes of the Mockingjay whistle rang out loud and true from my purse sitting between us on the pew.  I volunteered her as tribute and gave her a perturbed look of my own.  On the outside, it might have looked like a frown and wrinkled eyebrows, but what I was trying to convey on the inside was, Hey kid, thanks for taking this fall for me.  I owe you one.

If by any chance my mother was right about where these people are headed, I’m probably going to be spending an awful lot of time with them in the afterlife.

Book Review


Writing, for me, is the biggest impetus in my life to get other things done.  When I sit down to write, I find myself compelled to clean my house, fold my laundry, landscape my whole back yard, or spend all day in the kitchen nourishing my family.  I can point to this fact alone as proof that even without producing an acclaimed piece of work, writing has made life better for my loved ones.

And while I’m doing all of these lovely, other things besides writing, I feel guilt.  No, that’s not true enough.  I feel shame.  Shame, because I am aware that I am only doing these things to procrastinate writing.  Because writing is hard, especially when it is so damn true.  And Truth is ugly, but it is also a splinter that needs to work its way out.  And I’m not making my house tidy, or my yard lovely, or my family fed out of deep and abiding love for those whom I share these things with.  I am doing it because I’d look ridiculous laying prone, all red faced, pounding and kicking the floor.  These things may not look like it, but they most certainly are my forty-something year old version of a tantrum.

Except reading.  I allow myself to read without guilt and shame.  I rationalize that reading makes a better writer.  I might, however, abuse this allowance.

Timagehe window ledge beside my bath tub has been collecting all of my books in progress; not the ones I’ve been meaning to read, but the ones I’ve already delved into.  Some people keep such stacks on their nightstands, but I can’t sleep with that kind of unfinished business breathing in my face.  It’s not that I lack proper shelving, I just can’t take a bubble bath in my study, and everybody knows books and bubbles are soul mates.

When the collection was only twelve strong, I made a New Years resolution not to buy any books until I was out of books.  When the number grew to 16 I made a more feasible February resolution not to buy any books until I’d finished half the pile.

By 7am on February 1st I’d contacted my local bookmonger to order a new one.  I picked it up yesterday at lunchtime with a realistic expectation of finishing it sometime in April, probably.  Unless I bought more books.  I surprised myself, and I imagine made some of those old friends on my window ledge a little jealous, when I finished it this morning.

If you’re at all interested in writers, or why they write, I highly recommend Why We Write About Ourselves: Twenty Memoirists on Why They Expose Themselves (and Others) in the Name of Literature.  Most of the twenty also write fiction, so don’t mistake this as an interview with narcissism; it’s valuable insight into the process as a whole.  And clearly, it is immune to Attention Deficit Disorder.  It might even stop bullets, who can say?  I think you should get a copy from your local book store for good measure, and good reads.