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.

Baby, mine

madiYour parents and your children.  Those are the people who will always believe in you and your ability to do it, whatever it may be.  Your parents and your children.  The difference, though, is that your parents know that you can do it.  Because they showed you how.  And it’s the right thing.  And they didn’t raise you not to do it.  But your children?  They know you will do it.  Because you’re mom.  And you have to.  And not doing it isn’t even an option.

For 21 years, this fiery bundle of creativity and love has built me into the woman I am, and I am so very proud of the woman she is.  Happy Birthday, Angel Princess.



Twenty-three: the number of echocardiograms, as of yesterday, my son has had since he was two years old.

Jack was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy two months after me, and seven years after his oldest sister.  We were all given the 33/33/33 prognosis; thirty-three percent get better, thirty-three percent stay the same, thirty-three percent get worse.  If fear and dread are any measure, one of those thirds has always been much, much heavier than the other two thirds combined.  And multiplied.  By thousands.  There are three of us, and three equally likely outcomes.  The wait and weight have been excruciating.

Madison’s heart size and dysfunction have remained as they were found almost nineteen years ago.  My own function has fluctuated, with the averaged result and current status being that I’m exactly where I was about a dozen years ago.  Stability is such a wonderful thing, except for when you are wishing for improvement. 

Still, I wasn’t  prepared for yesterday’s news from Jack’s cardiologist.  Jack has grown into his heart.  It is amazing to me that I forgot this was even one of the possibilities.  His physical restrictions have been lifted, except for weight lifting and tackling sports – which is totally ok with me (I am wholly anti-youth-football).  My son has always been and always will be extraordinary.  But now he gets to be normal.  We made the dreary drive home from Duke through drizzle and traffic, excitedly planning his spring tryouts.

Though that 33/33/33 statistic was true two decades ago, huge discoveries in the treatment of cardiomyopathy have been made.  While quality and quantity of life have both been improved, it’s still too soon to know what those new numbers are.  I think I kind of like it better this way, not mentally divvying up our futures.

I don’t care if Monday’s blue

Last night my two youngest kids did this annoying thing they sometimes do where they both outgrow all of their clothing while they sleep.  I promised I’d take them shopping right after school, but in my haste to send them out the door in short and snug pants I didn’t check that they had everything they needed.  Halfway to school my daughter announced she was going to need me to bring her gym bag later.

I got home and set out to clean the house from the weekend of birthday partying and Fakesgiving feasting.  I washed down the cabinets while the iRobots battled it out on the hardwoods.  While I was mopping, one of my slippery ribs, well, slipped.  It’s not dangerous but rates a solid, “ermph” on my vocalized pain scale; above an, “uh…” but well below a sound that you’d just have to hear because I can’t spell it.  It’s usually due to some randomly generated inflammation, so I took a couple of Aleve and called it a day as far as cleaning was concerned.

I left the house to grab a smoothie for lunch and dropped off the gym bag at school.  As of this writing, these are the only two tasks at which I have succeeded today.

I came home and inventoried the pantry and refrigerator, deciding I’d make meat loaf for dinner.  Except for a green pepper I had everything I needed, so I drove to Target because Starbucks.  It’s not my favorite coffee, but counting the one inside Target, I live in the greater tri-Starbucks area, so it is the most convenient.  One green pepper and a box of Good & Plenty later (It’s technically my wedding anniversary, and even though we don’t celebrate it until the day after Thanksgiving, I’m acknowledging it with his favorite candy, which I realized I had not given him in a really long time), I am standing in the checkout line dumping my finally-cool-enough-to-drink venti Christmas Blend all over the floor.  Because Monday.

I seriously cannot account for the rest of my afternoon.  Maybe I was abducted by aliens, but they beamed me back home after I fucked up some expensive space shit.  I don’t know; I really can’t remember.  But, I was home in time to drive carpool, so that’s what I did.  I arrived first and as I waited for the kids my sister-in-law texted to tell me that Kohl’s was having an online-only sale.  Thank.  The.  Lord.  If there’s anything I hate more than sticking my hand into a mystery hole at a Halloween carnival, it’s shopping.  Once we were home, I sat down with each child individually and filled our online cart with everything they’ll need to last them through another night’s sleep, then I proceeded to spend the next forty five minutes trying to check out because Kohl’s will neither recognize that I have an account, nor let me check out as a guest because I have an account.  They’re having a difficult day, too, and I should be more understanding.  But I’m not because I end up having to empty my cart, close my browsers, delete my cookies and re-select 27 items (in the correct colors and sizes).  But I still didn’t get my damn Rewards points.  And until every last item shows up on my door step, I’m not ready to declare this a triumph.

By this time, it’s 5:30 and I am ready to start that meat loaf I was going to make for dinner.  Except guess what?  What I thought was an onion in the fridge was actually a turnip.  Turnips couldn’t possibly be any good inside a meat loaf.  I call Mike and ask if he’s near home yet.  He is.  I ask him if he will pick up the onion I need.  After a pause, he says he will.  Then he asks how long the meat loaf will take.  I tell him an hour, at least.  His silence tells me he doesn’t want to wait that long to eat.  I forgot; he’s 50 now.  He’s an early bird.  Or, I suggest, he could pick up Chinese.  He thinks that’s a great idea, even after I tell him I’m still going to need that onion so we can have meat loaf tomorrow night.

Sarcastic asshole smiley faces.

We have a pleasant meal, though the beef and broccoli had a strange cinnamon-y taste I wasn’t expecting.  I give Mike the box of Good & Plenty and suddenly remember why I haven’t gotten him any in a really long time; black licorice causes him to have heart palpitations.  I guess on this, our third anniversary, my subconscious just wants his heart to skip a beat for me the way it used to. You know, back when he still ate licorice.

Between the cleaning, the shopping, the cooking – hell, even the coffee – I feel like I’ve failed at basic womaning today.  I’m going to go soak this Monday off with an oatmeal stout in a bubble bath.  If the aliens don’t drop toasters into the tub as retribution for whatever damage I caused up there in their UFO, tomorrow’s going to be much better.

Burnt Cake

He thought ‘Satan’s Food’ was too inflammatory, so he called it Demon Cake, instead.  Isn’t he cute?

I’d known Mike for two years already, but our courtship was in its infancy; he was still pretending to like spicy food and I was pretending I had the capacity to give a shit about corporate Christmas parties.

He’d asked if I had any interesting recipes for the dessert competition being held in his office, and I suggested my Satan’s Food Cake.  It’s a scratch-made chocolate cake that bites you back.  He told me the name wouldn’t fly; many of the co-workers hold bible study several mornings a week.  I told him to call it whatever he wanted, or just pick up a box of Krispy Kreme.  In hindsight, I probably wasn’t holding up my end of the pretending all that well.

He feigned some ignorance and I offered to help him with a test run on the evening before his birthday.  It went well, up until we burnt the cake because we were out in the driveway kissin’.  I still blush when he tells the story, mostly because he changes it a little bit every time, but depicts little old me as the aggressor.

In the six years since, we’ve stopped pretending a lot of things.  Next week we mark the third anniversary of when we stopped pretending we weren’t going to get married.  On most days, that one still blows our minds.

We won’t be burning a cake in celebration this year because he’s turning fifty this week, too.  There will be plenty of better, unburnt cake to be had.  If you’d like to not burn a cake along with us, I recommend the recipe below.


Satan’s Food Cake
1 ½ cups Swans Down cake flour
1 cup sugar
½ cup unsweetened cocoa
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon Mexican chili powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup cold water
¼ cup canola oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon Madagascar vanilla extract
Combine all ingredients with electric mixer until smooth.  Pour into a greased 8 inch round cake pan and bake at 350 degrees, until done (about 25-30 minutes).  Remove and cool on wire rack.
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
½ cup cocoa
3 tablespoons water
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 fists full of strawberries
When the cake has cooled, whisk together everything except the strawberries.  Pour the glaze over the cake, and use the strawberries for decoration.  They don’t have to look demonic, but it’s a nice touch.

Ticket to a Happy Marriage


I’d already snapped a photo and was putting my phone away when he said, “Oh God.  You aren’t going to have your phone out all the way across Europe, are you?”

Understand, we won’t actually be in Europe for another 5 months, and I’d just taken a quick picture of my pasta salad so I could try to recreate it later; pasta shells, feta, black pepper, shredded basil, and tomatoes.  No dressing.  Simple.  Delicious.

He exaggerated on, using his own phone as a prop, “Snap. I need to post this.  Snap.  I need to post this.”  God, he’s unattractive when he mocks.  I know he thinks the same about me.  I wait for him to finish.

“Yes.  My phone will be out all the way across Europe.  So will my giant camera, probably even across the Middle East, too.”  I add the last part because I know he does not think I should go to Israel.  He thinks I should not because he does not want to go himself.

“In fact I’ll probably do many things, nay, all the things that annoy you so maybe now is a good time to start planning your own itinerary.”

When I dreamed this trip, I’d had in mind that it would be solo; a detail that was supported by his vehement push against it because Rome in the middle of winter will be miserable and cold.  I’d explained that the end of March is not the middle of winter and the whole point of going was to be there for Easter.  I can’t very well expect the Pope to reschedule Easter for more agreeable weather.  It came as a surprise when he began saying the words, ‘we’ and ‘us’ when I discussed the trip.

Soon enough, I realized that getting to Rome could be much less expensive if I take the long way around – like I do.  As such, last week I booked our flights into London and out of Paris.  The outer walls of my odyssey are in place, with a nine day nebula in between, propped up by one pillar; I must be in Rome for Easter.  The time for extending the pilgrimage into Israel does exist.  We can use small, local airlines to maneuver us fairly inexpensively where we need to go around the region.  And having him with me in Paris, in the spring, won’t suck.

“God, why are you always so quick to tell me to go do my own thing?”  He rephrased that question twice more in rapid succession before I interrupted him to answer.

“As much as you don’t like the annoying things I do, I don’t like being reminded that I am annoying.  If you tell me how much you don’t like me taking pictures across Europe, I will still take pictures across Europe, but be very aware with every click that I am bothering you.  You will ruin an otherwise lovely experience.”

He defends himself, “My trip won’t be ruined by your taking pictures.”

But mine will be ruined by knowing it annoys him, and I’m not built for the force it would require to drive this dull point home.

A long time ago, Rilke sold me on this idea that each partner appoints the other to be the guardian of his solitude, and this month we celebrate the third anniversary of taking our vows to remain separate, but together.  We faithfully work to iron out the wrinkles in how such a union can actually work in practice.  But let me tell you this; it hasn’t been easy in matters of travel.

We will meet for lunch twenty times again, just as we did today, before we leave.  With a little luck and a lot of hard diplomacy, we’ll have it all figured out by then.  In the meanwhile, I need to brush up on my French, learn a little Italian, and maybe make some of that pasta salad.

Who Are You? (I really wanna know)

My parents are deceased.

Conveniently my mother left behind a sister with a nose for decoding public records and a binder full of her paternal genealogy entitled The Hampton Book, which traces that ancestry back to 16th century England.  I keep meaning to ask if such a detailed report exists for my grandmother’s Greer(e) heritage, but I get busy,  make excuses not to call,  and generally convince myself that the precious resource that is my Aunt Bonnie will always be there.

What I’ve been told
Just about one year ago I learned that I am Scottish via my Greer grandmother. Indulge me while I butcher some European history.

Once upon a long, long time ago there were some rowdy Highlanders by the name of McGregor.  They found themselves double crossed by the Campbells and lost all of their land and were outlawed.  Figuring the wicked King an idiot, they changed their name to Gregor.  The ruse was unsuccessful,  so they changed their name again – this time to Grier, or Greere, or Greer, or some variation.   It worked, they lived,  and somehow found themselves in rural Appalachia where, according to family lore, one of their descendants boldly and drunkenly rode, standing horseback, into an Indian camp and stole himself a bride.  The end.   But not really. 

Now that I’m aware of this burning Scottishness inside my soul,  I have vowed to keep the traditions of my people alive.  So far,  that means buying kilts for all of the family members and drinking scotch high up on a mountain once a year.   I’ve yet to learn of my other cultural obligations.

Unless you count my deep and sincere gratitude for small pox vaccinations, I never felt a close connection to my Native American roots. I’m not fond of casinos and I can’t get my hair to lay silky flat to save my life. I like to think I’d object to being stolen by a drunk-assed hillbilly, though.

About The Hampton Book – I learned from this that the first ancestral Hampton to make his way to North America was a wool merchant.  Given my fixation with most things fiber,  that’s pretty cool.  I suppose I’m honoring that heritage every day by knitting and spinning like a crazy woman.

But except where alcohol or sheep are involved, (said the Scot)  it’s the unknown that draws and holds my attention and imagination.

What I don’t know
I want to know my dad’s history, and that is proving to be elusive enough that I’m just about to declare myself a descendant of sasquatch. His impressively luxurious back hair only strengthens this growing suspicion.

My research in this direction has been, until recently, greatly hindered by having no point from which to start; I only had what I’ve come to accept is probably legend – which started unraveling when I began binge-watching every documentary about everything, ever on Netflix.

I first learned that his family could not possibly have come through Ellis Island when he said they did. I learned concentration camps were liberated long before his mother was said to have been freed. I learned that some of his more illustrious stories about his time served in Korea just don’t hold up on the conflict time line. I also learned that the United States has never lost a war in which mules were used. That’s not relevant to my story; I just want you to think about that a minute and what that might actually mean for the War on Drugs.

Anywho, that my father was a story-teller does not come as any surprise. But that his whole autobigraphical account could have been the working script for Tim Burton’s Big Fish? I’m gobsmacked.

Not so conveniently, he left behind a brother who was more interested in doling out cryptic, but tantalizing tidbits about my dad’s criminal and promiscuous past than directly answering any questions I had about our family history. But when that uncle passed away, he left a son who has so helpfully sent me pictures still stored in his family home: including a snapshot of the family Bible – a curious possession for a Jewish family, no?

The front of the Bible held names (but no locations or dates) going back several generations beyond my grandparents, as well as a unique spelling for my father’s first (known) daughter. I’ve been just as curious about who he begot as I have been about who did the begotting before him. New searches using the new spelling have so far turned up nothing.

What I do know
In March, curiosity got the best of me and I ordered my DNA test. While interested in where in the world I come from, I was also excited that I may be matched with other family members who’d taken the test.

My results yielded some surprises; the first being that my ethnicity estimates totalled more than 100%.

The greatest of my components is Great Britain at 42%. Ireland/Scottland came in at 25%. I’m a respectable 14% Scandanavian and 9% Iberian Peninsulian. I am 3% Eastern European. At 2% each, I am equal parts Western European, Middle Eastern, and Nigerian. I am only 1% each Italian/Greek and European Jew.

What next stood out the most to me is what I am not.

I am 0% descended from Eastern Asia. That makes sense since I’m not Chinese anymore (another day, another story). But I’m also 0% Native American. I don’t know who Pappy McGregor kidnapped, but she wasn’t one of my foremothers.

While surprised by the low, low percentages of Nigerian, Middle Eastern, and European Jewish blood, I initially assumed it was paternal. That’s one really frustrating aspect of DNA testing; while it tests both sides, the results are not differentiated. Still, the lineage at least matched my father’s stories even if the abundance did not.

But not so fast. My hope of being connected to a long-lost relative was realized almost immediately when I was contacted by a Mr. Fred Moretz.

Fred, he says, had ancestors who came up out of North Africa, traveled to the Middle East, then into Eastern Europe, settling in Czechoslavakia before eventually resettling in Todd, NC.

Dad, while claiming to be an immigrant, grew up in Kentucky. However, you could throw a cow pie from my mom’s birthplace of Aho, NC (yes, that’s a real place) into downtown Todd, NC. It would seem that all of my DNA of color, if you will, is accounted for right there on my mama’s side.

I speculated to my Aunt Bonnie that this supposed Indian in our family lore might have had darker skin for another reason entirely. Aunt Bonnie, being of a certain generation, categorically denies this possibility. She does admit it’s strange nobody ever specified what kind of Indian she was and concedes such an incident would surely have started a war significant enough to have been mentioned in local court records. How ’bout that.

That’s entertaining and all, but I still don’t know where I come from – or more precisely where my father came from. But see, here’s the thing: I knew my dad, or at least the last, most recent iteration of him, my entire life. My parents were married from anywhere between 1973 and 1975 (again with the fuzzyness!) and remained so until my father died in 2007. And despite any number of possible other reasons why this might be so, I still think not knowing his history is why, at 40 years old, I still feel I don’t fully know who I am. I think it’s probably safe to say that I’m not the Jew I’ve always thought I was.

I’m in no danger of running off with a band of gypsies (whom ethnic testing suggests could be my kin) or joining a cult to find myself, but I am on a quest.

So now what?
I’ve been spending the last couple of weeks sitting at home with very little else to do besides seek wise answers from the oracle that is Facebook Quizzes. In the absence of reliable oral history or discernable DNA test results, whaddaya gonna do? Despite learning what TV mom I am, what gem I am, what country I am, what movie star I am, what dog breed I am, and what my theme songs from the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s are (Carol Brady, Diamond, Italy, Bette Davis, Chihuahua, Good Vibrations, Bohemian Rhapsody, Born in the USA, and Only Wanna Be With You), I somehow don’t feel any closer to unraveling the mystery. Got any better ideas?

Find the guru atop the mountain
A few years before Mr.Me and I were married I tossed him this wonder of mine: “Bill Anders said we had to go to the moon to discover earth. How far do we have to go to discover ourselves?”

For several moments he was silent. Finally, and without looking up from his book, he replied, “To the top of a very tall mountain.”

“You mean to ask the guru?”

Another few moments of silence before, “No. They have full length mirrors up there.”

He thought he was putting an end to my interruptions, and he was right, temporarily. But he might also have been onto something.

Last year I returned to my homeville to attend my first ever Grandfather Mountain Highland Games. On the second afternoon of camping my cousin invited us to climb to the peak to watch the sunset. There was, actually, a guru already there and waiting for us when we arrived. He looked confused when I asked him who I was. He looked even more confused when I coincidentally ran into him again in a lowlands pub 200 miles and 7 months later and excitedly pointed and exclaimed, “That’s the guru!”

But that night, way above our camp, I found a beauty I’d never seen there before and I doubt exists any other time of year. My cousin and his buddy began to play their pipes and the sun fell behind the mountain. I’ve never felt so at home in my life.

This year I’m giving all 101% of me ten whole days of self discovery back on the same mountain. If that’s not enough to make up for 40 years of wandering through the desert, or even if it is, I know I can never not return.