What Mom Taught Me: a Mother’s Day post

My mom taught me heaps. A few years ago, I published a piece on Thought Catalog called “Things My Mother Couldn’t Teach Me.” It’s a bit of a downer, and super full of mid-20’s angst (I wrote it post break up, whilst full of feelings and whiskey). I came across it this year when Mogul.com re-published it. I winced the entire time I read it. Ohhh, to be 27 and full of agony again.  Continue reading “What Mom Taught Me: a Mother’s Day post”

Christmas!

Ah, Christmas. I love this time of year. I’m even accepting that it’s a summer holiday now, and somehow it’s just never going to snow and I won’t get to wear sweaters. And I’m like, almost ok with this. Continue reading “Christmas!”

Tree party

On Thursday, Joel and I had our traditional Tree Party, officially kicking off Christmas 2016.

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Tree Party started when Joel was visiting me in the States in 2013, and we’ve had a version of it every year since. It’s basically us and some tasty beverages putting the tree together while eating Pigs in Blankets and watching a movie. It’s fun, it’s adorable, and I’m not even ashamed to admit that this year I started to get excited for it in September.

This year, I found a tall-ish fake tree for $12, tree lights for $8, and jewel toned baubles for $10. I think it’s the most Christmassy our tree has ever looked, and I’m really jazzed for it.

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The enthusiastic tree prepper
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Mini Frankenfurters in Blankets – yes, I had “You’re a hot dog/But you better not try to hurt her, Frank-fur-ter” stuck in my head the entire time I was rolling these guys up
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Stringing the lights
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YAY ORNAMENTS!

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I’m a little obsessed with it. I’ve been tinkering with ornament placement since Thursday, but every day I look at it and it makes me smile. I’m happy I went with multi-coloured baubles instead of red and green. It’s definitely making me think “Fun Summer” Christmas, not “holy fuck it’s hot and why isn’t it snowing” Christmas, which is awesome.

I keep hearing from my friends who have toddlers that parents only have a handful of magical Christmas seasons with their kids. At first I thought it was a bit bullshit- Christmas is awesome no matter how old you are. I always looked forward to Christmas, because it was the one of the few times my family were together laughing, eating, watching movies and having a good time – amidst the occasional drama flair up from visiting family members or my over-worked parents. With the exception of Christmas 2001 when the whole year was kinda shit and my dad was overseas for Christmas and each of us were going through some form of depression so we just said “no fucks given” and left the tree in the garage and decorated a $5 fern plant with household nicknacks on Christmas Eve (which sounds really sad, but it ended up being a fun time and thinking about it always makes me happy), my parents always made a big, big effort to make Christmas a big, big deal. We always had a huge tree with all the trimmings, presents, a giant breakfast, and lots of hang times. So the season has always been magical and happy for me.

But then I thought a bit more, and I realised that I can’t remember the last time decorating the tree as a family was a thing. And that bums me out a little. I always loved that my parents decorated for the holidays, but I never invested in the experience. And at some point I stopped participating. I mean, I helped my dad a few times by handing him tools when he hang the lights outside, but mostly I just reaped the coziness that came from their efforts.

So maybe you do only get a brief time where the magic is real and your kids want to be a part of it all – when decorating the tree is serious bizness, when waking up to open your advent calendar, or in my case – move the candy cane from the snowman calendar to the tree, when hunting for hidden presents is a top priority, and leaving treats for Santa is non-negotiable. But it seems to come back in full force when they start their own families, and their own little traditions.

And that’s kinda nice.

Ellie

It’s been a tough week for my family back home. A tough week that’s resulted in the loss of our dog, Ellie. My parents brought home Ellie and her sister Lucy from off the side of a road puppy sale in Ohio in 2008, and they have been filling our lives with sloppy kisses, smelly faces, bellowing barks, sincere commitment to resist potty training, greasy coats, disgusting moments (why do dogs eat their own vom?), and general hilarity ever since.

Ellie was the sweetest dog. Her tail wagged a million miles an hour, and she never met a person she didn’t immediately love. She adored to be brushed, petted, and fussed over. She was silky and slinky and the glamorous counterpart to Lucy, who was always scruffy and smelly and slobbery no matter how many wipe downs she got. She went into season way sooner than our vet or we thought she would, and she had to wear a diaper. She would wrangle and put up a fight until my mom put a pair of my niece’s girly underpants over it, and just for the fun of it – a dog sweater. After that, Ellie had no problem wearing the diaper. A girl has to have an outfit, you know. She always sat on the couch like a person – leaning on the arm – when she wasn’t stacked directly on top of Lucy.

 

She and Lucy were two peas in a pod who probably hadn’t spent more than one weekend apart since they were born. It breaks my heart that we lost this sweet pup, and it really breaks my heart to think of neurotic Lucy going it all alone.

It’s a cruel fact of life that our animals fill our hearts and lives, and for all too briefly. We can’t ask them what’s wrong, or what we can do to help. We have to make the hard decisions to ease their pain, we hold their heads as we say goodbye. And it never gets easier, no matter how old you are. My heart breaks all over the place, for Ellie, for my family, and for my Lucy.

xo, sweet pal.

Good Gravy, episode 1

I love my parents – they’re hilarious and adorable and they’re best friends and huge nerds, and they compliment each other in a million different ways. But my favourite yin/yang quality of theirs has to do with my favourite breakfast: biscuits* and gravy.

My mom is the cook in the family. She reads cookbooks for fun, re-creates recipes after eating a dish at a restaurant, and has a vault of self-learnt recipes that impossibly blends complete trash food and gourmet dining. With the exception of something we now call “Corn Loaf”, a corn and cheese side dish that was supposed to be a fluffy Mexican corn dish that somehow went wrong and solidified mass of corn and goo that we could almost cut in slices, I can’t remember a single dish my mom has made that I haven’t liked. No one makes a grilled cheese sandwich or a plate of scrambled eggs like my mom. And I’ve tried for years to replicate my all time famous dish of hers, Baked Chili Spaghetti, to no avail. I’ve been asking for about ever for her to write these recipes for me, but I always get the same answer – “I’m not sure – I just make it. Just take X and X and X and go with it!” She’s a jerk.

My dad, on the other hand, passed his cooking skills down to me. We both need detailed instructions and tools. But we both looooove to eat. So it all balances out.

One of the biggest things I miss about living with my parents is the food. Particularly the big Sunday or holiday breakfasts. “Breakfast Skillets,” which are individual skillets layered with a fried egg, hash browns, sausage gravy, and topped with cheese and crumbled bacon. French toast fried perfectly with crispy edges and a soft center and topped with maple syrup and powdered sugar; Bacon and egg fried rice; but the best of it all is biscuits and sausage gravy.

Mom makes a helluva good gravy. I’ve never actually seen her make it – it just always appeared at the same time as the scrambled eggs did – both hot and ready to eat, with only one pan being used. It’s a mystery to me. For all the cooking talent my mom has, she can’t form a biscuit to save her life. They come out lumpy, malformed, a bit like a gargoyle fist – if that gargoyle fist was slammed in a door a few times. They break when you touch them and they’re pretty dense.

That’s where my dad comes in – his gravy may taste floury or be too watery, but his biscuits are always geometrically perfect with flat golden tops, and have the most perfect smooth and fluffy texture. I remember watching him make the dough, flouring the counter top, rolling the dough with a rolling pin, and using the same cup he always used to stamp out the biscuits. It’s the only cooking ritual I remember my dad having in the kitchen – besides the giant bowl he used to eat cereal.

With my parent’s powers combined, they make one awesome sauce breakfast. And it’s just one of those little anecdotes about their relationship that I think is too adorable.

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I was looking through our fridge this morning and noticed our bacon was about to go off, and I immediately thought about making gravy with it. Even though I never made bacon before. So I called the Breakfast Masters for a crash course in Gravy 101 – what kind of spices to use, what kind of utensils, and basically the most important aspect of gravy – which is continuous whisking.

Now, this is for bacon gravy, which isn’t as good as sausage gravy – (which I’m attempting next week), so this is an abbreviated method (mostly so I won’t forget when I try again next week)

Step 1: Fry lots of bacon. Sing the bacon some sweet songs to encourage all the grease to collect in the pan (you only have to do this in Australia, where the bacon isn’t NEARLY as greasy as it is the US)

Step 2: Once bacon is at desired doneness (extra crispy for me, please – I want that shit to shatter in melty bacony goodness), remove from pan and wrap in aluminium foil to keep warm.

Step 3: On medium heat, melt some butter (see above note about Bacon not being greasy enough)

Step 4: Sprinkle a couple table spoons of flour over the butter and whisk that up with either a whisk, a wooden spoon, or the bottom of a flat rubber spatula – whatever won’t scratch up the pan

Step 5: Whisking constantly, cook the flour and butter for a few minutes until it’s really clumpy. If you don’t cook it long enough the flour will taste raw.

Step 6: Add milk – I eyeballed it by adding 1/2 cup at at time. And whisk whisk whisk.

Step 7: Season with salt, pepper, whatever else you’d like. I threw in some cajun seasoning.

You can add more milk if it’s too thick, more flour if it’s too watery

I served mine over toast with the fried bacon. And it tasted just as good as my mom’s, which made me feel like a double champ – 1) because I tried something new and it wasn’t a disaster, and 2) because it was delish. It felt like a taste from home.

But I also feel like a world of heart clogging, thigh jiggling, gravy topped food opportunities have opened up for me – and that’s hella exciting.

Tune in next week for episode 2! We’ll see if my biscuit game is on point.

 

*I should clarify for my non-Americans that I mean scones – biscuits in the States are the equivalent of scones in Australia. The first time I mentioned biscuits and gravy at work I was met with some grossed out and confused looks.

“Like… biscuits? Covered in gravy?”
“Yeah, it’s SO good.”
“um, ok.”

 

My Favourite Flannel – a mom story

For Mother’s Day in 2012, my sister Mary and I took our mom to Art and Soul restaurant in Washington, DC for brunch. As we were eating, we noticed a very wealthy looking table near us with about six people sitting at it. Lots of Coach and Michael Kohrs bags aside – it just seemed like one of those tables filled with people who have money. Including a completely bored, sullen, “don’t wanna be here” girls about my age –  completely under dressed in shorts, a tank top and a plaid flannel shirt.

She looked miserable the entire time she ate, but her flannel. I loved her flannel. I mean, I fall in love with random clothes worn by strangers all the time, because I’ve been obsessed with clothes since I was a kid and learned how to dress myself. But this shirt looked so cool. And so comfortable. It wasn’t like the big man flannel that I wore when I was a no-good-angst-ridden 13 year old. It was fitted, looked really soft, and the pattern was reversible – tartan-ish on one side with a royal blue base and green and red stripes, and a red and royal blue check on the other side so when the sleeves rolled up, there was a brilliant contrast.

I’ll admit, I stared at the flannel throughout most of the brunch, wondering where she got it, and where I could get it from, what outfits I’d wear it with, how it’d be the best thing to wear during the summer because it’s light, but soft and warm and how it’d ball up easily in my purse without being too bulky. It was literally like staring at a puppy in the pet shop window, but you can’t find anyone who works there and therefore you can’t reach into the cage and get the puppy because if you do the person wearing the shirt would be like HEY GET OFF MY SHIRT.

Yeah.

So half way through our meal, I noticed Miserable Girl take off the flannel, and drape it across the back of her chair. I thought to myself, oh man I hope she leaves it. And moments later, when the shirt fell off, and wedged itself between herself and the seat of her chair, and she paid NO attention to it, I thought ohhhhhh she might really forget it! I mentioned the shirt to my mom and my sister, who weren’t at all surprised that I was obsessing over a stranger’s shirt. Fuelled by a few brunch mimosas, we all became fixated with whether or not she’d leave the shirt. Or maybe it was just me. I might have had a few more mimosas than them. And then, their check came.

The check came, and it sat there. The group just lingered over their coffees. One of the older people at the table finally slipped an American Express in the sleeve. Miserable girl still looked miserable. Still made no effort to collect her shirt. The waiter came by to pick up the sleeve. The family sat and lingered some more. The girl continued to not give a shit about her shirt. It was driving me crazy. Would she remember? Would she leave it? THE SUSPENSE.

AND THEN – it happened. The family started to gather their things. They pushed out their chairs and got up from the table. Miserable Girl followed suit. And then she left. Without her flannel. I was beaming inside. We all high-fived. I was figuring out how to casually slip over to the table to grab the shirt when the bus boys got to the there and started clearing it off. A new suspense – will the bus boys see the flannel?? I waited in horror. And to my dismay, a bus boy grabbed the shirt and took it up to the hostess, who put it in her stand, and out of my reach. Damn.

We made jokes that it was probably a cursed shirt anyway – who’s rich enough to just forget a flannel shirt that you inappropriately wore to a 5-star restaurant? I tried to put it out of my mind, but I still kept an eye out to see if Miserable Girl would come back.

But she never did, and even I knew it was too much – even for my impulsive hobo instincts – to wait for the hostesses to walk away and give me the opportunity to steal the shirt. I didn’t think I could pretend with the hostess that the shirt was mine because I was wearing a Sunday dress and a cardigan like a good southern girl. So it was a loss. We had had a great meal and an amazing time at brunch, so not getting the shirt wasn’t the end of the world. But it was still a bummer.

We paid for our meal and started toward the car, and my mom told us she’d meet us at the car since she had to use the bathroom first. When mom got back to the car, she pulled something out of her purse – IT WAS THE FLANNEL! “I walked past the hostess stand and asked her if anyone had turned in a flannel shirt, because my daughter left it behind.”

Best Mom Ever.

The flannel was everything I wanted it to be and more – it was soft, and the colours were amazing. Even better, it was a perfect fit- right down to the sleeves being long enough for my Amazon Arms. And it did indeed look great with shorts and it also did fold up perfectly in my purse without too much bulk. I didn’t even care that it was Hollister (I really, really don’t like that brand. Or Abercrombie & Fitch. I think it has residue from all the mean kids who wore it exclusively in high school. Those clothes and Adidas Moves cologne.)

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I was so happy and frankly – absolutely surprised that my good Christian mom pulled something like that. I was floored. I’ve worn the shirt a million times since then, even when I gained weight the shirt shrank and I couldn’t button it comfortably anymore. It’s one of my favourites, and every time I see it I think of how awesome my mom is.

I think there are two kinds of moms – the moms that nag you to not forget your stuff in public, and the moms that will lie to a hostess to get you the shirt you want. I’m glad I have the latter.

xox

Weekend!

This weekend went by in a blink.

First, Friday night was filled with making about 100 sub-par cookies, catching up on True Detective and decompressing Joel from a hard day at work. Then, we were in bed by like, 9:05 PM because we’re completely out of control (and I had to be awake at 5 AM to call and check on my finger prints). I tried to go to sleep but ended up staying awake til 2 AM falling down a Google hole that started with researching day planners and ended with facts about Princess Diana. Like I said, out of control.

On Saturday morning, Joel and I were at the post office at 9:30 AM sharp to collect the boxes of presents that my parents sent us. To be clear on how awesome my parents are, sometime in May, I asked my mom if she could send me my leather jacket and my favorite pair of boots. A couple weeks later, I watched heaps of Downton Abbey and I asked if I could have one of her silver trays for when Joel and I have tea. Annnnd I might have asked for Swiss Miss and some Lipton Iced Tea bags and some yankee candles. All of that could have fit in a small box, and I would have been really excited. BUT, they decided to spoil the shit out of us instead. Because they’re wonderful. Also, because they’d been saving stuff to send me since… Easter? (judging by the Reester Eggs and Easter candy). They’re awesome.

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The post office staff thinks we have triplets.
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Counter top 1 of 2: After obsessively sorting everything into categories… lotions and cupcake cups and lobster rammekens and dino sippy cups and clothes and towels and candy and aprons and wall decals and and and and…
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so many snacks. And even microwave bacon! haha. It’s been over a year since I’d had flavored coffee creamer. I had a cup with hazelnut and it was delicious and my stomach promptly exploded from all the sugar. And I remembered why I stopped putting them in my coffee.  Ah, memories.
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blog and you shall receive! My mom’s best friend sent me socks (and made sure my boxes made it to the post office!)
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Someone has never had Girl Scout cookies before. Someone is in for a treat.
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I was wondering why they stuffed a Mr. Bill doll into the box. But, as my mom explained, our dogs Lucy and Ellie and my cat Bill Purray all played with this guy. And it’s to remind me of my fur babies and be my “Bill until you can see your Bill again.” awww
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Say hello to my new favorite apron. And my super sweet hair. What even is that?

Some of the big gems they sent:

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these fantastic day of the week towels. Mom’s friend did all the embroidery and edging, and they’re so campy and amazing.
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yay! now we can be super high class when we drink pink milk and eat cookies.
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Some of my favorite antique linen! On the left: vanity runners, and sailor place mats, and on the right: Mexican pillow cases. So good.

It was overwhelming to open everything and to feel all the feels. And it’s also nice to look at the silver tray and think of my mom. Thanks again!!

Later on Saturday, we got to spend quality time with the Family Nye, which is Joel’s friend Craig, his wife, Jen, and their little ones Henri and Amelie. Craig and Jen are hilarious and chill, and their kids are so cute they made my ovaries explode.

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Little Henri is becoming quite the photographer. He spent the whole afternoon teaching me how to turn the camera on and off, how to turn the flash off, and how to review his photos. I was dying from cute.

We saw a good exhibit on the banality of suburban life at the Museum of Contemporary Art:

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haha, CAUGHT YOU BY SURPRISE
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the cover of our spoken word album.
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meee tooo

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And then we ate delicious burgers and Henri and I shared secrets about how we like to eat snacks when everyone’s asleep. He’s my new best friend.

It was a big, full, day, and OH I FORGOT THE BEST PART – before we met up with the Nyes, I relived some Oktoberfest action with Joel:

mmm German sausage, grilled onion, sauerkraut action
mmm German sausage, grilled onion, sauerkraut action

I got half the mustard and bbq sauce on me, instead of in me, but it was worth it.

Sunday morning, Joel went back to work, and I had a little writing assignment. Then I was super domestic, cleaning house, doing laundry, going grocery shopping. And then I passed a display of hair dye on sale, and was very suddenly sick of looking at my mousey brown hair with all my greys coming through.

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I’d been contemplating never dying it again, instead wanting to just take the large chunk of grey that I have (it’s totally a Rouge streak) and making it into one completely bleached out stripe so you couldn’t see the grey/white roots. But that takes time and money that I don’t have. Going red took an hour total, cost $8, I didn’t have to get dressed, and I couldn’t be happier with the results. It’s been YEARS since I’ve gone full red, and I’m wondering why I ever stopped.

IMG_4605 I probably stopped because by this time next week, it’ll be 3 shades lighter. Womp womp. But, on the achievement side of things, it was the first time dying my hair without dying every surface in the bathroom.

I also bought flowers, because Joel had mentioned wanting to shoot tulips, and while tulips don’t do much for me, these were pretty and I thought they’d make a nice prezzie for him.

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I read a tip online that said 1 teaspoon sugar + 2 drops liquid bleach diluted in a gallon of water makes good plant food. That sounds terrible to me.

Before I knew it, Joel was home, dinner was made, lunch meal was made, and then it was time for bed. I was back to work this morning feeling like I’d just left.

But this weekend is a three day weekend. And it’s my birthday soon. And we’re going to eat burgers. And we’re going on a bush walk. And maybe we’ll make some punch drunk chicken. And maybe some cake. Or doughnuts. I’d settle for a plate of stacked glazed donuts with some birthday candles stuck in them. mmmm.

mmmm,

Father’s Day

Father’s day isn’t for another few months here, but it’s already happening in the States. And since my dad is there and not here, I’ll go ahead and do my Father’s Day post early. Not that I need a holiday to celebrate the most righteous dude in my life.

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My dad. Big Larry. LT. Pop Pop.

My dad is a relic of the good ol’ days of America. He was born and raised in the mid-west by a concert pianist and a civil agricultural engineer, and learned to live modestly, value education, love music, and to always work hard and sacrifice when necessary. In another life, my dad would have been a sheep farmer, driving a tractor on his land and wearing overalls, or a college professor with suede patches on his elbows and a thermos full of black coffee. But he ended up being a major in the US Army, working with the Inspector General, Department of Homeland Security, and a bunch of other top secret world traveling “You Don’t Have Top Secret Clearance So You Can’t Know About It” stuff.

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He’s the quintessential “dad.” He always knows the answer to any question I have, and any sub question after that. In fact, some of my best memories with my dad are the long drives back and forth from the barn when I was little, listening to his lectures as I asked questions. He can fix any broken toy, grow any plant, make any piece of furniture, fix almost any faulty car part, and pre-GPS days, could always pin point my whereabouts and get me where I needed to be as I wailed in anger through my cell phone. He’d always fall for the “But mom said it was ok!” line. He’s the first person anyone asks when they need help with something. He has like, 6 Master’s Degrees. He has always driven with a coffee cup (not a travel cup) filled with steaming hot coffee and has never spilled — even when driving stick shift and reversing. He can load a moving truck like it’s Tetris, and with almost no training, he’s become a professional landscaper.

When I’m on my game, my dad and I make a good team: we’re both hyper-focused, highly creative, and super dedicated, which came in handy since he was always very good at indulging whatever ridiculous building project I had in mind. I always try to apply the “measure twice cut once” rule he taught me, but let’s be real: I got all the impulsiveness that was bred out of him through generations of patient farm work. But I think my initial “Hey–I can make that!” home project ideas comes from his engineer genes. Unfortuantely, we’re also both absent minded professors and are ridiculously clumsy. We are king and queen of losing things we’ve just put down 5 minutes ago, accidentally washing a load of laundry without soap, or tripping over air and knocking our heads into things (although I blame that on us being so freaking tall that gravity confuses us).

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I never realized how much my dad sacrificed for us until I read his promotion orders when he finally made major. I read that he had been up for many jobs that would have gotten him promoted sooner, but he declined the positions because it would have meant moving, and that would have meant pulling Josh from his orthodontics program, and all of us out of school. My parents knew how hard it was on Shayne to move and start at a different high school, so they wanted to avoid it with us. As a result, my dad took different jobs in order to stay on the same military base for nearly 10 years so us kids could finish school. And my dad got overlooked for major as a result. But he did it for us. I can’t think of any other military dad who would have taken path.

My dad is amazing. He’s selfless, encouraging, loving, and fiercely loyal. He’s given me such a profound example of fatherhood, just by being there. And my heart swells when I think of how proud I am of him and how much I love him.

And seriously, no one has ever rocked a pair of overalls in Washington DC quite like my Oklahoma born dad:

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Thank you, dad, for always being there. Thank you for giving me an example of what a father should be. Thank you for helping me with my bags every time I’ve moved. Thank you for valiant attempts at teaching me math. Thank you for making me drive in rush hour traffic on I-395 when I’d only had my driver’s permit for 24 hours. And thank you for overlooking how many seasons of 16 & Pregnant I’ve bought on your Amazon Prime.

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Here’s to many more years of Billy Boogie Worrell!

Love you! Mean it! xoxo

Nirvana 

Early summer of 1994.

My family had just moved to Maryland, from Texas, the last stop on my dad’s glamorous military tour. Some kids got to go to Turkey and Hawaii and Japan. We got to go to Louisiana and Oklahoma and Texas. And finally the dead military base suburbs between Baltimore and Washington DC.

At some point during that move, we stopped and visited with my dad’s parents in Lexington, KY. We must have spent a week or so there. I was 9, and all I remember is my sister Mary, my brother Josh and I got to spend heaps of time with our cousins Ashley and Justin, who were about 3 or 4 years older than me and sooooo cool! 

I have this distinct memory of when we pulled out of my grandparent’s neighbourhood. Josh was sitting in the back seat of our VW van, packed to the gills with 5 people, their things, yard sale finds, snacks, activities, and two sweaty, shedding beagles. He reached up and handed mom a cassette to play. He said “Justin gave this to me. It’s Nirvana and it’s really cool.” They played it, and I remember my dad hating it. My dad wasn’t a fan of modern music, just the blues–or at least that was all I could figure out, being an idiot 9 year old. After a few songs, Josh took the tape back and listened to it in his Walkman. I probably went back to reading Calvin and Hobbes or trying to draw or something. Basically, Nirvana’s Nevermind didn’t stop me in my tracks. I’m pretty sure there was an Ace of Base tape in my Walkman–this is the level of 9 year old idiocy we’re talking here. I liked it, because Josh liked it and I was determined to like everything he liked, but it didn’t touch me deeply.

Josh, on the other hand. He loved it. He must have listened to that tape until it wore out. And then he bought all their other albums.

Up until that summer, Josh was a 12 year old. A funny little punk who wore his cap backwards and who was whip smart and beloved by animals and literally good at anything he tried. He got into typical 12 year old boy trouble–fire crackers, matches, bike accidents, boys will be boys. But I look back at that summer as his turning point.

Mary, Josh, and Me, 1994, pre-Nirvana (also, Mary is wearing a flowered tunic over skinny jeans. She was way ahead of her time.)
Mary, Josh, and Me, 1994, pre-Nirvana (also, Mary is wearing a flowered tunic over skinny jeans. She was way ahead of her time.)

Josh was funny. He was cute. He was smart. But, he was short. He was shorter than me, and shorter than most of the kids in his class. And he was teased about it. And if you’re teased about one thing in middle school, you’re teased about everything. I think he had always been teased, but countered it with pulling pranks, making jokes, getting into trouble. He developed a chip on his shoulder, and he used it to defend himself and buldoze through people.

That summer, though, seemed to change things. He became obsessed with Nirvana. He and I would listen to their tapes and Josh would regale me with Kurt facts. “He was really stoned on heroin when they recorded this.” “He spelt his name Kurdt to make his parents mad.” He stopped listening to classical music, and stopped dressing like a little boy and started to refer to people as “posers.” I was terrified of becoming one, of being uncool.

Over the next year, Josh got a new, sketchy group of friends. He quit playing in the school band. He ditched his baseball cap and grew his hair out. He stayed in his room all the time. He started to become a moody teenager.

I don’t blame Nirvana for turning Josh into a moody, shitty teenager. And I don’t blame Nirvana for my brother’s increasingly poor decisions over the next few years. That can be blamed on a drunk relative, the next summer, filling Josh’s head with stories that my parents lied and betrayed him because they didn’t love him. Nirvana just happened to Josh at that perfect moment in puberty when rock stars suddenly become the only people who understand you. If it wasn’t Nirvana, it would have been another band. Josh just found one that looked like him and felt the same way he did.

Josh and me, 2002, 8 years post Nirvana
Josh and me, 2002, 8 years post Nirvana

Josh didn’t do heroin or marry a big lipped blonde woman junky, but he made a hard road for himself, and during his teenage years, his relationships with us were strained. And it was really hard on everyone. But in listening to Nirvana, we seemed to find a common ground. There were Nirvana albums all over the house. Mom said “All Apologies” was one of her favorite songs. Even dad gave in, and I heard him hum along to “Heart Shaped Box” once. Unplugged in New York became a staple on road trips and house cleaning days. Nirvana feels like our family band, someone that we all like and sing along to. Even at times when it felt like Josh would disappear and we would never find him again. And it was nice to have those moments of respite, to get a glimpse that maybe family life wouldn’t be fucked forever.

As I sit here, watching Kurt Cobain Montage of Heck, I’m actually tearing up. And it’s not because I’m a diehard Nirvana fan. I like the music, but I don’t connect with the lyrics–to this day they still sound like gibberish to me and I have no idea what they mean–and I don’t know consider Kurt Cobain to be a genius and mourn his death. I love Nirvana because I can’t hear Kurt Cobain’s voice or wear a flannel button down without thinking of those really happy moments in a sad time. As a family, we’ve all grown up and have mostly moved beyond the hard parts. But those hard parts leave a residue. And I’m happy that I can see little glimpses of good stuff throughout it.

Even if the good parts are a little grundgey.

Josh today, 21 years post Nirvana
Josh today, 21 years post Nirvana