The Wearin’ O The Green: An essay from the archives

If I ever needed an excuse to write about being Irish, St. Patrick’s Day is it. I wrote this in 2008 while working at the Arboretum. Consider this an early St. Patrick’s day gift to my mother.

It is St. Patrick’s Day, and even though the Arboretum is currently under a blanket of white snow, today we celebrate all things green.  This is the day the 25% of me that is Irish (mostly manifested in freckles and Conan O’Brien-ish pallor) overwhelms the other 75% of me.  Today, I make Irish soda bread, tell everyone just how many Patricks are in my ancestry, and remember the time I kissed the Blarney Stone and earned the gift of eloquence (can’t you tell?).

Whether you are lucky enough to be Irish or not, today is the day to wear green.  I have my green sweater, but I also have my brown Arboretum t-shirt: today, I’m giving a shout-out to two different types of green.  I get to be Irish every day, but I have to work at being “green.”  I’m incredibly imperfect at it, but it’s important to keep trying.  By wearing this slightly-mismatched t-shirt/cardigan combo, I’m honoring my past and what I hope to be my future.  And you thought I just got dressed in the dark.

Besides dressing the part, St. Patrick’s Day also gives me a chance to connect with my heritage through traditions.  Every year, I bake Irish soda bread.  It connects me to my ancestors, until I overwhelm the recipe with sugar and basically turn bread into candy.  I’m not much of a chef, and I have a sweet tooth – which is why I find maple syrup season to be the most exciting time I’ve spent at the Arboretum.

For a few more hours, everyone who wants to be Irish gets to be.  Tomorrow the rest of the world will put away its green, but I’ll still be a little bit Irish (and probably a little bit sick from all the sugary bread) – and that makes me feel just a little bit lucky.

PS: More tomorrow!

Best Things of the Week!

Today started with a trip to the dentist and concluded with a visit to the eye doctor because apparently it’s Rachel Maintenance Day.  There’s just about nothing I hate more than going to the dentist, except possibly someone poking me in the eye while talking about my “unusually large optic nerves.”  So let’s bring on some Best Things, I need cheering up.

1. Back to the basics: Dinner, Movie, Shoes

My Favorite Guy: Ginger Division took me out for a date with the mall on Thursday.  We enjoyed 1/2 price bottle of wine night and then went shoe shopping, which is the preferred order of things.  Then we went to see Contagion.

Contagion Poster

A.K.A. that movie where Gwyneth dies horribly and immediately. Fun for the whole family!

We didn’t love it: me, because I’m not really a fan of end-of-times movies that are in any way realistic (throw a Terminator in the mix, though, and I’m there). Him, because it doesn’t really have an ending.

Part of the movie takes place in Minneapolis, which was jarring.  Not so much because having the end of the world start in my backyard is scary, but because it was Movie Minnesota, which is: suburban Illinois with a thin, even layer of snow on it.  I found this…distracting, and it made me glad more movies aren’t based in Minnesota.

After all, this is the only movie we need to represent us accurately:


I went to my first ever Ren Fest on Saturday!  I rode an elephant in a circle; I went to a Guinness tasting (I enjoy my Irish roots very much); I posed for a courtly photograph and looked ridiculous; and I paid an old Irish man a dollar to play “Ashoken Farewell” on the violin.  That was probably the highlight for me, though it made me a little weepy.

You’d think riding an elephant would be the highlight, wouldn’t you?  No, later Manolo gave me a piggy back ride across the parking lot, and she moves a lot faster than elephants and I do not have concerns about whether or not she is treated humanely.  So that was the other highlight.

There was then an unfortunate run-in between a head (mine) and an elbow (not mine) that wasn’t fun, but didn’t leave any lasting damage.  If the elbow reads this blog, the elbow should understand that all is well.  And I think it might have been my fault, anyway.

3. Love is in the Arb

Yesterday, I went back to the Arboretum for an event called Collegeville Colors.  I visited with my old Arb pals and wound up taking a walk with two environmental education enthusiasts.  You would think I’d be able to identify trees after working at an Arboretum for a year, but I really can’t.  Correction: I can identify when something IS a tree.  But beyond that I’m kind of lost.

Well!  Three years and one personalized walking tour later, I can now almost definitely tell you if the leaf you are holding is from a Red Oak, a White Oak, or Other.

tree at arboretum

Nature is a beautiful and confusing thing to some of us.

Best Things of the Week!

Week two of the “Best Things” feature!

1. My family gets multi-culti

Proud to be an Irish-American

I am Minnesota born-and-raised, but I am also a dual citizen of the USA and Ireland.  Such a thing is possible because my grandfather was born in Ireland.  My mother and all her siblings were automatically citizens, and my generation had the option to apply too.  Last October, my mom and I took a trip to the Irish Consulate in Chicago to drop off my application; just over a week ago, my paperwork came through.  What does this mean?  It means I can travel on an Irish passport, or move to the European Union someday, or just feel super authentic at the upcoming Irish Fair.

And proud to know some great Kenyan-Americans

My amazing sister-in-law is also a new dual-citizen: on Friday, she passed her US Citizenship test.  She’ll also maintain her Kenyan citizenship, and thanks to a new ruling by the Kenyan government, my brother is eligible for Kenyan citizenship, too.  No telling yet if he’ll do that or go Irish like me, but I know I would genuinely enjoy introducing K as my “African-American brother,” because people who are whiter than my brother include Conan O’Brien and ghosts.

2. Baby Ez and Arboretum Nostalgia

After I graduated from college, I spent a year working at Saint John’s Arboretum.  It was an interesting, bizarre, wonderful experience.  I kept a blog of my adventures which has since disappeared from the website; if I can track down what I wrote for it, I may post it here – for, uh, posterity’s sake. Future generations will need to know how hard I failed at snowshoeing!  I cannot deny them that!


Also, I got to do this once.

Anyway, I also made a great life-long friend in my Arboretum office buddy, Cassie.  On Sunday, I visited Cassie and two of my other favorite humans: two-year-old Ira and 3-day-old Ezra.  The cuteness was almost unbearable, and the Arboretum-reminiscing with Cassie was equally excellent.

3. Lookin’ awkward on TV (but for a good cause)

In May of this year, a deadly tornado hit North Minneapolis.  Like many people in MN who saw the aftermath, I donated to the Red Cross, and signed up to be a disaster phone bank volunteer with the Salvation Army.  Today, I got to smile awkwardly at the camera on WCCO until the phones started ringing off the hook.  A good amount of donations poured in for North Minneapolis, which is impressive considering it’s been almost two months and the rest of the state has had quite a few severe storms in the meantime.  Good job, Minnesota!  No matter my citizenship, you will always have my heart.

PS: To learn how you can help the Salvation Army’s North Minneapolis Tornado Relief, and North Dakota Flood Relief, visit this website. And thanks to everyone who told me I did not look that weird on TV.