From The Archives: My Birthday Is Served

(A true story from just before my 22nd birthday.)

This doesn’t happen every day, and it doesn’t happen to everybody.  It only happens to me.

My birthday buddy and I went out for ice cream and exchanged gifts yesterday evening.  My present included silly putty, bouncy balls, a hacky sack, play dough and – my favorite – a koosh ball.  Hers is a “Happy Hour” sign and some champagne-shaped chocolates.  Guess which one of us is older.

When I got to my house, my mom was home.  I showed her my present and started playing with my koosh ball when she told me a man had been by to see me just then.

Oh?

Yes, he’d been by to see me and he’d dropped off some papers.

And what do these papers say?

Oh, just that I’m being sued for fifty thousand dollars.

...Well.

Clearly this problem cannot be solved by koosh.

Apparently, someone with my name is having some legal issues over a three-year-old car accident, and I was served her summons to appear in court.  Our legal system at work.  I read the papers and started to laugh, then said, “This isn’t funny!”  My mom laughed back and said “No, it’s not!”  Then we both laughed some more.

So tomorrow morning I have to call some lawyers and explain that I did not, in fact, cause an accident in the cities in 2002 (when I was barely able to drive out of my driveway, by the way), and I will be paying no one $50,000.  Then I will ask him how difficult the legal process is to change my name to something slightly less common.  I’m thinking Shaquana, Decadence, or Bob.  Not a lot of girl Bobs out there.  The world needs more.

But hey, I’m not bitter.  Not everyone can say, “Remember that time I went out for ice cream and got sued for fifty thousand dollars?”

This doesn’t happen every day, and it doesn’t happen to everybody.  It only happens to Bob.

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Fashionista Flashback: Rocking a Lot of Polka Dots Edition

We’ve been experiencing some fabulous weather here in Minnesota for a few weeks (changing our state motto from “How about this weather we’re having, then?” to “Dontcha just love this weather we’re having, then?”).  My neighborhood is covered with sidewalk chalk, and I love it.

I was an avid chalker back in the day.  My best friend and I once spent an afternoon covering each of the bricks of my front steps with different, unique bits of art (or solid blocks of color depending how bored we got with the process).

The artist and her work

Behold! Co-artist cropped out since not everyone likes their childhood business published on the internet, and I do have tens of blog followers.

A lot of my outfits in this era matched in the most literal way, and this was a favorite.  There are enough polka dots on that thing that it’s practically a magic eye illusion. I could probably induce seizures by doing a cartwheel.

The point is: my childhood was awesome.

Irish-American Eyes Are Smiling

“If you’re lucky enough to be Irish, you’re lucky enough.”

It’s St. Patrick’s Day and I am celebrating not just being Irish but being an Irish-American, a lucky feat if there ever was one.

One hundred years ago today, my grandfather Patrick was born in Ireland. His birthplace was County Mayo – a part of Ireland hit worst by the famine; my family tells me it was sometimes referred to as “Mayo, God Help Us.” I don’t know how earlier generations of my family fared (yet – my ancestry research continues), but I do know they were already preparing to leave by the time Patrick was born.

In 1913, my great-grandmother Mary and her three sons left County Mayo and traveled to Queenstown, where they boarded a ship bound for America. Mary’s husband was already in the states, so she spent the week’s journey with just her three boys, all under the age of four. I’m trying to imagine a worse experience for her, but they arrived safely and started a life in Massachusetts.

Patrick is my closest tie to Ireland, but his story is also very American.  He fought in WWII as a gunner in the Army Air Corps and later became a fireman. (Is it any wonder he came from the same island as Liam Neeson with an action-star pedigree like that?) He married a girl – not Irish, but what you can do? – and had five children who share a good sense of humor and a recipe for Irish soda bread.

To be an Irish-American is to have an immigrant story like this.  Our ancestors struggled through famine and fate and sought out a better life; we were “the huddled masses yearning to break free.” Luckily, we were welcomed. I exist because of America, and I love this country that can still be welcoming.

My grandfather Patrick died before I was born, but I was raised with a healthy respect for my Irish heritage despite not knowing much about it. I’ve been to Ireland just once: in 2006, while studying in London, I took a weekend trip to Cork to visit other students abroad.  We fit nine people in a six-person hostel, and several pub visits into just a few days. It wasn’t the sort of trip that made time for searching out family history.

On our last day, we had a few hours to spare and wanted to get near the water. The hostel attendant recommended taking a train to Cobh, so that’s what we did.  We wandered around the old buildings, drank Irish coffee at a cute pub, and I took a picture of an old dock.

A dock in Cobh

What I didn’t know at the time was that 94 years earlier, Cobh was called “Queenstown.”

I don’t think this is the same dock my great-grandmother walked down nearly a century ago. It’s possible, since this is the dock used by the passengers of the Titanic, something I (incredibly) did not realize either when I took this picture. But really, how lucky could I be to find the exact dock my ancestors walked across — by accident?

Well, I did find the last town my ancestors were in before they came to America. And since the Titanic made its last stop there in 1912, the town has been preserved to reflect life as it was 100 years ago. I saw the streets, the buildings, the pubs and the docks as they were just a short time later, when Mary took her children off, hoping for a better life in America.  And they found one.

That seems just lucky enough.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to my mother, who gave me this pale skin and intense pride.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day and 100th birthday to my grandfather Patrick, who died far too young.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to my grandmother, who wasn’t Irish but enjoyed pretending she was, and I can respect that.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to my brother, my aunts, my cousins, my great-aunts and distant cousins, including ones just discovered.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to everyone who is Irish and everyone who just wants to be – so really, Happy St. Patrick’s Day to everyone in the world.

The Feast of St. Patrick: Another Essay from the Archives

This is an excerpt from an essay I wrote for an English class in 2007. On an unrelated note, it was written for one of those professors you initially can’t stand but appreciate so much after the fact. She passed away just about two years later, but sometimes I still hear her barking “clichéd! clichéd! clichéd!” That’s one way to get me to aim for originality over perfection in everything.

I was baking bread in my roommate’s casserole dish for the third time in a week when my mother called to wish me a happy St. Patrick’s Day. Thanking her, I asked about how long, in her experience, Irish soda bread needed to bake. It was the only step of the recipe I had failed to memorize and never would, no matter how many loaves I made in my lifetime.

“About 45 minutes to an hour,” she responded. When I pointed out that this range could be the difference between the perfect loaf and a kitchen fire, she told me to stab the center with a knife. I glanced at the already pockmarked top of my loaf and thanked her for the advice.

Bread-stabbing is a habit learned from my mother, just a generation away from becoming a tradition. She also taught me to immediately serve one quarter of a fresh loaf of Irish soda bread. I cut a quarter of my casserole-shaped soda bread into slices before remembering I was the only person in my apartment.

One-quarter loaf for the one-quarter Irish, I thought as I took a bite. Sugary and dotted with raisins, it tasted like nothing my Irish ancestors would ever recognize. It connected me only to my mother, and she to the grandfather I never met. His name was Patrick, and I’d often wondered if that was by choice or just the general rule for males born on March 17 in Ireland.

As I was working my way through my third slice of soda bread, my roommate came home. I shoved the plate of bread slices at her and sighed.

“What are you doing tonight?” I asked.

It was a Saturday and St. Patrick’s Day, so I was shocked when she said, “Stay home and sleep.”

She said she felt left out on St. Patrick’s Day because she’s not Irish. I pointed out that we lived in the middle of Minnesota, land of Scandinavians, and almost no one we knew was Irish.

“Yeah,” she said, “But everyone can tell I’m not Irish.”

When my roommate fills out the race/ethnicity portion of surveys, she checks Latina, Asian, and Caucasian. It bothers her to be told that the first two cancel out the last; it bothers me that I have to skip all of the interesting entries just for the last. I was surprised to find her jealous of something that, for once, fell under the scope of my white bread heritage, but I understand the need to check that third identity.

Because of an obsession with genealogy, I have divided myself into fractions. Rather than a pie-chart, I am a Rachel-chart. This leg is Irish, this one is Acadian. My toes are German, my ears a throwback to “a Micmac Indian woman” who dead-ends my family tree. It is a mix that is uniquely mine, and yet rather than make me diverse it has watered-down my sense of heritage. I am a child of the melting pot; I have no single culture to embrace as my own. Instead, I have a half-remembered recipe for a simple variation of white bread.

On what would have been my grandfather’s 95th birthday, I once again ate Irish soda bread and imagined what it would be like to meet him and ask him just one question. As I stared at the remaining three-quarter loaf of Irish soda bread, and I knew I would ask him how it felt to be celebrated whole.

This ends the flashback essay series. Tomorrow, I will be celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, my grandfather Patrick’s 100th birthday, and the wonderful thing it is to be Irish-American.

Luck of the Norwegian: An Essay from the Archives 2

This was written about St. Patrick’s Day 2009 – a memorable but odd one for sure:

I got my St. Patrick’s kicks in a little early this year, choosing to make bad decisions on a Saturday rather than a Tuesday.  Does that make it a good decision?  Call it a wash.  Anyway, my weekend was great, aside from the parts where I felt like dying.  The other parts were too much fun, and I would do those parts again (which pretty much means I’ll do the “feel like dying” parts again, too).

The actual St. Patrick’s day was going to be low-key, but ended up pretty bizarre.  First of all, there were drunk nuns before noon.  Always entertaining.  Then there was a phone call from my mom, letting me know my dad was in the hospital because of a work accident (found a chlorine gas leak with his face), but he didn’t want me to come home because I should “stay there and make money.”  I never listen to my dad; he never makes sense.  So instead, I spent about two and a half hours in the ICU, watching my pops take in oxygen and watch NCIS.  It was exactly like hanging out with my dad at home, except with a few extra tubes and wires.

Around seven, the doctor checked dad’s O2 levels and sent us all home, telling him not to smoke for a few days because it would irritate the acid in his lungs.  The acid in his lungs.  I take that to mean “don’t smoke because IT WILL MAKE YOU BLOW UP,” and dad takes it to mean “Gonna smoke anyway, because I like a challenge.”  My dad: surviving things he shouldn’t for half a century.

And that’s how I ended my St. Patrick’s day: watching my dad watch NCIS (at home this time) and thinking not about my Irish ancestors, but my Norwegian ones, and wondering if I might inherit some of their luck.  And their ridiculously hearty lungs.

Note: Dad’s lungs are not quite so hearty anymore, but I am so incredibly proud of the work he’s put into quitting smoking in the past few months. Love you Pops! Keep taking care of yourself so I can keep writing jokes about you.

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 2011

Another year, another Nuns Having Fun calendar, and another chance to look back and ask, “What was I thinking?”  Welcome to 2011: The Year That Was.

January: Best Month I Forgot About Entirely

Seriously, I had to turn to the new-fangled Facebook Timeline to help me remember January 2011.  And here’s what I found out:

1. I made these cookies with Manolo.

Cookies, Kind of

On the left, either me or Velma from Scooby Doo; on the right, Manolo with a tan or Medusa.

2. We also ate them.

3. I finished what wound up being the best book I read all year: The Big Payback: The History of the Business of Hip-Hop by Dan Charnas. I could tell you how well-written, informative, and crazy-interesting it is, but if you’re not already on board from the title, this might not be the book for you.

4. And I found out my name would be featured on “millions of cups” at Caribou Coffees everywhere. This would be the peak of my fame in 2011.

February: Best Second Month of the Year

Another one I don’t remember! Apparently: I went to a couple of concerts (favorite: Pete Yorn at First Ave), and I continued one of my favorite traditions of watching the Oscars with my bro.

In my defense there was a lot of snow on the ground last year. I didn’t get out that much.

March: Best Month To Start New Friendships

At some point in March, Lacy invited me out for brunch with one of her old friends who had just moved down the road from me.  Going against my usual winter attitude of “people are the worst,” I agreed to go.

That friend was the Ginger.

Also joining us that day was the Ginger’s roommate, another guy I vaguely knew years ago. And because I feel confident he will never read this, I don’t mind telling you he totally ignored my presence for the first half hour or so of our brunch and I wasn’t thinking we’d ever hang out again. Then I mentioned Battlestar Galactica. And now I can’t get rid of him.

****JOKE! THAT PART IS A JOKE.****

But really, our friendship formed because of BSG, found its footing in football, further developed over beer, and continues despite the amount of hell I give him.  He would probably like to make some jokes about getting rid of me, too, but is too nice to do so.

Easily the best brunch of my life.

April: Best Month to Get Older

I turned 26 by being sick on my couch and having a Die Hard marathon.  Later I convinced some coworkers to buy me an ice cream cake if I picked it up; this is what I chose to put on it.

Die Hard Cake

"Live Free or Die Hard" PG-13 version; the DQ employee had no idea who John McClane was. KIDS TODAY.

April was also when I saw Chuck Klosterman at the Fitzgerald, and went to my first of several Twins games of the year.  Spring is better than winter, you guys.

May: Best Month To Be Named Daughter of the Year

I took my mom to see Paul Simon at First Ave.

Paul Simon at First Ave

Therefore, I win.

And I took Lacy to see Donald Glover/Childish Gambino at The Varsity.

Donald Glover

Therefore, I need a new camera.

I also got a tan-line from a candy necklace while at the Lyn-Lake Festival. I regret nothing.

June: Best Month To Start A Blog

I started this blog in June for a class, but at first I tried to keep it homework-centric. Some adventures that happened in that time that haven’t yet been shared with the internet:

1. I took a tour of the Liberty Belle, a WWII bomber like the one my grandfather was in as a gunner.

Inside the Liberty Belle

How happy do I look to be holding that gun?

2. I rode a mechanical bull at Grand Old Day.

Rachel and the Bull

And you thought I looked happy with the gun.

3. I broke my bowling record (133 and it still stands! I’m not very good at bowling!).

4. And I officially became an Irish citizen (oh, have I mentioned that a time or two before?).

July – December: Best Things I’ve Already Written About So Just Read the Archives, Particularly Anything About Traveling With The Ginger, Visiting Virginia in July, Screaming at The New Kids On The Block, Being Thankful For Things, And Being Disappointed By The Vikings Live and In Person.

(We may be on memory lane here, but that doesn’t mean we can’t take shortcuts.)

So that was 2011: New friendships, new adventures, and a new passion for volunteering. Things were constantly ridiculous. Some ideas were bad. Mistakes were made on a daily basis. But overall, I think I nailed it in one take.

Bring it, 2012.

Zombie Fashionista!

Last weekend, my friends and I did terrible things to the Disney genre at the annual Zombie Pub Crawl.

Zombie Disney Princesses

Sorry for ruining your childhoods just now.

Even though I was Minnie Mouse and not Snow White, it made me dig through the RachelArchives for this:

Rachel as snow white

1990. Sweet, innocent, adorable Snow White. What happened.

This was my third year in a row at the ZPC.  In 2009, Sabrina and I decided to answer the question: “What if Miley Cyrus and Hannah Montana were two different people? And also, zombies?” I was Miley, and you could tell because I was wearing a sticker that said “Secret Pop Star.”

ZPC Year One

No explanation for the Margaret McPoyle eyebrows

Last year, Sabrina and I did the Zombie bridesmaids thing.  At the :36-mark in this video, I walk directly at the camera for a hot second:

No McPoyle brows that year! (I actually had no eyebrows.  We overcompensated.)

You don’t have to believe me, but I was actually the DZD (Designated Zombie Driver) both those years.  I wasn’t this year but that’s not the point.  The point is that whether I’m Miley Cyrus or Minnie Mouse, as long as I’m all gored up and with my good friends, I’m having fun.

Uh….apparently at the expense of the Disney channel.

Fashionista Flashback: “Summarizing My Entire Being” Edition

Little kids are my fashion icons.  They wear whatever they want and they know they look good in it.  How can they not when the outfit involves tiaras/tutus/Superman pajamas/all of the above!  Little kids think, Yes, this multicolored swimsuit with the ruffled skirt would look just fab paired with my bright red roller skates!

rachelonskates

This is a look that doesn’t care what you think.  From the Zooey bangs to the yellow laces to the how-are-you-not-falling-over pose, this chick knows what’s up.

The day I manage to achieve this level of confidence again is the day I win.

skating away

Don't worry, world. I got this.

 

Fashionista Flashback: Firestarter Edition

So, speaking of my childhood adventures in pyromania, when I look at this picture…

Rachel the Firestarter

Eeek.

This is all I see:

Firestarter Poster

Nothing scarier than Drew Barrymore

The back of the picture of me and my bro says “First day of Sunday School, September 1988.  Notice the high level of enthusiasm.” Good one, ma!  But why did you dress us up like we’re Amish?  And is that a 3-piece tan corduroy suit K is wearing? I think it is!  This would be adorable if it wasn’t so “Children of the Corn.”

Rachel on fire

Seriously, though, I would consider running.