I don’t know how many times I read Catcher in the Rye when I was younger. Or how many four leaf clovers I’ve found. But the answer to both would be “a lot.”

I remember what I wore to school on the first day of 4th grade (white tube socks with red stripes, cut off baby blue Levis cords shorts, a red and white striped t-shirt, and blue converse low-top look-alikes) and I remember when I did the hula for Jim Bonifay in the talent show. I can’t recall what my homeroom teacher’s name was in junior high or why I ever quit hanging out with Ann. But I do remember the first time I smoked pot and learning how to dive from a stranger at the apartment complex pool.

I can’t remember if it was the boy in the hospital or the boy on the train who kissed me first. But I remember both those kisses.

I never could understand why boys could fool around with as many girls as they wanted and maintain a cool and stellar reputation, but if girls acted the same, they were slutty whores. I know that I didn’t give a rats ass what anybody thought.

There are times I wish I could be like that guy who was preaching Jesus in the McDonald’s when I was on my way to work. He was preaching past me, to the couple on my other side. They were being polite but clearly didn’t want to hear what he had to say. And neither did I, so I told him to shut the hell up. Then he got mad and started fussing at me, but I didn’t give a damn. Nobody wants to be bombarded by that evangelical bullshit. But that guy – that guy believed so fervently that he was chosen, that he was right, he never even considered anyone else in the room. Until me, anyway. Then he forgot his prophecy of love and forgiveness and damned me straight to Hell. How empowering it must be to have that kind of faith in a metaphor.

I’ve always been keenly aware of imbalance and unfairness. Sometimes this drives me to argue, sometimes this drives me to a dark corner of my room. Sometimes, I pour myself a drink. I don’t suffer fools gladly. And I know there’s no “get out of jail free” card.


amaros

Amaro. Perfect for those bittersweet moments in life.

Listen

 

lead kindly light

I began on the crisis/suicide prevention line as a volunteer but, as a result of a profound epiphany, my dedication soon turned into a full-time paying job. I managed the crisis line, training volunteers in active listening and ensuring that boundaries were kept in place. The volunteers and I spent countless hours on the phone, at all times of day and night, listening to strangers recount their days and share their grief, sadness, and desperation. We listened, heard their stories, and validated their struggles. Not every caller was suicidal. In fact, most of them were not. But for those that were, we reflected the glimmer of hope they had exposed by reaching out, and did our best to get them through the abyss. For the many more callers who were not ready for finality but felt lost in the dark, we provided enough reflection so they could find their way through to another day.

My days of crisis work slowed as my family grew. As my days became less entwined with human frailty, I developed other passions. I had perfected my pie dough many years prior, and found myself with more time to experiment with recipes and flavors. I had always wanted to learn to quilt but didn’t even know how to sew. After the birth of my first son, my husband gifted me a sewing machine, I took a class, and have been creating and designing quilts ever since. I’ve learned how to forge steel, weave linen, create shrubs, sell vintage wares, and have thorough knowledge of a whole catalog of acronyms related to digital marketing. And plans for learning much much more. Some skills and knowledge become a part of who I am, others slip away.

pie

The acts of learning and labor I connect with the most are those that can, for even just a brief moment, provide some sort of comfort to another. Homemade pie for women in a domestic violence shelter providing a welcome moment of respite; quilts donated to a worthy cause or given to a newborn child of a friend; even cocktails shared with a neighbor, forgetting our troubles for an hour or two, provide benefit to us both.

loveglasses

Comfort comes in all forms. A slice of pie or a cocktail, a handmade quilt, or an anonymous listener on the end of the phone – all can provide that same profound epiphany I experienced many years ago. The realization that what we all crave, what is ultimately the best thing we can do for one another, is often the simplest to provide. Just a bit of light in the darkness, a bit of warmth in the cold.*

*inspired by Father John Misty

 

Secrets

I had been visiting the shop since I was a teenager, a result of hanging out with my then boyfriend who liked to paw his way through all the used record bins, looking for classic rock, independent label punk, and oddball novelties. While he remained steadfastly focused on the myriad of album cover art and liner notes, my attention drifted to the books and the shop’s internal landscape.

Upon entering the store, there was a noticeable, distinct energy. The casual gruffness of the all male employees, the ever-so-slight musty smell of the used books and records, combined with the patchwork of flyers, photos, notes, and random bits of paper found taped to every available surface created a surprising sense of coziness one wouldn’t expect while standing on a linoleum floor beneath fluorescent lights. The ends of bookcases, the sides of record bins, the space between the top row of books and the ceiling, the side of the cash register, the glass of the door- any place where your eye might roam, your gaze would land upon a found secret note, a photograph, or newspaper article, long ago forgotten and rediscovered, stashed in a book. One could spend hours reading in the store, never opening a book, but feasting on the ephemera before them. For a girl who reveled in the smallest detail and was fascinated by secret intimate knowledge, I left the record buying to my boyfriend and simply wandered the aisles in awe.

noteinabook

Many years passed and, as luck would have it, I found myself actually being paid to spend my days in the land of dog eared pages and cracked leather bindings. I learned about the various types of paper on which the words are printed, the distinct style of individual book cover designers, the information contained on the copyright page, and how a book can be aged based on the quality of the linen, leather, or paper covering its boards. I learned that a dust jacket is a valuable asset. I learned about publishers, secret indentations, and the value or non-value of an ex-library book. And I learned that almost every person who walked through the door, looking to trade or sell their books, thought their heavy cardboard box contained some real gems. Only on rare occasions was this actually true. But we welcomed their box and looked and sorted through it all, brushing the mouse droppings aside, blowing away the dust bunnies, and wiping off a variety of sticky substances from who knows what. They brought us their books and presented their stories. We listened and acknowledged their feelings of sorrow, loss, sometimes even desperation. Occasionally, they left with a bit of cash in their pocket. But always, whether or not we took any of their books, they left feeling a bit lighter, their load a bit less heavy.

lecarre list

To this day, I love finding a note stuck in a book. Or an inscription containing wit and humor, only intended for the book’s owner. I once purchased a copy of Letters from the Earth by Mark Twain. It wasn’t a first, but an early edition with a dust jacket. The cost was negligible, I assumed due to a scrawling inscription that covered both the front and back end papers. I took the book home and stuck it on a shelf. It was probably six months or so before I took the book down, opened it and actually read the inscription.

pageone_blogpagetwo_blogpagethree_blogpagefour_blog

The inscription was written by Nina Clemens, Mark Twain’s granddaughter.


dunvilles

I still revel in small details and intimate knowledge, especially when discovered unexpectedly. I picked this single malt Irish up in Connecticut and now its mysteries are hidden in plain sight, right upon my home bar. All you need do is simply take a sip.

Boots

When I was a young girl, I found myself burdened with a desire like no other. It outweighed most everything and laid heavy on my mind. I was determinedly convinced that obtaining my desire would make my world complete and provide me with some sort of unspoken power. I innately knew this to be true, long before ever having an inkling of what that power actually was.

About once a year, my folks, with my sisters and I piled into the Gran Torino station wagon, would set off in the middle of the night and head to Tennessee to visit my grandparents. I was usually nestled in the way-back, having made a cozy bed in the center of all the suitcases, creating my own private hideaway. The sun would begin to rise about the time we crossed the state line, rousing us from our sleepy slumber. As we made our way to Clarksville, I would spend most of the time gazing at the landscape as it flew by the car window, thinking about why the ground moved so quickly while the treetops took so much longer to leave my point of vision. Or watch and wonder as rain drops traveled up the window instead of down. Or ponder a fly trapped in the car, questioning his speed in the air, in the car, versus outside, and how confusing it must be for him when he did finally escape in a completely different state.

Most of the time in the car, my mind was occupied. Yet, somewhere along our route we would pass a Boot Outlet. And on every trip, my thoughts would then turn to cowboy boots and I would eagerly ask if we could stop. I was told “Next time” or “Not now.” Man, I wanted a pair of cowboy boots more than anything. Not any ol’ pair of boots, but COWBOY boots they had to be. I was only 10, maybe 11 at the time, but I knew. I knew there was some magic that came with wearing those boots. I wanted to be privy to it.

I kept asking and finally got a pair of cowboy boots when I was 13 years old. With those boots came the magical feeling that I could do just about anything. Whenever I wore them, there would be no hiding, there would be no fear, there would be no kissing ass, only the kicking of it. I had tapped into the unspoken power. I was proud to be who I was. And who I was was a girl who wore cowboy boots.

I’ve owned at least one pair, if not more, at any given time since then. Dingo, Justin, Nocona, Lucchese, Old Gringo, and others I’ve surely forgotten, have all stood or still stand on my floor today. Every pair I’ve ever owned has provided me with that same sense of indomitability, that same sense of “I got this.” For me, a girl of 13 or a woman of 50, I can think of no other singular item that provides such a sense of strength and confidence, such transformational magic, as a good pair of cowboy boots.

boots

Well. Maybe lipstick. But definitely cowboy boots.

 

Moving On

 

marthaMom, @ 1972

My mother’s personal motto was “Get over it.” I seemingly never could.

When I was a young girl, I was occasionally overwhelmed with dramatic “it’s-the-end-of-the-world-my-life-is-over” sorrow from a broken heart, completely befuddled by the never apparent reason for my existence, or frustratingly disgruntled over more practical concerns, like the shape of my body or the crookedness of my smile.

I needed time to wallow in my despair and dream of the guy who would take me away from the mundanity of the suburbs….I needed time to think, to analyze, to try and figure out what the point of being good in algebra was if all that lie ahead were jobs and death. (Death! I mean, I was going to die one day!)…And, to complete the tragic teenage trilogy of heart, mind, and body, I even needed time to focus and figure out why I couldn’t make my butt fill out those jeans like so many other girls did or make my teeth miraculously retreat from their ever growing overbite. These things were clearly all of great importance; I wasn’t interested in “getting over” anything.

Try as I might to escape to my room and listen to college radio while blowing smoke rings out the window, my mother would eventually open the door, tell me to use an ashtray, and to get over whatever it was I was distracted by at the moment.

It took me until some time in my 30’s to realize she might have been onto something.

It makes good sense, really. One should use an ashtray when smoking, versus a Dixie cup filled with water. You tip that sucker over and you’ve got a big stinky mess on your carpet.

But the other thing, too. The getting over it. Worrying about something, fuming over a perceived slight, being angry at someone, focusing on a problem that would actually not BE a problem if you just quit focusing on it – things like that. More often than not, getting over it is exactly what’s needed. We need to move on or we get stuck. I’ve seen stuck. I don’t want any part of it.

Of course, I still like to sit with a concern or worry a bit, just a bit, now and again. And even though my ass never did grow into the perfect butt and my overbite gets worse every year, I really have learned to move on. I mean, we’re all gonna die one day! Seems as good a time as any to get over it.


A few years back, I turned my mother on to Bourbon Slush and it has definitely become one of her summertime favorites. It’s also one of my son’s favorites, although I omit the bourbon. He’s only at the beginning of his teenage angst…he’ll get over it too, I’m sure, but in the meantime, the booze is best kept for Mama.

bourbon slush_blog

There are many recipes for Bourbon Slush out there, with the consistent core ingredients of sweet tea, lemonade, orange juice, and bourbon. The ratios and quantities you use – well, that’s up to you. I always encourage experimentation. My general rule is “less sugar, more bourbon.” What I finally settled on is:

  • 2 cups of super strong tea. Something like Lipton. I use the family sized tea bags and put 2 of them in 2 cups of water and let it steep as long as possible.
  • Mix with 1 cup sugar when water is still warm and stir until sugar dissolves.
  • Add around 7 cups of water. Now you have your sweet tea…
  • Add 12 oz of lemonade concentrate and 6 oz of orange juice concentrate. Stir everything until melted and combined.
  • Add about 4 cups of bourbon and mix well. You could add less or maybe even a little more. But I think this amount let’s you know you’re drinking bourbon and still allows the mixture to freeze a bit. Too much, and it may never reach the slush stage. You’d probably end up with more of a slosh…

Put the mixture into large tupperware (or multiple smaller tupperware) and freeze overnight. It won’t ever freeze completely solid due to the bourbon, so just scrape it with a knife or fork to break it up, scoop it into a glass, and done. Slush. SO GOOD.

Lost and Found

The owner of the bookshop was known for his generosity. He provided support – emotional as well as financial – for more lost souls than I think even he realized. The schizophrenics, depressed, socially awkward, or those simply down on their luck – all were welcome in the door and were heard, actually listened to. Unstated requirements for employment were a sense of patience, a profound capability for empathy, and an interest in “other than.” All of us who worked there had a place in our hearts for the downtrodden, a love of books, and each with our own individual sense of social awkwardness.

My boss opened the letter, read it, and handed it to me. The author of the letter referred to the “cute girl behind the counter.” Someone had told him of my boss’s generosity and that we might be willing to send him some books, so he was writing to request some reading material to get him through his days in the county lock-up. As I was the ONLY girl behind the counter, the responsibility of filling the request fell to me.

The request was for some beat authors, Kerouac and the like, as well as some Richard Brautigan and Bukowski. Classic, I thought. A young man and his angst. I knew the angst all too well, as I was a big fan of the same authors at the time. I was still (and am STILL) on the fence about Bukowski. Some of his writings I connect with, but other times, he just comes off as a raging drunkard – which he was, of course, and is part of his appeal. He leaves me in that state of not knowing exactly HOW I feel about him, often enough that I don’t think I’ll ever shut the book on him altogether…but I digress.

I received the letter, gathered up some books, created a bill of sale (we were going to request payment, but rather nominal, to cover postage and our cost of the books), and packed them up and sent them on their way. I didn’t enclose any correspondence, other than the bill of sale and a simple note saying something like:

Here you go. Enjoy your books.
– The girl behind the counter

The letters continued to arrive at the bookstore, almost weekly, over the next few months. I had come to realize that our friend in jail remembered me from the bar where I worked as well. I began to have a vague recollection of who he was, a quiet sort, with a handsome face, that stood back and watched. The kind of guy that I generally didn’t pay too much mind to, other than to hand over a beer and take his cash.

He eventually asked me my name. I reluctantly told him, as I had grown fond of my nom de plume. I eventually ask how he landed in jail. He reluctantly told me. Apparently, he was upset with his girlfriend at the time (I don’t recall why), got very drunk, piled all her clothes in the driveway, and lit them on fire. She was none too pleased and called the cops.

And then, one day, he got out of jail and hitchhiked half way across the state to see me. We had a nice visit, walking and talking as if we’d known one another for years. He tried to find a job and hung around town for a couple of weeks and then…he was gone. He decided to follow his dream of becoming a writer, broke his probation, and headed West.

I haven’t heard from him since.


california whiskey_blog

Low Gap, a California whiskey gifted to me for my last birthday.

Dreamers may go to California, but the results of those dreams sometimes make their way back to us on the East Coast. A very light, easy, and extremely pleasant sip. No fires lit, no cops called. All is right and well.

Authenticity

My days selling used books were followed by nights slinging beer in a bar. My daylight hours wereI often found myself chuckling at the absurdity of days spent with people looking for answers followed by nights with people avoiding the questions. But it seemed to be exactly what I needed at the time.

While working in the bar, I didn’t take any shit. Granted, being surrounded by about 8 guys who have your back on any given night allows one to feel a bit brazen and self-assured. That being as it was, there were times when I was the one called upon to lead an asshole out the door. We had realized that a drunk is much less inclined to start a fight with a 5’4″ girl than a big guy working the door, even if she was wearing Dr. Marten’s and had a pack of Camel’s rolled up in her sleeve. It always gave me great pleasure to see the look in the guy’s eyes when I pushed my way through the crowd to tell him, “You. It’s time to go. You gotta GO. NOW.” As confused as they might be, they always left. Peacefully.

You see and learn a lot about human nature while standing behind a bar. Almost as much as you learn working in a used bookstore. Granted, the drunken, twenty-something and none-of-us-know-what-the-hell-we’re-doing kind of human nature is of a different sort than the nature of the tortured soul, depressed writer, struggling student, or ignored housewife who wanders the aisles of a bookstore…Or is it? You’d be surprised at how little the two populations overlapped, but when they did, I was grateful for the rare opportunity to serve in both capacities – as one who assisted on a quest for knowledge as well as provided the tools to momentarily forget what they already knew.

Ultimately, I felt much more of a connection with the answer seekers, be they a bit mad or unstable at times, than I did with the question avoiders. I had much more patience listening to the delusional ravings of a guy off his meds than to some tired ass line from a dude in a bar. They’re both exhausting, but the madman is at least being authentic.

Authenticity. I know it when I see it. I also know when it’s not there. An abundance can be found in both books and booze. You could also discover a complete lack therein. It all depends on your approach.


Straight up, no bullshit.

weller