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July 15, 2014

When I was a little girl, my aunt Therese and her then-husband made me a wonderful book with watercolor illustrations: The Little Girl With Altogether Too Many Names. It’s the day in the life of a girl named Nora (that’s me!) who did the things that I did – she spent time in Grandma’s mint green house,  avoided naptime at her Montessori pre-school, and went to a birthday party … where this Nora character proceeded to disobey her Daddy, eat too much candy, and turn into the dreaded werebaby. (I’m sure I never did such things.)

Along the way she picks up names until, at the end of the day and in a state of sugar-withdrawal obstinacy, she insists her Daddy call her by her full name: Norrina Tetrazini Toscaninni Subaru Albermarle Cake.

I’m thinking of this now, and how prophetic Therese was….

After we found out we’re having a girl, we settled on the name: first, middle, and last. But then that evening M.’s dad called me.

After offering delighted congratulations (everyone was hoping for a girl), he said: “Now, Nora. Let’s talk about middle names.”

“The name is up to the mother,” he stated, but he implored me to include Lakshmi, saying she is the goddess of good fortune and prosperity – such a name would be “good for us all,” he assured me.

Lakshmi is pretty much the definition of smart and powerful so, why not? But I certainly don’t want to give up the middle name I’d picked out: Denise, in honor of my birth-mother.

And then I want to throw my last name in there somewhere, too.

So now we’re looking at [Redacted First Name] Denise Lakshmi Sherman Subbarao.

They won’t all be on her birth certificate – I’d hate to burden her with that legal ball and chain. But they’ll be hers.

One little girl,

Altogether too many names.

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September 30, 2013

Oh, Maine. You were good to us. Between #lobsterquest2013 — in which we demolished 19 hapless crustaceans over the course of six gluttonous days* — and the incomparable Spruce Point Inn and Resort — where dogs can live like dogs and birthday girls can get amazing 90-minute massages — we had the time of our lives. Cannot wait to get back.

* Our favorites were Boothbay Lobster Wharf in Boothbay Harbor and the Clam Shack in Kennenbunkport (their clam chowder is the best I’ve ever had, btw), with shout-outs to Red’s in Wiscasset and Latitudes in Portsmouth, NH.

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August 29, 2013

inothernews:

Hurricane Katrina, eight years ago today. (Photograph of a flooded New Orleans by Vincent Laforet / Reuters via The Guardian)

I was in Dublin in this tiny rowhouse apartment on the North Side, a place where you still got glimpses of the dirty old town it used to be. It was a Sunday, I think, and I was Skypeing with my parents and my grandma Su, who was visiting from Sarasota. 
"Have you heard about this hurricane Katrina?"
Being from Florida she was more attuned than the rest of us to the nightly hurricane watch. I hadn’t heard of it and I didn’t think much of it. I was more preoccupied with the fact that in the same conversation I asked my great-aunt how her husband was doing — and she had to remind me he had recently passed away.
What can I say? I was 23 and across the ocean.
(Good god, was I really 23?)
It wasn’t ‘til the next evening, Dublin-time, that Katrina warranted a spot on the Irish 24-hour news. I remember seeing it on a gas station TV set and feeling like I was the only one who cared.
To be fair, it wasn’t bad yet.
But over the next few days, Katrina became Katrina.
My whole life changed because of it.
…which just goes to show.
You can count the dead bodies in the attic.
You can count the missings and the founds and the pets and the jobs and the schools lost.
You can count the moves and the start-overs and the Mayor Nagins and the Common Grounds.
You can count ‘til there’s nothing left to count.
You still won’t have the measure of that storm.
PS: Just realized that my great-uncle passed away much later; it would he years before I’d put my foot in my mouth like that. But trust me, I did.

inothernews:

Hurricane Katrina, eight years ago today. (Photograph of a flooded New Orleans by Vincent Laforet / Reuters via The Guardian)

I was in Dublin in this tiny rowhouse apartment on the North Side, a place where you still got glimpses of the dirty old town it used to be. It was a Sunday, I think, and I was Skypeing with my parents and my grandma Su, who was visiting from Sarasota. 

"Have you heard about this hurricane Katrina?"

Being from Florida she was more attuned than the rest of us to the nightly hurricane watch. I hadn’t heard of it and I didn’t think much of it. I was more preoccupied with the fact that in the same conversation I asked my great-aunt how her husband was doing — and she had to remind me he had recently passed away.

What can I say? I was 23 and across the ocean.

(Good god, was I really 23?)

It wasn’t ‘til the next evening, Dublin-time, that Katrina warranted a spot on the Irish 24-hour news. I remember seeing it on a gas station TV set and feeling like I was the only one who cared.

To be fair, it wasn’t bad yet.

But over the next few days, Katrina became Katrina.

My whole life changed because of it.

…which just goes to show.

You can count the dead bodies in the attic.

You can count the missings and the founds and the pets and the jobs and the schools lost.

You can count the moves and the start-overs and the Mayor Nagins and the Common Grounds.

You can count ‘til there’s nothing left to count.

You still won’t have the measure of that storm.

PS: Just realized that my great-uncle passed away much later; it would he years before I’d put my foot in my mouth like that. But trust me, I did.

(via thisisfusion)

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June 19, 2013

Raspberry Hazelnut Tart.
I’ll never get over having all the raspberries I could ever eat every July and August, courtesy of my grandma and grandpa’s gigantic patch. Now that was living.

Raspberry Hazelnut Tart.

I’ll never get over having all the raspberries I could ever eat every July and August, courtesy of my grandma and grandpa’s gigantic patch. Now that was living.

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May 20, 2013

Swiss black forest cake with brandied cherries (via gastrogirl)
When I was an exchange student in Rheinheim, Germany, my host-dad was a konditorei owner, very recently retired and rather bored, who baked us croissants and lebkuchen and good brown bread any ol’ day. Every morning I slathered them silly with liverwurst and good salty butter and mild creamy cheese and lord, it was a TIME.
For one celebration, he made Schwarzwälder kirschtorte and it blew my little mind. My reaction must have been intense — who are we kidding? of COURSE it was intense — ‘cause he then proudly made it, “Nora’s Favorite Cake,” for every single celebration that followed, including that well-known German holiday known as Every Other Sunday.
Oh, I was fat!
Oh, I was happy!
Totally made up for his weird pale anti-social daughter and her weird pale anti-social boyfriend and the bitchy English boarding-school cutter I shared a room with — all three of whom I was, of course, contractually obligated to befriend, to the extent that such a thing was possible.
Thus is the power of cake.

Swiss black forest cake with brandied cherries (via gastrogirl)

When I was an exchange student in Rheinheim, Germany, my host-dad was a konditorei owner, very recently retired and rather bored, who baked us croissants and lebkuchen and good brown bread any ol’ day. Every morning I slathered them silly with liverwurst and good salty butter and mild creamy cheese and lord, it was a TIME.

For one celebration, he made Schwarzwälder kirschtorte and it blew my little mind. My reaction must have been intense — who are we kidding? of COURSE it was intense — ‘cause he then proudly made it, “Nora’s Favorite Cake,” for every single celebration that followed, including that well-known German holiday known as Every Other Sunday.

Oh, I was fat!

Oh, I was happy!

Totally made up for his weird pale anti-social daughter and her weird pale anti-social boyfriend and the bitchy English boarding-school cutter I shared a room with — all three of whom I was, of course, contractually obligated to befriend, to the extent that such a thing was possible.

Thus is the power of cake.

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May 14, 2013

Kylie Minogue Is She-ra (vialistgenerator)

Oh hellz yeah!! She-Ra was my JAM back in the day. My cousins and I could play She-Ra for an entire weekend straight, no exaggeration* (my cool aunt Therese even made us Princess of Power costumes one Halloween … I mean how awesome was it that our role models were Princesses of POWER?).

They had WAY more dolls than me — Bow & Arrow with his beating heart, Double Trouble with her Rapunzel hair, pretty pretty princess Glimmer … and then they had all the accessories, like Swift Wind, Catra’s tiger, Angella’s pink cloud castle, and this seahorse-boat-thing-that-was-also-a-harp (you had to be there) — but I had Castaspella and she was the hottest so THERE.** 

* Alternating with weekends completely devoted to Peck-Grande paper dolls, of course.

** Internet wormhole alert.

(via funnyordie)

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May 10, 2013

Anonymous said: In your post about traveling & your family, you refer to your mother as your "birth mother" and I was just wondering why? Is it because she died when you were young and you never really knew her as anything other than your birth mom? Or was there some sort of early estrangement that leads you to refer to her in a semi detached manner? I think both the woman that birthed you and the fearless, independant woman you grew up with can be your mom! Unless, you feel otehrwise! Just curious (and nosy).

Good question. That’s what we’ve always called her. I was only two and a half when she died, so while she was my everything, my primary caretaker, and by all accounts, a superb and doting mom — I’ve never known her. I would feel weird calling her simply ‘my mom’ — in fact, I always did. (When I was around five I would say, “I don’t have a mom,” and Dad would have to remind me, “You do, but she died.”)

And as for the woman my dad married — I call her ‘my mom’ as shorthand with people I don’t know well but I have always called her Shelley within my family and friends. It would feel weird to call her Mom to her face. Really weird. 

Here’s the thing though. She’s IS my mom. Legally — as well as in every other way except the biological (though people occasionally say we look alike, which is amusing). She adopted me when I was 15 (though they married when I was 9 I didn’t ‘let her’ adopt me until then — it was too much, I guess, and I needed to mature until I could get to that point of acceptance).

When you are adopted, you get a brand-new Certificate of Live Birth. It makes no mention of adoption. It says that Shelley was my mother at the time of my birth (living it up in Santa Barbara while I was gettin’ born in Germany, a miracle of science!). Denise is not mentioned. (Strange, right?)

I’m sure that other people would feel comfortable calling Shelley Mom to her face, or having ‘two moms,’ one dead, one living, but I just don’t. ‘Birth-mom,’ to me, is accurate and respectful to both women. But perhaps it is a form of detachment. I suppose they’re not mutually exclusive. 

PS: It’s worth noting that my dad calls Shelley “your mother/mom” to me, and that I usually call her mom when referring to her with my sister. That wasn’t always the case, though. I remember when she was little she once asked why I called her Shelley. Where to begin, sweet Gena…?

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May 10, 2013

cossmiclovee said: Hi! I've been following you for a while and am so intrigued with how many places it seems you've visited. Where have you been? Do you travel for work? What was your favorite place? Sorry for the million questions, I'm going to grad school and would love to move after graduation, but don't know where I'd want to live. I'm from NJ and have traveled a lot, but have not lived anywhere besides NJ & London for 6 months..

Hello! You’re so sweet to ask. Let’s see … I’ve been to a lot of places (but never enough). There was a long time, more than a decade, that I didn’t stay in the same city for more than two consecutive years — and then I discovered New York, and here I have stayed since October 2006. It satisfies my wanderlust, I suppose.

So, I was born in Darmstadt, Germany, because my self-proclaimed “dot-communist” dad was (ironically?) working as a computer programmer for The Stars & Stripes, the Army’s newspaper. Then we moved back to his hometown, St. Paul. A few years after my birth-mom died, he went down to Managua to do some computer programming for the Sandinistas (unironically, this time) and on the tarmac, saw a gorgeous, fearless, independent lady that he determined to make his wife and mother of his child. But she was determined to continue being a gorgeous, fearless, independent, single lady for as long as she pleased, so he had to write long love letters and wait patiently. He brought me down to Managua the next time he went and while the local news made it sound pretty neat (it WAS pretty neat), I was a bit of a terror, so I didn’t help matters in wooing her.

He didn’t give up, though, and even moved us to San Francisco to complete the courtship. It worked.

Then he knocked her up and we all moved back to St. Paul, where his company was and most of his family was and where it just made sense to be.

…except the fact that it was Minnesota, and that gorgeous, fearless, independent lady wasn’t into THAT idea.

We won her over.

Slooooooooowly.

Wow, long story long, right?

When I was a kid and teenager, we went back down to Nicaragua a number of times. On spring breaks, my parents led me to the jungles of Guatemala and the mountains of Chiapas (and all I wanted was something ‘normal,’ like Acapulco). In middle school I spent a month studying in Vitoria, Spain. Then my whole family went to Barcelona and Tuscany to visit my birth-mom’s family (I must return like NOW). When I was 15, I went back to the little town my parents were living in when I was born, Rheinheim, and went to school there for seven months.

Then I moved to New Orleans for college, did my JYA in Dublin, and returned to Dublin for my Masters. I got to travel around Europe a lot — soaked up the sun in Portugal, sipped crisp white wine in Austria, did mushrooms at the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam, that kind of thing — and once my then-boyfriend won a trip for two to Malaysia on a TV quiz show. That was super-cool. (I mean who actually wins that kind of thing? The kind of guy we’ll never stop missing, that’s who.) 

But back to this never-ending story. As I was finishing my dissertation, Katrina hit, and I returned to Nola for eight months to join the rebuilding effort. 

Finally, after a summer stopover back at home (during which my little sister made all kinds of fun of me for turning 25 in a camper at the wedding of a family friend, whoohoo, don’t go crazy now), I arrived in New York.

Since then I have been lucky enough to regularly travel around the country (especially California and Chicago) and to France and Dublin to see friends and family. (Me and my girls, we love to get together.) I’ve tagged along with my boyfriend to Colombia twice while he was developing cocktail programs for two bars. I don’t travel all that much for work — I’ve only been to Chicago for Greenbuild and glamorous Charlotte, North Carolina, for meetings. Sexy timez.

I see from your blog that you’re 22 and I’m going to say the cliched thing here: travel while you’re young. Don’t max out your credit card to do it … well, maybe max it out once. It’s worth it.

As for where to live after graduation, the door to New York is always open, but go wherever your heart leads, just so long as you have a few friends there (imho). You’ll find a job once you get there. You just will.

Happy trails, my dear! xx

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May 10, 2013

Trinity College Library (via thillythenny)
One of my alma matters and even more stunning in person.* It’s not in use as an active library — but there is an impossibly romantic stone staircase at the far end that leads to special archives, where I researched my dissertation. Sometimes I think I should have skipped the M. Phil. and come straight to New York. But then I remember everything that experience gave me, and I’m grateful.
* Also inspiration for some Start Wars thingy.

Trinity College Library (via thillythenny)

One of my alma matters and even more stunning in person.* It’s not in use as an active library — but there is an impossibly romantic stone staircase at the far end that leads to special archives, where I researched my dissertation. Sometimes I think I should have skipped the M. Phil. and come straight to New York. But then I remember everything that experience gave me, and I’m grateful.

* Also inspiration for some Start Wars thingy.

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January 2, 2013

My two favorite gifts of the season: a Clare Vivier clutch in exclusive embossed leather that M. got for me at my mecca the store in Silver Lake, and the infamous 1980-1981 Springsteen t-shirt that my dad had when I was born, and which I purchased a reissued version of in college (not “knowing” that he once had it — but of course, knowing). He finally found the original, faded and soft and perfect, and I have barely taken it off since.

A heartfelt merci beaucoup to the two M.S.’s in my life….

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