There are nights like tonight….

…that make all the work you’ve put into creating something so worthwhile. Tonight I had the great fortune to spend the evening at the Mothlight, a venue I really enjoy, surrounded by people I hold dear for a very important cause. The Heartbeat Sessions is a project we started last year at Echo Mountain thanks to the amazing people at Arts for Life NC. It all started when the talented Melissa Hyman from the band The Moon in You was in the studio singing background vocals on a session for NPR’s World Cafe with the River Whyless. I mentioned to Melissa and some of the other musicians in the room how I had seen the documentary Alive Inside, which shows the incredible impact that music can have on people with dementia or Alzheimers. I wanted to see if I could use Asheville Music Professionals as a platform to connect musicians with music therapists or nursing homes that work with individuals struggling with memory loss. That’s when Melissa told me about her work with Arts For Life, which is a non-profit dedicated to supporting people facing serious illnesses, especially children with cancer. Melissa uses music to help nurture the minds and spirits of sick children and their families.

She told me she had this great idea where she wanted to get a stethoscope to record the heartbeat of some of the kids, and then use that as the backing beat of a song of their choice. I told her that if she was able to get the stethoscope, Echo Mountain would offer the studio time to record the song for the families. It took some time to get details worked out, but by November of last year, we had our first date booked.   To date, we’ve recorded 4 songs, for different people (I hesitate to use kids because I don’t think a 14 year old is a kid) and this is just the beginning.  I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Clay Miller, audio engineer extraordinaire who makes these sessions sound so amazing.

Tonight Arts for Life presented Heartbeats, An Interactive Arts and Music Show for all ages. It was here people were able to experience the Heartbeat Sessions live, with a myriad of the local musicians who have made this project possible. All four songs were played live and Melissa shared some information about each person and why the chose that particular song.

When she introduced the second song, a cover of Jason Mraz‘s I’m Yours,  chosen by a young man named Daniel, she told the audience that he had just passed. This was news for me, and a number of other people involved, and we collectively felt a wave of grief as the song started.  For the recording session, Daniel’s mom made sure to give some photos to Melissa to put up in the studio which was really great for everyone to see who the song was chosen by, and whose heartbeat was the foundation for the song.  This was one of a number of times during the evening where I bit my lip to hold back the emotions that swelled inside me.

At the end of the evening Leigh Glass and I were talking to Melissa about how we were caught off guard when she mentioned Daniel’s passing. Melissa had said she thought she had caught a number of people off guard as she had not had the opportunity to let everyone know. Just as we were finishing that conversation, Daniel’s father walked up and thanked the three of us for all the work we had done recording this song for him and his family and he looked at Melissa and said, “Thank you for making the last 10 months bearable.” I didn’t cry then, in public, but I can do so now, in the privacy of my own home thinking about the support that Melissa, Rachel Zink, and Annie Rogers (both also from Arts for Life) have provided for these families. And Daniel’s parents will have this song as way to remember him, made by a group of artists that wanted to help preserve his memory.

At the beginning of this year I made a conscious effort to focus more on projects that have a bigger meaning, that are about lifting us up collectively as one human race. It was a leap of faith as I had to give up some good paying gigs to make room for the things that pay me in other ways. I felt like I was on the right path, but tonight made me realize there’s no turning back.

Here’s a video for the first session we did for 10 year old Jesse. Check it out.

The Heartbeat Project: Jesse from Erin Derham on Vimeo.


What Are You Leaving Behind…Part 1

I have been reading to kids at the same preschool in Weaverville, NC for 12 years.  That means the kids that I helped teach how to read at the age of 4 are now 16 years old.  This thought just dawned on me, and gives me a feeling of being both old and completely satisfied with my life.  When I started this many years ago, I was a nervous wreck, not knowing how the kids were going to receive me, how good was I going to be at telling stories, who knows if they would even listen to me?  Well, what I can tell you is that 12 years later I get more out of it than I ever have.

There’s this book, called Big Green Monster.  Most of the books that I read I get from the library.  The program I read through is called the Preschool Outreach Program.  Every other week I pick up a bag of books that have a theme to them and a puppet.  Each time I read, I name the puppet something that starts with the same letter of the animal.  This is a typical start to my storytelling session.


Me: “I’ve brought a friend with me today.  And his name is Marty.  Who can tell me what letter Marty starts with?  Raise your hand.”

Kids: “Oooh, me, me, me!”

I call on child, “Tell me what letter Marty starts with.”

Kid 1: “Banana!”

Me: “Banana is not a letter, try again, what letter.  Sounds like Mmmmm”

I call on another kid. “What letter does Marty start with?”

Kid 2: “A Giraffe”

Me: “Giraffe is not a letter, it’s an animal.  M, Marty starts with M.  What kind of animal starts with the letter M?”

I call on yet another kid.

Kid 3: “I got new shoes.  Wanna see?”

As the year progresses, the children get better with their alphabet, with their words, with their ability to comprehend, it’s really awesome to watch happen.  Each time we get through all the books on themes such as Grandparents, Beaches, Feelings, or Scary Stories we then finish with Big Green Monster.  Because I’ve been reading this book at this school for so many years, it’s now the book they use for the kids to read to their parents during their graduation.  Today, I had a moment for the first time, where the kids read aloud the book to me.  They stumbled along, had the first few pages down and needed my help but I was really getting to see my work to help these kids really paying off. I had such an overwhelming feeling that I still can’t put it into words.  Reading and development at this age is so important and I definitely felt like a proud mama to this group of 8 kids.

This past November, I started my One Amazing Year, which I have explained in a previous blog post.  I have decided that I was going to make my commitment to service and helping others one of my top priorities in life.  What I can tell you is that while it’s been a lot of work, I have been having one of the best years of my life.  Things are going well for me in many aspects of my life, both professional and personally and I know it’s because I have realized that this is part of my calling in live.  To serve others.  I am trying to do my part to make this world a better place to live by improving the lives in one or another and I can tell you that there are many people that are doing that for me as well.  What an amazing world this place could be if we all just worked from the mindset that we were put on this earth to help others.  Maybe we aren’t all destined to do that, but I can tell you that I was, and it’s making my life better for it as well.

Maybe one of these days, I’ll meet one of these kids that I read to when they were 3 or 4.  We’ll be at a music festival, or an art show, or in line at the grocery store and they’ll look at me strangely.

Stranger: “You look so familiar, do I know you?”

Me: “I don’t know.  Are you from here? What’s your story?”

Stranger: “Yes, born and raised since preschool.  I’m from Weaverville. Wait a minute, is your name Story Lady?”

Me: “Why yes, yes it is…”

These kids have given me material for comedy over the years as well.  Let’s just say I had no business being in charge of a group of 3 and 4 year olds when I was 22.  I thought playing If You’re Happy And You Know, Bang Your Head was a great idea right after snack time.  No bueno. I have many more stories like this, but for now, I’ll just keep this blog post more heart and less comedy.

6 Overrated Things In Asheville


Many people have been up in arms over an article from the Huffington Post that named Asheville on a list of most overrated places to visit.  Now we Ashevillians pride ourselves on our unique and eclectic little town.  But it got me thinking about all the things that are not so great about this place.  I didn’t have to think about it for too long, before these examples became glaringly apparent to me.

The Blue Ridge Parkway – The name is a little misleading.  If it truly were a “parkway”, then I should be able to drive up right next to the elevation signs at the scenic outlooks so that I can have my picture taken while my ass is still firmly “parked” in my car.

Dog Friendly Restaurants – Don’t these places know that my dog incessantly begs for food at the table?  Allowing me to bring her on the outdoor patio really takes away from my locally sourced dining experience.

Arts Community – This city is supposedly known for having a large and diverse art scene.  But I can tell you that I have not been able to find one Thomas Kinkade replica print to send to my Grandmother for Mother’s Day.

Independently Owned and Operated Businesses – In today’s economy I really need to be thrifty and look for bargains.  But shopping downtown or in the river arts district can prove to be not so consumer friendly. Just the other day I tried to use my two for one fish taco coupon from Mamacitas to buy a pair of skinny jeans at Union and they refused to take it.  The nerve of some of these business owners!

Marijuana – Now, I don’t know about this one personally because I for one, would never do anything, and I mean anything illegal. Hell, I won’t even cross Coxe Avenue until I hear that creepy voice tell me that it’s okay.  But I would like to think because of the tree huggin’, Phish lovin’, congo playin’ granolas in this town that there would be at least 3 to 4 strains of the gnarliest shade grown, fair trade, organic nugs around at all times.  Strains with names like Purple Nurple, and Oh Shit, What Did I Come Upstairs For Again?  But what I’ve been told by folks is that sometimes it’s hard to find some of the ole wacky tabaccky in Cackalacky and it sometimes comes from as far as California.  Could this be the real reason James Franco is at Norman Nelson College?  Should be calling him, Mule Franco???  Note to self, find out if you can be sued for what you write about someone in a blog…

The Innsbruck Mall – Now, I have to say, this place wasn’t so bad.  And I rode up the escalator  I started to get a little stressed out about the overwhelming shopping choices I was about to be bombarded with.  What a pleasant surprise it was to see that there were only a few choices, and what quality ones they were! After spending an hour reading back issues of the Christian Science Monitor without paying for them, I strolled over to the insurance office to compare rates on my  current homeowners and vehicle policies.  From there, I figured I mine as well get a second license plate while I’m here, since I’ve been considering buying the school bus that’s parked in my neighbor’s  front yard. Alas, I was still slightly disappointed as they didn’t have a Chick-fil-a or even an Auntie M’s Pretzel place to satiate the appetite I had acquired on my shopping excursion.

Perhaps I am jaded because I have lived here so long.  Or maybe I just need to get a way for a bit.  I’m looking into a time share in Myrtle Beach for the whole month of August.

I Was An Assassin In A Former Life

Here’s another story I shared as part of the Listen To This series at Asheville Community Theatre.

I usually end this story by telling people that I was born and raised in Detroit. I casually offer this information as an answer to the looks of horror and bewilderment that this story tends to solicit. The truth is I am really trying to make it seem that my brother and I were products of our environments, instead of the little monsters we really, truly were.


You see, my brother and I had already established a history of violence between us at a very young age.  We are two years apart and he is the older of the two.  We were continually doing so many things to one another, that it’s surprising that one of us didn’t lose an eye.  I mean, literally didn’t lose an eye.  When I was 5 and my brother was 7 I was trying to follow him to the neighbor’s house to hang out and he threw a flathead screwdriver at me.  He threw it, and from a pretty far distance I might add, and it came through the air and hit me right here, and stuck in my face. Just missed my eye!  I ran into the house screaming, ended up getting stitches….you get the point.

I was no angel though.  I had an affinity to dropping tonka trucks on my brothers face.  There was a time, when we were actually getting along and we were going to push one of his trucks down the slide together.  I climbed up on the top of the slide and he took the truck up, rung by rung and then handed to me at the top before he was about to join me at the top.  When he looked up to take the next step, I dropped the truck on him, watching him and the truck tumble to the ground.

I can say with certainty though, that he was much worse than I was.  Being the older of the two of us, he was definitely stronger than I was.  There were the times he would try to light the ends of my hair on fire. And many of my attacks were from getting sick of his shit.  And there was one night in particular that I had just about enough.

My brother and I were coloring on the hearth of our fireplace. I was coloring a Care Bears book and I think my brother was probably coloring a He Man book.  My mother was in our bedroom.  I say our bedroom because the three of us shared a bedroom.  After my parents divorced, my mom rented out our rooms and so the three of us slept in a king size waterbed together.  Oh, the 80s, waterbeds were one of the worst inventions of all times…..  There was a tiny color television in the bedroom with a coat hanger for an antennae.  This is were my mother liked to watch her “stories.”

So my mother walks into the living room and announces, “Tonight is the season finale of Dallas.  If either of you walk into my room during the next hour, you better be fucking dead.”

Now, I was six years old but I can tell you that these were my mother’s exact words.  This wasn’t one of those, “I will remember this for the rest of my life” moments.  It was more that she had instilled the fear of God in me.  She is a very patient woman but when she gets pissed off, you do not want to bear her wrath.  She would get this vein that would pop in her neck and you would know you were in for a serious ass whooping.

I would like to think she at least got through the first half hour without incident but I can’t really remember those details.  Just what happened next.  I was coloring and all of a sudden my brother took the purple crayon right out of my hand.  Now normally I would be pretty cool about just letting things go.  But I was coloring Share Bear Care Bear, and she just has to be purple.  She’s the one that encouraged people to share their feelings.  Well at this point I was ready to share my anger with my brother. We argued for about 5 minutes.  Then, all of a sudden, I don’t know what came over me but I grabbed a newly sharpened Number 2 pencil with my right hand.  Sharpened end pointing towards my pinky finger.  I then stabbed him right in the face, underneath his nose.  Not only did I stab him, I snapped my wrist so that the lead broke off in is face, leaving me a sharp pointy object as a weapon if I needed it.

His eyes got wide and as the shock wore off, he ran into my moms room with his hand over his mouth.  He opens the door to the bedroom and she turns around and I can hear her say, “Damn it Jason, this better be good!”  He removes his hand from his face to expose the piece of lead sticking out of his face.  I want to see what’s happening so I’m kind of careening my head from the hallway, while also hiding to see what she says.  The next thing I hear is, “Goddamn it.”  But at this point I began contemplating the deep amount of trouble I was about to be in.  My mom called the emergency room to find out if she had to take him in.  It turns out pencils had not been made of lead for quite sometime at this point and she wouldn’t have to worry about lead poisoning.  All she had to do was remove it and put a little peroxide on it.  What was I doing while all of this was going on?  What any other 6 year old would be doing, lying on the couch pretending to be asleep.  I figured, I can’t be punished if I’m asleep, right?

My mom came out after she took care of my brother.  I was just waiting to see what kind of ass beating I was going to get.  Was it going to be a pants on or pants off spanking?  What it going to be by hand or by belt?  First thing she did was tell me to go take a shower.  Not to wash the shame off, but most likely because I was disgusting.  I hated bathing as a kid and I guess my mom figured that I certainly wouldn’t put up a fight now since I was in such deep shit.  So I went to take a shower and then she did one of my favorite things.  She cleaned my ears.  I loved it when my mom would clean my ears.  I would lie on her lap and she was so gentle and it felt really good.  I was waiting for her to freak out on me, or yell at me, but she didn’t.  We talked about it and she realized that I had probably gotten to the point where I just couldn’t take the older brother pummeling anymore and just let him have it.  She did chastise me for STABBING HIM IN THE FACE, “Look” She said,  “This is one of the first of many times you are going to get fed up with some male’s shit” “But you can’t go around stabbing every boy in the face that makes you mad.  Next time you need to be the bigger person and walk away.  And if you’re backed into a corner, well then you just hit them in the nuts.”  They’ll recover eventually but they’ll remember the pain and normally don’t have to go to the hospital over sore nuts.”

The stab wound left a perfect blue mark on my brother’s face, which stayed there until he could grow facial hair.  Which regrettably for him was much later in life.  That blue dot would cause many of fights between us for years to come.  I think sometimes he would get teased at school about it and then come find me at lunch time at school and punch me.  Or I would taunt him about it myself which would end up in a beating as well.

That blue dot is finally gone and now my brother and I laugh about it.  I will say that we still have a tendency to want to beat the crap out of each other although it’s not very often.  We live in the same city now and see each other on a somewhat regular basis.  We verbally pick on each other but we don’t actually come to blows anymore.  We save that behavior for when Mom comes to visit.

One Amazing Year

So I have this really great friend named Doc Klein who has this company called Uncharted Territories.  Doc is one of the main reasons I moved to Asheville, we met when we were both hired to do contract work with Phillip Morris and met on the road somewhere in the SouthWest.  We kept in touch and he invited me down to Asheville to visit in the summer of ’99.  I came down in July for a week to visit and Doc took me out to Linville Gorge for my first time and I was sold.  I moved down to Asheville two months later with $35 in my pocket.  That’s roughly the same amount of money I have in my checking account 13 years later.

I worked with Doc for a couple of  years, not right when I moved down here but a couple of years in.  I have learned so much from him about how to really focusing on the things I’ve wanted to create in life.  I am a nerd for business and Doc is as well, or rather what makes them tick.  You see, he’s a consultant.  Not they type you see in Office Space who come in and fire people, he’s the type who comes in and helps people look at the driving forces behind why people make the decisions they do.  What’s the cause and effect of the decisions they make.  For instance, he worked with the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta on a Type II diabetes campaign.  Instead of just trying to get people to work out and eat right, they look at what are the social and economic impacts that cause people to get type II diabetes. And look at what can we do as a community to have an impact on those who have it.

Doc created this program called One Amazing Year and he’s been putting businesses through it for some time now. The goal of it is to really focus on what kind of impact an organization can have in this short amount of time. It really forces a company to set clear intentions and guidelines to hold all of their decisions up to.   He decided to put himself through it as an individual and now, he’s offered the experience to me.  I’ve decided to blog about it as writing more is one of the intentions I’ve set for myself.  And it’s one of the things that is going to help keep me accountable for what I set out to do.  I meet with Doc once a month and he gives me homework to do.  So here’s the start of it:

Step One – Pick 3 or 4 key themes that you want to focus on for the next year.  These are the things you will hold your actions up to to make sure you are staying on track. Here are my themes”

Community Service – I love Asheville, and I believe we are only as strong as our weakest link.  I have volunteered here as long as I lived here.  When I first moved here I volunteered with the Writer’s Workshop, a local non-profit literary agency that offers all sorts of events and has an advisory board with such greats as Kurt Vonnegut, John Le Carre, and E. L. Doctorow.  Through them I taught writing classes through the local ABCCM shelter.  I have also been reading to preschoolers for 10 years through the Preschool Outreach Program.  I wanted to do more, and since have started doing other things in the community but I’ll save that for another post.

Adventure – I love to travel and am one of those folks who is generally up for anything.  I definitely wanted to make this a focus for the next year and making sure this was part of where my focus was.  As of today, I have some serious adventure planned.  I am going to Nashville at the end of January to be a part of the Cowboy Jack Clement Tribute.  I’m going to SXSW (which is always an adventure) and I’ve already booked my trip for the first weekend of Jazzfest in New Orleans.

Creativity – I am trying to find that balance of the right brain and left brain.  I have been a writer all of my life, but I only do it when everything else is taken care of.  I like to make furniture.  I make noise, not music because I don’t devote enough time to practicing. I love crafting but again, that only happens after I cleaned the house, taken care of the 3 jobs I do, trimmed the dogs toenails, etc.  We make the time for the things we want and I want to make time for this.

Best Overall Health of My Life – This is an extremely difficult yet important theme for me and this is why I chose it.  I tend to put myself last before all else like so many of us do.  I am not yet 35 and I have tendonitis in both shoulders and biceps.  I have an “old lady hip” which actually means I have torn the cartilage in my hip socket. My job requires me to be on call 24/7 and I will go weeks on end without a day off.  I book my schedule so full that when I get a day off I get sick from exhaustion. This is all about to change.  I will be pain free, well rested, and lookin’ good this year.

So that’s the start of it.  My one amazing year.  I’ll keep posting as I get more homework and do exciting things that fall in line with my goals.



My Mother and Her Language


I was once again reminded this evening about how amazing my mother is.  She did so much with so little and I am eternally grateful for the sacrifices she made for my brother and I and what she taught me.  She sounds like June Cleaver right?  Well, not even in the slightest.  I say this as a precursor for the examples I am about to give to sick sense of humor and no bull parenting approach.

With my mother, what you see is what you get.  She doesn’t mince words and you never have to worry about what she’s thinking because she’ll tell you.  Often while growing up our conversations would start like this: “You know what your problem is?”  Sometimes I wouldn’t even get a chance to respond with something snarky before she launched into a full on psychological evaluation.  One of the funniest things, however, are my mother’s sayings and she also seems to have her own language.  Here is your warning now, there will be some explicit language in the post.  My mother likes to use the word Fuck as a noun, pronoun, advective, verb… you get the point.  So here are a few of the sayings that I heard frequently  growing up in our household.

“Want in one hand, shit in the other. See which one fills up faster.”  – Now, I’m pretty sure this saying is “spit in the other” because it’s supposed to mean that even though you can spit in your hand pretty quickly but you still can want a whole lot more. Alas, she took it and made it her own.

“Fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke.” – By far one of my brother’s and I favorite sayings of hers.  This saying wasn’t normally used if say, we were trying to pull a prank on someone.  It was more used if someone got bent out of shape about anything.

“Birth control is not a license to bend over.” – There is a whole other story to go along with this quote but you get the point.  The subtitle of this would be, “Don’t be a slut.”

“You’re so full of shit the birds won’t eat you.” – Needless to say, it was hard to pull one over on my mom. She always knew when we were lying.

“Your taste in all in your mouth.” – Whether she was talking about a pair of shoes my brother picked out or one of my boyfriends I brought home, it was obvious how she felt about our choice.

“Armadillons” – Yep, she calls armadillos, armadillons.  And she likes to hit them with her car.

“Pomeranian Juice” – Pomegranate juice.  She likes to drink Pomeranian Margaritas.

“Colin Farwell and Justin Timberland” – Pronounced Coe-lin.  I think she thinks they are in a boy band together. Come to think of it, I’m pretty sure they are too.

I hope I haven’t given you the wrong impression.  My mother while she is very matter of fact and calls us out, she is very loving and supportive.  She’s my biggest fan.  At least she was until she reads this.  I can hear her now….

Mom: “I read your blog.”

Me: “Oh yea, what did you think?”

Mom: “Don’t quit your day job.”

Me: “Trust me, I won’t.”




Happy Horrordaze!


For some people, spending time with their relatives for the holidays can be a nightmare.  Fortunately for me, that’s not the case.  For one, my parents never lay guilt trips on myself or my siblings for not visiting.  They work from the mindset that everyone is busy, and as grownups we all have our own lives to attend to.  I personally like to spend time with my family on either Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Years.  This year I chose to visit my parents in Florida on Thanksgiving.

I drove down the Tuesday before turkey day so that I could leave the following Saturday.  I had a meeting to come back to and didn’t want to get stuck in the Sunday traffic on I-95.  I was also excited to be in the lovely FL sunshine.  Even if it meant missing my Wednesday before thanksgiving tradition with friends to be in a 55 and older retirement community.

I would like to point out that I am not from Florida.  I am from Detroit, MI, a much more suitable place to tell people you were born and raised.  Sure I may stab you for cutting in front of me at Popeye’s chicken but at least I will be able to drive the getaway car.  Glad we got that covered.

I was looking forward to spending time with Rat-a-tat-Pat (my madre) and Big Z (my stepdiddy). It was going to be just the three of us for the most part, except for my aunt and uncle and cousin for a few hours on turkey day.  When I arrived on Tuesday Big Z was well into a bottle of red wine.  He told me he had wanted to open it and make sure it “breathed” before I got there.  Let me be clear about something here.  My family are big fans of wine, however I don’t think you really need to let Carlos & Rossi really breathe, do you?  Isn’t it better if you don’t smell it before you drink it?  I’m kidding really, they don’t drink that crap but I can assure you this bottle probably cost somewhere in the $10 range.  I realize you can get plenty of good bottles of wine for $10, but they don’t usually come in the economy size.

My mother tends to go to bed early most work nights.  She goes to be at 9 to read her scandal magazines and gets up at 5:30.  She stayed up later than usual that night as I didn’t get in until 8:30.  She went to bed around 10:30 and warned Big Z and I to behave ourselves, which we promptly did by finishing the supersized bottle of wine.  We went to bed shortly after so we could be ready for our next day of “bonding.”  By the way, bonding in my family means drinking.  You’ll need to know this for future reference.

My parents have extremely thin walls in their house, so of course I heard my mom up at 5:30 and then heard Z up at 8.  As much as I wanted to sleep in, because this is supposed to be a vacation after all, I decided to get up.  I was ready to knock out our errands so we could commence to bonding.

My mother is very particular and used to getting things her way so we made sure not to stray from the list she gave us to get.  She told us to get some green beans to steam.  This is surprising because my mother doesn’t like vegetables that much.  Unless it’s green peppers or cream corn.  When I was a child, I was anemic.  When I went to the doctor he asked me, “What do you eat that’s green?” I responded by telling him that I eat green peppers and M&Ms. I grew to love vegetables on my own, and in fact didn’t have my first brussel sprout until I was 26! And now I love them.  But I digress… Z went straight to the frozen section.  I tried to tell him that I would gladly by fresh ones and blanche them in a white wine sauce but there was no having that.  Birds Eye was the way to go.

Our next stop was to buy lotto tickets and good bread at the local Publix (Which we kept calling Pubics.  We have the habit of turning everything into 14 year old toilet humour when we’re together.) Then our last and final stop was the liquor store.

I love liquor stores in Florida.  They are such a one stop shop.  I wish it was the case here.  Not only can you buy beer, wine and liquor, but you can buy mixers, good cheese and specialty items.  I found something that I have not been able to find anywhere but New Orleans….Pickled green beans!  Since my travels to New Orleans, I have been spoiled by pickled green beans in my bloody marys.  I adore them. I quickly snatched them up and the fixings for a good bloody mary.  As I checked out, I told the cashier that my mom sent us to the store for green beans and I was going to tell her we bought these for our Thanksgiving dinner.

Big Z and I made it back to the house and he started to make his famous stuffing as I set out to make Bloody Marys before making deviled eggs. The next thing we needed was a soundtrack to our madness.  Z loves music.  He’s played the accordion since he was a kid and now plays both that and the button box.  He plays in a polka band and hopes someday to start his own, called Marty and the Polka Pussies. I believe you’ve already been warned about my family and our crudeness.  But alas, I digress.  I decided to introduce Z to Spotify so I set him up an account on his computer.  Then I set up a radio station based on Dave Bartholomew songs and he was in all his glory.  This is something we share, our love of old music.  We went about our cooking until we were finished and then we had some time to kill before my mom came home.  So we devised a plan. First part of the plan was to switch from bloody marys to greyhounds.

Z: “Let’s mess with your mom.”

Me: “I’m down.  What do you have in mind?”

Z: “I’ll give you the little binoculars, and I’ll take the big ones and let’s sit on the porch and pretend we’re spying on the neighbors when she gets home from work.”

Me: “Why pretend?  Let’s just spy on the neighbors.”

Z: “Actually sometimes I do but nothing interesting ever happens around here.  Normally I just watch this 85 year old guy passed out on a lawn chair in his front yard.”

So we do just that.  We’re sitting on the smoking porch when she comes home.  Their stereo is in the house so we had to have the music pretty loud so we could here it.  My mom comes home and we lift our binoculars to our eyes, pretending to spy on the boring neighbors.  She doesn’t even notice what we’re doing.  She’s home and she’s pissed.

Mom: “What the hell is the matter with you two?  I can hear that shit all the way in the driveway.  Jesus Christ, Marty.  Did you forget to put your hearing aids in again?”

Me: “Hi mom.  We’ve missed you too.  And that shit is called music and it’s AMAZING!”

Mom: “Not at that decible, that shit’s annoying.  Turn it off.”

I go to turn it off and come back onto the screen porch where she is not sitting and smoking a cigarette.  She looks at Z and then at me, and then back at Z.

“Jesus you two.  Did you save any vodka for tomorrow?”

Z: “We have moonshine for tomorrow.  And we bought another bottle of vodka at the liquor store today.  Don’t you worry.”

Mom: “I’m not worried. As long as you made your stuffing the way you normally do I don’t give a damn what you did today.”

Part of me thinks she was a little jealous that we were having fun all day while she had a tough day at work.  I can’t blame her.  The rest of the evening was pretty uneventful except for one of the neighbors coming over to gossip about other people in the park. That’s what they call it, the “park.”  Perhaps because it’s a trailer park? That’s my guess.

The next day was Thanksgiving.  I woke up pretty early because I couldn’t sleep the night before. I get up and this is the first conversation I had with my mother.

Mom: “Will you please wash your hair today so I can see what color it is under all that filth?”

Me: “I just washed it two days ago. It’s not that bad.”

Mom: “Well it looks like crap so go wash it.”

I obliged of course because that’s what you do when you are with your parents.  And my aunt and uncle and cousin were coming over and I wanted to look nice.  They come and all is well and normal until we start taking pictures.  My aunt takes a picture of my cousin and I.  I show it to my mother.

Mom: “What a great photo of you two.  Too bad you’re related, you’d make beautiful babies.”

Me: “Are you out of your mind? He is my cousin, what is wrong with you?”

Mom: “I’m just saying you guys would have cute kids.”

Me: “I think you’ve been smoking those cigarettes with your left hand.”

The rest of the day was pretty uneventful.  We were all tired and wanted to go to bed early. I needed a little rest after the last two eventful (that’s code for drunken) days.

My mother and I braved Black Friday the next day to do some shopping.  We didn’t go to the mall or get crazy and quite frankly I would rather miss all the crowds.  But I was not going to pass up an opportunity for my mommy to take me shopping.  And indeed she did. It was nice to have a day for just her and I.

Saturday seemed to come way too soon. It’s always hard to leave my folks.  We get along really well and we only see each other 3 times a year at most.  We’re all getting older and while I love my life as it is, I wish they were in it more.  We’re already planning their next visit here, and I’m sure I will be down there this summer.  I’ve been instructed that I’m never allowed to bring another boyfriend down there, because, in the words of Z, “You’re just too damn fun on your own.”

Don’t threaten me with a good time.


The Art in Losing Someone You Love

A friend of mine recently passed.  We weren’t that close, although I would call us friends.  We have some mutual friends that are very and near to us both.  It was through them that I knew he had fallen ill, quite quickly and while he diagnosed with a couple of months to live, he lasted just about two weeks.  His friends gathered around him in his final days, celebrating his life and the joy that he had brought to everyone who knew him.

I can’t stop thinking about him and all those whose lives he touched.  I’ve been thinking about the fact that while you can’t pick your family, you certainly can pick your friends, and hopefully they will help fill in those gaps that your family may have left unfulfilled.  Sid was certainly that person to many people.  I have lost one of those people in my life too, two years ago.  Her name was Margaret Lauzon.

Margaret and I met through the studio.  She was a true music lover if there every was one.  She played the hammer dulcimer.  She was also a filmmaker, documentarian, rabblerouser, stoner, and a whole lot more.  She was a lot of things to me, she was one of my best friends.  If there’s one thing you should know about me, it’s that I love to laugh.  I try to be funny, I like to make others laugh, and there have been just a couple of people in my life who could make me laugh as much as Margaret.  She had the best sense of humour and could turn anything into a good time.  You also never knew what was going to come out of her mouth when she opened it.  One of the first times I hung out with her, we went to the Orange Peel together.  A guy approached us after recognizing her.  This is how their exchange happened.

Random Guy: “Hey, I know you, didn’t we meet at a party in Fairview?”

Margaret:  “I didn’t have sex with your friend in the closet, if that’s way you mean.”

Random Guy: “Umm…..yea, okay. I’m Rob.”

Margaret: “Sorry Rob, I just had to make sure I was clear about that.  I’m not a tramp. I’m Margaret.”

I just stood there bewildered with the fact she answered the question the way she did.  For years after that I would walk up to her while she was talking to someone at a party and say, “Excuse me, didn’t we have sex in a closet in Fairview once?”  She laughed every time.


Margaret was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer.  I was in Jamaica when it happened.  All of a sudden I was getting all of these voicemails whenever I turned my phone on.  I had changed my voicemail before I left to say that I was out of the country and please don’t leave me a message unless it was an emergency.  When I finally checked it I had several messages about Margaret being in the hospital.  I was finally able to reach her after several attempts of calling her.  She was scared, in pain, and felt helpless.  As did I.  I couldn’t wait to get back to North Carolina to see her.

It was a long road of chemo and radiation.  Margaret’s mom was there by her side all the time.  At this point she had moved to Shelby and was getting her treatments in Charlotte.  I would give her mom a break and come to take Margaret for her treatments for a few days. It was here that I got to learn all about cancer and what it does to the human body and spirit. I told Margaret I was there for comic relief and did my best to make her laugh, although I have to say it was never one sided.  I was never grossed out by her “poop bag” and made sure to talk about it as much as possible with her.  We both were fans of toilet humour, and having a poop bag just gave us so much ammunition for dirty jokes.

At one point Margaret was declared cancer free after countless treatments and months and months of being sick.  We threw her a party, even made her a pinata of a human ass so she could beat the crap out of it.  She got her colostomy bag removed which was a big deal.  She was always concerned that she would have that thing for the rest of her life.  And I don’t blame her, what 34 year old single girl wants to explain to every guy she dates that she has a shit bag on her hip? She had a big part of her colon removed so between that and the treatments, she was having some issues.  Margaret came and stayed with me for two weeks in March of 2010. Needless to say, her stay was nothing short of entertaining.  During this time she rearranged my furniture several times while I was at work.  While I was working she would sent me text pictures if she had a bowel movement.  “These things should be celebrated, dammit!”, she would say.  This was when the iphone couldn’t get picture texts and I would have to go that website, and enter the long, stupid code.  I would sit there and watch the page slowly load, only to realize I was looking at a tiny turd in my very own toilet.  One day I left for work and she was watching Pineapple Express, I came home 10 hours later and she still hadn’t finished it.  She had been distracted a few, well, a few hundred times throughout the day and just couldn’t finish it.  It was on this visit that Margaret decided to have the surgery reversed and get her bag once again.  She said it just wasn’t worth the pain in the ass she had to deal with.  Literally.

When she went for the surgery, the discovered a tumor in her stomach.  She told me she didn’t want to spend the time she had left poisoning herself with chemo. I have to say after seeing what she went through for the colon cancer, I didn’t blame her one bit. I tried to spend as much time with her as possible.  I tried to make her laugh as much as I could.

Shortly before Margaret passed my mom was diagnosed with anal cancer.  I wanted to tell Margaret about my mom, but didn’t how she would feel or say about it.  On top of going through the last stages of one my best friend’s life and my mother being sick, my relationship was falling apart and my professional life was a mess.  I was one big ol’ sloppy mess.

I drove down to Florida to take my mom to her first chemo treatment.  Margaret had been admitted to Hospice, and I have to say, I really didn’t understand that Hospice meant the end of the line.  I thought she was just trying to get her “drug cocktail” just right and then she would come home.  I don’t know if this was just me willing that to be the case or I was just trying to remain blissfully ignorant.  We were texting everyday and her texts varied in wackiness depending on her cocktail.  She was trying to figure out that right balance of being out of pain but still being coherent.  I have saved all of those text messages from her and often look back at them.

I finally texted Margaret.

“I’m down in FL, my mom has anal cancer, taking her to her first chemo treatment.”

“Well soldier, this isn’t your first battle. You know what to do…”

She was right.  My mom went through 7 weeks of chemo and radiation.  It was miserable, but then again, what can you expect?  Cancer’s a bitch. I just tried to be there as much as possible for her.

After Margaret died, I held a memorial for her, and invited everyone to tell their favorite Margaret stories. There were so many great stories and I was so happy that her brother was there to hear them.

This was the first time that I have lost someone so close to me.  I know it’s supposed to get easier with time and I’m sure at some point it will.  But I can tell you, I have cried the entire time writing this post, taking short breaks to swill some vodka and blow my nose. I think of her often and I have a great memorial piece in my kitchen of her thanks to Whitney Ponder. She left me all of her pottery so all of my dishes are plates from her collection of handmade pieces. It’s hard not to think of all the fun things we would of done together.  We would of created so many great movies and stories together.

If I have one piece of advice to give someone who has a loved one who is sick or dying it would be this: Do not let your fear or pain of losing them get in the way of spending time with them. Do not worry about being awkward or saying the wrong thing or being emotional stop you from reaching out to them.  Margaret and I talked about the people in her life who didn’t contact her after finding out she had cancer. No one expects you to be perfect in these imperfect situations and remember we are all in this world together.  I know how hard it is to watch someone you love slowly or quickly physically wither, but missing out on those last precious moments with someone you love is much, much harder to deal with.

With much love and respect…

And if you want to see some of the cinematic magic we made together….