I’m not good with ages, including my own. Hence, whenever bouncers or waitstaff unexpectedly bypass the usual ID-check and ask, “How old are you?” the first thing that comes to mind is, Uh… am I even twenty-one yet…? Fortunately, this number amnesia doesn’t extend to important dates, allowing me to be certain without a shred of doubt that today is my mom’s birthday.
Maman, as she’s affectionately known, is immensely important to me because (as apparent to anyone who’s ever mistaken our voices on the landline phone of our past) she makes up an invaluable portion of both mine and my sister’s identities. And considering all the incredible elements that comprise the Renaissance dynamo that is my mother, my sister and I should feel very lucky to share in that genetic pool. My mom has an imagination that packs a wallop. Her sense of wonder is tangible in the way she approaches every facet of life. Her unyielding desire to learn from each of the experiences she encounters is inspiring. And demonstrating the very essence of the adjective “motherly,” my mom has the unfailing ability to comfort even the most overwrought hysterics.
Furthermore, my mom is a woman from whom natural talent radiates like the awed circles that form around her whenever she takes the dance floor. Among the many skills she demonstrates an aptitude for, she’s the most fastidious and loudest cheerleader in all of North America; an incredible artist and writer whose oeuvre spans the creative gamut from joyously whimsical to powerfully evocative; an aficionado on all things kooky-fresh, such as The B-52’s, Shonen Knife, and Plastique Bertrand; a learned and opinionated voice vying for social, cultural, and political equality; the contender you absolutely want on your team for trivia night; and an altruistic giver through and through.
When I was a child, one of the greatest gifts my mom gave me–despite the hordes of Barbie dolls I pleaded for and miraculously received–was her time. When I came of kindergarten age, my mom decided to take up the helm as a homeschool teacher for a year that may well have been the most formative period of my lifelong personality. Thanks to my mom’s patient and steadfast teachings, I developed a deep adoration for vocabulary, a genuine affinity for reading, and a penchant for writing that catapulted me beyond the school’s benchmark. I can’t begin to thank my mom enough for the educational time she dedicated to her children, and I feel certain that without the lessons she’s continued to impart to this day, I would not have ended up as academically driven as I am. Quite frankly, I attribute my brains to my mom and thank her every day for placing so much emphasis on their fortification.
While incredibly important to my character, this inherited love for learning barely begins to skim the surface of all the things my mom’s doted on her daughters from day one. As children, my sister and I grew up in a home replete with fantastical paintings adorning the walls and floorboards: a cheerful, multicolored snake spiraling on the living room floor, an alebrije-esque lizard spanning the length of the kitchen, a winking fish suspended above the stove inquiring, “Hey good lookin’ whatchya got cookin’?,” and our little bunk bed fortress decorated with Shoobie the flying pup, our beaming faces, and an array of designs and calligraphy unique to my mom’s playful aesthetic.
For birthdays, she gave us not only presents but whole window murals commemorating the occasion and themed homemade cakes that somehow defied gravity with their twisting Seussical stairways. From the time I was nine-years-old my mom devoted hours upon hours to reading us Harry Potter aloud, complete with individual character dramatizations and the correct pronunciation of “Hermione” years before the films enlightened my peers. Her all-encompassing love for animals turned my sister into an atheistic St. Francis incarnate, preaching to kittens and puppies The Word According to a Six-Year-Old. When relationships went south or the transition into college proved dispiriting, my mom gave me ways to combat sorrow and the means to harness positivity in the face of life’s many obstacles. And her multilingualism and sense of adventure resulted in my love for language, graphic design, and cultural history and mythology.
For physical sustenance, my mom gave us the many delectable gifts of moussaka, chipotle chicken, banana bread, and the phenomenal macaroni and cheese recipe she inherited from her father. For mental fodder, she gave us a love for games, even if it occasionally resulted in my sister overturning a card table in a bout of loser’s rage. For 85mph exhilaration, she passed down her love of roller coasters and repeatedly travelled with us across the country to seek new thrills–although the spinning tea cup gene clearly skipped me. And as a strong female figure who embraces her identity and doesn’t shy away from displaying that fabulous demeanor to the world, my mom gave her daughters the ability to be ourselves regardless of any judgment that may come our way.
To top all of that off, my mom has taught me how I want to approach motherhood one day. Thanks to Maman’s example, I want to inspire uninhibited imagination, I want to answer every question with honesty and imbue a love for learning, I want to be a comfort whenever my children are in need. And beyond that, I’m very eager to behold the whoops of excitement my future children emit when I tell them we’re going to their grandma Lulu’s house, a place of wonder, creativity, and warm, unwavering love.
If George Lucas had fleshed out Dr. Henry “Indiana” Jones Jr.’s lineage beyond Sean Connery’s loveably aloof character, then Indy’s grandmother would be a fictitious interpretation of a real woman named Kathleen. My grandma is an adventurer of Raiders of the Lost Ark caliber, but with the added facets of socialite, food and wine connoisseur, avid supporter of the arts, and incredibly learned intellectual, it’s hard to decide if 007 and his cultural suavity wouldn’t be a more fitting metaphoric descendant.
Born first in an Irish-Swiss family of seven, young Kathleen spent what free time she had traveling the world via the medium of books, a pastime that never petered out and instead manifested itself into an adulthood of constant globetrotting, international charity, and (especially in regards to ornithology) ethological discovery. With a passport that sports the insignias of countries all across the globe, it’s become commonplace to expect that any random visit to her Facebook will yield that she’s in Honduras, Brazil, Vietnam, Canada, Belize, Chile, France, Japan, Trinidad, Australia, Argentina, China, Morocco, Ecuador, Ireland, Thailand, Mexico, or chartering her way via boot, bike, or kayak up and down hiking trails, canyons, and rivers that span the entire United States from Alaska to Hawaii and Washington to Florida. And to be quite frank, that list doesn’t do justice to the expansive escapades that would comprise my grandma’s autobiography.
A Renaissance woman through and through, my grandma’s life of excursion has resulted in a cosmopolitan artist, fascinating conversationalist, and superb chef whose inherited penchant for flavor only increased with the influence of multicultural cuisine. With a sophisticated palate for meals like salmon hash with tarragon and poached egg, asparagus, and huckleberries; a love for symphonic choirs and NPR; and the ability to appreciate the serenity of her peaceful woodland homestead complete with deck recliners and couches, wide-open glass doors, and interior décor amassed by a great eye, my grandma is the well-rounded adult who’s unintentionally instilled a reverence for seniority and retirement in both myself and my friends.
My grandma is the woman who escorted my sister and I to innumerable operas, plays, ballets, museums, contemporary dance performances, musicals, and galleries. The woman who effectuated our educations in classical singing and ballet, and helped organize and attended every performance. The woman whose review I seek whenever I want to introduce anyone to the delectable gastronomy of Portland restaurants. The woman who taught us rewarding, hands-on work in her garden whenever we started feeling out of touch with nature. The woman who sheltered my whole family in her enormous house of sunny windows and hardwood floors, invited us to play in her even larger yard of cherry trees, willows, and evergreens, and later designed a smaller home to be just as inviting. My grandma is a woman who can travel the world, be abroad for months at a time, and still be synonymous with the hometown she’s so assiduously immersed us in.
A far cry from the frail, blue-haired, nightgown-clad grandmothers of the media in both demeanor and personality, one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned from my youthful, energetic, and warm-spirited grandma is to make things happen for yourself. Actively pursue adventure, actively surround yourself with loved ones, actively seek knowledge, actively volunteer your aid, and actively approach life with a sense of wonder. There’s so much out there to explore, so many experiences to partake in, and so many people to learn something new from that whether you’ve borne witness to 79 years of life on earth or 17, get out there and carve your path, embrace the excitement, affirmations, and comforts this world has to offer. Employ cartography to chart your own life and go revel in the firsthand experiences that a television set could never impart.
When I was a freshman in college, back when dubstep was becoming more vogue with each new Mt. Eden and Skrillex single, and I was finding my social footing with a scurrilous group of guys that went by the sobriquet The Basement Boys (more details on which would require a separate blog post), the internet sensation StumbleUpon was taking a viral hold on college undergrads worldwide.
Having received my first iPod at the late age of 15 and with no desire to invest my time in a Twitter account or jump on the iPhone bandwagon, it’s clear that I’ve never been one to heed viral trends, and StumbleUpon was no different. So while my friends utilized this tool to accelerate their freshman ADD, I spent my computer time corroding my eyesight away on Photoshop files, all-nighter after all-nighter.
But now that school is perturbingly a thing of the past and my workaholic nature has little to consume beyond a part-time internship, blogging, and the daily job hunt, I find myself increasingly turning to the internet for creative stimulation. And that’s how StumbleUpon made a reappearance in my life, almost five years later.
A lot of this newfangled free time is spent maintaining a marketing campaign to perpetuate my artistic portfolio in the hopes of procuring work, and while adhering to this daily endeavor, I read somewhere that StumbleUpon was another resource for uploading your website and increasing its accessibility–even if the odds of someone stumbling on your page amidst the millions of websites already circulating the service are mighty slim. So I created a Stumble account, informed the Interests Guru that I dig art, dancing, interior design, literature, comedy, mythology, and cocktails, and got to uploading my portfolio for some college undergrad to stumble past as they avoided work for this algorithmic Russian roulette. In the meantime, I started stumbling just to see if it would retrieve webpages that actually catered to my palate. Turns out, palates are exactly what they had in mind when they decided, “this girl probably hails from the obsessive foodie region of the Northwest and likes to ogle sumptuous cookbook photography and recipes that she won’t have the time or the funds to concoct.”
Well, they were right.
If food photography didn’t utilize so little brain power and conceptual design, I would drop my affinity for narrative portraiture and start shooting Elmer’s glue to look like superlative milk in a heartbeat. If you’ve got a great stylist, food photography is a peaceful endeavor where the model is incredibly reliable until it starts spoiling. And if you’ve got internet access or a bus ticket to the nearest Barnes & Noble, food photography and the accompanying recipes are even more relaxing to simply gaze at.
I don’t know how StumbleUpon knew it, but ever since the 19th when I joined the discovery engine that hasn’t gone out of style since 2002, I’ve received webpage after webpage of the best brunches in Los Angeles, grilled-cheese for adults with spinach and pesto, brown sugar chili-rubbed salmon with avocado crema, and even a seed cake inspired by The Hobbit–all topped off with delectably mouthwatering images whose soft lighting beckons you in while the low aperture composes a visual feast.
Of course I’ve received a couple other web sources here and there: a Nikon app that tells you exactly what happened on this day in history, do-it-yourself inductions into hipsterhood with self-made galaxy jeans, a website that recommends beverages based on the song you’re currently listening to, instructions on how to make a coffee table out of a recycled window, and images of postmodern staircases designed to mimic Escher prints, roller coasters, and spinal columns.
One of the most ridiculous pages I’ve received (besides an homage to the mantis shrimp), combined my love for yuppie recipes and food imagery with unfiltered honesty, resulting in the vegan-gangster haven that is Thug Kitchen. Hilariously brash, relentlessly appetizing, and chartering a 35.2K fan base under the crass motto, “Eat Like You Give a Fuck,” the creator (or creators, considering the blog originates from LA anonymity) of Thug Kitchen is the character True Blood thought they were manifesting when they colored their dialogue, but fell short of when they forgot to include the necessary pinch of Tony Soprano verisimilitude.
The language employed to divulge their recipes is probably too vulgar to share with your mother (my mom gasped in horror at my language when I yelled, “SHIT!” while stalling her manual-shift sedan on one of the Siskyous’ many vertical inclines), but the healthy concoctions that result from the irrepressible cursing cater to everyone’s appetite (including my vegetarian mother’s!). While Thug Kitchen’s linguistic intent is to reduce the aura of expensive elitism that pervades healthy eating, I don’t have the funds to afford the ingredients for peanut tempeh summer rolls or smokey bean and spinach sliders, whether you attach the f-word to them or not. But on that fateful day when I finally win the food lottery and edible ingredients keep rolling in, I’ll be sure to review every last recipe in the blog’s archives and report my findings with gusto.
For the time being, I’ll simply continue growing increasingly addicted to the digital inspiration StumbleUpon delivers–giving the internet a leg up on the prolonged attempt to envelop Emily Moon into pop culture erudition.