Tales of a wandering lesbian

Posts from — July 2009

Word to your Nana

Since my return from Italy, I’ve made a good faith effort to learn some of the language. I bought an old Berlitz book, a verb guide, and some flashcards. The most helpful part of my study, however has been instant messaging with my friends from Italy who force me to write a little in Italian each time. I blunder along with a mix of college Spanish and on-line translation that results in a lot of “???” on the other end. Eventually I ask them how to say something, and then I stare furiously at the screen, willing my brain to remember.

It’s funny to realize what’s important in my speech. While I’ve picked up a little of the grammar and word useage, the bulk of what I’ve lerarned has been exclammations. I’m guessing it’s because I use words like “awesome” and “rad” far more than the average bear. Along with “which letters don’t you use in Italian?” I’m often asking for the appropriate exclamation.

I’ll be sharing these as featured vocab words, but for now, they’ve given me insight into much more.

My grandmother’s family is Italian. She didn’t come from Italy, but she grew up with folks who spoke some of the language. To us she’s “Nana” or “The Nun.” She’s great. From her I’ve learned wonderful things like the importance of embracing life, and how Italians are better than Greeks. I’ve also learned Italian slang – I just didn’t know it.

As kids, my sister and I picked up words that the Nun used – some of them we thought were made up. She’d rub our arms and recite the equivalent of “this little piggy” complete with tickling. She’s tell us “sta siede e mangia” (sit down and eat) or tap her temple and say “che pazzo” whenever she thought my grandfather was being strange.

Of course, nobody in my immediate family spoke Italian, so what we heard and repeated was “statseat” and “kapots.”

But, a chat last week with an Italian friend blew open 30 years of funny phrases. In response to something I said, she responded “accidenti!” I didn’t recognize the word, so I quickly plugged it into my handy (and notoriously untrustworthy) online translator. “Accidents.” Clearly I was missing something. Apparently “accidenti” is used to communicate surprise. Along with “accidenti,” I learned “sticazzi” which communicates a similar sentiment is a less G-rated way.

Typing words is great, but I wanted to make sure I had the pronunciation right so that I could exclaim appropriately (or inappropriately as the case may be). I took the opportunity to practice my new words while driving home from work. I’d said “accidenti” out loud about three times when it hit me. I could hear my nana saying “ah chidand” in exasperation. “Ah chidand” sounds remarkably like “Accidenti.” Of course! How fun.

I had a hearty laugh and called my mom to share. Only in the past week have I thought to take these phonetic phrases apart to understand what was really being said. The more I examine, the more I learn about my family. Aparently I’m not the only one with a proclivity for exclamations. I can hardly wait for the next discovery!

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July 31, 2009   2 Comments

God bless America!

My dog, Libby, is a fanshionista princess of the first degree. Don’t get me wrong, she can roll in dead stuff with the best of ’em, but the dog’s got style. If you have a dog and haven’t discovered the super cheap collars and leashes of Old Navy, you’re missing out.

Libby has a collar for almost every major holiday. We’re missing St. Patty’s and New Year’s, but everything else is covered. In the summer, she wears mostly her pink and rainbow gay pride collar and her stars and stripes collar.

Stars and Stripes

Her outfits have been earning her a fair bit of attention.

At Portland Pride this year, she was featured in a video on self-expression. (I wouldn’t watch past the first part of this if you don’t want to be frightened.)

May We Interrupt Your Day: June 15, 2009 from Shawn O’Bryant on Vimeo.

Then, as we were walking across a park in Cascade Locks (the same one where they had a note not to eat the rocks), a woman passing by shreiked, “oh, I love that collar! Red, white and blue. God bless America!” She was serious – thrown into a frenzy of patriotism by my dog’s collar.

I didn’t know how to respond. “Thank you?” “Did you see that rock candy over there?”

I think I responded with an enthusiastic “Indeed, God bless, America!”

Who knew Old Navy collars were so patriotic?

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July 30, 2009   1 Comment

Fire, fire!

One of the greatest parts of my job is working our charity golf tournaments.  Last week, our Eastern Oregon golf tournament teed off in Pendleton.  I was lucky enough to get to go.

The best part of the tournament is the large number of prizes that are raffled off.  A major big-box company donates a lot of the scratch/dent and damaged box items that come through its Eastern Oregon Distribution Center.  Score!

So, I bought $20 worth of tickets and held my breath.

I really wanted a digital camera – you know, for my trip – and I almost got it!  I was drawing the tickets, and had two in my hand.  After I handed one to the woman assigning prizes, I looked down and realized I’d chosen one ticket for the camera (not mine), and had another one in my hand for the next prize (mine!).  Not amusing.  But, when I walked over to see what I’d won, I was super excited to see a huge-ass, cast-iron fire pit!  Awesome!

I grabbed it and hauled it to my car.

I had big plans to put this thing together and roast marshmallows that night.  I’ve largely stopped eating refined sugar, but a perfectly toasted marshmallow is a special weakness from childhood.  I stopped at the store and bought the stuff for not only mallows, but for smores.

By the time I’d driven back from Pendleton and unpacked, it was too late to set up the pit, and I was freaking out, because I knew I’d be out of town for a couple of days (at a fabulous lesbian wedding).  I might have been a little desperate.  I found some bamboo skewers in the drawer and did the only thing I could – turned on the glass-top stove burner.

You know you can make a pretty good mallow on the stove?

Stove Mallow

Well, you can.  And I did.  4 of them.  2 as smores.

Golden Mallow

After I flew around the ceiling a couple of times, I had a deep and meaningful sugar crash.


It was a couple of days until I was back at the house, where the fire pit had been waiting patiently.  We’re in the middle of a nasty global heatwave (perhaps you’ve heard), and it was nearly 100 degrees that day.  I carefully considered the heat, and my desire to play with the fire pit.  The fire pit won.  While I was proudly dragging it into the back yard, my neighbor came over to see what I was doing.  They’ve got two kids, one of whom is less than a year old.  When I told her I was putting together the fire pit so that we could have smores later that night, she dropped her voice to a whisper and said “I’m in.  Let me know when.”  I assured her that I would and set myself to the task of assembling my prize.

Fire pit!

Once I finished I hid in the relative cool of the house until I could reasonably justify lighting a fire.

At 8PM, when it finally cooled to 80 degrees, I ventured out with matches and tampon in hand.  (We’d learned earlier in the month from the industrious lesbians at a friend’s barbecue, that tampons are incredibly efficient fire starters.  Lightweight and compact, they’re an essential part of an emergency kit – for more than one reason.)

After about a half hour of working it out, I had a respectable blaze started.  When I knocked on the neighbor’s door, they were waiting, wine bottle in one hand, and baby monitor in the other.

Now, our backyard is pretty much a dry weed field with a dug up yucca, a tarp, and a couple of dog poop land-mines thrown in for charm.  But, with a fire pit, we’ve got the most amazing sanctuary around.  The four of us sat on the ground for well over an hour, eating smores, and basking in the glory of the fire pit.  It was seriously dark when we finally tore ourselves away from staring into the glowing coals, and poking at them with the new poker that came in the box.   We sat and stalled, not wanting to end a great evening, wanting to soak up the last ounces of magic that the fire pit had offered.


It’s amazing the things that are inside of each of us that draw us together.  I forget sometimes how the simplest things can connect souls, igniting something innate, evoking community, and transporting us.  The simple lighting and sharing of fire is one of those things, I think.  As magical and powerful now as it was when I was a Girl Scout, or a camp leader.  I wonder what else I’ve forgotten – and when I’ll be reminded.

I’m totally glad I didn’t win the camera.

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July 29, 2009   4 Comments

Ode to Lesbians

This weekend, my great friends Serene and Allison got married – well as married as two lesbians in Oregon can be.  They rented an island and had an amazing ceremony in the Columbia River Gorge, surrounded by family and several softball teams.

In order to have the ceremony where they wanted it, they recruited friends (softball teams) to help with setup and tear down.  I’ll tell you what, after witnessing the awesome efficiency that comes with a pack of lesbians, I pity any employer that discriminates based on sexual orientation.  Lesbians are one fierce group of logistical experts.

Aside from setting up the ceremony site and reception hall for 150, preparing the brides, and taking the pictures, the real awesomeness came when it was time for tear down.

As soon as the ceremony was over, while the families walked to the receiving line, the softball teams, noticing two of their own stacking chairs, went to work.  In the space of 10 minutes (maybe less) the entire ceremony site was clear.


Photo by Brandi George

Chairs were stacked and stored, flowers were hauled, and all were headed to the reception.


Photo by Brandi George

After hours of cupcakes and dancing, I turned to the table of softball players I was sitting with and said, “lesbians, we have a task.”  Everyone sat up to listen.  “We need to get everyone out for the garter toss, find a ride for Allison and Serene, and clean up the building.”  The 8 women at the table jumped up, put their hands for a quick cheer (“LESBOS!”) and set off to git ‘er done.

In no more than 20 minutes, the garter toss had taken place, the brides had a ride to the hotel, and the reception hall was cleared out and cleaned up – except for the ever-dancing pack of ladies.


Photo by Brandi George

Serene and Allison had a beautiful ceremony.  The love they share is imminently apparent, and deeply touching.  What’s more, the love that their friends and family have for them is astounding.

In Italy, the best phrase that I learned had to do with gelato.  When ordering gelato, you could pick your flavors, or you could ask “che sposano bene” or “what marries well” and let the woman behind the counter hook you up.  The phrase kept going through my mind on Saturday.  It’s a shame they don’t let us marry, because lesbians marry well.

Allison e Serene sposano bene.

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July 28, 2009   3 Comments


You know those reflective vests that road workers and inmates wear?  The orange or green ones?  Italians carry those in their cars like Americans carry tire gages, or toolkits.  Our first day in Italy, we found out why…

My parents had rented a car – a nice alfa romeo sedan.  It had a good amount of trunk space for our luggage, a sleek body style, and a shitty turning radius.

We were lost almost immediately after we picked up the rental car, turning the wrong way on the highway leading away from the airport.  After about an hour of driving, stopping, asking directions, figuring out where we were, where we were going, and driving again, we were back at the airport going the right direction – toward Pisa, toward Lucca and toward Pieve Fosciana.  All we needed to do was get onto the Italian Autobahn, the Autostrada.

Signage in Italy isn’t always that great – especially if you don’t know what the little sign symbols mean.  Somehow, we ended up heading the wrong way – again – this time onto the Autostrada.  We realized this as we were on the on-ramp to the east-bound lanes.  Fortunately, there were no cars anywhere near us, and the off-ramp was right next to us.  We decided to pull a u-turn.  Yes, a u-turn on the on/off-ramp to the Autostrada.  This seemed like a good idea at the time.  Then again, we’d been traveling for about 20 hours at that point, and were pretty desperate not to have to backtrack again.

This is when we discovered several things in quick succession.

1.  The alfa romeo has a shitty turning radius.

2.  It is not that easy to put an alfa romeo into reverse.

3.  Italian motorists are INCREDIBLY patient.

As the car came to a stop about 6 inches from the guard rail, my dad tried to put the car into reverse.  After about 30 seconds of increasingly frantic attempts to force the shifter into reverse, it became clear that there was some kind of release switch.  It also became clear that we weren’t going to figure it out on the on-ramp.

At this point, our car was perpendicular to the ramps, blocking both directions.  Cars on both sides of us were beginning to pile up.  I looked at my mom and aunt in the back of the car who were packed in with our luggage, turned to my dad and said “I guess I’m pushing!”

When I got out, the car was resting on the guard rail.  I put my hands on the hood, my feet on the rail, and pushed.  it must have been an awesome sight to see me suspended between the two like a cartoon figure.  I can’t imagine why my family didn’t have the camera out.  The only way it could have been better is if I’d had the reflective vest on.  After a couple fits of pushing and driving forward, pushing and driving forward (thanks to the shitty turning radius), I was able to waive to the other motorists who were patiently watching us like we were a mildly amusing tv program, jump in the car, and we were on our way.

What was amazing to us was that the entire time, nobody honked.  Nobody flipped us the bird, nobody hollered out the window.  We were on the frickin’ ramp to the Autostrada, blocking both directions.  People calmly queued up and waited with the expression of someone sitting at a rather long traffic light.  If we’d been in the US, I might have been shot, run down, or at least cursed loudly at.  In Italy, I was entertainment.

Before the trip, my dad and sister had done some work to learn the Italian language.  For some reason, my dad had happened across the word for “carbomb” and decided to teach it to all of us.  (Yes, I know it’s totally inapropriate.)  Although he didn’t get it quite right (it’s really” autobomba” I found out later), we still used “autobombo” pretty much constantly in the lead-up to the trip.  We even started calling my mom “automombo,” and my sister convinced her coworker that the Autostrada was really called the “Autobombo.”   But, after our first day in Italy, for the rest of the trip, and beyond, our awesome u-turn on the Autostrada was referred to as the “autobombo.”  I really wish I’d worn the vest.

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July 27, 2009   3 Comments